Mearls On D&D's Design Premises/Goals

First of all, thanks [MENTION=1]Morrus[/MENTION] for collecting this. I generally avoid Twitter because, frankly, it's full of a$$holes.

That aside: this is an interesting way of looking at it, and underscores the difference in design philosophies between the WotC team and the Paizo team. There is a lot of room for both philosophies of design, and I don't think there is any reason for fans of one to be hostile to fans of the other, but those differences do matter. There are ways in which I like the prescriptive elements of 3.x era games (I like set skill difficulty lists, for example) but I tend to run by the seat of my pants and the effects of my beer, so a fast and loose and forgiving version like 5E really enables me running a game the way I like to.
 

Comments

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
My summary is perhaps biased because I think [MENTION=6787503]Hriston[/MENTION] is right.

The questions are:

Is rolling initiative an aspect of combat resolution?

Is rolling initiative a type of stat-check contest?​

[MENTION=6787503]Hriston[/MENTION] answers yes to both questions, along the following lines:

If a player (for a PC) or the GM (for a NPC) declares a combat-ish action (attacking with a weapon, fireballing, etc) then (i) the combat rules are activated, and (ii) two sides (in the typical case, at least) are in opposition in respect of the just-commenced battle.

The fact of (i) refers us to the combat rules, which say to do various stuff at the start of combat including determining initiative for each participant. The fact of (ii) helps us understand how and why determining initiative is a type of stat-check contest: we have these opposed entities, each trying (literally) to get and retain the initiative in the battle that has just commenced, and so we use DEX for this (because it's the quickness/reaction time stat) and we compare results to work out who wins (because that's how contests work); and, because there are (often) more than two participants, we rank the non-winners by result (which is a logical extrapolation from the simple case of only two opponents).​

[MENTION=23751]Maxperson[/MENTION] answers no to both questions, along the following lines:

A contest depends upon opposition. (He also has views about direct opposition, but I think they can be set aside for economy.) Combat involves opposition; but combat doesn't commence until one entity attacks another; and an attack is not commenced/made until an attack action is declared; and an attack action cannot be declared until a character's turn comes up; and no one's turn can come up until an initiative order is established; and establishing such an order depends upon making initiative checks; hence initiative checks happen prior to combat commencing and prior to any opposition arising; hence initiative checks are not a stat-check contest, even though they might superficially look like it.​

An apparent consequence of Maxperson's approach is that the GM has to call for initiative checks based on some sort of intuition, or an apprehension of the possibility that an attack might be declared once the initiative sequence is established and hence characters start taking turns.

Hriston points to this consequence as one that divorces the call for initiative from that mechanic's place in the combat chapter; and adduces this as evidence in favour of the alternative view!

As I said, I think Hriston is right. But as per my post just upthread, I also think it's no surprise that this is contentious.
Not quite. Initiative is an aspect of combat resolution as combat cannot resolve without it. It just doesn't doesn't involve opposition as actions it allows don't have to oppose anyone or anything. The resulting actions are where opposition comes into play.
 

Jester David

Adventurer
Can someone please summarize this for me? I've totally lost track of this.
Two factions are having an extremely pedantic argument over the exact nature of initiative that in no way affects how the game is played or how initiative is used or defined.
It's basically fifty pages of internet forum discussing rules with the intensity of arguing over what defines a sandwich.
 

cmad1977

Adventurer
Two factions are having an extremely pedantic argument over the exact nature of initiative that in no way affects how the game is played or how initiative is used or defined.
It's basically fifty pages of internet forum discussing rules with the intensity of arguing over what defines a sandwich.
Yes. The list of people who’s input regarding the game I discard out of hand has gone up by at least two after going through this thread.
 

Hriston

Explorer
No. It's simply false that a declaration to attack is an attack. It's a declaration and nothing more.
An action declaration to attack someone is something a player says at the table. An attack is a fictional event established in the fiction by said declaration. I haven't said those were the same thing, so if that's what you mean you must have misread something, but what I think you mean to say instead is that the only thing the player's action declaration establishes in the fiction is that his/her PC intends to attack. To me, that doesn't give the DM much to work with in resolving the actions of the PCs because it doesn't establish any actions. If all the players are allowed to say is the intent of their PCs then it would seem it's up to the DM to say what the PCs actually do in the fiction, at which point s/he's basically playing the players' characters for them. On the other hand, perhaps this distinction is mostly semantic.

A body language shift and/or he's reaching for his sword. What those things aren't, though, is an attack. The attack can't happen until after initiative.
I'm surprised that you're admitting "reaching for his sword" into the fiction before initiative. I would think, given your approach, that was something that couldn't happen until the PC's turn. Nevertheless, it seems to establish opposition before initiative.

In the process does not equal an attack, though. It's not an attack until the person actually, you know, attacks.
If I swing a punch at someone but haven't yet made contact (nor have I missed them), would you say I'm attacking them or not?

So what. That doesn't make initiative opposition. Does the combat section as a whole presume opposition? Yes. Does every combat rule involve opposition? Not even close.
It presents the initiative rules in the context of opposition.

If you don't think doing nothing on your turn is a valid strategy for opposing your foes, then why did you do it?

Great! Since I never once claimed that. We can agree to disagree about something I never said or agreed with in the first place.
Well, you're saying that opponents in combat aren't in opposition to each other when they roll initiative, aren't you? I don't agree that they stop opposing each other to roll initiative.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
what I think you mean to say instead is that the only thing the player's action declaration establishes in the fiction is that his/her PC intends to attack. To me, that doesn't give the DM much to work with in resolving the actions of the PCs because it doesn't establish any actions. If all the players are allowed to say is the intent of their PCs then it would seem it's up to the DM to say what the PCs actually do in the fiction, at which point s/he's basically playing the players' characters for them.
This is untrue. They declare their action, which includes signaling that the other side can pick up. Initiative is rolled. When the player gets his turn, he tells me what they do in the fiction, which doesn't have to be what they declared initially as things may have changed. At no point am I dictating what the PCs do. It's astounding that you could actually end up there from what I said.

I'm surprised that you're admitting "reaching for his sword" into the fiction before initiative. I would think, given your approach, that was something that couldn't happen until the PC's turn. Nevertheless, it seems to establish opposition before initiative.
Opposition to what? He's just reaching for a sword.

If I swing a punch at someone but haven't yet made contact (nor have I missed them), would you say I'm attacking them or not?
If it's after initiative, yes. If it's before, you haven't taken a swing. You can't take the attack action, which is what a punch is, until after initiative is rolled.

It presents the initiative rules in the context of opposition.
No it doesn't. It presents them in the context of determining order of turns. It explicitly says this. It's the first line for God's sake, "Initiative determines the order of turns during combat."

If you don't think doing nothing on your turn is a valid strategy for opposing your foes, then why did you do it?
Nothing to do. Conservation of resources. I don't agree with attacking these people. Other reasons. Opposing the enemy hasn't ever been a consideration when I decide to do nothing.

Well, you're saying that opponents in combat aren't in opposition to each other when they roll initiative, aren't you? I don't agree that they stop opposing each other to roll initiative.
Opposition doesn't happen(and then only possibly) until someone takes the first action. Before that, when one or both sides do something to cause the perception if imminent combat, you determine surprise, then establish positions, then roll initiative. It's a pretty lame order as far as I'm concerned. If you don't know the positions, you can't really determine surprise, but whatever. That's the order they pick. Once initiative has been rolled and people start taking actions, they can opt to take actions that pull them into opposition, like attacking or grappling. Or they can take an action that doesn't involve opposition, like searching for an object, drinking a potion, casting a spell that doesn't oppose anything, moving and stopping and much much more!!
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
My summary is perhaps biased because I think [MENTION=6787503]Hriston[/MENTION] is right.

The questions are:

Is rolling initiative an aspect of combat resolution?

Is rolling initiative a type of stat-check contest?​

[MENTION=6787503]Hriston[/MENTION] answers yes to both questions, along the following lines:

If a player (for a PC) or the GM (for a NPC) declares a combat-ish action (attacking with a weapon, fireballing, etc) then (i) the combat rules are activated, and (ii) two sides (in the typical case, at least) are in opposition in respect of the just-commenced battle.

The fact of (i) refers us to the combat rules, which say to do various stuff at the start of combat including determining initiative for each participant. The fact of (ii) helps us understand how and why determining initiative is a type of stat-check contest: we have these opposed entities, each trying (literally) to get and retain the initiative in the battle that has just commenced, and so we use DEX for this (because it's the quickness/reaction time stat) and we compare results to work out who wins (because that's how contests work); and, because there are (often) more than two participants, we rank the non-winners by result (which is a logical extrapolation from the simple case of only two opponents).​

[MENTION=23751]Maxperson[/MENTION] answers no to both questions, along the following lines:

A contest depends upon opposition. (He also has views about direct opposition, but I think they can be set aside for economy.) Combat involves opposition; but combat doesn't commence until one entity attacks another; and an attack is not commenced/made until an attack action is declared; and an attack action cannot be declared until a character's turn comes up; and no one's turn can come up until an initiative order is established; and establishing such an order depends upon making initiative checks; hence initiative checks happen prior to combat commencing and prior to any opposition arising; hence initiative checks are not a stat-check contest, even though they might superficially look like it.​

An apparent consequence of Maxperson's approach is that the GM has to call for initiative checks based on some sort of intuition, or an apprehension of the possibility that an attack might be declared once the initiative sequence is established and hence characters start taking turns.

Hriston points to this consequence as one that divorces the call for initiative from that mechanic's place in the combat chapter; and adduces this as evidence in favour of the alternative view!

As I said, I think Hriston is right. But as per my post just upthread, I also think it's no surprise that this is contentious.
And all of this presupposes turn-based cyclical play where initiative isn't re-rolled or otherwise redetermined each round or at some other regular interval during the combat.

If re-rolling is in play then initiative most certainly does become an integral part of combat resolution...after the first round.

The difference in the first round is that someone (or a number of someones) might be able to act before anyone else is aware of it - as in Max's example of suddenly pulling a sword and attacking. Here some other mechanic - be it surprise or flat-footed or whatever else - is required to determine who gets to act right away vs. who is caught off guard. Otherwise what ends up happening all too often is that the dice don't match the intended-by-the-player narrative: Max pulls out a sword and swings, thus triggering initiatives, but somehow ends up near the bottom of the initiative order even though his supposedly acting first is the reason they were rolled at all! Personally, I often find this quite annoying when it happens.

Lanefan
 

S'mon

Legend
Otherwise what ends up happening all too often is that the dice don't match the intended-by-the-player narrative: Max pulls out a sword and swings, thus triggering initiatives, but somehow ends up near the bottom of the initiative order even though his supposedly acting first is the reason they were rolled at all! Personally, I often find this quite annoying when it happens.
Me too. Some reasonable solutions include:

Max rolls Deception vs target Sense Motive to achieve Surprise. Then roll initiative. But what about Max's allies?
Max has Surprise, everyone else is Surprised, roll initiative.
Max gets Advantage on his Initiative check.
Max gets a free attack outside the combat round system. Then roll initiative.

I've probably used all of these depending on the circumstances, but for 5e I think simply giving Max advantage on the init check is the most elegant solution.
 

Sadras

Explorer
I've probably used all of these depending on the circumstances, but for 5e I think simply giving Max advantage on the init check is the most elegant solution.
We have used this or with Max rolling but having a minimum 10 + Initiative Modifier.
 

pemerton

Legend
And all of this presupposes turn-based cyclical play where initiative isn't re-rolled or otherwise redetermined each round or at some other regular interval during the combat.
Of course! It's a discussion about the nature of 5e's intitiative rules, and 5e uses turn-by-turn combat resolution very similar to 3E and 4e.

The difference in the first round is that someone (or a number of someones) might be able to act before anyone else is aware of it - as in Max's example of suddenly pulling a sword and attacking. Here some other mechanic - be it surprise or flat-footed or whatever else - is required to determine who gets to act right away vs. who is caught off guard. Otherwise what ends up happening all too often is that the dice don't match the intended-by-the-player narrative: Max pulls out a sword and swings, thus triggering initiatives, but somehow ends up near the bottom of the initiative order even though his supposedly acting first is the reason they were rolled at all! Personally, I often find this quite annoying when it happens.
[MENTION=6787503]Hriston[/MENTION] has already discussed this - if Max loses initiative, then (among other things) we learn that he is not very quick on the draw! It's certainly not unheard of in genre fiction for the villains to try and get the drop on the hero, only for the latter to react unexpectedly quickly and turn the tables!

In 4e, Max might well get surprise if the others involved don't succeed on an appropriate Insight or Perception check. [MENTION=463]S'mon[/MENTION] has given some suggestions for how 5e would deal with this.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Of course! It's a discussion about the nature of 5e's intitiative rules, and 5e uses turn-by-turn combat resolution very similar to 3E and 4e.
Yes it does, but it doesn't have to. Neither do 3e and 4e, for all that.

[MENTION=6787503]Hriston[/MENTION] has already discussed this - if Max loses initiative, then (among other things) we learn that he is not very quick on the draw!
Which blows up the player-intended narrative of his swing being the thing that in fact starts the fight.

It's certainly not unheard of in genre fiction for the villains to try and get the drop on the hero, only for the latter to react unexpectedly quickly and turn the tables!
True, but it's overused there too and happens far more often than random chance would dictate.

In 4e, Max might well get surprise if the others involved don't succeed on an appropriate Insight or Perception check. [MENTION=463]S'mon[/MENTION] has given some suggestions for how 5e would deal with this.
Saw those. Another option in a case like this might be to just peg Max's initiative at a flat 20 and let everyone else roll, and if anyone beats 20 then so be it; otherwise he goes first.

The problem with this in a cyclic system is that any of these solutions lock Max into a high initiative for the whole combat, where it should really only be forced high for the first swing and after that be at some random point in the round - yet another argument in favour of re-rolling each round. A further and probably messier argument can be made saying that because Max's swing is what starts the fight he should get that swing in effect as an out-of-round freebie - particularly if he catches his foe off guard - and then roll init. normally with everyone else after that.
 

Hriston

Explorer
Ye gods, I'm having flashbacks to the rules arguments I sat through back when I was serious about M:tG...declaration of attack, resolution of attack, combat phase...next thing you'll both be on about is who's the active player and what order the reactions can happen in.

Lan-"I'm not entirely sure this represents 5e in the way the designers had in mind"-efan
I think the question is whether declaring an attack or some other action that triggers resort to the combat rules is constitutive of fiction in which the participants are in opposition to one another. I clearly think it is, as are many other sorts of action declarations such as trying to determine the true intentions of an NPC that's lying to you or trying to notice a hidden threat. [MENTION=23751]Maxperson[/MENTION] seems to think it isn't, due to his treatment of such action declarations as basically provisional until after initiative has been rolled. My problem with that is if there's no in-fiction conflict then why are combat rules like initiative being invoked?
 

Jester David

Adventurer
The difference in the first round is that someone (or a number of someones) might be able to act before anyone else is aware of it - as in Max's example of suddenly pulling a sword and attacking. Here some other mechanic - be it surprise or flat-footed or whatever else - is required to determine who gets to act right away vs. who is caught off guard. Otherwise what ends up happening all too often is that the dice don't match the intended-by-the-player narrative: Max pulls out a sword and swings, thus triggering initiatives, but somehow ends up near the bottom of the initiative order even though his supposedly acting first is the reason they were rolled at all! Personally, I often find this quite annoying when it happens.
In that example, most of the time I rule/ describe that people can see him going for his sword and react accordingly. They’re just a faster draw. In the tense stand-off over a poker game, no one is “surprised” by someone drawing, and the person who slaps leather first might not be the one who shoots first.
If “Max” rolls poorly in such a situation, that can be reflected in the narrative, with Max’s weapon catching in the scabbard.

In certain situations where there is more of an ambush or unexpected attack from unsurprised individuals, such as when the party is talking with someone and the unseen rogue attacks, I typically just start on their initiative turn. People who rolled better than the initiating rogue just end up unknowingly using their first turn talking or taking other actions.
 

Hussar

Legend
As I recall, rerolling initiative is an optional rule in 5e. IDHMBIFOM, but, I seem to recall something about that in the 5e DMG.
 

Hriston

Explorer
This is untrue. They declare their action, which includes signaling that the other side can pick up. Initiative is rolled. When the player gets his turn, he tells me what they do in the fiction, which doesn't have to be what they declared initially as things may have changed. At no point am I dictating what the PCs do. It's astounding that you could actually end up there from what I said.
You said it was nothing more than a declaration, which is something a player says at a table in the real world. To me that sounds like you mean it has no effect on the fiction, but now you've included the detail that it "includes signaling that the other side can pick up". That's pretty vague, but it clearly means that the action declaration does establish in the fiction that the PC is "signalling" the intent to commence hostilities, i.e. action that may provoke opposing action from the other side.

Opposition to what? He's just reaching for a sword.
Assuming the merchant wants to keep living, it establishes opposition between the PC and the merchant on which s/he's planning on using the sword.

If it's after initiative, yes. If it's before, you haven't taken a swing. You can't take the attack action, which is what a punch is, until after initiative is rolled.
Then the answer is "yes", isn't it? As a DM, you don't allow the punch-swinging character's arms to move until after initiative has been rolled, and that's fine for your games. But once it's that character's turn, and s/he takes his/her swing, before the attack hits or misses, there's a moment in which the swing is in process and the character is attacking. That moment can be established in the fiction before rolling initiative in my games. All I'm concerned with happening after initiative is the resolution of the attack, the hit or the miss. I believe that initiative exists as a mechanic to tell us the order in which events are resolved, not when they're initiated.

No it doesn't. It presents them in the context of determining order of turns. It explicitly says this. It's the first line for God's sake, "Initiative determines the order of turns during combat."
It's the "during combat" that gives you the context that initiative takes place in a situation where sides in a conflict are opposing one another.

Nothing to do. Conservation of resources. I don't agree with attacking these people. Other reasons. Opposing the enemy hasn't ever been a consideration when I decide to do nothing.
Forgive me if that doesn't sound like a very interesting battle. Why isn't there anything to do, and why are you in a battle with people you don't want to attack?

Opposition doesn't happen(and then only possibly) until someone takes the first action. Before that, when one or both sides do something to cause the perception if imminent combat, you determine surprise, then establish positions, then roll initiative. It's a pretty lame order as far as I'm concerned. If you don't know the positions, you can't really determine surprise, but whatever. That's the order they pick. Once initiative has been rolled and people start taking actions, they can opt to take actions that pull them into opposition, like attacking or grappling. Or they can take an action that doesn't involve opposition, like searching for an object, drinking a potion, casting a spell that doesn't oppose anything, moving and stopping and much much more!!
It's in what they do "to cause the perception of imminent combat" that I'm interested. That's what throws the sides into opposition.
 

pemerton

Legend
Which blows up the player-intended narrative of his swing being the thing that in fact starts the fight.
This is where other aspects of action resolution methodology come into play.

For instance, in a "say 'yes' or roll the dice" framework, the GM can just "say 'yes'" and allow Max's sword blow to hit and/or kill the opponent (depending exactly what the action declaration is to which "yes" is being said).

In 5e, the GM could simply rule that there is no uncertainty and hence Max hits and deals damage.

But in a system like 5e - in which the rules are not a simulation but rather a device for managing changes in the fiction (this is evidenced by the fact that the GM is obliged to invoke the rules only if s/he thinks the situation warrants it) - once the rules are invoked then player intent is not going to contribute to the outcomes except as mediated through those rules. So Max's player might want to be the one who strike first, but if the rules have been invoked then that outcome is precluded unless he gets the best initiative check.

Ye gods, I'm having flashbacks to the rules arguments I sat through back when I was serious about M:tG...declaration of attack, resolution of attack, combat phase...next thing you'll both be on about is who's the active player and what order the reactions can happen in.

Lan-"I'm not entirely sure this represents 5e in the way the designers had in mind"-efan
You can't introduce a turn-by-turn resolution system, with rules for actions and reactions and bonus actions and the lilke, and yet not intend this sort of discussion to arise. They go together!

For more discussion on pretty much the same channel, drop into the currently active "Shield Master" thread!
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
You said it was nothing more than a declaration, which is something a player says at a table in the real world. To me that sounds like you mean it has no effect on the fiction, but now you've included the detail that it "includes signaling that the other side can pick up". That's pretty vague, but it clearly means that the action declaration does establish in the fiction that the PC is "signalling" the intent to commence hostilities, i.e. action that may provoke opposing action from the other side.
The declaration is by the player. The signaling is occurring in the game.

Assuming the merchant wants to keep living, it establishes opposition between the PC and the merchant on which s/he's planning on using the sword.
The merchant in my example did nothing. He's a weak NPC putz. That's why he has guards. The action was over before he realized that he came close to death.

Then the answer is "yes", isn't it? As a DM, you don't allow the punch-swinging character's arms to move until after initiative has been rolled, and that's fine for your games. But once it's that character's turn, and s/he takes his/her swing, before the attack hits or misses, there's a moment in which the swing is in process and the character is attacking. That moment can be established in the fiction before rolling initiative in my games.
That moment doesn't exist by RAW. You don't get to attack until after initiative. It's okay for you to do it that way in your games of course, but I'm discussing the rules as they are written. Not the rules as they are changed. By RAW, there is never a point in which a character can be attacking until after initiative is rolled.

And the arm can move. It just can't attack. The PC draws back to punch and ends up knocked out because he loses initiative to the 5 friends of the guy he was about to punch. He pulled back his arm to launch the attack, but the attack never came. Or alternatively, he does manage to attack AFTER initiative is rolled.


It's the "during combat" that gives you the context that initiative takes place in a situation where sides in a conflict are opposing one another.
Sides opposing one another does not make initiative an opposed ability check. I've already demonstrated several things that you can do while sides are opposed to one another that don't involve opposition of any kind.

Forgive me if that doesn't sound like a very interesting battle. Why isn't there anything to do, and why are you in a battle with people you don't want to attack?
Perhaps the rest of the group has it easily in hand and I don't want to waste resources. Perhaps there is simply no gain in it or me personally. Perhaps we are being attacked by a group we know to be innocent or allies, but which aren't aware that we are with them and I don't want to harm them. Perhaps hundreds of other reasons. Use your imagination a bit. It's not hard to see many reasons why you would do nothing that don't involved boredom.
 

S'mon

Legend
In certain situations where there is more of an ambush or unexpected attack from unsurprised individuals, such as when the party is talking with someone and the unseen rogue attacks, I typically just start on their initiative turn. People who rolled better than the initiating rogue just end up unknowingly using their first turn talking or taking other actions.
I don't like that at all since it penalises characters for having high Init, and a DEX bonus or Alertness feat become negatives.

Leaving aside RAW, I think it makes a lot more sense to keep the init roll as always higher-is-better, and allow unexpected attacks prior to the init roll if necessary.
 

Jester David

Adventurer
I don't like that at all since it penalises characters for having high Init, and a DEX bonus or Alertness feat become negatives.

Leaving aside RAW, I think it makes a lot more sense to keep the init roll as always higher-is-better, and allow unexpected attacks prior to the init roll if necessary.
Having a high initiative is good for the first round of combat at best. Then initiative stops being a linear progression and becomes a cycle where it doesn't matter who rolled high or low.

The thing is, starting with the initiator doesn't necessarily punish those with a high Dexterity, because the initiator *might* roll really high. Or really low and those with a high initiative follow them anyway. Realistically, people also roll poorly for initiative all the damn time, so I'm also "rewarding" people who had bad luck. There's even a decent chance a character with a normally high initiative rolled poorly in any given fight since the Alert rogue only gets a +10 and the dice add 1-20.
Plus, characters with a high Dexterity has a high probability of being one likely to be hiding and starting trouble anyway, so this allows them to act first even if their initiative roll betrays them. Which is especially useful for assassin rogues.

Also, there's generally a tactical advantage from an ambush, so the players are being rewarded by enabling that. I like to reward smart, strategic play and not handicap cool strategies by slavishly adhering to RAW.

This is also not the "norm" of initiative. Most fights have initiative rolled normally. I only do this when it would be weird and disrupting the narrative for that character to come later in the initiative order. So those with bonuses still get to act sooner (on average) in the majority of normal fights.
 

SkidAce

Adventurer
In certain situations where there is more of an ambush or unexpected attack from unsurprised individuals, such as when the party is talking with someone and the unseen rogue attacks, I typically just start on their initiative turn. People who rolled better than the initiating rogue just end up unknowingly using their first turn talking or taking other actions.
I clicked laugh when I meant XP.
 

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