Hurry Up and Wait – A Look a Delaying and Readying Actions

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on October 18, 2011

Pay attention players, your spot in the initiative order is not set in stone. Players get so excited when it’s their turn all they want to do is attack. Many players forget, or don’t even know, that they can wait and hold their action whenever they want to. There’s nothing in the rules that says you must go when your turn in the initiative comes up. If more players took this to heart, combat encounters could be a lot more exciting and in some cases a lot faster.

Once combat is in full swing players should talk to each other in-character (assuming that PCs can actually hear one and other and don’t care if they’re overheard). As the battle unfolds situations will arise where some PCs will see an opportunity to shine. It might be a chance to inflict a lot of damage, it might be a chance to push an opponent off a cliff or it might be a chance for the defender to mark everyone with a close burst attack. As soon as you see this golden opportunity let everyone know. By announcing what you want to do the other players can act accordingly and delay as necessary. Remember that the party is a team, not a bunch of individuals all trying to steal the spotlight. By defeating the monsters quickly and efficiently the battle ends faster which is a win for everyone.

There are many reasons to delay. Below is a list of some of the more common situations when delaying could be a better option than acting when your turn in the initiative comes around. Remember, the key to success is teamwork.

Reasons to Delay

Set Up a Flank

Staying put while an ally moves to flank is one of the most common reason for delaying, especially if there’s a Rogue in the party. By delaying your turn and remaining where you are, the Rogue (or any other attacker who can benefit from combat advantage) can move into position and get that +2 to attack. By delaying in this way you have added bonus of seeing if the monster dies before you act. If it does you can move on to another target. If it doesn’t then you can help the Rogue.

Avoiding Friendly Fire

A controller who sees an opportunity to get multiple targets with a blast or burst will often ask others to delay, or at least not move into the danger zone. When I first started playing 4e this was actually a really big problem for our group. The controller didn’t want to tip his hand until his turn in the initiative came around. He’d then announced he was using an attack that would target all creatures, including a few PCs. Had he delayed long enough for us to move or had he told us to delay and not get in the area of effect we’d have saved a lot of hit points. Eventually we learned to communicate better and this happens a lot less often now.

Stay Within Range

The most common reason to stay close to other party members is when you need healing. You never forget the first time you move too far away to get healed only to drop the next round. By delaying long enough for a leader to heal you, you have a greater chance of staying on your feet and a greater chance of helping the party achieve victory.

Weed Out Minions

Nothing angers players running strikers more than “wasting” their attack on a minion. After the first round or two our strikers will often delay long enough for other adjacent party member to attack new monsters first. If the monster falls down then he knows it was a minions and the striker can look for a different target. If the monster is still standing the striker moves in and does his thing, often with combat advantage since the other PC is already adjacent to the target.

Get a Save

Delaying to get healed is a good idea, but delaying to get a saving throw is a great idea. If you’re affected by a condition that stops you from being effective until you save (slow, immobilized, daze, or weakened, for example), you can always delay long enough for another PC to grant you a save.

Remember that an adjacent ally can use Heal as a standard action to grant you a save. Depending on what condition is affecting you and what you’re capable of doing when it’s gone, it might be worth another PC giving up their attack to make that Heal check.

The only time delaying in order to get a save won’t help is when you’ve got ongoing damage or need to make a death save. If you were at 16 in the initiative when these conditions occurred then they trigger next round when 16 comes around, even if you choose to delay down to 6 so the Cleric can grant you a save.

Tactical Delay

Sometimes delaying will actually speed up combat. When everyone insists on going when it’s their turn then a lot of attacks are not as effective. For example, if a monster has 25 hit points left and the striker typically does 30+ damage then other attackers should delay and let the striker go first because that single attack will likely kill the monster. Any other attacks on the monster before the striker goes are wasted actions. Monsters fall when they reach 0 hit points. Bringing them to -20 makes no difference.

When the party communicates they can put their resources where they’ll do the most good and that usually means shuffling the initiative by delaying again and again throughout the battle.

In a recent encounter the monster’s tactic was to grab the nearest PCs while all the other monsters attacked him. Creatures grabbed took twice the normal damage. As soon as one PC was grabbed everyone started using their powers with forced movement to free him. The Wizard, who acted next in the initiative order after the monsters, used a forced movement power to slide the monster away and break the grab.

Normally this is a great idea. However, the grabbed PC needed healing badly and the Bard agreed to use Majestic Word on his turn. Had the Wizard delayed, the Majestic Word would have freed the PC from the grab since it lets the Bard slide the recipient one square. By delaying, the Wizard could have used a power that targeted multiple monsters and inflicted a lot more damage. The power he actually used certainly did the job and broke the grab, but it inflicted no damage. Had the Bard made it clear to the Wizard that the Majestic Word would free the grabbed PC, the Wizard could have either taken another action or delayed until he confirmed the grabbed PC was freed.

Delaying long enough for one or two of your allies to act can often let you be more effective on your turn. If everyone is playing to their strengths the battle will end faster despite players delaying.

Ready an Action

Players who are reluctant to delay are usually even more reluctant to ready an action. At least if they delay they can jump back into the initiative order whenever they want to, but if they ready an action it can only be taken if the triggering condition is met. If not they’ve essentially wasted their turn. Or have they?

Players will generally ready an action because of extreme circumstance. They anticipate something (usually bad) will happen and they want to be ready when it does. If that trigger doesn’t happen then that bad thing obviously didn’t happen. Readying an action you never get to take shouldn’t be seen as a waste.

Many players and DMs are not entirely clear about what happens when you ready an action. To summarize you indicate what kind of action you’re going to take and the specific condition that will trigger that action. When the condition is met you take an immediate reaction to do whatever you indicated you were going to do. Your spot in the initiative moves to just before the creature that triggered the readied action.

Readying an action has the added bonus of happening on the monster’s turn which means that it cannot use interrupts in response to your attack. This is a popular tactic for PCs who use powers that daze or stun when they’re fighting monsters with interrupts that allow them to shrug off the effects or get an immediate save against the effect.

Because some DMs aren’t sure how to handle readied actions they allow very vague triggers. I suspect this is because they don’t want the player to miss their turn waiting for a trigger that isn’t likely to happen. I’ve also seen jerk DMs who will have monsters act out of character and deliberately change their normal actions so that they specifically do not trigger the readied action. When players see a DM do this once too often they decide that it’s just not worth readying an action, which is unfortunate.

In my experience readying an action can often be a really exciting part of a battle. Because it doesn’t generally happen that often it becomes a big deal when it does, especially if thing play out as the player readying the action expects it to.

For example, in a recent adventure the party knocked a monster into a pit. The Wizard stood on the edge and readied a Beguiling Strands to target the monster if it managed to climb up successfully. Since the pit was deep enough that the monster needed to use a double move to escape, the readied action went off after it completed its first movement. The Wizard ended up holding the readied action for three consecutive rounds while the other PCs used ranged attacks to shoot the “fish in the barrel.”

When the monster finally managed to succeed on its climb check, the Wizard blasted it, knocking it off the wall and causing it to take falling damage. The Wizard readied the same action for another round before the other PCs managed to kill the creature at the bottom of the pit.

The Wizard could have used Magic Missile to just shoot the monster and deal automatic damage, but reading the blast was a lot more exciting. When the monster finally met the conditions and the triggered action went off the whole table cheered. The player certainly felt that readying the action was worth the wait.

How often do players at your table delay? Do you find that it’s the same players who delay all the time or does everyone delay as necessary? How about readied actions? How often do they occur at your gaming table?

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1 Quirky DM October 18, 2011 at 11:33 am

Those were great reasons. I look for opportunities to effectively delay and ready actions, but you added a few I hadn’t considered before.

Unfortunately, my players never use these tactics. Being primarily of the striker mentality, their focus is on doing as much damage as soon as possible, not doing as much damage as efficiently as possible. They give me bewildered looks whenever I delay or ready an action.

I’ll add two more reasons for delay. First, there are multiple ways to help someone out with an attack roll besides flanking. Leaders have lots of powers to do this and aid another is another good way. If you want to set up that fantastic daily power, letting the other players know and then delaying your action until after they buff your attack roll is the way to do it.

The other reason to delay is because you don’t know what you want to do. If two players are next to another in initiative order and one player is stuck on what to do, let the other player go first. It makes very little difference in the combat and you’ll move the battle along that much faster instead of pausing while you make up your mind.

2 Jordan Quackenbush October 18, 2011 at 11:47 am

Great article on the benefits of delaying and readying. To many players, the word “delaying” just has such a negative connotation, and faces opposition. I will pass on what I’ve gleaned from this article to my Fri night group; I can already think of a few times they would have benefitted from delaying or readying.

In my RPOL play-by-post game, I’m playing a ranged hunter. Our DM has led us to a rather dark fortress, (making me regret my choice for elf over drow’s darkvision) and readying actions has almost become a staple. I’ll ready an Aimed Shot for “the first thing that moves,” and our wizard will light up an area, revealing a foe or two – which our DM magnanimously disposes of from the shot. Saves me from moving into the inky blackness unawares or just “doing nothing” on my turn. Delaying would potentially help as well.

3 Al October 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm

When it comes to Ready an Action I would like to point out the following excerpt from the Rules Compendium because players can get very creative with creating their own triggers.

Interrupting an Enemy: If you want to use a readied action to attack before an enemy attacks, you should ready your action in response to the enemy’s movement. That way your attack will be triggered by a portion of the enemy’s move, and you will interrupt it and attack first. If you ready an action to be triggered by an enemy attack, your readied action will occur as a reaction to that attack, so you’ll attack after the enemy.
Note that an enemy might use a power that lets it move and then attack. If you readied an action to attack in response to that enemy’s movement, your readied action interrupts the movement, and you can attack before the enemy does.

4 mbeacom October 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Ready an action is also great for setting up a double flank attack.

Perhaps your fighter moves in to attack first, then your rogue follows by moving into a flank with the fighter. In this situation, only the rogue attacked with combat advantage. A better choice might be for the fighter to move in on the enemy and then instead of attacking, ready his action to trigger on the allies movement into combat advantage. In this scenario, the fighter moves and then readies his attack. The rogue then moves in and attacks with combat advantage which then triggers the fighters attack also now with the benefit of combat advantage.

5 wygn October 18, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Another good reason to delay is to maximize the number of turns a a save ends effect can stay on a monster.

If a monster is dazed right before their turn comes up in initiative, that monster could potentially save against being dazed immediately, giving no chance to exploit the free combat advantage and inability to take opportunity attacks.
If the PC delays until after the monster has finished it’s turn and then attacks, the monster is now dazed for a full round before they can save against it.

6 sndwurks October 18, 2011 at 6:45 pm

I still say proper Ready and Delayed actions were the secret to winning the D&D Championships this year. Properly using the Delay and Ready actions in 4th Edition can be the lynch pin to proper tactical action.

While it can be fun to just go all out, all the time, getting the most of your actions is more important. As 4th Edition is a game about Action Economy, getting more for your actions is key to moving from acceptable to exceptional, on both sides of the screen.

7 Sunyaku October 18, 2011 at 7:03 pm

I normally only see the veterans readying and delaying actions… but there’s certainly no reason why any attentive player should not offer to delay, or ask someone else to delay to execute a good strategy.

It might just be an experience issue. New players tend to think in terms of what their character can do. More experienced players tend to think in terms of what the entire party can accomplish together.

@mbeacom Readying for a double-flank is a great suggestion!

8 brc October 18, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Just a quick clarification on delaying – any condition which denies actions (daze, stun, dominate) also denies the ability to delay. So you cannot delay to gain a save against these, or wait them out if they are EoNT effects.

As for readying an action, this is probably the #1 rules element that I see people get wrong. Anyone who uses it should remember that a) it is a reaction, not an interrupt, and b) readying an action uses your immediate action for the round, so you cannot use any immediate action powers.

9 Paik the Kenku Monk October 19, 2011 at 10:22 am

I never know or thought about this. Thanks. I have some fresh tactics for my next game!

10 Ameron (Derek Myers) October 19, 2011 at 1:28 pm

@Quirky DM
Great suggestions. I find that during D&D Encounters I force some players to delay because they take way too long to figure out what they want to do. However, I only do this when another PC is up next for exactly the reason you stated. If all the PCs are going together then it really doesn’t matter who goes first.

@Jordan Quackenbush
Your “delay until you actually see the monsters” is a good (almost obvious) tactic that is too often overlooked.

Thanks for highlighting this. You’re absolutely right about powers that include movement (like charging). If your trigger is “I wait for the monster to move” then you have to wait for it to complete the action that caused it to move (move action or standard action that includes movement). It’s not a common trait for monsters but I do see a power with a move aspect once and a while so it’s an important distinction.

I have my monsters ready for the double flank all the time (if they’re intelligent enough to realize they can do this). When they deal extra dice damage from combat advantage it’s an obvious tactic that all DMs should use. Just because the players don’t delay doesn’t mean that the DM has to forego any advantages that come from delaying or readying an action.

This is one thing that my party is actually really good at. Nothing is more frustrating than using a really cool daily power that’s save ends, hitting, and then having the monster go right after you in the initiative order and saving. No one gets the benefit of the harmful effect. We learned the value of delaying in these circumstances after we got really screwed over early in 4e.

I don’t think I could have put it any better myself.

I agree that it’s an experience thing. I find that as the DM I’ll offer suggestions to newer players and one of the most common suggestions is to delay or ready an action until one of the other PCs does something. I’m amazed at how often the newer player says something like “I had no idea I could do that.”

You’re absolutely right. From the compendium: “You also can’t delay if you’re dazed or if you’re unable to take actions.” I had no idea that this was the case. I stand corrected.

Your reminder about only getting one immediate action or reaction per turn is good to note for newer or less experienced players.

@Paik the Kenku Monk
Glad I could help. That’s why we do this day after day.

11 Philo Pharynx October 19, 2011 at 5:00 pm

We may disagree on Aid Another, but Ready and Delay are wonderful tactics with a lot of different uses.
One way to encourage players to use these is to see monsters use them. I rule that if you can see soembody you can tell if they are readying, and usually what general type of action they are readying, i.e. Attacking or moving. Of course this means the monsters can tell the same things about the players.

Other good reasons to ready or delay:
To give time to negotiate. Sometimes you don’t know the intention of an enemy. If the person who goes off first isn’t a good speaker, they might ready or delay to give somebody else the chance to talk while being prepared if things get violent. This may end up as a mexican standoff. When monsters do this, it can be a signal that they don’t neccesarily intend to fight.
To avoid getting isolated. A number of times I’ve seen the rogue rush into the room and get gang-shanked by a bunch of monsters before any other PC gets to go. By going in with another character then at least there’s two targets to split the damage between.
To let enemies get closer. If melee enemies are a little more than a double move away, you might want to ready or delay. Let the bad guys spend their round moving, and then you can move up and attack them.
To stay hidden. When one or more members of the party are hidden it might make sense to wait until the bad guys are in a good position to be attacked. Other characters can position themselves to encourage the bad guys to move into the killing zone. Particularly useful for monsters.
To focus fire. By delaying, you can have the several people go at once and focus on taking one enemy down.
To wait for a bloodied foe. Some classes/feats/items give you a bonus against bloodied foes. By waiting, you can let an ally put them over the edge and then step in to take advantage of it.
To use terrain. If you know of a trap or hazard in the area, you can ready to trigger it when your opponent is in the right spot. This is often something monsters will do.
To let the defender defend. Sometimes a striker just wants to get past the front line and kill that annoying mage or leader. By delaying, you can let the defender mark somebody on the front lines. then you can use that to move past. If the enemy attacks, they get the -2 penalty and the defender gets to do their retaliation trick.
To let the controller control. Controllers apply all sorts of wonderful conditions. By delaying, you can take advantage of their benefit.
To let the leader lead. Being in the right place for a Magic Weapon, Cloak of Courage, or Rain of Blood is a big tactical advantage. Especially for daily powers that last until the end of the encounter.

12 Skeeter October 19, 2011 at 7:47 pm

This article is excellent and highlights my frustration with D&D Encounters. When you play with a different group each week, it’s nearly impossible to work as a group. It takes a lot of time playing together to get a strategy together. So the DM just adjusts the difficulty down, knowing that the group is not working together. Very frustrating, but oh well.

13 Swordgleam October 20, 2011 at 1:39 am

Readied actions can be great when the PCs can guess what the baddies are about to try. It’s almost good that people forget about them most of the time, since as a DM it’s sad to see your villains get foiled at every turn, and “I ready an action to shoot him as soon as he reaches for the lever” works pretty well.

You did miss a reason for delaying/readying – drama value. Managed to freak out my entire table last session with the simple words, “I ready an action for when we are just about to go out of communications range.”

14 Al October 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm

@Swordgleam for dramatic purposes I would probably allow “I ready an action to shoot him as soon as he reaches for the lever” however that is technically illegal. It can lead to the players thinking that they can declare “If the orc targets the cleric with an attack, I ready an action to …” to interrupt the orc before he attacks which I noted above is illegal by the rules.

Remember that Ready an Action are reactions meaning they go after the event that triggers them not before. Once an attack is declared (standard action) or in your example above “Bad guy pulls the lever” is the action (minor) it cannot be interrupted, raising his arm to the lever is part of that action and cannot be the trigger legally.

Important note about using delays in attacking during enemy movement. You do not have to wait for the entire move to finish but can react to each square moved through for the delay.

Example: Orc declares a charge against the cleric. Ranger declared a Ready to fire his bow if the orc moves. The final square and the first 2 squares of the orc moves into would grant the orc partial cover, the Ranger can wait until the orc moves to a square with no cover for the orc before firing and does not have to wait until the orc finished his move action.

15 Philo Pharynx October 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm

@Al, You are technically right on Ready, but wrong on Delay.

On Delay: “After any other combatant has completed a turn, you can step back into the initiative order. Perform your actions as desired and adjust your initiative to your new position in the order.” You can only delay until all of a combatant’s actions are complete and their turn ends. You certainly ready until the combatant reaches a certain point.

As for Ready, you are correct by the rules as written. But I and most of the DM’s I’ve played with allow ready to be used as an interrupt under some conditions. For me it boils down to how specific the action is and the type of response. The more specific the trigger, the more likely I’ll let it be interruptable. For example, if there is one big lever I’d likely allow it. If the bad guy is in front of a whole bunch of levers it’s less likely. The response is also part of it. If you are adjacent to the bad guy, or have an arrow nocked, I’d probably allow it to interrupt. If your action is a charge from 6 squares away, I’d probably rule it as a reaction.

16 Al October 21, 2011 at 11:51 am

My bad I was solely referring to Ready an Action in my above post I misused Delay instead of Ready for the last part.

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