• Let's say my group is ambushed and no one is aware, the ennemies then have a surprise round against us.

  • As soon as I am aware of the attack (they could jump/charge in front of us, shoot an arrow AND hit someone (could be me), cast a spell and I could hear it with a very good listen roll etc.) can I cast Nerveskitter or is no action allowed at all?

  • Take note that in 3.5 Nerveskitter states:

    (...)Unlike other immediate actions, you can cast this spell while flat-footed(...)

So with all this info, if I was to have a contingency spell (Celerity) with the condition: Whenever I cast Nerveskitter: Activate.

What would happen? I would be able to act right away, then the rest of the surprise round would happen (let's say I'm immune to daze or I resisted with the Quick Recovery feat) then what?:

  • Do I start first (no swift action) and I do not need to roll initiative?
  • I still need to roll for initiative?
  • I think you don't need to roll for initiative if you have Contingency (Celerity) with the condition: whenever a creature with an hostile intent is nearby: Activate (no surprise round let's say that to simplify it), you just go first and if you are not dazed you start first? maybe you still need to roll for initiative in this case too after the standard action acquired via celerity is resolved?
  • Even if I'm dazed, does it change anything for the initiative? If I roll for it, and I win, I won't be dazed vs other opponents, so I could still do attacks of opportunity at least, if I don't roll well and I'm first by default... same things happens. (so basically does celerity changes initiative? probably? even when before the rolls were made? in short that's the question)

RAW answers if possible (FAQ, 3.X, I would normally allow pathfinder as well but nerveskitter was nerfed in pathfinder)

(I know there's more than one question in this question, it was simpler that way for me)


2 Answers 2


The question asks for the rules as written. So far as I'm aware, no text follows up on how to use properly the 1st-level Sor/Wiz spell nerveskitter [trans] (Spell Compendium 146–7), the 4th-level Sor/Wiz spell celerity [trans] (Player's Handbook II 105), or the 5th-level Sor/Wiz spell contingency [evoc] (Player's Handbook 213). The game just didn't go in that direction: After a book shipped, only rarely did Wizards of the Coast revisit the material at any useful length. And, now, there's nothing new for 3.5 forthcoming. So here I'll be doing the best I can with the rules, my experiences, and my opinions. I hope that's enough.

In the surprise round aware combatants make initiative checks

The Surprise Round, in part, says, "Any combatants aware of the opponents can act in the surprise round, so they roll for initiative" (PH 137). This implies an exception to Initiative Checks that, in part, says, "At the start of a battle, each combatant makes an initiative check" (136). Hence unaware combatants don't even make Initiative checks until after the surprise round and before the first normal round of combat, and this order of operations prevents unaware combatants from casting the nerveskitter spell during the surprise round.

See, the description of the nerveskitter spell starts by saying, "You cast this spell when you and [n.b. not or] your party roll for initiative." Further, when the spell's description says, "If the subject does not make an initiative check within 1 round, this spell has no effect," it's accounting for the surprise round: during the surprise an aware caster round can cast the nerveskitter spell on an unaware party member so that the party member gains the spell's benefit when that party member finally makes it's initiative check: after the surprise round and before the first normal round.

Contingent nerveskitter probably works

A caster can cast the spell contingency, pick as its companion spell the nerveskitter spell, and pick as the contingency spell's activation condition When a creature with hostile intent approaches me. (A caster can pick pretty much anything as the contingency's spell's condition, but the contingency spell activates when the DM believes that condition met. Choose wisely and see here.)

When a creature that possesses hostile intent approaches the caster, the condition will be met for the contingency spell and the nerveskitter spell will be cast. However, unless that creature's approach also signals the start of an encounter and the DM has appropriate combatants make initiative checks, the nerveskitter spell will fail. Otherwise, though, it'll work as imagined: essentially gaining the caster an immediate action. At least, that's what this DM would have happen. A more conservative DM could rule that the nerveskitter spell is cast in response to the hostile creature's approach—before the DM calls for initiative checks—therefore the contingent nerveskitter spell will always fail. To this player, that seems pretty severe for a relatively tame contingency spell condition and spell, but it's the contingency spell: It's rarely not a source of strife.

(Note that this DM would ask for further clarification if presented with the contingency spell condition When a creature with hostile intent approaches me. That's a little too broad for the omniscient superliteral interpreter that processes contingency spell conditions in my campaigns.)

Nerveskitter into a contingent celerity maybe doesn't work…

Similarly, a caster could cast the spell contingency, pick as its companion spell the celerity spell, and pick as the contingency spell's activation condition When I cast the nerveskitter spell. Then, when the DM calls for initiative checks, the caster casts the nerveskitter spell therefore meeting the conditions of the contingency spell and the celerity spell is cast. And, after all that, it's possible that this celerity spell simply fails, too.

Here's why: The celerity spell's description says, "When you cast this spell, you can immediately take a standard action, as if you had readied an action," but the special initiative action ready mandates a trigger. Normally, it's easy to discern the trigger for the action granted by the celerity spell: somebody takes a poke at the caster or a bad guy casts a spell or whatever and—cue theremin—a celerity spell.

But, in this case, a character cast a celerity spell when the players are making initiative checks. The Dungeon Master's Guide on Adjudicating the Ready Action, in part, says, "Don’t allow players to use the ready action outside combat" (26), preventing the caster from picking as a trigger anything that happened before the DM asked players to make initiative checks. My limited imagination leaves me with only two things that could work as ready action triggers in this situation: 1) weirdly self-referential stuff that's likely to be rejected by the DM, and 2) another caster's similar nerveskitter-contingency-celerity combo. Otherwise, the conditions for casting the celerity spell have probably gone unmet because there's nothing for the granted action to trigger off of.

…Unless it does

On the other hand, a DM could read When you cast this spell, you can immediately take a standard action, as if you had readied an action as a comparison rather than as explicit instructions to follow other game rules. That's okay, but it's dangerous for the campaign. In this case, the caster takes the standard action granted by the celerity spell while the players make initiative checks for their characters (including the player of the character that cast the celerity spell and that's likely the subject of a nerveskitter spell). Starting at the celerity spell-granted action's conclusion, the caster is flat-footed until the beginning of her first turn and dazed until the end of her first turn. (The dazed condition doesn't affect initiative checks.) (Also, if two or more casters were doing this, this DM would totally have them all resolve their initiative checks to determine which one goes first!)

This reading, by the way, is extraordinarily powerful. Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 is an ambush game, and acting first yields very high returns. Being able to take an action at this point in the combat round—before anyone else who isn't also using the same combo—means that everyone will use this combo. No caster who could would dare not.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll just change the contingency (Celerity )to be when a creature does something hostile toward me:activate then \$\endgroup\$
    – Maxpire
    Jan 23, 2020 at 19:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I rule that it works like you said: ''as if you had readied an action as a comparison rather than as explicit instructions to follow other game rules.'' I believe it was intended this way, but DM's call. and you can interrupt someone using the standard action acquired via celerity, with a celerity of your own, as you answered on my other question, but if all the players/ennemies are aware of this and don't want to call it (the last one has advantage) then the round would be lost for all of them, or you can make a homebrew ''initiative roll'' as you suggested. \$\endgroup\$
    – Maxpire
    Jan 24, 2020 at 7:49

The supprise round would happen as normal with you being flat footed. Then you would roll initiative (at +5 from nerveskitter) but would act first in that round (due to Celerity) but would be dazed from that point. In following rounds you would act as per your rolled initiative.

The Nerveskitter description starts-

You cast this spell when you and your party roll for initiative. Unlike other immediate actions, you can cast this spell while flat-footed.

From the SRD:

Determine which characters are aware of their opponents at the start of the battle. If some but not all of the combatants are aware of their opponents, a surprise round happens before regular rounds of combat begin. The combatants who are aware of the opponents can act in the surprise round, so they roll for initiative. In initiative order (highest to lowest), combatants who started the battle aware of their opponents each take one action (either a standard action or a move action) during the surprise round. Combatants who were unaware do not get to act in the surprise round. If no one or everyone starts the battle aware, there is no surprise round.

Combatants who have not yet rolled initiative do so. All combatants are now ready to begin their first regular round of combat.

As far as I can tell this means by RAW the suprise round happens before the supprised characters roll initiative which means nerveskitter is not cast until after the supprise round. This will trigger Celerity (due to the contingency) that will enable you to act immediately at that point. At no point does it say that Celerity changes your initiative slot.

While Nerveskitter can be cast as an immediate action (as per the second sentence in the spell description) it can still only be cast when you roll for initiative (as per the first sentence in the spell description).

I think the only way the "If the subject does not make an initiative check within 1 round, this spell has no effect." would come into play is if you are not suprised and so roll initiative at the start of the suprise round but cast Nervskitter on an ally who is suprised. In this case the suprise round would happen between the spell being cast and it taking effect so there would be the possiblity that the target character may not need to roll initiative at that point due to the events of the suprise round.

Edited based on comments.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Nerveskitter gives +5 Even so... Celerity let's you act NOW! and nerveskitter might not activate but contingency (Celerity) does activate because it was cast, it's an immediate action and can be done while flat-footed. This answer needs some improvement regarding that... The part: ''If the subject does not make an initiative check within 1 round, this spell has no effect.'' wich means it can be done before combat, that sentence would not be there, the question is Can I do an immediate action during a surprise round (being flat footed does not prevent me from doing it in this case) \$\endgroup\$
    – Maxpire
    Jan 23, 2020 at 12:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Ok that's better +1 I'll just change the contingency to be when something does something hostile activate then, I'll be able to act in the surprise round that way. Edit something so I can revote again plz cannot act does include immediate action even if flat footed I guess but casting it in the surprise round to save a swift action is clever! (If I'm not surprised ) \$\endgroup\$
    – Maxpire
    Jan 23, 2020 at 15:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ well you can take a standard action it says in the surprise round, I think a reasonable DM would allow an immediate action (swift action) instead but not both, losing a standard action (I'm ambushing) on the surprise round is not worth it, it would be better to just cast a spell, then after the suprise round use nerveskitter (contingency celerity) then going first, having+5 initiative for the roll, then be dazed or resist via quick recovery feat, then having another standard action (no swift) if I start, so possibly 3 standard actions this way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Maxpire
    Jan 24, 2020 at 7:47
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @maximecuillerier Actions in Combat says: "You can take a swift action any time you would normally be allowed to take a free action." You are allowed to take free actions, you sayed it yourself. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2020 at 19:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @maximecuillerier And you are of course correct about the later comment. There were no swift action when surprise round was first defined. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2020 at 19:23

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