The Side Initiative variant in the DMG (pg 270) states that both sides in a combat roll a d20 for initiative with no modifiers. I think the stated exclusion of modifiers was primarily for simplification purposes, but I also think it screws players whom have bonuses to their initiative score for various reason.

I had a few thoughts on adjudicating this in some manner, but what seemed to be the fairest would be to determine the average initiative bonus for the group and apply that as a modifier. For example, assume the following group members all have a base Dex modifier of +2, their initiative is as follows:

  • 10th level Barbarian - +7 (gets a +5 bonus due to Advantage from Feral Instinct)
  • 10th level Bard - +4 (gets 1/2 proficiency bonus from Jack of All Trades)
  • 10th level Fighter - +12 (has a Blade of Warning and has taken the Alert feat)
  • 10th level Monk - +2

Overall, this group has a total initiative bonus of +25, which when divided by all of them is +6 (rounded down).

Is this a fair way to adjudicate the side initiative roll or is it unbalancing to do in this manner?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Do monsters have potential modifiers as well? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 16:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Whatever is written into their stats is their modifier. If a monster has Advantage for some reason, then it's a +5 to their check. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 16:31

3 Answers 3


Unclear on balance

Side Initiative (DMG, 270) states:

If you want quicker combats, at the risk of those combats becoming unbalanced, try using the side initiative rule.

And, as you stated, it has:

Neither roll [from monsters or PCs] receives any modifiers.

Ultimately, what you're trying to do is mix the modifiers from standard Initiative in with the simplified Side Initiative system. This should have two effects:

  1. Complicates Side Initiative a bit (slows it down by determining modifiers, where this variant was created to speed things up)
  2. May resolve some of the balance issues, but may also create more.

The rule wasn't developed for use of modifiers and specifically says NOT to use them. However, it also states that there may be imbalance from this, but not WHY it's imbalanced. My best guess is that the side with more creatures is going to get an advantage because they'll have more actions. If that is the PC side, then giving them additional modifiers is going to imbalance it towards them. If it's the NPC side, the balance shifts towards them. But ultimately by allowing an entire to side to go at once may lead to imbalance because whoever goes first will have an immense advantage.

By removing modifiers, you keep it more even and let purely the roll of the dice decide the imbalance rather than further boosting the PCs or NPCs.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the complications happen solely on the DM's side to determine the modifier for his group, regardless, it is an easy calculation. However, you stated that the imbalance could stem from the side with more creatures because they have more actions, but isn't that the same as the normal rules? If there are 5 PCs and 10 monsters, the 10 monsters have 10 actions as well as 10 chances to roll really well on initiative. Conversely, the players have 5 chances and those whom already have very high bonuses are likely to consistently roll high. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 16:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd agree that the complications are on the DM side to determine and calculate the modifiers (and I agree it's pretty easy, it's just adding what side initiative was trying to remove.) I think the imbalance inherent in the standard Side Initiative is that whichever side wins out may TPK the other before any chance of action by the opposite side. If you add the modifiers, then the initiative may tilt towards a PC win (because they've got more possible modifiers), which then tilts towards a rout of the NPCs. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 17:18

This works well as long as the side that goes first doesn't have a monster drastically below the average initiative that downs one or more foes on its first turn. That case, however, may well apply to the party.

Initiative modifiers in a side initiative system more valuable by a factor equal to the number of members of a side the but averaging the modifiers effectively reduces the value of bonuses by the same factor, so all you're doing is letting the bonuses come from any member rather than a single creature.

Note that the unbalance of side initiative comes from the amount of threat reduction and elimination the team that goes first can do before their opponents can act.

Also note that your party may try to enlist the aid of high-dex purchaseable npcs like cats and rats to bump the average initiative. Similar to splitting the party so as to avoid TPKs in side initiative's baseline variant, you need to get group buy-in to avoid this.


Enemies sharing the same initiative = Side Initiative

Having the enemies share the same initiative effectively results in Side Initiative anyways (while still using the PC's initiative modifiers). This method (detailed here) is like normal Side Initiative, but only the PC's that beat the enemy's initiative act initially:

  1. PC's all roll initiative: those that beat the monsters' initiative act
  2. All Monsters act
  3. All PC's act (continuing Side Initiative as normal)

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