I need to pick your brains for experience in dealing with this sort of situation.

So, in our campaign there was recently an occasion where a character interfered with another character's actions. [I am not the DM in this campaign.]

The chaotic good Cleric (L4) decided to save a lycanthrope, tie him up, cast Zone of Truth and then interrogated it. It promised it would not attack the party ever again. The Cleric released the creature. It dashed away.

As it was dashing off into the distance, the true neutral Warlock (L3) decided to Eldritch Blast it into oblivion.

There was no way the Cleric could interfere. The lycanthrope was beyond saving at the point.

The Cleric has already stated that she is very suspicious of the Warlock because of his track record of "finishing off" anyone and everyone. So, she is on alert already as to his way of behaving in these sorts of situations. She feels frustrated because she cannot carry out any benevolent or compassionate actions which is part of her role-playing her character, without the Warlock zapping her efforts.

So my question is:

How can the DM can apply a game mechanic to allow the Cleric to react to what the Warlock is intending to do?

Someone suggested the Cleric should be able to take an action to stop the Warlock - that both players might role initiative. The Cleric said would ready an action and either tie and gag the Warlock or cast Silence or Command.

I'd appreciate any thoughts on how to best manage this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What level is the party (or at least the cleric and warlock)? This matters with regards to whether counterspell is on the table, etc. Also what domain is the cleric? \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 12:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you the DM? Are you sure the problem is one of game mechanics? Is the group fine with the conflict between the two characters? \$\endgroup\$
    – Szega
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 12:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related and always worth the read: What is “my guy syndrome” and how do I handle it? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 13:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ NathanS Szega - I've updated the requested information. The group seems ok about a conflict between characters. The Cleric's domain is Life. Thanks @ J. Wagner - I will have a read. \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 13:52

6 Answers 6


The stated question:

The problem with the situation you describe is that the two characters were operating in a non-combat context, where issues like Initiative, turns, and simultaneous activity in a span of time don't apply. There is no way to ready an Action in a context where Actions and Reactions aren't operative.

A DM can try to shoehorn in some mechanic-esque elements, such as allowing the Cleric to roll an Insight check to see if they could have predicted that the Warlock was going to blast the werewolf in time to intercede, but that can quickly become awkward-- every action one PC takes that another would want to head off would be subject to mild retconning, or time and turn order would have to be tracked all the time, which is tedious.

D&D 5e was not built for this sort of PvP action in such granularity outside of combat. As a result it's asking a lot of the game system to adjudicate these situations. And, frankly, I'm not sure that a mechanical approach to deciding who "wins" all the time would do much to address the underlying problems.

If your table wants such a mechanic anyways, it'll have to be homebrewed, and designing it will require some specific goals and priorities be determined beyond plain mechanics.

There are two broad ways to think about this dynamic: as the DM's problem, and as the players' problem. Each has some different features, and which track you follow is a matter of preference.

This is the DM's problem:

Weave the conflict into the plot explicitly.

In my experience this kind of inter-PC dissention is at its worst when it comes to spontaneous plans, exactly like what was described in the question. The PCs can agree (at least tentatively) to work together when fighting a boss that threatens both of them, and players are usually knowledgeable enough about game tropes to appreciate when their interests align in that way, plot-wise, and when they don't (such as a side-quest with no bearing on the main plot).

This is a problem because the players are trying to get into their roleplaying at moments which seem convenient and appropriate, but they can't both do so at once. Without any structure to their conflicting approaches it's not clear when, or why, one PC would stand down in favor of the other, or why one would bother to try changing their methods.

It is the DM's explicit responsibility to keep players on track and keep the game moving, and they have a lot of tools to use to do it. Blunt options usually involve plot elements intended to nudge players towards certain behaviors, or which at least cause players to take some estimable risk in doing things other ways:

  • If the players interact with a deity or powerful/influential figure in an area, that figure might explicitly warn them against actions like murder (and have the resources to know if they commit murder, and back up the prohibition).
  • Avoid throwaway NPCs, so that consequences are expected. If the werewolf were also a nobleman, the death might be a much bigger deal to the story than a random enemy
  • Enforce alignment. Not in the sense of "you're N/N, so you can't do X!", but more like "this campaign is written for non-evil characters, and this NPC or organization won't interact with an evil character". It's not impossible, but definitely a stretch, for a Neutral/Neutral character to kill a lone creature that is not threatening them and has guaranteed it will not do so as it walks away. Alignments aren't straightjackets, but they are a good plot tool
  • Use guilt-free mooks. If the werewolf were a member of some group committed to killing the party (or innocent people, or whatever) then the C/G Cleric's aim of rescuing and freeing it might not be feasible
  • Mix it up. If there are some situations where a "good" option is desirable, and difficult or impossible to elide, there should be some situations on the other side where the Warlock's preferred approaches are acceptable or desirable. No one should get their own way all the time, but neither should they get their way none of the time
  • Enforce consequences in every direction. When the outcome doesn't strictly matter, then this is only RP flavor. That's often fine, but in cases like the one you describe that just means that neither PC has a better argument than the other for why their actions were justified. If there are always consequences that bud off of actions where there is some dispute, then the DM is offering some structure and order that the players can use to make decisions in-game, which will at least get them to discuss things on common ground. "If we do X, we might have to deal with Y" has a conclusion which impacts both characters equally, while "I want to do X because I'm Y vs. I want to do Z because I'm A" doesn't necessarily have a common resolution.

If these aren't enough, the conflict between the PCs can be made a stronger plot element. Perhaps the main quest-giver interacting with the party is the C/G Cleric's deity, and that deity has the power to demand that the Warlock behave in a certain way while carrying out the deity's orders. Importantly, the deity can impose some sort of consequences for non-compliance.

If the DM is feeling expansive, contention between organizations directing each PC (or just aligning with their beliefs and values) can be a major point of contention in the plot, where empowering one group involves weakening the other. The players will have to agree on a way forward, whichever group they follow. While the plot can be resolved either way, there may be substantial changes in the content and difficulty of the campaign as it progresses based on the choices they make. This is the most common "invisible" way I handle these kinds of disputes in-game.

In any case, an out-of-character discussion with the relevant players and DM is probably the best way to get everyone on the same page. It's difficult to involve the DM in an in-game way.

This isn't the DM's problem.

The DM controls everything in the game except PC behaviors and interactions. I'm open to low-key ways of keeping PC groups together, as in the section above, but I also make it clear to my players that I am not interested in forcing them to stick together. The party should supply its own reasons for existing and remaining a party, and if they can't assemble a rationale then maybe some or all of the players should make some adjustments.

At the outset of games I expressly indicate that I don't want to invest much time or effort into taking this task on. If I must do so, I will address this problem once, at most. Any solution I come up with and impose may or may not be satisfying to any or all players, but will be definitive and may involve elements from strong railroading to substantial punishments for falling out of line. The idea is that I can't force fun for anyone, but I can force order which allows the game to continue.

So if players can't find a way to respect each other's fun in allowing them to play their characters as they want but still stay together, then maybe one PC should be put on a shelf for another game and a different character be rolled. Stagnating in conflict indefinitely only enhances my motivation to remove the conflict, by any means, which can have unpredictable (to the players) consequences on the game they're playing. If that means that the setting changes from the Material Plane to the Abyss or a celestial realm, where certain types of action are circumscribed or extremely risky, so be it. As DM I'm there to run a game that everyone plays, not to force everyone to play a game they don't want to continue.


Out of character discussion

Sadly enough, this kind of thing can realistically only be resolved by talking about it out of character with the players, because the realistic in-character resolution simply isn't possible.

It'll result in an escalating train of readied actions until one of the two players gets their way. The realistic in-character way of handling this thing is obvious, if you're trying to make the world a better place, you don't travel around with a murderhobo. But because you're stuck with the character because you're essentially stuck with the player, you need to discuss this kind of thing out of character.

Do not get into an escalation of actions/reactions. It'll leave a sour taste in one of the players mouths because "they lost" and is going to result in nothing but more drama down the line. This is basically player vs player territory, and that kind of thing only works if everybody thinks its a good idea and agreed on it in session 0.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, this gets to the core issue: in theory the players have agreed to play a group of people who travel together, but the characters they're actually playing have no reason to travel together and plenty of reasons not to. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 14:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson It is a surprisingly common problem, I've found. Whenever I DM for a new group and some of the characters I've seen people want to play are just... ugh. Some people don't really seem to consider the fact that no sane person in existence would want to associate themselves with the "demon-summoning tiefling who intends to take over hell", and if the DM allows those kinds of characters, you end up with these kinds of problems. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 14:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't address how to resolve the situation. Yes, you want to check with everyone and see if they're okay having conflict like this as part of the game. If the answer is "no", then does the warlock get to kill this dude because the cleric isn't allowed to stop him, or does the warlock not get to kill him because the cleric is opposed to it? (Or if the answer is "yes", then how do you actually handle the conflict happening?) \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 18:21

Since others have covered non-mechanical options, I'll give you the mechanical answer:

Use the normal combat rules

While D&D isn't designed for PvP, it does have turn based combat. When the warlock decides to use Eldritch Blast they are initiating combat. If no one wants to react to them it's fine not to use the combat rules, however they are always there if you need them.

  1. Determine Surprise: No one is surprised in this case
  2. Establish Positions: The werewolf is running away over there, the warlock and cleric are here
  3. Roll Initiative: Can the cleric react in time? The DM may rule that the cleric has advantage if they can succeed an insight check opposed by the warlock's deception.
  4. Take Turns: If the warlock wins the roll, they can blast the werewolf, otherwise the cleric can interrupt the warlock in some way.
  5. Begin the next round: Eldritch Blast has quite a range, it may take 2 turns for the werewolf to be out of range or line of sight. How will the struggle end?

Remember, when seconds matter roll initiative.

You can "take" combat actions outside combat

There is no codified "Ready" action for outside combat, not because it's impossible, but because it's unnecessary. If you want to chop some wood you do not have to initiative combat so you can attack the log, just do it. If you want to ready something, just be ready:

Cleric: I'm wary of the warlock, if they try to attack I'll silence them

Warlock: I Eldritch Blast the werewolf!

DM: Roll initiative

Warlock wins initiative

Warlock: Eldritch Blast!

DM: Ok, cleric do you want to take your reaction to silence?

Cleric: You bet I do

What if the Warlock tries to cut off the Cleric?

Mark Wells in the comments raised concern that the Warlock would say "I ready an action to Eldritch Blast if the cleric tries to cast something".

They supposed the scenario would play out something like:

Cleric: I'm wary of the warlock, if they try to attack I'll silence them

Warlock: Well then if the warlock tries to cast anything I'll cast Eldritch Blast first. I Eldritch Blast the werewolf!

DM: Roll initiative

Warlock wins initiative

Warlock: Eldritch Blast!

DM: Ok, cleric do you want to take your reaction to silence?

Cleric: You bet I do

Warlock: Ok I'm taking my reaction to Eldritch Blast before you manage to cast!

However, that's not how readied actions work. When you ready an action it lasts until the start of your turn. You cannot ready an action previously, then on your turn take an action and have your readied action trigger. The warlock cannot both be ready to cast before the cleric, and themselves cast first. Let's see how that would actually play out:

Cleric: I'm wary of the warlock, if they try to attack I'll silence them

Warlock: Well then if the warlock tries to cast anything I'll cast Eldritch Blast first

DM: Ok, the werewolf starts to run off

Cleric and warlock locked in a standoff

DM: The werewolf is 60ft away, still running

Cleric and warlock are very tense

DM: The werewolf is at 80 ft... 90 ft... 100 ft... 110 ft...

Warlock: Heck it, I Eldritch Blast the sucker!!

DM: Roll initiative

Warlock wins initiative

Warlock: Eldritch Blast!

DM: Cleric do you want to take your reaction to silence?

Cleric: You bet I do

Better roleplaying

Part of the core of this problem is the cleric's feelings. They feel frustrated that their efforts are being thwarted. Well,what are they going to do about it? This is a situation they should be roleplaying and trying to work through, not ask the DM to work magic to favor them.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells "There is no codified "Ready" action for outside combat, not because it's impossible, but because it's unnecessary. If you want to chop some wood you do not have to initiative combat so you can attack the log, just do it. If you want to ready something, just be ready:" ... "Cleric: I'm wary of the warlock, if they try to attack I'll silence them" \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 2:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ To which the warlock of course replies: "If the cleric tries to cast a spell I'll Eldritch Blast that dude." How does this method settle the question of who gets to act first, and why is it preferable to using initiative normally? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 17:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells Think about what you are saying. If the Warlock readies an action to cast Eldritch Blast when the Cleric tries to silence then the Warlock cannot cast Eldritch Blast first. The two will have a standoff while the target runs away. By the way, this IS how initiative works, somewhere you have some wires crossed. Please go back and reread my post again so you can make sure what you are thinking makes sense. If you have a particular issue I'm happy to continue to walk you through it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 1, 2020 at 2:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you go around the table before rolling initiative and ask everyone if they want to ready actions? Because that's the logical result of what you're proposing here. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 3:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer to use the regular combat rules, also the cleric should ask the DM "is the werewolf dead or just unconscious" if the werewolf is unconscious, they still have options. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 6:46

Combat would begin when the Warlock declares intent to cast Eldritch Blast at an enemy. At our table any combative action starts the surprise/position/initiative process for this exact reason, plus the possibility that the lycanthrope could win initiative and either dodge or use a dash action to get to full cover or break range. That opens the Cleric up for reactions (silence), preceding actions (grapple) or readied actions (shove to prone if spellcasting begins). We save time by letting players opt out of combat if they don't care, but they can only join between rounds.

Matt Colville has a YouTube episode of Running the Game called 'Time' where he dealt with a similar conflict by describing the first moments of the PC's actions, allowing a short conversation where the Players worked the situation out in a compromise.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As for the politics, I would call it even. The Warlock is betraying the Cleric's trust. If getting one-upped right back causes hurt feelings, this is personal and not RP. That gets addressed off the table and ooc. If it is RP, then it is good tension and should be encouraged. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 5:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like resolving in the game with initiative. An additional point, in the case of a contentious murder attempt, the DM could have indicated that after being blasted the werewolf was unconscious, this would give both players more time / options to proceed and resolve their conflict. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 6:50

You've given the answer to some extend yourself: The Cleric can announce that she's readying an action to perform if the Warlock acts. The Cleric's player could do this semi-covertly by passing a note to the GM.

However, it should be noted that both as players and GM, you are moving onto thin ice there, because it basically amounts to PvP. Based on the group, that might not be a good idea. Some players consider intra-party conflict to be a breach of social contract and thus results in drama and hurt feelings. Using combat mechanics against a fellow PC would be considered bad behaviour.

On the other hand, playing a character whose only protection from the ire of the group is the PvP ban of the social contract is also bad behaviour and makes people upset. Therefore, I'd advise basically the same things I advised here: First talk about it in character, and if that ends up in a bad solution (including starting PvP or a PC leaving the group), it's high time to move the discussion to out of game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A readied action doesn't happen until after it's trigger, by which time the warlock's attack has already hit. This is what the OP means by saying there's nothing the cleric can do within the game's action/reaction mechanics to interfere with the warlock. The point is that the existing action economy doesn't give the cleric any way to meaningfully respond. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 13:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson It does, in fact: the cleric says "I tackle him" and then you roll for initiative. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 18:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells If you run it like a typical combat, unless I'm forgetting something, the cleric's only options for "tackling" are something like a shove attack or a grapple, none of which can stop the warlock from executing the fleeing enemy with an Eldritch Blast. (E.g. if the cleric uses a shove attack to knock the warlock prone, they just stand up and cast the spell.) Unless the DM allows some kind of improvised "interfere" action, which is what brings us here, to this question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 11, 2020 at 0:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ While healing and questioning the NPC couldnt the cleric since she is already using her deities devine grace to use these abilities in the first place, request her deity to grant the NPC sanctuary or a safe passage blessing or something on the condition that they not pose a threat to the party any longer to last until the NPC is far enough away to be safe? It would seem to me to be a Clerics, no matter the alignment as long as it's good, passive aggressive approach to foiling the supposedly nuetral warlocks suspicious actions regarding innocent lives as alluded to in the original explanation. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 31, 2020 at 2:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson Triggers are resolved after their trigger, not after the action. The cleric could ready an action to silence when the warlock starts to cast. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 0:47

As an immediate solution for the cleric'd player: In the future they could purposefully position themselves to block the warlock. Maybe they just go and grab the warlocks hand, or just stand next to them and demand "look at me" and grab the warlock if they don't. If warlock then tried to cast the spell anyway, "roll for initiative" and start with cleric throwing to grapple, or warlock already being grappled.

As a longer term solution, make the actions have consequences, and bad actions against divine power needing atonement.

In this particular case, where ever the power of the good cleric comes from, they see the situation as the party breaking a trusted understanding made under the influence of a holy spell.

A punishment option: the cleric's beneficial magic no longer works on the part of the party that desecrated the truth spell (ie. the warlock). And if the party wishes to undo this, they have to perform some act of atonement, AKA a side quest. The cleric should have the necessary spells to communicate with their god and find out why they're so crossed. Suitable chaotic good side quest might be to save someone who is to be executed for breaking the law to do a good deed.

Bonus punishment: the cleric failed to uphold her faith, so beneficial magic stops working on her too. Now the party has double incentive to help them atone. Be careful with this though. The player is already annoyed. If you do this, better accompany it with some OOC talk about why (divine judgement is unfair in your world, or you want to underline that you expect the cleric player to uphold their faith in-game, or whatever).


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