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There have been assertions made that rounds and turns only exist within the confines of combat for D&D 5e, or in particular that during a short rest there are no rounds when looking at things like simultaneous effects happening within the confines of a short rest.

The idea that rounds and turns only exist within the confines of combat is something I personally disagree with, rule differently in my games, but I would like to make sure I am not mis-interpreting the rules on when to use rounds in the game.

What is the correct interpretation for this?

Of particular interest to me, and what spawned the idea for this question as well as the problem it's looking to solve, is the idea of resolving simultaneous effects during longer activities. So for example, a short rest is measured in an hour, a long rest is measured in 8 hours spans of time. Both of these have defined start and end points, and in particular the game specifies a lot of things happen at the end of [insert rest here]. These things happen at the same time and need to have an order resolved for the game to work.

Similarly, I would like to get an idea of what sort of other non-combat situations might be suitable for using time tracking in rounds based on people's experience.

While I accept that any time you need to use initiative in the game (chases or combat for example) you need to measure time in rounds, measuring time in rounds does not necessarily require a strict initiative order. For example, solving a complex puzzle with per round effects that repeat on a loop, and demonstrating that loop in rounds, but allowing your players to determine the order of their actions dynamically in each round, without going turn by turn, even allowing for two players actually doing two things at the same time.

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    – linksassin
    Jan 26 at 23:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note for future users: the chat linked above has links to at least six related questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Feb 5 at 3:28

4 Answers 4

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Rounds, and where necessary turns, are used whenever there is a need for fast-paced tracking of time, regardless of whether or not it is in combat or not

This is hinted at in the optional rule for Xanathar's Guide to Everything for resolving simultaneous effects:

Most effects in the game happen in succession, following an order set by the rules or the DM. In rare cases, effects can happen at the same time, especially at the start or end of a creature's turn. [...]

This makes it clear that most things in the game have a defined order of operations, but some things actually can happen at precisely the same time, and need some adjudicating.

The Player's Handbook has the following to say about rounds, in Chapter 8: Adventuring > Time:

[...]

In combat and other fast-paced situations, the game relies on rounds, a 6 second span of time described in chapter 9, "Combat.".

This makes it clear, that any time we need to track something that is fast-paced, whether combat or not, we should use rounds to track this. It also makes clear that how we do this can be the same for both combat and fast-paced non-combat situations.

Are simultaneous events fast-paced?

Simultaneous effects are by definition fast-paced, since they are literally two or more things happening at precisely the same time. There cannot be anything more fast-paced than resolving a race condition between two simultaneous events.

Are simultaneous events situations?

Generally, if we are interested in tracking time in such a fine grained way in the game, then it's a "situation" under the normal meaning of that word. Not all simultaneous events have to be a situation, but any given set can be. For example, someone falling and their griffon mount trying to catch them as they fall out of the saddle is an example of a simultaneous situation, and one in which you would want to track time in a fine-grained way using rounds.

Conclusion

Ergo, we use rounds and turns to track precisely when simultaneous events happen (if the people at the table think it needs to be resolved in finer detail). We would also use rounds to track any other fast-paced events that we would want to break down and track at a more fine grained level.


What other sorts of events might warrant this treatment (but not necessarily require the full fixed initative)?

A few event types come to mind:

  • Splitting the party with one group focused on a time sensitive matter, but the other group not (thanks @ThomasMarkov)
  • A puzzle with different effects that change each round, which you as the DM want to communicate to the players, but not necessarily force them each to say yes or no to doing something after a particular effect.
  • Trying to open a difficult lock with multiple attempts in a time-pressured situation (the enemy is coming and we need to escape!)
  • Defusing a bomb (or figuring out how to defuse it before it explodes)
  • You have to get something on the other side of a portal before it closes
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Combat-like time is a tool to be used when it is needed.

I like to refer to the system of initiative, turns, and rounds as "tactical time" rather than referring directly to combat. Combat is by far the most common reason to use tactical time, but it's not the only one. If the party is trying to deal with a room full of traps, chasing a fleeing thief, or trying to climb out of a canyon before the flash flood hits, there's potential reasons to run in tactical time rather than narrative time. In many of those cases, you could equally well decide to run it purely narratively instead -- it's up to the DM. Going into tactical mode is one powerful tool in the toolbox, but it can be unnecessarily restrictive or just overly complicated for what's actually going on.

Rounds don't only exist when playing tactically.

Rounds and turns clearly still exist in some way when tactical time isn't being used, as there are pieces of rules text that directly reference rounds in contexts beyond combat. For example, the unseen servant spell allows you to issue a command as a bonus action "once on each of your turns", and presumably you wouldn't be asking your magical servant to pour wine or fold laundry only while engaged in life-or-death combat. The only rational interpretation is that you do in fact have ten turns per minute, all the time; we just don't bother to pay attention to it or track them when there's nothing going on that would make it important to do so.

A more direct use of tactical time outside of combat can be found in Xanathar's Guide to Everything, in the section on Traps Revisited. This section includes "Complex Traps" that function like a combat encounter: They activate on an initiative count (often with different elements that activate on different counts), and different parts of the trap can be disabled or destroyed by various methods, such as smashing equipment, making skill checks, or spellcasting. It's certainly possible you could have a complex trap that isn't so detailed that it demands initiative order and turn-by-turn action declarations, while still being based in rounds -- the DM is of course free to manage the game in whatever way makes the most sense (though initiative order might make it easier to track what everyone is doing in a complicated scenario).

As a DM, I've personally done that, where something is going to happen each round, but I just ask the players as a group, "Okay, what're you going to do?" For example, if the walls of a garbage masher are closing in, I know the players have a limited number of actions each before meeting a terrible fate, but I don't see any reason to run initiative order; I'm just going to throw it out to the group and let them narratively deal with the problem. I will of course be keeping an eye out for anyone not declaring actions and call on them as needed -- "Hey, so what's Feena doing while they're working on those braces?"

That said, I can't imagine what set of circumstances would demand using turns and rounds when finishing a rest. In theory, the end of a rest would also be the end of your turn, if it really matters. However, since there is no turn order outside of initiative, there's likely to be a lot more 'simultaneous' things happening, and trying to use very detailed rules about how tactical time works in a situation that is very clearly not operating in tactical time (like resting) is likely to cause problems, so it's really more up to the DM to figure out.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ re. your last sentence about why rounts/turns in SRs would matter - This question asks about picking the order of events if there are multiple that happen at the end of a short rest. In that particular case the events are attuning to a Periapt of Wound Closure and using hit dice to heal - if you can attune before you heal with HD then the HD are much more effective, so a player is likely to want that sequence to happen rather than the reverse. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pilchard123 Simultaneous instantaneous events don't have anything to do with the system of turns and rounds. "How do I determine the order of effects that have the same trigger", like say "when you finish a short rest", is an entirely different question unrelated to this one. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27 at 18:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, I thought I'd linked this answer too, but apparently not. That answer says that the only rule about choosing the order of simultaneous talks about choosing order at the end of a turn, and then asserts that there are no turns when short resting and further that it means you cannot choose the order of simultaneous events. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 28 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, the end of my last should say "[...] cannot choose the order of simultaneous events at the end of a short rest". \$\endgroup\$ Jan 28 at 15:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Using a question to argue with one comment in an answer that isn't even very highly rated seems like a waste of effort to me, but if that's what this is all about, I've updated my last paragraph to address it. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 28 at 16:08
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Technically yes!

We actually get our first mention of rounds and turns in Chapter 8: Adventuring;

In combat and other fast-paced situations, the game relies on rounds, a 6-second span of time.

You'll note that the game explicitly states that rounds are both for combat and "fast-paced" situations. This seems open and shut. Rounds are for combat, yes, but also fast-paced situations.

Functionally no

However, this "fast-paced" situations line appears to be a throwaway as it is never referenced again throughout the entire rules. If you continue reading the rules you will find the mechanics for rounds listed in Chapter 9: Combat. The section The Order Of Combat in Chapter 9 opens by explaining that rounds and turns are a method of organizing combat;

A typical combat encounter is a clash between two sides, a flurry of weapon swings, feints, parries, footwork, and spellcasting. The game organizes the chaos of combat into a cycle of rounds and turns. A round represents about 6 seconds in the game world. During a round, each participant in a battle takes a turn. The order of turns is determined at the beginning of a combat encounter, when everyone rolls initiative. Once everyone has taken a turn, the fight continues to the next round if neither side has defeated the other.

You can see that a lot of the language used explicitly talks about fighting; "each participant in a battle takes a turn", "The order of turns is determined at the beginning of a combat encounter", "the fight continues to the next round".

Some other chapters make mention of rounds, but only in the context of combat (chapter 11, 12, 13, and 14, plus the classes of course).

Rounds as a framework for non-combat fast-paced activities

Looking at other texts, we see the same pattern. For example the DMG talks about initiative, but again explicitly says they are talking about combat; "You can use several different methods for keeping track of who goes when in combat".

However in the DMG we do get our only non-combat use of rounds (albeit, as a suggestion for a table ruling) that I could find in any source book: Chases.

A chase requires a quarry and at least one pursuer. Any participants not already in initiative order must roll initiative. As in combat, each participant in the chase can take one action and move on its turn. The chase ends when one side drops out or the quarry escapes.

When a chase begins, determine the starting distance between the quarry and the pursuers. Track the distance between them, and designate the pursuer closest to the quarry as the lead. The lead pursuer might change from round to round.

So are there rounds during a short rest?

The answer is by pure RAW, no. The only time that you enter the rounds-turn structure is in combat by RAW. Everything else is up to DM ruling - and to be honest "when to enter combat" is also ill-defined and up to DM ruling.

The rules present the rounds-turns structure as a tool for DMs to use, and the DMG presents an example of using them for chases. While this isn't "the rules", it is "a ruling". In the event of simultaneous actions taking place out of combat, the DM has to resolve them somehow. I don't think that the rounds-turns structure is an ill-fitting tool, however it is one with a lot of overhead.

My experience using rounds outside of combat

I have done it before, for conversations between multiple people. In my opinion, it's not worth it. Entering rounds is a heavy-duty tool, it takes time to set up, it slows the game down, it restricts the free-flowing nature of the game to a static structure, it doesn't integrate well with multiple people doing different things.

If two people declare they do something at the same time, they simply roll an opposed initiative check, and then we are done with it. I have always found this simplest, easiest, and doesn't get in the way of gameplay.

Can you simultaneously end a long and short rest?

Firstly, short and long rests are both things characters do. They have no defined end, besides the characters stopping resting. In my experience that's how it works at most tables too, players simply declare they are going to stop resting and get on with their day, and so they do.

You should be aware that both have different things that stop them. For example fighting or casting spells will end a short rest, but not a long rest. If you want to conclusively end your short rest before your long, that's quite easy to do.

There is no further guidance given as to when rests end. As strange as it is, you could adventure for nearly an hour before receiving the benefits to a long rest, and that would be fine rules wise.

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Rounds and turns exist when the game needs them to.

Effectively, you should be using turn-based time management when either:

  • People are trying to do things simultaneously/concurrently, and the exact sequencing matters. Combat is the obvious case here. The characters playing a game in the game with each other (for example, most types of gambling) is another example. Disarming a complicated sequence of traps is yet another reason to use turn-based time. All of these will involve tracking initiative, though the initiative order may be determined by the context (for example, when playing a game they probably have a fixed turn order) and not how fast the character reacts like it is for combat.

or:

  • Exact elapsed time matters. Maybe there’s a bomb about to go off. Maybe the party needs to get out of the evil wizard's tower before it collapses. Maybe they just need to shove some eldritch horror back through the portal it entered the world through before said portal closes. This is the type of stuff that would have a countdown in a video game. In contrast to the examples above, you don’t need initiative for this one, unless the exact sequence of events also matters.

This is not really unique to D&D 5e, the same is true in 4e, 3.5e, Pathfinder 1e, Pathfinder 2e, and most other systems with the same type of turn-based time management system (for example, Shadowrun).

However...

This isn’t the same as turning simultaneous events into a sequence of events. If two things are truly happening at the same time, then using turn-based time management does not change that. Just because your GM may choose to resolve attacks of opportunity in turn order does not mean that one person attacks, then another does. Everyone who makes an attack of opportunity is still doing so simultaneously, but because we’re human the best we can do to represent that is to figure out what the result is for each attack is, and then apply the results as if they happened all at once.

And this applies to your example of things happening ‘at the end of a rest’. In reality, they do happen simultaneously, though most of them happen in-universe over the course of the rest, not right at the end (the ‘at the end’ part is to ensure players don’t pull shenanigans and do things like trying to take half of a short rest for the warlock to get back half of their total spell slots).

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