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In our weekly game we had a pretty typical question about a ready action, reaction and bonus action.

I was DM and here is how it starte.

The players decided to explore some ruins. As they explored, they found a massacre and decided to choose caution as they moved forward. As they creeped along, a goblin was spotted on the edge of the ruins near some bit of forest, the Fighter, raise bow and hit the goblin. The Goblin then proceeded to hide back into the forest. Next round, the barbarian wanted to see if he could spot the Goblin, he did, so he dashed to the location. As a reaction to being spotted, the goblin shot the barbarian doing 10 pts of damage. The barbarian then Dashed to the goblin, mitigated damage of 10 points as a reaction and then raged as a bonus action. While that was happening, the goblin decided to use a bonus action to quickly hide back into the forest. So.. is all that possible? Would the 5th level barbarian after doing all that be able to attack as well? The rules on Ready action, reaction and bonus action tend to be confusing. We spent 40min after the game trying to figure it all out.

I will say that I did miss something, I let the Barbarian roll perception to locate the goblin a roll that was goblins stealth vs barbarian perception, however, I found out later, that it should have been a passive check and not a roll, because if the Barbarian wanted an active roll then that would have been his turn and he wouldn't have had another action. He spotted the goblin on the roll then that would have ended the turn. RIGHT?

I need some help.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It isn’t entirely clear from your description that you’re even using turns and initiative…are you using turns and initiative? \$\endgroup\$ Aug 10, 2023 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, welcome to the stack! Make sure you check out the tour for that shiny badge and visit the help center for more information. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 10, 2023 at 16:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Consider itemizing what particular action was used and whose turn in the initative order it was. I suspect you may get your answer if you do this. And I suspect that the answer is probably "No" unless the DM allows a player to roll Perception as a "free" action. Typically we call that an action, but if you use their passive perception many DM allow that takes no action. \$\endgroup\$
    – JWT
    Aug 10, 2023 at 17:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ the Barbarian is a Goliath, so he has Stone's Endurance. You can focus yourself to occasionally shrug off injury. When you take damage, you can use your reaction to roll a d12. Add your Constitution modifier to the number rolled, and reduce the damage by that total. After you use this trait, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oakstout
    Aug 10, 2023 at 18:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes we are using Turns and initiatives. The Barbarian went last in the round. The goblin when before and held his action for when he was spotted with a readied shortbow. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oakstout
    Aug 10, 2023 at 18:02

4 Answers 4

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You seem to misunderstand what bonus actions and readied actions are.

The action economy at first can be fairly confusing, but once you understand it it makes things move much smoother.

One thing to note is that each type of action can (usually) only happen once per round by each creature - player or not.

Actions

This is your run-of-the-mill stuff you do. Usually attacking, casting a spell, et cetera. If you are not sure when something is another type of action, it's usually a 'typical' action. This can only occur on the creature's turn. Note that movement is completely separate from an action.

Bonus Actions

Bonus actions are just that - an action that you do as a bonus! Sometimes a spell or other such ability will say something along the lines of "As a bonus action...". This means that it does not take your singular action. This also occurs on the creatures turn, but can happen before or after the main action (depending on the ability - make sure you read it in full!) However, you can only take a bonus action if the ability you are using allows for it. You cannot attack with an action and decide that you want to attack as a bonus action, unless you have something specific that says "You can attack as a bonus action as well as your main action".

Readied Actions

This one is a bit tricky. In order to ready an action, you MUST sacrifice your main action by stating what you want to do, and when you want to do it. Using your example, the goblin may use its action as "I ready my bow to shoot it at the first person who spots me". This skips its action, and saves it for later. The trigger ('...the first person who spots me') can happen at any point until the creature's next turn, but must be declared as an action. You can also, instead of using a standard action, ready movement up to your move speed in response to the trigger.

Reactions

Reactions are similar to bonus actions, in that you cannot just decide to take them. Only abilities that state 'As a reaction...' or similar can be used as a reaction. They differ because they normally have a trigger event. Consider the spell Feather Fall, which has the casting time of "1 reaction, which you take when you or a creature within 60 feet of you falls". The trigger to allow you to take it as a reaction is "... you or a creature within 60 feet of you falls". Ergo, this does not have to happen on the creature's turn, but once again they only get one until their next turn.

Free actions

There are certain things you can do for free. The PHB lists some of them, such as pulling a lever, picking up a small object, et cetera. This doesn't take any sort of real action, it's just something you do.

In conclusion...

Based on your description, it almost feels like you're 1. Bouncing the turns around and/or 2. Allowing a creature to have multiple actions of the same name on the same turn. To help with this, have an initiative tracker of some sort, and get every creature's action/bonus/free when its their turn. If the goblin runs away, and the Wizard is up next, don't let the Barbarian just run after him when he feels like it - it's the Wizard's turn! (Unless the wizard skips his turn - which he is allowed to do. He can just sit there and twiddle his thumbs if he desires).

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    \$\begingroup\$ You've got a few statements in here that need some adjustments or support. You start with only one type of action per round, but that's not always true and blanket statements can confuse someone later when they find exceptions. Your example of can't attack as an action and then decide to bonus attack as a bonus action You've got a qualifier there, but that qualifier happens pretty often. Again, generalities that are going to be confusing when disproven. Readied actions can also be movement. I mean, there's a ton wrong or misleading in here. -1 \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Aug 10, 2023 at 19:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch-is-skeptical-about-SE that's how the rules work in general, though. It's full of blanket statements that have more specific rules that overrule them. That's one of the first things you learn in the PHB - "If a specific rule contradicts a general rule, the specific rule wins." \$\endgroup\$ Aug 10, 2023 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Then maybe you we should ask OP what the specific situation is and get those details so we can answer their specific question? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Aug 10, 2023 at 19:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that the question was fairly clear. OP did not quite understand the action economy, despite (presumably) reading the PHB on it. I gave my own spin on how each type of action work. I did/will update with more of your suggestions, however - good catch on the readied actions can do movement instead. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 10, 2023 at 19:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you think that they don't understand action economy, then we have duplicate questions which cover those specific pieces and we should close. I'll go ahead and find those. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Aug 10, 2023 at 19:28
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Both because you are unsure of the rules and timing, and because your description is a bit vague, it is not always clear whether the sequence you described followed the rules or not. I have made an attempt to make charitable interpretations for the sequence to be as legitimate as possible in order to both give examples of correct play and point out when it is clear that rules were not followed.

As they creeped along, a goblin was spotted on the edge of the ruins near some bit of forest, the Fighter, raise bow and hit the goblin. The Goblin then proceeded to hide back into the forest.

Round One
Barbarian's Turn:

  • The goblin has not been spotted or the barbarian chose not to act

Fighter's Turn:

  • Spots the goblin (the goblin was not hidden).
  • Action: Attack action, goblin hit.

Goblin's Turn:

  • Bonus Action: Hide.
  • Action: Ready an action to attack if pursued.

Notes: Normally a creature could not take both the Hide action and the Ready action. However, the Goblin has a specific feature, Nimble Escape, that allows it to Hide as a bonus action. A creature has Bonus Actions only when a specific feature grants them.

Next round, the barbarian wanted to see if he could spot the Goblin, he did, so he dashed to the location. As a reaction to being spotted, the goblin shot the barbarian doing 10 pts of damage. The barbarian then Dashed to the goblin, mitigated damage of 10 points as a reaction and then raged as a bonus action. While that was happening, the goblin decided to use a bonus action to quickly hide back into the forest. So.. is all that possible? Would the 5th level barbarian after doing all that be able to attack as well?

Round Two
Barbarian's Turn:

  • Action: Perception Check to spot the Hidden Goblin
  • Action: Dash
    (Note: Illegal play; the Barbarian cannot take two Actions on his turn)
  • Reaction (of Goblin) / Readied Action: Attack; barbarian hit, 10 damage
    (Note: The goblin's reaction trigger must be something it can perceive. It probably cannot perceive that 'it has been spotted', but it should be able to deduce as much from the Barbarian dashing straight toward where it thought it was Hidden. Creatures do not have Reactions unless a specific feature says they do. In this case, that 'feature' was the Goblin using the Ready action on its previous turn.)
  • Reaction (of Barbarian) Stone's Endurance.
    (Note: Creatures do not have Reactions unless a specific feature says they do. In this case, that 'feature' was the Goliath racial trait, which sets the reaction trigger as 'when you take damage')
  • Bonus Action: Enrage.
    (Note: Creatures do not have Bonus Actions unless a specific feature says they do. In this case, that 'feature' was the Barbarian's class feature of Enraging.)

(Question: After all this, can the Barbarian attack as well? No, the Barbarian has already used two actions on his turn. Even if his Passive Perception was good enough to spot the Hidden Goblin without a Perception check, he has used his single Action to Dash. He cannot take the Attack action again this turn.)

(Note: "While that was happening, the goblin decided to use a bonus action to quickly hide back into the forest." No. The goblin cannot act on the barbarian's turn. The goblin was allowed to attack as a reaction because it had previously Readied that action. It has no other 'interruptions' of the barbarian's turn remaining, and must wait until its turn.

Goblin's Turn:

  • Move away from the barbarian. This might take it out of the barbarian's reach, if the barbarian had able to Dash close enough to it on his turn. If so...
    (Note: The Goblin has a number of options here. On the goblin's turn, it can use Nimble Escape to take Disengage as a bonus action and thus leave the Barbarian's reach without incurring an opportunity attack. However, this is not necessary, since Opportunity Attacks are a Reaction, and the Barbarian already used his reaction on Stone's Endurance. He will not get another Reaction until the start of his next turn, so the crafty goblin should save its Bonus Action to Hide. It can leave the Barbarian's reach without him being able to respond.)
  • Bonus Action: Hide. Using its Nimble Escape feature.

(Note that the goblin has not yet taken an Action this turn. It likely will want to take the Dash to move even further from the barbarian while it is still Hidden).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is all assuming the DM is running straight goblins out of the book, too. Amazing breakdown of the likely sequence, though! I do wonder if Dash is narrative and not mechanical in use. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Aug 10, 2023 at 22:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch-is-skeptical-about-SE Yeah, there's a lot that's not clear here. "he dashed to the location" could just mean he moved, but with "The barbarian then Dashed to the goblin" I assumed the capital-D-Dash indicated the mechanical action. Still my assumption, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Aug 10, 2023 at 23:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would also point out that the goblin not using nimble escape because the goliath used stone's endurance is very meta-gaming. I doubt a goblin would understand stone's endurance (or opportunity attacks) and would just nimble escape anyways. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Aug 11, 2023 at 17:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott I would hope the goblin understands whatever in-game narrative concept covers Opportunity Attacks, since it has a dedicated featured half of whose purpose is to prevent them! But it is a fair point that the goblin knowing a reaction had been used would be considered meta-gaming at some tables. At others, there would be a narrative description of the goliath taking a second to 'shake off' the damage, and the goblin realizing that thus distracted, the goliath would not be able to immediately respond to a retreat. YMMV. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Aug 11, 2023 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott Cf. Do I intuitively know if someone already used their reaction? specifically, and more generally about having to use meta-game knowledge to take advantage of in-game abilities: Do reactions that trigger on saving throws give knowledge of saving throws that would otherwise be secret? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Aug 11, 2023 at 19:05
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If you're in initiative order, you can only use an action and a bonus action during your turn. Once it's somebody else's turn, you usually can't do anything.

Now, Ready is a special rule. As an action on your turn, you can take the Ready action, which lets you choose an action that you want take later in the round, and specify a trigger in the world that will make you take that action. In your case, the goblin moved away, used his Bonus Action to hide (via his Nimble Escape ability), and said, "I ready an action to shoot an arrow if anyone approaches me."

If and when that trigger happens, then you expend you reaction to take your previously readied action in the middle of somebody else's turn. So the goblin made an attack with his bow as a reaction, in the middle of the Barbarian's turn, then the Barbarian resumed what he was doing and charged in.

But that's all the goblin can do. It's the Barbarian's turn right now, and the goblin can't take actions or bonus actions during somebody else's turn. The only thing he could do was take that reaction before -- but now that's over. He's an observer until his next turn.

You can't ready a bonus action, nor can you take a bonus action just because a readied action triggered. Also note that since taking your Readied action is a reaction, and you can (usually) only take one reaction per round, the goblin now can't do anything else that takes a reaction -- for example, if the Barbarian moved away, he couldn't make an Opportunity Attack because that would be a reaction and he already used up his one reaction.

Now, on the barbarian's side, Dashing is an action (usually) and he used his bonus action to rage, so unless there was something else going on (like say a Haste spell), the barbarian is pretty much done as well as soon as he reaches the goblin. He can't attack because he's already used his action. Presumably the rest of the party will move up and shoot the goblin before its next turn, but let's say they don't.

On the goblin's next turn (assuming he lives that long), he's standing next to a raging barbarian. The barbarian already used his reaction to fire off Stone's Endurance, so he can't make any opportunity attacks, so the goblin is actually free to just walk away into the forest and hide again (as a bonus action), and has a whole action to use as he pleases as well. The Barbarian probably should have just taken the hit and saved his reaction to make moving away difficult (would cost the goblin an action to Disengage or risk eating a greataxe).

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You can take one of each type of action per round

It is pretty simple: Barring special features like Action Surge, each character (or NPC) has one action, one bonus action, and one Reaction per round, plus one free object interaction. They can use all of them each round, and in addition they can move up to their speed.

Tyically, to use the bonus action, you need to have a feature like a feat or class feature that tells you when you can use it. Without this, you may be unable to use your bonus action.

To use a reaction, you again need to have circumstances that allow you to do so, like for example a situation where you can make an opportunity attack, or someone hitting you with an attack for the shield spell. One way to use your reaction is to use your action on your turn to take the Ready action, and set circumstances and what you will do when they happen. If they happen, which can be on another creatures turn too, you can move or take the announced action as a Reaction. (You cannot ready a bonus action, only an action).

So in your example, here is the barbarians turn that round:

  • Make a Perception check to spot the goblin. Usually, in combat, ability checks require your action. So as you point out, if he actively did so, that would have taken his action. You forgot this, so lets say you as the DM decided this spotting was done passively and free of an action cost. Barbarian used: 0 actions, 0 bonus actions, 0 reactions, no move.

  • The goblin has a feature, Nimble Escape, that allows him to hide or dash as a bonus action, so on his turn (which happend before the barbarians turn), he was able to use his bonus action to hide as you said, and his action to Ready a shot. The goblin upon being spotted shot the barbarian with this Readied action. Note that the circumstance for a Readied action needs to be percievable, so lets assume the barbarian did act in a away the goblin could see1. All this of course did not take any of the barbarians actions, as it is the goblin acting here. Barbarian used: 0 actions, 0 bonus actions, 0 reactions, no move.

  • The barbarian used a Reaction to use his Goliath racial feature Stones Endurance to mitigate the 10 damage and reduce them to 0. This feature allows you to use a Reaction when you take damage, so the use is OK. Barbarian used: 0 actions, 0 bonus actions, 1 reaction (Stone's Endurance), no move.

  • Dashing to the location of the goblin. Dashing normally takes your action, unless you have a feature to do so with your bonus action (like the goblins Nimble Escape). Movement does not cost an action, and if the barbarian could reach the goblin by simply moving, he would not need to Dash. I'll interpret Dashing here as the goblin being so far away that the barbarian had to both move some of his speed, and than also use the Dash action to close the distance. Had you demanded the barbarian uses his action to do the perception check, then he only could have moved his speed and not Dashed any more. Barbarian used: 1 actions (Dash), 0 bonus actions, 1 reaction (Stone's Endurance), some move.

  • The barbarian then entered his rage as a bonus action. Barbarian used: 1 actions (Dash), 1 bonus action (Rage), 1 reaction (Stone's Endurance), some move.

All of this is legitimate. The barbarian used up all his action options, but no more.

While that was happening, the goblin decided to use a bonus action to quickly hide back into the forest.

If this is on the turn of the barbarian, this does not work. The goblin already took its Reaction to shoot the barbarian during the barbarians turn. It will not be able to act again until its own turn rolls around.


1 When you decide on Ready actions for your monsters and NPCs, you should be fair towards the players and really decide what the circumstances are under which they act, not fudge this later on -- because if the players do something different, then the Readied action is lost, and the players have to live by this too when they announce Readied actions.

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