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D&D Initiative



In Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), "Initiative" is a game mechanic that determines the order of turns during combat encounters. It represents the characters' quickness, alertness, and readiness to react when a battle begins.

Detailed Explanation

At the start of a combat encounter, each player character (PC), non-player character (NPC), and monster involved rolls a d20 (a 20-sided die) and adds their Dexterity modifier to the roll. The resulting number is their initiative score.

The Dungeon Master (DM) then arranges all the characters and creatures in descending order based on their initiative scores. The character with the highest initiative score goes first, followed by the second highest, and so on until every character has taken a turn. This sequence of turns is called the initiative order and it repeats in the same manner until the end of the combat encounter.

Key Rules

  • If two or more characters have the same initiative score, the character with the higher Dexterity modifier goes first. If there's still a tie, the characters roll another d20, and the one with the higher roll goes first.

  • Initiative is rolled only once at the start of combat and the order remains the same throughout the encounter.

  • A character's initiative score can't normally be changed during an encounter. However, some abilities, spells, or DM decisions might temporarily or permanently alter initiative.

Use in Gameplay

Initiative is a crucial part of combat in D&D, providing structure to the chaos of battle. It helps create a balance between all participating characters and creatures, ensuring everyone gets a fair chance to act. For a DM, it's a tool to manage the flow of combat effectively.

Tips for New DMs

  • Keep track of the initiative order visibly, using a whiteboard, digital tool, or initiative trackers. This keeps players informed about when their turn is coming up.

  • Encourage your players to plan their actions in advance to keep combat moving swiftly.

  • Incorporate descriptive narrative between turns to maintain immersion during combat encounters. Even though initiative creates a turn order, remember that in the game world, events in a combat round (6 seconds) are almost simultaneous.

Remember, initiative is more than just a mechanical process; it's an opportunity to set the tone for the combat, building tension and excitement. Use it to enrich your combat storytelling.

Initiative FAQs

What happens if I roll a natural 20 on initiative?

Unlike attack rolls or saving throws, a natural 20 on an initiative roll isn't considered a "critical success." It doesn't guarantee you'll go first. Your initiative is still the total of your roll plus your Dexterity modifier.

Can I delay my turn or change the initiative order?

In the standard rules of 5th Edition D&D, you cannot delay your turn to change your place in the initiative order. However, during your turn, you may choose to Ready an Action, which lets you react later in the round under specific circumstances that you define.

Can I improve my initiative roll?

Yes, various class features, feats, and magic items can improve your initiative. For example, the Alert feat adds a +5 bonus to your initiative, and a character with the Bard's Jack of All Trades feature can add half their proficiency bonus to initiative rolls.

Does a high initiative roll guarantee victory in combat?

Not necessarily. A high initiative lets you act early in combat, which can be an advantage, but victory in D&D combat often depends on strategic use of actions, effective teamwork, and sometimes, a bit of luck.

Does initiative apply outside of combat?

Generally, initiative is used in combat scenarios. However, a DM may call for initiative rolls during non-combat situations that require structured turn order, such as tense negotiations, complex traps, or timed challenges.

How does initiative work with surprise?

If a combat starts and you're surprised, you can't move or take an action on your first turn, and you can't take a reaction until that turn ends. However, you still roll for initiative as normal. Once your first turn passes, you are no longer surprised and can act normally on your subsequent turns.

If my character is unconscious or incapacitated, do I still roll for initiative?

Yes, unconscious or incapacitated characters still roll for initiative and maintain their place in the initiative order. This is important as it affects when they make death saving throws if they are dying, or when others can take actions to help them.

Can my familiar or pet have its own initiative?

By the standard rules, a controlled mount shares your initiative. Familiars or animal companions, on the other hand, can have their own initiative count depending on the DM's rulings. It's always best to clarify with your DM.

Can I take a bonus action or reaction before my first turn in combat?

Unless you're surprised, you can take a bonus action or reaction before your first turn if you have an ability that allows you to do so, even if your initiative hasn't come up yet in the order. For example, a character with the Shield spell could cast it in response to being attacked before their first turn.

Is there a way to reroll initiative during combat?

By standard rules, once initiative is rolled at the start of combat, it doesn't change. However, certain game features, homebrew rules, or DM rulings may provide opportunities to reroll or modify initiative.

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