Fine! I Wrote About Speed Factor Initiative in D&D 5E!

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Here’s the story.

I’ve suspended my regular Pathfinder game while I’m neck deep in tax season in favor of running a ten experience level megadungon campaign using D&D 5E. The megadungeon is awesome and yes, I’m planning to share it. Sure, WotC won’t tell anyone what they are and aren’t allowed to write and sell about their game for reasons best known only to the octopus that throws darts at a board to make all of their business and marketing decisions. But I don’t care. I’m putting it out there and let them decide to C&D me.

That ain’t what I’m talking about though.
See, I decided to use the Speed Factor Initiative Rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG 270-271). And I told Twitter about it. And I got a number of well reasoned and thoughtful responses.

“So combat will be long, but at least it will be overly complicated?”

“Why not just staple your tongue to the DMG and slam it closed over and over again. It’d be more fun.”

“F$&% you! Die of cancer!”

I love the Internet…

Okay, the responses weren’t that bad. But there was a lot of… distress. People were baffled. And they demanded answers of me. So, I’m going to take some time to explain how I’m using it, why I like it, and why it makes my game better than yours.

How it Works

Speed Factors InitiativeNow, I’ve modified it slightly, but here’s how it works. At the start of the round, the DM decides what the monsters are going to do that round and each player declares what their character is going to do. They don’t have to do declare specifics like targets or movement, but they have to declare what they are doing, what they are using, what spell they are casting, and so on. Then, everyone rolls initiative and the initiative roll is modified by the speed factor of the action they take. Highest roll goes first, and it goes around. On your turn, you take the action you declared, plus any movement you’d like to take. Alternatively, if you want to not take your declared action, you can abort and choose to hustle instead (take a second move).

Here’s a couple of special rules. First, you must declare your action AND any bonus actions you want to take. However, you only modify your initiative by the SLOWEST action. Not both. But you always ALSO modify it based on the speed. Second, if you want to ready an action, you apply the modifier of the action you want to take. Your action is not “readied” until your turn comes up. But it remains readied until your next turn, even after you declare an action for next turn. Third, if you take a weird action that isn’t listed on the list, I’m going to assign a speed to it (Fast, Slow, Whatever).

And that’s it. Here’s an example.

DM: Next round. The kobolds keep their spears up, and it looks like they are going to continue to press the attack. The archer is readying another shot.
Alice: I’m going attack with my battleaxe. I’m medium size with a two-handed weapon, so it’s -2, right?
DM: Right. Bob?
Bob: I’m going to fire my crossbow. My halfling is small, so I’m at +2 and a loading ranged weapon is -5, so I’m at -3.
DM: Carol?
Carol: I’m going to cast a spell and attack with my longsword. The spell’s a bonus action.
DM: What spell?
Carol: Smiting smite, it’s second level.
DM: So, you’re medium sized. Melee with a normal, one handed weapon is +0, but smiting smite is second level. So, that’s -2.
Carol: My longsword is versatile. I want to drop my shield and use it two-handed.
DM: Okay, so swapping equiping is -2. Two-handed melee is -2. And smiting smite is -2.
Carol: So I get a -6?!
DM: Nope. You only suffer the worst penalty. You’re at -2.
Carol: Oh, okay.
DM: Everyone roll for intiative.

Now, that’s not how it sounds at the table. I gave everyone a little card with a handy dandy copy of the chart. So, this is how it plays out at my table.

DM: Next round. The kobolds keep their spears up, and it looks like they are going to continue to press the attack. The archer is readying another shot.
Alice: I’m going to attack with my battleaxe!
Bob: I’ll shoot my bow!
Carol: I’m going to cast smiting smite, drop my shield, and attack with my longsword in two hands.
DM: Okay, everyone roll initiative. 25, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17…
Bob: I go on 17! I dart out from the boulder, fire at the kobold archer, and dart back behind cover.
DM: Solid hit. The archer is badly injured! Continue the count?
Bob: 16, 15, 14…
DM: The kobold spearmen dart forward, attacking Alice! One harries her, but doesn’t hit. The other stabs her hard, punching through her armor and dealing damage. 13, 12…
Alice: On 12, Alice rears back and hacks at the kobold that stabbed her with her battleaxe! A hit!
DM: The kobold dies. Continue the count?
Alice: 11…
DM: The archer peeks his head from behind the barricade, launching an arrow at Carol!
Carol: It hits!
DM: Does it? You haven’t dropped your shield yet.
Carol: Oh! Then it doesn’t.
DM: It thunks into your shield. 10… 9… 8…
Carol: And then I throw my shield aside, switch to a two-handed grip, and scream a curse at the kobolds in Bahamut’s name as my sword glows with crimson energy. I slash at the kobold as I run forward.
DM: And it throws itself down and your blow passes over it.
Carol: Damn it, Bahamut?! Why have you forsaken me?!
DM: Next round…

On Slowdown

So, the first question I got hit with it (after “what the f$&% is wrong with you”) is “doesn’t that slow down the game?” The answer is “yes and no.”

On the surface, it seems like it must, right? Rolling initiative every round with a hard stop at the end of each round to declare actions for the next round. But you have to look at the flip side of that. Notice what I am not doing? I am not tracking initiative. I’m not futzing with little cards. I’m not keeping a list. I’m not doing any of that s$&%. And as I go around the table polling for initiative, each person rolls for initiative, checks the chart, and figures out their total. So the time spent rolling and mathing is covered by other people declaring actions.

But here’s where things get interesting. See, as a player, when it’s your turn, you have all the time in the world. You can sit there and ponder and count and consider spells and options and fall into what people won’t stop calling “analysis paralysis” despite the fact that that phrase makes my blood boil. Because it’s their turn.

But I am forcing people to make decisions before it’s their turn. There’s something about the whole shotgunning around the table, asking everyone for their action, that speeds people up. Because it isn’t their turn. This is what we have to do before anyone gets a turn. Instead of trying to figure out the perfect option, the players instead try to settle on a good option quickly. It makes them feel “under the gun.”

When their turn does come around, they are locked into their action. The only thing they have to decide is where to move and who to target. And that’s a lot easier when you’re not also picking an action. It’s an easier puzzle to solve “how do I move to get this action the best way possible” is easier than “where do I go and what do I do.”

The end result is that people move faster. There’s been a lot fewer hangups.

On balance though, my combats don’t really run any faster or slower than they used to. I’ll admit that. I’ve always kept combat moving, so I haven’t really gained anything much. But the difference is what we spend the time on. We don’t spend time waiting. We spend time rolling dice and counting out initiative, waiting to see who springs into action next or what the enemy is going to do and if the enemies will seperate before I get my burning hands spell off.

And that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make. We’ve given up boring waiting in return for tense anticipation.

On Complexity

The next quest is: “isn’t this super complicated?” Well, I will let you be the judge. Is it really super complicated? The answer is no. No it isn’t. As for how we keep track of initiative, we do it pretty easily. After rolling initiative, players set a die on their initiative count. Or just remember the ONE F$&%ING NUMBER. It’s not hard.

Me? I set dice on the stat blocks of my monsters. And when I roll for groups of monsters, I just use the slowest speed for the slowest action if the group takes different actions. Or I’ll split it up if I’m feeling excited.

As for the modifiers, I gave everyone a little printed card with the chart on it. My players got it down. My players can hand a chart and adding some numbers. They are f$&%ing role-playing gamers.

On Feeling

Now, I didn’t gain or lose anything really in the speed, though I do like the type of speed better. And I didn’t add too much extra complexity. So, at best I could call it a wash. Why would I stick with it?

Because it makes the game more interesting.

Let’s put this out there, first of all. I’m running a dungeon crawl. It’s an action game. Combat is a thing and the combat has to be fast and furious and exciting. And it’s D&D. D&D likes a good battle. So remember that. Combat is kind of front and center. One of the core engagements along with exploration and problem solving.

Which is why I find the whole “tense anticipation vs. patient waiting” thing to be a good trade-off. And also why I like the urgency in shotgunning around the table for action declarations before you take your turn.

On top of that, there’s some added strategic elements you get from it. You can consider the speed of your actions. There are times when the wizard might be willing to forgo a more powerful spell in return for a better chance at winning initiative, especially against a large monster that’s already slow as hell. That hold monster might be too slow to go off before the ogre eats my face, but mage armor might be enough to save me this round. Or blade ward. Whatever. So it adds another layer to decision making. And it differentiates weapons based on more than just damage dice. I like that. But then, I liked Dark Souls for the same reason.

The other strategy element that it adds is that things can change between decision and action. For both the monsters and the players. If the wizard declares a fireball and goes late in the round, the monsters might have scattered by the time the spell goes off. So, does the wizard launch the spell and lose the resources to hit only one or two beasties, or give up the round as a loss, reposition and try again so as not to waste a valuable spell slot on minimal damage. Likewise, you can respond to what the enemy is doing. If the enemy wizard is warming up a spell, you can reactively scatter. That’s why I declare enemy actions first and give hints as to what they are getting ready to do. Strategies become possible that would otherwise be lost. Playing keep away to buy yourself some time to heal. The healer and the fighter having to meet somewhere in the middle to let the spell get off. Readying an action becomes a more valuable tactic not just for dealing with enemies, but helping allies. And so on.

In short, it adds a level of depth to the fight.

It also makes the combat more haphazard. Players can’t learn the order because it changes every round. You never know when you are going to go or when anyone else is going to go. Sometimes, your action might be rendered useless because you can’t get to a target. Likewise, you might actually be able to screw a slow monster just by staying out of his reach and ruining his actions. The point is, not only does initiative change every round, it changes between decision and action. It’s a lot more frantic. A lot less planned. A lot more on the fly. A lot less like a chess game.

See, as much as I love chess game combat, I don’t like combat to be one of those slow, methodical chess games with plenty of time to think and do. I want it to be one of those fast chess games where the players are slamming on the clock, taking a move, slamming on the clock, adapting, adjusting, and trying to build a strategy out of a hodgepodge of reactions.

Now, I was being flippant when I said it isn’t more complex. Of course it is more complex. It’s more rules. It’s one more thing to explain and keep track of. But remember, complexity is currency. Complexity is what game designers and game masters use to buy depth. Me, I like the depth it adds to the game. I’m willing to pay with some complexity.

Delaying and Dark Souls

I briefly mentioned Dark Souls above. Now I’ll mention it more. Because I didn’t really think through ANY of what I said above before I added the Speed Factor thing. Actually, what happened was that I was flipping through the DMG idly, looking at the haphazard mess of really interesting, useful stuff that was impossible to find and scattered around at random, and I found the Speed Factor table. And I said: “well, f$&%, I’m using that. Because Delaying and Dark Souls.”

Let me explain…

Last summer, @DrumBumRM got a chance to play D&D 5E at GenCon for the first time. And during the game, he was playing a cleric described as “patient, always waiting for others to act first.” In the first fight of the game, he won initiative. So, being true to his character (and being a child of the D&D3.x era), he said “I’ll delay.”

The DM running the event said that there really was no way to delay. That he could skip his turn or act.

Well, he was baffled. Taking control of initiative was a strategy he was very good at. He’s a very strategic, tactical, in control sort of player. A chess player, but a decisive one, and he was thrown off.

We spent hours after that event talking about the changes in D&D 5E and we kept coming back to the delay thing.

Me, I’d been a participant in the playtests for a while and knew that delay had been pulled in that iteration. And I knew why. 4E had been very “off-turn-happy.” It had lots of ways for everyone to go on everyone else’s turn. Reactions, interrupts, readied actions, delays, everyone had a few of those little toys. It was cool, but everyone spent so much time watching for every little trigger and everyone forgot so many of the little triggers that it was a mess. So, WotC had decided to scale back. And they scaled back to almost none at all. I would call it jerking the other knee, except that I can’t argue it was a good knee to jerk. “It’s your turn, DO SOMETHING,” WotC seemed to say.

I got their point. And frankly, I was a little happy to do away with delaying anyway. If you assume a combat round is a few seconds and you assume the action is happening nearly simultaneously, the idea of sitting around waiting to slot your action in at the perfect moment was a little crazy-pants. It was too clean and perfect. You could insert your action (and thus pick your place in initiative) with surgical precision. With no real cost.

So, as @DrumBumRM sat there saying “I either have to ready, go, or miss my turn,” I was secretly saying “yeah, I kind of like that. It’s a little messy. Don’t stand around with your thumb up your a$&. Do something!” As George Patton said “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

But the other side of the coin is this: initiative becomes essentially random. And after the first round, it is fixed. So, taking the ability to change or control the initiative out of the game was essentially removing a strategic decision and replacing it with unalterable randomness. That kind of sucks. Randomness, by itself, is the enemy of choice. Because it means choice doesn’t matter.

At the same time, I was going through my Dark Souls obsession. And one of my favorite features about Dark Souls was how all of the other factors that figured into weapon choice mattered more than damage. Weapons were highly differentiated. And picking a weapon by the numbers was rarely the way to go. You picked the weapon whose reach and speed and balance you could manage. My one playthrough was done with halberds. I liked the long reach, the ability to keep out of opponent’s reach, and to stab them as they rushed in. Another playthrough I did with slow, heavy maces. You had to be accurate, because you only got one swing and if you missed, you’d be thrown off balance for a precious few seconds. And you had to be close. Maces have less swing than other weapons. So you had to be good at getting in close without getting killed and managing your defenses.

Contrast that with D&D, where it is all about the damage die and accuracy. And even the difference between a finesse weapon and strength weapon is all about accuracy and damage bonuses.

I wanted the choice to matter a little more. I wanted to at least feel like there was a difference between a shortsword and a handaxe and a light mace or whatever. I know D&D will never be that game because there’s a complexity cost to that, but it’d at least feel nice if something mattered a little.

So the Speed Factor table was those two things combined into one. Mitigate the randomness of initiative by changing it every round and by giving some modicum of choice that changes the speed of things. Differentiate action types in some small, token way. Let the game be messy, haphazard, and urgent.

So, “to hell with it, I’m using it.”

I’d like to say I carefully thought through the feel of combat, that the decision was all about removing analysis paralysis and creating the right feel. But really it was on a whim of “I don’t like initiative but I like Dark Souls, well, how about this?”

Everything else was after-game analysis.

And THAT is why I’m using it. And why it doesn’t slowdown my game any more or less than other initiative methods, but the slowdown it creates is a better slowdown. It works for me. At my table. In my game. With what I want out of the game.

That’s what the f$&% is wrong with me.

38 thoughts on “Fine! I Wrote About Speed Factor Initiative in D&D 5E!

  1. Here’s a thing. It shouldn’t complicate it too much for players, because they usually have one or two favored attacks with weapons and one or two favored spell/power attacks. Sure those caster types might be able to cast 10 different spells a rest, but they usually don’t. Usually they fallback onto their favorites.

    So the character has their quick action, their best ranged action, their best melee action. That’s three numbers with which they will be quite familiar after a combat or two. Just like they know their proficient saves, their damage numbers, etc.

    This is “realer,” more gamey and it takes mere seconds longer.

  2. In a perfect world where the whole field is wide open and is well saturated with targets this system works very well. Where it is lacking is when you start to consider line of sight rules, firing into melee, and the general living flow of rounds of combat.

    For instance, if I declare my action to be drawing my bow and firing at a long range target I have locked myself into that action. Now, lets say Joe Wizard fires off a flame bolt and kills the only far off target and the only targets left are locked in melee. Or, lets say we are in a tight corridor and all the other characters rush forward to block my line of sight. I have locked myself into an action that is either foolish and hazardous or flat out impossible. The paralyzation of choice is a very real phenomena but I do feel that as people get more comfortable with their characters that is a reduced factor.

    I actually played in one group where they used an egg timer at the start of every person’s turn. If the timer ran out then your character failed to take an action. No one ever lost an action from it, but setting a deadline forced them to make hard and fast decisions.

    • I honestly don’t see that as a problem. In Angry’s description you don’t name specific targets, just specific actions, so since the situation changed, you can either find a new target in the half-second you have to react to your first target’s death, or if there isn’t one, ditch the shot and move to a better position where you can get another long shot or take some other action next turn.

      Think like a quarter-back in football throwing a long-bomb down the field. He’s got his ideal wide-receiver who is miles down the field – a touchdown is practically a given if he hits that guy. So the defense guards the heck out of the wide-receiver, and he’s not open for a pass. So the QB looks at option #2, the tight-end running across the mid-field. Not your ideal shot, but it’s good gains, possibly even a first down and continued momentum down the field. What if he’s not open either though? The defense is just too solid and this play is basically a bust, what does the QB do? Well, by this point there is probably a giant of a man about to turn our QB into paste if he doesn’t do something quick, so the QB can either tuck the ball under his arm and try to run for a handful of yards, or he can ditch the ball into the sideline and end the play, or he can just stand there indecisively and get sacked into a smudge on the grass.

      All of this because his ideal target wasn’t available when he wanted it to be. There’s no reason your longbow shot can’t work exactly the same. It will also probably teach the players to think of more than one possible action they can do in their chosen time-frame, which is more tactical and just all around cooler anyway.

  3. I used speed factors in 2nd edition. If a player wanted to change his action, I gave him a 5 penalty to initiative.

  4. You sir, have just sold me on trying this rule out once I get around to DM’ing my next campaign. This sounds like exactly what I’m looking for to spice up combat. Do you do anything to increase the number of viable tactics? I’m talking about tactics like intimidation, diplomacy, confusion, baited anger, parries, dodges, etc. In vanilla D&D, these things are usually perpendicular to the goal of dropping monsters to 0 hp, so they tend to get ignored in favor of dropping enemies as fast as possible.

  5. I haven’t had any luck convincing any players to try it yet, but I love the idea and will use this article to further my claim. Thanks.

      • Haha. My thoughts exactly.

        Used it for the first time last session. As the DM I loved it. It’s a nice compromise between full TotM and war game-like-miniature combat. Half my players hated it half loved it. Though my gut feeling is the players who hate it just don’t like change. I also ssect they don’t like the fact they can’t make the perfect move every turn. Which I love.

        Either way I like it so will be using it going forward.

  6. From your example, it seems like you are not adding DEX modifiers to initiative. Is this system meant to completely replace that?

    I particularly like the notion of declare-first-execute-later. I’m less thrilled about all the extra modifiers. It seems like the advantages you get come more from the former than the latter. I’m thinking of implementing a system that goes:

    1. All combatants declare actions
    2. A piece of software determines order for the round by rolling d20s and adding regular dex-based initiative modifiers. It only reveals who goes first and second.
    3. After each turn, the software tells us who is up and who is on deck.

    • Dex modifiers are included in initiative rolls. This system does not remove or replace them.

      The modifiers are important to mitigate the randomness and give players a sense of control over their own speed and to differentiate actions. As I said, without that, initiative is essentially completely random. It doesn’t create any interesting choices or provide pressure or tension if there are NO decisions that effect it on a round to round basis. You might as well not bother determining it every round.

      Also, I don’t need software. We’ve all got dice. People like rolling dice.

      • I take your point about interesting choices being the goal, but as you say, the speed factors are kind of a token choice. If I can make a trade off that gives me a +2 on initiative next round, initiative is still pretty random. If you and your players get more value than cost out of it, I respect that. I’d probably like it once I was used to it.

        But the first part, where you have to declare your action without knowing what the initiative order will be, or whether the wizard’s spell will have worked, or whether you’ll have line of sight to the big bad, or whether your flanking partner will be in position, or whether you’ll have an adjacent foe when you cast your spell, that part seems like it would create a really rich set of choices and tensions. Most of the decision is not in choosing to fight one-handed instead or two-handed this round to balance a small chance of going one step earlier against a point or two of extra damage. Most of the decision is: attack or disengage? ranged or melee? targeted spell or area effect? heal spell, buff spell or combat spell? In all of those cases you would have weigh the uncertain odds of the situation unfolding different ways and the odds that you’ll go early or late in the round. The speed factor decisions certainly add a layer to that, but it seems like a thin layer. In any case you definitely have to re-roll initiative every round for the declare-early-act-later system to make sense.

        I should mention, by the way, that I love your work. I’ve read every word on the site and gotten a ton of value out of it. The fact that the first time I opened my mouth was to disagree with you is neither here nor there.

  7. Some great thoughts on adding some consequence to delayed actions. I might have to introduce that into my own game. I’ve used speed factors in plenty of games and it never slowed us down either, but this is the first I’ve heard of giving different grades of action (quick, reaction, whatever) a different SF. Very intriguing.

  8. I like this concept a lot especially mixed with the idea of “popcorn initiative” which you had mentioned in a previous post. If every player declares an action type and then the first combatant tags in the next you can forego some limited amount of the complexity of using the table whilst still allowing a sort of haphazard combat order.

    If you don’t mind adding a bit more complexity though you could also allow players to interrupt the initiative order if their initiative score is higher than the next monster/character tagged (this obviously is much more interesting if the players don’t know the monster’s and/or each other’s scores). Of course there needs to be a risk involved in this so you could say that if a player attempts an interrupt and fails they either lose their action for the round or must take disadvantage.

  9. Shouldn’t a loaded crossbow go at +5, and loading / ranged weapon go at -5? Squeezing a trigger to launch a preloaded bolt would be a fast action.

    When spell casting, the Verbal and Somatic components would be perceived by many enemies as dangerous, The declaration of action followed by the initiative roll (higher spell levels going later) puts spell casters in double danger because the battle field could drastically change before the spell goes off or an enemy could damage them, forcing a concentration check. I like it.

    My combats run slow either way, so I think the egg timer during the declaration phase will work best with my group.

    • I really don’t think that you should be walking around with a loaded crossbow for the risk that it goes off and shoots you in the leg while you are climbing the side of a mountain.

    • An egg timer!? What kind of indecisive table are you playing with that a three-minute timer adds a meaningful constraint?

    • I think you can handle a loaded crossbow as a readied action, although with some risk of it going off accidentally if a player insists on having it always loaded.

  10. Angry DM:

    Dude, read the real chart correctly:

    If a melee weapon with the two handed PROPERTY is a -2, then the -5 applies ONLY to ranged weapons with the loading PROPERTY.

    Your example of someone getting a -5 for a single bow shot is an embarrassing misunderstanding on your part.

    “Bob: I’m going to fire my bow. My halfling is small, so I’m at +2 and a loading ranged weapon is -5, so I’m at -3.”

    NO! A bow does not have the loading property, and is therefore immune to the -5.

    Tell all the ranged players in your campaigns I said “You’re welcome”.


    • Hey, thanks for pointing out the typo in my example. You’re right. I did mean to write “crossbow.” I sure am glad you caught that minor error.

      And, of course, because you were correct, you’re immune from being called a complete dickcheese. Which is good, because otherwise I totally would call you a complete dickcheese for the way you said that. So good on you. Fortunately, there’s that rule about “not being an asshole as long as you’re correct” Ben.

      Oh, wait, though. You’re incorrect. Because that was not an embarrassing misunderstanding or a misreading of a chart. That was typographical error. What an embarrassing misunderstanding for you to make. I guess that means you do get to be called out for being a dickcheese.

      Fortunately, in about three minutes, I will have corrected the typo, whereas you will still be a dickcheese.

      • This is where the whole Angry persona falls apart. If you’re as bad-ass as you pretend to be, then just take it, the same way you dish it. If you want people to put on their “big boy” pants and take it, then you need to learn to take it, too. Otherwise, you just sound like an excuse-making whiner, and then it becomes harder to respect you when you make fun of others for making excuses and whining.

        So, there’s nothing wrong with being yourself: an excuse-making whiner. But if that’s you, then don’t set yourself up for failure by pretending you’re a bad-ass and then having your true colours come out when someone puts you to the test.

        • He was being a dickcheese though. Angry people don’t “just take it”, they mouth off. It’s totally Angry to call him out in a sarcastic way for being a dickcheese. He’s not the Stoic, Understanding, Accepting-of-Criticism DM, he’s the Angry DM! He’s angry all the time! Don’t be a dickcheese if you don’t want the angry guy to call you a dickcheese!

  11. I’ve been using Speed Factor(-ish) initiative for a couple of months now. One of the things that I quickly realized was that a lot of the time, initiative doesn’t matter and need not be rolled. If I shoot my bow at the vampire and miss, what does it matter whether or not I got my shot off before the vampire hit the cleric?

    So now I just have people declare actions (in ascending order of Intelligence), and then we resolve actions, and if it ever matters who went first, THEN we roll initiative. Probably about a half of the time there’s at least one initiative roll, e.g. to see whose arrow knocked the ape of the the sky.

    Another thing I’m trying currently is to have people declare their actions by pulling out a written “combat card” (and rolling dice, etc.), and then we resolve actions by actually PLAYING that combat card and announcing the dice results. This serves the dual purpose of encouraging players to think of cool tactical combos in advance (so they can name the combo and write it down on a card) and also simplifying my life: everyone’s declared when everyone has a card in their hand, and everyone’s resolved their action when everyone has a card on the table. I can’t accidentally skip anyone’s turn in either phase. Last session was pretty combat-light so the new system didn’t get much play.

  12. Thank you for giving us hints on how it worked out at your table, when I saw that table in the DMG I wasn’t sure how it would play out.

    But, even if the modifier are really simple, I found that having that much modifier to handle is against the DND 5e philosophy, or at least what I make of it.

    That said, I think that they’re might be a simpler way to implement all that. By using the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanism.

    So in that case an initiative roll will still be d20+Dex Mod but you could have advantage or disadvantage base on the speed factor of your action.

    If the action is Fast (Ex: attacking with a light/finesse weapon) = Advantage
    If the action is Slow (Ex: attacking with a two-handed/heavy or reloading weapon, or casting a spell) = Disadvantage

    The same could be use for size modifier,
    Tiny = Advantage
    Small, Medium, Large = Normal
    Huge + = Disadvantage

    So that way, if you perform in your round a Fast and a Slow action, you roll normally (Advantage and Disadvantage cancel each other). The same of a Huge monster attacking with a finesse weapon or a tiny one fighting with a heavy one.

    So this would be quicker than the system suggested in the DMG (less Math), more fun (’cause rolling more dice = more fun) and use an already working mechanism. I think it’s worth a try !

  13. I’m definitely going to have to try this in my own games sometime, though with more experienced players (my current occasional 5E game is with a bunch fresh blood, which is good too 🙂 )

    But now I’m also thinking of attack modifiers per weapon (which I forget if they were in the DMG or not), then you can have damage, accuracy, or speed, pick two.

  14. This solves the historical problem that 1e and 2e recognized with TotM combat. Which is, it gets pretty rote and repetitive which leads to boredom or “by the numbers combat”. If your not using minis then I would strongly suggest you use this variant. It’s a good compromise between completely abstract (and staid) TotM combat and hyper realistic (and tempo breaking) grid and mini combat.

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  16. Pingback: Some of the worst design choices in RPG history | Spriggan's Den

  17. Two things,

    First can we get rid of that stupid vampire comment?

    Secondly, While I am still running 3.5 rather then 4th or 5th, using this system has actually worked out well for me in my games. The biggest slow down we always had was the casters trying to figure out what they where going to do when their turn came up. By making them declare at the start of the round while making combats a bit more chaotic definitely sped things up significantly. Frankly I am kinda kicking my self for not thinking about something like this sooner.

    • No. The Vampire Comment stays. Look, I’ve dealt with a LOT of spam. I’ve got some pretty good spam blocking, but occasionally something sneaks through and I have to manually flag it. And usually the crap that gets through is generic compliments like “you are the best web zone on your topic and everyone should be read you this article” with a link buried in the name or something. And I axe that stuff without a second thought. But the vampire thing… I have no idea what it is. Or who wrote it. Or why. I’m half tempted to e-mail just to find out what the hell is going on. Either way, there’s not enough wonder in the world for me to go around destroying something mysterious and awe inspiring like this. It isn’t hurting anyone.

      Second, glad it’s working out for you. I do like the dynamic it creates for casters. Think of it as an additional level of balancing spellcasting against melee/ranged attacks.

  18. One thing that’s probably going to sound really nitpicky and rules-lawyerey, but donning or doffing a shield is an action. It says so in the PHB armor section.

    I do like the concept, though, and I’ll be sure to use this in one of my campaigns sometime, to see how it holds up ingame.

    • True, but he was just dropping it. Doffing a shield is considered stowing it on your person. Just letting go of it wouldn’t take a full action.

  19. Question: How does Pact Magic factor into the speed chart? Warlocks cast all spells based on highest level available to them, not via lvl specific slots. So are they continually gimped by the speed factor as they go up in levels? Or does it only count the base level of the spell (i.e. a 1st lvl spell cast using a 3rd lvl slot is -1 whereas a 3rd lvl spell cast at 3rd is -3)?

    • You use the spell’s level, not the level of the slot used to cast the spell. At least, that’s how I do it. Overclocking your Magic Missile doesn’t make it more complex to cast. In my mind.

  20. Maybe I’m misunderstanding something, but this confused me:

    “Here’s a couple of special rules. First, you must declare your action AND any bonus actions you want to take. However, you only modify your initiative by the SLOWEST action. Not both. But you always ALSO modify it based on the speed.”

    In your example:

    “Carol: I’m going to cast a spell and attack with my longsword. The spell’s a bonus action.
    DM: What spell?
    Carol: Smiting smite, it’s second level.
    DM: So, you’re medium sized. Melee with a normal, one handed weapon is +0, but smiting smite is second level. So, that’s -2.”

    So the initiative is modified by the slowest Action – spellcasting, at -2 – but then it’s also modified based on its speed, per the first quote? How so, what are the rules for that, how come that isn’t in the example?


    • I think by speed he meant of the race. Initial initiative + Slowest action modification + Race modification = final initiative.

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