Port of Entry – Combat

Roll for Initiative!

When I started playing my first session of Dungeons and Dragons, I had my character sheet and back story ready to go. Roleplay was a little challenging for me, but I was able to stumble my way through my first real experience with any kind of improv. Everything was more or less ok, until we ran into some Dire Rats. We rolled our initiative, I was second or third in turn order and I had little to no idea what to do! Today’s post is meant to give you the background information I wish I had before my first combat in Dungeons and Dragons.

A turn in combat plays out in 6 seconds per player. 6 seconds isn’t much time in real time, but luckily Dungeons and Dragons minutes run a lot like football minutes. This will give you time to play out what you are doing, like moving pieces on a chess board. 

Be advised that combat can take a while to play out, even for veteran players. It is best to keep an idea of what you would like to do and use the time during other player’s turns to have an idea of what you would like your character to do when their turn is up.

Movement

On your Character Sheet you will have a movement for your character. On your turn you can move some or all of your movement speed. For example, if your character has 30 feet of movement, you may move 30 feet towards a goal or 15 feet towards an adversary, attack and then move 15 feet backwards. Or just move 10 feet to interact with an object and end your movement there.

Actions!

What is it that you actually want to DO? Attack a creature? Investigate a door? Cast a spell? Use a healer’s kit? There are MANY attack actions that will let you use a weapon, throw a punch, grapple a foe, but there are also actions that you don’t always think about. Maybe you want to stabilize an ally because you see they are hurt or pick a lock to the next room while others are in the midst of battle or drink a healing potion for yourself. As with most things, talk to your Dungeon Master and party members about what actions you would like to see in combat.

  • Attack
    • Use your weapon or hands to damage an adversary
  • Cast Magic 
    • Cast any spell with the casting time of “1 Action”
  • Dash
    • Move the distance up to your modifier (ex 25 feet -> 50 feet)
  • Disengage
    • Will not take attacks of opportunity from anyone  
  • Dodge
    • Attacks against you will have disadvantage as you move to miss them 
  • Shove
    • Try and move a creature or object with your brute force
  • Grapple
    • Try and hold onto an adversary with this special melee attack
  • Escape Grapple
    • Attempt to break away from someone who is grappling you
  • Help
    • Assist a teammate with an ability check or attack
  • Hide
    • Attempt to duck behind something or move into the shadows, causing others to have disadvantage on their attacks to you
  • Interact with the environment
    • Use your action time to perform an Investigation or Perception check to gain information 
  • Ready
    • Prepare an action for your next turn or declare something will happen situationally. Example: “I load my arrow and will lose it when an adversary is within range.”
  • Search
    • Use your turn to look for an object or investigate something
  • Stabilize 
    • Attempt to stabilize a creature with your herbalism kit or medicine check
  • Use an item
    • Use your Thieves Tools to pick a lock, drink a health potion, throw a rock, etc
  • If all else fails: Improvise! Work with your party and Dungeon Master to see what is possible! 

Bonus Action

Not every character has access to Bonus Actions, but some classes, abilities or spells will allow you to be able to add a little something extra. Rogue’s Cunning Action, a Bard’s Bardic Inspiration, a Paladin’s Smite or a Ranger’s Hunter’s Mark are all examples of Bonus Actions. Make sure your read your class abilities and spell casting times carefully to ensure you are not missing out on an opportunity for a Bonus Action! 

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Reaction

A reaction is something that you can do during combat when it is not your turn. Not all classes have the ability to take a reaction, but if your character does, it can be a lot of fun! College of Lore Bard’s Cutting Words ability or a Rogue’s Uncanny Dodge are considered reactions.

Some spells can also be used as a reaction, such as Counterspell and Shield. Make sure you are looking at the reaction time on your spell to cast at the appropriate time. 

If your game allows for Attacks of Opportunity (many Dungeons and Dragons 5e games allow for this), you may also perform this as a reaction. An attack of opportunity is triggered when an adversary enters melee range while otherwise engaged with an ally. This triggers the Attack of Opportunity.

Free Action/Interaction

You may have heard the joke “Crying is a Free Action” and there is some truth to that. Free actions are small things that you can do that will not otherwise take away from another part of your turn, such as speaking a short phrase, opening a door, grabbing a torch or unsheathing a weapon. Find out more about Free Actions in Dungeons and Dragons 5e on page 190 of the Player’s Handbook.

What does a turn in combat look like?

So now that will have all of the terms down, how does a turn in combat play out? Here are some examples.

  • Move 30 feet towards a foe (movement), attack with your great ax (action) and take a second attack with your off hand (bonus action). Then shout one word to an ally (free action).
  • Move 25 feet toward your enemy (movement) and ready your attack until an adversary is within range (hold action).
  • Move 10 feet within range of an ally (movement) and cast Bardic Inspiration (bonus action). Then move 20 feet toward an enemy (movement) and strike with your short sword (action). Taunt the target (free action).

The options of how to play out a turn of combat are endless! Part of what makes combat in Dungeons and Dragons appealing are the multitude of options you have at your disposal. You may find each of your characters has a different combat style or that you and another party member do your turns very differently, but are both just as effective in battle.

Hopefully at this point, you feel a little more prepared for a combat session with your party! As always, communication is key! If you forget to do something or need to ask a questions, make sure you are discussing things with you table. One of the best and worst parts about Dungeons and Dragons is that no one person can possibly remember everything. Take care to help each other and keep communication open with your Dungeon Master and the rest of your party members!

Mountaintop

Tell us about your first combat session in the comments!

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