September 13, 2017

Variant Rule: Round-Table Initiative

Variant Rule
Comments from the Finger: Shorter article this Wednesday (we're working on some more involved ones), but this rule has gotten a lot traction in our home game, so I think it deserves an article on its own.

Combat takes a while; for most tables, it's an unavoidable truth. Most of the time, there's a few major causes, but one of the most important ones is that players can't independently figure out when their turn is coming up, so they start deciding on their actions only once their turn has begun.

Today, I want to share with you a recent initiative variant we've been using to speed up combat at our table by fixing that very problem:

Round-Table Initiative

The concept here is very simple: Initiative order simply goes around the table. Players roll initiative as normal, and the highest initiative goes first. Initiative order then goes around the table in the direction (clockwise or counterclockwise) that arrives most quickly at the player with the second highest initiative. The DM counts as a player at the table as well, and monsters act with group initiative. If the DM chooses, a secondary group of monsters can act between to players at the far end of the table.


This initiative variant is very fast and easy to track, which makes combat go quickly and more smoothly. After all, since initiative never crisscrosses the table, it's clear to everyone when their turn is coming up and who's going next; it's extremely difficult to skip a player's turn.

If the players, or even the DM, has trouble keeping track of initiative, even with the use of initiative card's or other aids, or if doing so slows down combat, this variant is for you.


Though this initiative system rewards the player with the highest initiative, and attempts to reward the player with the second highest, everyone else tends to get a location in the initiative order that's unrelated to their roll. Though this is strictly to conduct the game more smoothly, it might feel unfair, especially if there's a number of high rolls at once.

If the players and/or the DM are concerned with having a verisimilitude of combat or are unwilling to shake up the conventional order of D&D combat, skip this variant.

Bonus Variant: Hot Seat

Since every player knows when their turn is coming up, the DM can comfortably implement a time limit on turns, say 60-90 seconds (a cheap 1-minute hourglass will work fine). It's important to emphasize that each player should decide on what actions they'll take on their next turn while the other players and DM are playing. The penalty for taking too long on a turn can be any of the following:
  • Character doesn't act this turn.
  • Attacks against the character have advantage until the beginning of their next turn.
  • The character has a -2 penalty to AC and saving throws until the beginning of their next turn.

Addendum: Online Games

Most of the Digits play D&D online in some form or another, which makes this variant virtually useless to them. Or almost useless; if you use Discord, Skype, Slack, or another chat client that lists the participants alphabetically by name, you can use the list of players in lieu of a real, physical table. It's not quite as intuitive, but it's certainly easier reference for everyone playing than most initiative trackers.

If anyone has other solutions for speeding up initiative tracking in online games (other than just using an external app), leave them in the comments!


  1. First.

    Ahem. Now that that's out of the way, I DM for a group of ginger children and one of the biggest problems is that they don't plan ahead. Definitely using this from now on.

    1. Younger. Younger children. I DM for younger children. Not ginger. Damn this phone.

    2. I was about to ask what you had against ginger kids XD

    3. It's only 45 minutes into today, and I broke out in laughter. Don't change your phone firblogger.

    4. I'm also DMing for kids, and this variant is definitely useful for bigger groups.
      In most of my groups I use a whiteboard to write the initiative, and that's usually enough, but for 15+ kids that's not good enough.

      The worst part about this system (for me) is that it the DM would have to attack with all monsters at once, and in larger battles that means a section of time when the players don't act and the DM can't focus on them, which ruins the player's focus. When I use this rule, I space the monsters equally between the players.

    5. I typically start finding significant problems when I have 6 or more players, which is when this becomes a godsend.

      And I do normally place monsters around the table, just not between /every/ player.

  2. Isn't it supposed to say "Attacks against the character have advantage..." in the Hot Seat Rules? Am I missing something?

  3. Honestly, I kind of want to combine Round-Table and Hot Seat initiatives the next time I'm running at an actual table.

  4. Hot n' fresh off the presses!

    The PDF:

    1. Hey Pangolin, are you a cleric? 'Cause your PDF is divine.

    2. Def a cleric. Go go super drow i will use this rule

  5. Been doing init like this for months now, works great!

  6. Kludged together a couple rules to make this one. At the beginning of every round, everyone rolls a Dexterity check, the DC being 10+the average Dexterity bonus of all your enemies. If they have a clear leader, add that leaders Wisdom bonus to the DC as well. If they beat it, they go before enemies. If they fail, they go after.

    1. Seems too complicated to be convenient. Just make it 10+highest enemy dex.

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