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Ready Action: You can take a 5-foot step as part of your readied action, but only if you don’t otherwise move any distance during the round.

Does that mean you can ready a 5-foot step forward plus 1 attack and "negate" an enemy with a Reach pole-arm who charges you or moves and tries to attack you? Just specify the conditions for the readied action as "enemy with reach weapon moves to within 10 feet of me".

The action occurs just before the action that triggers it. If the triggered action is part of another character’s activities, you interrupt the other character. Assuming he is still capable of doing so, he continues his actions once you complete your readied action.

Doesn't that mean that he doesn't even get to attack? Would you house-rule that both attacks happen simultaneously at least? Or remove the 5-foot step from readied actions completely? What negative repercussions would either of these changes have? Serious, important question!

How about if you have a bow and someone with a sword moves to a square adjacent to you and tries to attack and you have readied a 5-foot step back and a bow attack? These methods to make enemy lose his attack completely while you make one seem unfair and cheesy.

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Questions & Answers

  • Question: A creature wants to take a standard action to ready, setting the action and condition as I take a 5-ft. step toward the foe and make a standard melee attack if a foe with reach weapon gets within 10 ft. of me. Is this a valid ready action condition and action?

    Answer: Yes, if the DM says they are.

    Assuming the DM agrees, because "the triggered action is part of another character's activities, [the creature who took the ready action] interrupt[s] the other character" (PH 116). Thus the creature who takes the ready action needn't worry about making the ready action's standard melee attack before a creature's met the condition somehow. The creature who met the condition is engaged in an activity--moving. Were the condition set to an activity that defies interruption, the ready action's action would occur before that activity. In either case, however, the creature who takes the ready action's action has its place in the initiative order adjusted to before the creature who met the ready action's condition.

  • Question: From the previous question, can the creature that met the ready action's condition still make an attack after the ready action's action is resolved?

    Answer: Yes, depending on his available options and weapons. The creature who met the condition can adjust his behavior based on the resolution of the ready action's action.

    For example, the creature who met the ready action's condition by moving 5 ft. can, after the ready action's action's resolved, continue taking a move action to move up to his speed or state that 5 ft. of movement is his 5-ft. step and take a full action to make a full attack.

    For example, the creature who met the ready action's condition by taking the charge action can take a free action to drop his reach weapon and attack (gaining the bonuses for making a charge) with a weapon both that he can ready as a free action and that can hit an adjacent foe (e.g. an unarmed strike).

  • Question: I'm considering the following house rule: When a creature's ready action's conditions are met, the creature that takes its ready action's action and the creature that took the action that met the ready action's conditions both take their actions simultaneously. What are this house rule's repercussions?

    Answer: First, this house rule puts the burden of deciding precisely when actions occur onto the DM. As that's one of the most important parts of any game, it's a burden--for good reason--the game normally assumes instead.

    Example A: Under the Rules as Written

    Lady Alexa goes first in the initiative order. Countess Cecilia goes second. Lady Alexa, 30 ft. from Countess Cecelia, takes a standard action to ready the condition and action If Countess Cecelia makes a ranged attack against me, I move 30 ft. adjacent to her. Countess Cecelia says she's making a ranged attack against Lady Alexa. Meeting Lady Alexa's condition, before Countess Cecelia makes the ranged attack, Lady Alexa moves 30 ft. adjacent to Countess Cecelia.

    Countess Cecelia, with Lady Alexa now all up in her grill, elects not to make a ranged attack with her crossbow. Instead, Countess Cecelia takes a free action to remove a hand from her crossbow, takes a move action to draw her longsword, and takes a standard action to make a melee attack with her longsword against Lady Alexa.

    (If Lady Alexa's ready action condition went unmet or if Lady Alexa picked not to take the ready action's action after the condition was met, Countess Cecelia makes her ranged attack normally.)

    Example B: Under the House Rules

    Lady Alexa goes first in the initiative order. Countess Cecilia goes second. Lady Alexa, 30 ft. from Countess Cecelia, takes a standard action to ready the condition and action If Countess Cecelia makes a ranged attack against me, I move 30 ft. adjacent to her. Countess Cecelia says she makes a ranged attack against Lady Alexa. Meeting Lady Alexa's condition, while Countess Cecelia makes the ranged attack, Lady Alexa moves 30 ft., maybe ending her movement adjacent to Countess Cecelia.

    The DM must rule--unless the house rules are further codified--how much movement Lady Alexa completes when Countess Cecelia makes her ranged attack. The DM may rule that...

    • Lady Alexa's movement begins when Countess Cecelia makes her ranged attack. This makes Lady Alexa's decision to take the ready action a poor one.
    • Lady Alexa completes a portion of her movement--how much is dependent on the DM--when Countess Cecelia makes her ranged attack. This may make Lady Alexa's decision to take the ready action a poor one.
    • Lady Alexa's movement ends when Countess Cecelia makes her ranged attack, committing Lady Cecelia to making a ranged attack that provokes an attack of opportunity from a now-adjacent Lady Alexa and that suffers a -4 penalty to the attack roll for firing into melee. This makes Lady Alexa's decision to take the ready action an exceptionally good one.

    No matter the DM's decision, either Countess Cecelia or Lady Alexa will be disappointed.

    Second--and probably the rule's intent--, the house rule forces creatures to take actions they wouldn't otherwise take.

    In Example A, Countess Cecelia saying she's making a ranged attack doesn't commit her to making a ranged attack. Countess Cecelia's taken no actions when Lady Alexa's conditions are met, and because Countess Cecelia "is still capable of doing so, [she] continues [her] actions once [Lady Alexa] complete[s her] readied action" (PH 160). Example A means Lady Alexa must play smarter (e.g. not zipping up to crossbowmen who have obvious and readily available melee weapons).

    In Example B, Countess Cecelia is required to take her action because actions occur simultaneously. Countess Cecelia, then, must make the ranged attack at some DM-determined point despite the conditions surrounding that ranged attack changing. Example B means Countess Cecelia, through no fault of her own, may--depending on the DM's judgment--behave foolishly (e.g. firing her crossbow at an adjacent creature who's waving a sword in her face when Countess Cecelia has a perfectly good longsword at her side).

  • Question: I'm considering the following house rule: Creatures can't take a 5-ft. as part of the ready action. What are this house rule's repercussions?

    Answer: I don't know. I've never played in a campaign with such a house rule, and the ready action hasn't been used to such a degree that revisiting it was necessary in any campaign I've played in or DMed.

    That said, I couldn't even find discussion about this specific house rule, but, tangentially, if considering such a house rule, there's one group that removed everyone's ability to take a 5-ft. step when threatened, and that group was pleased by the results. Further, one discussion proposes eliminating the 5-ft. step altogether. Those could be of interest.

  • Question: A creature takes a standard action to ready, setting the action and condition as I take a 5-ft. step away from the foe and make a standard ranged attack if a foe moves adjacent to me. Is this cheesy?

    Answer: No. In fact, it's a valid stalling tactic, especially against foes with limited options.

    First, the creature that takes a ready action consistently won't, under most circumstances, ever be able to take a full action, and that includes making a full attack. This by itself makes the ready action of limited to use to creatures reliant on full attacks to inflict lots of damage to their foes, as many archers are.

    Second, after the creature that took the ready action's action resolves its ranged attack, if the creature that met the ready action's condition can continue his movement, he may. That is, unless that creature's already taken what he deliberately called as a 5-ft. step (e.g. to avoid attacks of opportunity from a second foe), he can continue moving up to his speed and, if actions remain, take a standard action to make a melee attack against the archer.

    Third, the archer--unless, in addition to wielding the bow, he's also simultaneously wielding a weapon that permits him to threaten an area--doesn't threaten an area and can't make attacks of opportunity. After the archer uses such a tactic a time or two, the archer risks his foe changing tactics from standard attacks to, for example, grapple attempts, sunder attempts, or trip attempts.


The ready action depends a lot on the DM

Some DMs are comfortable with the ready action being extremely broad, while others are uncomfortable until every variable is defined. Most are in between. Readying an attack against a creature or event is usually sufficient, but the DM can demand greater specificity, mandating creatures who ready determine their actions with regards to weapons, ammunition, and use of feats and other special abilities. Further, the DM can demand the condition include occupying a location on the battlefield or a specific foe when multiple foes are available.

I'd suggest, rather than using house rules to modify the ready action that the DM instead carefully examine how PCs are abusing ready actions then mandate more specific actions and conditions.

Example, Part 1
Lady Alexa, armed with longsword and heavy shield, is on an open field 35 ft. away from Lord Bob, his glaive already readied. Lovers once, they now find themselves fighting on opposite sides. Lady Alexa wins initiative.

Lady Alexa takes a move action to draw her longsword then takes a standard action to take the ready action, setting the action and the condition as I take a 5 ft. step toward Lord Bob and make a melee attack if Lord Bob gets within 10 ft. of me.

Many DMs would probably find this condition perfectly reasonable, but if players are abusing the ready action to such a degree that house rules are being considered, the DM can mandate the ready action's action and condition be more refined.

As an example, the DM can say that to pick a creature's action as a condition, the creature who take the ready action must pick as a condition a specific action (e.g. charge, grapple, standard attack, full attack).

This has precedent. Several weapons say to use the ready action to brace against a charge. For example, "If you use a ready action to set a halberd against a charge, you deal double damage on a successful hit against a charging character" (PH 118).

Thus a creature can take the ready action, setting the action and condition I make a standard attack with my halberd if a creature charges to within my reach. Such a condition is unmet, for example, by creatures who take move actions to move up to their speeds within the creature's reach or who take full actions to run within the creature's reach.

Thus under a DM who mandates it, Lady Alexa's ready action would be I take a 5 ft. step toward Lord Bob and make a melee attack if Lord Bob charges to within 10 ft. of me. Lord Bob, then, could take a double move or even take the run action to approach Lady Alexa without meeting the conditions.

(I don't think this is necessary in most cases. It would take a lot of abuse of extremely broad conditions to make me implement it. The most common use of ready actions in most games I play and DM is distracting spellcasters, which has specific rules regarding the ready action. Most of the time when my players want to ready what they really want to do is delay.)

It's also up to the DM (or, with a generous DM, maybe Lady Alexa's player) to describe to Lord Bob how Lady Alexa's actions appear on the battlefield:

  1. "Lady Alexa draws her sword."
  2. "Lady Alexa draws her sword, eyes Lord Bob warily, her sword poised for action."
  3. "Lady Alexa draws her sword, scans the battlefield, and evaluates Lord Bob's position. It looks like she's doing some mental calculations, noting Lord Bob's glaive and lack of a backup weapon. Her feet shuffle as though to move forward, but she stops, waiting, a grim smile of determination gracing her once-lovely-but-now-disfigured countenance."
  4. "Lady Alexa takes a move action to draw her longsword. Then she takes the ready action."
  5. "Lady Alexa takes a move action to draw her longsword. Then she takes the ready action to make a standard melee attack if Lord Bob approaches within 10 ft. of her."

It's entirely the DM's call if Lord Bob knows what Lady Alexa's done, and if Lord Bob knows what action Lady Alexa's taken Lord Bob won't charge. He could flee, taking the run action. He could take a double move toward Lady Alexa and see what happens. He could wait. He could draw a hidden weapon. He could cast a spell.

But let's say the DM goes with number 1, above, and Lord Bob totally does what Lady Alexa knows Lord Bob always does: charge in with his glaive.

Example, Part 2
Lord Bob takes a full action to charge. When he's within 10 ft. of Lady Alexa, Lady Alexa's condition is met and she interrupts Lord Bob's action by taking a 5 ft. step toward Lord Bob and making a melee attack against Lord Bob with her longsword. Lord Bob can't make the attack at the end of his charge with his glaive--he's too close to Lady Alexa. Not wanting to provoke the attack of opportunity, he doesn't make an attack.

Lord Bob could've made an attack with an unarmed strike--switching grips is a free action and it's Lord Bob's turn--and provoked an attack of opportunity from Lady Alexa, but gaining the charge's bonus on his unarmed strike. Also, had Lord Bob the feat Quick Draw (PH 98) and a weapon capable of threatening adjacent squares he could've made an attack with that weapon, also receiving the bonus for his charge, dropping his glaive as a free action. He could've had armor spikes. A spiked gauntlet, even. But he doesn't.

"Lord Bob shouldn't have to wear spiked armor!"

You're right, he shouldn't, but Lord Bob should be aware that his chosen fighting style leaves him vulnerable to careful, patient foes, and that he's a reach fighter without a way to attack adjacent foes. That's a weakness his foes can--and will--exploit.

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Here is a cheesy ready action usage. What you describe is a(n almost) fair fight.

This is a question related to the immediate action mechanics and these three questions.

Not delving into the matter deeper, let's assume that one can take an action between movement part of the charge and the attack part of the charge.

Under this assumption the aswer is not necessarily - that is, the attacker gets to continue his action, assuming he is capable of doing so.

The action sequence is as follows:

  • Character A readies an action to 5-ft step towards the charging opponent and to perform a standard attack.
  • Character B, wielding a reach weapon, charges the character A. Movement occurs.
  • When character B finishes his movement and is 10 ft away readied action triggers.
  • Character A performs 5-ft step towards character B and is now adjacent.
  • Character A performs his standard attack. Character B already has a -2 penalty to Armor Class due to charging.
  • Character B performs attack part of his charge, provided he is capable of doing so (reach weapon capable of striking adjacent squares, other attack modes such as unarmed attack, being not tripped by a readied trip attempt, et cetera).

While usually character B would not be able to perform the attack, this is not always the case.

The example where character A steps back and fires a ranged weapon is actually resolved in the same way, except character B has much less options of actually performing his attack.

The unfairness is not an issue: readied action happens under the specific and predefined circumstances, and, therefore, hugely depends on the defender's ability to guess the attacker's actions or limit them. It is this ability that gives an edge, not the ready action mechanic per se, at least not in the 5-ft step part.

To illustrate this, let's assume you removed 5-ft step from the readied action, unless it is the only part of it (ready allows move action, so it would be unwise to ready just a 5-ft step).

To achieve almost the same effect character A to ready to close the distance just before the character B attacks. That will end us in the same situation, sans one readied attack from A, and on the next round A is adjacent to B and able to full attack.

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