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I've been out of the DM game since the early 80s, now coming back to 5e (which I love). I'm reading up like mad, but my mind mixes up versions of the game.

I remember each team (PCs vs enemy NPCs) taking turns attacking. And on each side, initiative would be rolled to determine pecking order. Does rolling initiative still work this way? Does it ever scramble up turns so that a PC attacks, and then a NPC enemy, and then back to the adventurer's team--until the round is up, and begins again?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ ...which can be found at Role-playing Games Chat. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Sep 21 '16 at 13:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: How does having monsters of the same type go at the same time affect balance? \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Sep 21 '16 at 16:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you all for the energy, link, and directions. @KorvinStarmast, I will look out for you. \$\endgroup\$ – sparrowhawk Sep 21 '16 at 17:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ What works best for our group is to have the DM roll initiative once (using the most common or significant monster's bonus) and each PC roll individually. Then: all PCs who beat the DM's roll act in any order, followed by all monster in any order, followed by all PCs in any order. PCs and monsters then alternate for the rest of the encounter. Each group plays differently, but we find this speeds up combat and is most fun for us. \$\endgroup\$ – Sparky Sep 22 '16 at 2:44
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When combat starts, every participant makes a Dexterity check to determine their place in the initiative order. (PHB p.189, "Initiative," emphasis mine)

So, "out of the box" it's every player for themself in initiative. The PHB does state that DMs will roll initiatve for opponents in groups, though I think you'll find as much variation in how DMs decide to group their charges as you will in encounters and tables.

The DMG presents a few initiative variants at pp.270-271 which include initiative by side, as you remember.

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Default Rules As Written: PC's each roll for themselves. NPC's roll one per type of of NPC.

Initiative determines the order of turns during combat. 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. (PBR, v. 0.2, p. 69; PHB, p. 189.)

Note that it's not "Every NPC"... it's every type of creature. Many GM's, for various reasons, break monsters into subgroups, or even roll individually.

Side based Initiative is on DMG 270, as an option.
Initiative score being a fixed number as an option is on the same page.
There is no explicit option for "every monster gets it's own initiative score"...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Read the quote, @nitsua60 ... if the GM is using "every individual critter gets its own" he's not running the rules as written. \$\endgroup\$ – aramis Sep 21 '16 at 18:27
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Generally all players roll Initiative for their characters while the GM rolls Initiative for the enemies as well as any NPCs. Then the turns go in Initiative order, unless someone chooses to Ready an action or hold their turn.

Many GMs choose to lump the enemy turn all onto one Initiative roll, or have separate Initiative only for distinct groups of enemies (Example: the Goblin Archers, Goblin Scouts, and Goblin Warpriest all have separate turns).

There are several variants to the official Initiative rules printed in the DMG.

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