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Can you use readied actions to avoid being hit?

This came up in our game today; after I thought about it, it seems incredibly exploitable. Here are some examples of how you could avoid being hit. As a tank, if you give up your turn to waste the enemy's turn, then that's not so bad a trade.

Example 1:
You ready an action to 5-foot step back when somebody approaches you. You have now just become immune to full attacks as in order to full attack you, somebody has to 5-foot step towards you. Assume they are standing 10 feet away from you. When they 5-foot to get in range, you simply 5-foot back and their turn is wasted.

Example 2:
You ready an action to 5-foot step back when somebody attacks you. RAW says your step goes before their attack and then they finish their action. They seemingly cannot cancel the action and pick a new one. In this case, somebody standing beside you declares an attack, you step away in response, and they lost their attack.

Is this allowed per the rules? It seems broken.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Please clarify your example #2. Who is trying to do what? \$\endgroup\$ – Jeor Mattan Nov 12 '14 at 20:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ And clarify your example #1 - your opponent can take a five foot step and full attack just fine. They can't full attack at the end of an otherwise normal movement. Do you mean only in the case that they are 5' away at the start of the round and they try to 5' step to you? \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 12 '14 at 20:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kendric You're not supposed to edit answers into the question. Please accept an answer or, barring that, combine the knowledge into your own answer and accept that. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Nov 12 '14 at 21:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Being able to dance around in a battle, avoiding attacks is certainly not "broken", though it may not be the best strategy. It might be good when wounded or otherwise weak. \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Nov 13 '14 at 1:29
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In general, readying an action can be used defensively, but only in certain situations. It's not a catch-all way to prevent ever being attacked in melee.

In example 1, you only become immune to the first person who needs to approach you in order to full attack you. This means that anyone who doesn't need to move (already adjacent, reach or ranged weapon, etc) can still full attack you. Likewise, once you react to one, your readied action is used up, and other people can still 5-foot up to you (or pounce you) and get their full-attacks in.

To make example 2 work, you'd need to ready an attack against the first person to attack you and 5-foot away after the attack. It works surprisingly well, but still has flaws. It still only works against people you can reach (so ranged and reach weapons still foil your strategy) and still only works against one foe per turn (so a team can still overcome you). Also note if the foe is already in reach when they start their turn, they can take their own 5-foot step and still complete their attack.

With either strategy, you are still giving up your own ability to make full-attacks, and once the opponents figure out what you're doing, they'll likely just avoid you since you only react when they approach/attack you, kill your party first, then come back to finish you off when they can surround you.

Source

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Please note also that while readying actions you cannot be full-attacking; and that I had to reword example 2 to make it work within the rules: it doesn't work exactly the way you wrote, but it does work, you just ready "I attack when someone attacks me" and 5-foot as part of your readied attack. Also note that the "readied 5-foot and counterattack" technique works really well for ranged attacks - a crossbow sniper stuck in melee can use it to take their shot off-turn and without provoking. \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Nov 12 '14 at 20:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Readying actions doesn't allow you do act out of turn, it shifts your location in the initiative order to when you act. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Nov 12 '14 at 21:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jason_c_o you are confusing readying with delaying \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 12 '14 at 21:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk "Readying an Action: You can ready a standard action.[...] Anytime before your next action, you may take the readied action in response to that condition.[...] If the triggered action is part of another character's activities, you interrupt the other character.[...] Your initiative result changes. For the rest of the encounter, your initiative result is the count on which you took the readied action, and you act immediately ahead of the character whose action triggered your readied action." \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Nov 12 '14 at 21:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ edited to improve readability \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 Nov 13 '14 at 9:33
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In both examples, you become immune to that person’s full-attack. Not to anyone else’s.

And giving up a turn to maybe waste an enemy turn is not a good trade. Especially as a “tank” – if you’re not doing anything, but you’re well-defended plus could have this trick up your sleeve, why would anyone ever attack you? They wouldn’t; they’d attack someone who is actually threatening them and who will be easy to hit.

And in most cases, you won’t be able to stop them. Worse, if you can but this is how you respond, you just moved out of the chokepoint that you had. Best case scenario, you have a long, narrow hallway to defend in this manner – in which case a tactical retreat that you describe makes perfect sense and is frequently used in real life.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "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." \$\endgroup\$ – Wyrmwood Nov 13 '14 at 1:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood Huh, where is that from? Haven’t seen that before. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Nov 13 '14 at 1:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan both from 3.5 and PF versions of readied action. See the quote in my answer, for example. \$\endgroup\$ – Jeor Mattan Nov 13 '14 at 7:05
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Short story: yes and yes.

Long story - as per the SRD:

You can ready a standard action, a move action, a swift action, or a free action. To do so, specify the action you will take and the conditions under which you will take it. Then, anytime before your next action, you may take the readied action in response to that condition. 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. Your initiative result changes. For the rest of the encounter, your initiative result is the count on which you took the readied action, and you act immediately ahead of the character whose action triggered your readied 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.

Getting down to the examples provided:

  1. Yes, a step out of reach prevents full attack from that opponent.

  2. Yes, a step out of reach prevents the attack from that opponent.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I updated #2 to not include attacking them, it still wastes their attack though in this case. \$\endgroup\$ – Kendric Nov 12 '14 at 21:03

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