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This question already has an answer here:

The Ready action occurs when the trigger finishes (PHB p.192):

Sometimes you want to get the jump on a foe or wait for a particular circumstance before you act. To do so, you can take the Ready action on your turn so that you can act later in the round using your reaction.

First, you decide what perceivable circumstance will trigger your reaction. Then, you choose the action you will take in response to that trigger, or you choose to move up to your speed in response to it.

When the trigger occurs, you can either take your reaction right after the trigger finishes or ignore the trigger.

Seems simple enough.

For the purposes of this question, please assume that a creature casting a spell is a "perceivable trigger" - that is worthy of a question on its own (I'll link it when I write it).

With respect to casting a spell as a trigger it seems that the player/creature can choose 2 possible timings:

  1. "when a spell is cast" meaning the spell is completed and the reaction can then be taken, or
  2. "when a spell starts being cast" meaning when the caster pulls out his components/focus and waves his hands etc.

There are advantages to both timings. The ones related to 2. being most obvious i.e. you can do something before the spell happens. For example, you might be able to move out of the area of affect, render the caster unconscious, cast a Silence spell on them, attack them before their Barkskin comes into effect etc. The advantages of no 1. are that it can be advantageous to follow on from an ally's spell or attack the caster after his concentration spell is finished in order to break concentration etc.

To my mind, 1. is uncontroversial and works with 1 reaction and 1 action casting times; it has an issue with multi-round casting times but a common-sense approach of allowing the reaction after the caster's first turn readily overcomes this.

So, is it permissible for the player to opt for the second timing?

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marked as duplicate by Adeptus, nitsua60, KRyan, DuckTapeAl, Tritium21 Jan 12 '16 at 5:11

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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Is it permissible for the player to opt for the second timing?

No, because you're asking for finer resolution than 5e really provides.

Casting a spell is an action*. Whichever action your readier chooses is an action. In 5e's action economy actions take the time of (1 action), and it's parsed no finer than that.

To opt for the second timing is to argue that the duration of the readier's action is less than the duration of the caster's action, even though they're both (1 action).

But speed factor initiative (DMG pp.270-1) contemplates differing speeds of actions...

Yes, it does. So you could certainly choose to use that optional rule, and your table may really enjoy the tactical choices that go into thinking about the differing speeds of your actions.

But you should remember that in every edition of D&D people have always looked for ways to interrupt spellcasters, and the designers have always tried to make sure it's really hard to do. Just be sure that when you think about interrupting spellcasters, you consider the various attempts that could be made to interrupt all the other actions: interrupting the archer as he begins to nock, interrupting the paladin as she begins her attack, interrupting the rogue as he begins to Hide, &c.


* - Of course, many spells have a casting time longer than 1 action, as @DanHenderson rightly points out. These might be reasonable to treat differently. However, since the Ready action and turns imply being in initiative I'll ignore multi-round casting times; they're rarely used in combat, anyway.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How does Counterspell fit into this? It has similar wording to the second timing, and clearly happens before the spell is cast \$\endgroup\$ – lithas Jan 12 '16 at 4:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @lithas similar, but I think the devil's in the distinctions: Counterspell specifically says "you attempt to interrupt a creature in the process of casting a spell" while Ready says "you can take your action right after the trigger finishes." (emphasis mine in both cases.) It seems to me that Counterspell is specifically being constructed as an interrupt, as opposed to the explicit sequentiality of Ready. That said, I suggest you check out Adeptus' linked answer above--I'm not sure he's not right and I'm not wrong.... \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jan 12 '16 at 4:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Counterspell is a REACTION. I don't believe you can ready a reaction (and you also don't need to.) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 12 '16 at 14:40

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