D&D 5E Why use initiative?

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
Some time after I first tried DMing 5th edition, I ran into a video by Matt Colville in his Running the Game series on YouTube. In it he mentioned a really cool alternative to initiative that one of the creators of 5E came up with:

D4 for ranged. D8 for melee. D12 for spellcasting. +D6 to move and/or do something. The lower rolls go first. This process occurs at the beginning of each round.

There are a couple of things that this accomplishes extremely well. The more actions you make, the longer you will need to perform them. Also some actions are more complicated and take more time to perform.

Not only is this more immersive when players think about how long it will take them to do what they want to do, but it actively encourages players to have fun strategizing with each other during many rounds. It also adds a very welcome layer to the strategy because now players can actually try to get an earlier initiative on a given turn, and they have to think about the cost/benefit ratio for the things that they do. E.g. "how can I heal Rumlar, and do it quick?"

So IMO this alternative is not only mechanically superior but it is more immersive. It makes combat feel real.
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
IIRC Mike Mearls proposed that on Twitter a few years ago.

(Ah yes, I wrote about it here in 2017!)

 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
IIRC Mike Mearls proposed that on Twitter a few years ago.

(Ah yes, I wrote about it here in 2017!)

Thank you very much for that, Morrus. The strangest thing happened and when I went to find this information again, and find the game developer's name, I couldn't because it appears Matt Colville took that video down? It's nowhere in his Running the Game playlist and I couldn't search YT for it either.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Yes, this type of system has many variants and is a way of basically introducing speed factors without the modifiers being static, but replacing your d20 with other dice. IIRC I think there was even a UA on it called the Greyhawk Initiative variant, but I could be mistaken.

If you want to make it even more realistic, break up the action on the die rolls (in case you aren't already doing that).

For example, if a ranged PC shoots and then moves, they roll the d4 to find out when they shoot, and then roll the d6, adding it, to find out when the move. It breaks up the individual turns and makes combat more dynamic IME.

We play tested this for a bit, but ultimately when with our own Cinematic Initiative Variant, which does break up turns and keeps everyone engaged in combat more. If you're interested, the initial thread is here:


But it has been updated since then, so PM if you want more details.

EDIT: also you might want to change your threat title, since what your OP is about is still initiative, just not the standard d20 version. From the title I thought you were going to talk about really NOT using any sort of initiative
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
Yes, this type of system has many variants and is a way of basically introducing speed factors without the modifiers being static, but replacing your d20 with other dice. IIRC I think there was even a UA on it called the Greyhawk Initiative variant, but I could be mistaken.

If you want to make it even more realistic, break up the action on the die rolls (in case you aren't already doing that).

For example, if a ranged PC shoots and then moves, they roll the d4 to find out when they shoot, and then roll the d6, adding it, to find out when the move. It breaks up the individual turns and makes combat more dynamic IME.

We play tested this for a bit, but ultimately when with our own Cinematic Initiative Variant, which does break up turns and keeps everyone engaged in combat more. If you're interested, the initial thread is here:


But it has been updated since then, so PM if you want more details.

EDIT: also you might want to change your threat title, since what your OP is about is still initiative, just not the standard d20 version. From the title I thought you were going to talk about really NOT using any sort of initiative

While I love looking at these kinds of things and will gratefully check out the thread you've referenced, I have to admit that a lot of the other things that people propose sound too noodly to me, and appear as if they might slow the pace of combat too much. The last thing I want is for an encounter to be a slog.

E.g. when you bring up influencing your initiative more than once in a turn by essentially breaking up your turn into multiple turns during a round, that sounds awesome and immersive. But it also sounds pretty noodly and like it would add unwanted bloat to each round. Not to mention that it could be a headache to keep track of.
 


DND_Reborn

Legend
While I love looking at these kinds of things and will gratefully check out the thread you've referenced, I have to admit that a lot of the other things that people propose sound too noodly to me, and appear as if they might slow the pace of combat too much. The last thing I want is for an encounter to be a slog.

E.g. when you bring up influencing your initiative more than once in a turn by essentially breaking up your turn into multiple turns during a round, that sounds awesome and immersive. But it also sounds pretty noodly and like it would add unwanted bloat to each round. Not to mention that it could be a headache to keep track of.
It really isn't that difficult to track, and I encourage groups to try those variants for a few sessions if the idea appeals to you. If it doesn't then no worries. :)

Each person has a level of complexity when it comes to such things they are most comfortable with:

Side Initiative (no reroll)
Individual Initiative (no reroll)
Side Initiative (reroll each round)
Individual Initiative (reroll each round)
Using Speed Factors
Using Variable Dice (the OP)
By Actions (breaking up the OP by dice rolls)
Cinematic Initiative
and beyond...

While I do like this in concept, it doesn't seem like it would be any faster, but rather longer, than default initiative. I would have to playtest it. Have others tried it out? What was your experience?
There's a learning curve, of course, but you get standard "action sets" so you will know which dice to use quickly.

Whether the benefit is worth the slight time increase is up to you. Frankly, we've been using cinematic initiative for over a year now and it goes really fast for us at this point, keeps players more engaged, is more realistic; and at this point I would never go back to regular initiative.
 

dave2008

Legend
I never tried it but it has always bothered me that ranged actions had the lowest modifier. That makes no sense to me, you need time to aim with a ranged attack that you don't with melee and it takes longer to get to its target! I would do it like:

d6 melee
d8 ranged
d10 magic

and maybe +d4 if you include movement.
 
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Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
While I do like this in concept, it doesn't seem like it would be any faster, but rather longer, than default initiative. I would have to playtest it. Have others tried it out? What was your experience?
DND Reborn nailed it on the head here. It really is entirely up to the players and how accustomed they are to using the rules.

The part where they're actually rolling becomes second nature and takes no time it all. The only time consuming part is the strategy but really it's just segregating the strategic dialogue more to the beginning of the turn, instead of players stopping and strategizing more often mid turn.
 

Nebulous

Legend
Some years back there was a thread about card based initiative that I ran with for quite a long time. Basically, PCs had initiative cards, and the higher your Dex the more cards you get,. When a fight started, you shuffled monster and PCs cards together and the DM pulls them one at time. The more cards in the deck, the higher your odds of going first. End of the round the deck is reshuffled and the count starts over. Pros: it was a minigame every round. The only slow part was putting the deck together, but once we got the hang of it, it was fast. I loved the drama of not knowing who was going to go next. Players loved it when they went last in a round and then got to go immediately first the next round. Cons: Players hated it when a monster went last and then first. (I didn't mind that one bit). Spells that last "until your next turn" could get cut off quickly. Oh, and I had to make and laminate all the cards. It was very time intensive, but I still have a fat deck of hundreds of permanent cards with color pictures.
 


Second question. As a dm, How do you roll for multiple mobs? I mean, you have to decide if each one is 1) moving; 2) using melee or ranged or spellcasting.

that’s lots of individual decisions and rolling. Whereas, with traditional initiative, you could roll one d20 for the whole side, if you wanted to be quick.
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
Or advantage for the low roll.
Advantage makes more mechanical sense as -5 to your result would be way too much, it would even trivialize the system. On a D20 rolling with advantage is the mathematical equivalent of +5, but +/- 25% success chance isn't something you could represent with a +/- 5 modifier.

Advantage on the other hand normally gives you the rough equivalent of 25%.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
I never tried it but it has always bothered me that ranged actions had the lowest modifier. That makes no sense to me, you need time to aim with a ranged attack that you don't with melee and it takes longer to get to its target! I would do like:

d6 melee
d8 ranged
d10 magic

and maybe +d4 if you include movement.
Not to mention the time (however brief) it takes to pull ammunition, load it, aim, fire, and the ammunition has to travel to the target.

Also, when we tried this, we did variable for magic:

Cantrip: d4 - 1
Level 1-4: d4
Level 5-6: d6
Level 7-8: d8
Level 9: d10

Also, one component = -1, three components = +1

Minimum is 0.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
I never tried it but it has always bothered me that ranged actions had the lowest modifier. That makes no sense to me, you need time to aim with a ranged attack that you don't with melee and it takes longer to get to its target! I would do like:

d6 melee
d8 ranged
d10 magic

and maybe +d4 if you include movement.
Yes, me too, at least in systems like this one that considers movement as its own action.

The main advantage of range attack is - well - range, so your initiative advantage resides in the fact that enemies have to add +d6 movement to their initiative just to get to you.

If movement does not modify initiative however, I tend to agree with a range = quicker attacks because historically, range weapons supplanted melee because you could kill or disable your opponent before they could get to you.

In the same mindset, you could turn the "reach" property of weapon not in distance so much as in an initiative bonus of some sort. Actually, this would work best for theatre-of-the-mind combats where distances are a bit fuzzier in the first place.
 

Advantage makes more mechanical sense as -5 to your result would be way too much, it would even trivialize the system.
A player in one of my games has multiple bonuses to initiative from class features and feats. I guess he’d get double or triple advantage?

or maybe just -1 on each dice for each ability that grants him a boost?
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
Not to mention the time (however brief) it takes to pull ammunition, load it, aim, fire, and the ammunition has to travel to the target.

Also, when we tried this, we did variable for magic:

Cantrip: d4 - 1
Level 1-4: d4
Level 5-6: d6
Level 7-8: d8
Level 9: d10

Also, one component = -1, three components = +1

Minimum is 0.

I've really been tempted by trying different variables and making ranged combat different, but my main roadblock has been my reticence to add a bunch more variables to the system.

It has worked so well for us in part because you don't have to remember so many different categories of things in order to determine your initiative.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
Some years back there was a thread about card based initiative that I ran with for quite a long time. Basically, PCs had initiative cards, and the higher your Dex the more cards you get,. When a fight started, you shuffled monster and PCs cards together and the DM pulls them one at time. The more cards in the deck, the higher your odds of going first. End of the round the deck is reshuffled and the count starts over. Pros: it was a minigame every round. The only slow part was putting the deck together, but once we got the hang of it, it was fast. I loved the drama of not knowing who was going to go next. Players loved it when they went last in a round and then got to go immediately first the next round. Cons: Players hated it when a monster went last and then first. (I didn't mind that one bit). Spells that last "until your next turn" could get cut off quickly. Oh, and I had to make and laminate all the cards. It was very time intensive, but I still have a fat deck of hundreds of permanent cards with color pictures.
I don't remember participating in this thread, but one advantage that comes immediately to my mind is that it would be an easy way to randomize combat advantages and opportunities provided by terrain (or just providence), which otherwise tends to be ignored in D&D and RPG in general, simply by adding text or icon to the card.
 

Scruffy nerf herder

Toaster Loving AdMech Boi
A player in one of my games has multiple bonuses to initiative from class features and feats. I guess he’d get double or triple advantage?

or maybe just -1 on each dice for each ability that grants him a boost?

I suppose that entirely depends on whether you want those feats to mean he is getting as much as a 50% or even 75% bonus to his success.

The -1 for each doesn't sound too bad but then again three feats would instantly guarantee a 1 every time that player rolls a D4.
 

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