Last Updated on January 22, 2023
The Ready action in DnD 5e is one of the many mechanics that make combat encounters more exciting and interesting, as well as offering opportunities for players to be tactical.
In short, the Ready action lets you predict what an opponent will do next and, if you’re correct, lets you react to that action.
For example, you’re in a dungeon and hear enemies approaching from behind a door. You use the Ready action to say if an enemy opens the door, you shoot your arrows at it as a reaction.
The Ready action essentially helps you get the jump on opponents or prepare yourself to attack, move, or react in any way when the circumstances are just right.
The mechanics of the Ready action are simple, but with the help of this guide, you’ll be able to go into your next game fully prepared to use it in combat.
Before diving into how the Ready action works, here are some of the best uses of it that you might find helpful.
Best Uses of the Ready Action
- Making an attack with the ready action to get the jump on your opponent.
- Moving away from your opponent if they move towards you.
- Preparing a spell and holding its energy until the perfect moment to cast it.
- Helping your companions when they need it most.
How Does the Ready Action Work in DnD 5e?
Sometimes you want to get the jump on a foe or wait for a particular circumstance before you act. To do so, you can take the Ready action on your turn, which lets you act using your reaction before the start of your next turn.
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.
Examples include “If the cultist steps on the trapdoor, I’ll pull the lever that opens it,” and “If the goblin steps next to me, I move away.”
When the trigger occurs, you can either take your reaction right after the trigger finishes or ignore the trigger.
Remember that you can take only one reaction per round.
The best way to think about the Ready action in DnD 5e is to imagine it as the two-part statement: If This Then That. If the goblin opens the door, then I will shoot him with my bow.
The mechanics of using a Ready action are split into two steps. First, you use an action to declare a trigger and how you will react to it (the IF THIS part of the Ready action).
Then, if the trigger takes place you either take your reaction immediately or forgo your reaction and do nothing (the THEN THAT part of the Ready action).
To explain in more detail, let’s dive into the two steps of the Ready action.
Step 1: Declaring a Trigger
In your turn, you can take the Ready action by declaring a trigger. Once again, a simple way to phrase this is ‘If This Then That’.
There are some additional rules to consider if you’re taking a Ready action. First, the trigger must be a perceivable circumstance – in other words, something that could happen and would also trigger your suggested reaction.
Second, although the trigger can be anything, it makes sense for it to be something your enemy or something else outside of your control does.
There is always some risk attached to the Ready action – your opponent might do something unexpected – but when used effectively the Ready action will give you one up over your enemies.
Third, the Ready action cannot be done as a bonus action. You could, however, take a bonus action before taking a Ready action so long as that bonus action does not require you to have already taken an action that round.
Step 2: Reacting to a Trigger
The second part of the Ready action is the reaction. Once you’ve declared your trigger, if the trigger happens at any point before your next turn you can make your planned reaction.
You can also do nothing if you decide against your reaction between declaring the trigger and when the trigger takes place.
As mentioned, there is always a chance that the trigger will not take place. This is why it is important to use the Ready action when you feel confident about the trigger happening, otherwise, you have wasted an action.
That said, there is always some risk – so if you’re new to using the Ready action, it may take a while to get used to predict what the enemy will do next.
Using the Ready Action to Attack
The Ready action is great for turning an enemy action into a chance for you to attack. The advantage of using the Ready action to attack is that you can delay your attack until the opportune moment.
The rules for using the Ready action to attack are very simple – simply declare your trigger (if the orc steps out of cover to attack I shoot him) and then react to that trigger and make your attack.
When attacking using the Ready action, you will use your normal range, damage, and so on.
There are two things to bear in mind if you use a Ready action to attack:
- You cannot use an extra attack in addition to the attack you make as your reaction, even if you normally get an extra attack.
- You will not be able to use any other reaction that round, even if you do not react to the trigger.
Using the Ready Action to Move
Another way to use the Ready action is to move (or any other non-attack action like pulling a lever, ducking, or jumping). If the trigger you declared takes place and you declared that you would move, you can move at your usual base walking speed.
If you want to move more quickly, you could ready the Dash action (e.g. if the cultist moves towards me I Dash to the door). This will increase your speed but, as always, remember that a Ready action consumes your action and your reaction in the next round, so it’s worth deciding if it’s worth doing.
Using the Ready Action to Cast Spells
When you ready a spell, you cast it as normal but hold its energy, which you release with your reaction when the trigger occurs. To be readied, a spell must have a casting time of 1 action, and holding onto the spell’s magic requires concentration (explained in chapter 10).
If your concentration is broken, the spell dissipates without taking effect. For example, if you are concentrating on the web spell and ready magic missile, your web spell ends, and if you take damage before you release magic missile with your reaction, your concentration might be broken.
If you want to use your Ready action for spellcasting, there are a few more rules to bear in mind. The time spent in between declaring the trigger and reacting to that trigger is time spent ‘holding onto the spell’s magic’. This requires concentration, so any other spell you have cast that also requires concentration will end.
Here’s a quick summary of the additional rules for using the Ready action for spellcasting:
- The spell you choose for your reaction must have a casting time of one action.
- Any spell that requires concentration will end when you take your Ready action to prepare a different spell.
- If your concentration is broken (e.g. you are damaged) before you can react to the trigger, the spell is lost.
- DM’s Tip: There is no written rule for what happens if a spell is readied but the trigger does not take place. The Ready action’s reaction, however, must be taken before the start of your next turn. It is down to the DM whether or not this spell could be cast as a separate reaction or as an action in the next round.
Using the Ready Action to Help
The Help action in DnD 5e is another useful action in combat and can be combined with the Ready action since you can take any action as your reaction to the trigger.
Once again, using the Help action as a Ready action is simple. Declare your trigger – ‘if Dudley the Dwarf attacks the cultist I help them to give them advantage’ – and if the trigger happens you can use a reaction to do just that.
Readying a Help action is a great way to set your allies up for strong attacks or distract enemies if they attack your weakened companions.
Examples of the Ready Action
Readying a Melee Attack: For your action, you declare “If the bandit steps within range, I attack him with my axe”. The round ends and before your next turn, the bandit steps towards you.
As a reaction, you make a melee attack with your axe. You can then take your action as normal that round but you cannot take another reaction.
Readying a Ranged Attack: For your action, you declare “If the Gnoll opens the door, I fire an arrow at him”. The following round, the door opens as you predicted and you make a ranged attack against the Gnoll as a reaction.
Readying a Spell: You are being attacked by two bandits. You are currently concentrating on a charm spell on one of the bandits. For your action, you declare, “If the other bandit moves towards one of my allies, I cast hold person on him”.
The charm spell immediately ends and you begin concentrating on the hold person spell. So long as you hold your concentration when the other bandit moves towards an ally you cast hold person on them as a reaction, following the usual rules of the spell.
Readying a Help Action: You think your Warlock ally, Wyla, is going to cast an important spell next round. For your action in this round, you declare, “If Wyla the Warlock casts a spell next round, I will help her so she has advantage on her ability check”.
Sure enough, Wyla casts her spell and thanks to you has advantage on her ability check. You have used your reaction for that round but can still take an action after Wyla has cast her spell.
The Ready Action in Your Game: Tips for DMs
The Ready action gives you and your players lots of opportunities to react to each other, enemies, and anything else happening within a combat encounter.
Since the Ready action consumes both an action and a reaction, it’s unlikely that players will overuse it. That said, you should encourage them to remember it is an option as it can create some great moments in combat.
When your player declares a trigger it is, of course, up to you as the DM whether or not that trigger takes place (unless the trigger is dependent on rolls or another PC).
This is an opportunity for you to reward players who are creative with Ready actions but also cause the action to fail if you feel the trigger is unlikely or you want the combat to be more difficult.
It’s possible that you will need to create some house rules for the Ready action since the DnD Basic Rules don’t provide loads of detail.
Some house rules might include:
- If you ready a spell and the trigger does not take place, you can still cast that spell as your next action.
- Alternatively: Your readied spell slot is lost if you don’t cast the spell as your reaction before your next turn.
- If you ready an attack, you can also make your extra attack on your turn.
A lot of players forget about the Ready action and that’s understandable – effective use of the Ready action can be very situational.
That said, if you haven’t been using the Ready action, there’s nothing stopping you from trying it out on your next few encounters.
Once you get used to the mechanics of the Ready action, you will remember it for when the timing is just right to put it to work.
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I played the game a lot as a kid, back in first edition. Over the past few years since 5e was released, I’ve really started getting back into it. Currently, I run a campaign online for some friends and my brothers, and we also play a side-sesh just to mix things up.