Shadow of the Demon Lord Initiative for 5e
Just a quick note to let you know that we can meet at Gen Con. Get your FREE tickets to the DSPN Q&A panel to meet Rudy Basso, Celeste Conowitch, Brittany Quintero, Vegas Lancaster, and more of your favorite podcast people. I’m only at Gen Con for one night, so this is the best way to meet my friends and me.
NOTE: THIS INITIATIVE SYSTEM HAS EVOLVED.
Initiative is the word this week thanks to a new Unearthed Arcana article put out by Mike Mearls on Greyhawk Initiative. Mike’s new system for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons is exploding with possibility and randomness. It breaks initiative out of its normal cycle and changes up the order of characters each round based on their actions and a roll of the dice. I would very much love to try it! It’s reminiscent of the old speed factor initiative found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
While the system looks great, I’m not sure it’s right for my group. First, it requires the players discuss a plan before each round of combat. My own group could do this for hours and turn our RPG into a tactical war game, making a 10-minute battle last 100. I like to cover a little more story than that if I can in our limited sessions.
The system is also a bit restrictive in that when your turn comes up, you can’t decide to take an action not covered by your initiative roll (so if the cleric decided to attack, but the fighter was just critically hit by an ogre, the cleric can’t get cast a spell to heal the fighter until the following round, since the cleric already declared he would attack when the initiative was rolled). I understand the appeal of this restriction and it makes sense mechanically, but I don’t think my regular group would enjoy that restriction. We won’t know until we try though!
This got me thinking about the initiative system I enjoy in another game, Shadow of the Demon Lord, and how I can apply its initiative system to fifth edition D&D. Take a look at the idea below and let me know what you think!
Shadow of the Demon Lord Initiative in D&D
I’ve proposed a super simple version of Shadow of the Demon Lord for 5e initiative in a previous blog post. Here’s a fuller version:
At the start of each round of combat, each creature declares if taking a fast, medium, or slow turn. The following describes each turn category:
- Fast Turn. You take only a bonus action, action, or move your speed.
- Medium Turn. You take any combination of two of the following: bonus action, action, or move your speed.
- Slow Turn. You take a bonus action, action, and move your speed.
The round of combat then proceeds as follows:
- Player characters taking a fast turn.
- Monsters taking a fast turn.
- Player characters taking a medium turn.
- Monsters taking a medium turn.
- Player characters taking a slow turn.
- Monsters taking a slow turn.
Player characters and monsters in each turn category decide among themselves the order in which they act. If player characters cannot determine an order, the DM determines it. This could also be determined by allowing the character with the higher Dexterity score to go first or an opposed Dexterity check.
If a creature decides to change the type of turn it wants to take during a round, they can change to a categories at anytime, provided the creature has not already acted that round and the turn category has not already been completed for the round.
Creatures that are surprised take no actions during the first round of combat as normal.
Variant: Side Initiative
Allowing players to always go first means monsters die quicker, which also speeds up play, but for some groups, this isn’t dangerous enough. If you want to change up the player/monster dynamic, you can roll for side initiative at the start of each round (this is discussed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide). If the players win, they go first in each turn category. If the monsters win, they go first in each category.
This method encourages characters and monsters to take simpler turns for the sake of getting to hit first which also speeds up play at the table. If also breaks out of the cyclical nature of normal D&D initiative, though is not as varied as what Mike Mearls proposed. I’m interested to hear what people think. Sound off in the comments below!
If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!
July 13, 2017 @ 3:01 pm
Definitely interesting! Though, like Mike’s Greyhawk Initiative, it punishes the use of bonus actions. I find that players will always want to use a bonus action if they can whereas monsters rarely use them. In any system where your initiative is determined each round based on your declared actions I think bonus actions should always be free. If not, the players will often go last just for wanting to use all their available toys.
July 13, 2017 @ 3:07 pm
That is a fair point!
Nelson Robaina (DM_Nel)
July 13, 2017 @ 5:28 pm
Loves me some SotDL! You may want to mention how Reactions would work with this system, and would you keep the End Of Round turn?
July 13, 2017 @ 6:46 pm
The problem with all of these systems is that it lumps the sum of your actions into a single initiative number. If I move, act, and bonus act, those things don’t all resolve at once. In reality a person who can do 3 things in the same amount of time another person does 1 is doing each of those individual things faster, not slower.
If I want to bonus act, act, then move and my opponent wants to move then act, under these speed systems the opponent’s action that comes at the end of its turn would tend to resolve before the bonus action I plan to open my turn with.
July 13, 2017 @ 7:15 pm
I have a variant on this whole shebang. It involves a “ladder” system that also helps to visualize the initative order.
I’ve got like a ladder style template on the table, with tokens for PCs/NPCs.
They roll standard Initative and AFTER they took their action(s) depending on the action(s) they move down they ladder by 1-3 points. That will change the initative order and keeps things very crisp, does not require anyone to keep actions in their head or re-arrange the order every roound, as it is fluid yet displayed on the ladder template.
July 14, 2017 @ 11:25 am
Another quick version is to have the players all make a d20 roll against their Dexterity without mods. A round consists of “Team Fast”, “Enemies”, “Team Slow”. If PC rolls below their Dex they are in Team Fast. If they roll higher than Dex they are in Tram Slow. PCs in each team can decide what order they go in. DM decides on the order of opponents in the Enemies group.
Saw it on someone’s blog, and it may be adapted from yet another game. 13th Age maybe? Not sure, but I just wanted to acknowledge I hadn’t created it.
July 14, 2017 @ 2:07 pm
Ah this is really cool!!!
Shadow of the Demon Lord Initiative for 5e Take Two – World Builder Blog
July 20, 2017 @ 8:31 am
[…] owe you all many thanks. Last week I showed off an idea for a new Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition initiative system inspired by a new Unearthed […]
Why blog? – Having Fun With Demons
November 30, 2017 @ 3:38 am
[…] on my real-life meatspace friend James Introcaso’s ENnie Award winning D&D blog about the Demon Lord’s initiative system. I tweeted at James to tell him about his site’s excellent SEO and the coincidence and he […]