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Several mechanics use the terminology "at any time", but it isn't clear what exactly that means.

Concentration

You can end concentration at any time (no action required).

Alter Self

At any time for the duration of the spell, you can use your action to change your appearance in this way again.

When Jeremy Crawford was asked about this confusion he clarified by quoting the text back at the asker.

Is "at any time" supposed to mean that players can act out of order? Or perhaps it means there there is no time limit or special requirements for this action?

Some people suppose that the meaning of "any time" is different for every case. If you want to argue this, please explain what does "at any time without using an action" and "at any time using an action" mean?

Previous questions have focused on one specific instance at a time to the exclusion of all else, leading to some strange implications, such as the ability to take an action during another players turn.

This question is NOT only about "no action" abilities. If "at any time" means the same as "no action", then how do we deal with skills like Alter Self which are "at any time" but not "no action"?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 You could list it as a related question (although it is linked in the question, people do look in the comments for related questions) \$\endgroup\$ – jgn Nov 1 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells Multiple people in that thread and the concentration thread have made the distinction between "any time" and "no action". I would appreciate if you want to make the argument that they are the same thing you could address things that are "any time" but not "no action", things that are "no action" but not "any time", and perhaps present an argument that the language is redundant or whatever. \$\endgroup\$ – jgn Nov 1 at 14:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells things that do not require an action do not require an action. That says nothing about their timing. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Nov 1 at 15:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jgn could you please add this to the question body? A list of possible options could help people understand the question better. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Nov 1 at 15:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor I think the problem I'm having with this question is that it's taking a phrase that's used in different contexts and trying to find a single meaning for it in isolation. "At any time, as an action" and "at any time, without using an action" are not the same thing at all. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Nov 1 at 15:32
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There are no "strange implications"

Regardless of which interpretation of "at any time" you use (whether it can it be done when it is not your own turn) no problems arise from the alter self spell. This is because the section on combat states:

On your turn, you can move a distance up to your speed and take one action.

This explicitly limits the times that you can take an action to on your own turn. And so if it is not your turn you cannot take the action. "At any time" does not change situations where you couldn't take the action anyhow.

Similarly then, "at any time" does not somehow let you take this action even while incapacitated or otherwise prevented from taking actions.

The phrase, honestly, seems to be completely filler from a strict RAW reading which makes sense because dnd-5e is written in standard English so there are bound to technically unnecessary phrases and words throughout its rules.You can't use alter self on somebody else's turn because you can't take actions then.

As user @PJRZ pointed out in a comment, you can simply remove the phrase and nothing is lost:

For the duration of the spell, you can use your action to change your appearance in this way again.

But when is "at any time"?

See the question "When exactly can a caster stop concentrating on a spell?" which already has different answers providing different points of view about whether "at any time" includes during somebody else's turn. The (by far) most upvoted answer there states that "any time" does include other people's turns.

If something can be done "At any time" then it can be done "at any time" that you otherwise could do that thing. It doesn't magically remove restrictions on the timing, otherwise you could do things like use alter self even while incapacitated, indeed a strange implication. If something can be done "at any time" you still must follow any timing restrictions that come from other rules (such as in the case of alter self)

The debate here is whether there exists some rule that prevents you from doing things on somebody else's turn and different answers to that question can be seen on the answers to the question "When exactly can a caster stop concentrating on a spell?".

This means you technically have four options:

  1. "At any time" overrides the rule that prevents you from taking non-actions on another's turn but does not override the one that prevents you from taking actions on another's turn.
  2. "At any time" overrides all rules so you can use alter self even while incapacitated.
  3. "At any time" does not override any rules and there is not a rule which prevents you from taking non-actions on somebody else's turn.
  4. "At any time" does not override any rules and there is a rule which prevents you from taking non-actions on somebody else's turn.

For discussion on whether there is a rule preventing you from taking non-actions on another's turn see the question "When can you do things that do not require an action?" and various related questions linked there.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Nov 3 at 15:44
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Concentration can be ended any time when players should decide what to do (without any action, bonus action or move). You can not end it when the GM telling the outcome of an event.

Alter Self any time means that between the effect start and end (actually under the duration) you can change your appearance with an action. So let's say this spell has a duration with 10min. You can change any time in this 10min when it's your turn and you takes your action as changeing appearance. It's like: you can change your appearance for the duration any time as you wish with an action but without casting (using spell slot) the spell again.

Grappling is like Concentration. Player can decide to end it without any action (etc.) but not when GM tells the outcome.

As How to play explains, there is 3 main method in the play:

 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.

You can act in the 2, which means that you can end the Conc / Grappling or reuse alter self any time when it's your turn. In the others (1 & 3) no one except the DM should make anything.

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    \$\begingroup\$ hey just a suggestion but you might see if you can make your wording a bit clearer. The way it's written now is a bit confusing. \$\endgroup\$ – Gwideon Nov 1 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to clarify, does "when players should decide what to do" mean "when the player can decide what to do"? Particularly, can it be done on another players turn, or only your own? \$\endgroup\$ – jgn Nov 1 at 16:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ The answer might be improved by citing the "How to Play" section of the introduction, which describes the 3 primary steps of play (DM describes the environment, player says what they want to do, DM adjudicates the result). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Nov 2 at 10:29

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