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D&D 5E Transitioning to Combat

Lyxen

Great Old One
So, I'm glad, because I find part of the objection to this to be... torturous rules-mongering, no matter what Jeremy Crawford thinks.

I think they tried to keep things simple, but like stealth (to which it's partially linked), it's an area with so many edge cases that it probably has to be specific rulings in many cases.

In the rules Ready appears in the "actions in combat" section. However, Cast Spells, Help, Hide, Search, and Use Objects are all things characters can clearly do outside of combat, so merely appearing on the Actions in Combat list doesn't mean you can't do it other times! While Crawford has his take on it, the rules a written don't explicitly prohibit it.

I use the same reasoning here.

The stronger argument, though, is that, "I ready to pull the lever as soon as the Evil Duke enters the room," should be a perfectly cromulent declaration for your character's action. Any rules interpretation that does not allow for such needs to go into the ashcan.

Indeed.

If that's not enough, we can note that in the case of ambush, the Readied action won't happen outside of combat. Bob says that he intends to start combat. Jill readies to go after Bob. John readies to go after Jill. Sarah readies to go after John. None of the readied actions will happen before Bob starts the fight! It's fine!

This is exactly the way I reason as well, it's the right way to synchronise, and for me the cherry on the cake is that it rewards players who actually plan for their ambush in a coordinated manner, while at the same time allowing it for their adversaries if the PCs are not careful.

For those who are supremely picky, we can note that this can all backfire spectacularly if Bob doesn't get surprise.

Yes, I think that's one of the beauties of the readied actions if they are used properly, they need to be specific, and because they need to be based on something perceivable by the character, it avoids a lot of shenanigans and metagaming about triggering them on technical game elements like "when it's his turn" or "when initiative is rolled".
 

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Lyxen

Great Old One
If you are sufficiently prepared, and your opponent is sufficiently unprepared, they will be "Surprised" and will not be able to do anything in the first turn of combat regardless of the initial initiative role, so there is still a benefit for setting up an ambush or whatever.

This is absolutely true and something that is very useful, my problem was more when both sides can be prepared, but not in the same way, as I like to incite everyone around the table to think and project themselves into the situation, and this induced preparedness. Readied actions help in keeping the bookkeeping to a minimum and not granting too much of an advantage like some of the suggestions did (although some of them totally make sense depending on the situation).
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Hi guys, thanks for all the replies, and my apologies for taking so long to respond. I see that a lot of suggestions have been made, here are my comments:
  • @commandercrud, @DemoMonkey, @Charlaquin, @Bill Zebub, @Umbran, @Blue, @Northern Phoenix, @Steampunkette : when someone declares an action that initiates combat, roll initiative, initiative is king, everyone wants to be ready for combat.
    • While I agree that everyone would like to be ready for combat, some are not entitled to whereas others are, have prepared for it and are ready. Therefore, for me, it's a bit harsh to ignore the preparation, and I don't like the fact that combat suddenly wipes out everything that has gone on before. We've had many discussions with the DMs at our tables, and barring one exception, we all feel that it's a bit too much like a computer game switching to combat mode.
Huh? If someone involved in a combat isn’t prepared when initiative is rolled, they’re surprised. They still roll initiative but they can’t take actions or reactions until the end of their first turn in the combat.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
This is absolutely true and something that is very useful, my problem was more when both sides can be prepared, but not in the same way, as I like to incite everyone around the table to think and project themselves into the situation, and this induced preparedness. Readied actions help in keeping the bookkeeping to a minimum and not granting too much of an advantage like some of the suggestions did (although some of them totally make sense depending on the situation).
Ok, but you didn’t ask if it’s possible to ready an action before combat. You asked “how would you handle these situations?” to which I answered “I don’t have enough information. I need to know what actions the characters involved are actually taking.” If you had said someone was preparing to do something in response to something else, I might have suggested the Ready action.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Huh? If someone involved in a combat isn’t prepared when initiative is rolled, they’re surprised. They still roll initiative but they can’t take actions or reactions until the end of their first turn in the combat.

I think the game is far less subtle than this, basically, you are only surprised if you are not even aware that there are adversaries. But the game then makes no difference as to whether you are just aware of them or if you had actively prepared for a specific occurence.

Ok, but you didn’t ask if it’s possible to ready an action before combat. You asked “how would you handle these situations?” to which I answered “I don’t have enough information. I need to know what actions the characters involved are actually taking.” If you had said someone was preparing to do something in response to something else, I might have suggested the Ready action.

You are right, I didn't, because I wanted to have a look at a panel of solutions rather than to restrict the discussion around readied actions out of combat. But I'm glad that you would have mentioned it if I had provided more details, as, as you can see, I indeed think it's the right thing to do. :)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
You are right, I didn't, because I wanted to have a look at a panel of solutions rather than to restrict the discussion around readied actions out of combat. But I'm glad that you would have mentioned it if I had provided more details, as, as you can see, I indeed think it's the right thing to do. :)
I mean, I might have suggested it. I might not have. It depends on the specifics of what the characters are doing to try and accomplish their goals. That was my point: one can’t know what “the right thing to do” is without knowing what the actions are that they’re resolving. I wasn’t saying “initiative is king,” I was literally saying “I can’t give you an answer without more information.”
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Hi guys, thanks for all the replies, and my apologies for taking so long to respond. I see that a lot of suggestions have been made, here are my comments:
  • @commandercrud, @DemoMonkey, @Charlaquin, @Bill Zebub, @Umbran, @Blue, @Northern Phoenix, @Steampunkette : when someone declares an action that initiates combat, roll initiative, initiative is king, everyone wants to be ready for combat.
    • While I agree that everyone would like to be ready for combat, some are not entitled to whereas others are, have prepared for it and are ready. Therefore, for me, it's a bit harsh to ignore the preparation, and I don't like the fact that combat suddenly wipes out everything that has gone on before. We've had many discussions with the DMs at our tables, and barring one exception, we all feel that it's a bit too much like a computer game switching to combat mode.
Since I explicitly gave examples with potential surprise on either and both sides, as well as an example where the starting character is arbitrarily placed at the start of initiative, I don't think you have grasped my full response. Lots to read in this thread and I wasn't short in my response so it's understandable. It is significantly more nuanced.

That said, switching to a more granular timing does NOT require that everyone start fighting. I've had one person shoot an arrow and others stay talking trying to de-escalate. NOTHING in combat prevents every possible option -- it just presents more time granularity because some things are happening fast.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Hi guys, thanks for all the replies, and my apologies for taking so long to respond. I see that a lot of suggestions have been made, here are my comments:
  • @commandercrud, @DemoMonkey, @Charlaquin, @Bill Zebub, @Umbran, @Blue, @Northern Phoenix, @Steampunkette : when someone declares an action that initiates combat, roll initiative, initiative is king, everyone wants to be ready for combat.
    • While I agree that everyone would like to be ready for combat, some are not entitled to whereas others are, have prepared for it and are ready. Therefore, for me, it's a bit harsh to ignore the preparation, and I don't like the fact that combat suddenly wipes out everything that has gone on before. We've had many discussions with the DMs at our tables, and barring one exception, we all feel that it's a bit too much like a computer game switching to combat mode.
  • @el-remmen : Roll initiative before combat so that even discussion can be timed and done in order and last minute actions before combat can be taken into combat.
    • I honestly really like that one, and we have been using it now and then in particular because it also controls those situations when everyone wants to speak at the same time, some to inflame the situation, others to calm it down. My main criticism of it is that it makes the discussions a but unnatural and combat becomes almost impossible to avoid, but the structure is good.
  • @el-remmen : Advantage on initiative for assassin.
    • This one is a bit complicated for me, the assassin already has so many advantages linked to winning initiative, it becomes really overkill, and hard to tailor, why for him, under which condition, etc.
  • @Steampunkette : Roll initiative against Insight check of bodyguard, assign Inititiative of 1 to clueless
    • Again, a good suggestions, just some that are hard to assess as to their applicability, whether it's a very local ruling or something that can happen often, and the circumstances in which it is allowed.
  • @el-remmen : Making the (first) attack out of initiative
    • This is something that I have tried before, but it's slightly unsatisfactory, because it completely removes the effect of initiative, as well as being (as above) hard to assess what is the rationale for doing it sometimes and not all the time.
  • @Quickleaf, @Ovinomancer, @Blue, @Steampunkette : lots of good suggestions about problem solving in general and playing smart, which are excellent, but less about the actual transitioning to combat.
  • @GMMichael : Just a point, you don't need both sides to want combat, for me one side is sufficient... ;)
  • @Umbran: Hold (Ready, I think) Actions
    • This is the closest to the solution that I'm using. The only thing is that, theoretically, Ready actions are only combat actions, so combat must have started for them to be used.
    • So this is one of my very few departure from the RAW, I allow characters to ready actions outside of combat.
    • Some advantages: It's part of the game system, it's not a new mechanic, and it's easy to put in place, as well as easy to know when it's allowed.
    • It's also limited just like ready actions are, because you need to be specific about the trigger, and that trigger actually has to happen otherwise the action is lost. And you can ready a single action, which is a further limitation.
    • In turn this requires everyone to be clever about what they are looking for and about their response. It's also reasonably linked to roleplaying.
    • And of course, I allow it for NPCs too.
    • For me, it really solves each of the five examples in a fairly elegant way, assuming of course that whoever is playing in these situations thinks clearly and projects himself in the game world to imagine what could happen and how they would react.
I hope I have not forgotten or misrepresented anyone. In any case, thanks for all the really good solutions, would be happy to continue the discussion of course.
Yes, you're right, my response has very little actual transition to combat because, as I noted, you haven't sufficiently established the situation for any such transition. I said, quite often, that the examples given aren't at the combat whoosh (the term applied to the sudden stop and shift from more free play to combat rules) point. They are incomplete, and I will generally not fill in blanks in another's example.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/They)
Yes, you're right, my response has very little actual transition to combat because, as I noted, you haven't sufficiently established the situation for any such transition. I said, quite often, that the examples given aren't at the combat whoosh (the term applied to the sudden stop and shift from more free play to combat rules) point. They are incomplete, and I will generally not fill in blanks in another's example.
This
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I mean, I might have suggested it. I might not have. It depends on the specifics of what the characters are doing to try and accomplish their goals. That was my point: one can’t know what “the right thing to do” is without knowing what the actions are that they’re resolving. I wasn’t saying “initiative is king,” I was literally saying “I can’t give you an answer without more information.”

No worries.

Since I explicitly gave examples with potential surprise on either and both sides, as well as an example where the starting character is arbitrarily placed at the start of initiative, I don't think you have grasped my full response. Lots to read in this thread and I wasn't short in my response so it's understandable. It is significantly more nuanced.

I know, it's part of the charm of 5e, every situation sort of deserves its local ruling anyway.

That said, switching to a more granular timing does NOT require that everyone start fighting. I've had one person shoot an arrow and others stay talking trying to de-escalate. NOTHING in combat prevents every possible option -- it just presents more time granularity because some things are happening fast.

As I've mentioned, I do this sometimes, however, for verisimilitude as well as speeding up combat, I limit communication during fights to what the PH advocates: "You can communicate however you are able, through brief utterances and gestures, as you take your turn." This is for free, and characters can also use their reaction to signal something that is happening outside their turn. Finally, this is supposing that they use their action to fight or something, if all they do are talking, I am more generous, but still, combat happens so fast that it would be really hard to manage a real negotiation in parallel. I don't think this has ever happened in our campaigns.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Lots of good suggestions here. Something I will suggest is pre-rollling initiative so that you can smoothly transition into turn-based play when things get hot. This avoids the combat swoosh interruption. At the end of the encounter, seed the next initiative order. (The DM slots in the monster initiative order as needed.)
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Lots of good suggestions here. Something I will suggest is pre-rollling initiative so that you can smoothly transition into turn-based play when things get hot. This avoids the combat swoosh interruption. At the end of the encounter, seed the next initiative order. (The DM slots in the monster initiative order as needed.)
I can understand the reason, just don't you think that is sort of spoils the surprise and allows some (possibly unconscious) metagaming from players if they know that they rolled particularly high or low ?
 


Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
GM; anyone making stealth or deception checks?
- Narration
GM; make perception checks
- Narration
GM; okay combats on!
 

le Redoutable

Explorer
All of these seem pretty straightforward. Someone actually declaring combat starts combat. Then it's potentially a roll for surprise (or implementation of one already made), and then initiative. Except the last example, that includes a conclusion past the initiation of combat - that has to be worked out.

So the example with the negotiations break down but no one wants to start. It doesn't transform into combat until someone actually starts. A declaration from either side. It seems everyone knows it's coming so no real chance at surprise so it's just initiative.

To give a related example, say there's negotiations that aren't going well but it doesn't look like hostilities are imminent, and then the poker-faced assassin goes for a stab. In that case I would do surprise but with Deception vs. passive Insight.

Let's look at Example #4, the ambush. We've got the stealth checks and passive perception going. The party wants to coordinate - is this some unfulfilled wish floating in the aether or did they actually plan to do so by setting up a signal, even if it's "wait until I fire". If they had no plan for coordination, it is completely possible that some of party are caught off-guard as well.

We already know what the result of the stealth vs. perception check for surprise is, since the ambush-ees didn't see the party (else it would be different). So it's likely something like "They are riding into view around the far bend. Stop me when you want to do something. Okay, all are in view and about 200 feet from the closest of you. 150 feet. You can see orc warchief, he's leading from the front. 125 feet. Let me know when you want to do something. 100 feet. 80 feet. If they get within 30 feet it's more likely they will spot you. 60 feet -- what's that, you want to attack when they are 35 feet from the closest? Gotcha."

Now, by the book, initiative will determine the order, and the people before the person signalling will be readied since that is their effective declared action. But mechanically that will usually penalize the people who rolled well (no move+attack, no extra attack, etc) which is contrary to the spirit of the resolution system so if it's "wait for me to fire" I'll put them at the start of round regardless of initiative.

(Note for players with DMs who just roll initiative and don't want to chance getting penalized with "Ready" - make the signal something you can do outside combat, such as the cry of a native bird. That shouldn't be part of the initiative order, so then veveryone just goes when they roll.)

Example #5 is only slightly about the declaration of combat, and that part has been covered. The rest is about ensuring one specific outcome, and really for me that's not something a game like D&D does. Other games you can lay out stakes and go for it in an atomic transaction, D&D wants to play out each bit.
Obviously you lack the 'cancel combat mode' spell
 
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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Obviously you lack the 'cancel combat mode' spell
Huh? You're making assumptions that are unfounded and unwelcome.

If someone is declaring an attack, we need to move to the granularity of time/mechanics to deal with that. That doesn't mean that people can't get out of combat. Last session we had one person shooting an arrow at a giant the rest of the party was negotiating with, because she hates giants. The rest of the party did not take attack actions, but rather was trying to talk the giant down. In another game we had arguing hotheats turn a scene into a combat and the life cleric cast calm emotions and everyone on both sides was willing to drop out of combat.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I can understand the reason, just don't you think that is sort of spoils the surprise and allows some (possibly unconscious) metagaming from players if they know that they rolled particularly high or low ?
That’s not been my experience. Typically the players have forgotten by the time the next encounter rolls up.
 

le Redoutable

Explorer
Huh? You're making assumptions that are unfounded and unwelcome.

If someone is declaring an attack, we need to move to the granularity of time/mechanics to deal with that. That doesn't mean that people can't get out of combat. Last session we had one person shooting an arrow at a giant the rest of the party was negotiating with, because she hates giants. The rest of the party did not take attack actions, but rather was trying to talk the giant down. In another game we had arguing hotheats turn a scene into a combat and the life cleric cast calm emotions and everyone on both sides was willing to drop out of combat.
Lol I was making pub for my topic " is the fighter a supercherie "
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Hi folks, I was wondering if I could get some good ideas as to how, at your tables, you deal with the transition to combat. At our tables, it's one of the very few areas where we have a house rule, as the 5e rules are generally flexible enough that we manage with the core rules and local rulings for edge cases. But in the case of transitioning to combat, we have a house rule that I'll explain later, but you might have a good idea what it is from the examples that I list below for you to tell me how you would deal with them at your tables, with RAW or house rules.

Just as a reminder, the 5e theory is that you can only attack while in combat, because it requires the attack action, which is a combat action (but again, some tables ignore this, which can certainly be a solution).

  • Example 1: Negotiation between the party and a troupe of adversaries (drows for example), everyone is seeing that this is going to get sour, and PCs and NPCs both want to be prepared for when hostilities start, but no one wants to be the one that actually start it. How do you deal with this ?
If no one actually starts it then no combat. If someone declares to start it then roll initiative and enemies that go ahead that player realize his intent ie he started to move for his weapon or otherwise hostile act but they were prepared and reacted faster.

  • Example 2: An assassin wants to make sure to have the drop on his unsuspecting target, who is in the next room with a locked door and a potentially noisy lock...
Assuming his target is otherwise distracted in the room then lockpick check to determine if he gets through silently. If he fails then target is aware. A particularly bad fail might result in the target being aware and the door staying locked.

  • Exemple 3: The target of an assassination contract suspects an assassin is lurking in the next room, he wants to ensure that there is as few chances of him being surprised as possible...
Make the scene as concrete as needed. If the player suspects the assassain is behind the desk and the player carefully watches the desk when entering the room then he will not be surprised if the assassain is behind the desk. If the assassain is somewhere else or he doesn't have some specific idea of where the assassain is then perception vs stealth.


  • Example 4: Ambush ! The party wants to coordinate their attacks to that they all surprise the column of orcs in the ravine below. How do they achieve this ?
The orcs are either surprised or not surprised. 1 character cannot surprise the orcs while the others do not. This would occur vs normal stealth vs perception rules.


  • Example 5: Knifing in the street. A PC rogue wants to walk up to a politician at the agora and knife him in the back and make sure that he can achieve a quick get away despite the guards, both the bodyguards of the politician and the city guards around.

And I'm sure that you'll find plenty more examples. :)
This depends on the specifics of the guards etc. He may not even be able to get close to the individual. He may be able to get close but have no chance of escape.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
That’s not been my experience. Typically the players have forgotten by the time the next encounter rolls up.

Good point, it probably depends on the combat frequency. If there are lots of combats, I can totally see some players, for example rogues, taking considerably less risks if they knew that they had rolled poorly, for example. But in other campaigns, like mine, were combat is infrequent at best, it might be OK.
 

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