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D&D 5E New House Rule Idea - Passive Initiative for First Round of Combat (Feedback Wanted!)

BookTenTiger

He / Him
It's time for a new house rule idea!

Has this ever happened to you? The adventure is going smoothly, tension is building, there's a shadowy figure around the corner, THEN SUDDENLY - roll Initiative!

DM: Okay, what did you get? Oh, you two tied, can you reroll? Oh, I forgot to roll for that monster. Oh, um, I also need to roll for that hidden monster... Oh wait, you're just going to Teleport Away? Well, that was wasted time.

I usually have just about everything organized and ready to go for when a fight breaks out in D&D. I have my monster stats ready, I've reviewed the rules, I have my Initiative Order notes ready, etc etc etc... and yet, calling for Initiative always seems to break the flow of the narrative of my adventures.

It's even worse when it's against a single weak opponent! The Barbarian opens a closet, an Animated Broom flies out to scratch his face, everyone rolls Initiative, the story pauses for two minutes while I collect everyone's initiative and write it in order, then the Broom is dead before we get through the first round.

So this house rule, which I'm calling First Round Best Round, is meant to keep the narrative flowing through the first round of combat.

First Round Best Round invents something called Passive Initiative. A character's Passive Initiative is 10 + Dexterity Modifier.

In the first round of combat, characters and enemies don't roll Initiative. Instead, the DM has already listed all the characters by their Passive Initiative Scores. The DM then inserts any enemies into order based on their Passive Initiatives.

Tied combatants compare Dexterity Scores (representing Reaction), then Intelligence Scores (representing Preparedness), then Wisdom Scores (representing Awareness).

The first round of combat proceeds as normal. The only difference is that at the end of each combatant's turn, they roll Initiative. These Initiative rolls are tracked by the DM, and in the second round of combat, Initiative Order is changed to reflect the new rolls.

Here's an example of play:

DM: Around the corner you find a band of bandits and a sleeping troll they have chained to a stake in the ground. They heard you arriving. (Looks at Passive Initiative Order: Ruby the Rogue 14, Sammy the Sorcerer 12, Frank the Fighter 11, Clara the Cleric 10) quickly puts in Troll 11a, Bandits 11b, Frank the Fighter 11c. The Troll goes first because its Dexterity is 13, compared with the Bandit 12. Frank's Dexterity is 12, but his Intelligence is 8 compared to the Bandit 10, so he goes last.) Ruby, how do you react? Sammy you're up next.

Ruby: I'm going to shoot an arrow at whoever looks like the leader. Then I'm going to Hide around the corner. (Rolls an attack, rolls a Stealth check, then at the end of her turn rolls Initiative.) My new Initiative is 10.

Sammy: I cast Sleep, then duck around the corner with Ruby before they can attack me! (Puts two Bandits to sleep, then at the end of his turn rolls Initiative.) My new Initiative is 21!

DM: The troll is surprised this round, so doesn't act. But you see him stirring and ready to wake up. (Rolls Initiative for the Troll, gets 20.) Now the Bandits charge in, though one hangs back to wake one of his companions. (Bandits attack Frank and Clara, then roll 11 for Initiative.) Frank, what do you do? Clara, you're after him.

Frank: I grin and say, "Finally, some action!" And I start chopping away with my axe! (Rolls to attack the Bandits, then rolls Initiative). Oh man, a natural 1! My new Initiative is 2.

Clara: I raise my shield and call to Pelor to bless my allies, and I cast Bless. (Rolls Initiative.) My new Initiative is 4. At least I beat Frank!

DM: (Looks down at the new Initiatives written during combat.) As the troll starts to stir awake, the new Initiative Order is: Sammy, Troll, Bandits, Ruby, Clara, Frank. Sammy, one of the sleeping bandits woke up last round, what do you do now?

...and so on.

To me, what would be fun about the First Round Best Round house rule would be that the narrative would flow more naturally from Exploration Mode to Combat Mode. A DM could even prepare all the Passive Initiatives of the enemies beforehand, and have note of the Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom scores of the characters so they know immediately if an enemy goes before or after a character.

However, First Round Best Round would also preserve the randomness of Initiative Order, as soon as combat progresses to the second round.

The downside of this house rule would be that it rewards Dexterity even more. Dexterity is already a very powerful ability, and characters with high Dexterity would almost always start combat going first or second.

Another downside is that it would mess with the effects of spells and abilities that last until a character or combatant's next round. In the transition between the First Round and Second Round of combat, it would be possible for a character or enemy to be suffering from an effect for almost two rounds, or only one or two turns.

So what do you think? Would this help the narrative transition between Exploration (or Social ) and Combat? Would this house rule be any fun? What could it break in the game?
 

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Hex08

Explorer
I agree that stopping to make a bunch of rolls, and not just before combat starts, can ruin dramatic tension. I don't see many problems with your solution, it seems well thought out and easy to implement. As long as your players are cool with it I say go with it. The only change I would make, and you kind of address it, relates to dexterity being too important. Maybe make the Passive Initiative skill vary based on class - for Fighters it's Strength, Rogues are Dexterity, Clerics are wisdom, etc. This way initiative is based on the characters innate talent within their specialty. This may not make immediate sense, after all Dexterity obviously defines reaction time but maybe it shouldn't for everyone. Game balance and a character's mastery of their profession make good excuses for the change.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I agree that stopping to make a bunch of rolls, and not just before combat starts, can ruin dramatic tension. I don't see many problems with your solution, it seems well thought out and easy to implement. As long as your players are cool with it I say go with it. The only change I would make, and you kind of address it, relates to dexterity being too important. Maybe make the Passive Initiative skill vary based on class - for Fighters it's Strength, Rogues are Dexterity, Clerics are wisdom, etc. This way initiative is based on the characters innate talent within their specialty. This may not make immediate sense, after all Dexterity obviously defines reaction time but maybe it shouldn't for everyone. Game balance and a character's mastery of their profession make good excuses for the change.
That's an interesting idea!

I feel like comparing tied Passive Initiative might be too difficult if everyone is using different ability scores... but what if we then change Active Initiative to being based on different abilities: Fighter could be Strength or Dex, Barbarian Con or Dex, Wizard Int or Dex, etc etc etc. So for Passive Initiative you might not have the highest, but then you switch to your strength for the second round of combat.
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I like the idea!

However, I see three little issues with it.

1. Your passive initiative is composed of a base value of 10 to which is added the dexterity modifier. I don't see why other sources of bonus to initiative shouldn't be included. If I get some feats, or bonus from magic items to my initiative, you're damn sure I want it applied to my passive initiative.

2. Your passive initiative does not have the variance that the d20 usually brings. I'm not sure exactly what the distribution of Dex modifier among monsters are, but my gut feeling is telling me that you will get much more ties between players and monsters without the aforementioned variance.

3. Your method for dealing with these ties is interesting. I always liked the inclusion of other stats to initiative. However, you use the dexterity score as a first measure. Maybe I'm wrong, but in the case of two creatures having the same modifier, isn't there a 50/50 chance that they'll have the same score? I would maybe consider moving straight to other ability scores.

Points 2 and 3 are especially important to double check, because they theorically sabotage the exact thing you're seeking to gain by using this method: removed steps and a faster initiative.
 

TheSword

Legend
Stylistically it’s up to you of course.

For me, ‘roll for initiative’ represents that surge of adrenaline when you realize you’re about to be attacked. You see the threat, you realize the enemy is about to draw a weapon or cast a spell and your autonomic nervous system kicks in and that’s a dice roll.

I would prefer a slight break from reality at this point if it mixes things up. Rather than the same character always be fastest or the the same character always go last. Or players always go before the monsters. (Heroes tend to up dex more than most monsters in the PhB, particularly larger ones).

The phrase ‘roll for initiative’ is synonymous with ‘s#!ts about to get real!” If you are regularly having combats with trivial encounters with a broom then just don’t ask for initiative. Allow the broom to go first, then the barbarian and just let everyone else act in whatever order they want. I assume most combats in your game aren’t the equivalent to getting slapped in the face with warm yoghurt though.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It's time for a new house rule idea!

Has this ever happened to you? The adventure is going smoothly, tension is building, there's a shadowy figure around the corner, THEN SUDDENLY - roll Initiative!

DM: Okay, what did you get? Oh, you two tied, can you reroll? Oh, I forgot to roll for that monster. Oh, um, I also need to roll for that hidden monster... Oh wait, you're just going to Teleport Away? Well, that was wasted time.
First question: why not let ties happen simultaneously?

Second question: if they're going to Teleport away that still needs initiative, and stuff can happen before they leave (and-or the Teleport might get interrupted).
It's even worse when it's against a single weak opponent! The Barbarian opens a closet, an Animated Broom flies out to scratch his face, everyone rolls Initiative, the story pauses for two minutes while I collect everyone's initiative and write it in order, then the Broom is dead before we get through the first round.
I've had this happen with strong opponents. Them's the breaks, I guess...
So this house rule, which I'm calling First Round Best Round, is meant to keep the narrative flowing through the first round of combat.

First Round Best Round invents something called Passive Initiative. A character's Passive Initiative is 10 + Dexterity Modifier.

In the first round of combat, characters and enemies don't roll Initiative. Instead, the DM has already listed all the characters by their Passive Initiative Scores. The DM then inserts any enemies into order based on their Passive Initiatives.

Tied combatants compare Dexterity Scores (representing Reaction), then Intelligence Scores (representing Preparedness), then Wisdom Scores (representing Awareness).
Again, why bother breaking ties?
To me, what would be fun about the First Round Best Round house rule would be that the narrative would flow more naturally from Exploration Mode to Combat Mode. A DM could even prepare all the Passive Initiatives of the enemies beforehand, and have note of the Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom scores of the characters so they know immediately if an enemy goes before or after a character.

However, First Round Best Round would also preserve the randomness of Initiative Order, as soon as combat progresses to the second round.
Only for that round. After that, unless you're re-rolling each round it's not random at all.
The downside of this house rule would be that it rewards Dexterity even more. Dexterity is already a very powerful ability, and characters with high Dexterity would almost always start combat going first or second.

Another downside is that it would mess with the effects of spells and abilities that last until a character or combatant's next round. In the transition between the First Round and Second Round of combat, it would be possible for a character or enemy to be suffering from an effect for almost two rounds, or only one or two turns.
Answer here: move away from "until next turn" wording and have the effect last until the same initiative on the next round as it resolved this round, no matter whose turn it is.
So what do you think? Would this help the narrative transition between Exploration (or Social ) and Combat? Would this house rule be any fun? What could it break in the game?
The idea's fairly sound, but were it me I'd be doing some serious tweaking as noted above.
 

Passive initiative sounds boring, it makes it too predictable which characters will go first.

If you want to speed up initiative, how about pre-rolling instead? You should know the characters initiative rolls, so grab a notebook, roll up initiative orders for 4-5 fights in advance and write them down. Then when a fight start you can just take a page from the notebook, roll initiative for this encounter's monsters and quickly start playing.
 

Stalker0

Legend
Passive initiative sounds boring, it makes it too predictable which characters will go first.

If you want to speed up initiative, how about pre-rolling instead? You should know the characters initiative rolls, so grab a notebook, roll up initiative orders for 4-5 fights in advance and write them down. Then when a fight start you can just take a page from the notebook, roll initiative for this encounter's monsters and quickly start playing.
Yeah I personally like this idea better, as it provides that variance and still gives you that quick resolution your looking for.

initiative is cinematically very important, because it represents the characters ability to do anything, so allowing the high dex character to always go first simply makes that character the most important in combat….it makes dex just too powerful.
 

Hex08

Explorer
If you want to speed up initiative, how about pre-rolling instead? You should know the characters initiative rolls, so grab a notebook, roll up initiative orders for 4-5 fights in advance and write them down. Then when a fight start you can just take a page from the notebook, roll initiative for this encounter's monsters and quickly start playing.
I did this for a while in my 3.5 D&D game to speed up combat and also had the players generate a bunch of Spot rolls. Not sure why I stopped, I don't recall having problems with it.
 

mrpopstar

Sparkly Dude
It's time for a new house rule idea!

Has this ever happened to you? The adventure is going smoothly, tension is building, there's a shadowy figure around the corner, THEN SUDDENLY - roll Initiative!

DM: Okay, what did you get? Oh, you two tied, can you reroll? Oh, I forgot to roll for that monster. Oh, um, I also need to roll for that hidden monster... Oh wait, you're just going to Teleport Away? Well, that was wasted time.

I usually have just about everything organized and ready to go for when a fight breaks out in D&D. I have my monster stats ready, I've reviewed the rules, I have my Initiative Order notes ready, etc etc etc... and yet, calling for Initiative always seems to break the flow of the narrative of my adventures.

It's even worse when it's against a single weak opponent! The Barbarian opens a closet, an Animated Broom flies out to scratch his face, everyone rolls Initiative, the story pauses for two minutes while I collect everyone's initiative and write it in order, then the Broom is dead before we get through the first round.

So this house rule, which I'm calling First Round Best Round, is meant to keep the narrative flowing through the first round of combat.

First Round Best Round invents something called Passive Initiative. A character's Passive Initiative is 10 + Dexterity Modifier.

In the first round of combat, characters and enemies don't roll Initiative. Instead, the DM has already listed all the characters by their Passive Initiative Scores. The DM then inserts any enemies into order based on their Passive Initiatives.

Tied combatants compare Dexterity Scores (representing Reaction), then Intelligence Scores (representing Preparedness), then Wisdom Scores (representing Awareness).

The first round of combat proceeds as normal. The only difference is that at the end of each combatant's turn, they roll Initiative. These Initiative rolls are tracked by the DM, and in the second round of combat, Initiative Order is changed to reflect the new rolls.

Here's an example of play:

DM: Around the corner you find a band of bandits and a sleeping troll they have chained to a stake in the ground. They heard you arriving. (Looks at Passive Initiative Order: Ruby the Rogue 14, Sammy the Sorcerer 12, Frank the Fighter 11, Clara the Cleric 10) quickly puts in Troll 11a, Bandits 11b, Frank the Fighter 11c. The Troll goes first because its Dexterity is 13, compared with the Bandit 12. Frank's Dexterity is 12, but his Intelligence is 8 compared to the Bandit 10, so he goes last.) Ruby, how do you react? Sammy you're up next.

Ruby: I'm going to shoot an arrow at whoever looks like the leader. Then I'm going to Hide around the corner. (Rolls an attack, rolls a Stealth check, then at the end of her turn rolls Initiative.) My new Initiative is 10.

Sammy: I cast Sleep, then duck around the corner with Ruby before they can attack me! (Puts two Bandits to sleep, then at the end of his turn rolls Initiative.) My new Initiative is 21!

DM: The troll is surprised this round, so doesn't act. But you see him stirring and ready to wake up. (Rolls Initiative for the Troll, gets 20.) Now the Bandits charge in, though one hangs back to wake one of his companions. (Bandits attack Frank and Clara, then roll 11 for Initiative.) Frank, what do you do? Clara, you're after him.

Frank: I grin and say, "Finally, some action!" And I start chopping away with my axe! (Rolls to attack the Bandits, then rolls Initiative). Oh man, a natural 1! My new Initiative is 2.

Clara: I raise my shield and call to Pelor to bless my allies, and I cast Bless. (Rolls Initiative.) My new Initiative is 4. At least I beat Frank!

DM: (Looks down at the new Initiatives written during combat.) As the troll starts to stir awake, the new Initiative Order is: Sammy, Troll, Bandits, Ruby, Clara, Frank. Sammy, one of the sleeping bandits woke up last round, what do you do now?

...and so on.

To me, what would be fun about the First Round Best Round house rule would be that the narrative would flow more naturally from Exploration Mode to Combat Mode. A DM could even prepare all the Passive Initiatives of the enemies beforehand, and have note of the Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom scores of the characters so they know immediately if an enemy goes before or after a character.

However, First Round Best Round would also preserve the randomness of Initiative Order, as soon as combat progresses to the second round.

The downside of this house rule would be that it rewards Dexterity even more. Dexterity is already a very powerful ability, and characters with high Dexterity would almost always start combat going first or second.

Another downside is that it would mess with the effects of spells and abilities that last until a character or combatant's next round. In the transition between the First Round and Second Round of combat, it would be possible for a character or enemy to be suffering from an effect for almost two rounds, or only one or two turns.

So what do you think? Would this help the narrative transition between Exploration (or Social ) and Combat? Would this house rule be any fun? What could it break in the game?
There's an initiative score option in the Dungeon Master's Guide that works similarly (pg. 270).
 

Quickleaf

Legend
It's time for a new house rule idea!

Has this ever happened to you? The adventure is going smoothly, tension is building, there's a shadowy figure around the corner, THEN SUDDENLY - roll Initiative!

DM: Okay, what did you get? Oh, you two tied, can you reroll? Oh, I forgot to roll for that monster. Oh, um, I also need to roll for that hidden monster... Oh wait, you're just going to Teleport Away? Well, that was wasted time.

I usually have just about everything organized and ready to go for when a fight breaks out in D&D. I have my monster stats ready, I've reviewed the rules, I have my Initiative Order notes ready, etc etc etc... and yet, calling for Initiative always seems to break the flow of the narrative of my adventures.

It's even worse when it's against a single weak opponent! The Barbarian opens a closet, an Animated Broom flies out to scratch his face, everyone rolls Initiative, the story pauses for two minutes while I collect everyone's initiative and write it in order, then the Broom is dead before we get through the first round.

So this house rule, which I'm calling First Round Best Round, is meant to keep the narrative flowing through the first round of combat.

First Round Best Round invents something called Passive Initiative. A character's Passive Initiative is 10 + Dexterity Modifier.

In the first round of combat, characters and enemies don't roll Initiative. Instead, the DM has already listed all the characters by their Passive Initiative Scores. The DM then inserts any enemies into order based on their Passive Initiatives.

Tied combatants compare Dexterity Scores (representing Reaction), then Intelligence Scores (representing Preparedness), then Wisdom Scores (representing Awareness).

The first round of combat proceeds as normal. The only difference is that at the end of each combatant's turn, they roll Initiative. These Initiative rolls are tracked by the DM, and in the second round of combat, Initiative Order is changed to reflect the new rolls.

Here's an example of play:

DM: Around the corner you find a band of bandits and a sleeping troll they have chained to a stake in the ground. They heard you arriving. (Looks at Passive Initiative Order: Ruby the Rogue 14, Sammy the Sorcerer 12, Frank the Fighter 11, Clara the Cleric 10) quickly puts in Troll 11a, Bandits 11b, Frank the Fighter 11c. The Troll goes first because its Dexterity is 13, compared with the Bandit 12. Frank's Dexterity is 12, but his Intelligence is 8 compared to the Bandit 10, so he goes last.) Ruby, how do you react? Sammy you're up next.

Ruby: I'm going to shoot an arrow at whoever looks like the leader. Then I'm going to Hide around the corner. (Rolls an attack, rolls a Stealth check, then at the end of her turn rolls Initiative.) My new Initiative is 10.

Sammy: I cast Sleep, then duck around the corner with Ruby before they can attack me! (Puts two Bandits to sleep, then at the end of his turn rolls Initiative.) My new Initiative is 21!

DM: The troll is surprised this round, so doesn't act. But you see him stirring and ready to wake up. (Rolls Initiative for the Troll, gets 20.) Now the Bandits charge in, though one hangs back to wake one of his companions. (Bandits attack Frank and Clara, then roll 11 for Initiative.) Frank, what do you do? Clara, you're after him.

Frank: I grin and say, "Finally, some action!" And I start chopping away with my axe! (Rolls to attack the Bandits, then rolls Initiative). Oh man, a natural 1! My new Initiative is 2.

Clara: I raise my shield and call to Pelor to bless my allies, and I cast Bless. (Rolls Initiative.) My new Initiative is 4. At least I beat Frank!

DM: (Looks down at the new Initiatives written during combat.) As the troll starts to stir awake, the new Initiative Order is: Sammy, Troll, Bandits, Ruby, Clara, Frank. Sammy, one of the sleeping bandits woke up last round, what do you do now?

...and so on.

To me, what would be fun about the First Round Best Round house rule would be that the narrative would flow more naturally from Exploration Mode to Combat Mode. A DM could even prepare all the Passive Initiatives of the enemies beforehand, and have note of the Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom scores of the characters so they know immediately if an enemy goes before or after a character.

However, First Round Best Round would also preserve the randomness of Initiative Order, as soon as combat progresses to the second round.

The downside of this house rule would be that it rewards Dexterity even more. Dexterity is already a very powerful ability, and characters with high Dexterity would almost always start combat going first or second.

Another downside is that it would mess with the effects of spells and abilities that last until a character or combatant's next round. In the transition between the First Round and Second Round of combat, it would be possible for a character or enemy to be suffering from an effect for almost two rounds, or only one or two turns.

So what do you think? Would this help the narrative transition between Exploration (or Social ) and Combat? Would this house rule be any fun? What could it break in the game?
I see this as solving one problem (which isn't a universal problem but more individual table dependent), but inventing several others. There are a lot of side effects to this house rule that I would call negative side effects...
  • First Round Best Round...well, think about surprise...that's still the first round. Say goblins (passive initiative 12) surprise the party whose rogue has passive initiative 16. Now when cycling through initiative order during that first round in which everyone is surprised, the rogue will ALWAYS against goblins (and really most monsters in the MM, because players get more initiative boosts) have their turn come first. That means the rogue will always go before the goblins, which means that the "can't use reactions" element of being surprised will no longer apply to that rogue EVER in that situation, and so they are gaining an effective permanent benefit.
  • First Round Best Round encourages prioritizing initiative & alpha striking tactics... beyond and above how those things are already encouraged.
  • When dealing with a certain type of enemy repeatedly across multiple combats, First Round Best Round injects greater predictability... which means less chances for the initiative dice to support/encourage interesting situations or complicated situations.
If I were to play using this idea, I would alter it to be a Monster Initiative Score, so that yes players would still roll, but the monsters would have static scores. So you're cutting out half the problem (i.e. the DM's side) that causes slowing pre-combat that can interrupt the flow and immersion and excitement for some groups. I think that – coupled with a more intelligent approach to initiative ties – would accomplish much of what you're shooting for without causing all those negative side effects.
 

Passive initiative sounds boring, it makes it too predictable which characters will go first.

If you want to speed up initiative, how about pre-rolling instead? You should know the characters initiative rolls, so grab a notebook, roll up initiative orders for 4-5 fights in advance and write them down. Then when a fight start you can just take a page from the notebook, roll initiative for this encounter's monsters and quickly start playing.
Great idea! You might still have to reroll for ties, but it wouldn't be everybody, and it would definitely be quicker.
 






Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I think that your reason for wanting to have passive initiative doesn't go away if you initiate this rule. You say that stopping to roll to fight a broom(or other weak creature) that will die quickly is the reason you want to go passive for the first round, but all that does is push the issue to the next tier of monster. Now almost weak creatures that would have died in round 2 will be weakened in round 1, then require everyone to stop and roll initiative for a creature that will die in round 2.

Perhaps you guys should consider going passive every round.
 

I don't have a problem with passive initiative for quick combats. It can just speed things up.
But I don't think it really solves some of the problems you are having. It just pushes them off to the second round. Instead of the whole "Roll for Initiative" moment/sequence that serves as a transition from Exploration to Combat, you have a quick round of combat and then a lull while you finish up initiative and make sure everyone has a new initiative score. It might be a shorter lull and ultimately be a shorter overall time, but a lull between rounds would break the narrative flow more that a lull before the combat starts. Plus, I kind of like that intervening time between rolling initiative and starting combat. It allows everyone to think about what to do and get hyped up for the battle.
To me, it seems way more likely that someone will be missed this was than in the normal system.
I think there are much better ways to speed up initiative than your proposed way. Not that it wouldn't work, just that other options exist.
 


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