Free actionsD20PFSRD in Pathfinder take almost no time. But can they be performed outside of one's turn or in response to some trigger?

Scenario 1: Can a Barbarian enter rage in response to taking damage outside of her turn? Likewise, can anyone drop prone in response to being attacked from distance?

Scenario 2: Can a Barbarian enter rage in response to taking damage during her turn (for example, as a result of an attack of opportunity)?



Under the free actions section in the SRD, check out the rules for speaking.


In general, speaking is a free action that you can perform even when it isn't your turn. [emphasis mine]

There's also the sentence under the free actions section of Actions in Combat:

You can perform one or more free actions while taking another action normally.

These two phrases imply that normal free actions are only taken on your turn, unless the particular action states otherwise.

So for your scenarios,

  1. No and no. These are both "normal" free actions (i.e. they don't say you can perform them when it isn't your turn).
  2. Yes, but it needn't be in response to the attack. She can enter the rage at any time during her turn since it is a free action.
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    \$\begingroup\$ Aside from the speaking example, 'Immediate Actions' are the only actions that you can perform outside of your turn. You can only perfom one per round and you cannot use a swift action in the same round. \$\endgroup\$ – Macona Jul 5 '11 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Other than this line is there anywhere that says that? Free actions are just that free. They can be done anytime the GM says they can be done. This line simply limits when a gm can say no. \$\endgroup\$ – user2015 Jul 5 '11 at 15:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chad do you have a citation that says that? Is there anywhere in the rules that says free actions can be taken any time? The d20srd states “You can perform one or more free actions while taking another action normally” which also implies that it is during your normal turn. \$\endgroup\$ – dpatchery Jul 5 '11 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ The "free" in "free action" doesn't change when it can be taken, only that it does not consume a standard action. That's the only distinction: it doesn't cost. (It's not "free" as in speech, just "free" as in beer.) Otherwise it's just like other actions that must be taken on your turn. This is obvious if you read the entire Actions in Combat rules in the d20 SRD rather than just bits and pieces. Nothing in Pathfinder indicates that this has been changed from the d20 SRD. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 5 '11 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Nothing at all in either of those sections quoted states that a free action cannot be taken at other times. \$\endgroup\$ – user28753 Nov 7 '16 at 0:59

Adding a bit more information to the discussion. WotC clarified this in an old blog post about 3.5:

You cannot use a free action during another creature's turn. Speaking is an exception; you can speak during another creature's turn (see page 144 in the Player's Handbook). Remember, however, that you're limited to just a few sentences.


As noted in Part One, a free action is something you do during your turn that takes hardly any time at all.

Pathfinder has the same rule, they seem to just be relying on this clarification. See @Erik Burigo's answer for the full details.


Also not relevant to the question, but relevant to current discussion:

Many people believe that a free action never provokes an attack of opportunity, but that is not a feature of free actions.

If you take a free action that provokes, you're going to eat an opportunity attack.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's D&D 3.5 rules. Pathfinder, while based off of d20 systems, is a separate product and publisher. Rulings by WotC for a different d20 system are not relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – user28753 Nov 7 '16 at 1:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @EdwardHarington - While they are different games, the whole reason Pathfinder exists is because Paizo was worried about 4e licensing, so they took all of the 3.5 OGL content and made their own game. They even marketed it as D&D 3.75. The history of the game and the designers intent is clearly steeped in 3.5 rules and rulings. \$\endgroup\$ – Cthos Nov 7 '16 at 22:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Be that as it may, it is still its own product, and has diverged from its source material in may areas. It is maintained by a different company, and differently balanced. One cannot assume that any given mechanic in Pathfinder functions identically to its D&D 3.5 counterpart. \$\endgroup\$ – user28753 Nov 9 '16 at 1:00

Both and lack a formal definition of what a turn is. However, its meaning could be inferred from other rules.

If we all agree that in a round, every combatant takes a turn and in your turn you take actions, then I'd infer a possible answer using the following hints (bold and italic emphasis is mine):

Free Actions:

Free actions don't take any time at all, though there may be limits to the number of free actions you can perform in a turn.


In general, speaking is a free action that you can perform even when it isn't your turn. Speaking more than a few sentences is generally beyond the limit of a free action.

Swift Actions:

[...] You can perform one swift action per turn without affecting your ability to perform other actions. In that regard, a swift action is like a free action. You can, however, perform only one single swift action per turn, regardless of what other actions you take. You can take a swift action anytime you would normally be allowed to take a free action. [...]

The latter sentence strengthens in me the idea that free actions (like swift ones) can be usually be taken in one's own turn. I know that this is not a strong implication (the sentence really vehicles the concept in the other way around), but it gives me a hint.

Immediate Actions:

[...] However, unlike a swift action, an immediate action can be performed at any time—even if it's not your turn. [...]

So a special definition has been forged for actions that can be taken outside your own turn. Is it necessary in order to introduce the hard limit of 1 per round? Or does it sit there also because not even free actions can be taken on other turns (besides speaking a few words)?

Now I opt for the latter, then:

Scenario 1: No, unless rule-0 overridden or by exhuming the Instant Rage feat, a Barbarian cannot enter rage outside of her turn. Likewise, a character cannot actively drop prone outside of her turn.

Scenario 2: When the attack of opportunity is resolved, we are in the Barbarian's turn. Leveraging the definition of free actions (free actions don't take any time at all) I'd say that the Barbarian can enter rage in response to the damage taken by the attack of opportunity and still keep swinging her sword. This is enough, in my opinion, to supersede the dying condition immediate effect (character immediately falls unconscious and can take no actions).

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    \$\begingroup\$ The Glossary defines turn on PH 314; The Combat Round goes into greater detail on PH 138. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jul 15 '14 at 15:46

No. Free Actions are actions taken by the player during their turn.

However, there is such a thing as a Reaction Action, which is essentially a Free Action as a reaction to an attack or ability. For example:

Scenario 1: The Barbarian might have an ability that the GM sees fit to be a reaction, such as becoming infuriated (Rage) due to taking too much damage.

Scenario 2: Let's say that someone get's hit by a boulder, and they fall prone due to the impact. As they are falling prone, they could receive a Reaction Action (dependant on the GM), and ctahc himself/herself and might be able to do something else.

Summary: Some skills and ability's can be used as a Reaction which is a free action during the players Non-turn.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The correct term for this kind of action is Immediate Action. \$\endgroup\$ – RMorrisey Jul 6 '11 at 0:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, it's slightly different for SW:SE as it is called a Reaction action, but same type of idea. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshua Burton Jul 6 '11 at 15:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Wouldn't a Reaction Action just be a Reaction..? \$\endgroup\$ – dlras2 Jan 24 '12 at 16:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ I assume a reaction could be feeling upset about that... a reaction action is some kind of behavior manifestation. \$\endgroup\$ – Julix Jan 12 '14 at 12:27

An old question, I know, but I felt I should point out that you can, in fact, ready an action to be carried out in response to a certain trigger. For example, you can ready an attack against a charging creature if you think it'll charge. You give up your turn, but if the creature charges, you interrupt it's action, and then your initiative changes to be just before the interrupted creature's turn. This probably won't be of much help in regards to barbarians activating rage (unless you prepared rage upon taking damage or something), but it does allow you to take actions during another creature's turn.

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