Sage Advice : Combat

Does surprise happen outside the initiative order as a special surprise round?

No, here’s how surprise works. The first step of any combat is this: the DM determines whether anyone in the combat is surprised (reread "Combat Step by Step" on page 189 of the Player’s Handbook). This determination happens only once during a fight and only at the beginning. In other words, once a fight starts, you can’t be surprised again, although a hidden foe can still gain the normal benefits from being unseen (see "Unseen Attackers and Targets" on page 194 of the Player’s Handbook). To be surprised, you must be caught off guard, usually because you failed to notice foes being stealthy or you were startled by an enemy with a special ability, such as the gelatinous cube’s Transparent trait, that makes it exceptionally surprising. You can be surprised even if your companions aren’t, and you aren’t surprised if even one of your foes fails to catch you unawares. If anyone is surprised, no actions are taken yet. First, initiative is rolled as normal. Then, the first round of combat starts, and the unsurprised combatants act in initiative order. A surprised creature can’t move or take an action or a reaction until its first turn ends (remember that being unable to take an action also means you can’t take a bonus action). In effect, a surprised creature skips its first turn in a fight. Once that turn ends, the creature is no longer surprised.

In short, activity in a combat is always ordered by initiative, whether or not someone is surprised, and after the first round of combat has passed, surprise is no longer a factor. You can still try to hide from your foes and gain the benefits conferred by being hidden, but you don’t deprive your foes of their turns when you do so.

Surprise rules work for two opposing sides. What happens with surprise when a third group of combatants sneaks up, hidden from the melee, and ambushes?

The surprise rule is relevant only when a combat is starting. Any ambushes during the fight use the rules for Dexterity (Stealth) checks.

If a wizard casts a spell like fireball during a surprise round, do the enemies get disadvantage on their saving throw?

Being surprised has no effect on saves. If you’re surprised, you can’t move or take an action on your first turn of the combat and you can’t take a reaction until that turn ends (PH, 189).

Can you delay your turn and take it later in the round?

No. When it’s your turn, either you do something or you don’t. If you don’t want to do anything, consider taking the Dodge action so that you’ll, at least, have some extra protection. If you want to wait to act in response to something, take the Ready action, which lets you take part of your turn later. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t include the option to delay your turn:

  • Your turn involves several decisions, including where to move and what action to take. If you could delay your turn, your decision-making would possibly become slower, since you would have to consider whether you wanted to take your turn at all. Multiply that extra analysis by the number of characters and monsters in a combat, and you have the potential for many slowdowns in play.
  • The ability to delay your turn can make initiative meaningless, as characters and monsters bounce around in the initiative order. If combatants can change their place in the initiative order at will, why use initiative at all? On top of that, changing initiative can easily turn into an unwelcome chore, especially for the DM, who might have to change the initiative list over and over during a fight.
  • Being able to delay your turn can let you wreak havoc on the durations of spells and other effects, particularly any of them that last until your next turn. Simply by changing when your turn happens, you could change the length of certain spells. The way to guard against such abuse would be to create a set of additional rules that would limit your ability to change durations. The net effect? More complexity would be added to the game, and with more complexity, there is greater potential for slower play.

Two of our goals for combat were for it to be speedy and for initiative to matter. We didn’t want to start every combat by rolling initiative and then undermine turn order with a delay option. Moreover, we felt that toying with initiative wasn’t where the focus should be in battle. Instead, the dramatic actions of the combatants should be the focus, with turns that happen as quickly as possible.

I have a readied action. Can I stop readying to take an opportunity attack? Or is ready a full turn commitment?

If you have an action readied, you can make an opportunity attack, which causes you to stop readying.

Can a bonus action be used as an action or vice versa? For example, can a bard use a bonus action to grant a Bardic Inspiration die and an action to cast healing word?

No. Actions and bonus actions aren’t interchangeable. In the example, the bard could use Bardic Inspiration or healing word on a turn, not both.

Can a flying creature without the hover trait stay in one place while airborne, or does it need to move each round?

A flyer that lacks the hover trait can stay aloft without moving each round.

Can you move through the space of a prone enemy?

The prone condition doesn’t override the rule that prevents you from moving through an enemy’s space, unless that enemy is at least two sizes larger or two sizes smaller than you. If you do move through the space of another creature— whether a friend or an enemy—the space is difficult terrain for you, and you can’t willingly end your move there. See the Player’s Handbook, page 190–2, for more on movement in combat.

Does travel pace apply to movement in combat, or just when traveling?

The travel pace rule (PH, 181–2) doesn’t apply in combat.

If you have a feature like Cunning Action or Step of the Wind, can you take the Dash action more than once on your turn?

If you can take the Dash action as a bonus action, nothing in the rules prevents you from taking the Dash action with your regular action too. The same principle holds when you use a feature like Action Surge; you could use both of your actions to take the Dash action.

My rogue/wizard can get a bonus action to Dash by using Cunning Action, and I can cast expeditious retreat on myself to get a bonus action to Dash. Do I get two bonus actions to Dash?

No. You can take only one bonus action on your turn (PH, 189). If you have two or more ways to use a bonus action, you must choose which one (if any) you want to employ on your turn.

If you use the Help action to distract a foe, do you have to stay within 5 feet of it for the action to work?

No, you can take the action and then move away. The action itself is what grants advantage to your ally, not your staying next to the foe.

If I’m invisible and I become visible when I shoot an arrow at a target, does hiding again require an action?

Without a special ability, hiding in combat requires the Hide action.

If I use the Ready action to deal damage to someone who’s moving, do I deny the target the rest of its movement?

Dealing damage to a moving target doesn’t halt its movement, unless the damage is accompanied by an ability that stops movement. Things like the Sentinel feat give you such an ability. Reducing a moving creature to 0 hit points is also usually an effective way to stop it!

Can you use the Ready action to take the Dash action on someone else’s turn and then combine the Charger feat with it?

No, since you can’t take a bonus action on someone else’s turn.

For readying a spell or other action, does the target have to be in range?

Your target must be within range when you take a readied action, not when you first ready it.

How does readying a spell work? Do you lose your spell slot if the trigger never occurs?

A readied spell’s slot is lost if you don’t release the spell with your reaction before the start of your next turn.

Can a readied action occur during an enemy’s triggering action, such as between its first and second attacks when it uses Multiattack?

A readied action occurs immediately after its trigger. If you defined the trigger as an attack, your action happens after that attack.

How do I know which ability modifier to use with an attack roll and its damage roll?

The Player’s Handbook specifies which ability modifier to use with an attack roll (p. 194) and which one to use with the corresponding damage roll (p. 196). Here’s a summary:

Attack TypeAttack RollDamage Roll
Melee weapon attack Strength mod.* Strength mod.
Ranged weapon attack Dexterity mod.* Dexterity mod.
Spell attack Spellcasting ability mod.** Depends on effect

* Add your proficiency bonus if you’re using a weapon with which you’re proficient.
** Add your proficiency bonus. Your spellcasting ability is determined by your class or whatever feature gave you the ability to make the spell attack.

For example, if you make a melee weapon attack with a longsword, you add your Strength modifier to the attack and damage rolls of the attack. In contrast, if you make the spell attack of the fire bolt cantrip, you add your spellcasting ability modifier to the attack roll. If you’re a wizard, Intelligence is your spellcasting ability, so add your Intelligence modifier. Fire bolt doesn’t tell you to add your modifier to its damage roll, though, so you don’t.

Various features in the game make explicit exceptions to the rule. For example, a weapon that has the finesse property lets you choose whether to use your Strength or Dexterity modifier with it. Another example: when you use the two-weapon fighting option in the Player’s Handbook (p. 195), you don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus attack, unless that modifier is negative. You do, however, still add your ability modifier to the attack roll, since the option doesn’t tell you not to. In other words, you follow the general rule until an exception in the game tells you not to.

What about unusual cases like the green-flame blade spell? The spell, which appears in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, tells you to make a melee attack with a weapon. Look at the table above, and you see that, under normal circumstances, you use your Strength modifier when you make a melee weapon attack. It doesn’t matter that a spell told you to attack. If a spell expects you to make a spell attack, the spell’s description says so. For examples, take a look at fire bolt and ray of frost. Both say it—"spell attack."

What does "melee weapon attack" mean: a melee attack with a weapon or an attack with a melee weapon?

It means a melee attack with a weapon. Similarly, "ranged weapon attack" means a ranged attack with a weapon. Some attacks count as a melee or ranged weapon attack even if a weapon isn’t involved, as specified in the text of those attacks. For example, an unarmed strike counts as a melee weapon attack, even though the attacker’s body isn’t considered a weapon. Here’s a bit of wording minutia: we would write "melee weapon attack" (with a hyphen) if we meant an attack with a melee weapon.

How does a reach weapon work with opportunity attacks?

An opportunity attack is normally triggered when a creature you can see moves beyond your reach (PH, 195). If you want to make an opportunity attack with a reach weapon, such as a glaive or a halberd, you can do so when a creature leaves the reach you have with that weapon. For example, if you’re wielding a halberd, a creature that is right next to you could move 5 feet away without triggering an opportunity attack. If that creature tries to move an additional 5 feet—beyond your 10-foot reach—the creature then triggers an opportunity attack.

Can a blinded creature make an opportunity attack?

An opportunity attack is triggered by "a hostile creature you can see" (PH, 195). If you can’t see an enemy, you can’t make an opportunity attack against it. Creatures with blindsight are an exception to this rule, because that ability lets those creatures "see" within a certain radius.

Can an opportunity attack be used to make a grapple or a shove?

Grappling and shoving are special melee attacks that require the Attack action (PH, 195). An opportunity attack is a special reaction. Take the Ready action if you want to attempt a grapple or a shove as a reaction.

When you use two-weapon fighting, can you draw and throw two weapons on your turn?

You can throw two weapons with two-weapon fighting (PH, 195), but that rule doesn’t give you the ability to draw two weapons for free. On your turn, you can interact with one object for free, either during your move or during an action (PH, 190). One of the most common object interactions is drawing or stowing a weapon. Interacting with a second object on the same turn requires an action. You need a feature like the Dual Wielder feat to draw or stow a second weapon for free.

With two-weapon fighting, can I use both attacks (normal and bonus) to shove a creature?

No. Two-weapon fighting (PH, 195) doesn’t grant the bonus attack unless the first attack is made with a light melee weapon. Shoving a creature is a special melee attack that does not involve the use of a weapon.

If a creature is grappled, can it still attack and use its special abilities?

The grappled condition limits movement, not attacks, spellcasting, and the like. That said, many grappling abilities, such as a roper’s tendril attack, also deliver effects like the restrained condition.

Is the grappling rule in the Player’s Handbook usable by a handless creature?

The grappling rule (PH, 195) was written for a grappler with at least one hand, but a DM can easily adapt the rule for a handless creature that has a bite or an appendage, such as a tentacle, that could reasonably seize someone. A wolf, for example, could plausibly try to seize a person with its bite, and the animal wouldn’t be able to use its bite attack as long as it held onto the person. Keep in mind that the grappling rule in the Player’s Handbook requires the Attack action, so a creature must take that action—rather than Multiattack or another action in the creature’s stat block—when it uses that rule. A monster, such as a roper, that has a special grappling attack doesn’t follow that rule when using its special attack.

Does a grapple or a shove trigger the Tempest cleric’s Wrath of the Storm or a Battle Master’s Riposte?

The answer to both questions is no. The grappling and shoving options (PH, 195) don’t result in a hit or a miss.

Say I grapple you, then I drop prone. Are we now prone together?

No. A creature you’re grappling isn’t knocked prone if you become prone. You’re now holding onto the creature from a prone position.

Target at range caught in melee combat—does that target get some kind of cover or do I get disadvantage?

Your target has half-cover if another creature is between you and the target (PH, 196).

Can damage be reduced to 0 by resistance or another form of damage reduction?

There is no damage minimum in the rules, so it is possible to deal 0 damage with an attack, a spell, or another effect.

A dragon uses a breath weapon against me. I succeed on the save, and I have resistance to the damage. Do I take only one-quarter of the damage?

Yes, because resistance is applied after all other modifiers to damage (PH, 197). If you succeed on a save and still take damage, that damage is halved if you have the right resistance.

Is the intent that only melee weapon attacks can knock foes unconscious, or can melee spell attacks as well?

If you reduce a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack, you can knock the creature out (PH, 198). That melee attack isn’t restricted to weapons. Even a melee spell attack can be used to knock a creature out.

Are attacks with a net always made with disadvantage?

Unless you have a special ability that says otherwise, any net attack has disadvantage because you’re either within 5 feet of your target (see PH, 149) or you’re attacking at long range, which is between 5 and 15 feet for a net.

Can a non-Battle Master attempt to disarm someone?

The Disarming Attack maneuver is designed for the Battle Master archetype, but anyone can try to disarm a foe. The Disarm action option (DMG, 271) provides one way a DM might adjudicate the activity.

[NEW] Are natural weapons considered weapons?

Things designated as weapons by the rules, including natural weapons, are indeed weapons. In contrast, unarmed strikes are not weapons. They are something you do with an unarmed part of your body.

[NEW] Can I make an attack with one weapon, then draw a second weapon with my other hand and qualify to use two-weapon fighting?

To use the two-weapon fighting bonus action (PH, 195), you must have both weapons in hand when you make the first attack. If you’re instead fighting with two or more weapons as part of the Extra Attack feature, the rule for the two-weapon fighting bonus action doesn’t apply. The rule for that bonus action applies only to itself, not to any other use of two or more weapons in the game.


Written by Jeremy Crawford (Sage Advice Compendium v2.5)