On the "Missing" Delay Action in 5th Edition

It's not missing. There is no Delay action in 5e.


Because it makes a better game.

One of the nice things about the Modern Role-Playing Game world is that we have learned some things. Objective things that allow us to handle arguments in new ways. One of those, is that the goal of the design of the game is player enjoyment and weighing that against costs.

This means that arguments from realism can be dismissed!

No longer must we wade through pages and pages of endless debate about real world experience and what makes sense! We can simply decide what we want based on what we think is most fun.

When people talk about defending the delay action, they talk about verisimilitude and attempting to do things under strict RAW. This may be important for some people. You can see the effects of designing a game from this standpoint by playing a mid-level Pathfinder game.

The Delay action slows play down. Do you want to slow play down?

Does it sit better with people to be allowed to skip their turn and interrupt the game to take it when they want, because it makes more sense?

Let me tell you a story. Once, in a game I was in, we had a new player. There wasn't a good place that made sense for a new character to appear, so that player sat in the room, unable to play for five hours. The game ended without him getting to join the group. He never returned to another game ran by that Dungeon Master.

Verisimilitude, especially in a game where flying gnome wizards cast fireballs, can die in a fire.

The second part to this delay argument is where you might have a Dungeon Master who wants to run initiative rules as written for things like, entering a dungeon room, or maneuvering in a narrow space. This has nothing to do with the rules, which are explicitly set up for the Dungeon Master to make judgement calls to speed play along to the interesting choices and enjoyable play. If you've got a Dungeon Master who's doing that, more rules are not going to make him be less of a dick. He'll just be a jerk in more technical and new ways.

This isn't just some sentiment I'm writing up in response to (not the first) place this discussion has been had. It's a call to action for people to say, "Yeah, that isn't in this game because it slows down play." instead of getting involved in a debate over why you can't avoid taking your turn and whether it makes sense.

Of course, the design team is on record as saying, you know, you can put it back in if you want. And really, you can. The question just is, if you're houseruling ways that can complicate and slow your game down, you have to ask yourself why? What does it add? And if the answer is "It makes me feel better about the rules" or "It stops my Dungeon Master for making things difficult for us rules as written." then maybe you should examine your motivations and find out if there's better ways to address that. If the answer is "It makes the game more tactical," then perhaps playing a more tactical game is the answer to that.

Hack & Slash 


  1. Verisimilitude is a nice word, and should be a core goal of RPGs. However the D&D 3E (and later) version of initiative throws any attempt at verisimilitude out of the window! I don’t think anything can improve that system (it’s broken at the core) other than DMs ignoring it when it's at its worst. It's common to think that just adding one more bit of complexity will fix something, whereas in reality you just end up with something more complex - and that’s what the Delay action is. A similar thing happened (in a different direction) with AD&D combat. I'm putting my money where my mouth is and writing up my system this week, so when I post it @ explorebeneathandbeyond.blogspot.com you can point out its flaws!

  2. "Let me tell you a story. Once, in a game I was in, we had a new player. There wasn't a good place that made sense for a new character to appear, so that player sat in the room, unable to play for five hours. The game ended without him getting to join the group. He never returned to another game ran by that Dungeon Master."

    DM runs a game with slashing swords, users of magic, and creatures of our nightmares and can't figure out a way to just drop a character into the game? What a sad story, on multiple levels!

    1. I had this happen to me in a Role Master game once. I kept asking the GM when I'd be brought in, he said soon. Soon turned out to be the next game session and he let me sit there the whole time.

      He was in all other ways a fantastic GM and I never had any other complaints, but that one time he really ticked me off.

  3. Well I don't really care about verisimilitude as it relates to the real world because the game isn't usually set in the real world. It's set in a world of exciting action, bigger than life characters, and fantasy of whatever ilk (sword & sorcery, space opera, superheroes, gangland, etc.). Verisimilitude in those environments doesn't have to play by the same logic as the real world, and in fact, has its OWN logic.

    Personally, I've basically plugged the Doctor Who initiative rules into everything else I play so that Talkers go first, then Movers, then Doers and finally Attackers. That allows for more parley and social interaction, ways to deal with conflict that don't devolve into hit point grinding, etc. Doesn't make real world sense, but it makes adventure story sense. And that's what an RPG session is to me - an adventure story.

  4. For me, when dabbling in 5E, I did wonder where delay action went. I am so used to it in all the Pathfinder campaigns I am in and just kind of expected it to be there. Most of us at the table were all coming from a Pathfinder system and it made it a bit confusing when we tried to optimize our moves. It sucks when we tryto do this, as our tacticians are terrible rollers and thus have terrible initiative. So, we try to let the people with the plan initiate things and the rest of us fall in wherever ours rolls put us. The DMs could hack this to let them go first regardless, and they have, but when you are so used to an element of a game being there, you really miss it when it is gone.

    However, after a couple rounds of really trying to delay we all said screw it and did what we needed to do, and everything turned out fine and was an incredible amount of fun. For me, I need to play 5E more and get used to the different rules.

  5. As a DM, I got so sick of the delay action. And it was, at least in my case, usually the PCs with the highest initiative bonus who'd delay.They'd catch the monsters flat-footed, but they'd delay, just to see if they could get a slightly better advantage.

    "Would you just go already."

    Readying an action could also slow the game down.

  6. What is a "Delay Action"?

    1. Choosing to skip your turn till you want to take it.

  7. Interesting G+ thread, there.

    I recall a few times folks taking the Ready action in the game I'm running, but I don't recall limiting it to "move OR *insert reaction here*". I don't think that would be as "game breaking" as the folks in that thread think it would be. I understand the Rules As Written argument, but I'm the DM, dang it. :)

    And I don't think I'd have a problem with the example of being in the middle of the room, then the Readied "reaction" being move to the first door that opens and attack.


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