Dungeon Master Assistance

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D&D 5E – House Rule – Pop-up Archer

Pop-up Dwarf

Pop-up Archer

As a DM, have you ever ran into this situation? I had a player that wanted to stay down below a low wall during combat and just stand up and fire his arrow on his turn and then duck back down. His reasoning went like this; He starts the round with total cover so he can’t be targeted. On his turn he uses some of his movement to stand up. At that time he would have half cover (he might argue that he had 3/4 cover) and with half cover he got +2 to his armor class and dexterity saving throws. However that would only come into play if an opponent had readied an action to fire at him if he stood up. Otherwise he fires his weapon and then uses the rest of his move to duck back down, perhaps even moving to another location along the wall first. Then he would have total cover again until his turn on the next round when he would repeat the same tactic. This would also work behind rocks or trees or barrels. If there was nothing to provide cover, he could simply lie down. If prone, missile attacks against him (if the attacker is more than 5 feet away) are made with disadvantage. Then on his turn, he uses half his move to get up from prone (if he remained prone his attacks would be made with disadvantage), fires his arrow and then falls back down prone until his turn on the next round.

This tactic appears to be allowed with the rules as written. But I don’t like it. It doesn’t make for cinematic, or heroic combat. At its extreme, it is just plain silly. Can you imagine everybody doing this on both sides? When combat starts everybody lays down. On their turn they pop-up, fire and fall back down. But, in extreme circumstances, this may be the only reasonable tactic. Think of a cowboy on the prairie surrounded by Indians. He has no cover except for sage brush. He must do what he can to keep from being killed. And bad guys hiding behind a low wall should get some benefit from staying down except to fire.

Here is my thinking on this dilemma.

1) Even though each character takes his action during his turn which is based on his position in the initiative order. The entire round only represents 6 seconds of game time. Everyone is acting at the same time and breaking it up into individual turns is a concession we make in order to make it a playable game. So even if you start and end your turn totally concealed, when you pop-up to fire you are visible to your opponents.

2) If you start your turn behind cover (or prone) you can’t easily see your target. So when you pop-up to fire you must first site your target before aiming and firing. You have a better chance of hitting it if you have the target in your sights at the start of your turn.

My house rules:

Total Cover

If you have total cover (other than from darkness or invisibility) at the beginning of your turn, any attacks you make by moving out from behind that cover will be made with disadvantage.

If you have total cover (other than from darkness or invisibility) at the end of your turn, any attacks against you will be made based on the most vulnerable position you occupied during your turn. These attacks will be made with disadvantage.

With these rules in place, you can still use the pop-up archer tactic, but you have disadvantage on your to-hit rolls and your opponents have a chance to shoot you, but they also have disadvantage.


If you are prone at the beginning of your turn, any attacks you make after standing will be made with a -2 penalty on the attack roll.

If you are prone at the end of your turn, any attacks against you will be made based on the most vulnerable position you occupied during your turn and will be made with a -2 penalty on the attack roll.

So you can stand up from prone, fire and then drop to prone on your turn, but you have a penalty on your attack rolls and you are more likely to be hit than if you had remained prone.



18 responses to “D&D 5E – House Rule – Pop-up Archer

  1. simonjhudson September 14, 2015 at 3:52 am

    It’s a point I have battled with also. My first position is that this is pretty much what happens in real life (I’m thinking infantry tactics etc.), bit it can make for a slow (buy potentially interesting) encounter.
    I really like the idea that the archer (our whatever) has disadvantage if they have to make a snap shot at the target unless they can see them from behind their cover and maintain almost continuous sight while breaking cover.

    I’m not so keen on the second part, where the opponent can shoot at their most record position; I think the disadvantage plus ready covers that scenario.

    I think this may apply to any tanned attack, so wands and spells as well, and possibly certain skilled such as perception.


  2. simonjhudson September 14, 2015 at 3:57 am

    scrub my second point, I missed the Probe heading. I’m tempted to make an attack in the same round that you stand up to also be at disadvantage
    Tanned=ranged BTW


    • Ronny September 14, 2015 at 11:02 am

      Thanks for your comment.
      Applying this to magical attacks such as wands ans spells is a good idea.
      An attack you make on the round you stand up should not be made at a disadvantage. Otherwise why stand up? You attack with a disadvantage while being prone. But there should be some penalty. That is why I picked a -2 penalty. That is still sugnifigant, but not as harsh as a disadvantage.
      I thought about making attacks against you at a disadvantage on the same round that you fall prone, but that would be no different than the disadvantage your opponent would have because of you being prone. Giving that attack a -2 penalty instead makes it a little easier for him to hit you on the round you stood up if you dropped back down on that same round. I might be open to allowing a disadvantage on his attack on the round you stood up, if you remain standing. But that may be too harsh. A -2 penalty on that attack may also be the way to go.


  3. D. September 15, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    5e explicitly doesn’t allow a “Hold Action” action, it has a “Ready” action – so this might not work exactly as written on that point alone. Turn/combat management is much simpler in 5e when you absorb that…

    I’d allow a “Ready” action” for “Shoot at a Target when it becomes visible” and give them Disadvantage if trying to use a bow when prone (crossbows would be fine, but I’d come up with some sort of penalty for reloading). I would certainly allow a character to get up from a prone position and fire, then drop prone again – not even with any penalty – but not as a ‘Readied Action”.



    • Ronny September 16, 2015 at 8:08 am

      I don’t quite understand the point that you are trying to make regarding “Hold” vs “Ready”.

      I just don’t think is is fair to allow a character to start his turn with total cover, stand up, fire, then return to total cover without penalty. Standing up from prone, firing, and dropping back to prone is a similar issue for me. His opponents shouldn’t be required to ready an action on the off-change the character exposes himself during the round. The way i see this is that if a character exposes himself at any point during the round, your character should be able to fire at him when it is your turn, even if he drops behind cover at the end of his round. This is all happening during the SAME 6 second round. Perhaps you will have a disadvantage to hit him because he wasn’t exposed for the entire 6 seconds, but neither was he behind total cover for the entire 6 seconds.

      It looks like you see no issues with the official rules as written. Perhaps with a house rule to allow firing a crossbow while prone without disadvantage. That is okay with me. I am just looking for other views on this.


      • D. September 16, 2015 at 1:43 pm

        Here’s my problem with the solution you propose.

        Why doesn’t the same apply to Flanking? Or Invisibility? Or Stunned? The argument that “It was in effect for part of the turn” should apply equally to all things if that is the understanding of how the combat round works.

        I also think it is also based on a flawed premise – that everything is happening simultaneously. It’s happening across the span of six seconds, spaced out according to initiative. If everything was happening simultaneously there couldn’t be Reactions, or (arguably) Bonus Actions.

        I think the “nod to expediency” is not that the assumption is that everything is happening at one time, but that multiple attacks by the same character often all occur on the same time. Harsh realism would suggest that characters with multiple attacks roll an Initiative for each attack.

        If a player tried that in my game, I would make a couple of comments – one would be if they have Full Cover then they can’t see what’s going on, and their ability to know what’s going on is limited – so their ability to figure out when to act and against what is limited. If they are peeking, then they only have 3/4 cover – and problem solved.

        Second, this is exactly when all of the opponent’s use Ready, to be able to fire at the PC the moment they appear (and roll/hit first in my reading of the rules). Also, depending upon the opponent, this is the perfect opportunity to rush right on top of the PC – who is now doing Missile Combat in Melee…

        In “the real world” the counter to “dueling rats” (or, I suppose, gophers in the Prone Pop-Ups version of this scenario rather than Snipers in cover) is area affect weapons. The answer is the same in D&D. If PC or monsters don’t like being bogged down in this sort of situation, then out comes Alchemist’s Fire (or whatever, and yes, I do realize that it was nerfed in 5E but that’s a different discussion) that gets lobbed at the location (not the character, thus no Disadvantage) – or that’s simply when you start dropping AOE spells on the area – [i]Flaming Sphere[/i] seems almost purpose made for flushing people out of cover.

        I think there’s a bit of an issue with the situation, but I think that it’s very situation specific regarding terrain, opponents, ranges, and weapons. Does getting up from Prone mean standing? Or Kneeling? Are they using a Longbow or a Hand Crossbow? Are they fighting Goblins? Orcs? Ogres? I’d be adjudicating based on the specific situation.



      • Ronny September 16, 2015 at 9:33 pm

        LOVE IT!
        You have convinced me. I am not going to implement this house rule and instead handle it on a case – by – case bases. Most players conduct their battles in an “heroic” fashion. For those that don’t a strict adherence to the rules as printed and common sense should work well. Your description of how you would handle the situation is exactly the incite that I was looking for. Thank you very much.


  4. Eddie March 19, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    I like the Ready action for this one too – “When the popup-archer pops, I play whack-a-mole.” Indirect fire is a nice touch too – hurled vials of alchemist fire or acid fit the bill; perhaps Acid Splash, Produce Flame, and other cantrips would too.


    • Ronny March 20, 2016 at 9:32 am

      I am curious. As a DM, how do you handle NPC’s Ready actions? Do you say “he is readying an action to fire at anyone that pops up”? Do you just say “I’m not saying what he is doing this round” ? I have had players that were so cautious that they would stay down and do something else if they even suspected that was happening.


      • Eddie March 20, 2016 at 7:20 pm

        Players are obliged to specify both the trigger and the action they will take in response to the trigger. Whether they swing a sword, fire a bow, move and attack, hide, or run away, I’m generally flexible in allowing them to decide how they react after the trigger occurs. Only when characters will cast a spell do I insist on them being specific up front: if they didn’t specify they were casting a particular spell when they readied an action, they will not be able to cast a spell after the trigger occurs.

        Players have latitude in other ways – e.g. they could say, “I attack anyone that comes around the corner” vs. “I attack Gutboy Barrelhouse when he comes around the corner.” In the first case their action could be lost if an ally showed up in the wrong place at the wrong time and the character opted not to respond to the trigger. In the second case they would allow any number of creatures to pass before reacting, and they would lose their action only if Gutboy didn’t show. Because a trigger is a reaction, characters who use their reaction on something else (e.g. opportunity attack) will not be able to react to the trigger should it occur. Because a readied action uses your reaction, it does not shift your turn in the initiative order beyond the current round.

        If characters want more latitude, they can opt to wait and act later in the round; this shifts their order in the initiative for the duration of the combat. Thus, a player will say, “I’ll take my turn after the wizard casts his spell” or “after the orcs close on us.”


  5. Eddie March 20, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    P.S. And regarding NPCs who ready an action, when their place in the initiative order comes up, I say, “He does not take an action now; next up is so-and-so…” It will be up to the players to take their chances: is the NPC readying an action, shifting his action to later in the round for the duration of the combat, conserving ammo because he doesn’t have a good shot, or just waiting to see what’s going on?


  6. static1st May 1, 2016 at 6:35 pm

    I have never had players think out their attacks that well. First off, kudos to the player who did! Secondly, he should be awarded inspiration for doing so.

    As to how to deal with it: I like your approach for the most part, but I do have reservations.
    My rewrites:

    Total Cover

    If you have total cover (other than from darkness or invisibility) at the beginning of your turn, any attacks you make by moving out from behind that cover will be made as if your target had half cover, however, if your target has moved at least 10′ from his last known (to you) position, it benefits from three-quarter cover.

    If you have total cover (other than from darkness or invisibility) at the end of your turn, any attacks against you will be made based on the most vulnerable position you occupied during your turn, provided you move at least 10′ while out of cover. These attacks will be made with disadvantage. If you move less than 10′ from cover to cover, attacks made against you will be made as if you had three-quarters cover.


    I like yours the way it is.


    • Ronny May 2, 2016 at 7:56 am

      I agree that yours is perhaps a more perfect solution. This would be an excellent house rule. However I think it is more complicated than I want to use at my table. A simple disadvantage makes for easier (quicker) play, easier to remember, and ultimately results in very slimier number of hits. Disadvantage may be a little more sever a handicap, but part of my goal is to discourage over use of this tactic.
      I have considered -2 to attack rolls rather than disadvantage. This would keep total cover and prone house rules more in line with each other.
      Thanks very much for sharing.


  7. Matthew Cooley April 23, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    I know this is quite old, but another option is to have the archer make a perception check when popping out of cover. If they fail, they get disadvantage on their shots. Adjust the DC based on the complexity of the battlefield.


    • Ronny April 24, 2018 at 9:21 am

      Thanks Matthew,
      That is an excellent idea. In my games I may allow this in some situations, but not all.
      I don’t think I will allow NPCs to use it.
      I may allow a PC to use it, for instance, if there is a single NPC standing out in the open. There may be some other situations where this would work well.
      The main reason to not allow it in every case is that it could slow combat considerably if everyone was using it every round.
      Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Anonymous September 19, 2018 at 1:46 pm

    I don’t see a dilemma here at all. Just make sure your NPC archers do the same thing, and there’s nothing wrong with your NPCs taking a ready action as well to be able to shoot the player when they stand up from behind the cover.


    • Ronny September 19, 2018 at 2:33 pm

      The Ready Action is the obvious solution to this problem. I just feel that there are certain conditions where it feels inadequate.

      If, for example, your PC is engaged in combat and has his arrow ready to fire at any target that he chooses when his turn comes up, RAW would dictate that if an archer that he had not previously seen steps out from behind a tree, fires at him, then steps back behind the tree, your PC, on his turn, is not allowed to shoot at him. His option is to fire at an opponent that he can still see or ready an action to fire at the one that fired at him, if he steps out from behind the tree again. There are any number of reasons that he might not pop up again next round, so if you have readied an action you have wasted your turn. I think that it would feel more ‘realistic’ if any time someone comes out from total cover and then returns to cover on his turn, if you can see him at that time, you should be able to fire at him on your next turn. This would include him simply running from one tree to another, for example. So, in the games I run, I allow you to fire at him on your turn, even though, technically, he may now be behind cover again. But I would have your attack be made at a disadvantage.


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