What happens when initiative allows a player to act before the player that started the combat?

This example is a somewhat simplified version of what happened during the last game I DMed for a bunch of friends. A party of PCs was trudging through the woods when they happened upon a very small outpost in a clearing containing hostile elves. The rogue goes and checks it out, and sees two hostiles patrolling, one near the northern edge of woods (Elf1), one on a stone platform about 15 ft from the southern edge of the forest (Elf2).

The rogue goes back and relays the information. If the warrior of the party would simply trudge into the middle of the clearing, all enemies would be aware of a threat and the enemy wouldn’t be surprised. They want to start combat with an edge, so they formulate a plan that would cause the enemies to be surprised: the rogue will go stealth up to the northern edge of the clearing, wait for Elf1 to get close, and sneak attack him. When that happens (it’s a small clearing, so it’s within his vision) the warrior in the party, who will attempt to sneak up to the southern edge of the forest, will run for Elf2 and beat him up. They both roll great stealth checks and head to their positions. So far so good.

The rogue waits for Elf1 to get close and attacks with his short sword. Time for combat, and this is where things got confusing, and where a discussion broke out between players:

According to page 189 of the PHB:

  1. Determine surprise — Both Elf1 and Elf2 are surprised, because they didn’t notice any threat.
  2. Establish positions — Should be clear from the description of the situation above.
  3. Roll Initiative — The warrior gets a 20, Elf2 a 15, the rogue a 5, and Elf1 a 1.
  4. Take Turns — The warrior can go first. However, as the party discussed before, he was supposed wait until he sees the rogue hit Elf1. The rogue’s attack is what started the combat encounter, yet the attack hasn’t been resolved yet due to his poor initiative roll. And you can’t delay your turn in 5th edition.

Option 1: Some people at the table argue that he can’t yet run into the clearing because that would pose a clear and noticeable threat and the elves would not be surprised. He should wait for the rogue to hit Elf1 and use the Ready action on his first turn. This option seems to punish the warrior for rolling well on his initiative.

Option 2: As determining surprise occurs before the initiative roll according to page 189 of the PHB, I would argue that the rules support that the warrior should be able to run up to Elf2 and hit him, without breaking surprise. The fact that the attack that caused the surprise hasn’t yet been resolved and that this goes somewhat counter against their agreed plan of waiting for the rogue to hit Elf1, makes this option incredibly unintuitive though.

Which of these options is the correct one? Or is there a hidden option 3?

What can you do in combat if you don’t have initiative?

Losing initiative is described as:

When your foe has initiative against you, they are forcing you to react. … Some moves are inherently proactive or offensive and can only be made when you have initiative. Others are reactive or defensive and are made when your foe has initiative.

Reading the rules, I only see two moves are specifically described as reactive: Face Danger and Clash. The rules, however, also list other moves in other category than combat, but I’m having difficulty in deciding which can be used when my character doesn’t have initiative.

Other than Face Danger and Clash, what other moves can be triggered when I don’t have initiative?

What happens if a Divination wizard uses the Portent feature to replace an enemy’s initiative roll, when the DM rolls once for a group of enemies?

Say 4 goblins ambush a level 2 party, everyone is surprised but the Wizard decides to use his Portent feature to influence the initiative roll of the enemy. One of his portents is a natural 1, and he uses that die to replace the initiative roll.

Do all 4 of the goblins’ initiative change to 1 or does just one goblin change?

Here’s what I got from a reading of the PHB:

PHB 189


… 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…

Emphasis mine. Reading the bolded text, it seems that in cases of identical creatures, Portent can effectively cripple the entire initiative of the opposing team.

However, when you read the first sentence, it seems that the entire group shouldn’t be crippled by a single portent roll as each creature should be rolling separately and the bolded text really just says, “hey, don’t waste your time on rolling for each goblin. Just roll once and they all go together.”

A big factor of my hesitance to rule on the side of the first interpretation, is that it seems too overpowered for a 2nd-level feature.

So which is which? Am I missing something?

Ranged-attack initiative and sequencing for monsters and NPCs

How interesting that after over 20 years of playing RPGs, new basic rule questions still crop up…:

The PC group I’m DM-ing got into a fight with two bugbears and eight goblins in a long 10-foot wide tunnel with corners, etc, where it’s more advantageous for the gobos to shoot their short bows than go melee straight away.

I roll collective initiative for the monsters which is incidentally super high, so monsters come first.

Their starting position is all bunched up in adjacent squares. So on their initiative, I move the monsters one by one closer to their PC target. Each one, after his movement, fires their short-bow.

Here is where it gets tricky: Moving the monsters individually on their collective Initiative creates straight lines-of-sight to the first PC target, enabling more than just the two goblins who stand in the front row to shoot at the PC without incurring a penalty for cover (for being in the way of each other’s lines-of-sight).

The players protest, saying that given the monsters all move on the same initiative, I should assume they move at the same time and maintain their initial formation, and therefore I should assume the goblins shoot before they move, giving all goblins, except the two standing in the front, partial cover penalties. Alternatively, I should roll initiative for each monster individually…

I do admit that I probably should have separated the two bugbears from the eight goblins, in this case, however, it would have made no difference in terms of the numbers being able to get a clear shot.

I hope I’m making myself clear? Am I not playing RAW? Am I unintentionally making a house rule here?

How to narrate initiative in Ironsworn?

I’m trying to convert my mindset from DnD, and I’m especially confused when facing initiative in Ironsworn.

I get it that the side with initiative is meant to be winning in combat and pressuring the opponent and the losing is trying to defend from the attacks, but as a GM/co-op players, how to narrate and asking ‘what do you do’ question when I have initiative and when I’m not?

How high can a PC’s initiative bonus get?

Usually, most PCs rely solely on their Dexterity ability score modifier for their initiative; however, there are ways to get bonuses to initiative. How high can this bonus get?

For example, there’s the Alert feat (PHB, pg. 165):

Always on the lookout for danger, you gain the following benefits:

  • You gain a +5 bonus to initiative.

The Dread Ambusher class feature of the ranger Gloom Stalker archetype (XGtE, pg. 42):

At 3rd level, you master the art of the ambush. You can give yourself a bonus to your initiative rolls equal to your Wisdom modifier.

And the Tactical Wit class feature of the wizard War Mage archetype (XGtE, pg. 60):

Starting at 2nd level, your keen ability to assess tactical situations allows you to act quickly in battle. You can give yourself a bonus to your initiative rolls equal to your Intelligence modifier.

So, a level 6 character who was a Ranger 4/Wizard 2 who took the Alert feat at level 4 would have an initiative bonus of 5 + DEX + WIS + INT.

So, if my Ranger 4/Wizard 2 example above made it all the way up to level 20 (Ranger 18/Wizard 2) and used all their ASIs to max out DEX, INT and WIS, they would then have an initiative bonus of 20.

What character build (up to level 20 if necessary) gives the maximum initiative bonus?

Or, is the one I have outlined here the highest you can get?

For the purposes of this, let’s assume the PC is a human (+1 to all ability scores) whose player was lucky enough to roll all 17s during character creation; hence the character has +4 in every stat (for convenience). Anything RAW is allowed; multiclassing, feats, magic items, etc, but nothing from Unearthed Arcana. No temporary effects. Things that grant advantage or half-proficiency count, but nothing temporary.

Need way to physically track initiative in face-to-face D&D game

Just DM’d my first ever non-online game. We had an absolute blast, 10/10 would play again, but keeping track of initiative in combat was terrible. I had chosen to just list their character names (and enemies) in order on a single index card but they couldn’t see it easily and I kept forgetting who went next. Plus, I had to rewrite it for each new combat bit and it felt like it took too long.

I’m used to roll20’s turn order feature where you can easily advance the order and have a nice highlight on who’s supposed to go next. I like that it’s visible to all players, and how easy it is to remove monsters when they die.

I’d like to find a way to simulate that feature at the table for easier combat. I want to limit the technology at the table, since I want to keep the focus on the roleplay and would rather they weren’t all on computers.

Based on your personal experience playing, what (preferably low-tech) method of tracking turn order can be used to streamline the initiative process?

Can I delay my turn to the end of a round, by not rolling for initiative?

I am a Cleric and the main healer in the party. I’ve noticed that often it can be quite helpful for me to have my turn towards the end of the round rather than at the beginning, but I tend to come up at the beginning because I have a high Dexterity score.

It can help quite a bit coming up later in the round in our campaign. Most of the time we take steady damage (which is fine) but at other times we get very sharp bursts of damage because of a house-rule on critical damage. So, being at the end of the round means that I can work out if anyone needs emergency healing right from the outset of a battle. This happens naturally sometimes because I roll low on initiative, but I want a more reliable approach.

So, to cut the long story short, can I refuse to roll for initiative and instead take my turn right at the end, after all others have had theirs?

Is there anything in the literature supporting or preventing this from happening, or would it have to be a house-rule?