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Say 4 goblins ambush a level 2 party, everyone is surprised but the Wizard decides to use his Portent feature to influence the initiative roll of the enemy. One of his portents is a natural 1, and he uses that die to replace the initiative roll.

Do all 4 of the goblins' initiative change to 1 or does just one goblin change?

Here's what I got from a reading of the PHB:

PHB 189

Initiative

... When combat starts, every participant makes a Dexterity Check to determine their place in the initiative order. The DM makes one roll for an entire group of identical creatures, so each member of the group acts at the same time...

Emphasis mine. Reading the bolded text, it seems that in cases of identical creatures, Portent can effectively cripple the entire initiative of the opposing team.

However, when you read the first sentence, it seems that the entire group shouldn't be crippled by a single portent roll as each creature should be rolling separately and the bolded text really just says, "hey, don't waste your time on rolling for each goblin. Just roll once and they all go together."

A big factor of my hesitance to rule on the side of the first interpretation, is that it seems too overpowered for a 2nd-level feature.

So which is which? Am I missing something?

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No, this will not work.

The description of the Divination wizard's Portent feature (PHB, p. 116) says:

You can replace any attack roll, saving throw, or ability check made by you or a creature that you can see with one of these foretelling rolls.

An initiative check is an ability check so it is an eligible target for Portent. However, it only affects "a creature"; even though the DM rolls once for a group of creatures, this is a roll for each of the creatures individually, and the player can only substitute the Portent roll for one of the creatures. This effectively breaks the creatures into two groups of identical creatures - the one affected by the Portent and the rest who aren't.

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    \$\begingroup\$ missed a single letter... and my whole life is a lie... Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Sep 6 '16 at 8:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you rather read it that the portent replaces a roll made by a creature, the initiative roll is not made by a creature (it's made by a group of creatures), therefore you cannot replace that initiative roll at all? Choose something else. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop Sep 6 '16 at 9:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SteveJessop Well, at my tables, creatures don't make any rolls, only players make rolls. Then again, players are "creatures", I suppose... But no, that's not a very interesting reading... ;) \$\endgroup\$ – João Mendes Sep 6 '16 at 10:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ One could also argue that at the time initiative is rolled you likely couldn't see the target to assign the 1 in the first place, otherwise it wouldn't be much of an ambush. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Sep 6 '16 at 13:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer makes sense because a creature affected by a spell (could be a spell that gives a +1 to initiative) would then be in a different group of creatures since it is not somewhat different from the others. \$\endgroup\$ – Alexis Wilke Sep 6 '16 at 21:48
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If surprised, you can't use portent - you can't see them. If not surprised, you probably can since you see each other, close and engage (which sets up initiative, a composite of mostly random factors, so luck might favor you). I wouldn't worry too much saddling a whole group pf monsters with a 1. They get their turn, eventually, and Diviners don't always roll great or rotten numbers - they most often have mid range numbers on both d20's. Portent can help, but there's probably something more vital to use it on than initiative, anyway. I wouldn't worry too much about this being an unbalancing factor.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site! Check out the tour for an intro to how we do things around here. This answer could be improved by adding rules citations and/or play experience to back it up - how do you know that this isn't worth worrying about as a balancing factor? \$\endgroup\$ – A_S00 Aug 23 '19 at 21:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Surprise =/= hidden, you can see a creature but still be surprised. Perhaps you mean hidden? \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Aug 24 '19 at 1:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 actually surprise means precisely that; RAW a creature is only surprised if all of its opponents were hidden from it at the start of combat. \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Aug 24 '19 at 10:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ A roll is a random determination. Once replaced with the portent ability, it is no longer a roll or random. One can't replace non random events not described, like a portent. True, portents are randomly determined by rolls, but are not rolls anymore. The surprise rule doesn't blind, but since you have to see the intended target, I don't think a diviner could use portent while surprised. In fact, if surprise one is precluded from taking an action or making even a reaction (which is almost meta game fast at times, like with the shield spell). 1 DM might rule it's OK, but I wouldn't. IMO. \$\endgroup\$ – JRTStarlight Aug 28 '19 at 1:39

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