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Bards get the ability "Jack of All Trades" which reads:

Starting at 2nd level, you can add half your proficiency bonus, rounded down, to any ability check you make that doesn't already include your proficiency bonus.

Since your initiative roll is based purely on your dexterity, and it says "ability check" and not "skill check", does that mean that a Bard, starting at 2nd level, will tend to have better initiative than others?

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Yes, the Bard adds 1/2 proficiency to initiative.

In 5e all checks are ability checks. This is why every check in published materials is listed as Ability (Name), such as Strength (Athletics).

Initiative is a Dexterity check. Under Initiative in the PHB:

every participant makes a Dexterity check to determine their place in the initiative order. (p. 189)

If you can add an ability modifier to a roll, it's an ability check (A saving throw or an attack is a separate kind of d20 roll). If you have a Skill related to that Ability, and you are proficient in that skill, you add your proficiency bonus.

Initiative is a Dexterity check with no other Skill attached to it. Things that modify Dexterity checks work. Other things modify your ability checks as well - such as adding all or half of your proficiency bonus. The Bard has one example of this.

The Champion Fighter's L7 feature has another:

Starting at 7th level, you can add half your proficiency bonus (round up) to any Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution check you make that doesn’t already use your proficiency bonus. (BD&D 26)

Since Initiative is an ability check that uses your Dexterity, the Champion Fighter also gets half their proficiency to added to their initiative roll.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Whoa. This is sweet! \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Aug 27 '14 at 18:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Death saves are not ability checks. \$\endgroup\$ – aramis Aug 29 '14 at 8:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aramis made a slight change to the first sentence of the 3rd 'graph, all checks are ability checks, but a save and an attack are not considered checks. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 29 '14 at 9:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer would be better if it simply cited "Initiative" (PHB p.189) where it says "every participant makes a Dexterity check to determine their place in the initiative order." Your taxonomy of what makes something a check or not seems needlessly complicated in a situation where the book clearly states initiative is a check. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Oct 8 '16 at 2:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I tried to do what your comment asked for. I don't think waxy will be back any time soon. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 17 at 13:27
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Yes!

The initiative roll is a Dexterity ability check, and is intend to gain a benefit from "Jack of all Trades". Per Player's Handbook p. 177:

At the beginning of every combat, you roll initiative by making a Dexterity check.

Rules designer Jeremy Crawford unofficially confirmed this on Twitter:

Is the bard's Jack of All Trades feature intended to apply to initiative?

Yes, Jack of All Trades can apply to initiative, since that roll is a Dexterity check.

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protected by C. Ross Aug 27 '14 at 18:43

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