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D&D 5E has a variant Initiative rule called Speed Factor Initiative which has two differences compared to the standard Initiative rule:

  • Initiative is rolled every combat round
  • In addition to normal Initiative modifier (mostly DEX) there is an additional modifier that depends on the Action to be taken.

I recently read that a similar approach was typically used in old versions of D&D (such as AD&D 2E). If I understood correctly this edition used an initiative per side which was rolled each round and had a weapon dependent modifier as tie-breaker.

I was wondering:

  • Which editions of D&D used an Initiative system like Speed Factor Initiative (i.e. rolled every round and with Action dependent modifiers*)?
  • In which editions, if any, was such an Initiative system the default?

* Since a weapon can be changed between from one round to the next, this also counts for my question.

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1 Answer 1

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Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition and earlier

This Merric’s Musings blog post describes 2e initiative, and accurately says:

It is probably fair to say that the main line of D&D development never had a coherent initiative system until AD&D 2nd Edition came along in 1989. Gary Gygax was many things, but a writer of clear, unambiguous combat rules was not one of them.

2e had 3 initiative systems, the base system and 2 optional systems. In the base system each side rolled a d10 with the lower roll going first - very simple and straightforward. System 2 used an each side roll but each creature then added their spell or weapon speed and actions were resolved in ascending order - this is what you describe. System 3 was like system 2 but each creature rolled their own dice.

This was a vast improvement on 1e. I recently DMed a 1e game for nostalgia reasons, and even with the help of DMPrata’s compilation of combat rules, it was too damn hard to do it right - initiative starts on p.6 and runs to p.10 of the 20 page document.

Basic D&D did not use this type of system; there were several iterations, but none used speed factor, though some did use per-side initiative.

Prior to these editions, D&D used Chainmail initiative - per side and turn by turn with phases.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "System 2 used an each side roll but each creature then added their spell or weapon speed": there was one die roll for each participant, is it correct? \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Mar 23, 2023 at 20:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've been playing 1e since 1979, and have only played one session that tried to use the 1e initiative system. The DM thought he'd had an insight and understood it. The players were not convinced, and contrived different ways for his rule to give ludicrous results for several successive rounds. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 23, 2023 at 23:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage no one roll for each side modified for each participant \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Mar 24, 2023 at 1:56

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