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I am a Cleric and the main healer in the party. I've noticed that often it can be quite helpful for me to have my turn towards the end of the round rather than at the beginning, but I tend to come up at the beginning because I have a high Dexterity score.

It can help quite a bit coming up later in the round in our campaign. Most of the time we take steady damage (which is fine) but at other times we get very sharp bursts of damage because of a house-rule on critical damage. So, being at the end of the round means that I can work out if anyone needs emergency healing right from the outset of a battle. This happens naturally sometimes because I roll low on initiative, but I want a more reliable approach.

So, to cut the long story short, can I refuse to roll for initiative and instead take my turn right at the end, after all others have had theirs?

Is there anything in the literature supporting or preventing this from happening, or would it have to be a house-rule?

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Just skip your first turn

Let's imagine the initiative order is You > Rogue > Enemies > Wizard > Fighter. You want to delay your turn such that the order is Rogue > Enemies > Wizard > Fighter > You. Well, if you take no actions on your first turn in combat, that's functionally equivalent to having the rogue go first and you go last.

Of course, taking absolutely no actions when you have the chance isn't usually a good idea, but this should illustrate why delaying your own initiative probably isn't a good idea either. If you want to save your best healing spells or other limited resources until after a few turns have taken place, just use a cantrip, a weapon, the help action, or take any other action that doesn't consumer resources on your first turn, and save your spell slots for the next round.

The Ready Action is also an option if you want to take an action later but not wait an entire round- say, you want to cast a spell after the enemies' turn but before the wizard. Note that there are some downsides to readying your action, especially if that action is casting a spell, so this is probably only worth it if you have a very specific reason to want to take an action at a very specific specific point in the initiative order. In my experience, readying a spell is only worth it if an enemy could make a save or eliminate a condition on their turn, which is not the case with healing magic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, this is the right answer. The initiative roll only really matters for the first turn, and after that the concept of "rounds" becomes arbitrary, because the turn order is circular, not linear. No one is going first or last any more. Also, if you really want to do nothing on a given turn, taking the dodge action is still almost certainly better than taking no action. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 30 at 16:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Dodge is a vastly underused action! \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Jan 30 at 17:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Medix2 Yes, the order matters, but "top of the round" ceases to have any practical meaning after the first round. You could treat any creature's turn as the top of the round and it would make no difference. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 30 at 19:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Side note: One situation where it can actually be very beneficial to skip your first turn (or take only the dodge action) is when the party is still trying to solve things diplomatically and you roll higher initiative than the party face, and any aggressive action you take might ruin the last chance of a non-violent resolution. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 30 at 19:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to add a bit, remember Clerics are not only healers but buffers as well: You could buff the party however you think best on your first turn, then on your second turn start healing however necessary \$\endgroup\$ – Belhenix Jan 31 at 3:28
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So bluntly speaking, "Delaying your turn" or otherwise refusing to participate in the initiative roll, in a combat where you otherwise intend to participate, isn't an option. There's no rule that permits this, and the 5e designers are on record as specifically not wanting to allow stuff that allows mutability to initiative because it messes with the durations of effects (which are usually keyed to the turn of the person who produced the effect).

I would also like to issue a frame challenge: I don't think the specific problem you're trying to fix actually is unique to having a high initiative score. I think it's also very common with a low initiative score.

Speaking as someone who has had to play a Paladin in scenarios where my allies were frequently bouncing between 0 and conscious multiple times in a row in combat, the specific issue you're describing pretty much always occurs whenever the BBEG has their turn directly after your own. You heal your ally—who is then promptly beaten back into the dirt by the BBEG, recognizing that their previous quarry has woken back up. Your ally, meanwhile, gets no chance to act on their turn (and depending on how fixated the BBEG is on them, they might be risking their final Death Saving Throw!). The trick here is that it's the same problem, regardless of whether you rolled 25 and the BBEG rolled 24, or you rolled 5 and the BBEG rolled 4: If their turn is (relatively speaking) after yours, and between you and your vulnerable ally, you're going to continue to have this problem.

And in general, automatically getting an Initiative of 1 is no guarantee of fixing the issue. The BBEG could just roll a 27, and we're once again in the same scenario.

So the solution then is to take strategic advantage of the Ready action.

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 so that you can act later in the round using your reaction.

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.

When you ready a spell, you cast it as normal but hold its energy, which you release with your reaction when the trigger occurs. To be readied, a spell must have a casting time of 1 action, and holding onto the spell's magic requires concentration (explained in chapter 10). If your concentration is broken, the spell dissipates without taking effect. For example, if you are concentrating on the web spell and ready magic missile, your web spell ends, and if you take damage before you release magic missile with your reaction, your concentration might be broken.

You have until the start of your next turn to use a readied action.

Ready Action, Player's Handbook, pg. 193

The sequencing you'll want is something like this, done before any of your allies have fallen (but after their health has gotten pretty low, in response to which you've moved adjacent to them):

I'm going to ready the spell Cure Wounds, and if an ally falls unconscious, then after the enemy stops attacking them, I'll use the spell on them to get them back up.

Of course, you can reword the trigger differently depending on your needs. If the BBEG is relentlessly attacking a single character, even through unconsciousness, you'll probably need to set the trigger to right after unconsciousness instead of "when they stop being attacked".

Regardless though, what this accomplishes is that if an Ally goes down, they get healed right away, which allows them to take their turn as normal—hopefully permitting them to Disengage and move away from the BBEG.

This, to me, solves the problem you're facing where Allies can suddenly go down due to spiky Critical Hit damage.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting! Thank you @Xirema - Thinking practically can the condition for the Ready action have two elements: "If after the monsters have attacked a party member has fallen unconscious, I cast Cure Wounds on him/her; otherwise I cast Sacred Flame on the mob nearest to me." If so, can you incorporate this into your answer please. \$\endgroup\$ – Senmurv Jan 30 at 16:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ETgothome Unfortunately, you cannot ready two different actions at once, especially not spells. You pick a single course of action, and a single trigger for that action. If A, then B. And with readying a spell, it requires concentration on the spell you're going to cast and you can't concentrate on two spells at once. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon Jan 30 at 16:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Exactly this - In the last handfull of sessions my party's rogue spent an entire combat unconscious, healed each round and knocked back on his arse before he had a chance to act. The healer going "last" wouldn't change that, healer going between BBEG and the rogue would have. \$\endgroup\$ – Andrew Apr 22 at 14:56
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No, Initiative isn't something that your character chooses

Initiative is a meta concept, even moreso than most of the rolling that's done. Initiative mostly exists as a way to allow the game to progress orderly, and is vaguely tied to Dexterity.

When a combat (or any initiative-tied event) occurs, the characters aren't "choosing" their quickness, they're reacting. So, your cleric can no more "choose" to go last than the rogue can "choose" to go first.

Even though I can't honestly think of any reason that a house rule to insert yourself last would hurt the game, there's nothing RAW to support it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem with houseruling this is that if the PC has a genuinely optimal reason to delay their turn, then a smart enemy may also wish to delay their turn in order to deny whatever opportunity you are seeking, and then you have an ambiguous situation with no obvious resolution. \$\endgroup\$ – Joe Jan 30 at 16:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Unless every character in the combat is doing it, then everything continues, and two characters waiting for each other to move just have to keep on waiting. Now, if everyone is doing it, that's a stand-off, which can be dramatic, and can lead to alternate plans, negotiations, threats, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – BlueHairedMeerkat Jan 30 at 17:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ While your character cannot choose how fast they react (initiative), they can choose what they do with their reaction (ready, do nothing). \$\endgroup\$ – gszavae Jan 31 at 0:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Joe: That's almost the exact definition of a standoff. The resolution is fairly simple: while both parties choose to hold off on taking action, no one is taking action and thus nothing happens. Logically, the aggressor would be the one who doesn't want this, as they are unable to actually be the aggressor when both parties choose not to engage in combat; which means it is to the benefit of the defending party. Either someone decides to go first and combat ensues, or they both will not act first and then combat simply doesn't take place since the aggressor is not actually an aggressor. \$\endgroup\$ – Flater Jan 31 at 9:28
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No, you can't delay your turn

You can certainly houserule something of the sort, but there is no way to delay your turn in the standard rules (no citation because it’s hard to prove a negative). If you expect to need to heal someone before your next turn but they’re not injured yet you can instead opt to Ready a healing spell to use whenever someone gets injured; Note however that if you do this and don’t end up needing it before the start of your next turn you will use up the spell slot and material components needed for the spell regardless.

Also you might want to clarify why you think this is problem; Under normal circumstances there isn’t really much of a big difference between taking an action at the start of the next round compared to taking one at the end of the current round, so if your “problem” is that you end up acting very early most of the time this shouldn’t be a big issue?

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The direct answer is no, not without house rules, as 5e does not have a delay turn option. You can ready your action to trigger when say an ally takes a heavy hit, but that's it.

Quite honestly, what's the difference? Unless you have houserules that re-roll initiative every round, having a turn at the beginning of the round is effectively the same as having a turn at the end of a round in which all other players and enemies are surprised. No matter where you are in the actual initiative order, you can re-write the list to put yourself at the bottom after your first turn.

If the initiative looks like this:

Rogue, Mob 1, Ranger, Mob 2, Cleric, Mob 3, Mob 4, Fighter, Paladin

After the first 5 individual turns in the round now we have:

Mob 3, Mob 4, Fighter, Paladin, Rogue, Mob 1, Ranger, Mob 2, Cleric

Putting you at the bottom of this initiative list. There are things in 5e that specifically reward going earlier (usually the rogue) and there's always benefit to getting options first, where you can choose to do nothing at all, but I have never seen something in D&D that actually rewards going later in a round.

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Now, as @Cubic has said, there is no way to delay your turn or choose a lower initiative order, but there may be a workaround to increase the odds of a lower order placement compared to your party members.

I will start by saying this is somewhat of an unrealistic solution upfront and would take time, resources and cooperation of your other party members, but if you want to more frequently be at a lower point in the initiative order, try to get the other players to boost theirs. If you could get all the other PCs to try to boost their initiative bonus, whether that be through feats such as Alert, magic items or choosing stat increases to go to DEX, you could in a way artificially lower your own initiative ranking in comparison to those around you.

This won't guarantee you will be at a lower or even lowest initiative order, but it will increase your chances. There is also no guarantee about any opponents in combat and how their initiative will compare to yours, but in theory as you level up and face more difficult fights, stats such as initiative tend to increase in monsters as well so that PCs don't get to have the whole party attack before the monster gets a hit in. So if you purposely went out of your way to avoid increasing your initiative bonus and encouraged those around you to boost theirs, it may help your case.

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As has already been noted by others, there is usually no consistent benefit to going later in initiative order, and you normally want to avoid persistent penalties to your roll.

That said, anything that gives you disadvantage on ability checks using DEX should lower your average initiative result. The easiest example would be to play with one level of exhaustion, but with the significant drawback of getting disadvantage on checks using other abilities too. You could work with your GM to see if you can agree on something more specific for targeting DEX. Perhaps being "slightly drunk", or based on the variant encumbrance rules for people carrying a heavy load. You may find other ideas here: Can you have advantage/disadvantage on your Initiative check?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ First of all, welcome to RPG.SE! Take the rpg.stackexchange.com/tour if you haven't already, and check out the rpg.stackexchange.com/help center for more guidance. This is a practical and workable and would considerably reduce my chances of going at the beginning of the turn. Thank you for thinking outside the box! \$\endgroup\$ – Senmurv Feb 1 at 8:30

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