We share our tips for running TTRPG scenarios without focusing on Initiative.
Initiative is a concept in games like Dungeons & Dragons that decides who acts when in combat. Players and enemies roll a d20 and add their Dexterity then a fight begins. It works well but it isn’t something we’ve come to rely on and neither should you.
Frankly, Initiative can bog down a game. Fights can take hours whereas traveling from point A to point B can take a manner of minutes. Not only does opting not to use Initiatve speed things up it allows everyone at the table to pay more attention. By not knowing when they are up, they may not dissappear into their phone. It’s a great way to ensure everyone, including the dungeon master, pays attention and is engaged.
Fights tend to take a bit of time. Player turns can be lengthy and other players may tune out while it isn’t their turn. The next time you have an encounter try forgoing Initiatve altogether. Instead, narrate what is happening and ask the players what they want their characters to do. It’s best to still stick with standard action economy – action, bonus action, move, reaction – but instead of acting in turn, they act after the enemy does their action.
For instance, if the group is up against a villain who is trying to get away with an artifact. Rather then go into Initiative, have them grab it as an action then run away. Then ask the players what they want to do. By not being in Initiative, they may think differently and not necessarily jump to fight mode.
Asking players what they want to do gives them more freedom. They don’t necessarily have to worry about waiting for another player to act before they do. No one is tied down by an order. As long as they act after the enemy or opposing force.
It’s a great time for players to try new things as well. Not being restrained by Initiative can open up some new opporunities in working together and thinking of unique ways to handle situations. It’s an idea that can really change the flow of any session and make encounters more freeing and cinematic.
Initiative Shouldn’t Mean Combat
The definition of Initiative according to the Player’s Handbook states,
“Initiative determines the order of turns during combat. When combat starts, every participant makes a Dexterity check to determine their place in the initiative order.”
Saying ‘roll for Initiative’ may cause players to automatically think they should engage instant kill mode. That shouldn’t always be the case.
When you break away from thinking of Initiative as strictly combat you start to see everything in a more cinematic view. Action movies all have intense scenes but think about all of the stuff that happens. They are generally more than just fast punches, swift kicks, car chases, and bullets. Villains monologue and characters react. Everything is so alive. By using these alternate rules, you can make more engaging encounters that don’t end in a blood bath. Why you Shouldn’t Rely on Initiative