During encounters there is always an Initiative Order that allows players to choose their actions one after the other. This is fine, but the only problem is that it doesn't really simulate the actual combat. Ideally, everyone should be acting simultaneously.

To elaborate a little: the current Initiative Order is determined by dice rolls. This creates the 1-2-3-1-2-3 looped order, where each party acts one after the other.

Problem: I want to use a system where players are forced to plan their actions, instead of "reacting" to other players. I want to remove the systematic turn order, and use a system that's more dynamic, creating a simulation that feels (or even is) more simultaneous.

Question: Are there any systems currently in place that allow this kind of simultaneous combat order?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil May 9 '17 at 20:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am voting to close this question as off-topic for being a shopping question. Alternatively, it could be too broad. Either way it seems unfit for the site due to the open-ended request for homebrew/house rules, to say nothing of the answers. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude May 9 '17 at 20:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LegendaryDude agree on too broad; its not clear what this is trying to solve. But this does seem like prime territory for "good subjective" answers. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin May 9 '17 at 21:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fectin I think you make a good point that the post doesn't make clear what the querent hopes to achieve. Ben: I think your post question could improve if you provided some more of the points you'd shared in chat that led you to think you wanted a different initiative system, and what you'd hoped to achieve. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 9 '17 at 22:01

A frame challenge: initiative does represent simultaneous combat, in a way that is playable as a game.

The characters don’t actually sit around waiting for their turn. And a round doesn’t take longer because there are more turns in it, or because the highest initiative in question is particularly high. A round is always the same amount of time, and everyone’s turn takes up pretty much the whole round, that is, they overlap considerably.

What initiative represents, then, is a slight edge that allows your actions to go first, to take effect first, to force others to respond to you rather than the other way around. And this is abstracted into discrete turns for gameplay reasons; more complex systems like speed factors take much, much longer to actually run than the simple turn-based system does. All RPGs have to balance verisimilitude for ease of play, and turn-based play is much, much easier to play—and if you avoid thinking of the narrative as happening in discrete turns, not so much loss of verisimilitude.

So I think you should perhaps revisit how you imagine the initiative-based turns system. It is a simple, efficient, fairly robust way of depicting combat, since even in real-time, we recognize a fairly massive advantage to those who have that slight edge in timing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this answer, and up voted, it, since I feel that 5e's basic structure as a turn based game will go out of whack if the "turn based nature of it" gets adjusted too far. I had made a comment (now deleted) about simultaneous combat that we did 4 decades ago. I get the feeling that the querent is trying to add more "simulationism" into his melee rounds and did not answer as I was concerned about "been through that grind, it's just fine now" would come off as a "badwrongfun" answer. The way you presented this was nicely done. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 9 '17 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this answer and would upvote it, but a frame challenge requires you also answer the question, and then do the frame challenge. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 May 9 '17 at 15:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain In practice, that “requirement” gets iffy with a lot of questions. It is absolutely great advice and there are situations where failure to do so makes for a bad answer. But ultimately, voting is a personal choice—if you feel the lack of “straight” answer makes this answer not helpful, then yes, do not vote, or downvote if you feel it is actively unhelpful. If you think it helpful despite the lack of “straight” answer, however, there is no rule preventing you from upvoting. Either way, I do not have a straight answer that I feel I can recommend, so I will not be adding one. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 9 '17 at 15:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain I think the opening paragraph answers the question, in terms of "it's already as simultaneous as the game design lets it be for playability" -- that's what came across to me. In other words, what you are asking him for is right there in a bottom line up front style. (I may have read into the answer, however, as I had a similar response but did not want to get into what might have come across as a "don't do that" or "badwrongfun" answer). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 9 '17 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, @KorvinStarmast has the right of it. I suppose it could be said that “do nothing” is my “straight answer” to the question. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 9 '17 at 18:22

If you want to encourage planning, try Sides Initiative from the DMG p.270. I run this during my games and I have found it immensely increases players' interests in teamwork and strategy. All my concerns regarding the balance of the game proved unfounded.

During Sides Initiative, the DM makes all their monster moves and then passes the baton to the players. The players then decide what turn order they would like to go in, and declare their actions.

In video game form, this looks like Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown. It very much fosters an environment where players strategize and cooperate rather than simply reacting, and then losing interest when their turn ends.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you mention how this affects the party's overall effectiveness? Has it caused you to design encounters or opposition differently? Have you run into problems with "lockdown", where the party that wins initiative dominates the other side? Is it more or less of a drain on the DM's ability to run multiple opponents? I feel this is the beginning of a great answer, but it really could use more firsthand elaboration. +1 to encourage an edit. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis May 9 '17 at 2:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like sides initiative for what it does to improve teamwork and such, but it seems to me that, if anything, it makes things more “game-y,” not less. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 9 '17 at 17:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I want to mention that cooperative games (even non-rpgs) can lead to a "play by committee" effect. That is, players lose agency and just do whatever the group says because it's the best course of action. DnD and RPGs in general aren't always about doing what's best, but rather playing a character. In this regard, I think I agree with KRyan. In our groups, stategizing is limited to foster quicker turns and more realistic role-playing. You can't strategize for 5 minutes between actions. You have to live in the moment. All that to say, It's a decent caveat to add (or at least to read down here). \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov May 9 '17 at 20:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ also, welcome to RPG.stackexchange! This is a great first answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov May 9 '17 at 20:34

Speed Factor Initiative

DMG p.271 gives a variant called speed factor initiative. The basic idea is that each round everyone chooses an action, then rolls initiatives, and actions are resolved in that order for the round. For us it led to some more interesting planning though we eventually dropped it for faster play. We didn't make use of the initiative modifiers portion so I can't speak to their effectiveness.


Popcorn Initiative

This is a relatively simple way to mix up the regular initiative system. It goes as follows:

  1. Roll Initiative as normal
  2. Highest roll goes first (as normal)
  3. That player/monster/group of monsters says who goes next: the person who goes next cannot have gone in the round until everyone (monsters included) has.
  4. Once everyone has had a turn, the last person in the round says who is the first person of the next round (it can be themselves).

This system should break the tedium of the initiative order and promote teamwork. Also, it lays out a chance for characters to plan: the rogue may be going first by chance, but they can signal the wizard to cast fireball before the fighter jumps in.

This system can introduce some problems the group can figure out in each encounter. Is it better for monsters to have their turn now? Do I pass to them because we want them to get closer first? Do the monsters hand their turns to themselves before being forced to go to the players?

A Note on D&D Verisimilitude From A Historic Martial Arts Perspective

So you're trying to approximate medieval combat, and that's something I study as a hobby!

While speed factor initiative helps capture some of the uncertainty of combat, one can argue the modifiers don't capture the nature of these weapons- a long-sword's point and a quarterstaff can hit further and faster than a dagger. This is easily seen when someone tries to hit your legs, switches to your face, and then back to your legs. Those big weapons are fast! (Not to mention that a bigger weapon swung with the same angular speed will, by physical law, be moving faster at the point than a smaller one.)

However, one should realize that live combat is not truly simultaneous. There is a certain "beat" to combat (for many people, the default beat is somewhere around 70-75 Hz, many people around 74), and while people can do actions at the same time, you can view most combat as action-reaction. (This is seen in the "vor" and "nach" concepts in German long sword treatises, such as Lichtenauer. He mentions them here on line 17 in his long-sword section. This document is not for newbies!) Someone swings first, and people have a fraction of a second to react to it. People can get stuck in action-reaction patterns, and even switch who is acting and who is reacting. So this idea of having a turn in the initiative order isn't entirely unjustified.

D&D combat glosses over this act-react-act-react pattern of combat, assuming that the characters are familiar with this (whereas the players are not) and that each round is a full 6 seconds of adrenaline pumping combat. (Which is a lot of time!) Of course, the players themselves don't always feel this.

Just some food for thought, especially for people who think RPGs should reflect actual combat (which I doubt the designers are super familiar with).

  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I guess I will, but I doubt it would help many people really understand what the concepts are. Lichtenauer wrote his treatise as a review of fighting for people who have already graduated from his fighting school. You won't get very far unless you are already familiar with German fighting! \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip May 9 '17 at 14:07

My group rolls new initiative each round. That prevents the lockstep loop you mentioned. Occasionally, you wind up with someone acting last in one round and first in the next, but it all balances out.

When I DM, I go one further and use a little program I wrote to roll initiative for everyone. Not only does it change each round, but the players (and their foes) don't know exactly when someone else will act.

It makes combats feel a bit more realistic and chaotic.

Yes, sometimes the same player/monster can roll high one round and low the next round (or vice-versa), leading to acting twice quickly followed by a potentially long wait. We all understand that 1d20+whatever leads to a large potential spread in rolled numbers. "Those are the breaks".

We do allow people to delay their action if they wish - basically, the initiative you roll is the earliest in a given round that you can act. If two people go on the same initiative number, we break the tie by having whichever has the higher Init bonus (or Dex bonus in case that's tied) go first.

Occasionally plans will be contingent on rolling high ("I hope I roll high initiative next round so I can Disintegrate the bad guy before he escapes!", etc), but we feel it adds flavor.

Each round, the DM counts down from the highest number likely to be rolled (30-31 for the very high-level game we're playing at the moment). When he gets to your number, you say "I go at 25, I cast Disintegrate at the bad guy"). When I DM using my secret program, I just say "Ok, next is Blah, what do you do?".

I should add that we've been playing together using new initiative each round since AD&D in the early 80s, though I developed my secret initiative program only about 13 or 14 years ago. (I'd post it, but it's actually a project I did to learn Python, Apache, mod_python, HTML and JavaScript all at once. I've since converted it to use Django, but I haven't gotten around to making it a standalone program. The JS interface for Initiative was actually pretty nifty.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ My groups have used this too, except for the program; that's a really good idea. \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus May 9 '17 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer would be considerably improved by discussing how this affects the game, and the drawbacks it can have. In particular, you can end up having creatures going twice in a row (low initiative one round, high initiative the next round), or creatures going a very long time between turns (high initiative followed by low initiative), which affects quite a lot about how the game plays. Also worth noting: not knowing when your turn is coming up makes turns take longer, because you can plan less. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 9 '17 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan We ran into that first last thing when using segments and initiative each round in AD&D1e. (Using Lekofka's segments style from Dragon Mag article). I guess it all came out in the wash (It's been 30+ years) since we stuck with it for the year the campaign lasted. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 9 '17 at 18:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ How do you deal with rolling dice every round for turn order? When we roll initiative it takes maybe 30-60 seconds to establish turn order. Do you find yourselves in that same position every turn or have you found a way around it? \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov May 9 '17 at 20:33

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