D&D 5E Declarations that start combat vs. initiative

Combat starting mid-RP without sneakiness, when does the declaring PC/NPC go?

  • In normal initiative order. The one who's action started this may not actually be the first action.

    Votes: 53 52.0%
  • At the top of initiative, since there is no combat until they make their move.

    Votes: 11 10.8%
  • During normal initiative but with chance of people on both sides could be surprised.

    Votes: 20 19.6%
  • At the top of initiative, with the chance people on both sides could be surprised it's starting now.

    Votes: 3 2.9%
  • Other (explained below).

    Votes: 15 14.7%


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
The party is in full view of an opposed group. Maybe they are talking, but there's no question that the other group is there and there is a general wariness that combat may occur but it's not definite. Very important - it is not definite that combat will occur.

One of the people involved declares something that will start combat. "When he insults my family I draw my rapier and stab him." There isn't anything particularly sneaky about it, like a subtle spell.

Do you roll initiative and that person goes where they go? Do you roll initiative but put them at the top? Do you treat it as possible surprise that combat is breaking out "right this second" and do something like roll insight or perception to see which combatants (on both sides) are surprised and not going in a first round? Or something else?

log in or register to remove this ad

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
I guess I'm inclined to go with, "Roll for initiative as normal." My thinking is this: "I draw my rapier," gets action moving, but especially since the other group sees this happening, there's no guarantee the PC drawing his/her rapier will be the fastest one on the draw, right? Seeing who goes first is a matter of figuring out who has the fastest reaction time, and for that I like to keep it simple and just have folks roll.


Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
I have done a couple of different things, depending. I've called for Initatives and resolved actions in order. I've called for inits and started with the person declaring the instigating action (no one surprised). I haven't really settled on a single approach.

"Rolling initiative" is not necessarily the same as "starting hostilities". Initiative is simply a method to slow down the game when too much is going on.

Let's assume that the NPC had a higher initiative than the PC. The NPC can then make the insult on its initiative, and the PC can draw and stab on its initiative.

The DM may also rule that the PC gets so obviously aggressive in its body language that everyone involved understands combat is going to start, even before the rapier is drawn. Then anyone at the top of the initiative table may commence combat.


I don't have a standard rule for this because it will depend on the context of the moment but absent additional context - I will check to see if the opponent sees it coming. If they don't then the attacker gets a free attack in and then initiative is rolled. If they see it coming then they also get a free attack back and then initiative is rolled.

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
In normal initiative order.

Every Western shootout shows us that saying you draw first does not mean that you do. What it does mean is that those that come first are attacking someone who hasn't done anything yet. And so they might not attack (if they care about repercussions from the law, being noble, etc.).

Show Down Clint Eastwood GIF


Roll for initiative as normal, the person starting this mess has advantage on the roll. Assuming no attempt to covertly start the attack, just spontaneous reaction.

Now, if the person does something like turn away, but then whip back to draw a weapon or somesuch, that'd be a Deception vs. Perception/Sense Motive check to see if the person was able to get surprise.
Last edited:


Moderator Emeritus
Roll initiative as normal.

But since my table uses ready and delay - sometimes, those before the initiating person may ready their action or delay if they are the cautious type to see if the aggressor follows through. We play that readied actions interrupt the precipitating action.


Roll for initiative. The first round everyone except the one initiating combat could be treated as surprised. May give some opponents that are observing the initiator a chance (insight vs deception role) to notice their intent and therefore not be surprised the first round.


The standing around talking to each other is always tricky. I voted #1 normal initiative because thats how I handled it so far. I've seen some systems that try and weigh speed of action and simultaneous resolution, but they are always too crunchy for their own good and slow the game down.


Roll for initiative as normal.

If the person who initiated really DID surprise everyone else, then they will act first even if they didn't "go" first. (but not the case here, everyone saw the person reach - so normal initiative)

If they managed to surprise some of the people they will act before those surprised. (again not the case here)

Seems to work ok.


Morkus from Orkus
I picked other, because it's dependent on the circumstances. If there are a group of orcs and one or all start charging at the party, it's normal initiative, since there's plenty of time for someone else to act first. However, if there just wouldn't be time for someone else to go first, then the one acting has highest initiative unless there a very good in fiction reason for it to be otherwise. If it's a whole group without some sort of well oiled navy seal like training who are acting, then I will just go to normal initiative, since I can't possibly figure out whose slow and whose not, so I default to the rules.


Three-Headed Sirrush
Ability checks, like initiative, are only needed to resolve uncertainty. In a situation where only one character is trying to start combat, there's no uncertainty regarding who starts combat for an ability check to resolve. Accordingly, in the situation described I would have the initiator at the top of the initiative order, and have everyone else roll to determine the rest of the order. (In a different situation, where multiple characters wanted to react to the same IC stimuli by starting combat, I'd roll as normal, so there's no advantage of being the first to shout out that you attack.)

My approach comes at a cost: in situations with one initiator it becomes impossible for someone else to act faster. However, I'd point out that all methods for transitioning to initiative with one initiator come at a cost: if you want to keep the ability to pre-empt the initiator, you have to either: (1) lock the initiator into their declared action; (2) allow the pre-emptor to react to a declared action that may never actually happen; or (3) let the initiator start--but not resolve--their action prior to transitioning to initiative.

From a RAW standpoint, I think (2) is arguably correct, but it comes with the additional complication of what information you give to the pre-emptor: do you let them act on the knowledge of the initiator's declared action, even though the initiator may choose not to take the declared action when it finally gets around to be their turn? If so, you introduce weird causality issues, but if not, going first in initiative may be a disadvantage if you don't know enough about what is coming to make going first useful. (In the most extreme case, if you have to skip your turn because you don't want to initiate combat and IC your character doesn't know that the initiator is going to, the end result of winning initiative is the same as going last in initiative.)

I think the cost of not allowing pre-emption when there is only one initiator is the least disruptive of the available options, but that's strictly personal preference.

Unless one side or the other has put in the effort to surprise the other (whether through deception, stealth checks, or just plain smart strategy), it's always going to be just rolling initiative as normal in my games. I'm not a big fan of giving someone a free action before combat just because they shout "fireball" at me in the middle of an NPC talking.


Limit Break Dancing
We resolve the action that triggers combat (the casting of the spell, or the rapier stab, or the intimidation check, whatever). Then we roll initiative as normal.

In my next campaign, I'm going to try something different. Everyone except the person triggering combat will roll initiative. Then the person who triggers combat will be assigned an initiative that is higher than everyone else, and will get to act first.
Last edited:


Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Unless one side or the other has put in the effort to surprise the other (whether through deception, stealth checks, or just plain smart strategy), it's always going to be just rolling initiative as normal in my games. I'm not a big fan of giving someone a free action before combat just because they shout "fireball" at me in the middle of an NPC talking.
Exactly this.

Normal initiative rolls unless there's a genuine possibility of surprise. No free actions for cutting off dialogue. I'm not incentivizing that behavior.

Level Up!

An Advertisement