Taking the Initiative

Last week in Unearthed Arcana, an alternate method for handling initiative was introduced. This new system requires every participant to decide what they want to do before each round of combat, then roll various related to those actions. The character with the lowest result goes first, then everyone else going in ascending order.

These variant rules are intriguing to me. On one hand, I like how they make combat less predictable. The fact that you are required to roll initiative each round means you can’t rely on a prescribed pattern, keeping you on your toes. Furthermore, I enjoy that it requires you to plan what you are going to do before the dice are rolled.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’m a fan of the additional complexity this system adds. The idea of rolling different dice for different kind of actions is interesting, but might just be a tad bit too fiddly for my tastes. It kind of reminds me of Weapon Speed in older edition. Theoretically nice, not so much in actual execution.

I’d definitely be willing to give “Greyhawk Initiative” a try, but I doubt it would become a permanent feature in my games. That being said, this new system did inspire me to think about alternate ways to handle initiative.


Don’t get me wrong, I think the default method presented in the Player’s Handbook is a solid system. It’s relatively easy to grok and very rarely gets in the way when you’re playing the game. There’s a reason why it’s the default.

However, I think I might adopt at least one aspect of the Greyhawk Initiative: rolling every round instead of just at the beginning of combat. I really dig the unpredictability it adds to each round. This would also allow me to test a house rule I’ve been tinkering around with that’d let characters who roll a Natural 20 to take their turn at any time during the round. This rule can work using the default method, but I think rolling each round would help it really shine.

The biggest issue with implementing this will be the extra step that will be added at the start of each round, which will obviously add more time to each encounter. I’ll be able to cut down on some of the additional time by utilizing Initiative Cards, which can be made by taking a couple of 3×5 index cards, folding them in half, writing down all the names of the characters upon them, and draping them over the top of your screen in the proper order. Each time the order changes, I just quickly move the cards.

Hell, I suggest everyone adopt the use of initiative cards. They generally speed up the process of establishing initiative order, plus create a useful visual for everyone at the table. Forget who goes next? Take a quick look at the DM’s screen to find out!

Before I end this post, which I should do to prevent myself from rambling, I want to leave you all with a question: How do you handle initiative in your game? Do you use the default method, or something else? Leave your answers in the comments below.


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