My players tend to carefully plan their actions in combat, leaning heavily on their knowledge of the combat rules. They take into consideration who will act when, and which enemies still have reactions available. In general I'm fine with this, but it makes combat somewhat predictable, and the players' deliberations can sometimes take a fair amount of time.

Does anyone have experience using the optional speed factor rules described in the DMG pp. 270-271? I understand there will be overhead imposed per-round as everyone announces their actions and rolls initiative, but does the unpredictability the system imposes cut down on players over-planning their actions? Any suggestions to manage the additional logistics imposed by this system?

For context, I run my game over Google Hangouts, using shared spreadsheets to coordinate combat maps, character sheets and initiative order; for scheduling reasons we have to play in 60-90 minute sessions, so I'm interested in anything that affects how quickly we can resolve combat.


5 Answers 5


Speed factor initiative CAN cut down on over-planning, without making play any slower, if you manage the tone and urgency well.

I have played a small number of times with it recently, after reading this article by the AngryGM (Warning: his material is written egotistically with much profanity). I liked it from a thematic perspective, as it would keep combat feeling rushed and uncertain. In practice, it accomplished that quite well. You engage all players at once for their main tactical decision, and then there is a much smaller amount of time per individual player turn. Thus, players are directly involved a larger amount of the play time.

There are some things to think about for this initiative system, though:

  • Effects that last until the next turn can have wildly different efficiency. If you go high in initiative the first round and low the second, it is now a two round effect. If you go low first and high second, it barely exists at all. Possible houserule is to have the effect end on a particular initiative score.
  • This CAN affect spellcasters more than it does martial characters. I had a Sorceror that chose to use Sleep, but the Axebeaks made it into melee before he finished casting. He chose to cast it at his feet rather than waste the spell. That could add cool flavor to your world (choosing the right spell for the job is tricky if you can't react fast enough to the situation at hand), but it could also frustrate your spell casters.

The last point is about your players. If they are very tactical about their combat, that may just be how they enjoy the game. Changing the flow of combat could be an exciting way to liven up the game for them, or it could destroy one of their central pieces of enjoyment from playing. I recommend trying it for a session or two, and then assessing if you will continue to use it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The AngryGM article is exactly the kind of information I was after, thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Jan 30, 2016 at 15:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Yes, that would also prove beneficial, but I could spend all day saying 'And here's an article by Angry that helps with this'! \$\endgroup\$ Jan 30, 2016 at 16:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ For your first bullet point, you might want to review and include a link to How do you handle "until next turn" effects with the Speed Factor Initiative Variant? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 30, 2016 at 21:49

I used this for a few sessions as a DM and I really liked the setup. My players liked it less. I appreciate both sides of the argument.

Things we liked

  • Initiative bonuses are a much bigger deal, because you get to act earlier more often. Your super-initiative Rogue or Ranger doesn't have to suffer because they rolled poorly on initiative once or twice.
  • A little more chaos and a little less optimization of Actions. You don't always do the "optimal thing".
  • I like the fact that weapon choice and spell level choice can impact your initiative, I think this is a nice touch.
  • It is interactive, you don't have to sit there for five minutes waiting for the Wizard to pick / resolve a spell.

Things we disliked

  • Abilities that work "until your next turn" don't quite function the same way.
  • You will waste Actions. This tends to hit players more than DMs because DMs have lots of monster / NPC action while players just get one. And DMs kind of expect their Monsters to die, but PCs really don't. An unlucky Paladin could take two full rounds of Monster attacks and die without being able to heal because they / their party rolled badly on initiative. There is a different strategy here.
  • This is particularly hard on Casters. Declaring Fireball and then rolling a 1 on initiative is bad news. Note that casting a 6th level is a -6 on init!

Things I am neutral about

  • It's obviously a little extra DM math. The monster Stat Blocks obviously don't have this modifier written on them.
  • Speed. With practice, this method is probably faster because you can resolve rounds quickly. A player can easily roll all of their dice with their action and a round can be resolved pretty quickly.
  • There's still some resolution that happens real-time. Both movement and things like spell location and multi-attack still involve making some decisions, so players still get some important options.


  • This is probably a rational way to run over Hangouts because there is less "waiting". Everyone can type in their actions + rolls and then you can have interactive fun resolving it.
  • This does impact things like spell selection and PC creation. So you should let players know about this stuff in advance.
  • You will need to make some rulings on details. For example, when you choose a spell like Sleep or Fireball or Dispel Magic, do you also have to pick the Spell Level/Slot that you are using? Also, how you deal with impossible Actions. If your player declares "Attack with my Shortsword" and then some Wizard blows it up, does the player lose initiative to draw a new one, do they lose the Action all together? How you rule, may affect player Actions.

I've played with some house rules from experienced players. When their step comes up they can change their action within reason but A: If your action would put you at a lower step, you go to a lower step B: If the new action would move you higher up, too bad so sad, you're going at a lower step

Examples of players changing action: if there are no melee targets remaining, someone can break out their crossbow (but they're going to eat that penalty for loading)

Casters can change the slot of a spell or even change spell. This is mostly just because casters were seriously hurt by having to take huge penalties for throwing out high level spell slots coupled with D&D's rigid and often situational magic rules and casters wound up wasting actions over half the (subject to serious dm fiat, so estimate what slot and spell you will need on good faith or else) time and it was just plain cruel.

This house rule was coughed up to deal with wasted actions and players were discouraged from doing things like "My str 20 barbarian plans to attack with a dagger and on his action will pick one of 3 weapons to his situation."

The de facto restrictions were placed on changing between weapons of a similar range (letting someone change from a greatsword to a maul after seeing the monster laugh off slashing damage but at the expense of a -2 in step was okayed, declaring attack with a rapier and changing to a greatsword was not okayed, declaring a longsword at d8 and switching to d10 was typically not okayed).

This is very much a common sense house rule, and anyone trying to pull a shenanigan with it should be punished with being stuck with whatever they picked "Ok Mr str 20 Conan, you're stuck with that dagger now."


Consider using a turn timer

A common method is use a timer. Each player must take their entire turn within this time. When they hit "stop" on the timer, the timer starts for the next person. Using a 10-20 second turn timer will give you an efficient method for making combat less predictable, and reducing player turn times.

If you feel that giving people 20 seconds to declare their actions and roll their dice, consider having them only declare their actions during this time. For example you could have a 5 second turn timer, state what you are going to do before the timer runs out or you just skipped your turn. There is no time limit on actually rolling the die and figuring out modifiers etc.

Timers make the game far less predictable, and far faster paced

I have played with timers several times, they force everyone to remain attentive and cause people to make rushed, sub-optimal, decisions. They accurate emulate the feeling of being under pressure, and the risk of combat.

Playing with a timer for declaring actions is great, at first some people skipped their turns and we ruled that you just move down in initiative order instead of doing nothing. Eventually we scrapped that, be ready or get skipped.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't answer the question; I wasn't asking for suggestions about how to make combat run faster. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Jan 8, 2020 at 19:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Marq You stated your problem as "but it makes combat somewhat predictable, and the players' deliberations can sometimes take a fair amount of time. ... I'm interested in anything that affects how quickly we can resolve combat" Using a turn timer is a common and effective solution to this problem. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 8, 2020 at 23:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sure, but that was me stating the context in which I was asking the specific question, which was about speed factor initiative. I didn't ask "What are some ways that I can speed up combat?". \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Jan 9, 2020 at 16:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Marq From your question it seems to me you have specific goals when considering using speed factor. These goals can be met in a different way. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/66377/what-is-the-xy-problem \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10, 2020 at 1:38

I haven't used those rules yet but I think using the speed factor rules will mostly slow your game. Since you only have 60-90 min, i'd settle for something with which there isn't math to do each round.

I like the concept though of having initiative rolls each round. It takes away predictability. I'd make a houserule using that concept without the other speed "factors".

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've read and understand the rules, so I can extrapolate how they might affect play as well as anyone else. I was asking for information based on actual play experience. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Jan 30, 2016 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please read blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective, we expect good answers here to be sourced or experience based, speculation tends to get downvotes. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Jan 30, 2016 at 16:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Most people's untried reaction to the concept of rolling initiative every round is “that would be slow”, but people who have actually played with it (either recently or back when it was the D&D default) know that this assumption is off-base. That's why guesses aren't good answers. :) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 30, 2016 at 21:52

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