Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1E: Simple Initiative System

Initiative is arguably one of the most maligned things in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, given the response to the not-so-clear rules presented in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. It has spawned its own free document called ADDICT that’s TWENTY FREAKIN’ PAGES LONG, which Merric has mused about, and has probably a thousand other websites like this one discussing how to do it “right,” or at least better.

Here’s my stab at improving it.

Dragon Attacks U - Roll for initiative PLZ

DMs have screens to shield them from the thrown dice when they do this kinda stuff.

The Simple Initiative System

  1. Individual Initiative Roll: Each Player Character and every like group of monsters rolls 1d6. A “like group” would be something like rolling 1d6 for the 3 goblins, a separate 1d6 for the worg, and a final 1d6 for the 2 bugbear lieutenants in a fight. You simply group monsters together to roll as few dice as possible for the DM, while still leaving some room open for “individuality.”
  2. Declaration and Action: Characters declare and perform their actions in ascending order (1 goes first, 2 goes next, etc.), keeping in mind the following factors:
    • If casting a spell, declare it once your Initiative die roll number comes up, and then add your Casting Time to your Initiative roll to get the segment in which the spell goes off. From the time your Initiative came up and you declared the spell to the time it goes off, you are casting your spell, and thus subject to interruption by attacks and the like.
    • If you are attacking, add the weapon or attack’s Speed to the Intiative roll to get the segment in which the attack is resolved. If intervening actions cause your attack to become impossible, you can only move.
    • Initiative ties technically go at the same time, but the DM can break ties by comparing Dexterity scores or rolling another 1d6, low roll goes first.

That’s all there is to it. You can easily determine the segments in which everyone acts, and you can use Casting Time and Weapon Speed without needing a whole phase of declaration.

Weapon Speed

I personally didn’t care for the giant numbers for Weapon Speeds, feeling that it often made spells considerably quicker than some weapons, so much so that interrupting spellcasters becomes harder without altering weapon speeds, an unintended side-effect given how seemingly easy it was to interrupt casters in the original rules. Therefore, I reduced weapon speeds, following these guidelines (with very few exceptions):

  • Light weapons (especially small or fast ones, and also most unarmed attacks) and thrown weapons = Speed 0.
  • One-handed (non-light) and most missile weapons = Speed 1.
  • Two-handed weapons = Speed 2.

I then gave long-loading missile weapons a Reload time that was added to this (to account for repeating crossbows which didn’t have to be reloaded after every single attack). That was usually 1 or 2, meaning that if you needed to reload between attacks, a crossbow was often acting at an effective Speed of 2 (hand and light) or 3 (heavy) rather than 1.

Human pets your tummy, roll initiative

Cats are combat DMs; I bet they ignore Morale checks.

Special Considerations

When a character makes a Charge maneuver (either on foot or mounted), defenders who have a weapon that can be set to receive a charge automatically interrupt with their attack. They do not receive a free attack, but simply go immediately before the Charging attacker in the initiative order.

It is up to the DM to determine if a successful interrupting attack stops the Charge maneuver, but considering the length of a combat round and the fact that a Charge can only be performed once every turn, this option should be used sparringly, if at all.

Additionally, taking a cue from D&D 3rd Edition, I added Ready and Delay maneuvers that worked with this system, but those things were pretty much common sense.

Delay (Maneuver):

You can delay your action by as much as you want, acting on any segment you wish, so long as it’s later than your Initiative roll (+Casting Time or Speed, if appropriate). If you choose to act in a segment that another character(s) / creature(s) is acting, you go last in that segment.

This is a great maneuver to add if you like a lot of tactical choices and timing. Keep in mind that it presents an option that essentially gives a player a chance to say, “Nope, not yet! Wait for it! Wait for it…” If you prefer fast combat, and don’t want a mechanic that slows things down, then don’t use this.

Ready (Maneuver):

You can ready an action to trigger based on a set of circumstances that you specify on your action. Note that this is different from the maneuver “Set Weapon Against Charge,” which is essentially a “free” action unless you are surprised or your weapon is not readily available. That said, you can use the Ready action to set a weapon against a charge if you wish, as there may occur circumstances where doing so is beneficial.

How do you handle initiative in your AD&D games?

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neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He's been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

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