Rules Index | GM Screen | Player's Guide

Chapter 8: Playing the Game

Encounter Mode

Source Player Core pg. 435
When every individual action counts, you enter the encounter mode of play. In this mode, time is divided into rounds, each of which is 6 seconds of time in the game world. Every round, each participant takes a turn in an established order. During your turn, you can use actions, and depending on the details of the encounter, you might have the opportunity to use reactions and free actions on your own turn and on others’ turns.


Source Player Core pg. 435
An encounter is played out in a series of rounds, during which the player characters, adversaries, and other participants in the encounter act in sequence. You roll initiative to determine this order at the start of the encounter and then play through rounds until a conclusion is reached and the encounter ends. The rules in this section assume a combat encounter—a battle—but the general structure can apply to any kind of encounter. Other types of encounters, like social encounters, might use longer rounds or have other modifications to the basic structure.

Step 1: Roll Initiative

Source Player Core pg. 435
When the GM calls for it, you'll roll initiative to determine your place in the initiative order, which is the sequence in which the encounter's participants will take their turns. Rolling initiative marks the start of an encounter. More often than not, you'll roll initiative when you enter a battle.

Typically, you'll roll a Perception check to determine your initiative—the more aware you are of your surroundings, the more quickly you can respond. Sometimes, though, the GM might call on you to roll some other type of check. For instance, if you were Avoiding Notice during exploration (page 438), you'd roll a Stealth check. A social encounter could call for a Deception or Diplomacy check. In most cases, you can still use Perception if you prefer.

The GM rolls initiative for anyone other than the player characters in the encounter. If these include a number of identical creatures, the GM could roll once for the group as a whole and have them take their turns within the group in any order. However, this can make battles less predictable and more dangerous, so the GM might want to roll initiative for some or all creatures individually unless it's too much of a burden.

Unlike a check, where the result is compared to a DC, the results of initiative rolls are ranked. This ranking sets the order in which the encounter's participants act—the initiative order. The character with the highest result goes first. The second highest follows, and so on until whoever had the lowest result takes their turn last.

If your result is tied with an enemy's result, the enemy goes first. If your result is tied with another PC's, you can decide between yourselves who goes first when you reach that place in the initiative order. After that, your places in the initiative order usually don't change during the encounter. (But see the Delay basic action on page 416.)

Step 2: Play a Round

Source Player Core pg. 435
A round begins when the participant with the highest initiative roll result starts their turn, and it ends when the one with the lowest initiative ends their turn. The process of taking a turn is detailed below. Creatures might also act outside their turns with reactions and free actions.

Step 3: Begin the Next Round

Source Player Core pg. 435
Once everyone in the encounter has taken a turn, the round is over and the next one begins. Don’t roll initiative again; the new round proceeds in the same order as the previous one, repeating the cycle until the encounter ends.

Step 4: End the Encounter

Source Player Core pg. 435
When your foes are defeated, some sort of truce is reached, or some other event or circumstance ends the combat, the encounter is over. You and the other participants no longer follow the initiative order, and a more free-form style of play resumes, with the game typically moving into exploration mode. Sometimes, at the end of an encounter, the GM will award Experience Points to the party or you’ll find treasure to divvy up.


Source Player Core pg. 435
When it’s your turn to act, you can use single actions ( [one-action] ), short activities ( [two-actions] and [three-actions] ), reactions ( [reaction] ), and free actions ( [free-action] ). When you’re finished, your turn ends and the character next in the initiative order begins their turn. Sometimes it’s important to note when during your turn something happens, so a turn is divided into three steps.

Step 1: Start Your Turn

Source Player Core pg. 435
Many things happen automatically at the start of your turn—it's a common point for tracking the passage of time for effects that last multiple rounds. At the start of each of your turns, take these steps in any order you choose:
  • If you created an effect lasting for a certain number of rounds, reduce the number of rounds remaining by 1. The effect ends if the duration is reduced to 0. For example, if you cast a spell that lasts 3 rounds on yourself during your first turn of a fight, it would affect you during that turn, decrease to 2 rounds of duration at the start of your second turn, decrease to 1 round of duration at the start of your third turn, and expire at the start of your fourth turn.
  • You can use 1 free action or reaction with a trigger of “Your turn begins” or something similar.
  • If you're dying, roll a recovery check (page 411).
  • Do anything else that is specified to happen at the start of your turn, such as regaining Hit Points from fast healing or regeneration.
The last step of starting your turn is always the same.
  • Regain your 3 actions and 1 reaction. If you haven't spent your reaction from your last turn, you lose it—you can't “save” actions or reactions from one turn to use during the next turn. Some abilities or conditions (such as quickened, slowed, and stunned) can change how many actions you regain and whether you regain your reaction. (Details on gaining and losing actions are on page 446.)

Step 2: Act

Source Player Core pg. 436
You can use actions in any order you wish during your turn, but you have to complete one action or activity before beginning another; for example, you can't use a single action in the middle of performing a 2-action activity. What actions you can use often depend on your class features, skills, feats, and items, but there are default actions anyone can use, described in Basic Actions on page 416. Some effects might prevent you from acting. If you can't act, you can't use any actions, including reactions and free actions.

If you begin a 2-action or 3-action activity on your turn, you must be able to complete it on your turn. You can't, for example, begin to High Jump using your final action on one turn and then complete it as your first action on your next turn.

Once you have spent all 3 of your actions, your turn ends (as described in Step 3) and the next creature's turn begins. You can choose to end your turn early, losing all remaining actions (but not your reaction).

Step 3: End Your Turn

Source Player Core pg. 436
Once you've done all the things you want to do with the actions you have available, you reach the end of your turn. Take the following steps in any order you choose. Play then proceeds to the next creature in the initiative order.
  • End any effects that last until the end of your turn. For example, spells with a sustained duration end at the end of your turn unless you used the Sustain a Spell action during your turn to extend them. Some effects caused by enemies might also last through a certain number of your turns, and you decrease the remaining duration by 1 during this step, ending the effect if its duration is reduced to 0.
  • If you have a persistent damage condition, you take the damage at this point. After you take the damage, you can attempt the flat check to end the persistent damage. You then attempt any saving throws for ongoing afflictions. Many other conditions change at the end of your turn, such as the frightened condition decreasing in severity. These take place after you've taken any persistent damage, attempted flat checks to end the persistent damage, and attempted saves against any afflictions.
  • You can use 1 free action or reaction with a trigger of “Your turn ends” or something similar.
  • Resolve anything else specified to happen at the end of your turn.

Activities in Encounters

Source Player Core pg. 436
Activities that take longer than a turn can’t normally be performed during an encounter. Spells with a casting time of 1 minute or more are a common example, as are several skill actions. When you commit to an activity during your turn in an encounter, you commit to spending all of the actions it requires. If the activity gets interrupted partway through, you lose all of the actions you would have spent on that activity. Activities are described on page 414.

Reactions in Encounters

Source Player Core pg. 436
Your reactions let you respond immediately to what’s happening around you. The GM determines whether you can use reactions before your first turn begins, depending on the situation in which the encounter happens. Once your first turn begins, you gain your actions and reaction. You gain 1 reaction per round. You can use a reaction on anyone’s turn (including your own), but only when its trigger occurs. If you don’t use your reaction, you lose it at the start of your next turn, though you typically then gain a reaction at the start of that turn.

Special Battles

Source Player Core pg. 437

Mounted Combat

Source Player Core pg. 437
You can ride some creatures into combat. As noted in the Mount specialty basic action (page 419), your mount needs to be willing and at least one size larger than you. Your mount acts on your initiative. You must use the Command an Animal action (page 242) to get your mount to spend its actions. If you don't, the animal wastes its actions. If you have the Ride general feat, you succeed automatically when you Command an Animal that's your mount.

For example, if you are mounted on a horse and you make three attacks, your horse would remain stationary since you didn't command it. If you instead spent your first action to Command an Animal and succeeded, you could get your mount to Stride. You could spend your next action to attack or to command the horse to attack, but not both.

Mounted Attacks

Source Player Core pg. 437
You and your mount fight as a unit. Consequently, you share a multiple attack penalty. For example, if you Strike and then Command an Animal to have your mount Strike, your mount's attack takes a –5 multiple attack penalty.

You occupy every square of your mount's space for the purpose of making attacks. If you were a Medium creature on a Large mount, you could attack a creature on one side of your mount, then attack on the opposite side. On a Medium or smaller mount, use the normal reach of an attack. On a Large or Huge mount, you can attack any square adjacent to the mount if you have 5- or 10-foot reach, or any square within 10 feet of the mount (including diagonally) if you have 15-foot reach. Use the adjusted reach for determining flanking and other rules that depend on reach.

Mounted Defenses

Source Player Core pg. 437
Attackers can target either you or your mount. An area effect affects both of you as long as you're both in the area. You are in an attacker's reach or range if any square of your mount is within reach or range. Because your mount is larger than you and you share its space, you have lesser cover against attacks targeting you when you're mounted if the mount would be in the way (as determined by the GM).

Because you can't move your body as freely while you're riding a mount, you take a –2 circumstance penalty to Reflex saves while mounted. Additionally, the only move action you can use is the Mount action to dismount.

Aerial Combat

Source Player Core pg. 437
Many monsters can fly, and PCs can use spells and items to gain the ability to fly. Flying creatures have to use the Fly action (page 419) to move through the air. Performing an especially tricky maneuver might require using Acrobatics to Maneuver in Flight. Creatures might fall from the sky, using the falling rules found on page 421. At the GM’s discretion, some ground-based actions might not work in the air. For instance, a flying creature couldn’t Leap.

Aquatic Combat

Source Player Core pg. 437
Use these rules for battles in water or underwater:
  • You're off-guard unless you have a swim Speed.
  • You gain resistance 5 to acid and fire.
  • You take a –2 circumstance penalty to melee slashing or bludgeoning attacks that pass through water.
  • Ranged attacks that deal bludgeoning or slashing damage automatically miss if the attacker or target is underwater, and piercing ranged attacks made by an underwater creature or against an underwater target have their range increments halved.
  • You can't cast fire spells or use actions with the fire trait underwater. As normal for how traits work, any part of the effect that's unrelated to fire still works. For example, an attack with a flaming battleaxe could still deal its physical damage, just not its fire damage.
  • At the GM's discretion, some ground-based actions might not work underwater or while floating.

Drowning and Suffocating

Source Player Core pg. 437
You can hold your breath for a number of rounds equal to 5 + your Constitution modifier. Reduce your remaining air by 1 round at the end of each of your turns, or by 2 if you attacked or cast any spells that turn. You also lose 1 round worth of air each time you are critically hit or critically fail a save against a damaging effect. If you speak (including Casting a Spell) you lose all remaining air.

When you run out of air, you fall unconscious and start suffocating. You can't recover from being unconscious and must attempt a DC 20 Fortitude save at the end of each of your turns. On a failure, you take 1d10 damage, and on a critical failure, you die. On each check after the first, the DC increases by 5 and the damage by 1d10; these increases are cumulative. Once your access to air is restored, you stop suffocating and are no longer unconscious (unless you're at 0 Hit Points).