View Full Version : D&D 5e/Next Half-Side Initiative (Alternate Initiative)

2017-07-24, 01:54 PM
I recently read through the newest UA article, in which Mr. Mearls lays out his alternative initiative system. Well, most of it. Honestly, with all due respect to Mr. Mearls, there's way too much involved in that system, and it really isn't right for my table. That said, I do think there's room for more initiative variants in the system. I've been toying with a slight variation on the concept of side initiative on my drives home lately. I'd like to present it here, for criticism, critique, and general commentary.

At the moment, I'm calling this "half-side initiative", because I don't really have a good idea for what to name it. Let's start by breaking down why I think there needs to be an alternate initiative system in the first place.

Static initiative orders - In the standard system, you roll initiative for every actor at the beginning of a combat encounter, and you continue to use that order pretty much unmodified until the encounter is concluded. I don't like that because it locks people in to a specific order in combat -- it contributes to the feeling of combat as a chess game, each piece moving one at a time, and doesn't really support the feeling or a true melée or scrum. The changing, chaotic pace of combat can be described, but in actual game actions, we're proceeding in a very orderly fashion, and after a round or two, a player can even begin to make strategic decisions based on initiative order, which feels very counter to the idea of a true battle.
Delayed actions - I'm aware that, as-written, there's no "delay" action in 5e, but many of my players come from earlier editions, and vehemently believe that it should be part of the system. If they are allowed into the system, then they raise many of the same complaints I have about static initiative orders -- the character may be in a pitched battle, but the player is taking advantage of a game construct in order to make strategic decisions. If they aren't allowed, then the question of why players can't just choose to act later or hold actions in order to interact with each other during combat has to be answered and adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, which becomes an additional load on the DM.
Pacing - The start of a combat round always includes a short delay while the DM asks everyone to roll initiative, count it up, and relay it to him, so that he can write it down and begin. There are various tricks that many DMs use to help speed this up, but there's always a little bit of ramp-up while you get started. Once combat is enjoined, everyone proceeds in single-file. This means that each person takes their turn in isolation, while the rest of the group waits. Indecisive or analytical players can take a long time to decide on their actions, and no one else gets to really do anything while they make their decisions. It's on the DM to keep the game moving, but it's difficult to do so without having those players feel artificially rushed and thus unsatisfied.

I've been trying to think of ways to handle initiative that don't break the game too much, but that also help to address some of the issues I have with the current system. This is my attempt at doing so.

Half-Side Initiative

1. At the top of every round, players roll initiative. The DM also rolls initiative for all of the NPCs and monsters as a group, using the highest initiative modifier of the group for the roll.

2. The DM announces his or her total. All players that have a higher or equal initiative count than that number (referred to as the first half) declare their actions. The actions are handled more or less in the order that the players declare them at that point, unless one player's action would conflict with another. In that case, the action of the player with the higher initiative roll takes precedence.

For example, if Alice wants to attack Orc A, while Bob wants to attack Orc B, it doesn't really matter in what order those two things happen. But if both Alice and Bob want to attack Orc A, it now matters because if Alice kills Orc A, Bob's action is nullified. In that case, the DM is encouraged to adjudicate Alice's actions first, then allow Bob to re-declare and take his action.

3. After all players in the first group have taken their actions, the DM adjudicates all NPC and monster actions. The DM controls all these critters, so they happen in whatever order the DM decides they do.

4. After the NPCs and monsters have had their turn, the remaining players (referred to as the second half) then declare their actions. The GM adjudicates them using the same guideline as the first half (described in point 2).

5. Repeat until combat is ended.

OPTION: DELAY - If a player is in the first half of initiative, and instead wishes to wait until the second half to act, they can declare that and then do so.

What does this do for us?

Half-Side Initiative helps us address the grievances laid out in the first section above.

Static initiative orders - By rolling initiative each round, there's no guarantee you will always be on top of the list. Nor, then, will you always be on the bottom. Instead, the fortunes and advantages of each side change each round, better reflecting the chaos of an actual battle. Because you won't know when a certain person's turn will next come up after the end of the round, it limits planning ahead by more than a round, forcing players to address the tactical situation in the present.
Delayed actions - Between re-rolling initiative every round and having players work as one or more groups, the need for delayed actions is greatly reduced. Two players that want to do something at the same time ("I want to team up with Bob to clothesline the orc chieftain!") can simply do that without worrying about turn order. The only time a player may wish to delay is if their potential partner is in the later initiative group, which is allowed. There is an obvious risk here, in that you are guaranteed to now have to contend with the monsters' actions before getting to do whatever it is you're waiting for, but it is greatly simplified over current models of delayed actions.
Pacing - Each player needs only remember if their number at the top of each round is greater or less than a single number. That's it. Roll initiative, who's above 16, okay, what do you all do? In addition, when everyone is deciding how to proceed at once, it provides a more natural pressure for slower players to act without feeling like they, personally, are being rushed to make a decision.

So, that's my proposal. I'm not currently DM'ing a game, though, so I'm not really able to put it to the test in actual gameplay right now. I do think it's a pretty solid base for a more loosey-goosey initiative system than the more rigid, standard, turn-by-turn setup. That said, what am I missing? What have I not taken into account? Is there a flaw with adjudication that I'm not seeing or that I'm over-simplifying? Would you ever consider trying something like this in your game, and if so, why or why not?

2017-07-26, 05:58 PM
Welp, just a quick bump to see if there's any interest in this. Anyone have any comments?

2017-07-26, 06:14 PM
It's not bad, my critique at first look is that by having all the monsters go no the same initiative, things can be a little swingy. If only one hero rolls higher then the villains, then you potentially have a large number of enemies acting before anyone else get's a chance to act. It's not a large problem, but it is something to be aware of.

The other thing that Mearls initiative did that I liked was reduced the importance of Dex as it already is so important.

In the end, unless I'm missing something, it seems you're just having people reroll initiative every round, and clumping the DM's monster together. It's simple for sure, which is a strength, but I don't know if it helps create the granularity of a more chaotic battle, that I'd be looking for in an alternative initiative system.

(in fact I threw my own revised version of Mearls initiative yesterday if you want to take a look)

2017-07-31, 08:49 PM
Two concerns:
- Lots of critters on the DMs turn. A bundle of the same enemy type would be fine, but if you have a lot of different creatures then having everyone going at once might be a problem. Theres also a smaller problem with slow creatures taking advantage of having an ally with a high init bonus.
- Lair/Legendary actions, where do they fit in? Legendary actions wouldn't be too hard, but lair actions would be tougher. Perhaps further splitting into a three-phase combat round?