Monster Initiative

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I've found that the current variability of the initiative system has extreme consequences on encounter difficulty.

DM rolls a 19 on the die, and drops a burst on several party members who haven't had a chance to act yet, spends an action point, and bursts them again!  Bad start for all of the PCs . . . .

The DM run the same adventure again, rolls a 2 on the die, and that same elite is dead before getting a turn! 

Some thoughts . . . .

• Perhaps for the next edition, monsters will get a static initiative "defense" that the players are rolling against, increasing the chance that some characters will go first, and some characters will go after the monsters act.

• Is it possible to assign a standard array of rolls to the monsters?  For example, with 3 monster types you could assign initiative rolls of 5-10-15 and add appropriate bonuses.  "Pre-rolling" in this way helps encounter design, in that the author and DM know in which order the monsters will act. (And helps with synergizing tactics.) It also gives a key creature a decent initiative, so that it will likely get a chance to act.

• As this approach would be easy to implement in a home game, it is not so easy for LFR. However, as a "shared experience," it would be interesting to see something done to "standardize" encounters. (i.e. Perhaps allowing authors to "pre-roll" initiative and provide the creatures initiative results in the mod, rather than having the DM make variable rolls at the table.) 

Again, my "brainstorming goal" is to improve encounter design (and encounter fun!) by removing a very variable (and currently unforeseeable) element of combat.  (i.e. Difficulty of a combat does not depend on a "save-or-die" initiative roll at the start of combat.)

Thoughts?




Dan Anderson @EpicUthrac
Total Confusion www.totalcon.com
LFR Calimshan Writing Director
LFR Epic Writing Director

LFR Myth Drannor Writing Director

Very insightful post. Indeed I've noticed the same impacts that initiative has on a combat. I'm beginning to realize more and more that for PCs - initiative is king. This becomes more prevalent at higher levels as controlling the combat from its onset becomes more important and the potential for very high initiatives increases.

As more players begin to play P2 and higher adventures, we'll likely see more posts spring up about this as people begin noticing how large an impact initiative has on the difficulty of combats.
Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com
Bad luck/bad rolls are part of the game.  It happens.  The monsters and the players need to react and adapt to the situation when things dont' go their way.  Yes a lucky roll from one side or the other can make an encounter too easy or too difficult, but just like any other die roll that's all it is, luck.  It certainly is an element in any combat in any RPG and it necessarily is since we use dice to randomize outcomes.
Sorry WOTC, you lost me with Essentials. So where I used to buy every book that came out, now I will be very choosy about what I buy. Can we just get back to real 4e? Check out the 4e Conversion Wiki. 1. Wizards fight dirty. They hit their enemies in the NADs. -- Dragon9 2. A barbarian hits people with his axe. A warlord hits people with his barbarian. 3. Boo-freakin'-hoo, ya light-slingin' finger-wigglers. -- MrCelcius in response to the Cleric's Healer's Lore nerf
Bad luck/bad rolls are part of the game.  It happens.  The monsters and the players need to react and adapt to the situation when things dont' go their way.  Yes a lucky roll from one side or the other can make an encounter too easy or too difficult, but just like any other die roll that's all it is, luck.  It certainly is an element in any combat in any RPG and it necessarily is since we use dice to randomize outcomes.



Bad luck/die rolls are only a small part of it. When a level 16 monster has a +12 initiative, and the two strikers at the table have +22 and roll twice, guess who's more than likely going to go first?

The bottom line is that if a party is able to max out their initiative, they'll find combats to be far easier than they would be if initiative was determined simply by a "roll of the dice."
Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com
True, but the OPs example was of lucky high or unlucky low rolls for the monster.  Overall, yes, intiative can play an important part in the combat.  A monster with +12 and a striker with +22... the striker is going to go first more often than not, but there are those times when the monster will go first.

Certainly there are as many different ways of doign intiative as there are RPGs.  I would be all for doing it Children of the Sun style.  Everyone has an init. token.  You can initiate combat at any time by throwing your token in the "ring."  Everyoen else reacts and throws their token in.  You go in order from the bottom up.  It's like Slap Jack with life or death consequences.  :D
Sorry WOTC, you lost me with Essentials. So where I used to buy every book that came out, now I will be very choosy about what I buy. Can we just get back to real 4e? Check out the 4e Conversion Wiki. 1. Wizards fight dirty. They hit their enemies in the NADs. -- Dragon9 2. A barbarian hits people with his axe. A warlord hits people with his barbarian. 3. Boo-freakin'-hoo, ya light-slingin' finger-wigglers. -- MrCelcius in response to the Cleric's Healer's Lore nerf
Bad luck/bad rolls are part of the game. It happens. The monsters and the players need to react and adapt to the situation when things dont' go their way. Yes a lucky roll from one side or the other can make an encounter too easy or too difficult, but just like any other die roll that's all it is, luck. It certainly is an element in any combat in any RPG and it necessarily is since we use dice to randomize outcomes.



I agree, which I why I still think players should roll for initiative on-the-fly. Some luck/randomness is key - otherwise, why use dice at all? 

D&D 3.5 (expecially at higher levels) suffered from "the side that wins initiative, wins the combat." I'm hoping 4e does not go down the same path.

My concern is that initiative is not "just like any die roll" - in many cases, it becomes a "save-or-die" effect for the monsters (and the PCs). By standardizing the monsters (taking the luck out of one side) to some degree, it moves the focus from whether the monster rolled high/low to how meaningful the players' die rolls are.

Dan Anderson @EpicUthrac
Total Confusion www.totalcon.com
LFR Calimshan Writing Director
LFR Epic Writing Director

LFR Myth Drannor Writing Director

DM rolls a 19 on the die, and drops a burst on several party members who haven't had a chance to act yet, spends an action point, and bursts them again!  Bad start for all of the PCs . . . .

The DMG2 has something to say about this, the short version is "don't do it", and it is good advice. If you are going to be a DM I seriously recomend taking the time to read the DMG2's articles on skill challenges and running the game.

Sure the tactics might be optimal for the monster, but are they optimal for the purpose of the game - that the people playing have fun?

This is something that needs to be kept in mind when your monsters are winning the initiative; which despite those few "super initiaitve" characters is going to happen less in the player's favor than the monsters anyway.

From a purely mechanical perspective giving monsters a flat set of base intitiatives is bad - players that are tactically minded can and will plan around that.

The "Initiaive Defense" is essentially another "flat" initiative system for monsters and provides the same problems.

The random initiative system works very well, the biggest problem with 4E is that the monsters typically have to high an initiative modifier for their level and stats. Most PC's have 2 +1/2 Level, most monsters have 2+level, this significantly disadvantages the PCs once the dice start rolling.

There is the other problem that d20 probably creates to wide a range of discrepancy - for example if you have a +5 modifier and roll a 1 and I have a +1 modifier I have just under a 3 in 4 chance of beating your initiative, just because of the range of the dice.

But that is part of why there is a DM - part of the DM's role is to provide balance to the randomness of the dice, and the initiative rules in particular provide lots of ways of doing that.
My concern is that initiative is not "just like any die roll" - in many cases, it becomes a "save-or-die" effect for the monsters (and the PCs). By standardizing the monsters (taking the luck out of one side) to some degree, it moves the focus from whether the monster rolled high/low to how meaningful the players' die rolls are.



It's an interesting point. You could maybe tweak your idea a little further: monster A has an init 3 lower than the highest player init, monster B has an init 10 lower than the highest player init, monster C has an init 1 lower than the lowest player init... etc.
I have a somewhat different view on this. What is most deadly is not a single monster rolling well on initiative, but all of the monsters going at once. If one flameskull (to use a rather common LFR example) rolls well and drops a fireball on the party while they're still clustered in the stupid "PCs start here" penalty box, the party will be hurt, but it won't kill them. However, if all three flameskulls are on the same initiative and drop their fireballs on the PCs without any chance for PCs to spread out or heal in between, things are much more deadly.

And unfortunately, the method that has been suggested for dealing with the lucky monster initiative roll--the DMG 2 method of having monsters take 10 on initiative and players roll against that--takes the "all the monsters dump their AoEs on the party at once" problem from a possibility to a certainty. Every flameskull will have the same initiative every time and if the PCs happen to be grouped for a fireball at that time, they're going to eat all three without an opportunity to heal or move in between. Every time. Without Fail. Now, rolling initiative separately for the monsters does not eliminate that risk--you could roll 20s for all three flameskulls. But you're not very likely to do so. More often than not, the players will have a chance to heal or move in between the blasts.

So, in conclusion, I would urge DMs not to adopt static monster initiatives, that just makes the problem worse. Rather, run monsters on separate initiatives and if you're really worried about having them all go at once or all before the PCs, you can put them on a spread (treat one flameskull as rolling a 15, one as rolling a 10, and one as rolling a 5).
I like the idea you suggest EB, but in practice, it has the probability of increasing the tracking and such you need to do as a GM. Perhaps not to the point of distraction, but enough extra work and mods can grind more.

But I think I might try a variant on your suggestion next time I GM and see how it works out.
I'll be the first to admit - as a judge, I've fudged monsters initiatives in both directions at times where I felt that the combat would end up being too easy or too difficult.
Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com
I'll be the first to admit - as a judge, I've fudged monsters initiatives in both directions at times where I felt that the combat would end up being too easy or too difficult.


Seems like a good tool to keep in the toolbox.


Related question: EB strongly implies above that he rolls init separately for each monster of a given type. Is that standard? I've been rolling one init for all the flameskulls, but maybe I'm weird.


I am now contemplating the virtues of doing it separately. Certainly it would tend to even out initiative clumps.

I'll be the first to admit - as a judge, I've fudged monsters initiatives in both directions at times where I felt that the combat would end up being too easy or too difficult.


Seems like a good tool to keep in the toolbox.


Related question: EB strongly implies above that he rolls init separately for each monster of a given type. Is that standard? I've been rolling one init for all the flameskulls, but maybe I'm weird.


I am now contemplating the virtues of doing it separately. Certainly it would tend to even out initiative clumps.




I roll one initiative for each monster group. If there are three flameskulls, they all act on the same initiative. It helps the combat run more quickly. For example, on the flameskulls' initiative, I can just say "one fires at you, one fires at you, and one fires at you." Then, I roll 1d20 and 2d6 directed at each player and dole out damage. It takes 5 seconds. If I'm worried about them brutalizing the party with combined fire, I adjust their tactics accordingly (I also give my players the option of playing on medium difficulty, hard difficulty, and extreme difficulty - so they know what they're getting into. Easy is not an option).

Dave Kay LFR Writing Director Retiree dkay807 [at] yahoo [dot] com
I roll one initiative for each monster group. If there are three flameskulls, they all act on the same initiative. It helps the combat run more quickly.


EB is correct that it makes more logical sense and more fun to roll separately -- but it is an overhead. I tend to switch between the two based on, I guess, my general sense of whether then extra overhead is worthwhile. For a tricky encounter with the possibility of stacked nastinesses, I'd take EB's advice. If it seems unlikely to make a difference, don't bother.

Another possibility is to assume the three delay to the same initiative -- roll three times and take the lowest. That makes things simpler, but mitigates the destructive possibilities.

Related question: EB strongly implies above that he rolls init separately for each monster of a given type. Is that standard? I've been rolling one init for all the flameskulls, but maybe I'm weird.

I am now contemplating the virtues of doing it separately. Certainly it would tend to even out initiative clumps.




I roll seperately.  However, I find it easy to keep track of because when I DM I use my netbook on which I have a freeware program called DM Battlescreen.  I don't even roll the dice for their init, I just use the roller in the program as it makes rolling indvidual inits for 7 or 8 creatures much quicker.  (all other rolls are done with dice)
Sorry WOTC, you lost me with Essentials. So where I used to buy every book that came out, now I will be very choosy about what I buy. Can we just get back to real 4e? Check out the 4e Conversion Wiki. 1. Wizards fight dirty. They hit their enemies in the NADs. -- Dragon9 2. A barbarian hits people with his axe. A warlord hits people with his barbarian. 3. Boo-freakin'-hoo, ya light-slingin' finger-wigglers. -- MrCelcius in response to the Cleric's Healer's Lore nerf
I roll one initiative for each monster group. If there are three flameskulls, they all act on the same initiative. It helps the combat run more quickly.


EB is correct that it makes more logical sense and more fun to roll separately -- but it is an overhead. I tend to switch between the two based on, I guess, my general sense of whether then extra overhead is worthwhile. For a tricky encounter with the possibility of stacked nastinesses, I'd take EB's advice. If it seems unlikely to make a difference, don't bother.

Another possibility is to assume the three delay to the same initiative -- roll three times and take the lowest. That makes things simpler, but mitigates the destructive possibilities.




I generally roll separately for init. When I don't, I will roll once for each monster in the group and take the lowest. I'm used to keeping track of hp, etc by mini name (in D&D minis) so, connecting a particular mini to each initiative card is not a big deal. (If you are using multiple identical minis, I recommend using colored dots like you will find in an office supply store. Put the dot on the base, and then you have, "red orc terrorblade, blue orc terrorblade, yellow orc terrorblade (needs food badly and is about to die)"

However, I still end up with monster clumps by chance, even when rolling separately. So, one thing I'm thinking of doing is simply assigning monsters in an even distribution between middling 5 and 15. Four monsters? 5, 8, 12, 15. I suppose if I did that with different monsters, I should roll randomly to see which one gets which roll. It would be a bit more complex but once the initiative starts, no more work.
I pre-roll initiative as is, so yeah, separating up monsters wouldn't be a big deal. 
I ran IMPI 1-3 last weekend.
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The Flameskulls rolled a nat 20 on their init and beat the whole party - fireball party in the start area.  One PC went down right there.  Maybe I should have staggered the Flameskulls a little bit.
I generally roll separately for init.



I always roll separately for every monster (with the exception of minions, who get sorted in clumps of max size 4 for initiative).

I find that in the few cases where the dice make it so, monsters all going at the same time has a VERY strong impact on the difficulty of the encounter.  I prefer to let the dice make that impact happen, rather than a shortcut that I might consistently choose to take as a DM.
One of my huge (and few) pet peeves is when DMs roll init separately for each monster in a group. It takes up so much more time! Sometimes I just look around the table and watch all the players roll their eyes as it is yet again the DM's turn and he again consults the stat block. I generally roll with however people play, but this one really gets to me.

Regarding the problem with init, I agree with the OP. It is an issue. Too high or too low can really force the encounter to play out a certain way. Like Dave, I'm starting to favor init modification as needed to keep things fun. It isn't valid DME, mind you, but it is done in the player's interest. What I often do is pre-roll init before I'm even at the game. I just write it down in the margins. When I get a really low or really high number, I consider the implications. If the implications are likely to be an issue I will re-roll and take the more appropriate of the two rolls or take 10 on the roll. Again, in the interest of the encounter ending up as it should, not to throttle players/PCs.

I ran a playtest recently where all the foes but one rolled really poorly. I though about fudging the dice and didn't. I regret that really strongly. It resulted in a lack of proper feedback for that encounter. (It was my own mod, so I'm the one that suffered!)

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If the party is clumped it's usually beyond deadly to have them all go last, if they start spread out it's not usually nearly as bad, and may even keep a monster from using it's burst 1 daily or encounter power in the initial round.  The only time I've ever given two identical monsters different initiatives was during spec1-2 in the first fight, the scale for 6 add xxxx I gave it a different inititative, those who have played it can probably see why.  I think one of the keys is if the room is clogged at a doorway, let and monsters all win init, let a couple through the door and then bring the monster out of delay, it's really annoying to be stuck in the doorfight all the time, getting people spread out tends to be a more exciting fight.  I really wish we had more outdoor stuff overall so we could be spread out coming down the road, allowing for the monsters win init and burn the entire party over and over scenario from not really playing out as often. 
Blah blah blah
One of my huge (and few) pet peeves is when DMs roll init separately for each monster in a group. It takes up so much more time! Sometimes I just look around the table and watch all the players roll their eyes as it is yet again the DM's turn and he again consults the stat block. I generally roll with however people play, but this one really gets to me.



I'm the opposite.  I appreciate it when a DM rolls init seperately.  I have seen DMs do a lot of "tactical tricks" by moving enemies in initiative clumps that might not be possible with (what I consider) normal seperate initiatives.

Sorry WOTC, you lost me with Essentials. So where I used to buy every book that came out, now I will be very choosy about what I buy. Can we just get back to real 4e? Check out the 4e Conversion Wiki. 1. Wizards fight dirty. They hit their enemies in the NADs. -- Dragon9 2. A barbarian hits people with his axe. A warlord hits people with his barbarian. 3. Boo-freakin'-hoo, ya light-slingin' finger-wigglers. -- MrCelcius in response to the Cleric's Healer's Lore nerf
When I suggested reading DMG2 I meant the more general advice.

For example: If the party is all bunched up in the doorway stagger the monsters initiative so that the PCs get spread out.

Take the Flameskulls encounter.

Even if you roll them all as a group, if they beat the initiative of the party, only drop 1 fire ball, then delay the other two skulls to give half the party a chance to spread out - if they don't spread out let them have more fire love.

This also applies when you have groups of monsters without burst attacks - let the PCs get out of the starting box.

Remember combat is a key part of the fun of the game, just because it is the best tactics for the monsters to keep the PCs in the starting box doesn't make it the best thing for the game to be fun.
I have seen DMs do a lot of "tactical tricks" by moving enemies in initiative clumps that might not be possible with (what I consider) normal seperate initiatives.


Those tactical tricks seem to be encouraged by the DMG, such as readying for flanking.

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DM rolls a 19 on the die, and drops a burst on several party members who haven't had a chance to act yet, spends an action point, and bursts them again! Bad start for all of the PCs . . . .



It seems the issue here is not with the initiative system, but with the DM forcing the player characters to all start within a close burst 1.

It seems the issue here is not with the initiative system, but with the DM forcing the player characters to all start within a close burst 1.



Or burst 2 . . . or close blast 5/8/10 . . . or hit with multiple immoblized/restrained effects . . .

The "issue with the initiative system" or "hitting everyone first" actually isn't my point. It's the "scaling" of an encounter in the design phase.  Even rolling separate initiatives, if 3 flameskulls roll 15/17/18 on their initiative dice, chances are the party is going to have a tougher time with the encounter than at a table where they roll 1/8/18.  It's very difficult to balance an encounter tactically (from the writers point of view) if the first d20 roll significantly dictactes how difficult the encounter will be for the players.

To summarize, if monsters initiatives were somewhat "standardized," we would get a much better read on encounter difficulty and design.

To take the 3-flameskulls example, many good points have been brought up in this thread. It seems that the general consensus is that it makes for a better encounter to spread out their initiatives (by rolling separately, delaying, etc.)  So why not just write that into the tactics section of the mod?  (i.e. Treat the flameskulls as having rolled a 3, 10, and 17.)  This "standardizes" the difficulty of the encounter for every group that plays.

Then, to take things one step further, if this "initiative tactic" works, why not apply it to all monsters in all encounters?  (i.e. Have the author "pre-roll" initiative and include the results in the tactics section.)


Dan Anderson @EpicUthrac
Total Confusion www.totalcon.com
LFR Calimshan Writing Director
LFR Epic Writing Director

LFR Myth Drannor Writing Director

Sounds good to me. I think this used to be done for some tournament fights.
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director
I have seen DMs do a lot of "tactical tricks" by moving enemies in initiative clumps that might not be possible with (what I consider) normal seperate initiatives.


Those tactical tricks seem to be encouraged by the DMG, such as readying for flanking.



I generally roll separate initiative for each creature.  I use 3x5 index cards for everyone (players and monsters) and it takes about 3 seconds/creature to write their initiative on the card and sort it into order.  I'll still end up doing the tactical tricks, but this just means that the faster monsters have to delay until the slower monsters are ready.

I've often thought that while it's valid for the DM to pull the tactical tricks, it is rather cheesy if the single roll for 3-5 monsters comes up high, and they are all acting before the majority of the party even gets a chance to move.  What struck me as more fair would be that if the DM is going to have all the monsters move at the same time, then they all roll initiative and all move with the slowest monster.  ("Everybody ready??? Grog!! What you doing?? Get finger out of nose and attack!!")

Multiple people have suggested rolling several times for a group of monsters, then going on the slowest... is that actually fun? I mean, by the odds that should do horrible things for the monsters init, so they almost always go after the PCs.
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director
keith, it depends on the monsters. and the players.

I have (and I think so have you) seen a tactical trick where sometimes parties just delay such that they go and then the monsters go and the party just decides how they are going to arrange themselves in actions in order to optimize attacks. If that happens, I suggest that the monsters do the same thing (for instance the delay or ready for CA/flank trick), and take up the best positions possible.

Of course, sometimes someone wins initiative and really just wants to spam an attack first. And that's ok too.
I guess - it just seems that the problem is high -or- low init, so trying to avoid the problem of high init by ensuring it's always low is hardly a fix.

If you do want a method for less swingy monster init, you could I guess roll # of dice = # of monsters, then take the median value. Ie, roll a 1, 8, 18 - okay, they all got an 8.

A lot of times it's only certain creatures that are bad to go first, too, so modules could alternatively list creature order for initiative, then you roll init dice and assign dice in that order. Ie, the problem is not when random drow w/ hand crossbow goes, but when drow with the big AoE restrain goes, or the three Flameskulls, etc.
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director
One possibility for a non-random initiative order, one that PCs couldn't metagame against, would be to create an array of initiative rolls for each combat, then assign them randomly to the monsters.  "Randomly assign initiative rolls of 4, 9, 11, 15, and 18 to BBEG, Artillery 1, Artillery 2, Brutes 1&2, and Minions.  For example, if you assign 9 to the minions, add their initiative modifier of +4, and they will go on 13."

so modules could alternatively list creature order for initiative, then you roll init dice and assign dice in that order.



This is a very cool idea (that I might "borrow.")

5 monsters = roll 5 initiative dice

Flameskull #1 gets best roll
BBEG gets next best roll
Flameskull #2 gets third roll
Trap-monster gets fourth roll
Flameskull #3 gets lowest roll

When reading the tactics sections in mods, it's sometimes clear that certain monsters are meant to go first. (i.e. The melee guys delay so they don't get in the way of a blast effect, the caster hits PCs with an immoblize effect before the ghouls act, etc.)

For example:
(A) Ghouls roll great initiative, Caster (with AoE immoblize) not-so-much: Much easier encounter for the PCs than if the dice roll differently for the monsters.
(B) As in A, but ghouls delay: Caster hits party, Ghouls attack - gotcha! No real time to react - lots of damage and stunning effects with nothing PCs can do = not fun.
(C) Planned encounter where Caster gets best initiative, and Ghouls have lowest initiative (or spread out): Caster immobilizes with AoE. PCs react - "Oh, we need to do something about this before the ghouls go! (Could be kill 'em quick, grant saves, etc.)

NOTE: My point is NOT to "tactically own PCs with initiative." That's result B.

By "arranging" initiative results in this encounter (choice C), we get an engaging encounter which plays very differently (and IMHO more fun) than how the encounter plays under potentially random initiative results. (The PCs get hit earlier with an effect and have a chance to respond to it before the other enemies go.)

I approve of any idea that "gets monsters acting in a synerginistic order" other than "they all go first" or "they all delay until after the PCs have acted." Alternating actions between monsters and PCs keeps encounters dynamic. (This is why we don't use the old 1st edition initiative rules of each side rolling a d6 - then alternating PC/monster turns.)

Dan Anderson @EpicUthrac
Total Confusion www.totalcon.com
LFR Calimshan Writing Director
LFR Epic Writing Director

LFR Myth Drannor Writing Director


I generally roll separate initiative for each creature.  I use 3x5 index cards for everyone (players and monsters) and it takes about 3 seconds/creature to write their initiative on the card and sort it into order.  I'll still end up doing the tactical tricks, but this just means that the faster monsters have to delay until the slower monsters are ready.



Yeah, the index cards make it quick to go through initiative. I used to put stat blocks on the index cards, but it started taking too long to prepare 'em. I guess I could go back to that for quicker reference.

I generally roll separate initiative for each creature.  I use 3x5 index cards for everyone (players and monsters) and it takes about 3 seconds/creature to write their initiative on the card and sort it into order.  I'll still end up doing the tactical tricks, but this just means that the faster monsters have to delay until the slower monsters are ready.



Yeah, the index cards make it quick to go through initiative. I used to put stat blocks on the index cards, but it started taking too long to prepare 'em. I guess I could go back to that for quicker reference.



Sometimes my pre-prep is to simply label the cards:
Kobold 1
Kobold 2
Kobold 3
Kobold Sorcerer 1
etc.

Sometimes, I'll go ahead and list their initiative modifier and max HP.

I don't think I'll ever get to where I'm putting their full stat blocks in for each monster.

I do create NPC cards that list full stat blocks, as well as attitude towards certain party members.  This way, I can slip them into combats where necessary, or simply use these as mini character sheets. 



I generally roll separate initiative for each creature.  I use 3x5 index cards for everyone (players and monsters) and it takes about 3 seconds/creature to write their initiative on the card and sort it into order.  I'll still end up doing the tactical tricks, but this just means that the faster monsters have to delay until the slower monsters are ready.



Yeah, the index cards make it quick to go through initiative. I used to put stat blocks on the index cards, but it started taking too long to prepare 'em. I guess I could go back to that for quicker reference.



I use index cards as well and like you, I quit putting stat blocks on the index cards. I had another reason for that other than workload though. I found that doing my record keeping on the cards meant that I had to flip through the cards to find the monster and adjust its hp every time it was hit. This took additional time at the table and also meant that I didn't have a clear view of the monster's stats for out of turn effects (OAs, etc). So, now I just put monster name and init on the cards and I keep their stats and other game formula on a sheet of paper in front of me. That way, I can keep track of hp and all relevant monster stats without digging through the card stack. It makes the card system better at keeping track of initiative (less digging means fewer turns skipped or mistakes in ordering) and better at keeping track of the stats.
I have seen DMs do a lot of "tactical tricks" by moving enemies in initiative clumps that might not be possible with (what I consider) normal seperate initiatives.


Those tactical tricks seem to be encouraged by the DMG, such as readying for flanking.



And players use them too. The problem is that using group initiative often eliminates the costs and risks associated with the tactics. If the PCs are on separate inits and one moves, readies and says, "get him from the back" another monster can move into the flank thus preventing the ready from going off. And the player will often lost place in the initiative order, allowing one or more monsters to attack before he gets to take his turn.

Now I think that the tactics are fine but running monsters on group initiatives makes them too easy and low-cost.


I use index cards as well and like you, I quit putting stat blocks on the index cards. I had another reason for that other than workload though. I found that doing my record keeping on the cards meant that I had to flip through the cards to find the monster and adjust its hp every time it was hit. This took additional time



I had the same experience. I ditched cards all together for table tents. I call out "anyone higher than 30?", "anyone higher than 25?", etc. based on tier and toss the init table tent to the player or assign it to the monster group. I have never needed more than 11 cards, which took all of two sheets of cardstock and a marker.

The table tents let everyone have equal knowledge of initiative order. I know the PC's, they know mine, all is fair. It lets players coordinate easily, which is huge for leaders. It lets players know their turn is coming up, or when the monster will go, saving time.

Another minor pet peeve of mine is DMs that hide the init results so players don't know when a monster will go. Not a big deal, but seems lopsided against the players when the monsters know the players' init.

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I use index cards as well and like you, I quit putting stat blocks on the index cards. I had another reason for that other than workload though. I found that doing my record keeping on the cards meant that I had to flip through the cards to find the monster and adjust its hp every time it was hit. This took additional time



I had the same experience. I ditched cards all together for table tents. I call out "anyone higher than 30?", "anyone higher than 25?", etc. based on tier and toss the init table tent to the player or assign it to the monster group. I have never needed more than 11 cards, which took all of two sheets of cardstock and a marker.

The table tents let everyone have equal knowledge of initiative order. I know the PC's, they know mine, all is fair. It lets players coordinate easily, which is huge for leaders. It lets players know their turn is coming up, or when the monster will go, saving time.

Another minor pet peeve of mine is DMs that hide the init results so players don't know when a monster will go. Not a big deal, but seems lopsided against the players when the monsters know the players' init.



This sounds like an interesting idea.

How do you handle delayed and readied actions?  Do you play merry go round with the table tents when the readied action goes off, or when the player comes off delay?

I tend not to hide anything.  I've never DM'd with a screen, and none of my players will ever see me cheese a die roll.  (Plus it gives me just a little extra table space _and_ I can see the battlefield better.)


How do you handle delayed and readied actions?  Do you play merry go round with the table tents when the readied action goes off, or when the player comes off delay?



I don't use tents (not yet, anyway), but have played with DMs who do.  If a character delays or readies, his tent is pulled out of the order, and re-inserted when the delay or ready goes off.  In at least one case, I've seen the DM give a player his own tent when he went into delay -- "give it back to me when you come off of delay."

I tend not to hide anything.  I've never DM'd with a screen, and none of my players will ever see me cheese a die roll.  (Plus it gives me just a little extra table space _and_ I can see the battlefield better.)



I've seen them used with and without DM screens; in the latter case, they were stood up in front of the DM, essentially arrayed where the DM screen would have been if the DM used one.

I use a DM screen, but I'm old school.  (I even refurbished my 1982-vintage 1E AD&D screen recently; it gets a lot of fun coments when I pull it out at a con.)  That said, I do agree with your comment about being able to see the mat better without a screen, though the "landscape-style" screen (like the 4E screen) is a lot better in that regard.  OTOH, I often stand when I'm DMing a combat, so it doesn't matter as much.
"Of course [Richard] has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives. It's 1183, and we're barbarians!" - Eleanor of Aquitaine, "The Lion in Winter"
You guys are rolling too many dice.  We all know the book says monsters open with their toughest attacks first, but forget about the impending TPK ... three flameskulls dropping three fireballs in the first round just sounds BORING.

You're the DM, you can alter their tactics.  And these are INT 22 monsters -- they probably wouldn't mind having a little fun with the party, watching them suffer over a few rounds of Fireballs instead of blasting them all at once.  If only one launches in the first round, you're still staying true to their tactics in the MM -- let the others use Flame Rays for a round or two.

And now you can still roll one initiative die for each monster group without predetermining the outcome on a lucky or unlucky roll.

Better for the party -- less chance of TPK, more chance of win.
Better for the encounter -- more fireballs more often = more action, less boring, lets party strategize
Better for the story -- monsters aren't simply killing machines, they now have personalities and team dynamics, possibly internal conflicts (just like a party of PCs)
Better for gameplay -- monster group rolls = less die rolling & faster gameplay


As always, letting the action and the story trump the rules just makes things easier.


Or, you could keep the system the same and roll a d10 for initiative instead of a d20.  That would help balance the spread, as well.