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

I often thought about using the optional initiative system in the dmg, but only for the first round of combat.
So you can declare your action first and then you will know, when it is your turn.
Then you use the normal method.

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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.
Hasn't happened to me in .... 6 years? I love FG. Does all that for me in milliseconds.
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.
Not bad. As others have mentioned, you need to account for magic items and features, etc. It also means that PCs will almost always go first since very few NPCs have high dex or any feats to help.

Personally, I would rather have the players roll initiative at the beginning of the session, have them roll it 5 times and then record it all., and you can do the same for NPCs when you create the encounters. If you put it in a spreadsheet or other digital tool, it can handle this for you in less than a minute to put together the initiative order. Or if you use a DM screen, you can do the same with initiative cards you hang over and just re-order them at the start of combat. I always thought they were a cool visual that were easy to use.

Finally, to me, randomness of combat is important, even in the first round :)

Every table will vary, of course, but one solution to the possible problem of the initiative swoosh breaking "dramatic tension" is to have the players roll initiative at the start of the session and then, if combat should ensue, have them roll initiative at the end of the combat. Pre-rolling for known monsters (as @turnip_farmer suggests above) also saves a little time.

We used to do all that and now we have reverted back to just rolling initiative if combats happen. On the VTT, initiative is rolled and recorded rather quickly - maybe taking all of 5 to 10 seconds. Hasn't been a big deal in interrupting game play. I've found in those 5 to 10 seconds, the players also have a moment to start thinking about what they are going to do. Therein lies the biggest deflator of dramatic tension, IMO - the player who is not ready for their turn and takes more than 10 seconds to decide what to do. Every. Round. But that's an topic for another thread.


When I play face to face, all monsters have pre-rolled initiative. If something invalidates it, I reroll, but that is rare.

I allow players to elect to move down the initiative order in their first turn.

I don't have any problems with initiative other than players losing track of when they go and being surprised when it is their turn - every single round.


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?
As a DM I roll initiative for all monsters and NPCs I know of ahead of time, that speeds it up a lot. I don't particularly like the idea of passive initiative.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
5e uses a creature's action as a proxy for one full turn for durations. A lot of things last until the start or end of your turn. This is great shorthand for "each gets X chances to be affected by", such as a Shield spell will only block one round from any creature. But this streamlining rests on the non-changing nature of initiative. My monk suddenly stunning a foe for two of their actions because I rolled a lower (and lower always is worse in 5e) initiative is a non-starter. So we'd need to instiutute a different method of tracking duration and that overhead isn't worth it.

Any system where initiative order changes between rounds is heavily flawed in 5e because of the streamlining that assumes it, and therefore doesn't work for me.


passive for NPCs/monsters, active for players.

It still gives thrill of the rolls, but removes double swinginess of opposed rolls.


One thing I like about the small break that takes place during initiative rolling is that it gives the players a spare moment to think on what they want to do that first round- if they capitalize on it.

I personally really like the "roll initiative" moment created by normal initiative rolling. It both announces that the excitement is imminent and its time for everyone to get ready to focus in while at the same time mandating an accounting pause where people can think about their plans, go to the bathroom, or whatever else they need to do to be ready to give the table their full attention in three minutes when we actually start the fight. Personally for me it raises the tension more often than it spoils it to have to spend some time just wondering what's going to happen.

I can see some value in streamlining things for very minor, low-stakes encounters expected to be more or less resolved within a round, particularly if you have a larger party. But really I don't see having to check people's passive initiatives as substantially less work than just rolling.

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