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D&D 5E Ideas for Initiative house rules

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I like this idea, and in many cases would even take it a step further to say - given that combat is all in reaction to the launching event - the launching action always happens before initiative is even rolled.
Well, you can see somebody go for their weapon, and get in first if you're fast enough.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I would be careful where you can use this. A lot of combats start with some verbal back and forth where you could avoid combat. If there is an advantage on starting the murder-hobo action, the players will act on it.
Of course they will. And so, sometimes, will the opponents.
Also, there are encounters where the door is opened and both parties see each other knowing there is a fight. There would always be a player who shouts "I attack" first trying to get advantage, when the situation would likely be neutral.
I wouldn't allow it in this situation. This idea seems to be more for quasi-surprise situations where you're trying to get the drop on someone, be it from ambush or during a conversation or whatever.
Would this lead to things like in 4e where it was justified to have mages use Intelligence to attack and clerics use Wisdom. 5e only has Str and Dex, but I was more relating to Initiative more where the wizard would thing to use his logic to anticipate the start of combat and the bard would want Cha to use his relations with people to determine it.
That sounds like a bit of power creep, if so many classes can use their best stat as an init modifier.

As Int doesn't seem to have much going for it in 5e, maybe make that the initiative stat for everyone?
 

I wonder how broken it would be if your place in the initiative order would be the earliest time you could act, but you could always freely postpone your actions to occur later (without just readying a single specific action)? This wouldn't affect your actual initiative rank and you would retain it for following turns.
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
I wonder how broken it would be if your place in the initiative order would be the earliest time you could act, but you could always freely postpone your actions to occur later (without just readying a single specific action)? This wouldn't affect your actual initiative rank and you would retain it for following turns.
That's pretty much the system where you determine initiative, everyone delays. Everyone. The worst roll goes, but can be interrupted at any time by a higher roll. I've not tried it, but it is a real system (don't recall the game), and I've read good things about it. That's currently found on page 26 (of 71 so far) in my doco documenting systems.....
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Well, you can see somebody go for their weapon, and get in first if you're fast enough.
True - if a weapon is used. A fist is (quite literally!) already in hand, however, so if I want to start a brawl by sucker-punching the guard my punch should go first. Ditto a short verbal-only spell in some cases. and ditto again if it's the opposition trying to do the same to me/us - it works both ways. :)

Another situation where this often arises is ambush, where someone wants to open proceedings with a sniper shot (or a spell) from concealment, where that person's concealed or hidden status has already been mechanically established.
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
True - if a weapon is used. A fist is (quite literally!) already in hand, however, so if I want to start a brawl by sucker-punching the guard my punch should go first. Ditto a short verbal-only spell in some cases. and ditto again if it's the opposition trying to do the same to me/us - it works both ways. :)

Another situation where this often arises is ambush, where someone wants to open proceedings with a sniper shot (or a spell) from concealment, where that person's concealed or hidden status has already been mechanically established.
IMO, some situations should be handled outside initiative completely, ambush being one example. The more I look at systems, the less I like cyclical systems and D20+Dex+xyz being the order......
 

darjr

I crit!
I’ve tried narrative initiative with initiative contests for conflicts.
I narrate what’s going on and the players narrate their action. If I think they can go they take their turn, otherwise they have to win an initiative contest. Winner goes. Once all participants have gone I declare a new round.

it requires a TON of trust. But when it works the contests are few and often dramatic. When it doesn’t those tests bog down the play, a lot, to much. Thinking of having passive initiative scores. But really I’ve abandoned it.

Ive also tried a modified party init. I roll initiative for all the bad guys and go all together and kinda do party initiative. The players still roll. I guess the home rule is allowing individuals to break up their turn. For example a player can move, let another attack, then they can attack. But that gets weird in strange ways.

So I roll one init for each group of bad guys and key bad guys. The players roll. Almost bog standard.

The big win for me was how I record it for keeping track.
 

darjr

I crit!
Here is one of my recorded combats. I record init as reported in any order, the dot next to their names on their turn, also keeping track of rounds. Then I count the HP the monsters lost.
4E421090-FF92-48ED-BCF5-E9866A498FD5.jpeg
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
As for how I do initiative, and my thoughts behind it:

First off, I really dislike cyclic initiative where particpiants act in the same order every round; as it does nothing to replicate the chaos of battle and also leads to far too many meta-game decisions being made based on the turn order, which the characters wouldn't know. So, it's always going to be re-roll every round.

Second, I try to avoid stat-based modifiers of any kind on initiative; as that stat - particularly in a re-roll system - immediately becomes the most important stat in the game.

Third, I don't mind simultaneous initiatives; as in reality things can and do happen at the same time.

Fourth, every action (excluding reaction-type things e.g. AoOs) from every participant gets its own independent initiative. Yes, this means if you have, say, multiple attacks in a round you roll a separate initiative for each one to determine when they occur.

Fifth, in a re-roll system with (sometimes) many participants, using d20 for initiative is cumbersome in various ways not least of which being I-as-DM don't own enough d20s to roll and leave in front of me for all the monsters; never mind I need one or two for rolling attacks, saves, etc. However, we all own loads of d6s (if not, they're dime-a-dozen to pick up at the dollar store). D6s are also convenient in that you can leave them on the table in front of you once rolled and they're way less likely to get knocked over than is a d20.

Sixth, spells take time to cast; and this is reflected by you starting to cast on your rolled initiative and resolving a certain number of initiative counts (i.e. segments) later, with this time amount set by the specific spell you're casting.

So, d6 for each action or attack, re-rolled every round.

There's a few quirks and modifiers we've developed over time, but none are essential.
 

BookTenTiger

Adventurer
Initiative Tokens:

You receive a number of tokens at the start of combat equal to 2 x your Hit Dice + Dexterity or Intelligence bonus. At the start of each round, you place forward a number of tokens. Order in combat starts with the combatant who put forward the most tokens. When you run out of tokens, you always go last. Ties always go to the combatant with the highest Passive Perception.
 

DeviousQuail

Explorer
I've tried a few different initiative styles in 5e. Side, popcorn, and cinematic. The results have been mixed and we always end up reverting back to the standard style. But I haven't given up hope. Next time I DM I'm going to try a new style that incorporates a couple ideas I've seen.

Basic idea:
Cyclical order with normal initiative rolls but DM rolls a secret d4. At the end of the round rolled by the d4 there is some kind of environmental effect. This could be anything from a landslide, the ship sways dangerously, things catch on fire, enemy reinforcements arrive, magical anomaly, etc. It doesn't have to be anything that drastic. But it's enough to shake up the battlefield and cause everyone to reroll their initiative. Roll the d4 again while everyone rolls initiative and start the process again.

On paper it sounds fun and should mesh well with my groups preference for cyclical initiatives.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I've grandfathered how delay and ready work from 3E because the static numbers of 5E are boring. Otherwise, PCs roll individual initiative and I roll initiative for monsters and NPCs in groups or individuals as make sense. Sometimes if one person in a group initiative ends up readying an action later on then they split from their initiative group. I keep track of it all on a dry erase board everyone can see.
 

Stalker0

Legend
I've tried a few different initiative styles in 5e. Side, popcorn, and cinematic. The results have been mixed and we always end up reverting back to the standard style. But I haven't given up hope. Next time I DM I'm going to try a new style that incorporates a couple ideas I've seen.

Basic idea:
Cyclical order with normal initiative rolls but DM rolls a secret d4. At the end of the round rolled by the d4 there is some kind of environmental effect. This could be anything from a landslide, the ship sways dangerously, things catch on fire, enemy reinforcements arrive, magical anomaly, etc. It doesn't have to be anything that drastic. But it's enough to shake up the battlefield and cause everyone to reroll their initiative. Roll the d4 again while everyone rolls initiative and start the process again.

On paper it sounds fun and should mesh well with my groups preference for cyclical initiatives.
An interesting idea!
 

6ENow!

The Game Is Over
FWIW another concept I played around with is the idea of "Fast Initiative". You have to declare your intentions, and if you only take 1 actions (move or act) you gain advantage on your d20 roll. In other words, the less you do, the quicker you are likely to get to act.

Just throwing it out there for people to consider. shrug
 

Use an index card for each player character and each monster. Shuffle and draw at random during the first round of combat.

A character with a lower Dex can exchange their place in the initiative order for a character with the higher Dex. So for example any PC whose card comes up can give their place in the order to the Assassin rogue with 20 Dex so he can his special abilities.
 

I posted my homebrew system here. The rationale behind it is in the documents.

Over the years, I've tried or used:
  • AD&D 2E. Roll a d10 for your team, winner's side goes first each round.
  • AD&D 2E. Declare system. Roll a d10 for your team, add a modifier based on what you're doing (weapon speed, spell casting time, etc.)
  • AD&D 2E. Declare system, everyone rolls their own d10 instead of a team die.
  • D&D 3.5. Standard d20 + Dex modifier, one roll.
  • Pathfinder. Same.
  • 5E. Same
  • 5E. DMG weapon speed variant. d20 roll modified by weapon/spell your using each round.
  • 5E. Mike Mearl's Greyhawk (modified), initiative die you roll each round depends on your declared action.
  • 5E. Homebrewed initiative die. Die you roll each round depends on your declared action.


 


Fanaelialae

Legend
I picked up a D&D themed "tarot deck" on Kickstarter recently. I've only used it for one session, but it worked rather well.

Essentially, I add cards for each character and monster to the deck. For every +3 to their initiative (or advantage) I add an additional card for that character or monster. This doesn't allow them to go multiple times, but rather makes it more likely that they will go sooner. They can also opt to delay their turn if they have more cards remaining in the deck. Every round I reshuffle the deck, which keeps turn order unpredictable. That's something that both my players and I really enjoy, as it has a tendency to shake up combat.

I was originally giving a card for every +5 to initiative, but my players said that seemed too little (because an 18 Dex was the same as an 8 Dex in terms of initiative). After a bit of discussion we settled on +3 as a reasonable increment.
 

Puddles

Explorer
In my current campaign we re-roll initiative after 3 rounds of combat. It works really well accept in the cases were the 4th or 7th round is a “mop up” round, in which case I usually waiver the rule so the last enemy can quickly bite the dust.

I do really like the 1d4 idea posted above though with a narrative event occurring with it. I think I’ll use it next session.
 

Einlanzer0

Explorer
A lot of people seem to favor moving Initiative from Dex to Wis or Int. I prefer keeping it with Dex. Why? Because Wis is already factored into combat preparedness through Perception and surprise rounds. When DMs actually use it, it can become as or even more significant than Initiative.

I tend to treat it as a default instead of only when players/monsters are trying to be stealthy. My rule is using a passive initiative score modified by Dex and a passive perception score modified by Wis. HOWEVER, I also allow deferring. This opens up a lot of strategic options and keeps things from being too samey same very combat. Perception checks come into play frequently to determine if any PCs and/or monsters get a free round, and it happens often. Then after the surprise round everyone moves according to their fixed Initiative.

Truthfully if it was a video game I'd want them to both be rolled but I just think it slows the game down too much, so passive scores work well enough.
 
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