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D&D Initiative

D&D: Initiative


Initiative is a game mechanic in Dungeons & Dragons that determines the order of turns during combat. It signifies the quickness and alertness of a character or creature to react when a fight begins.

Key Terms Related to Initiative

Initiative Check:

An Initiative Check is a roll of a twenty-sided dice (d20) plus any relevant modifiers, such as those from Dexterity or other special abilities or items. This check is made by each player or DM (for NPCs and monsters) at the beginning of combat to determine the order of combatants' turns.

Dexterity Modifier:

This is the bonus or penalty associated with a character's Dexterity score. The Dexterity Modifier is added to the d20 roll during the Initiative Check. Higher Dexterity Modifiers usually result in better Initiative Checks, allowing characters to act earlier in combat.


If a creature is caught off guard at the start of a battle, it might be Surprised. If you're surprised, you can't move or take an action on your first turn of the combat, and you can't take a reaction until that turn ends. A member of a group can be surprised even if the other members aren't.

Combat Round:

A Combat Round represents about 6 seconds in the game world. During a round, each participant in a battle takes a turn, which involves various actions, reactions, and possibly bonus actions.

Turn Order:

Turn Order is the sequence in which players and NPCs take their turns during combat. It's determined by the Initiative Check, with higher results going first. In the case of a tie, the character with the higher Dexterity Modifier typically goes first.

Advantage and Disadvantage on Initiative:

Certain conditions, class features, spells, or items can grant Advantage or impose Disadvantage on Initiative Checks. With Advantage, you roll the d20 twice and take the higher result; with Disadvantage, you roll twice and take the lower result.

Delaying and Readying Actions:

Although the rules don't allow for delaying a turn, a player can Ready an Action, which involves specifying an action and the trigger for that action. When the trigger occurs, the player can choose to take their readied action as a Reaction. This can effectively change the player's place in the Initiative Order for that specific action.

Initiative Count:

It's a term often used to reference a creature's place in the Initiative Order or the number it rolled for Initiative. A creature's Initiative Count is equal to the total of its Initiative Check and does not change during combat.

Reactive Creatures:

Certain creatures in D&D, such as the Assassin Vine or the Roper, have an ability called "Reactive," which lets them take a turn on each other creature's turn in a combat round, not just on their own turn. It effectively gives them a higher place in the Initiative Order.


Case Studies: Creative Uses of Initiative in D&D Encounters

1. Simulating the Chaos of Combat with Popcorn Initiative

Keywords: Popcorn Initiative, Initiative Order, Player Character, Combat Scenarios, Dungeon Master's Guide, Player's Handbook

In an attempt to simulate the unpredictable nature of battle, a Dungeon Master (DM) introduces Popcorn Initiative - an optional rule variant not officially outlined in the Player's Handbook or Dungeon Master's Guide. This variant allows the character or creature with the highest initiative score to decide who acts next, enabling tactical advantages and unexpected turn orders.

This approach creates dynamic and engaging combat scenarios. Players are more alert, as they may need to take their turn at any moment, depending on the choice of the current active character. Furthermore, it encourages strategic planning among party members, who must decide the best turn order to maximize their effectiveness in combat.

2. Ambush in the Dungeon: The Role of Surprise

Keywords: Surprised Creature, Start of a Battle, Initiative Check, Player Character, DM-Controlled Creatures, Initiative Score, Initiative Order

A party of adventurers ventures into a dungeon, only to be ambushed by a group of goblins. The DM decides to run a surprise round due to the successful ambush, which represents the goblins' tactical advantage.

Even though the goblins surprise the party, everyone still rolls for initiative as usual. However, during the first round, the surprised characters cannot move or take an action. This rule allows the goblins (DM-controlled creatures), who have planned the ambush and therefore are not surprised, to capitalize on their preparedness by acting before the adventurers can respond, despite their respective initiative scores.

3. The Power of Alertness: Using Feats to Improve Initiative

Keywords: Alert Feat, Initiative Bonus, Initiative Rolls, Initiative Score, Character’s Dexterity Modifier, Character Sheet

One of the player characters, a rogue, has the Alert feat – a choice they made during character creation. The Alert feat gives the character a substantial +5 bonus to their initiative, making the rogue one of the first to act in most combats.

In one encounter, the party faces off against a menacing troll. The rogue rolls their initiative with the Alert feat bonus, yielding a high initiative count. Acting first, they use their turn to coat their blade with a vial of acid they found earlier – an action that turns out to be a game-changer, as trolls are notably vulnerable to acid.

4. Ensemble Battle: Using Side Initiative

Keywords: Side Initiative, Entire Group of Identical Creatures, Initiative Check, Turn Order, DM Rolls, Initiative Tracker

The DM introduces an entire group of identical creatures, a horde of zombies, for an epic encounter. Rather than rolling initiative for each zombie (which could be tedious), the DM opts to use Side Initiative – an optional rule from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The DM rolls a single initiative check for the entire zombie horde, simplifying the initiative tracker and the turn order. This method emphasizes the feeling of fighting a unified horde, rather than individual creatures.

5. Tied Characters: Dealing with Equal Initiative Rolls

Keywords: Tied Characters, Initiative Rolls, Character’s Dexterity Modifier, Initiative Order, Higher Dexterity Check Total

In an encounter against a nefarious wizard, two of the party members roll the same number for initiative. To determine who goes first, the DM refers to the characters' Dexterity modifiers. The character with the higher Dexterity check total wins the tie and acts first in the turn order.

By sticking to this rule, the DM underscores the importance of Dexterity in quick reactions and fast thinking during combat. It also helps to remind players that every aspect of their character sheet, including ability scores like Dexterity, plays a significant role in various game situations.


Q&A: D&D Initiative

Q1: What determines the order of turns in Dungeons & Dragons combat?

A1: In Dungeons & Dragons, the order of turns is primarily determined by each participant's initiative roll at the start of combat. The initiative roll is a d20 roll plus any initiative modifiers. Characters with higher initiative rolls act first.

Q2: How does a character’s Dexterity score influence their Initiative?

A2: A character’s Dexterity modifier is added to their initiative roll. This represents their quick reactions and agility. Therefore, characters with higher Dexterity scores are generally quicker to act in combat.

Q3: Can class features or magic items affect a character's initiative?

A3: Absolutely! Certain class features, such as the Bard’s Jack of All Trades, can affect initiative, as they allow the character to add half of their proficiency bonus to initiative rolls. Additionally, certain magic items can also increase a character’s initiative bonus.

Q4: What happens if two or more characters have the same initiative roll?

A4: If two characters roll the same number for initiative, the character with the higher Dexterity modifier goes first. If there's still a tie, the players roll a d20, and the highest roll wins.

Q5: Are there any variants to the standard initiative system in D&D?

A5: Yes, the Dungeon Master's Guide offers several optional rules and initiative variants. One example is Side Initiative, where each side of the combat (players vs DM-controlled creatures) rolls a single d20, and the higher roll wins. Another is Popcorn Initiative, where the player who wins initiative can choose who goes next, adding a layer of strategy to the order of turns.

Q6: What is a Ready Action, and how does it relate to Initiative?

A6: A Ready Action allows a player to prepare to respond to a specific trigger. Despite their place in the initiative order, the player can interrupt the order of turns to perform their readied action when the trigger occurs. It's important to note that using a Ready Action requires the player's Reaction for the round.

Q7: Can my initiative change during combat?

A7: Under the official rules of the Fifth Edition, once you roll initiative at the start of combat, your place in the order of turns remains the same throughout the encounter. However, certain class features, spells, or DM rulings may allow for adjustments.

Q8: How do I calculate my character’s Initiative bonus?

A8: Your character's Initiative bonus is typically equal to their Dexterity modifier. However, certain factors such as class features, feats like Alert, or magic items can provide an additional bonus to your initiative rolls.

Q9: Does Initiative affect opportunity attacks?

A9: Initiative itself doesn't directly affect opportunity attacks. Opportunity attacks occur when an enemy leaves your melee range during combat, regardless of initiative order. However, a character's place in the initiative order might influence their tactical decisions, such as whether to risk provoking an opportunity attack.

Q10: What's the role of initiative in large-scale combats with many creatures?

A10: In battles involving many creatures, initiative helps maintain an organized turn order. DMs often use methods to streamline the process, such as grouping similar creatures together or using Side Initiative. These methods help make large combats more manageable while preserving the importance of initiative.

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