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Use Group Initiative to Speed Up Combat

posted Saturday, March 3rd 2012 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Here’s a house rule I use in a play-by-forum D&D game. I think it speeds up combat a lot, and I’m interested in hearing how well it works for other groups.

Group Initiative
Make a single initiative roll for the opponents’ side. Use the initiative modifier of the opponents’ leader or whoever has the highest initiative modifier.

Make individual initiative rolls for each player character. On a forum game, the DM can make all the initiative rolls to save time.

First, any PCs who beat the opponent in the initiative take a turn. They can act in any order.

Next, all the opponents take their turns.

Next, all the PCs take their turn, even PCs who acted before the initiative. Again, they can act in any order. Once all PCs have taken their turn, the opponents take their turn, and so on.

Advantages
On a forum game especially, you don’t have to wait for the person ahead of you in initiative order. Waiting is a bottleneck. When a player is ready to take his turn, you don’t want to make him wait, or he might not be ready when his turn comes up.

Characters with high initiative bonuses are still valuable, because they get a bonus turn at the start of each combat. This is really what happens anyway in normal initiative.

A character can wait for an ally to coordinate their attacks in the same turn. For example, a fighter can wait for the cleric to heal him before he attacks.

Drawbacks
The enemies all get their turn before any PCs can react. This can be dangerous if they gang up on one target.

Certain rules expect normal initiative, and you’ll have to improvise. For example, some D&D 4e monsters take extra actions ahead of their normal initiative count.

Feedback
What’s your experience with group initiative rules?

Comments

  1. Tobias Wichtrey

    March 4th, 2012

    It took me some time to understand, why PCs with high initiative rolls effectively get a bonus turn with the usual initiative rules. :D

    But now that I got this point, I really like your group initiative hous rule. Maybe, I’ll try this in my next D&D session.

  2. Gregory Elfrink

    March 6th, 2012

    I have never really experimented with initiative.

    Though I have grown extremely tired of rolling over and over again say for like 10 or 15 hobgoblins in a match. Sometimes I will just roll for a few key enemies and make all the other enemies go last, just to save time.

    I think encounters can have the most “bog down” effect in a game, so I try to cut it where I can to save time and get to the fun stuff of the battle instead of making it a chore.

    I might have to try this out in the near future.

  3. Loonook

    March 19th, 2012

    I personally just choose to slot everyone up for initiative in pods based on the current battle group. If I have a group of PCs fighting the Lich Lord and the others fending off his vassals I am going to ‘split’ initiative orders to round that out. Of course I also started using a whiteboard to keep track of all statuses that sits behind me or a player who has been trusty enough to keep the roll to prevent anyone from worrying.

    Split Initiative really helps because then you can actually also ‘split turns’. If a player wishes to jump into a specific pod he enters, re-rolls (possibly at penalty, this depends on the combat), and then takes his turn when he comes back into cycle for that group.

    It also helps to represent that few seconds in combat where there is a bit of ‘fog of war’ going on and you may not be focused on what the other group is doing. Sometimes it can actually benefit players as they get an additional round, and sometimes benefits the antagonists as they sometimes get to bring off what amounts to a mini surprise round on our new friends.

    Slainte,

    -Loonook.

  4. John Roth

    September 28th, 2012

    I know I’m coming late to the party, but what I usually do is just do an initiative roll at the beginning of combat, and then just stick with that for the entire encounter. My players have been grateful ever since.

  5. Lukan, the Destroyer

    February 7th, 2013

    Call me old-fashioned but the Player’s Option: Combat & Tactics does a fine job. First of all, initiative “slots” are separated by movement and weapon speed, casting times and whatever. The group initiative really does the trick and all you have to do is keep track of who goes when on a scale of roughly 1-10 allowing some character actions to take place before the monsters begin their attack or vise versa. Usually, this keeps it at a “one side goes before the other” unless one side was to roll a 1 or 10, causing a shift in phases.

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