Expanded Reactions

Hi, everyone. In today’s System Tweaks article, we’re going to experiment with an alternative system of handling combat rounds. Traditionally, a combat encounter is a strictly turn-based affair, but when was the last time you saw a fight scene in a movie with each combatant taking rigid six-second turns? Instead, this houserule attempts to encourage players to seek out tactical opportunities and tries to make a more dynamic combat system.


  • At the beginning of every combat round (rather than just the start of combat), each combatant rolls initiative.
    On your turn, if you have not moved, taken any actions, or used a reaction this round, you may add your initiative bonus to your first attack roll or ability check.
  • When a creature you can see takes an action, you may use your reaction to move a distance up to your speed or take an action. If you do so, you expend that action or movement for the round. You may not use this optional rule to take bonus actions outside of your turn.
  • Once your turn in the initiative order ends, you may no longer use your reaction in this way until the start of the next round. (You may still use your reaction for any other features noted on your character sheet)
  • If you have a feature that allows you to make multiple attacks using the same Attack action, you may make only one attack with your reaction. If you do so, on your turn, you may only use your action to make any remaining attacks.

With these optional rules, combat becomes a more dynamic experience, allowing players the chance to spring into action as their circumstances change. However, this houserule does introduce some caveats that a game master should watch out for. Constantly resetting the initiative order introduces extra bookkeeping, and allowing every player to take reactions makes it crucial to be paying attention to which combatant is currently taking their turn. You can mitigate this in your Virtual Tabletop of choice using its built-in initiative tracker, or adding a status icon for the “active” turn. At a physical tabletop, you might indicate the “active” turn by passing around a physical token or marker.

Despite these limitations, a reaction-heavy combat system can allow players to shine by encouraging quick, in-the-moment thinking and vigilance on the battlefield. If your combat encounters are becoming a bit too rigid, consider implementing this house rule into your campaigns.

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