How to handle a lot of characters in initiative?


Advice


Probably an easy question, but I had run a game for some friends last night and it ended up with 13 character in initiative and since a good chunk of those characters (7) were identical creatures, I also found it was easy to get confused as to which were going when. Accidentally having a couple go before they were supposed to, forgetting who was next.

I wrote what I could down, but when you have wolf 1, wolf 2, all the way up to wolf 7, it's easy to get them mixed up. Any advice on how to better keep track of so many creatures / characters when running through the initiative chain?


For large groups of identical enemies, it works okay to have them all go on the same initiative count. To avoid huge swings where all the bad guys go either first or last, I usually roll 3d6 for the group's initiative instead of 1d20, though it would also work fine to have them all take 10.


strumbleduck wrote:
For large groups of identical enemies, it works okay to have them all go on the same initiative count. To avoid huge swings where all the bad guys go either first or last, I usually roll 3d6 for the group's initiative instead of 1d20, though it would also work fine to have them all take 10.

Grouping a bunch of like creatures together sounds reasonable. I may give that a try. I can see how the big swings would be a thing though.

Thanks for the advice.


I also have identical creatures go on the same initiative. Don’t worry so much about characters going first or last. Who goes first is only really important in the first turn. After this is basically taking turns going.

Also if you accidently skip a couple of monsters don’t sweat it. Players on the other hand get angry if you skip them. The most important thing in large battles is to keep the action going.


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Third Mind wrote:

Probably an easy question, but I had run a game for some friends last night and it ended up with 13 character in initiative and since a good chunk of those characters (7) were identical creatures, I also found it was easy to get confused as to which were going when. Accidentally having a couple go before they were supposed to, forgetting who was next.

I wrote what I could down, but when you have wolf 1, wolf 2, all the way up to wolf 7, it's easy to get them mixed up. Any advice on how to better keep track of so many creatures / characters when running through the initiative chain?

I use different minis even if they are the same creature.


A few times when I have used groups of identical monsters, I put a small circle of white out on the base and then numbered each one. But still, in groups for sure.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

If you have extra dice, you can also mark figures with a die next to them. Assuming you're using miniature figures.
One of my groups uses a dry erase initiative board like this one from Paizo. One player is generally tasked with calling out initiative, and keeping the action streamlined. When I'm doing this, I often warn players that their turn is coming next.

The more players you have, the longer battles will take, simply because of initiative issues. Unless players are actually blocking each other, or their turn might invalidate another player's turn, you can also tell them all to act and roll their attacks, just giving you the run-down once all rolls are made. This can really speed things up, if everybody knows the system and can be trusted not to "fudge" any die rolls.

Say if Wolf leader goes at initative count 21, then Bob goes at 20, Susan at 18 and Youssef at 17 before wolves 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 go at 12, you can allow Bob, Susan and Youssef to all do their rolls simultaneously, as long as they are unlikely to get in each other's way.

I hate it when technical problems like managing intiative slows down combat. Leaves less time for roleplaying.


Usually you want to try and stay away from having a lot of creatures on the battlefield. As if they all take separate actions this can slow the game way down.
If you want these creatures on the field for one reason or another, I usually just have them move around and auto-assist one or two 'main' creatures. This saves time from avoiding all the rolls and are usually one hit/one kill from the party.
Doing something like this can simplify your task. (1) There's less paperwork on your end. You only need to keep track of 1 or 2 creatures. All the others are just assist machines to them. (2) Can slow the party down and keep them away from your squishy bad guys. (3) Allows these minions to have a chance to actually do something to the party without having to roll a "20". (4) Allows certain feats and spells your players might have to really shine [like Cleave].

Speed bumps I call them.


When I ref I give important NPC's or boss monsters their own initiative. Then I break down the 'mooks' into groups of 3 and they each get their own rolls per group.

But I also use Combat Manager off a laptop to help me with combat. I use an external monitor with the initiative screen feature thrown on it so the players can keep track of the initiative as I go as well.

If I miss something they easily catch it on the screen and remind me. Has only happened a time or two in 6 sessions so far.

I also use unique miniatures for the important NPC's or boss monsters and pieces from old Stratego games for the mooks. The Stratego piece sets are different colors (about 6 colors) and have had construction paper glued to their faces and backs with numbers 1-12 printed on them.

For example I will use Red 1-6 for 6 Skeletons and blue 1-4 for 4 zombies while I use a miniature of an armored skeleton with sword and shield for the Skeletal champion leader.

Makes telling who is who easy. Got the Stratego piece sets at garage sales but you can do the same with the same kind of bases used in Pathfinder pawn sets and your own carboard and markers. Games stores near my house sell those slotted pawn bases on their own for cheap.


If you have multiple similar miniatures or pawns you can number their bases with dots of paint, just like the pips on a standard 6 sided die. If there are 5 ghouls with identical minis I might note them as G1, G2, etc.

One guy I used to play with used plastic "army men" style toys for minis:
-black, white, and grey Ninjas for Large monsters
-yellow, red, green, etc Indians for Huge monsters

It sounded a little silly to say, "I attack the green Indian!", but at least people knew which monster you were going after.


Lots of identical enemies?

Restat them as a Troop!

Scarab Sages

How I manage initiative:

- Identical Enemies go on the same initiative

- Environmental effects generally happen at the start of the round.

- I have one of the players track initiative for me. Takes a bit of a load off.


Identical mooks split into groups of 2-4 depending on how many there are total, anyone special (caster, boss, troop captain) with different stats/spells gets their own turn. This avoids the "2 people go, then 8 guys slaughter one pc, then the rest of the party goes" issue. I have different sets of mini for each type of enemy or for each group if they are all identical.

For table games, I have notecards with AC, Saves, HP, stealth, perception, and attack/damage totals on them for each group/type of enemy, as well as ones for the characters. I also have them roll 5 sets of initiative down the right side, and randomly choose which initiative roll each combat uses beforehand.

I can organize them in advance, asking players to roll me a d20 and adding the bonuses myself for things like perception or stealth if they typically send a scout to sneak ahead so they don't know what they are rolling for, usually at the end of the last combat to have them ordered while I am describing the next scene.

It lets you transition from narrative to combat smoothly.

"You come upon the smoking remains of a campfire, with signs that the camp was broken quickly. (Player 1 and 2) notice something rustle in the brush, but the rest of you are surprised as an arrow flies out at (player 3). Player 2, even though you both noticed the attack coming, you are reacting quicker than player 1, what do you do?"

For surprise rounds I usually also only give them about 10 seconds to answer, before I treat it as a delay, (positioning and enemy descriptions/clarifications excepted). They all know this ahead of time, and it keeps people paying attention even when they aren't acting, knowing that they will go into delay if they aren't ready quickly IRL. (Once again, clarifications and spell/ability lookups excepted, as in: I want to cast this spell I need to double check the AoE though to make sure I only get enemies and not allies)

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