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The initiative roll determines who acts first in any given combat round. Initiative is not set, but changes from round to round (combat being an uncertain thing, at best). A character never knows for certain if he will get to act before another.

Initiative is normally determined with a single roll for each side in a conflict. This tells whether all the members of the group get to act before or after those of the other side(s).

There are also two optional methods that can be used to determine initiative. Each of these optional methods breaks the group action down into more individual initiatives. However, the general method of determining initiative remains the same in all cases.

Standard Initiative Procedure

To determine the initiative order for a round of combat, roll 1d10 for each side in the battle. Normally, this means the DM rolls for the monsters (or NPCs), while one of the players rolls for the PC party. Low roll wins initiative. If more than two sides are involved in combat, the remaining sides act in ascending order of initiative.

If both (or all) sides roll the same number for initiative, everything happens simultaneously--all attack rolls, damage, spells, and other actions are completed before any results are applied. It is possible for a wizard to be slain by goblins who collapse from his sleep spell at the end of the round.

Initiative Modifiers

Situational factors can affect who has initiative. To reflect this, modifiers are added to or subtracted from the initiative die roll.

The DM decides that one initiative roll is sufficient for each group and no modifiers are needed for either group. (Although Rath is charging, the orcs and trolls are too busy rearranging their lines to be set to receive his charge and so the -2 to receive charge is not used.)
Harry, rolling for the player characters, gets a 7 on a 10-sided die. The DM rolls a 10. The player characters, having the lowest number, act first.
Delsenora's acid arrow strikes one of the trolls just as Rath takes a swing at the last of the fleeing orcs. A bowshot from Rupert drops another one of the creatures as it takes its position in the second rank. Now the monsters strike back.
The orcs manage to finish forming their line. Enraged by the acid, the lead troll tears into Rath, hurting him badly. The others swarm around him, attempting to tear him limb from limb.

Group Initiative (Optional Rule)

Some people believe that using a single initiative roll for everyone on the same side is too unrealistic. It is, admittedly, a simplification, a way to keep down the number of die rolls required in a single round, allowing for much faster combat. However, the actions of different characters, the types of weapons they use, and the situation can all be factors in determining initiative.

Using this optional method, one initiative die roll is still made for each side in the fight. However, more modifiers are applied to this roll, according to the actions of individual characters. These modifiers are listed on Table 56.

Some of the modifiers depend on ability, spell, and weapon. Characters casting spells (but not monsters using innate abilities) must add the spellcasting time to the die roll. Characters attacking with weapons add the weapons' speed factors to the die roll (see the equipment lists in Chapter 6: Money and Equipment). All other modifiers are applied according to each individual's situation.

In the second round of the combat, the DM decides to use the modified group initiative. Rath is surrounded by trolls and not in the best of health. The rest of the party has yet to close with the monsters.
The DM decides that one troll will continue attacking Rath, with the help of the orcs, while the other trolls move to block reinforcements. In particular, the troll burned by the acid arrow is looking for revenge. The DM then turns to the players for their actions.
Players (all at once): “I'm going to...” “Is he going?...” “I'm casting a...”
DM (shouting): “One at a time! Rath?”
Harry: “I'll blow my horn of blasting.”
DM: “It'll take time to dig it out.”
Harry: “I don't care, I'm doing it.”
Jon: “Draw my sword and attack one of the trolls!”
DM: “Anne?”
Anne (not paying attention to the other two): “Cast a fireball.”
Harry and Jon: “NO! DON'T!”
DM: “Well, is that what you're doing? Quickly!”
Anne: “No. I'll cast a haste spell! Centered on me, so Rupert and Rath are just at the edge.”
DM: “Okay. Harry, roll initiative and everyone modify for your actions.”
Harry rolls 1d10 and gets a 6. The DM rolls for the monsters and gets a 5. Each person's initiative is modified as follows:
Rath is using a miscellaneous magical item (modifier +3). His modified initiative is 9 (6+3=9).
Rupert is using a bastard sword +1 with two hands (weapon speed 7 instead of 8 because of the +1). His modified initiative is 13 (6+7=13).
Delsenora is casting a spell (haste spell, casting time 3). Her modified initiative is the same as Rath's, 9.
The trolls are attacking with their claws and bites (large creatures attacking with natural weapons +6). Their modified initiative is 11 (5+6=11).
The orcs are using long swords (weapon speed 5). Their modified initiative is 10 (5 + 5 = 10).
After all modified initiatives are figured, the combat round goes as follows: Delsenora (initiative 9) completes her spell at the same time that Rath (9) brings the house down on the orcs with his horn of blasting.
The orcs (initiative 10) would have gone next, but all of them have been crushed under falling rock.
The three trolls (initiative 11) are unfazed and attack, one at Rath and the other two springing forward, hitting Delsenora and missing Rupert.
Finally, Rupert (initiative 13) strikes back. He moved too slowly to block one troll's path to Delsenora, but manages to cut off the second. Things look very grim for the player characters.

Individual Initiative (Optional Rule)

This method of determining initiative is the same as that just given earlier, except that each PC, NPC, and monster involved in the fight rolls and then modifies his own initiative roll. This gives combat a more realistic feel, but at the expense of quick play.

To players, it may not seem like too much for each to roll a separate initiative die, but consider the difficulties: Imagine a combat between six player characters (each controlled by a player) and five hirelings and henchmen against 16 hobgoblins and five ogres (all of which must be rolled by the DM).

Furthermore, each die roll must be modified according to each individual's actions. The resulting rolls make every combat round a major calculation.

This method is not recommended for large-scale combats. It is best used with small battles in which characters on the same side have vastly different speeds.

In the third round of combat, the DM decides to use individual initiatives. Each character is involved in his own fight and there aren't too many to deal with. Cut off from retreat by fallen rock, the trolls attack. The DM asks the players their intentions.
Harry: “Hit him with my hammer +4!”
Rupert: “Chop him up.”
Anne (now in serious trouble): “Cast a burning hands spell.”
Each character or monster now rolls 1d10. The rolls and modified results are:
Rath rolls a 2 and is attacking with his hammer (weapon speed 0 instead of 4 due to +4) and is hasted (-2), so his modified initiative is 0.
Rath's troll rolls a 1 and is attacking with natural weapons (+6 modifier) for a total of 7 (1+6=7).
Rupert rolls a 2 and has a weapon speed of 7 and is hasted (-2) for a modified initiative of 7 (2+7-2=7).
Rupert's troll rolls a 5 and modifies this by +6 for an 11 (5+6=11).
Delsenora is very unlucky and rolls a 9. Since she is casting a spell, she gains no benefit from the haste spell, this round. She has a casting time of 1 for a total of 10 (9+1=10).
The troll fighting Delsenora is very quick and rolls a 1, modified to 7 (1+6=7).
The order of attacks is: Rath (initiative 0) strikes with his hammer. Rupert and the two trolls (attacking Rath and Delsenora, all initiative 7) attack immediately after. Rupert hits. The troll attacking Rath misses, but Delsenora is hit. Delsenora's spell (initiative 10) would normally happen next, but instead it fizzles, her concentration ruined by the blow from the troll. Next, Rupert's troll attacks and misses. Because of the haste spell, Rath and Rupert now attack again (in order of initiative), Rath first, then Rupert.

Multiple Attacks and Initiative

Often combat involves creatures or characters able to attack more than once in a single round. This may be due to multiple attack forms (claws and bite), skill with a weapon, or character level. No matter what the reason, all multiple attacks are handled by one of two methods.

When multiple attacks are the result of different attack forms--claws and a bite or bite and tail or a ranger with his two-weapon combat ability for example--the attacks all occur at the same time. The creature resolves all of its attacks in initiative order.

When the attacks are true multiples--using the same weapon more than once--as in the case of a highly skilled fighter, the attacks are staggered. Everyone involved in the combat completes one action before the second (or subsequent) attack roll is made.

Take, for example, a fighter who can attack twice per round, and say he's battling creatures that can only make one attack. The fighter wins initiative. He makes his first attack according to the rolled initiative order. Then each creature gets its attack. Finally, the fighter gets his second attack.

If fighters on both sides in a battle were able to attack twice in the round, their first attacks would occur according to the initiative roll. Their second attacks would come after all other attacks, and would then alternate according to the initiative roll.

Spellcasting and Initiative

Casting times for spells can modify initiative rolls, creating a realistic delay for the spellcaster. When a spell's “Casting Time” parameter is given as a number without any units (for example, rounds or turns), then that number is added to the caster's initiative roll to determine his modified initiative. When a spell requires a round or more to cast, a normal initiative roll is not made--a spell requiring one round to cast takes effect at the end of the current round, after all other actions are completed.

Spells that require more than one round to cast involve some bookkeeping. The DM or one of the players must keep track of the rounds spent in casting. If the spellcasting character is disturbed during this time, the spell is lost. If all goes well, the spell takes effect at the very end of the last round of the required casting time. Thus, a spell requiring 10 minutes to cast would require 10 combat rounds, and wouldn't take effect until the very end of the 10th round.

Weapon Speed and Initiative (Optional Rule)

Each time a character swings a weapon, he places himself out of position to make his next attack. Swinging a hammer is not as simple as tapping in a nail. A war hammer is heavy. Swing it in one direction and it pulls in that direction. It has to be brought under control and repositioned before it can be swung again. The user must regain his balance and plant his feet firmly. Only after doing all this is he ready for his next attack.

Compare how quickly someone can throw a punch to the amount of time required to swing a chair to get a good idea of what weapon speed factors are about.

Weapon speed factors slow the speed of a character's attack. The higher the weapon speed factor, the heavier, clumsier, or more limited the weapon is. For the most part, weapon speed factors apply to all creatures using manufactured weapons. The speed factor of a weapon is added to the initiative roll of the character to get his modified initiative roll.

Thus, if the DM decides to use weapon speed factors for player characters, they should also be used for giants, orcs, centaurs, and the like. Otherwise the DM isn't being fair to the players. However, creatures with natural weapons are not affected by weapon speed. Their attacks are natural extensions of their bodies, giving them much faster recovery and reaction times.

Magical Weapon Speeds

Magical weapons are easier to wield in combat than ordinary ones. Maybe the weapon is lighter or better balanced than normal; maybe it just pulls the character into the proper position of its own volition. Whatever the cause, each bonus point conferred by a magical weapon reduces the speed factor of that weapon by 1. (A sword +3 reduces the weapon speed factor by 3, for example.) When a weapon has two bonuses, the lesser one is used. No weapon can have a speed factor of less than 0.

Table 55: Standard Modifiers to Initiative

Table 55: Standard Modifiers to Initiative
Specific Situation Modifier
Hasted -2
Slowed +2
On higher ground -1
Set to receive a charge -2
Wading or slippery footing +2
Wading in deep water +4
Foreign environment* +6
Hindered (tangled, climbing, held) +3
Waiting (see Chapter 11) +1
*This applies to situations in which the party is in a completely different environment (swimming underwater without the aid of a ring of free action, for example).

Everyone in the party who will be involved in the round's action must qualify for the modifier. For example, all members of a party must be on higher ground than the opposition in order to get the higher ground modifier. The DM will probably ask each player where his character is standing in order to clarify this.

The side with the lowest modified roll on 1d10 has the initiative and acts first.

Table 56: Optional Modifiers to Initiative

Table 56: Optional Modifiers to Initiative
Specific Situation Modifier
Attacking with weapon Weapon speed
Breath weapon +1
Casting a spell Casting time
Creature size (Monsters attacking
with natural weapons only)*
Tiny 0
Small +3
Medium +3
Large +6
Huge +9
Gargantuan +12
Innate spell ability +3
Magical Items**
Miscellaneous Magic +3
Potion +4
Ring +3
Rods +1
Scroll Casting time of spell
Stave +2
Wand +3
*This applies only to creatures fighting with natural weapons--claws, bites, etc. Creatures using weaponry use the speed factor of the weapon, regardless of the creature's size.
**Use the initiative modifier listed unless the item description says otherwise.