D&D General The Problem with Individual Initiative

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
I find that one rather simple trope from almost any action/sf story feels unnecessary difficult to port to 5e D&D: the knight that guards everyone's back allowing their team mates to retreat. I understand why delaying was sacrificed on the Altar of Speeding up play for 5th edition but for example I have player who's knight always refused to retreat until he's sure his companions are safely away. Under 5e this means that depending upon his character's initiative he will often be left alone until his next turn. Does anyone else find that the cyclical initiative precludes reasonable group tactics? At least in pre-5e the players could agree to all delay until they could retreat as a group, it led to them losing better placement in the initiative order but it was still an option.

I'm really noticing this because since it isn't really practical to manage the enemy's initiative individually this provides the 'bad guys' with an advantage of sorts because they can act as a unit and the PC's cannot. How do you deal with this?

M
I'm not sure I understand the situation you're describing. If the knight refuses to retreat until his companions are away, then wouldn't that entail his being left alone momentarily, i.e. they are retreating while he is not? And yet it's described as a problem with individual initiative that the party isn't retreating as a group. It seems to me that's just what this player is describing their character as doing, but maybe I'm not understanding something.

That being said, why isn't it sufficient to declare an action to ready a retreat once the knight's companions are all safely away?
 

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Fanaelialae

Legend
I'm not sure I understand the situation you're describing. If the knight refuses to retreat until his companions are away, then wouldn't that entail his being left alone momentarily, i.e. they are retreating while he is not? And yet it's described as a problem with individual initiative that the party isn't retreating as a group. It seems to me that's just what this player is describing their character as doing, but maybe I'm not understanding something.

That being said, why isn't it sufficient to declare an action to ready a retreat once the knight's companions are all safely away?
To address your question, RAW doesn't allow you to ready movement. I'd allow it; it's not as though it's game breaking. But under RAW movement isn't an action. You can Dash as an action, but that doesn't actually allow you to move; it just doubles your speed.
 

Oofta

Legend
To address your question, RAW doesn't allow you to ready movement. I'd allow it; it's not as though it's game breaking. But under RAW movement isn't an action. You can Dash as an action, but that doesn't actually allow you to move; it just doubles your speed.
The ready action specifically states that you can ready to move

From the Ready section in the PHB, bolding added:
First, you decide what perceivable circumstance will trigger your reaction. Then, you choose the action you will take in response to that trigger, or you choose to move up to your speed in response to it​
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
To address your question, RAW doesn't allow you to ready movement. I'd allow it; it's not as though it's game breaking. But under RAW movement isn't an action. You can Dash as an action, but that doesn't actually allow you to move; it just doubles your speed.
The ready action specifically states that you can ready to move

From the Ready section in the PHB, bolding added:
First, you decide what perceivable circumstance will trigger your reaction. Then, you choose the action you will take in response to that trigger, or you choose to move up to your speed in response to it​
Just to add to this, I think the player would need to specify what "perceivable circumstance" would constitute the knight's companions being "safely away", and then, once those conditions have been met, they would trigger the knight's movement. This seems serviceable to me, but maybe the objection has to do with the knight not being allowed to also take the disengage action. I would look at it as the price of coordinating the retreat with his party members.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I would look at it as the price of coordinating the retreat with his party members.

I do think that sometimes what people (though not necessarily the OP or other posters in this thread) mean when they say "5E doesn't have rules that allow retreat as an option," what they mean is "retreat without consequences or sacrifice."
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
I do think that sometimes what people (though not necessarily the OP or other posters in this thread) mean when they say "5E doesn't have rules that allow retreat as an option," what they mean is "retreat without consequences or sacrifice."
As DM, I use morale rules for the monsters which often have them retreat or be routed, and while they often sustain casualties thereby, many of them do escape. The PCs in games I've run, on the other hand, have never run from a battle in my recollection. I think this is because they can generally choose their battles. It's rare that they are attacked unavoidably.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
Even if you can retreat, the real issue is when/how you exit combat. The pursuit rules assume that you're not acting in initiative order. While you remain in combat, enemies can chase you and continue attacking you. Most enemies are as fast or faster than party members, so unless they have a good reason not to pursue and make you sure don't come back for a second try when they obviously have the advantage (which, I mean, they do since you want to run), retreat can be impossible unless you have a prepared tactic for it (at low levels, I like to keep a fog cloud prepared if I can to cover retreat, but this isn't an option for every party).

Basically the DM has to step in and end combat, the game doesn't tell you when you should, and it's unreliable enough that some players have never seen a retreat that doesn't end with someone being left behind to get murdered. Which, at that point, many feel you might as well just stand and fight.

Related to this problem is the fact that many players don't realize they should have run until the moment to do so has passed; the DM has to be very transparent about the strength of enemies vs. the party, and the 5e rules don't support transparency very well. There's no default mechanic to judge enemy strength (a few subclasses get something, like the Battlemaster, but it's difficult to employ in most battles) ala 3e-4e monster knowledge checks, and even if you are familiar with an enemy type, there are stronger variants out there (is that Hobgoblin Devastator or a Hobgoblin Iron Shadow?). Add to that the risk of (in a classic dungeon) of just fleeing into a patrol or another encounter, and it's easy to understand why fleeing isn't a viable tactic.

People who have played video game RPG's know this well. You might have a "flee" command, but it's effectiveness varies from "cast a spell and instantly leave battle" to "75% chance to give all enemies a free round of attacks on you".

It's not just, as el-remmen notes, that players don't want consequences or sacrifices involved with fleeing; they need to know what those are, and if they aren't significantly less dire than just staying and hoping the RNG gods say you win the day (or make the enemy flee, which can be a very rare event at some tables, where monsters just tend to fight to the death), there isn't much point to it.
 

Andvari

Hero
The one thing I do that aids in things is to not be completely dogmatic about the game mechanics when it comes to combat, and instead be more than willing to do narrative depending on what players/monsters wish to do.

Case in point, retreating. If the players want to retreat the game mechanics are set up such that the player moves, the monster moves and become adjacent, the player moves again and the monster gets an opportunity attack, the monster then move adjacent again, etc. etc. etc. And in "theory" the PC gets killed and can never get away if you stay strictly with game mechanic combat above all else.

Which is why I don't. If a PC runs off to retreat, I might have a monster move once to try and engage... but often I'll just zoom out narratively and say the monster watches the retreating PC, maybe fires a ranged attack at them if they have one, but otherwise the PC can just get away. And I can make that decision just as the DM for what makes sense to the narrative of the fight we are in, and thus never have to create these complex "house rule" systems for retreating in order to let PCs get away within the context of the game mechanics.

The game mechanics for combat are fine and all... but they aren't so great that I care to keep every single fight within their ruleset. At some point just waving my hand and saying "what makes story sense here?" trumps any need for an enslavement to the miniature combat rules.
The combat system is a tool for determining which side wins when two opposing factions try to defeat each other. It's not intended to solve the problem of evading another group. D&D used to have rules for evasion, but it doesn't anymore. So you're going about it the right way.
 


James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
I can't say I agree that they need to know. Often you don't know the price you will pay until you try.
It's the difference between making an informed, strategic decision, and flipping a coin, really. In my games, I like it when the players have the opportunity to make good decisions (even if they still fail to do so). That's just my playstyle. You might prefer things to be more murky, and therefore mysterious. And if that's what your players enjoy, fantastic!

But you can't be then surprised when people are leery about running from a situation that is known (we're losing, but we might get lucky) to one that is unknown (we might get chased and lose people, run into more monsters, or maybe get away).
 

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