D&D Homebrew Initiative System

We normally just post things related to Stormforge on this blog… well we always just post things related to Stormforge on this blog, but we do also play other RPGs and with us being designers, we always think about ways of improving them. James had an excellent idea for a D&D initiative system, and I thought it was neat enough that you all need to see it.

So here’s James with his homebrewed initiative system for D&D:

I want to start this post saying that this idea is not originally my own. A good friend of mine came up with the idea, and I helped expand on it. What this initiative system does is create a fast, fluid, and dynamic system which can take the strain off the DM. To use this initiative system, all you need is a deck of cards. I know, I know. “Cards in D&D!” I hear you cry. Trust me on this, the extra bit of weirdness is worth it. Here is how the initiative system works:

  • Before the game, place the deck of cards somewhere on the table. The DM then writes down on a piece of paper, in this order, “Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1”. This list of card suits and numbers will act as a slider so the DM can keep track of what card you are on.
  • When combat breaks out every combatant draws a number of cards equal to one plus your initiative modifier. Then, pick one card as your initiative that round and discard the rest. If you have a negative modifier, draw one plus your negative score. Then, the DM chooses which card you use.
  • After this first drawing, the DM calls out “Aces” and anyone with aces acts. If people tie on cards, act by suit order.
  • After Aces, lair actions are taken.
  • Then the DM calls out “Queens” and the queens’ act. And so on, following the order the DM wrote at the beginning of the game. After each player takes their turn, they leave their card face up and draw a new card for next rounds initiative. This is to speed things along, so the fight does not have to stop each round.
  • When you reach 2, start over from Ace.
  • When the deck runs out, a player whose turn it is not, shuffles.
  • That is the basics of this card style initiative. It sounds complicated, and yes it technically is more complicated than rolling initiative once a round. In practice, however, it is faster. How is this so? Let me explain. Because the DM does not need to write down a long list of initiative or ask anyone’s initiative, the fight starts much faster. If the players keep up with drawing cards after their turns for the next turn, then there is no need to stop the combat for any reason. This initiative method also has many other benefits that the classic system lacks.

    Firstly, this initiative is dynamic. Every turn the order of combat is different. This keeps the initiative exciting and engaging. Secondly, it makes higher initiative have a much higher chance to act first. This makes faster characters feel much faster. Thirdly, this system allows for more strategic thinking of turn order. Not only can faster characters act first on average, but they can also choose to act later. This makes spells that last until the beginning or end of your turn gain a tactical edge to them.

    My latest D&D session used this card system, and I was amazed at how quick, easy, and fun it is. I hope that your group will find it as fun as mine did.


    If you want chat about the initiative system with us and other Stormforge players, then come join our Discord server!

    Also, if you haven’t yet done it, fill out our survey and get a free game!


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