Its all about Actions
The Language of Actions
Here are a few terms you’ll encounter in this article.
Action: The Player’s Handbook glossary defines an action as a character activity, which doesn’t tell the whole story. In practical terms, an action is something you do during your own turn that uses up time (usually) and changes (or has the potential to change) something in the game world. As a general rule, you can use an action only during your own turn. You sometimes can act during someone else’s turn, but when you do so that’s usually an extra activity for you, and it doesn’t affect the actions available to you during your next turn.
PH pg 304: “Action: A character activity. Actions are divided into the following categories, according to the time required to perform them (from most time to least): full-round actions, standard actions, move actions, and free actions.”
The basic kinds of actions in the D&D game include standard actions, move actions, full-round actions, free actions, and nonactions.
Free Action: A free action is an activity that takes only a minor amount of time. You can take any number of free actions during your turn, subject to your DM’s approval. Taking one or more free actions doesn’t affect the other actions available to you during your turn.
Full-Round Action: A full-round action is an activity that effectively consumes all of your time during your turn. Consequently, you cannot use either a standard or a move action (see below) during a turn when you use a full-round action. You can, however, use a 5-foot step during a turn when you use a full-round action (see the nonaction entry). You also can use free actions during a turn when you use a full-round action.
Move Action: A move action is an activity that allows you to move your speed across the battlefield or perform some other activity that takes a similar amount of time. You’re allowed one move action during your turn. You can take a second move action during your turn in place of the standard action you’re also allowed (see below). You cannot, however, take a second standard action in place of a move action.
Nonaction: A nonaction is an activity that effectively takes no time at all (as opposed to a free action, which takes an insignificant amount of time), but it nevertheless involves some effort on your part. Often, a nonaction is something that you do as part of another action, such as making a Use Magic Device skill check while trying to activate a magic wand. Activating the wand is a standard action and making the check is not an action at all. Some activities that are described in the rules as free actions are actually nonactions; one example is trying to establish a hold on a foe after a successful grab in a grapple attack. (Readers may remember the entry for “Not an Action” on page 139 of the Player’s Handbook.)
PH pg 139: “Not an Action: Some activities are so minor that they are not even considered free actions. They literally don’t take any time at all to do and are considered an inherent part of doing something else. For instance, using the Use Magic Device skill (page 85) while trying to activate a device is not an action, it is part of the standard action to activate a magic item.”
A 5-foot step is a nonaction you can use to move a short distance when you don’t otherwise move during your turn; see Rules of the Game: All About Movement.
Many nonactions are things you can do when it’s not your turn, such as making opposed checks to avoid being disarmed or tripped or making an attack of opportunity.
Standard Action: A standard action is a kind of action that covers any activity you can perform and still have time left to move your speed during the same turn (see Rules of the Game: All About Movement). You are allowed only one standard action each turn, and sometimes you can’t perform any standard actions at all.
In most cases, you have the following three options available to you during your turn (choose one):
- One standard action plus one move action.
- Two move actions.
- One full-round action.
You can add any number of nonactions or a reasonable number of free actions (your DM decides what’s reasonable) to the option you choose. Some of these extras impose their own limits on what you can do; for example, you can take only one 5-foot step during your turn. Various expansions to the D&D rules introduce more ways to sneak in little extras while you act during your turn. An example is the immediate action from the Expanded Psionics Handbook. We’ll take a look at those in Part Two.
You cannot combine your action options. For example, if you use the Multi-Shot feat, which allows you to fire multiple arrows as a standard action, you cannot also use the full attack action, which is a full-round action.
Surprise Rounds: Whenever some combatants in a battle are aware of their opponents and some are not, the battle begins with a surprise round (see page 137 in the Player’s Handbook). Combatants who begin the combat aware of the opposition can act during a surprise round, but can use only a standard action during their turns (plus any free actions the DM allows and nonactions as appropriate). Remember that when you have a standard action available, you can use a move action instead (but not vice versa).
PH pg 137: “The Surprise Round: If some but not all of the combatants are aware of their opponents, a surprise round happens before regular rounds begin. Any combatants aware of the opponents can act in the surprise round, so they roll for initiative. In initiative order (highest to lowest), combatants who started the battle aware of their opponents each take a standard action during the surprise round (see Standard Actions, page 139). You can also take free actions during the surprise round, at the DM’s discretion. If no one or everyone is surprised, no surprise round occurs.” Circumstances often reduce your options for acting. Sometimes, you simply don’t have a complete round in which to act. Other times, you find yourself unable to act quickly or decisively.
Many conditions also restrict the actions you can perform. See page 300 in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for a complete list of character conditions.
Ability Damaged or Drained: You become unable to act when any ability score is reduced to 0. When your Constitution score falls to 0 you die (see dead below). When your Strength score falls to 0 you collapse, limp as a rag doll. When your Dexterity falls to 0, you’re paralyzed, unable to move a muscle. These latter two situations generally rule out any action or nonaction unless you have a way to affect yourself or your surroundings purely through mental activity. For example, moving with a fly or levitate spell doesn’t require any physical activity, and either spell would allow you to use a move action to move at the speed the spell in question allows. Likewise, a mage hand or telekinesis spell would allow some move actions (such as picking up an item), some standard actions (such as lighting a torch with a tindertwig), or some full-round actions (such as lighting a torch with flint and steel). Some actions, such as concentrating to maintain an active spell, also are purely mental.
DMG pg 300: “Ability Damaged, Ability Drained, Blinded, Blown Away, Checked, Confused, Cowering, Dazed, Dazzled, Dead, Deafened, Disabled, Dying, Energy Drained, Entangled, Exhausted, Fascinated, Fatigued, Flat-Footed, Frightened, Grappling, Helpless, Incorporeal, Invisible, Knocked Down, Nauseated, Panicked, Paralyzed, Petrified, Pinned, Prone, Shaken, Sickened, Stable, Staggered, Stunned, Turned, Unconscious.”
You can use free actions and nonactions while your Dexterity or Strength score is reduced to 0, provided such actions are purely mental.
It’s reasonable for a DM to limit exactly what you can accomplish when your Strength or Dexterity is reduced to 0. After all, your field of vision and other faculties are likely to be restricted.
When your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma falls to 0, parts of your brain shuts down and you lose consciousness. While unconscious, you cannot act at all.
Cowering: You cannot act when cowering.
Dazed: You cannot act when dazed.
Dead: When you’re dead, your spirit departs and your body becomes a mere object. Neither your departed spirit nor your lifeless body can act. Of course, either your spirit or your body may regain some semblance of life, such as becoming an undead creature, but then you’re no longer truly dead.
Disabled: You’re limited to one move action or one standard action (you can’t use both) when disabled. You cannot use a full-round action when disabled. If you use a standard action (or anything strenuous) while disabled, you take 1 point of damage after completing the action. See Part Two for more notes on the disabled condition.
Dying: When you’re dying, you’re unconscious and unable to act; see the notes under ability damage and ability drain.
Fascinated: When fascinated, you must stand or sit quietly, taking no actions other than to pay attention to the source of your fascination. In effect, you use a standard action during your turn to focus on the source of your fascination, and you cannot move, or even take a 5-foot step, while fascinated.
Fatigued: When fatigued, you can neither run nor charge, but your actions aren’t otherwise restricted.
Frightened: If you’re frightened, you must use two move actions each round to flee from the source of your fright. If unable to flee, you can fight; you take a -2 penalty on all attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks.
Grappling: When engaged in a grapple (either holding onto a foe or in a foe’s grasp) you can undertake only a limited number of actions, as noted on page 156 of the Player’s Handbook.
PH pg 156: “If You’re Grappling: When you’re grappling (regardless of who started the grapple), you can perform any of the following actions. Some of these actions take the place of an attack (rather than being a standard action or a move action). If your base attack bonus allows you multiple attacks, you can attempt one of these actions in place of each of your attacks, but at successfully lower base attack bonuses: activate a magic item, attack your opponent, cast a spell, damage your opponent, draw a light weapon, escape from grapple, move, retrieve a spell component, pin your opponent, break another’s pin, use opponent’s weapon.”
Helpless: You cannot act when helpless.
Nauseated: When nauseated, you’re limited to a single move action during your turn.
Panicked: If you’re panicked, you must use two move actions each round to flee from the source of your panic. If unable to flee, you cower; you take a -2 penalty on all attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks.
Paralyzed: If paralyzed, you cannot act; see the notes under ability damage and ability drain.
Petrified: When you’re petrified, you’re considered unconscious; see the notes under ability damage and ability drain.
Pinned: Being pinned is just like being held in a grapple, except you have even fewer options. See page 156 of the Player’s Handbook for details.
PH pg 156: “When an opponent has pinned you, you are held immobile (but not helpless) for 1 round. While you’re pinned, you take a -4 penalty to your AC against opponents other than the one pinning you. At your opponent’s option, you may also be unable to speak. On your turn, you can try to escape the pin by making an opposed grapple check in place of an attack. You can make an Escape Artist check in place of your grapple check if you want, but this requires a standard action. If you win, you escape the pin, but you’re still grappling…”
Prone: You cannot use a ranged weapon (except for a crossbow) when prone. You actions aren’t otherwise limited.
Stable: When you’re stable you’re also unconscious; see the notes under ability damage and ability drain.
Staggered: When staggered, you can use a single move action or standard action each round (but not both, nor can you use a full-round action).
Stunned: You can’t act when stunned.
Turned: Turned creatures must make two move actions each round. If they cannot do so, they cower.
Unconscious: See the notes under ability damage and ability drain.
Kinds of Nonactions
As noted aboce, a nonaction is something that effectively takes you no time at all, but still requires some attention or effort. The rules don’t go into any detail about the kinds of nonactions in the game, but for our purposes they fall into three categories:
Aggressive Nonactions: There’s only one activity that falls into this category: the attack of opportunity. An attack of opportunity is similar to the attack action. In general, if you cannot use a standard action during your turn, you also cannot make an attack of opportunity during someone else’s turn. When the notes on conditions in Part One say that you cannot act (for example, when stunned), you cannot make an attack of opportunity.
It’s worth noting here that to threaten a space on the battlefield you must be able to make an armed attack into that space (see Rules of the Game: All About Attacks of Opportunity). If you cannot use at least a standard action you cannot make an armed attack into any space.
The rules don’t say so, but making an attack of opportunity should be considered strenuous; if you make an attack of opportunity while disabled, you take 1 point of damage after completing the attack.
Nonactions with Other Actions: When you can’t perform the main action, you can’t perform any nonactions that might accompany it. For example, if you can’t use a standard action, you cannot activate most magic items and you also cannot make a Use Magic Device check to activate an item that requires a standard action to activate.
You can take a 5-foot step anytime you don’t otherwise move across the battlefield. You usually take a 5-foot step before, after, or during another action. The rules don’t say so, but it’s best to assume that you cannot take a 5-foot step unless you can take at least a move action during your turn.
Reactive Nonactions: It’s usually best to allow characters to use nonactions, such as making opposed checks to resist being tripped or grappled, unless they’re helpless (any ability score reduced to 0, paralyzed, petrified, or unconscious). It’s worth noting, however, that even a helpless character can make a Reflex save (albeit with a -5 penalty for an effective Dexterity score of 0). That’s because the game generally favors at least some involvement from the player – and a chance for a miraculous escape – whenever a character is in danger.
A player reasonably can expect to make opposed checks that have a basically defensive nature, such as resisting a trip or grapple, even when a character is helpless. In such cases, the opposed check really represents fate intervening to foil the attacker rather than any determined resistance on the defender’s part. No matter what kind of opposed check a helpless character makes, its best to apply a -5 penalty on the check for a relevant ability score that’s effectively 0 when the action is basically physical (such as avoiding being tripped or grappled).
All that said, a character cannot make or succeed at some opposed checks. For example, a blind character cannot make a Spot check to see a hidden foe, nor can a deaf character make a Listen check to hear someone sneaking up on her.
The Disabled Condition
As noted in Part One, you’re limited to one standard action or one move action (but not both) when you’re disabled. You cannot use a full-round action while disabled.
If you use a standard action or do anything strenuous while disabled, you take 1 point of damage after completing the action. The rules leave it to the DM to decide what’s “strenuous.” Since a standard action deals you damage when you’re disabled, however, you can use the list of standard actions shown on Table 8-2 in the Player’s Handbook as a guide. Anything that resembles one of the standard actions shown there probably is sufficiently strenuous to hurt you when you’re disabled. For example, making an attack of opportunity (as noted earlier) resembles the attack action and you take 1 point of damage if you make an attack of opportunity while disabled. Likewise, casting a quickened spell (a free action) also deals you damage because it’s similar to casting a spell as a standard action.
Some options you have when disabled aren’t obvious. For example, the charge action is a full-round action; however, you can charge as a standard action when you’re limited to standard actions (such as during a surprise round). You also can charge as a standard action when disabled; you take 1 point of damage when you do so. You also can withdraw as a standard action when disabled, but you also take 1 point of damage when you do so.
When an action you take when disabled deals you damage, you complete the action first, then take the damage. Since you have 0 hit points when disabled, you usually collapse and immediately begin dying. If the action you use gains you hit points, you still take 1 point of damage for using a standard or strenuous action while disabled, but your condition after taking that damage depends on your current hit point total. For example, you have 0 hit points and are disabled. You cast a cure light wounds spell that gives you 5 hit points. After casting the spell, you take 1 point of damage, leaving you with 4 hit points. Because you have a positive hit point total, you are not dying or disabled after taking the damage.
The Free Action and Its Relatives
As noted above, a free action is something you do during your turn that takes hardly any time at all. Many people believe that a free action never provokes an attack of opportunity, but that is not a feature of free actions. It is true, however, that free actions rarely provoke attacks of opportunity. For example, none of the free actions noted on page 144 of the Player’s Handbook provokes attacks of opportunity.
PH pg 144: “Free Actions: Free actions don’t take any time at all, though your DM may limit the number of free actions you can perform in a turn. Free actions rarely incur attacks of opportunity. Some common free actions are as follows: Drop an Item, Drop Prone, Speak, Cease Concentration on Spell, Cast a Quickened Spell.”
You usually can perform a free action before, after, or during another action, circumstances permitting. For example, dropping an item is a free action. If you also move during your turn, you could drop an item at any point during the move. On the other hand, speaking a few words also is a free action. If you move, you could speak at any point during your move, but you could not speak while simultaneously casting a spell with a verbal component. If you tried to do so, you’d interrupt your own spell. You could, however, speak a few words before or after casting the spell. Likewise, you can cast only one spell at a time. You can’t cast a quickened spell while casting another spell. When in doubt about when a free action can occur, the player and DM should discuss the matter.
You cannot use a free action during another creature’s turn. Speaking is an exception; you can speak during another creature’s turn (see page 144 in the Player’s Handbook). Remember, however, that you’re limited to just a few sentences. If you know where an invisible creature lurks, you can’t tell a colleague where the creature is the moment your colleague acts (you could ready such an action, however you’d really be using a variant of the Aid Another action).
It’s Like a Free Action but It Isn’t
The Expanded Psionics Handbook introduced two new kinds of actions that are very similar to free actions. Like free actions, these actions take little or no time. Unlike free actions, there are strict limits on how many of these actions you can use in a single turn and when you can use them. Here’s an overview:
Swift Actions: You can perform one (and only one) swift action during your turn. A swift action is otherwise just like a free action.
Immediate Actions: You can use an immediate action any time, even during another creature’s turn. If you use an immediate action during your turn, you cannot use a swift action during your next turn. You cannot use another swift or immediate action until after your next turn.
As discussed earlier, you can use a standard action and still have time for a move action as well. You can substitute a move action for a standard action, but not vice versa. You can use only one standard action each round, and you can’t use any standard action if you use a full-round action.
Attack: Use this action to make a single melee or ranged attack. (Some feats, such as Manyshot , allow you to make more than one attack with a standard action.) If your base attack bonus allows you to make multiple attacks during your turn, or if you wield two weapons, you need to use the full-attack action (a full-round action) to make the multiple attacks.
From PH pg 150: “Cover: One of the best defenses available is cover. By taking cover behind a tree, a wall, the side of a wagon, or the battlements of a castle, you can protect yourself from attacks, especially ranged attacks, and also from being spotted. To determine whether your target has cover from your ranged attack, choose a corner of your square. If any line from this corner to any corner of the target’s square passes through a square or border that blocks line of effect or provides cover, or through a square occupied by a creature, the target has cover (+4 to AC).”
To make a melee attack, your target must be within reach (usually adjacent to you if you’re a Medium creature). To make a ranged attack, your target must be within range. You must have line of effect (at least one unbroken, straight, line from any corner of your space to any corner of your target’s space) to make a melee or ranged attack. If one or more of those lines is blocked, your target has cover against your attack. If you’re making a melee attack, your target has cover if any line between any corner of your square and any corner of your target’s square is blocked. If you’re making a ranged attack, pick any corner of your square. Your target has cover only if any line connecting that corner with any corner of the target’s space is blocked.
Remember that a natural 1 (the d20 comes up 1) on the attack roll is always a miss, no matter what your attack bonus or what your target’s Armor Class. A natural 20 (the d20 comes up 20) is always a hit, provided that you have line of effect to your target and your target is in reach (for a melee attack) or range (for a ranged attack).
If you make a ranged attack at a target engaged in melee with a character friendly to you, you take a -4 penalty on your attack roll. Two creatures are engaged in melee if they are enemies of each other and either threatens the other. In this case, it’s best to assume one creature threatens the other if it can make an armed or an unarmed melee attack against the other. (As noted earlier, you must be able to make an armed melee attack into a space to threaten that space.) A creature that cannot make any attacks is not considered engaged unless a foe is actually attacking it. In this case, a creature is being attacked when a foe has attacked during the current or previous round.
If you have the Precise Shot feat, you can shoot or throw into a melee without the -4 penalty.
If your target (or the part of the target you’re aiming at, if it’s a big target) is at least 10 feet away from the nearest friendly character, you can avoid the -4 penalty, even if the creature you’re aiming at is engaged in melee with a friendly character. That’s because you can easily aim your shot to avoid hitting your ally.
If your attack succeeds, you deal damage and might inflict a critical hit as noted on page 139 in the Player’s Handbook.
As a nonaction while attacking, you can choose to fight defensively as noted on page 140 in the Player’s Handbook.
Making an armed melee attack doesn’t provoke attacks of opportunity. An unarmed melee attack provokes an attack of opportunity from your target if the target is armed. (A character could be considered armed even when she attacks without a weapon; see page 139 in the Player’s Handbook.) A ranged attack provokes an attack of opportunity from every foe that threatens you when you make the attack.
Cast a Spell: Most spells require one standard action to cast. To cast any spell, you must provide any components the spell requires. See Rules of the Game: Reading Spell Descriptions for details. Casting a spell usually provokes an attack of opportunity from every foe that threatens you when you cast.
As a nonaction, you can make a Concentration check to cast a spell defensively. Doing so allows you to cast the spell without provoking attacks of opportunity, but you must succeed at the Concentration check (DC 15 + spell level) or lose the spell. Other conditions, such as poor weather, continuing damage, or hostile spells also can break your concentration; see the Concentration skill description in the Player’s Handbook for details.
If you cast a spell with a range of touch, you can touch one recipient as a nonaction that’s part of the action you used to cast the spell. You also can opt to hold the charge for a spell with touch range. Though you can lose the charge by accident, you must use a standard action to deliver the spell where you want it. As a full-round action, you can touch up to six friends with a touch spell, but that’s worthwhile with only a few spells. See Rules of the Game: Reading Spell Descriptions for details.
Concentrate to Maintain a Spell: Some spells require continued concentration to keep them going. Concentrating to maintain a spell doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity, but anything that could break your concentration when casting a spell can keep you from concentrating to maintain a spell. If your concentration breaks, the spell ends.
Sometimes, you’ll need to perform some other action to get the benefit from your spell. In most cases this is a nonaction that’s part of the standard action you use to concentrate on the spell; an example is making a Spellcraft check to determine the school of a magical aura you’ve discovered with a detect magic spell.
Activate a Magic Item: Many magic items don’t need to be activated, either because they work continuously or activate on their own when you use them; see Rules of the Game: Using Magic Items. You use a standard action to activate most items that require activation. As noted in Part One, making a Use Magic Device skill check to help activate magic item is a nonaction you use as part of activating the item.
Use Special Ability: Using a special ability is usually a standard action, but whether it is a standard action, a full-round action, or not an action at all is defined by the ability.
A spell-like ability requires a standard action that provokes an attack of opportunity; see Rules of the Game: All About Spell-Like Abilities for details.
A supernatural ability usually requires a standard action that does not provoke an attack of opportunity, though sometimes using a supernatural ability is a nonaction or simply works when the user takes some other action. For example, energy drain works when the user makes a successful slam (or incorporeal touch) attack.
Using an extraordinary ability is usually not an action because most extraordinary abilities automatically happen when the user takes some other action. Those extraordinary abilities that are actions are usually standard actions that cannot be disrupted, do not require concentration, and do not provoke attacks of opportunity.
From PH pg 142: “Total Defense: You can defend yourself as a standard action. You get a +4 dodge bonus to your AC for 1 round. Your AC improves at the start of this action, so it helps you against any attacks of opportunity you incur during the round. You can’t combine total defense with fighting defensively or with the benefit of the Combat Expertise feat (since both of those require you to declare an attack or full attack). You can’t make attacks of opportunity while using total defense.”
Total Defense: This standard action gives you a dodge bonus to your Armor Class for 1 round; see page 142 in the Player’s Handbook for details. The bonus lasts from the moment you declare the total defense action until the beginning of your next turn. You can use a move action either before or after you declare the action, but you’re better off if you declare the action, then use a move action (because you get the benefit of total defense against any attacks of opportunity provoked by your move action).
Start or Complete a Full-Round Action: This standard action lets you start a full-round action and finish it the following round by using another standard action. You can’t use this action to start or complete a full attack, charge, run, or withdraw. You can use this action to begin or complete a spell with a full-round casting time, to perform a coup de grace, or to begin or complete moving 5 feet through difficult terrain (see Rules of the Game: All About Movement. As with any other standard action, you can use a move action either before or after starting or completing the full-round action (provided you have both a standard action and move action available during your turn). If you use this action to start a full-round action and fail to use another standard action to complete the full-round during the following turn, your previous standard action is wasted.
As noted earlier, a move action either moves you across the battlefield a distance equal to your speed (or less) or is something that takes a similar amount of time.
As noted earlier, you can substitute a move action for a standard action, but not vice versa. This allows you to use one or two move actions each round.
Leaving a threatened space using a move action provokes an attack of opportunity, though there are ways to avoid triggering an attack of opportunity, such as using the Tumble skill.
Move: You use this action to move up to your speed. If you choose to travel across the battlefield at less than your speed, you still use up a whole move action. This helps simplify play.
Accelerated Climbing: You can climb up to one-half your speed as a move action by accepting a -5 penalty on your Climb check. All the normal risks and penalties involved in climbing apply to accelerated climbing; see the Climb skill description in the Player’s Handbook.
Crawling: You can crawl 5 feet as a move action. Crawling incurs attacks of opportunity from any attackers who threaten you at any point of your crawl. This means that you trigger an attack of opportunity when you enter or leave a threatened space by crawling.
Drawing or Sheathing a Weapon: Drawing a weapon so that you can use it in combat, or putting it away so that you have a free hand, usually is a move action. If you have a base attack bonus of +1 or higher, drawing (but not sheathing) a weapon is a nonaction that you can take along with a regular move (that is, a move action that you use to move up to your speed across the battlefield). If you have the Two-Weapon Fighting feat, you can draw two weapons (either light or one-handed weapons) either as a move action or as a nonaction along with a regular move.
The draw a weapon action (and nonaction) also applies to weaponlike objects carried in easy reach. The rules don’t give much guidance about which objects are “weaponlike,” other than to use a wand as an example. As a practical matter, I suggest treating any object that is no bigger than a weapon for the character as weaponlike for this purpose. To be retrieved as a weapon, the weaponlike object also has to be stored in some convenient place, such as a sheath or loop in a belt or on some kind of harness or bandoleer.
Drawing ammunition for use with a ranged weapon (such as arrows, bolts, sling bullets, or shuriken) is a free action.
The Quick Draw feat allows you to draw (but not sheathe) a weapon as a free action during your turn. If you also have the Two-Weapon Fighting feat, you can draw two weapons as a free action during your turn. Though the rules don’t say so, it is reasonable to assume that you also can use Quick Draw to draw weaponlike objects.
Readying or Loosing a Shield: Strapping a shield to your arm to gain its shield bonus to your Armor Class is a move action that does not provoke an attack of opportunity. The rules don’t specifically say so, but to ready a shield as a move action you must carry it on your person (perhaps strapped to your back). If you pick up a shield off the ground, that takes a separate move action that provokes an attack of opportunity.
Unstrapping and dropping a shield so you can use your shield hand for another purpose requires a move action that does not provoke an attack of opportunity (to unstrap it) and a free action (to drop it). You also can merely loose the shield and keep it on your person, usually by slinging it over your back by a strap.
If you have a base attack bonus of +1 or higher, you can ready or loose a shield as a free action combined with a regular move.
Manipulating an Item: Moving, lifting, storing, retrieving, or otherwise handling an item is a move action. See Table 8-2 in the Player’s Handbook for variations on this action and which variations provoke attacks of opportunity.
Directing an Existing Spell: Some spells, such as flaming sphere, allow you to redirect the effect to new targets or areas while the spell lasts. Directing a spell requires a move action and does not provoke attacks of opportunity or require concentration.
Standing Up: When you’re prone (lying down), standing up requires a move action and provokes attacks of opportunity.SeeRules of the Game: All About Movement for variations on standing up.
Mounting or Dismounting a Steed: You can mount or get off a steed no more than one size category bigger than you as a move action that does not provoke an attack of opportunity. With a DC 20 Ride check, you can mount or dismount a steed no more than one size category bigger than you as a free action, provided that you have at least one move action available to you during the current turn at the time you attempt the mount or dismount. For example, if you ride your mount for a double move, you’ve exhausted your move actions for the round and cannot dismount during the same round, even with a Ride check. See the Ride skill description in the Player’s Handbook or Rules of the Game: All About Movement for more on mounting and dismounting.
In the first post, a full-round action uses up all your time in a round. You can’t combine a full-round action with a standard or a move action, though if your full-round action does not involve moving any distance, you can take a 5-foot step.
Remember that you complete a full-round action during your turn. You do not have to wait until the next round to complete the action (unless you use two standard actions to start the action during one turn and finish it the next; see Part Three).
Full Attack: This works just like the attack standard action except that you can make any extra attacks you have available because of your base attack bonus or equipment. You do not need to specify the targets of your attacks ahead of time. You can see how the earlier attacks turn out before assigning the later ones.
You decide between the full attack and attack actions after you make your first attack. If you decide to use a move action after attacking, then your first attack is considered the attack standard action. Even if you choose the full attack action, you can take a 5-foot step before, after, or during the action. You can interrupt your attacks with a 5-foot step to bring new opponents within reach.
Cast a Spell: Spells with 1 round casting times break the rule about completing full-round actions during your turn. You use a full-round action to cast the spell, but the spell comes into effect just before the beginning of your turn in the round after you began casting the spell.
When a spell takes longer than 1 round to cast, you use a full-round action each turn for the entire casting time, and the spell takes effect just before your turn the round after you finish. For example, a spell with a 1-minute casting time comes into effect just before your turn 1 minute later. Your full-round actions must be consecutive and uninterrupted, or the spell automatically fails. You can, however, take a 5-foot step each round you spend casting.
When you begin a spell that takes 1 round or longer to cast, you must continue the invocations, gestures, and concentration from one round to just before your turn in the next round (at least). If you lose concentration after starting the spell and before it is complete, you lose the spell. Any material or XP components the spell requires are used up when you begin the spell.
You provoke attacks of opportunity only when you begin casting a spell, even though you might continue casting for at least 1 full round. While casting a spell, you don’t threaten any squares around you.
From PH pg 188: “Spontaneous Casting and Metamagic Feats: A cleric spontaneously casting a cure or inflict spell can cast a metamagic version of it instead. For instance, an 11th-level cleric can swap out a prepared 6th-level spell to cast an empowered cure critical wounds spell. Extra time is also required in this case. Casting a 1-action metamagic spell spontaneously is a full-round action, and a spell with a longer casting time takes an extra full-round action to cast.”
Spontaneous spellcasters, such as sorcerers and bards, must use at least a full-round action to cast spells modified with metamagic feats. If such a spell has a casting time of less than 1 round, the character uses one full-round action to cast the spell, and the spell takes effect on the character’s turn (see page 88 in the Player’s Handbook). If the spell has a casting time of 1 round or longer, the spellcaster must use an extra full-round action to complete the spell.
Use Special Ability: As noted in Part Three, using a special ability is usually a standard action, but some may be full-round actions, as defined in the ability description.
Withdraw: When you withdraw, you can move up to double your speed. The space you start out in is not considered threatened by any opponent you can see, and therefore visible enemies do not get attacks of opportunity against you when you move from that space. (Enemies you cannot see still get attacks of opportunity against you, and you can’t withdraw from combat if you’re blinded.)
The withdraw action doesn’t exempt you from attacks of opportunity when you leave spaces other than the first one you exit during the withdraw action. Because you move when you withdraw, you cannot take a 5-foot step during the same turn.
If you’re limited to a standard action during your turn, you can withdraw as a standard action.
Run: When you run, you can move up to four times your speed in a straight line (or three times your speed if you’re in heavy armor). You lose any Dexterity bonus to AC unless you have the Run feat. You can run for only a limited time; see page 144 in the Player’s Handbook. You can’t run if the terrain slows your movement or if you can’t see where you’re going.
Move 5 Feet Through Difficult Terrain: In some situations, your movement may be so hampered that you don’t have sufficient speed even to move 5 feet (a single square). In such a case, you may spend a full-round action to move 5 feet (1 square) in any direction, even diagonally. Even though this looks like a 5-foot step, it’s not (you can’t take a 5-foot step if your movement is hampered), and thus it provokes attacks of opportunity normally.
Most special actions are standard actions or nonactions.
Aid Another: As a standard action, you can help a friend attack or defend by distracting or interfering with an opponent. The opponent must be within melee reach. You make an attack roll against Armor Class 10. If you succeed, your friend gains either a +2 bonus on his next melee attack roll against that opponent or a +2 bonus to Armor Class against that opponent’s next melee attack (your choice), as long as that attack comes before the beginning of your next turn. Multiple characters can aid the same friend, and the bonuses stack.
From PH pg 154: “Aid Another: In melee combat, you can help a friend attack or defend by distracting or interfering with an opponent. If you’re in position to make a melee attack on an opponent that is engaging a friend in melee combat, you can attempt to aid your friend as a standard action. You make an attack roll against AC 10. If you succeed, your friend gains either a +2 bonus on his next attack roll against that opponent or a +2 bonus to AC against that opponent’s next attack (your choice), as long as that attack comes before the beginning of your next turn. Multiple characters can aid the same friend, and similar bonuses stack.”
You also can use this action to assist with a skill check, as noted on page 154 of the Player’s Handbook.
Bull Rush: You perform a bull rush as a standard action (the attack action) or as part of a charge. You must move into your foe’s space to initiate a bull rush. If you’re charging, moving into the foe’s space is part of your charge movement (this is an exception to the general rule against charging through occupied spaces). If you’re bull rushing with the attack action, you must move into the foe’s space using a move action or a 5-foot step. See page 154 of the Player’s Handbook for more information on bull rushing.
Charge: The charge action lets you move up to twice your speed in a straight line and make a single melee attack. If you’re limited to standard actions during your turn, you can charge as a standard action, moving up to your speed. Because you move when you charge, you cannot take a 5-foot step during the same turn. See page 154 of the Player’s Handbook for more information on charging.
Disarm: You can attempt to disarm someone as a melee attack. You usually use the attack or full attack action for a disarm, but you also can disarm as an attack of opportunity.
You can knock something out of a creature’s hands with the disarm action, or you can use a free hand to snatch away something. In the latter case, you wind up with the target item in your hand if the disarm succeeds. See page 155 of the Player’s Handbook for more information on disarming.
Feint: Feinting is a standard action you use in melee combat. It does not provoke attacks of opportunity.
The rules don’t say so, but you may want to assume that your foe does not notice a successful feint attempt. If a player character is subjected to feint attempt, the DM should make the required opposed check (see page 155 in the Player’s Handbook) secretly. To take advantage of a successful feint, you must make a melee attack against your foe on or before your next turn. If you cannot make the attack in time, the feint is wasted.
The Improved Feint feat allows you to feint as a move action.
Grapple: You grapple using the attack or full-attack action. Grappling requires several steps; see Page 155 in the Player’s Handbook and Rules of the Game: All About Grappling.
Initially in a grapple, you grab your foe as an attack action; all the opposed grapple checks you make after that to resolve the grapple attempt are nonactions for you and for your opponent. Because you grapple as a melee attack, you can initiate a grapple as an attack of opportunity.
If you begin your turn with a foe in your grasp (or vice versa), your initial grapple check to affect your foe (or escape) is an attack action and the check your foe makes to resist you is a nonaction.
Overrun: You attempt an overrun as a standard action that you take concurrently with a move action. This means that you can move up to your speed when overrunning. (As noted in the errata for the Player’s Handbook, you cannot overrun as part of a charge.) See page 157 in the Player’s Handbook for more information on overruns.
Sunder: You can attempt to sunder an object as a melee attack. You usually use the attack or full attack action for a sunder, but you also can sunder as an attack of opportunity.
Throw Splash Weapon: You throw a splash weapon as a ranged attack. It takes a move action to draw a splash weapon (though if it is stored in easy reach, you can draw it as a nonaction as part of a move or as a free action with the Quick Draw feat). You use the attack or full attack action to throw a splash weapon. If your splash weapon requires any special preparations, such as lighting a wick, you need a full-round action to prepare the weapon. The splash weapon descriptions in Chapter 7 of the Player’s Handbook (acid, alchemist’s fire, and holy water) make no mention of preparation and I recommend that DMs simply allow characters to draw and throw these weapons. Save the prepare splash weapon action for improvised splash weapons such as flasks of lamp oil.
Trip: You can attempt to trip someone as a melee attack. You usually use the attack or full attack action for a trip, but you also can trip as an attack of opportunity.
Tripping usually is an unarmed attack, but you can use some weapons to make trip attacks as well. Refer to the weapon’s description to determine if it’s useful for tripping.
From PH pg 160: “Initiative Consequences of Readying: Your initiative result becomes the count on which you took the readied action. If you come to your next action and have not yet performed your readied action, you don’t get to take the readied action (though you can ready the same action again). If you take your readied action in the next round, before your regular turn comes up, your initiative count rises to that new point in the order of battle, and you do not get your regular action that round.”
Turn or Rebuke Undead: You turn or rebuke as a standard action that doesn’t provoke an attack of opportunity, which is the norm for a supernatural ability. The rules don’t say so, but it may help to treat a turn or rebuke as a supernatural effect that fills a burst (60 feet in the case of a cleric or paladin, though be aware that it has a maximum number of targets it can affect, and the effect cannot exceed a designated HD cap). See page 159 in the Player’s Handbook for details on turning and rebuking.
Two-Weapon Fighting: As noted in Part Three, you must use the full attack action to attack with multiple weapons.
Ready: You can use a standard action to prepare another action later in the round. Readying does not provoke an attack of opportunity.
From PH pg 160: “Distracting Spellcasters: You can ready an attack against a spellcaster with the trigger “if she starts casting a spell.” If you damage the spellcaster, she may lose the spell she was trying to cast (as determined by her Concentration check result). Readying a Weapon against a Charge: You can ready certain piercing weapons, setting them to receive charges (see Table 7-5: Weapons, page 116). A readied weapon of this type deals double damage if you score a hit with it against a charging character.”
You can ready a standard action, a move action, or a free action; regardless of the readied action, it always costs you a standard action to ready it. When you ready, you must specify the action you will take and the conditions under which you will take it. It pays to be as general as possible when specifying conditions. For example, it’s far better to prepare to shoot the first creature that comes around a corner than the first orc that comes around the corner (unless you really are interested in shooting only orcs, or if you’re concerned that an ally may come around the corner). When in doubt, ask your DM how specific you must be.
If you do not take your readied action by the time your next turn comes, your opportunity to act is lost, but you can ready your action (or another action) again. When you take a readied action, your initiative number changes, as noted on page 160 of the Player’s Handbook. When you take your readied action, you usually resolve your action before resolving whatever triggered the readied action. For example, if you readied to shoot a creature coming around a corner, you take the shot before your foe completes his movement. You can use a readied action to disrupt an enemy’s spell or deal extra damage to a charging enemy, as noted in the Player’s Handbook.
From PH pg 160: “Initiative Consequences of Delaying: Your initiative result becomes the count on which you took the delayed action. If you come to your next action and have not yet performed an action, you don’t get to take a delayed action (though you can delay again). If you take a delayed action in the next round, before your regular turn comes up, your initiative count rises to that new point in the order of battle, and you do not get your regular action that round.”
Delay: Delay is a nonaction you use to put off your turn until a point in the initiative order that’s more favorable to you. You act normally (that is you can choose from the menu of actions noted in Part One) when you finally decide to act. When you finally take your delayed action, your initiative number changes, as noted on page 160 of the Player’s Handbook. If you delay until another creature’s turn, you can choose to act either before or after that creature acts, but of you choose to act before the creature, you must do so before you know what that creature will do.
Readying vs. Delaying: Readying gives you fewer options than delaying, but readying also allows you to interrupt a foe’s action, as noted above.
Action Shenanigans that can be played to optimize yourself in combat.
Mount (Extra Move Action) PHB
Celerity, Greater (Obvious) Spell Compendium
Greater Arcane Fusion (Again) Complete Arcane
Arcane Spellsurge Dragon Magic
Spellblade Tennis Magic of Faerun
Belt of Battle Magic Item Compendium
Leadership (Extra Character) DMG
Familiar (UMD+Share Spell) PHB
Animal Companion PHB
Synchronicity Expanded Psionics Handbook
Schism Expanded Psionics Handbook
Twin Spell Complete Arcane
Repeat Spell Complete Arcane
Quicken Spell Complete Arcane
Sanctum + Arcane Fusion Tome and Blood
Simbul’s Spell Trigger Player’s Guide to Faerun
Contingency Player’s Handbook
Chain Contingency Tome and Blood
Spell Matrix, Greater Spell Compendium
Simbul’s Spell Sequencer Magic of Faerun
Craft Contingent Spell Unapproachable East
Battlemagic Perception [Heroes of Battle] is a free action counterspell.
Linked Power [CPsi] and Twin Power [CPsi] are all obvious means of breaking the action economy.
Symbiont (For share spells) Ebberon Campaign Setting and Magic of Ebberon