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Chapter 10: Game Mastering / Running Modes of Play / Exploration

Rolling Initiative

Source Core Rulebook pg. 498 2.0
Transitioning from exploration to an encounter usually involves rolling for initiative. Call for initiative once a trap is triggered, as soon as two opposing groups come into contact, or when a creature on one side decides to take action against the other. For example:
  • A group of PCs are exploring a cavern. They enter a narrow passage patrolled by a group of kobold warriors. Now that the two groups are in the same area, it’s time to roll initiative.
  • Amiri and a kobold champion agree to have a friendly wrestling match. They square off on a patch of dirt, and you call for initiative using Athletics.
  • Merisiel and Kyra are negotiating with the kobold king. Things aren’t going well, so Merisiel decides to launch a surprise attack. As soon as she says this is her plan, you call for initiative.
  • Harsk and Ezren are trying to Balance across a narrow beam to reach an isolated kobold treasure trove. When they get halfway across, a red dragon who was hiding behind the mountain flies around to attack! As soon as the dragon makes its appearance, you call for an initiative roll.

Initiative After Reactions

Source Core Rulebook pg. 498 2.0
In some cases, a trap or a foe has a reaction that tells you to roll initiative. For instance, a complex trap that’s triggered might make an attack with its reaction before the initiative order begins. In these cases, resolve all the results of the reaction before calling for initiative rolls.

Choosing the Type of Roll

Source Core Rulebook pg. 498 2.0
When choosing what type of roll to use for initiative, lean toward the most obvious choice. The most common roll is Perception; this is what the kobolds would use in the first example, as would Kyra and the kobold king in the third example. The next most common skills to use are Stealth (for sneaking up, like the dragon in the last example) and Deception (for tricking opponents, like Merisiel in the third example). For social contests, it's common to use Deception, Diplomacy, Intimidation, Performance, or Society.

If you're unsure what roll to call for, use Perception. If a different type of roll could make sense for a character, you should usually offer the choice of that roll or Perception and let the player decide. Don't do this if it's absolutely clear another kind of check matters more than Perception, such as when the character is sneaking up on enemies and should definitely use Stealth.

You can allow a player to make a case that they should use a different skill than Perception, but only if they base it on something they've established beforehand. For example, if in the prelude to the attack, Merisiel's player had said, “I'm going to dangle down off the chandelier to get the drop on them,” you could let them use Acrobatics for their initiative roll. If they just said, “Hey, I want to attack these guys. Can I use Acrobatics?” without having established a reason beforehand, you probably shouldn't allow it.

Character Placement

Source Core Rulebook pg. 499 2.0
When calling for initiative for a combat encounter, you’ll need to decide where the participants in the encounter go on the battle map. Use the party’s order, described on page 497, as a base. You can move forward characters who are using Stealth to get into position, putting them in a place they could reasonably have moved up to before having a chance to be detected. Consult with each player to make sure their position makes sense to both of you.