Rules Index | GM Screen | Player's Guide

Chapter 1: Gamemastery Basics / Running Encounters


Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 11
The rules for rolling initiative can be found on page 468 of the Core Rulebook, and the GM guidelines on 498. Below you’ll find specifics on how to run certain types of initiative or deal with problems. These are guidelines, and you might prefer to execute initiative in a different way at your table.

When do you ask players to roll initiative? In most cases, it’s pretty simple: you call for the roll as soon as one participant intends to attack (or issue a challenge, draw a weapon, cast a preparatory spell, start a social encounter such as a debate, or otherwise begin to use an action that their foes can’t help but notice). A player will tell you if their character intends to start a conflict, and you’ll determine when the actions of NPCs and other creatures initiate combat. Occasionally, two sides might stumble across one another. In this case, there’s not much time to decide, but you should still ask if anyone intends to attack. If the PCs and NPCs alike just want to talk or negotiate, there is no reason to roll initiative only to drop out of combat immediately!

Initiative and Stealth

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 11
When one or both sides of an impending battle are being stealthy, you’ll need to deal with the impacts of Stealth on the start of the encounter. Anyone who’s Avoiding Notice should attempt a Stealth check for their initiative. All the normal bonuses and penalties apply, including any bonus for having cover. You can give them the option to roll Perception instead, but if they do they forsake their Stealth and are definitely going to be detected.

To determine whether someone is undetected by other participants in the encounter, you still compare their Stealth check for initiative to the Perception DC of their enemies. They’re undetected by anyone whose DC they meet or exceed. So what do you do if someone rolls better than everyone else on initiative, but all their foes beat their Perception DC? Well, all the enemies are undetected, but not unnoticed. That means the participant who rolled high still knows someone is around, and can start moving about, Seeking, and otherwise preparing to fight. The characters Avoiding Notice still have a significant advantage, since that character needs to spend actions and attempt additional checks in order to find them. What if both sides are sneaking about? They might just sneak past each other entirely, or they might suddenly run into one another if they’re heading into the same location.

Batch Initiative

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 12
If you have multiple enemies of the same type, such as four goblin warriors, you might want to have them act on the same initiative for simplicity. If you do, you can roll just one initiative check for all of them. They still take individual turns and can still individually change their initiative by Delaying. Note that a lucky initiative check could mean the batched creatures can easily gang up on the PCs, and a terrible roll could mean they all get struck down before they can do anything, so use this technique only when necessary to keep the game moving.

Placing Characters on the Map

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 12
If the PCs are already moving on a grid, as often happens in small dungeons, you already know where they are when they roll initiative. If they’re moving in free-form exploration, place them on the map when they roll initiative. The fastest way is to have the players set up their miniatures in a basic marching order ahead of time, then just move them onto the map in that formation. When that doesn’t work, such as when one or more PCs were in a different location or the map doesn’t fit the marching order, you can either set up the PC minis yourself, then ask if everybody is happy with where they are, or have the players place their own minis. If you find having the players do it themselves causes too much indecision (especially if they try to count out distances in advance), you can switch methods. Remember to place characters using Stealth in reasonable places to hide, even if that means you have to adjust the marching order to do so.

Inappropriate Skills

Source Gamemastery Guide pg. 12
As described in the Core Rulebook on page 498, you can allow PCs to roll skills other than Perception (or Stealth when Avoiding Notice) for initiative. You might find that once a player gets to use a stronger skill for initiative, they’ll keep trying to use it for future encounters. As long as the narrative plays out in a reasonable manner, it’s fine to allow the skill. If you find that they start making up odd circumstances to use their pet skill, or that their justifications for using the skill take too long at the table, just tell them you’d like them to go back to using Perception for a while.