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When the trigger occurs, you can either take your reaction right after the trigger finishes or ignore the trigger. (PHB, Ch9, Actions in Combat)

Does that mean that by ignoring the trigger you don't take reaction, and therefore can take it the next time the trigger occurs? Or is your readied action wasted?

E.g. a mage is ready to blast any enemy charging through the door, but it's just a lowly xvart. Can she skip to the next one?

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If you ignore one occurrence of a trigger, you don't have to ignore subsequent triggers.

In the example in the question, the mage can opt not to blast any of the triggering enemies; this does not restrict her ability to blast other triggering enemies later in the round.

Looking at the rules, there's nothing that says a character can't react to a trigger after ignoring an earlier trigger. The rule cited in the question applies every time a triggering event occurs, and as long as the character still has not taken a reaction, they can choose to use it or ignore the trigger.

The character is bound by the circumstance they chose to trigger their reaction, however. If the mage declared she would "blast the first thing that comes through the door", then that's the limit of what will trigger her reaction.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So do you think the freedom to skip should be counterbalanced by asking for very specific triggers? \$\endgroup\$
    – Nerdrage
    Feb 20 '16 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the circumstances a player gives for triggering readied actions should be simple, but not necessarily specific. Ultimately this is up to the DM; if the players are getting tricky with Ready triggers in ways that seem abusive, they can put whatever limits in place they feel are necessary. And, of course, the monsters and NPCs the players are fighting with can use the same tactics against the players. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Feb 20 '16 at 20:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Its not really possible to make this abusive. You burn an action and reaction for something that might happen. A player can be as specific as they want so long as they have a trigger condition that is metc nothing the in the phb restricts the ready action from being creative or advantageous. Example, i use ready actions on casters to force concentration checks due to damage. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 23 '16 at 22:04
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If you ignore the trigger, you give up your readied action.

It means that you can take the readied action as a reaction after the trigger occurs, or not. If you ignore the trigger, you then forgo your readied action. You can take the Ready action again on your next turn. The language seems weird, but its intent is to specify that when the trigger occurs, you don't have to take your readied action. If circumstances have changed, you can choose to not take your readied action after all.

Offering the opportunity to "ignore the trigger" is all the rules have to say on the matter. Any disagreement about what that means will be up to the DM to adjudicate. In the example you provided, it would really depend on the trigger explained by the player, and the adjudication of what that means by the DM. If the player said, for example, "I ready a fire bolt to blast the first enemy that comes through the door," then I wouldn't allow the player to "hold" their readied action if the first enemy isn't one that they want to attack.

The rules say you can take your reaction or ignore the trigger. By offering no additional information, this strongly implies that you can't take another trigger, or change your trigger if you choose to ignore the first one. I think the rules would say so, if that were the case. The player is given two options when the trigger occurs, and that's it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @RedWullf I didn't sense this strong implication, that's why I asked. Don't you think that if you had only one chance the rules would warn you? \$\endgroup\$
    – Nerdrage
    Feb 20 '16 at 19:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nerdrage I read the same either/or implication as Red Wullf. In fact, I had never even considered Mark Cogan's interpretation prior to reading this question. When the rules don't say you can do something, but also don't say you can't (as seems to be the case here), at best it falls to "DM's discretion". \$\endgroup\$ Jun 2 '16 at 22:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you read the rules literally, nothing indicates that you cannot react to the second occurrence of the trigger instead of the first. If the trigger can occur multiple times, "when the trigger occurs" is a conditional that is met multiple times, and so the then clause happens multiple times. "When it is noon, you can eat lunch or skip lunch" means that if I skip one lunch, I can still eat lunch the next day. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 19 '17 at 23:28
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I'm leaning towards there is only one trigger camp

When the trigger occurs, ... or ignore the trigger

Which you can contrast with:

When a trigger occurs, ... or ignore that trigger

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    \$\begingroup\$ That wording contrast would only be used if the Ready action could have multiple different triggers defined. "A" is always grammatically incorrect for one trigger, whether it checks once or multiple times. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 20 '16 at 18:16
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I'd argue it depends on the player's intent with the trigger.

If the wizard player asks to specifically blast the first enemy that comes through the door, they can't change that. The moment that door opens and reveals an enemy, they have to blast it or lose their reaction.

If they want to blast any enemy that comes through the door, they can choose to hold off for a stronger enemy - at their own risk of being attacked by the first enemy and losing concentration on the spell they're holding, or not having the trigger happen again that round and losing the spell slot that way.

In any case, as a player? I'd blast the first enemy, regardless - because of the aforementioned risk of the enemy attacking my character and dropping their concentration. Plus, any enemy you take out of the equation early is one that can't deal the killing blow later in the fight.

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Rules as Written

Consider the case where the caster readies, as Marq says, to "blast the first thing that comes through the door". With that as their trigger, the caster gets only one chance. When the first thing comes through the door, they can react to the trigger or ignore it. If they ignore it, however, they have now lost their readied action, because there will be no other first thing through the door - that trigger cannot repeat (at least not this turn).

However, suppose a more careful caster worded their trigger as readying to "blast a foe when it comes through the door". This trigger could be repeated multiple times before their next turn - if they ignore the first creature, a lowly xvart, are they allowed to use their reaction at any future time when a foe comes through the door?

Unfortunately, RAW does not answer this. We are told "When the trigger occurs, you can either take your reaction right after the trigger finishes or ignore the trigger." We know that if you take your reaction, you cannot respond to a subsequent trigger, because you get only one reaction per turn. But when you ignore the trigger, we are not told what happens - the rules do not specify whether you can then hold your reaction for a subsequent trigger or whether in ignoring the trigger your reaction is equally as spent as if you had used it1.

Let's compare it to other reactions

Since there is no clear indication from the text for how this is supposed to work, we can cast a wider net and look at how similar mechanics work. Readied actions use your reaction, and there are other things that use reactions as well, things that might be said to have 'automatic triggers' or 'repeated triggers'. For example, whenever an opponent you can see leaves your reach, you are permitted to make an opportunity attack as a reaction. If you do so, your reaction is used. However, if you do not choose to do so, your reaction is not used. The next time (and the next and the next) this happens, you are permitted to make the choice again. Ignoring the first opportunity does not remove your ability to react to any future opportunities.

Suppose a player told you, "As my action, I want to ready an action to attack an opponent that leaves my reach." You might respond, "That's an opportunity attack, you get that anyway." To which they answer, "Nevertheless, it is a reaction to a perceivable circumstance and a legal readied action," and you accept it. Then the first time an opponent leaves their reach they ignore the trigger, waiting for another opponent. Do you then disallow all future opportunity attacks? "I'm sorry, once you said it was readied, that locks you into taking it either the first time or never - you should have not readied it so that you would be able to do it at any time." Does this make sense?

And it turns out that this is the general rule for reactions. A caster with a reaction available when hit by an attack may choose to cast shield as a reaction, and that choice may be made any time they are hit - ignoring the first triggering event does not prevent them from using the spell later in the round. An enchanter with instinctive charm can use their reaction whenever a creature within 30 feet attacks them - even if they have ignored previous creatures that have done so. By and large, class features, spells, and other powers that require the use of a reaction are flexible in terms of their use and do not require that you 'use it or lose it' at the first opportunity. Why should readied actions be any different?

Player Agency

As a general rule, it is good DM practice to encourage player agency and give players more choices, rather than fewer. If a player has already forgone their action on their turn and invested in a readied action, they are likely to feel cheated if their use of that action is even further restricted. Consider a caster who readied an action to 'blast anything that comes through the door'. The DM has a goblin pick up a rock, throw it through the door, and then enter. Even if the DM had planned to have the goblin do this before the player announced their intent, the player is likely to feel cheated by a 'gotcha DM' who then says, "Well, you can blast the rock or ignore it but either way you can't attack the goblin." A player then trying to avoid such a situation falls into saying things like "I ready an action to attack the first creature that comes through the door, provided I think it is an enemy, is susceptible to my attack, and my attack is unlikely to do more than twice its maximum hp." This quickly becomes an adversarial situation where the DM and player are conflicting through words and definitions rather than fantasy characters, and is ultimately unlikely to be satisfying to either of them. In my experience, it is better to generously allow players options for their actions, and then apply strictly realistic resolutions to those actions, than to try to restrict their options for actions even before they choose. With more options, even when things do not go as they intended, they still feel satisfied that they have been able to make the choices they wanted.

1Jeremy Crawford has tweeted in favor of you retaining your readied action for a subsequent trigger, but this is not official:

Ready action. The rules says you can ignore the trigger, because yes, you can ignore it. You can try again if it is open-ended enough.

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