Dealing With Initiative; An Alternate Card System for D&D Turn Order

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling there could be a better way of resolving turn order in D&D.  But I am probably in a smaller group regarding exactly what I do and don’t like about the current initiative system. My goal is to write a short supplement that can be dropped into a game without a major overall, to address my bullet/wish list of Initiative issues.

I started off with trying to articulate my likes, dislikes and possible goals. I’m sure I’ll overlap with some readers as well as directly contradict the goals others would have, but felt like a little context would go a long way to explaining why I arrived at this alternative system.

Thing I Don’t Like About Initiative:

  1. Does not lend itself to team work / coordination
  2. Static, generally not influenced by events in the scene/encounter
  3. Some builds and powers heavily rely very heavily on going first
  4. SAD (single attribute dependent), does not account for the other attribute input well

Thing I Do Like About Initiative:

  1. Going first is tactically, practically and cinematically an advantage
  2. Encourages strategizing your choices, and economizing your actions
  3. I don’t have a problem tracking the order (so simplifying turn order is not a priority for me)

Existing Modifiers:

  1. Feat: Alertness (+5 Initiative)
  2. War Magic: Tactical Wit (+Int bonus to Initiative)
  3. Various: Advantage on Initiative
  4. Spells: Various bonuses/advantages

Brainstorming Ideas/Solutions:

  1. Allow “coordinated” initiative. Under circumstances or cost, players can opt to share an initiative roll (before rolling).  Allow “Battle Buddies” to share initiative rolls.
  2. Allow players to “spend” points off their roll to get some benefit (bonus action, movement, etc)
  3. Allow players to gain/increase Initiative by sacrificing some benefit
  4. Allow players to add some portion of their primary ability or proficiency to their Initiative roll (Reaction, Bonus Action, etc)
  5. Optional: Passive Initiative (Modifiable by above)
  6. Allow players to spend Inspiration for stuff?

Approaches I Don’t Like:

  1. Just going round the table.
  2. Sit next to the popular/lucky kid and going early (seat the “fast kid” away from the DM?
  3. “Fair” initiative systems (I prefer impartial rules, in small RPGs, I want my gamerunner to manage “fair”)

Proposal: Deck Draw System

At the start of an encounter, players draw a single card from a shared standard deck. For every +2 or Advantage they would normally get to initiative they may draw a second card. Alertness Feat or similar allows them to change the suite of their chosen card but only before the next player draws their card(s).  As an added benefit, Roll20 has a built in card deck to draw from!

Generic mobs of monsters draw only a single card collectively, unless the DM decides special circumstances are in effect.  Mini-bosses, bosses, named PCs, and other significant personas may draw per the player rules, at the DM’s discretion.

Initiative order is highest to lowest, Ace down to Deuce. A player flips their card face down upon the completion of their turn. Once the last player and DM have acted, all cards are flipped face up again.  At this point, a player may opt to stand or redraw.

In subsequent rounds, players may choose to “stand” keeping their card’s initiative value, or waive their current initiative and suite effect to draw again.  This replacement draw does not gain extra card draws or suite effects of the new card, only the potentially higher initiative value. If the player decides to spend their Inspiration before making their redraw, however, the redraw enjoys all the benefits of a regular draw. Regardless of the value of the re-draw, the player must use the newly drawn cards and any old suite effect is lost.

After the conclusion of combat, all cards are returned to the deck and shuffled.

Special Situations:

  • Diviner’s Portent or Lucky feat:  May be used at any time during the drawing process before initiative results are applied (actions begin). The recipient must draw an additional card, but the Diviner/Luckster choses which card from the draw is used.  Using Portent or Lucky in this manner expends a use of the respective power (Diviner’s choice of Portent dice in their case).
  • Surprise!: All participants draw normally and choose their final cards.  They may then trade those cards between themselves prior to acting, granting both the initiative number and suite to the new card holder.

The Suites:

Suites offer the following optional benefits for the encounter or until a new Initiative draw is made:

  • Hearts:
    • Once during the encounter the player may opt to take the first action of the round regardless of any other factors.  However, they may only take a single action, single bonus action or single movement. On the subsequent rounds, they return to their normal order in initiative and may act normally.
  • Clubs:
    • Once during the encounter the player may opt to take Disadvantage on an attack, save or ability check. Thereafter, they may grant Advantage once to a teammate for the same type of roll.
  • Spades:
    • Once during the encounter, the player may delay a minor Condition for a single round:  Blinded, Deafened, Paralyzed, Poisoned or 1 level of Exhaustion. The Condition returns at full effect, its duration resuming, at the beginning of the next round.
  • Diamonds:
    • Once during the encounter, the player may give or receive a single item from a teammate they can see within 30’, as a free action.

The previous was part of a short “game design garage” myself and a few friends participated in last month (the goal being to get old “back burner” ideas completed with the help of peer support, feedback and creative camaraderie).  I hope to participate in more in the future, since my personal back log of thoughts and ideas is sorely in need of attention. 🙂

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