Initiative: Declared, Phases, Speed and Length

Here’s an alternate D&D initiative system.

1: It involves declaring your actions before you do them. And then during the round you can’t change your mind.
2: Action goes in phases: Ranged, Movement, Hand-to-Hand, Items, Spells.
3: Within a phase the order is determined by features of what you’re using.

First, you roll initiative. Whoever loses must declare first, and the winner declares last, giving him the chance to see what’s coming and decide his plan for the round. Roll d6 for each side (usually PCs and Monsters but you could have multiple forces).

The declaration is “I’m moving to X” and also “I’m doing Y”. You can declare some or no movement AND you can declare one or no action phase.

Phase 1 is Ranged combat. This includes fired missiles like sling stones and arrows, and also thrown weapons, but not activated spells or magic items. All ranged combat occurs simultaneously and before any other phases. This means when two parties meet, they can always exchange missile fire before closing to melee (unless surprise was involved). If you declared a shot and for some reason no enemy is available, you still shoot (probably at the place where the enemy used to be before it vanished). This won’t come up often because there’s no time between declaration and Phase 1.

Phase 2 is Movement. All movement happens in order of the slowest to fastest. So a Move 6 character gets to do his entire movement before a Move 9 character can go. This order works unless there’s some effect related to proximity, such as an aura of fire, for which you should move piece-by-piece; for example, the Move 9 will move 3 spaces for every 2 spaces the Move 6 gets. Because melee occurs after all movement is finished, this should come up rarely. For longer-term movement where terrain knowledge, vision, size, and dexterity are factors, use a set of Pursuit rules such as in OD&D.

Phase 3 is Hand-to-Hand. Within this phase, melee weapons can strike if (A) there is an enemy you can reach after Move is finished, AND (B) you had declared HTH previously. If you did not declare HTH, you can’t attack. Similarly, if you held a bow and declared Ranged, you can’t also attack HTH if someone moves up to you. You can strike HTH at any of the targets available – but if you declared a HTH and there’s an enemy to attack, you must do it. Of course you don’t have to strike friends if they’re the only ones available. If there is no enemy and you don’t get to strike HTH you’ve still used up your declared action and cannot act later.

The order of attacks in Phase 3 is determined by weapon length if movement occurred, or by weapon speed (reverse order weapon length) if no movement occurred. If a spearman fighting an axeman wants to keep winning HTH order, the spearman needs to keep advancing or retreating. If he gets stuck in a corner or his allies behind him don’t want to retreat, he’s stuck standing still and fighting the axeman which means the axeman goes before him in HTH order.

All melee weapons are ranked as Short (Dagger, Hand Axe), Medium (Sword, Mace), Long (Spear, Staff). If two Short weapons fight, the result is simultaneous (and may result in a double-kill as with Ranged attacks). If you throw a melee weapon it goes during the Ranged phase instead and weapon length / speed doesn’t matter.

Phase 4 is Items. This includes opening a door, using a key on a door to lock or unlock it, pulling a lever. It also includes activated magic items like rings and wands. The order of resolution here is that smaller items go before larger items – so a magic ring is very fast while slamming a door shut is probably one of the last items to get used.

Phase 5 is Spells. Spells go off in order of lowest-level first, meaning when you cast you need to decide whether to cast a fast weak spell or a strong slow one. Another caster might attack you with his spell before you fire yours. If you’re hit for damage or severely jostled you lose the spell and it doesn’t go off. Since all spells go off last, and you are actually casting throughout the round, you are in danger of being attacked throughout the round by missiles and then by melee and magic items.


Held actions (for example, a melee attack or slamming a door if you see someone coming) can interrupt another phase. But you can’t hold up more than one action and you can’t take other actions in the interim. You could, for example, declare a held missile action. The next time an enemy comes within view you fire automatically – on its movement phase and before it can finish that movement. You could declare a held Spell and on the next round when an enemy Teleports in you would complete the casting and fry him.

Even though you can’t make actions while holding an action, you can still move normally.


Magic can improve your initiative in various ways. It can make you more aware, giving a bonus to the initiative roll and letting you declare second more frequently. It can affect which phase your action occurs in – for example, you might be able to make a second missile shot in the Spell phase. Or it can affect the resolution order within the phase – for example, a Sword of Speed that has length Medium but speed Short.


Yes this is finicky, but it’s also more chewy and offers more opportunities for magic to affect things. Because it’s also less based on die roll, it allows for better planning. It also lets us take advantage of weapon speed and length in a way that isn’t irritating and cumbersome, and more weapon features make the decision of which weapon to use a more interesting one. It makes Movement matter within a combat even if the distances moved are relatively short. Finally it makes the Initiative roll completely good instead of a mixed bag: if you roll d10 and act in order, the people who lost initiative have to wait, but they also have more information to use when their turn comes around.

4 Responses to “Initiative: Declared, Phases, Speed and Length”

  1. Ynas Midgard Says:

    How do you handle disengaging from melee? Is this a term your rules recognise, in the first place?

    Say, “A” (with a movement score of 12) moves to get in melee with “B” (assume this movement is one-half of the distance “A” is allowed to move). However, “B” (movement score of 6) instantly moves away from “A”, so “A” cannot attack “B” in melee. If “B” was a caster or archer, he could walk away AND cast/attack indefinitely as long as there is free space he can move to.

    • 1d30 Says:

      During declaration, A would say “I’m moving up to B and then fighting in melee.” B would declare “I’m moving away from A and ranged action.”

      Missile comes first, so B shoots. Then movement happens. A has a higher move, so he moves up to B. Then B would move away 6″.

      This would require a change in the Movement phase rule, because it’s pretty absurd. Ideally what would happen is A moves to meet B, B tries to move away, but A keeps up with him.

      (I kinda rewrote the Movement part as I was typing so I’m not surprised it’s broken)

      I guess it would work better if the lower-Movement characters went first. Higher-Movement characters would still catch up and prevent pursuit before a fleeing slowbie is able to, for example, close a door behind him.

      I’ll edit the post.

      This way,

      A and B declare as above, B fires, B moves, A moves to close distance, and A attacks in melee.

      Now the question is whether you can use missile attacks in melee without problems. That’s a separate issue from initiative order though.

  2. 1d30 Says:

    TL;DR: In move phase, fastest moves first. Let B complete his full move without A interrupting to hop in step-for-step. We’re still taking turns. But if you have MV left and nobody is going, you can use it up before the end of the movement phase.

    Was just going through some old drafts and was thinking about this again. Rather than having slowest move first, you could have fastest move first (which would make sense if two are in a footrace 5′ from the finish line, or running down a hallway with pressure plate traps), but then allow people to continue to move later in the Movement phase if they had any left.

    In the example with Ynas, it would mean A and B roll initiative (and let’s say A wins). B declares, A declares. Then B fires his missile. Then A moves to B 6″, B moves back 6″ (which is all he could do because he’s slow), and then A can move up to B again 6″ (which is now at the full distance he can move in a round). When the melee phase comes, A melees B.

    One side effect is that if there’s a rule against firing a bow when you’re in melee with someone, B can’t fire again because when the missile phase comes up A will always be next to him. Which supports the missiles-when-melee’d rule if you have it, and doesn’t affect the rule if you don’t. Seems good to me.

    There’s a potential issue with any “attack of opportunity” rules, in that people can make split moves during the same movement phase. For example moving up to a hallway intersection, enemies get to move, and then the player moves again to complete his movement. As long as your rules limit the number of attacks of opportunity per round, this isn’t such a huge problem. But I want to tell a story about one obnoxious player who took advantage of his own failure to understand the rules.

    We’re in Phlan ruins camping at night. A former PC-turned-traitor-NPC sneaks in to do us dirty, loaded with magic items from the Thieves’ Guild. He attacks, fails, flees. Our doughty Dwarf asks about his attack of opportunity against the fleeing Halfling. DM gives him his attack. But the Halfling has Boots of Speed, so he’s moving at 24″, and the Dwarf moves at 12″. The DM is heavy into miniatures, so he shoves his Halfling piece down the hall, and the Dwarf player interrupts with “well I’m still moving, so when he moves 5 feet I’ll just move 5 feet too. That means I’m next to him again and since he’s running away from me I get another attack of opportunity.”

    Of course, once could argue that according to the rules, the Halfling or Dwarf would get his entire movement and then the other would move, limiting the Dwarf to a single back attack per round. One could argue that since the Halfling is going twice as fast as the Dwarf, if they move simultaneously the Halfling is going to be out of melee range after the first 5 feet. This player wanted to use the least reasonable interpretation, that the Dwarf and Halfling would stay together for 12″ (the Dwarf getting 24 free attacks on him that round), and then the Halfling would zip away another 12″.

    We all hated that Halfling and wanted him to die horribly but it was just so dumb what this player wanted to do. He still argued about it, but whatever. Can’t please all of the fools all of the time.

    Anyway, that outcome is a possibility in this split-movement-within-same-phase system. This can be mitigated by allowing no interruptions to someone’s movement – that is, if B wants to move, A can’t hop in and keep up with him step for step (even if that’s what it would look like in reality), but A must wait for B to complete his move. Once B is satisfied (or can’t run any more), A can make his move. We’re still taking turns. I think with this extra rule, the attack-of-opportunity rule interfaces with this initiative system properly.

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