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Maelstrom Initiative: A 5e Variant for Players and GMs who love speed, engagement, and immersion, but don't mind a few rules.Click to magnify

Maelstrom Initiative: A 5e Variant for Players and GMs who love speed, engagement, and immersion, but don't mind a few rules.


D&D 5e Homebrew: Maelstrom Initiative

What is Maelstrom Initiative

Maelstrom initiative, unlike most other initiative systems for 5e, does away with the concept of turns, instead breaking each turn up over the course of a round. The D&D Players Handbook asserts that a round of combat takes six seconds, and all turns happen simultaneously, or near-simultaneously. When you sit down to play, however, it becomes immediately clear that the turns do not happen near-simultaneously. Each one is a laborious process of questioning, thinking, rolling, reporting and resolving, and they follow each other exactly, each player having an opportunity to take all of their actions, then pass it to the next player who will take their group of actions. 

We all intuitively know that combat is supposed to be a disorganized, frantic struggle. But our combat system fails to capture this at the most basic level, and the alternative of 'the players state their actions and then the GM just says what he/she thinks should happen' is no longer a game - it's just an odd combination of collaborative storytelling and GM fiat.

This is what Maelstrom Initiative is able to do unlike any other initiative system. It provides a method and structure for simultaneous combat that keeps everyone constantly engaged and rewards teamwork and tactical planning.

Why use it?

This system is not for everyone - it is failry rules-heavy and will take some effort to learn. However, Maelstrom Initiative has three main advantages over regular initiative:

Maelstrom Initiative is faster

To every DM or player who has ever suffered through a unnecessarily long combat, this is for you. In a regular initiative system, everyone has an opportunity to think on their turn. In Maelstrom Initiative, all players think about and choose their actions at the same time, drastically reducing time costs.

Maelstrom Initative is more engaging

To every DM frustrated with players who poke their phone while it isn't their turn, or to every player who has ever gotten bored while waiting for combat to slowly grind its way back to them, this is for you. Because each player's actions are broken up over a whole round, you are always deciding what you want to do first, and you are always on deck to act.

Maelstrom Initiative is more immersive

To everyone who has ever wondered why the paladin could run up and hit the goblin with her 5-foot long greatsword faster than the rogue standing next to the goblin could stab it, this is for you. Maelstrom initiative's more realistic event ordering eliminates almost all of the subtle immersion-breakers we regularly experience in D&D combat, making it feel far more realistic and exciting.

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Discussions (2)
Customer avatar
Eran A March 28, 2019 6:44 pm UTC
I think I got what you say here. It's a more complicated Greyhawk initiative. And I think it makes Dodge too strong while also making features like Cunning Action, Patient Defense, and Quickened Spell kind of redundant.
Customer avatar
Seamus A March 28, 2019 8:40 pm UTC
Hey Eran!
Always happy to hear some feedback! First things first, if there is anything you don't like about the system, I highly encourage you to tweak it to your liking!

That said, I want to make sure there isn't a misunderstanding about how Dodge works and the reason it works that way, so that if anything in the rules is misleading I can fix it.
In play testing, one of my players tried to dodge, and the enemy attacking them rolled low and got in before their dodge went off, which felt awful because they had wasted their action. In regular initiative, Dodge lasts until your next turn, meaning that every enemy will have a chance to go while it is active. By having all dodges activate at the beginning of the round, it just preserves this balance. I may not have made it clear that Patient Defense should activate on initiative 0 though that was the intention, but at least as far as I can tell, that doesn't seem to be the problem you are having.

Forgive me if I'm being inept,...See more
Customer avatar
Eran A March 29, 2019 4:52 am UTC
How would a level 2 rogue using Dash work?
Customer avatar
Seamus A April 01, 2019 4:22 pm UTC
Assuming you mean something like dashing up to an enemy and attacking them, they would declare that they were going to attack with a regular weapon at the top of the round and roll a d8, as well as a d6 for their movement and a d4 for their bonus. Let's say that they got a 6, 1, and 3 respectively.

To get into range, the rouge first has to close the distance, so they would move the first 30 feet on initiative 1, the next 30 feet (with their dash) on initiative 4, and attack on 10. If everyone has acted by this point, the round is over, initiative is reset, new actions are declared, and the process repeats.

Does that make more sense?
Customer avatar
Sean B March 26, 2019 2:03 am UTC
I bought this and have been studying it and I'm curious how you handle larger groups of enemies. Like my next session will involve combat with 4 - 5 players, a couple npcs, and about 6 minions and 2 dangerous enemies. Do you roll an initiative for every single npc and enemy?

I LOVE the concept, but I just want to understand the most efficient and effective way to use it.
Customer avatar
Seamus A March 26, 2019 11:08 pm UTC
It’s good to hear the system is appreciated! I roll initiative for enemies in groups, but differentiate based on the action taken. For example, if all of your minions are taking the same action, I roll for them all as a group, but if some are dashing and others are attacking, I roll separately for the groups performing different action types.

That said, maelstrom initiative doesn’t use the monster’s dexterity modifier, so you could roll initiative for all NPCs regardless of type, and differentiate only based on action. I’ve done this a few times for complex combats to simplify things. That said, it can lead to an overwhelming flurry of attacks all at once, so I try to avoid it when it isn’t necessary.

I hope that helps!
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File Last Updated:
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This title was added to our catalog on December 07, 2018.