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The Artificer's Flash of Genius says:

When you or another creature you can see within 30 feet of you makes an ability check or a saving throw, you can use your reaction to add your Intelligence modifier to the roll.

On the one hand, an initiative roll is an ability check, which means that it's eligible for Flash of Genius. However, it's not clear whether I would have my reaction available at the moment when initiative is being rolled. So, can I use Flash of Genius to add to an initiative roll? Does it make a difference if I'm surprised?

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You can take reactions outside of combat.

As evidence of being able to take a reaction in response to a relevant trigger outside of combat, consider the spell feather fall:

Choose up to five falling creatures within range. A falling creature's rate of descent slows to 60 feet per round until the spell ends. If the creature lands before the spell ends, it takes no falling damage and can land on its feet, and the spell ends for that creature.

Feather fall has a casting time of 1 Reaction,

which you take when you or a creature within 60 feet of you falls.

I think it quite obvious that the act of falling does not initiate combat or require rolling initiative, and so there is a clear sense in which feather fall is intended to be usable outside of combat. Therefore, you have your reaction available outside of combat.

Flash of Genius works if you are not surprised.

In the order of combat section of the Player's Handbook, determining surprise comes before rolling initiative. Surprise is the only thing that would prevent you from taking your reaction at this point:

The DM determines who might be surprised. [...]

If you're surprised, you can't move or take an action on your first turn of the combat, and you can't take a reaction until that turn ends. A member of a group can be surprised even if the other members aren't.

It is in the section following the surprise rules that the rules for initiative are explained. After determining surprise comes the ability check for initiative:

When combat starts, every participant makes a Dexterity check to determine their place in the initiative order.

This is the reaction trigger:

When you or another creature you can see within 30 feet of you makes an ability check or a saving throw, you can use your reaction to add your Intelligence modifier to the roll.

You are making an ability check when you roll initiative1, so as long as you are not surprised, you may use your reaction at this point to use Flash of Genius.


1 To further solidify this particular point, the Sage Advice Compendium clarifies that the Bard's Jack of All Trades feature adds half-proficiency to initiative roles: "Don’t forget that initiative rolls are Dexterity checks, so Jack of All Trades can benefit a bard’s initiative".

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If you're surprised, you cannot use Flash of Genius

Getting the more clear part out of the way first, the rule on "Surprise" state (emphasis mine):

If you're surprised, you can't move or take an action on your first turn of the combat, and you can't take a reaction until that turn ends. A member of a group can be surprised even if the other members aren't.

The rules on "The Order of Combat" state (emphasis original):

COMBAT STEP-BY-STEP

  1. Determine surprise. The DM determines whether anyone involved in the combat encounter is surprised.

  2. Establish positions. The DM decides where all the characters and monsters are located. Given the adventurers' marching order or their stated positions in the room or other location, the DM figures out where the adversaries are--how far away and in what direction.

  3. Roll initiative. Everyone involved in the combat encounter rolls initiative, determining the order of combatants' turns.

  4. Take turns. Each participant in the battle takes a turn in initiative order.

  5. Begin the next round. When everyone involved in the combat has had a turn, the round ends. Repeat step 4 until the fighting stops.

Notably, surprise is determined before initiative is rolled, meaning that your Artificer is considered surprised and thus cannot take reactions such as Flash of Genius.


If you're not surprised, maybe you can?

This is honestly just unclear to me whether you can or cannot take a reaction when initiative is rolled (step 3 in the combat step-by-step mentioned above). We know you can take a reaction before your turn but this is also just a weird time in general, if it even is a time at all.

It is after the combat rules have begun (surprise and positions have been determined and established) and initiative rolls are ability checks so I could see an argument made that the Artificer can use Flash of Genius.

I could also see the argument made that the Artificer cannot use their Flash of Genius because they aren't reacting to anything. The section on "Reactions" states (emphasis mine):

[...] A reaction is an instant response to a trigger of some kind [...]

I'm not really sure what the Artificer would be reacting to here, though that comes down to the narration of what an initiative roll is more than anything else. The feature literally models the Artificer's "ability to come up with solutions under pressure" and what that ability can meaningfully be applied to is ultimately up to the GM. I don't see a lot of convincing details in this argument, but I can see the idea behind it.


I have not yet found any player character features that allow them to do something when initiative is rolled. The closest I've found are things like the Bard's Superior Inspiration feature:

At 20th level, when you roll initiative and have no uses of Bardic Inspiration left, you regain one use.

This just happens and does not use up the Bard's reaction, so though it isn't quite the same it does show that something can happen when initiative is rolled. Whether this includes taking reactions, is unclear for me and I have not found any rules explaining precisely when you are first able to use your reaction when not surprised.

That said, Thomas Markov did remember/find in their answer that the feather fall spell exists. A spell that explicitly allows you to take a reaction when somebody falls, an event that can certainly happen outside of combat. This is evidence that could point towards reactions being able to be used at any time and thus supports the idea that Flash of Genius can be used on initiative rolls.


I would rule that Flash of Genius works on initiative rolls

I let my players take actions, and bonus actions outside of combat so I see no reason not to allow them to take reactions outside of combat as well. Thus, I would allow my players to take reactions both inside and outside of combat; Initiative rolls must be happening at at least one of those times, so I would allow them to use Flash of Genius on initiative rolls.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I mean, the trigger for Flash of Genius is "when you or another creature you can see within 30 feet of you makes an ability check or a saving throw". I don't think there's any general requirement for the trigger to be perceivable; that's for readied actions. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 26 '20 at 14:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson Well yes but it should be something describable at least to me. I said it was a bad argument but I can see a point made that the Artificer cannot know to use the feature; after all, it models the Artificer's "ability to come up with solutions under pressure." and what that can meaningfully be applied to is up to the GM \$\endgroup\$
    – Medix2
    Jul 26 '20 at 14:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't doubt that reactions are usable outside of combat (i.e. outside of initiative). And of course they are usable in combat. I guess I just feel like the process of transitioning from non-initiative to initiative is somehow neither in nor out of initiative? I doubt there's any rules support for such a "transition" state, though. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 27 '20 at 2:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd say it definitely mechanically works as written, though it might narratively feel a little nonsensical unless someone can come up with a really good explanation for what the reaction corresponds to in-universe in the particular case of "reacting to the initiative roll". \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jul 27 '20 at 5:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Yeah and I thought I made it clear that that's what I was saying, but it seems I did not \$\endgroup\$
    – Medix2
    Jul 27 '20 at 12:37

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