So you’ve tried group initiative, or are thinking about it giving it a shot for a night. All in the name of turn efficiency and faster combat, right?
And yet… still not going fast enough, are you? And all those shiny initiative feats – not shiny enough anymore, are they?
Don’t worry – let’s fix that! One of the two major drawbacks of using group or side initiative I last talked about with you was our poor initiative-focused characters. Here’s the relevant snippet of their plight:
* Initiative-Focused Characters. Some characters built for or preferring high initiative (i.e. assassins, rogues, ranged strikers, some controllers) may find group initiative punishing.
There was some excellent discussion about this. The current primal character party didn’t value initiative that highly, but they’d all played characters in the past who have. Concerning strikers, I’ve played enough of them where going first wasn’t a priority (avenger, two-axe ranger and monk), but I’ve also seen as DM how high initiative really helps assassins, rogues and wizards bloody a critical target or clean house right from the jump.
I say initiative-focused characters are still raising the average group initiative quite a bit and that’s a boon for the entire party, thanks to their presence. But of course, you can also look at it glass half-empty (like our resident power gamer did, of course!) and curse the slow-reacting paladins and clerics for slowing you down and holding you back.
Specifically, one of the mechanics that really helps your characters get a jump on their enemies are all those initiative feats throughout every tier of play.
First, let’s look at our options, focusing on the 3 PHBs and the original 2 Essentials Heroes sourcebooks only. Along the way, I’ll highlight which ones work well for a group already, granting multiple party members a bonus (look for a nice, big “G”). Finally, I’ll give you one elegant and powerful solution to make individual initiative feats more useful and attractive for playgroups using group initiative.
After all, no edition encourages and rewards tactical teamwork like 4e D&D does, so it’s only natural to blaze this path!
Initiative Feats: The Options
- Improved Initiative – the classic, tried and true… but is +4 enough in a group initiative setting?
- *Group Insight (G) – it’s good to be friends with a half-elf!
- Quick Draw – half of Improved Init but with other helpful “quickness:” The Art of Backup Weapon “strategery!”
- *Primal Instinct (G) – make friends with half-elf warlords, trust me!
- Thirst for Battle – I love playing half-orcs for both their story potential and innate butt-kicking – and I love this feat.
- Wild Senses – nice perception and init combo feat for shifters.
- Battle Hardened – fear nothing – and go quickly!
- #Lucky Start (X) – alas, our first and only feat that is incompatible with group/side init without a major redesign.
- Battlewise – clerics and avengers rejoice!
- Wasteland Warrior – a nature, perception and init 3-pack, nice.
- *Combat Commander (G) – more warlord goodness.
- ^Danger Sense (S) – special rule: either use the Specialist bonus below, OR extend the reroll to the group init roll
- ^Seize the Moment (S) – special rule: either limit benefit to 1/day for the group, OR nix it as Lucky Start material
- Stalking Panther Form – that’s a lot of qualifiers… paragon druid and beast form only? Yikes.
- *Shared Danger Sense (G) – it’s good to have githzerai friends, too, damn it!
- Mythic Senses – flavorful minotaur option based around perception.
- Superior Initiative – improved init: the epic +8 sequel!
- *(G) – initiative feat that benefits multiple characters
- #(X) – initiative feat incompatible with group/side initiative
- ^(S) – special rules (see below)
An Initiative Solution: +1/tier Specialist Bonus
Most of the above feats benefit only the individual character who takes them (they are not marked with a “G” or “X”), so if any character in the party has one of them, consider adding the following Specialist Bonus to a group or side initiative: +1/tier bonus to the group or side’s single initiative roll.
The idea is that this particular character’s expertise extends to help the party beyond the typical average initiative roll – through expert guidance, observation or influence. Mechanically, it’s now less punishing to heavily invested initiative-focused characters, yet remains not so game-breaking that your party will always win initiative.
Simple, easy to remember, scales, and benefits the entire group.
Group Initiative Steps: Specialist Bonus
- Average Group Initiative. Figure out your average group initiative bonus; round down once you divide the initiative totals by the number of characters (i.e. for +23, +17, +16, and +12 in a four-character party, the total initiative bonus is 68; divide 68 by the number of characters, 4, and the average group initiative bonus is +17).
- Specialist Bonus. Add +1/tier of play if anyone has any of the unmarked feats above to create your new, average group initiative bonus. (Continuing the example above in epic play, the group initiative bonus increases to +20.)
- Final Initiative Score. Add the group initiative bonus from Step 2 to your single initiative roll for the group. (One of your players rolls for the group, adding +20. Natural 20! Your group initiative is 40! Crush your enemies, will you?!)
What’s that? Multiple initiative-obsessed heroes? Or crafty power gamer abuse? Got you covered: only one group initiative bonus granted this way applies to a side. In other words, they do not stack, even if the party you play in or DM includes 5 elven archers. With matching outfits. And matching dance moves. No stacks for you!
Special Feats = Special Rules
Note that in a few cases, particularly with a few of the more complex yet compelling paragon level feats, I suggested a few special rules on how to either keep them in a re-imagined group init-friendly way, or simply tell you to steer clear (like with Lucky Start). See Danger Sense and Seize the Moment, above.
Who’s First Now?
So go ahead and continue your group or side initiative combats with confidence, including a nod towards our downtrodden characters who weren’t all that excited about being held back by the slow, out-of-shape, or simply oblivious allies around them. Let me know how it goes!
What initiative feats do you prefer? What alternative or special rules besides the +1/tier Specialist bonus and the others above do you suggest? How might you redesign Lucky Start for group initiative use?