A question arose when I was reading the PHB's section about "Actions in Combat: Ready" that reads:

Sometimes you want to get the jump on a foe or wait for a particular circumstance before you act. To do so, you can take the Ready action on your turn so that you can act later in the round using your reaction.

As a DM, do I have to declare "This Kobold readies his action to attack you if you get closer"? Or should I hint rather than state that explicitly? Would it be considered cheating if I didn't declare a prepared action from a NPC to my players?

  • Anyone who wants to correct my horrid grammar or narration feel free to do so n.n; – Ghiojo Aug 14 at 10:30
  • You should post your second question as, well ... a second question :) But I am reasonably sure that has been asked already, I recommend searching for it first. – Szega Aug 14 at 10:42
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    Your second question already has an answer here: Do reactions interrupt their triggers or not?. And because it is a separate question I've edited it out of this one. If the provided link doesn't answer your question, please do ask it as a new question! – Rubiksmoose Aug 14 at 10:47
  • Mhm! I just saw, yeah that does answer my question, basically make sure to tell the DM you plan on attacking before they do – Ghiojo Aug 14 at 10:51
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    Do you explicitly declare other actions that NPCs do? Like, "Shove", "Help", "Use An Object"? – enkryptor Aug 14 at 14:16

There are no explicit rules for this, but what has worked for me and my table is to describe, briefly, what it looks like.

E.g. "The Kobold waits, weapon drawn, and looking at you."

With my group, this is often enough of a clue as to what the creature has prepared. If not, I would allow a character to use Insight to figure out more detail, such as whether the Kobold was readying to attack anyone who got within reach, or wanted to target a specific character. However, as that Insight would be the use of an action, this has not cropped up in my games. Instead the players prefer to guess, or run the gauntlet of readied attacks anyway.

Remember that readying a spell is specifically casting the spell and then waiting for a trigger, so describe casting a spell as you would normally. Maybe give a clue as to the target, and the players can either worry that some non-detectable effect has impacted them, or it is yet to come. Someone who identifies the spell as it is cast might figure out that the spell has been Readied.

Or should I hint rather than state that explicitly?

I would definitely go for a hint, describing the behaviour, but not the game mechanics in detail.

Would it be considered cheating if I did't declare a prepared action from a NPC to my players?

I don't think so. However, you should generally be running the monsters so that they run into and trigger Readied actions, unless

  1. The monsters are exceptionally intelligent and/or cautious
  2. The specific combination of monster doing X and player readying Y to take advantage of it has already happened. This typically occurs when players Ready in order to deal with invisible or flying foes when a Readied attack is about all they can reasonably do.

If you prefer a stronger meta game, where game mechanics are more visible to both sides, and both PCs and monsters can take advantage of them, then your concern about "cheating" may be valid for your group. You can probably tell if that's the case, if you do already make decisions for your monsters that account for readied actions prepared against them.

Neil Slater's answer, which I would characterize as a "do what works best for your table" approach, is certainly a good one. Nevertheless, I shall offer a different, more proscriptive view.

Not only are you not required to reveal what action an NPC has readied, in most cases you should not do so.

The PHB's familiar guidance at p. 6, "How to Play," is instructive:

  1. The DM describes the environment.
  2. The players describe what they want to do.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers' actions.

The DM's job is thus twofold: providing a visualizable world for the players to act upon, and then revealing what results from their agency, thereby furthering the story.

This is a very "show, don't tell" system. When, e.g., the players encounter a trapped door, ordinarily the DM does not simply inform the players that the door is trapped. Doing so would rob the players of their job, which is to act on the door. The better practice is to describe the door. That way, the players get to engage the door and its trap on their terms -- e.g., choosing whether they will investigate, and if so, how. Maybe they use their skills, or spells, or other tools. Or maybe they chance it and simply open the door. Whatever they choose to do, the point is that it should be their choice.

An NPC is not a trap, of course, but I would submit that an NPC is nevertheless part of the "environment" -- the visualizable world that it is your job, as DM, to provide.

Consequently, the same "show, don't tell" reasoning that applies to the rest of the environment applies equally to NPCs. When an NPC readies an action, you should not simply inform the players. Instead, describe the NPC's posture, gestures, or facial expressions. Have the NPC brandish a weapon and snarl or shout "Come at me, coward!" In short, give players their agency: invite them to draw conclusions with incomplete information and to choose how they will engage the NPC on their terms. Maybe they chance it and rush the NPC. Maybe they themselves choose to hang back, refusing to be baited by the NPC you've described as nimble and shifty. Maybe they spend an action using Wisdom (Insight) to discern the foe's intentions. Such moments are the stuff of action movies -- combatants circling each other, eyes narrowed, searching for an opening.

What about Passive Perception and Passive Insight?

The "show, don't tell" approach works even for PCs of exceptional perspicacity.

Consider again the trapped door. Even if the party's rogue has a Passive Perception of 23, that does not make her omniscient. It simply entitles her to more and better detail about the door and/or the trap. Maybe she notices the telltale spatter of dried poison droplets that have been dripping down onto the floor below the doorknob for decades. Maybe she immediately spots the needle protruding just above the handle. She has plenty of excellent information to work with -- but it is still her job to draw the conclusion, "This door is trapped."

Similarly, what if an NPC assassin readies an attack against the PC cleric with a Passive Insight of 23? Just give the player more and better information. Don't be subtle. Telegraph the assassin's intentions with every sign you can think of. The assassin's fingers twitch on the knife held lightly in his hand. His wide, unblinking eyes follow the cleric's weapon. You can even use the word "ready" -- just use it as a description, not as a statement of game mechanics. Don't say, "The assassin readies an action." Say something like, "The assassin stands poised on the balls of his feet, ready to spring at the first sign of an opening."

A further benefit of using passive abilities this way is that it makes players' character-building choices more meaningful. If the PCs need to rely on their Wisdom (Insight) for information about what NPCs intend in combat, they have added reason to care about their skills. While the party's fighter squares off uncertainly with the shifty NPC assassin, using his action to try to ascertain what the assassin has planned, the player of the cleric with the Passive Insight of 23 gets to feel special when he doesn't need to spend an action that way. He's so insightful that he instinctively knows what's coming, and he can act on that knowledge.

Maybe, It Depends How You Handle Players' Readied Actions

Consider how you handle when a player readies an action. If the response is that enemies are now aware that the player is going to act in that way per specific activities and thus the enemies avoid those activities, then that needs to cut both ways.

However, if enemies regularly don't spend an Action to attempt an Insight to determine what the players' declared intentions are and thus suffer the applicable readied actions, then you've more latitude to enforce that the other way.

Whichever you pick is fine, but you have to be consistent and the players need to see that consistency. I can tell you that as a player, I will be very annoyed if I spend readied actions to use Eldritch Blast to knock back someone away from a lever if they approach it and suddenly every enemy is trying to trip the lever in some other clever way, but then when an enemy readies an action I'm expected to spend an Action to make an Insight check.

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