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Here's the scenario.

A group of 4 adventurers move into a room of 5 highly trained kobolds who employ group tactics. Their main strategy is shield walls with kobold-sized pikes. They try to form up but their initiative rolls are all over the place.

A shield wall works by everyone moving together, your shield protecting not only you but the soldier to either side of you and those behind you. If a soldier moves forward in front of the formation, not only are they exposed but there is a weak point in the formation that the enemy could exploit.

If the initiative is mixed up where 1 kobold takes a turn then 1 adventurer has a turn, then no matter what they do the shield wall will collapse as they won't be able to stay in formation.

How do I advance the shield wall without having gaps if the kobolds' turns are all mixed up?

Can I set movement as a reaction, so that when one moves, the rest follow? Can I have them skip a turn and so they all can move at the same initiative step?

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A houserule I use occasionally is to allow creatures (not players) to voluntarily drop their place in the initiative order, a combination of rolling one initiative for a whole group and readying actions in order to act simultaneously.

Roll all the initiatives separately, then when it gets to a creature you want to be 'in the group' have them ready an action to take with their comrade. When it reaches their comrade's turn in the initiative order the readied action triggers and you simultaneously drop that creature's place in the initiative order.

Mechanically this is the same as rolling initiative for all the creatures in a group but then giving the whole group the lowest initiative rolled as a nod to how hard it can be to 'form up' and organise into a unified fighting force. Thematically it's nice to describe the soldiers bringing their pikes to bear/the thieves giving each other a subtle nod/the wizards holding out their arms in preparation. Doing this description in different places in the initiative order can give the players a bit of a heads up that when their enemy does move it's likely going to hurt so they can prepare defences or try to disrupt the 'formation', and the payoff if a Paladin PC notices all the enemy archers are readying to fire at the frail old wizard PC just in time to stick himself in the way is very satisfying.

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Change the way you roll initiative.

From the PHB:

Initiative

...The DM makes one roll for an entire group of identical creatures, so each member of the group acts at the same time.

This method is easier and involves less bookkeeping than what you're doing, but can also be risky in that the players don't get a chance to react if the monsters focus all their attacks on one person, for example.

Alternatively, have them use the Ready action.

From the PHB:

Ready

Sometimes you want to get the jump on a foe or wait for a particular circumstance before you act. To do so, you can take the Ready action on your turn, which lets you act using your reaction before the start of your next turn.

First, you decide what perceivable circumstance will trigger your reaction. Then, you choose the action you will take in response to that trigger, or you choose to move up to your speed in response to it. Examples include “If the cultist steps on the trapdoor, I'll pull the lever that opens it,” and “If the goblin steps next to me, I move away.”

When the trigger occurs, you can either take your reaction right after the trigger finishes or ignore the trigger. Remember that you can take only one reaction per round.

This allows your kobolds to move on their individual turns if you'd like, and then all of them can take one action OR move on the last one's turn. They would Ready an action such as 'When Dave attacks, I will attack as well', or Ready movement as 'When Dave advances, I will advance with him.'

This prevents them from using other Reactions, though, and they can only do one action or movement in sync (not both).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Post edited, thanks for the clarification! \$\endgroup\$ – Syric Oct 15 '18 at 0:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SirTechSpec I was so bold and removed that section. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Oct 15 '18 at 9:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ While grouping the Kobolds does mean the players can't react to focused Kobold attacks, it equally means the Kobolds can't react to focused player attacks. In my experience, this either balances out or favors the players a bit (though others may disagree, naturally). \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Oct 15 '18 at 11:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Might be worth mentioning that you don't necessarily have to change the way you roll initiative, but instead for these types of very disciplined groups they roll once for the entire group. Everyone else can still roll individually, if you so chooose. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Oct 15 '18 at 13:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Group initiative and ready action seems to cover this scenario pretty well. They are specifically trained in group, so they will attack or defend as one. Would be even tougher in a corridor. :) \$\endgroup\$ – XAQT78 Oct 15 '18 at 15:21

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