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.
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?