Unearthed Arcana: Greyhawk Initiative Analysis

For the month of July we are presented with an alternative Initiative system.

In fact, it was mentioned on Twitter by Mike Mearls, a couple of weeks ago, that he was tinkering with it. And now we have an official(as official an Unearthed Arcana document can be) document about it. Let’s begin.

The Basic Idea

The basic idea behind this system is that your initiative is based on what kind of actions you want to make during each round. Each action costs a specific die. A ranged attack costs 1d4, moving, swapping gear, and other actions cost 1d6. Finally, a melee attack costs 1d8 and casting a spell costs 1d10. For each of these actions you want to make, you roll the corresponding die and then add them all up. The lower the number you get, the sooner you will act during that round.

I don’t think it sounds very simple(remember, you must do this every round) and, unfortunately, this leads to the need to clarify a few things.

Bonus Actions

If you want to use a bonus action, you have to an additional die that corresponds to what you’re going to do with a bonus action. For example, if you want to cast the spell Healing Word as a bonus action, you will have to add an extra d10 to your initiative. For many classes this is really bad.

Reactions and Forced Activities

Both usually take place outside of your turn and, in this system, only actions during your turn count towards your initiative. This means they don’t cost anything.

Ready and Delay

There’s no ready action in this system. Instead, you get to delay your whole turn. You then choose to take your turn at a later time, after the turn of a combatant has ended. This means you can’t disrupt the actions of another creature. Delaying your turn gives more freedom than just readying an action.

You should keep initial initiative roles because it’s used as a tiebreaker in case two combatants choose to take their delayed turn at the same time.

Rounds and durations

The system keeps the standard 6 seconds round. However, a big change has been made in the duration of effects. “Until the end of a turn” effects now last until the end of the round. “Until the start of a turn” effects now last until the start of the round. This change affects many abilities and, while some get a bit better, some others (especially the “until the start of your next turn”) get really worse.

I believe this change played a role on the decision made about combatants unable to take actions. They don’t get to roll for initiative and, if they need to roll to resolve an effect, they do it at the end of the round. My question is what happens if you become able to take actions during the round? Is your turn lost or do you roll for initiative mid-round?

Bonuses/Penalties and the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic

Dexterity does not play a role in your initiative. It’s only used to break ties. If there is another effect adding a bonus to your initiative, you may reduce the size of one of your dice(a d6 becomes a d4). In case of a penalty to the initiative, you apply the reverse process and increase the size of a die.

Advantage allows you to roll your largest die twice and keep the lowest, while disadvantage forces you to keep the highest. You only get to do that to one die only, no matter how many dice you have.

I’m not sure I like the fact that Dexterity doesn’t play an active role on initiative. However, I do find interesting how bonuses and advantage were implemented in the system.


When you get surprised, you add +10 to your initiative, can’t take reactions, and you are considered surprised until the end of the round. The way I read it gives me the idea that you get to act during the surprise round.

Declaration and Resolution

At the start of each round, each player must declare the actions they wish to take in order to determine the dice they’re going to roll. However, they don’t have to be specific about their actions. If you want to move, for example, you don’t have to say where you want to go, during the declaration process.

A negative in this system is that you must declare an action in order to take it during your turn. In the example provided, we’re shown that if you don’t declare a move action you can end up losing a turn’s worth of actions. And this leads to a question. Should I declare more actions than I have in mind, just in case? But this is going to increase my initiative, so is it worth it?

Two Notes

Mike Mearls said on Twitter that the Dungeon Master should give hints to the players about the possible moves of the monsters. Insight checks could be made at the start of the round. That’s actually an interesting idea, and not only for the alternative system.

Another interesting idea can be found in the example. The Dungeon Master can roll only once for a group of monsters that want to take the same actions. This is a nice way to speed things up a bit.

The Verdict

This alternative system adds an unnecessary amount of complexity to the game. The initiative system 5th Edition uses is much simpler, straightforward, and easy to use. In other words, it follows the design principles behind 5th Edition. The reason for the increased complexity is that this system tries to make combat more unpredictable. Is it worth it, though?

Moreover, things are not fair for the classes, since some tend to be more expensive than others. This gets worse because there’s a different cost for ranged and melee attacks, which doesn’t really make sense the way it is.

Also, the fact that you have to declare a move action, just to make sure you won’t waste your turn, is a big problem, in my opinion.

Personally, I don’t believe the extra complexity is worth it. Not to mention that the amount of clarifications make me believe there are a couple of bugs that haven’t been found yet. However, you should give it a try. Run a combat encounter and see how it goes. Me not being a fan of it doesn’t mean you can’t like it. You can even try making changes to fit your style more.

And on that note, I want to say that I like this kind of articles for Unearthed Arcana. It’s like the Dungeon Master’s Workshop from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I want see more of that and, if possible, I want to see things from the designer’s perspective. Something like Unearthed Arcana: Feats, for example.

You can read the full article here and download the PDF here.


4 thoughts on “Unearthed Arcana: Greyhawk Initiative Analysis

  1. I’m actually really intrigued by this idea, but I agree that it is complicated and probably not worth using for 5e D&D. What interests me is using this in a system that is built purposely around strategic combat, and perhaps has fewer or simpler rules underneath it. I could see this for a dungeon-delve board game for instance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree with you. Especially for 5th Edition, I don’t think this level of complexity for initiative is necessary. The idea behind this system, however, is very interesting and I’m thinking about tinkering with it just to see where it goes.
      Also yes, I can see this system being used in a board game like you mentioned.


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