Old School Initiative: House Rule

I’ve been reading some 2e D&D and older RPGs lately, and one idea that jumps out at me as something we might want to revisit is an older method for initiative.

Generally, what I’ve seen is asking the players to declare their actions, and then playing things out in the order declared. Some things take precedence, and some things always go last. It’s a little bit more work at the top of each round to coordinate, but I’m wondering if it might actually be worth it. I put together some rules for a 5e game using these and thought I’d give it a while now and again.

My hope is that it helps reduce the problem of players checking out when it isn’t their turn. By breaking a turn into a bunch of micro-turns, and allowing players to jump in whenever, it should mix things up some. A secondary goal is to make combat a little messier and make things a little harder for players to set up perfect combos with their build. If you move next to a foe and plan to use your sword to finish them, but the rogue beats you to it, you may no longer have anyone within reach.

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OS Initiative

A list of terms and definitions. Specifically, the ones that are changing.

Rolling Initiative: Rolling initiative is done at the start of a combat encounter like normal. That said, it doesn’t always determine who goes first. What it does is determine any tie breakers for actions. So, if both players want to cast a spell, whoever got the higher initiative casts theirs first.

Surprise: Surprised creatures don’t get to act in the first turn as normal.

Lair Actions: Lair actions always trigger at the start of a round. They always go first.

Legendary Actions: Can be used at specific times. Notably, at the end of the Action, Movement, and Spellcasting phases. A creature can use any legendary action at any of these times, but still no more than 3 actions per round.

Effects that trigger “When a creature starts their turn“: These are known as Start of Turn Actions. Now trigger right after legendary actions, for everyone.

Effects that trigger “At the end of a creature’s turn” or “When a creature ends their turn”: These are now known as End of Turn Actions. This is always the last effect each round to trigger.

Reactions: Can be used to interrupt any actions, provided their criteria are met.

Bonus Actions: Some bonus actions have trigger conditions. Those trigger conditions indicate when they can be used, and if you still have a bonus action available, you are free to use them (Crossbow expert). Some bonus actions can be taken on their own (Misty Step). The DM will call for bonus actions twice, but players still only get bonus actions once per round.

The Stack

Initiative is determined according to The Stack. A lower number has a priority.

  1. Lair Actions
  2. Start of Turn Actions
  3. Movement
  4. Bonus Actions
  5. Non-spellcasting Actions (attacks, skills, class features)
  6. Bonus Actions
  7. Spellcasting Actions (spells that require an action to cast)
  8. End of Turn Actions

Each round, the DM will call for initiative to settle tie breakers. Then, the DM will go around the table in initiative order, asking for players to take Lair Actions (probably just monsters), then asking for anyone with a Start of Turn Action, then movement (most of the time this is where things pick up). Once movement is resolved for each player and monster in initiative order, Bonus Actions can be used and so on down the line. Players who can take no action or choose not to take an action during a phase can pass their turn. Once the End of Turn Actions are resolved, we start back at the top. A DM might not reroll initiative each round, to speed up gameplay.

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