Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition has a myriad of actions creatures may take on their turns. One such action is the Ready action which allows a creature to hold an action until a specific event happens. But, being a pretty tactical decision, using the Ready action comes with its own intricacies.
How does the Ready action work? And, why would you use it?
This article goes over the rules for readying actions during combat encounters in D&D 5e.
First off, let’s look over the rules-as-written for the Ready action in 5e.
The Rules for 5e’s Ready Action
The Ready action is one of the general actions any creature can take on their turn during a combat encounter in D&D 5e. It allows a creature to hold an action until a specific trigger occurs until the start of their next turn. This allows player characters and non-player characters to consider changing battlefield states in their tactics.
Basically, the Ready action lets you hold another action for a specific trigger in-between your turns. It helps for when you are waiting for an enemy to appear or are laying a trap.
The rules for the Ready action come from page 193 of the Player’s Handbook.
Essentially, there are 5 parts to the Ready action:
- You take the Ready action on your turn
- You choose another action to hold
- You determine a specific trigger for when to take the readied action
- You take the readied action using your reaction
- You can only hold an action until the start of your next turn
So, those are the basic rules to how the Ready action works in 5e.
Readied Action Triggers Must Be Specific
When using the Ready action, you must establish a specific trigger for when the action can occur. You can’t simply hold an action on its own; there needs to be something your character is waiting for to happen.
One thing to remember about the Ready action is you need a specific trigger for it to activate.
I’ve noticed a lot of players who know about the Ready action often say something along the lines of "I hold my attack…" and that’s it. Unfortunately, this isn’t how readying an action works.
See, you need to determine a specific trigger for you action. The reason being your character is waiting for something specific to happen. They’re focused on 1 thing and 1 thing only, anything else and they’re taken by surprise.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to be specific down to the most minute of details. You have some freedom as to the trigger for your readied action.
For example, in an encounter with a group of goblins headed by a Goblin Boss hidden somewhere in the bushes, you don’t need to say "I hold my longbow attack for when the Goblin Boss comes within 30 feet of me." Instead, you could say "I hold a ranged attack for when an enemy shows up and gets within range."
It’s a small difference. But, the first example means holding a ranged attack, at a specific range, for a specific target. The second example demonstrates how you can hold an attack for any enemy that appears.
What’s more, you have to state what action you want to hold. You can’t just hold an action on its own, your character is going to do something specific when they need to.
Think of it this way; D&D is a role-playing game. This means your character doesn’t have a concept of actions or waiting for the sake of waiting. They’re going to do something specific when something they’re waiting for happens.
This all said, just remember you can’t just say "I hold my action," you need to choose a specific action. Likewise, you have to establish a specific trigger since your character is waiting for something specific to happen.
So, How Does Readying an Action Actually Work in 5e?
Readying an action in 5e works on pretty much all regular actions. However, there are special considerations like the wording on features or traits which affect how specific actions work.
The Ready action works for all full actions. That said, you’ll most likely use it for attacks and spells.
- Casting spells
- Any other actions
Mechanically speaking, taking the Ready action works the same way regardless of which action you hold. Holding a Use Object action still needs a specific trigger just like making an attack or casting a spell.
Let’s break each of these down a bit more because they all have their own intricacies.
Readying an Attack
Perhaps the most common action to ready, most instances of taking the Ready action are to hold an attack until an enemy creature comes within sight.
The Ready action works the same way for holding an attack as for any action; you hold an action (in this case, the Attack action) and establish a specific trigger. Usually, you’ll hold an attack because you’re waiting for an enemy to either enter line-of-sight or move within range.
Typically, you’ll probably ready an attack for an ambush or because you don’t want to enter an enemy-occupied room. Of course, this means you still need to state what the trigger is. Usually, this is something along the lines of "I hold my attack until an enemy becomes visible" or "I hold my attack once an enemy steps through the door." Something which indicates you’re waiting for waiting for a specific thing to happen.
Something important to remember is player characters can usually only make 1 attack with a readied Attack action. There are outstanding situations, but features like Extra Attack don’t work with a readied Attack action.
Does the Ready Action Work on Extra Attack?
You do not get the benefits of the Extra Attack feature when readying an attack action. This is due to the wording of Extra Attack explicitly stating it only works on attack actions made on your turn.
The wording for the Extra Attack feature, regardless of which class gets it, states "…whenever you take the Attack action on your turn." (DnD Beyond) The important part here is "on your turn." This means Extra Attack only works explicitly when you take the Attack action. When you hold an attack, you’re technically using the Ready action and not the Attack action.
So, unfortunately, your character doesn’t make the bonus attacks with Extra Attack if you ready an Attack. Make sense?
This also applies to any ability to make additional attack rolls with your bonus action. You can’t hold a bonus action and you can only take a bonus action on your turn. So, bonus attacks from features like the Monk’s Martial Arts or a Maneuver like Quick Toss can’t be used in conjunction with a readied attack.
Now, there are certain circumstances when you can make more than 1 attack. For example, if you’re playing a Druid and use your Wild Shape feature to turn into a beast creature with the Multiattack action like a Brown Bear, you can use the Ready action to hold Multiattack which then lets you make as many attack rolls as stated. Same goes for using a transforming spells like polymorph or shapechange.
Readying a Spell
Creatures may use the Ready action to hold a spell just like any other action. However, you must make sure the spell you’re holding has a Cast time of 1 action, otherwise you can’t ready it.
Holding a spell with the Ready action works in mostly the same ways as any other action. But, they also come with an important caveat.
The rules for holding a spell come from the same page in the Player’s Handbook.
The important things to note here are:
- The spell you hold must use your action
- You have to maintain concentration on your held spell
As with any other held action, the spell you use for the Ready action must use a regular action. So, spells like healing word and spiritual weapon can’t be held with the Ready action because they have a casting time of 1 bonus action.
An important thing to remember is you use the spell slot for the spell your hold whether you maintain concentration on it or your trigger happens or not. So, if your established trigger doesn’t happen, you still use the spell slot.
To continue the above example, if you didn’t get attacked but those goblins didn’t come out of hiding between your turns, you’d still lose that 3rd-level spell slot you used to hold the fireball spell.
Next, the matter of concentration.
Concentration & Readied Spells
Readying a spell in 5e also means maintaining concentration on that spell even if it otherwise doesn’t require a creature to concentrate on it. Essentially, a creature is holding focus on the spell and waiting for the trigger to let them use their reaction to cast it.
So, you can hold any spell as long at is has a casting time of 1 action, but you need to concentrate on it even if it doesn’t normally require concentration. For example, you want to ambush a group of goblins, so you need to wait until they’re in range. You hold the fire bolt cantrip with a trigger to wait until one becomes visible. Say another goblin managed to sneak around your character and attacks from range while hidden. You’d need to roll a Concentration saving throw against the damage or lose the held fire bolt.
Of course, in this example, you wouldn’t be losing much. But, if you lose concentration on a held spell using a spell slot, that spell slot would still get used even if it didn’t go off. The same goes true for if the specified trigger never happens.
To continue using the above example, instead of holding fire bolt you elect to hold fireball at 3rd-level and want to wait until you can see at least 3 goblins that will get hit by the explosion. That same goblin sneaks up behind you, hits you with an arrow from hiding, and you fail your concentration saving throw. You lose that 3rd-level spell slot even though you didn’t get to trigger it.
So, using the Ready action to hold a spell is a bit more risky than other actions. But, sometimes it’s the best or only tactic you have according to what you and your party want to do.
If you don’t want to use your held action, you can instead move up to your movement speed when the trigger you establish occurs.
There’s a small part of the Ready action’s description I feel like a lot of players and GMs miss. It’s in the second sentence of the second paragraph where the rules state; "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." (DnD Beyond)
I bolded the relevant part. While you technically can’t hold your movement in the strictest sense, you can elect to not use your held action and move up to your movement speed at your specified trigger.
Now, unfortunately, you can’t ready the Dash action and move further with the Ready action. This is because the rules for moving with a readied action state "…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." That "or" is the important bit. You either take your held action as a reaction or move, but you can’t do both.
This means you can’t increase your movement speed by holding the Dash action because that means taking the action in response to your established trigger.
So, you technically can’t hold your movement, but you can choose to move instead of going through your readied action to instead move.
Readying Other Actions
A creature can ready almost any other general action like Shove or Use Object. Actions readied must still have a specific trigger to activate.
Attacking and casting spells aren’t the only reasons you may want to hold your action. For example, maybe you’re running from a horde of enemies or a powerful creature and need to wait for as many people as possible to get beyond a gate before closing it. Your character may want to hold their action until everyone (or most everyone) gets through before activating the gate mechanism.
D&D 5e has a plethora of actions you may take on your turn or hold with the Ready action. So, determining which ones are worth holding may be worth understanding to make your character more effective during certain encounters.
Other actions you may want to use with the Ready action:
- Grapple: To grab a creature and hold them in place once they come within melee range
- Shove: To push an unsuspecting creature down once they get within melee range
- Help: To wait for an ally to get close so you can aid them in an attack or other action
- Use Object: To wait for a more opportune time to trigger an effect like opening a trap door or closing a gate
- Disarm (DMG): To relieve an enemy of their weapon when they get in range
- Shove Aside (DMG): To move an enemy into a more advantageous position once they get within melee range
Of course, this is just a list of what I think are the best uses of the Ready action outside of attacks, casting spells, and moving.
There are other actions like Disengage, Dodge, or Hide. But, in my opinion, there’s no real reason to ready these actions. You’d benefit from using them on your turn more than holding them to a specific trigger.
5e Ready Action FAQ
When Can You Ready an Action?
You can only take the Ready action on your turn in D&D 5e.
While the action your hold uses your reaction at any point between your turns, the Ready action itself must be taken on your turn. Remember; the Ready action is exactly that, an action. So, you can only take it on your turn.
Does a Readied Action Use Your Reaction?
Yes; using the Ready action sets up said readied action to get used as your reaction until the start of your next turn.
The action you hold with the Ready action then uses your reaction once the trigger happens. The rules for the Ready action explicitly state that it "…lets you act using your reaction before the start of your next turn." So, they specifically say that your readied action uses your reaction. Simple as that.
How Long Can You Ready an Action in 5e?
You can only Ready an action until the start of your next turn.
The rules for the Ready action state; "…which lets you act using your reaction before the start of your next turn." Bolded the relevant part. So, you can hold a readied action until the start of your next turn. At which point, you stop holding your held action and start your next turn.
Can You Cancel a Readied Action in 5e?
You can elect to not take your readied action when the trigger you established occurs. However, this still counts as you taking the action, and in the case of casting spells, the spell slot is still used.
The rules for the Ready action state; "When the trigger occurs, you can either take your reaction right after the trigger finishes or ignore the trigger." I bolded the relevant part here. You have the option of ignoring the trigger you establish when you take the Ready action. That said, this isn’t necessarily "cancelling" it. You still have to take the Ready action and you still must meet the requirements of the action you hold. So, if you ready a spell, that still counts as casting it, using the spell slot, even if you choose to ignore the trigger.
How Many Attacks Can You Make with a Readied Action?
Player characters can ordinarily only make 1 attack with the Ready action. However, creatures with the Multiattack action who ready it may make as many attack rolls as they’re allowed.
Ordinarily, when you hold an attack with the Ready action, you take the Attack action as a reaction once the trigger happens. That said, the rules for the Extra Attack feature explicitly state "whenever you take the Attack action on your turn." (DnD Beyond) I bolded the important part here.
Unfortunately, Extra Attack only explicitly works on your turn. Ordinarily, the readied action happens in-between your turns due to the changing board state. Since Extra Attack only works on your turn, you wouldn’t get the bonus attacks. However and technically speaking, if your readied attack triggers on your turn, you would still benefit from Extra Attack.
Can You Ready a Free or Bonus Action?
No; you can not use the Ready action to hold a free or bonus action. Only full actions may be held.
The rules for 5e’s Ready action explicitly state you choose the action which occurs during the trigger. While the rules don’t explicitly state you can’t hold a free or bonus action, it’s implied that you can only hold an action.
Additionally, the rules for taking bonus actions states; "You can take only one bonus action on your turn…." (DnD Beyond) The rules for the Ready action don’t explicitly break this rule, so, unfortunately, you can’t hold a free or bonus action with the Ready action.
Summary of D&D 5e’s Ready Action
That about sums up how the Ready action works in D&D 5e.
The Ready action is a regular action you can take on your turn. It allows you to hold a different full action until a specific trigger you specify occurs which then lets you take your readied action as a reaction or move up to your movement speed. You’ll most likely hold attacks or spells with the Ready action, but spells require you to maintain concentration and you spend the spell slot if you fail a concentration save or your established trigger doesn’t happen.
How often do you use the Ready action as a player or as a Game Master? Leave a comment below with your experiences!
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