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I've been checking out Star Wars - Edge of the Empire and I really like the initiative system used in it.

... Once all Initiative checks have been made, the CM notes down the results of each check and ranks them in order, from highest number of successes to lowest number of successes.

STEP 2: ASSIGN INITIATIVE SLOTS

Once the GM has determined the Initiative order, he notes which results were generated by Player Characters, and which results were generated by NPCs. The results generated by Player Characters become Player Character Initiative slots. The results generated by NPCs become NPC Initiative slots.

STEP 3: PARTICIPANTS TAKE TURNS

Beginning at the top of the Initiative order, the players and CM fill each Initiative slot one at a time with a character turn. If the Initiative slot is a Player Character Initiative slot, then the players agree on one Player Character to fill the slot from amongst the Player Characters who have not acted that round. That Player Character then takes this turn. If the Initiative slot is an NPC Initiative slot, then the CM chooses one NPC to fill the slot from amongst the NPCs who have not acted that round. That NPC then takes this turn.

In essence, players roll initiative 'slots' that can then be used by any player to take their turns each round.

I'm considering implementing this in my 5e campaign, as I'm not a huge fan of the static initiative rules they currently have. Players would roll for initiative as normal, but then would be able to freely choose their turn order within the rolled slots.

I realize this would be a significant step up in power for the PCs, as they would be able to much more consistently pull off synergies between classes that are highly dependent on turn order (eg. barbarian knocks enemy prone and rogue can get the sneak attack before the enemy stands back up), as well as increasing the potential effects of 'until end of next turn' features (eg. monk going first on round 1, using stunning strike, then going last on turn 2 so the enemy is effectively stunned for 2 rounds). However, I plan to combat this by having enemies able to use the same system to gain similar advantages.

My aim is to enable tactical choices regarding turn order and initiative, beyond those of the base rules.

Considering the above, to what extent would using this initiative system break/unbalance the game? I'm fine with an overall increase in power level, as I can adjust encounters etc. to suit but I'd like to avoid upsetting the class balance if possible.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Not an answer, but you need to somehow factor in lair actions into this which state: "At initiative order 20, a creature can use one of its lair action options." Since there's no "20" in that system, you need to account for it somehow. \$\endgroup\$ – Reginald Blue Oct 8 at 17:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Initiative would be rolled as normal, and then the slots assigned to those values. The numbers would still have meaning as a way to rank the slots, so lair actions would create then occupy a '20' slot. \$\endgroup\$ – Count Quizzical Oct 9 at 8:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ What happens if...*when* the players don't agree about who should go at what point? Is there a party leader who makes the final decision? Will you as DM step in and decide? \$\endgroup\$ – Shawn V. Wilson Oct 14 at 20:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's more an issue with the core rules from EotE, as opposed to the implementation of them in 5e, so any advice/rulings from there would also be applicable. Though you raise a good point - might be worth an SE question about it... \$\endgroup\$ – Count Quizzical Oct 15 at 8:31
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Wizards go 'boom' (or 'woosh')

Certain classes are really good at ending an encounter in a single move, especially at lower levels. The most obvious problem is the Fireball spell, which will end almost any encounter with Goblins and the like before it has truly even started, blowing every enemy to kingdom come.

Normally, this isn't that big a deal, because the chance that the wizard goes first before anybody else moves isn't that large. If the Goblins get a chance to spread out the encounter is no longer a one-solution-fixes-the-problem situation. Using the Edge of the Star Wars initiative system (which I've DMed for a few games and I love) essentially makes this "will one of the players roll an initiative higher than the goblin group", and that chance is significantly higher.

Players coming up with creative combinations of their powers is great. It'll help them think like a team, it promotes everybody to go "look what we did together!" and it'll lead to an overall better experience for the group.

What the Star Wars initiative system actually encourages however is to let the guy with the biggest AoE go first, who will then end the encounter before it even began. This could very well lead to resentment and arguments between players who are tired of thinking "awesome, a fight with 20 orcs!", only to see the fireball-wizard blow up the entire orc army before they even moved.

It's not as big a deal for encounters that won't be ended in a single spell such as boss-fights, but drastically increasing the chances of the player-side AoE spells going first will make a lot of encounters predictable and boring.

Even if a wizard can't kill everybody in a single spell, being able to consistently go first will mean a lot of encounters will become non-encounters. At higher levels, the wizard could always save a Teleport spell for when things go bad. "Oh woops, we walked into a room with an Ancient Red Dragon and 90 Scarymagjigs, but as long as one of us rolls higher initiative than them, I can teleport everybody away instantly, so no big deal."

Battlefield control spells are already incredibly powerful. A Wizard (or other caster with such abilities) being allowed to the ability to pretty much always go first will make that class seem even stronger than it would otherwise be, even if it's simply something as simple as giving everybody 'Fly' the moment you see the Tarrasque show up.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 9 at 5:37
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It doesn't actually "break" anything

Although it definitely affect the game in a few ways, which you or your players might find interesting or unsatisfactory, depends on your preferences. 5e doesn't have the one "correct" way of playing, it gives you options instead. The Dungeon Master's Guide has even less constrictive initiative variant, so the game is okay with that. This optional rule is called "side initiative":

If you want quicker combats, at the risk of those combats becoming unbalanced, try using the side initiative rule.
(DMG page 270)

Basically, a group of combatants goes first, then goes the next one. Within the group, players (or the DM who controls the monsters) decide, what order do the characters act in.

Your initiative variant is a mild version of the side initiative — all the combatants within a side can change turns freely, but sides can be mixed, so the damage burst is less problematic.

You've already said most of the upsides and downsides:

Pros —

  • combat becomes quicker (does not apply to your variant unfortunately, since players still roll for initiative in your case)
  • combat might become more tactical, hence, more fun for the players (if they needed that tactics)

Cons —

  • combat might become slower, since players have to make more decisions (who goes first, etc)
  • players can be overwhelmed with tactical options and have to deal with analysis paralysis every time
  • combat might become unbalanced (over-effective synergy you've mentioned)
  • any bonuses to initiative makes no sense (also does not apply to your variant)

House rules might be unnecessary tho

Regardless of any possible "balance" issues, introducing custom house-rules always brings a few complications into the game:

  • Players are not familiar with it; they have to learn other material aside from official books
  • Any new rule you and your players have to follow makes the game more complicated, which is not a good thing in 5e paradigm
  • A new rule can have unexpected interactions with other parts of the game, nobody knows this in advance, because of insufficient playtesting
  • Other groups do not have this rule too, this makes sharing experience a little more complicated

Before introducing a new house-rule, it makes sense to answer these three questions first:

  1. What problem are you trying to solve?
  2. Can this problem be solved using the existing set of rules?
  3. Can this new rule bring new problems, will pros overweight the cons?

So what do you do? Talk to your players

Does this initiative variant work for your table? First and foremost, introduce this rule to your players and ask, what do they think. It's quite possible they just won't be interested in it. If they are okay with the new rule, try it in your games and ask for the feedback afterwards. As a DM it is your job to do whatever you can to make sure everyone at the table is having fun, and nobody can say you, are your players having fun, besides of the players themselves.

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