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This section details the combat rules. It covers the basics of how to start a battle, the actions you can take, and how those actions work.
The Combat Sequence
This is the basic sequence of play for a combat encounter.
- Determine surprise.
- Roll initiative.
- Play through a round of combat, with each participant in the battle taking a turn in initiative order.
If the battle continues, repeat step 3.
Each round represents 6 seconds. During a round, each participant in a battle takes a turn in an order determined by initiative. Once everyone has taken a turn, the fight continues to the next round if neither side has defeated the other.
The beginning and the end of a round seldom matter in the game. When an effect, such as one caused by a spell, lasts for a round, it lasts from the current turn to the same turn in the next round. Unless specified otherwise, the effect ends at the start of that next turn.
A band of adventurers sneaks up on a bandit camp, springing from the trees to attack them. A gelatinous cube glides down a dungeon passage, unnoticed by an orc patrol until the cube absorbs half the group.
In these situations, one side of the battle gained surprise over the other. One side acts while the other is caught off guard and unable to act for a critical moment.
Determining Surprise: The DM determines who might be surprised. Anyone who was unaware of their opponents' approach or presence is surprised. A creature can be surprised even if its allies aren't.
Effect of Surprise: A creature who is surprised cannot move or take actions until after its first turn in the battle.
Initiative determines the order of actions during a battle. Fast, nimble creatures get to attack or move first, followed by slower ones.
Determining Initiative: To determine initiative, each participant in a battle rolls a d20 and adds its Dexterity modifier. A group of identical creatures can roll once for the entire group, with each member of that group acting at the same time.
The DM lists the combatants in order of the highest initiative result to the lowest. This is the order in which they act during each round.
Resolving Ties: If there is a tie, the tied creatures act in order of Dexterity, highest first. If there is still a tie, the tied creatures roll a d20 each to determine their order, highest roll going first. If there are still ties, continue re-rolling until they are resolved.
Taking a Turn
When you take a turn, you can take one action. You can also move up to your speed. After you have moved and taken your action, your turn ends. See Movement and Actions for more information about moving and acting during a battle.
Skipping Your Turn or Part of It: You don't have to move or take an action on your turn, and sometimes you might want to do nothing at all as you watch the battle unfold.
If you choose not to do anything on your turn, concentrating on defense can at least help you survive until your next turn. Consider using your action to dodge (see Actions).
Reactions: Some actions allow you to act when it isn't your turn, usually in response to a trigger. Such an action is called a reaction. For instance, you might take an action that causes you to forgo attacking on your turn so that you can clobber an owlbear as a reaction when the monster approaches on its turn. The most common way to take a reaction is to ready an action (see Actions).
When you take a reaction, you can't take another one until the start of your next turn. Also, any effect that denies you the ability to take actions also prohibits you from taking a reaction.