How DnD Combat Works: Rounds and Turns Explained

Posted by Annabelle Collins on


Combat and time sensitive moments in D&D 5e are split into turns ordered in rounds for ease of running.

A DnD round of combat take 6 seconds to complete. During one round of combat we assume each person is acting and moving concurrently.

We split the round so each player and opponent gets a turn. Then, everyone rolls a dexterity based check called Initiative to see what order they take their turns in.

How does DnD combat work? A DnD round of combat split into eight individual turns. A Dungeons and Dragons combat round lasts for six seconds


In this post I’ll be breaking 5e D&D turns down into their individual parts, and explaining what options and limits you have for each.



So how do DnD turns work?


Each turn lasts six seconds (the length of a round) and can be split into five parts:

Action      -      Bonus Action      -      Free object interaction      -      Dialogue      -       Movement

How DnD Combat works. A DnD turn in combat can be split into action, bonus action, movement, free object interaction, and dialogue

I’ll also cover special movements and reactions at the end.


You can usually choose to do one of each of the five parts of your turn and in any order. 

Find out how they work below:



What can I do as part of an Action in DnD combat?


An action is usually the main part of a characters turn in combat. Unsurprisingly there are a lot of options to choose from.

Actions in DnD combat turns are very often used to cast spells or make weapon attacks as well as class specific actions like wildshape image of sword and firebolt and wolf

Most often, an action is used to make a weapon attack or to cast a spell.

You may have the option of class specific actions such as a Druid’s Wildshape (Circle of the Land) or a Cleric’s Channel Divinity.

Another option could be to use your action to activate a magic item (for example to activate a Ring of the Ram and hit someone in the face with a spectral sheep).


But that's not all you can do!


You could decide to use your action to do make checks that can be done within 6 seconds. That might be a thieves tools check to pick a lock, an investigation check to look for traps and more.

Also as an action during your turn in combat, you can choose to investigate for traps or try to pick a lock


If that’s not enough to choose from I’m here to offer other options too.

These are:


 Dash Use your action to put your head down and really sprint, doubling your movement speed for this turn.
Disengage Using this action ensures you do not provoke attacks of opportunity for the rest of your turn - very useful if you are surrounded by enemies and want to run away!
Dodge Until the start of your next turn, visible attack rolls made against you have disadvantage and you have advantage on Dexterity saving throws.
Help Use your turn to give an ally advantage, for example, by giving someone climbing a wall a foot up.
Hide You need to follow the rules for hiding and succeed on a Stealth Check.



holding a spell as part of your turn in dungeons and dragons

Holding an Action

You may hold an action for a specific trigger, using your reaction to complete this.

A mage may cast a spell and hold it, waiting for the perfect line of sight before releasing.

A rogue in a party fleeing may hold their action until the last ally is out of the tunnel before pulling the lever to collapse it behind them.



What can I do with a Bonus Action in DnD?


Various class features, spells, and other abilities let you take an additional, smaller action on your turn called a bonus action.

bonus actions can be class specific like bardic inspiration dnd 5e image of an inspiring drum

Not all characters will have these, and their use often varies.

Commonly seen options are a Rogue’s Cunning Action, a Bard’s Inspiration, a Barbarian’s Rage and bonus action spells like Healing Word.

You may also be able to activate some magic items with a Bonus Action, like the Boots of Speed.

very speedy boots of speed magic item for dnd 5e

Bonus actions are not interchangeable with actions. You cannot use your action to do a bonus action or vice versa.


What is a Free Object Interaction?


You can also interact with one object or feature of the environment for free, during either your move or your action. For example, you could open a door during your move as you chase after an enemy or you could draw your weapon as part of the same action you use to attack.

a free object interaction can include drawing your sword as part of an attack image of dnd sword as divider

If you want to have two interactions in one turn though, you’ll have to use an action.

It is common for DM’s to upgrade some Free Actions to an Action if it makes sense. For example, a door stuck in its frame that needs a bit more welly may be a full action to break open.



How much can I talk on my turn?


During your turn you are “able to communicate however you are able, through brief utterances and gestures, as you take your turn” (Players Hand Book: Chapter 9).

I tend to rule it at my tables that you can get six seconds of dialogue out during your turn. Remember though - all turns are technically happening concurrently so it is not possible for characters to continue a protracted conversion over multiple turns.



DnD Movement Explained


As part of their movement a character can move up to the distance written on their movement speed. This can happen at any point during their turn and can be split up. For example, with a 30 ft movement speed as part of their turn a character could:

map showing movement getting split into three parts during a turn
  • move five feet closer to an ally
  • cast Healing Word as a bonus action
  • then move ten feet up into melee range with an enemy
  • use an action to bonk them on the head
  • then move ten feet towards a door
  • Use object interaction to open the door
  • Use last five feet of movement to get to the other side


How do Special Movements work in DnD?


Swimming in DnD is counted as a special movement. Without a swim speed you can only travel half as quickly in water

You can also use your movement to climb, swim or crawl but, unless you have a climbing or swimming speed, you’ll only be able to move half the distance you normally could.

For climbing difficult surfaces like sheer cliff faces or buildings, as the DM you may want to ask for an athletics check. The same if they are trying to swim in strong currents or rough waters.


Using your movement to jump.

This is one of the only times your strength score (not the modifier) will come up in game! Provided the character takes a 10 ft run up, they can make a long jump = to their strength score (usually between 6-18 ft).

Each foot of movement that the character jumps is a foot of their movement for their turn used up.

the only time your strength score will really matter, when completing a long jump in dnd


A dwarf with a strength score of 15 and a movement speed of 25 ft could use 10 ft of their movement for a run up, then 15 ft of movement in their leap forwards across a fissure, landing with 0 ft to spare.


If a character wants to make a standing jump, they can jump a distance of half their strength score.



What are Reactions?


Reactions don’t have to happen as part of your turn but they can do and are certainly worth mentioning!

A reaction is an instant response to a trigger of some kind. It can happen on your turn or someone else’s.

The most commonly seen reaction is the Attack of Opportunity.

Basically, if two combatants are engaged in melee and then combatant B turns and runs out of range, combatant A is allowed to use their reaction to make a single melee attack at their fleeing enemy.


An example of a reaction you can take in DnD is an attack of opportunity image of fighter using a melee weapon attack on fleeing enemy

Other examples of reactions could be a Rogue’s Uncanny Dodge or releasing a spell cast as part of a held action.



So in summary … there’s a lot of options!


It can take a bit to get into the swing of things and understand what you are able to do on your turn. It can be helpful to have a little tick list in front of you with Action, Bonus Action, Movement, Free object interaction and dialogue to remind you.

I'm holding a firebolt for if I get a clear line of sight on the BBEG

I also recommend preparing yourself with a few “backup” actions to take for when you can’t decide and are caught in analysis-paralysis under pressure.

My go-to’s are the ready action and the dodge action.

Dodging is always a solid choice as it gives enemies disadvantage when they try hit you.

It’s a great option to keep your character safe and combat moving as you think.


So there we have it! I hope this has been helpful and made turns in DnD combat a bit easier to grasp. Now go forth and get rolling! 


Happy image of a shiny D20
I make magnetic modular dnd dungeon tiles to make epic snap-together battlemaps for all your TTRPG needs!

Annabelle Collins, Chief Artificer of Modular Realms and inventor of the auto-snapping magnetic system. She loves playing DnD games with her friends and crafting DnD Scenery


Hi! I'm Annabelle! I'm the author of this blog and a huge nerd!

I also make magnetic, double-sided, modular dungeon tiles!

My DnD terrain contains secret spinning magnets so that each piece snaps instantly to every other. They even come in a box disguised as a spellbook to store away on your bookshelf!

They're really cool, you should totally check them out here!

Modular Realms magnetic dnd terrain, basically a banner with a dungeon tileset I do laid out as different battlemaps and shown with the book box packaging

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  • Hey thanks, I really appreciate that! :D

    It would depend on DM ruling of course, but I think most DMs would cap it at 25 ft for easiness. Also probably because most battle-maps use squares representing 5 feet. I think trying to keep a mini a fifth of a way over a square is almost never going to be worth the bother! ^ ^

    Annabelle on
  • One of the best explanations I’ve seen so far. Thank you very much for your post!
    Just one question, though… had that jumping dwarf Str 16, could he jump one extra foot or would he be capped to 15 by his 25-foot speed?

    Felipe on

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