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Normally, when 2 players roll identical initiative in combat, they decide between themselves the order they do things in and then stick to that on subsequent rounds.

How should the DM handle it if the NPC rolls the same initiative, especially if they are in combat directly with the player who rolled the identical initiative?

If rolling bulk initiative for a group of NPCs, how should identical rolls with players be handled here? It feels like a lot can swing on whether the GM chooses for the group of NPCs to attack the player before he can decide his action.

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In the rules for initiative, the Player’s Handbook suggests the following:

If a tie occurs, the DM decides the order among tied DM-controlled creatures, and the players decide the order among their tied characters. The DM can decide the order if the tie is between a monster and a player character. Optionally, the DM can have the tied characters and monsters each roll a d20 to determine the order, highest roll going first.

The DM decides, and the PHB gives a suggestion how they may make that decision.

Additionally, the Dungeon Master's Guide has many initiative variants that come with their own methods of resolving ties.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In my group, we always Roshambo to decide who goes first, but really, the important thing is that you use a method that everyone agrees on. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon Sep 7 '20 at 2:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 - I usually let players decide between them and make d20 rolls between player characters and monsters. Works without problems since D&D 3.0 times. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Sep 7 '20 at 9:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I let my players make a tactical choice on who goes first when they tie (though sometimes they roll anyways), and I generally have the player go first when they tie with a monster \$\endgroup\$ – aherocalledFrog Sep 7 '20 at 20:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ For anyone not from wherever @RevenantBacon is from - a quick google tells you that apparently Roshambo means Rock Paper Scissors. \$\endgroup\$ – Lio Elbammalf Sep 8 '20 at 8:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Deferment, Initiative modifiers, and then a die roll (typically a d6 or d20) are used in my group \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Sep 11 '20 at 15:55
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The initiative rules in the PHB/basic rules state, in part (emphasis mine):

If a tie occurs, the DM decides the order among tied DM-controlled creatures, and the players decide the order among their tied characters.

In our group we then decided to resolve a tie in the initiative roll via the Dexterity score: the character with the highest Dex goes first. In case of a further tie in Dex scores, then a d20 roll will solve it (the highest goes first).

As a DM, I apply the same rule in case of PC vs. NPC ties, and when several NPCs roll the same initiative. I've never handled the case of bulk initiative, but I have in mind to just re-roll it, instead of looking at the Dex score.

Keep in mind that the PHB doesn't specifically say to resolve ties by comparing Dex scores; this is just the method we've chosen to decide the order of tied characters, per the guidance in the PHB.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Under the suggestions in PHB, in our group a tie in the initiative roll is resolved via the DEX score" - The PHB does not suggest anything of the sort. That said, Roll20 does make this an easy/default way to resolve ties, because it has an "Add Dex tiebreaker to initiative" checkbox in the character sheet settings for the D&D 5e sheet by Roll20: roll20.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/… \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 6 '20 at 21:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast what I meant is that since in PHB is written "the players decide the order among their tied characters" as players we hence decided to resolve tie in this way. My phrasing is not good, I change it. \$\endgroup\$ – Eddymage Sep 6 '20 at 21:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comparing modifiers was the rule in 3.5. It's not in 5e though it's a valid method. \$\endgroup\$ – Studoku Sep 7 '20 at 14:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ My groups have always worked this way too, though we look at the initiative modifier instead of DEX (so there's some more incentive to take improved initiative even if you have high DEX). The important thing is to make sure everyone knows (and agrees on) how you're handling this going in, because the way it's handled can have an impact on how they choose to build their characters. \$\endgroup\$ – Austin Hemmelgarn Sep 7 '20 at 14:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Studoku we compare the DEX scores, not the modifiers: in this way you can resolve the tie in more situations, since the same modifier is given by two ability score. \$\endgroup\$ – Eddymage Sep 7 '20 at 16:05

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