Novel Ways to Use Non-Combat Initiative

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1033

I asked for ways you use initiative outside combat. Several cool ideas hit my inbox I’d like to share with you today:

Social Initiative

From Alexander T Greene

In Mythras, I’ve based a non-combat initiative score on CHA rather than DEX.

CHA in social initiative means those with high charisma are more likely to lead in any discussion or group phenomenon, particularly skills such as Dance, Sing, Influence, or Oratory.

I use a similar thing with Social Standing in Traveller, and Onyx Path has its own social combat section in the Chronicles of Darkness books nowadays.

Passive Initiative

From DM Daisho

I keep a separate initiative track of just the party and any friendly NPCs who might help in combat.

But this track only uses their initiative mods + 10, which in the spirit of other rules I call their “Passive Initiative.”

This helps me understand who might react to things in what order should that become useful.

It also gives me a ready list to check for non-combat purposes, when order of action in semi-important (not “combat-important”).

Alternatively, I have also just kept whatever the last initiative order was, minus the bad guys, and gone off of that until it got updated.

Divided Party Timelines

From Dean Goffinet

Hey Johnn.

Yes, I’ve used a simplified version of initiative for several years now as a Timeline roll.

When players are all over the map I give each one an allotted amount of time to be in the spotlight.

As characters are actively seeking each other out or would be crossing paths on the map, I get each party to roll a D6 with the lower roll being the character who was there first.

Used with some common sense, this has allowed for a pretty fair way of timing character actions that are going on around the same day.

It has also roller coastered the story with twists that give players totally different options than expected. “What do you mean my friends got arrested, we were all going to meet here at the bar. Hrumph, well guess I gotta plan a jailbreak!”

Encourage Participation

From JF

I’ve used initiative before on Skill Challenges. Normally, all players can chime in with their ideas, but I’ve found the same 3 players always solve my Skill Challenges (one Survival, one History, and one Athletics check and they’ve found the Sunken Fort in the Grey Moors).

Since I’ve been using initiative for Skill Challenges, it’s forced the laid-back players to come up with interesting ideas. One player used forgery kit proficiency to make a worn-out signpost legible again.

A couple of great non-init tips also rolled in. One on sound effects and one on descriptions:


From Alan

I’m running a homebrew 5e game through the local community centre.

Big table of relatively young, inexperienced players. I’ve been playing RPGs for ages but haven’t got a lot of experience in 5e, so we use D&D Beyond to help offset everyone’s lack of detailed rules knowledge.

This means everyone has a device, which can be distracting at times, but there are also positives.

One benefit is that the players can bring their own effects or soundtrack to their characters’ actions, which tends to add to everyone’s enjoyment.

It also provides a way for players to pass notes without others noticing, which reduces meta gaming.

We do have a post game routine where we go around the table and talk about the goods & bads of the session, which allows us as a group to communicate about any issues before they get out of hand.

Use Description to Offer Player Agency

From Joshua Ciarletto

Love your tips and newsletter. Been a long-time subscriber.

The way you describe the description trap is well done. One thing I love to do is from Apocalypse World (AW), though I pull it into almost every RPG I run.

I want players to feel like they have agency.

AW is amazing at making players feel that way. As part of that game, interruption of non-player action is a key component and the reason you can dispense with things like initiative.

So, you tell the players the beginning of the action with NPCs’ intent as part of the description, and then let them choose what they do.

Example: “He charges you and brings his sword over his head to take a swing at you. What do you do?”

Now the player has a chance to respond and describe.

Just an interesting thing to think about. I know it’s very close to what you were describing, but the nuance is in the agency and purposeful call to action.