The PHB states, at p. 189
The DM makes one roll for an entire group of identical creatures, so each member of the group acts at the same time.
Honestly, I usually ignored this one, except for really large groups of weak monsters. But in a 4 goblins vs 4 PCs fight, I would usually roll individual initiatives. Lately, I’ve decided to follow the book. Combats became quicker, which is good, but another problem appeared: Burst damage.
While the NPCs might be dumb, they are not animal-level of dumb. Some of them are actually smarter than the PCs. Focus firing in order to neutralize one threat each time makes sense for me – two PCs at 1 HP are more annoying than one unconscious and one full life PC, and most of the NPCs know that.
The fact that all the NPCs are actually attacking together the same character leads to the following serie of events:
- One PC, usually the melee/tank one, which is closer to the NPCs, get focus fired.
- Being low level, he has low Max HP and drops to 0 HP.
This is actually happening roughly every other encounter. This is a problem for me and my players.
The question is: Group roll is the “default”/mandatory rule described in the PHB. For many encounters described in published adventures, it actually becomes a Side Initiative, as every creature in the encounter is the same creature, thus each side acts at once. How can I solve this problem while still using this rule? What are the implications of not using it at all? Are there cases where it is simply better to not use it, period? – Currently, I feel like “low level party” is a strong candidate for cases where I shouldn’t be using it.
The party consists of 6 PCs at level 2. Classes are: Ranger, Cleric, Paladin, Barbarian, Warlock and Druid. Not all of them are present every session. We’re running Lost Mine of Phandelver. Almost every group encounter (Goblin ambush, goblin hideout, redbrand ruffians) led to some character getting to 0 HP.
Note: I understand that the problem can be solved other ways, e.g. “don’t make the NPCs focus fire, screw what makes sense”, but I would rather not playing my NPCs in an irrational way.