Initiative in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (a.k.a. 1e)


Gary Gygax reorganized and enhanced the first version of Dungeons & Dragons of 1974 and published three new books: the Monster Manual (1977), the Player's Handbook (1978), and the Dungeons Master's Guide (1979). Later, more would come out such as Arcana (1985) and Oriential Adventures (1985).

Notice how they first published the Monster Manual that could be used with the old version of D&D. It was just much more complete.

Then the new version of the Players Handbook came out for players and referees (the name used for the Dungeon Master in 1974), and referee could still use the old rules treasures and other referee information found in the 1974 first set of rules.

Finally, the Master's Manual would seal the new set. Now we had three books instead of a box set. But really good books! (For the time.)

The Players Handbook introduced new races, classes, weapons, spells, 9 alignments instead of 3, and... made initiative and combat in general more complicated! But as a result, most certainly more realistic.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook — Original Cover by D.A. Trampier

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New Combat Rules

The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons did not get its name from nowhere. It was Advanced alright!

Combats where now broken up in Turns, Rounds, and Segments.

One Segment represents 6 seconds of what one would call real time. Obviously, we often would process one segment in a much longer period of time.

One Round represents 10 Segments or one minute (6 x 10 = 60 seconds or 1 minute.) Initiative moved you within the segments instead of just having a higher or lower resolution and you get to go first 100%.

One Turn was 10 Rounds. This was not really important since there wasn't anything specific that would happen per turn. So this was more terminology that was not useful.

The time it would take to do one thing or another was in segments. That included spells and weapons. You could cast this spell in 1 segment and that other one in 10 segments. Or you could wield that weapon in 3 segments but that huge axe took 10.

Surprise Obviates Initiative or Not...

Like in the first version of Dungeons & Dragons, there's no initiative if one of the parties gets to surprise the other. The general rule was that a party would surprise the other if it rolled 1 or 2 on a d6.

Dexterity could affect Surprise rolls, but I am not too sure how. It was not explained and the numbers would either be backward or maybe it was applied to the number of segments of surprised...

Some races and monsters could not be surprised at all or had reduced surprise:

  • An Ettin could only be surprised on a 1 on your d6
  • A Piercer would surprise a party member when rolling 95% or less on a 1d100, and
  • Brownies could not be surprised at all.

Similarly, some races, classes, and monsters had greater chances to surprise the other party

  • A roll of 1 to 4 gave an Elf or an Arial Servant a surprise round.
  • Rangers learn how to be very quiet and would gain surprise on 1 to 3 on a 1d6 (50% of the time).
  • Assassins gained a +4 on their attack rolls when surprising their victims with a back stab.

Yet, the action you are take during that surprise moment consumes segments and you could still end up hitting after the surprised party! The surprise roll would give you segments for which the surprised party cannot act. If you were to attack with a dagger, it would take you 2 segments. So a roll of 1 gives you one segment surprise advantage, the other party wizard can cast a spell that takes 1 segment, such as Magic Missile, on the second segment and still hit you while you swing your dagger!

So, you would not roll initiative, but surprise did not give you a full up front round as in the previous version. Although frankly, it was most often played as if we had a full round in my days because calculating all the segments was just way too tedious.

Also the Monk was introduced in this version. It had a decreasing percentage starting at 33% of being surprised (so at level 1 it was similar to other party members.) After that, a monk would roll a 1d100 and if it made more than the current level which was 33% at level 1, 32% at level 2, and 32% - 2% per level after that. Yes. Advanced.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook by Gary Gygax — new cover by Jeff Easly (1983)

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cover, click to check for it

Following Rounds

The Surprise was at most one round, although in this version a thief or an assassin could hide again and strike again in an equivalent of a surprise round. The rules made it difficult to achieve such a feat so it was rather rarely used (also we did not allow assassins at our table.)

Outside of that odd ball, rounds after the first surprise round would use an initiative roll to determine who would go first.

There were a few cases, when a party was Hasted or Slowed, when no roll was required.

Initiative Roll

The Initiative Roll still used 1d6. So one side or the other would end up having advantage or disadvantage on a per round basis.

In most cases, someone in the party would roll 1d6 for all the player characters and the Dungeon Master would roll another 1d6 for monsters. If monsters or party members were scattered, then each group could roll its own initiative.

The party with the highest roll would win initiative and go first on that round. Note that in some rare circumstances the Dungeon Master could decide otherwise, but there wasn't any precise rules for such cases.

Contrary to the previous version, Dexterity was ignored in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It was viewed as too small a factor to have any bearing on the roll.

However, Hasted and Slowed party members or monsters would have an effect.

The party that was Hasted would always win initiative.

The party that was Slowed would always lose initiative.

Obviously, if both parties were hasted or slowed, the effect would in effect cancel out and initiative would be rolled as if no one was Hasted or Slowed.

An interesting side effect was that just one creature in a party needed to be Hasted or Slowed for the whole party to be affected. In other words, if your wizard hasted himself, it would give your fighters the ability to attack first.

There was nothing about what would happen in the event your wizard was Hasted and your cleric was Slowed. In our games, we liked to have each player character roll a die so it was easy to resolve that situation. Although, really, we rarely ended up using those two spells. It gave too much advantage to one of the parties at low level and at higher levels a good old Fire Ball was way more effective and much less dangerous.

Resolving Ties

I guess the previous version resolution of ties was not satisfactory to some and the resolution in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons book was to make use of other factors than the Initiative Roll to know who ends up first and who ends up last.

This is were segments would really enter in action. If your chosen action was to use a Two Handed Sword, then your swing would likely be last (10 segments). Yet, long weapons, such as a Halberd or a Military Fork, would reach their target first even though the number of segments to handle them was 9 and 7.

Note that the weapon speed factor would also be reduced by the Dexterity bonus. So having 18 in Dexterity gave you a +3 bonus, meaning the equivalent 3 segments (so with the Two Handed Sword, you would use 7 instead of 10.)

More or less, the Dungeons Master (DM) may change the initiative order if it makes more sense in the situation.

In a way, I think this is a great way of handling combat, but frankly the segments were just way too much for a fun game. We used them for spells to prevent high level spell caster from being able to blast everything upfront, but for weapons it was just too much. We just let the initiative winners roll their attacks and then gave the opposing party do their own attacks.

Simultaneous Attacks

We actually often used the concept of simultaneous attacks instead of tie resolution using segments. After all this makes for a lot more fun. You may be much more likely to win the fight, but when your both have a similarly small number hit points left, this is like one last blow in a figth to the death... where you could both die simultaneously. (We do it in movies, having that in your Role Playing Game is a lot of fun too!)

Note that in this situation it is important to handle the case where one or both combatants have two or more attacks. The proper order will matter very much. Run the first attacks for both parties, if one dies, you're done. If both survive, handle the second attacks. See the Half-Rounds below for other details about this case.


If you look closely, you will see that the first attack of a Fighter class occurred first when they had initiative, but the second attack would occur after the first attack of their opponents.

So in effect we had half-rounds. This was easier to handle that situation. In the first half, everyone rolls their first attack. In the second half, everyone rolls their second attack. The order would remain the same, so you would not re-roll initiative.

Note that at first we missed that specific rule and many games were played with both attack of the initiative winner rolled in a row, then the initiative loser could roll his attacks if not dead yet.

Also, for spells, if your spell used 5 or more segments, it would apply in the second half-round.

Initiative was Rolled on Each Round

In this version the initiative roll was made on each round. This increased randomness of combat outcomes quite a bit, spicing up the game.

Since it was one roll for the party and one roll for the monsters, it was easy enough to know who went first. There was no distinction between type of monsters or party members involved.

On our end we would eventually let each player roll their own initiative. That way it was a little more exciting.

No Choice of Action Ahead of Time

Just like with the first version of D&D in 1974, the team of players would choose when action their character would take at the time these characters got their turn.

Since initiative was for the whole party, one person in the party would go and depending on that interaction, the next would choose what to do next. So if the first party Fighter killed that Gobelin, the Magic-User could cast his Magic Missiles against the other Gobelin and not waste time with a dead corpse.

This was probably less realistic, but it made combats go faster than new versions of D&D. Note that monsters had a similar chance of changing their mind. Many did, if that Gobelin gets killed, this Gobelin is not unlikely to run away!

Why still a 1d6?

An interesting aspect of Role Playing Games (RPG) is that you can be very strict and stick to the rule to the letter, or you can tweak the rules to make them easier or more enjoyable to handle by you and your players.

We only used a 1d6 for the initiative at our table, but I learned later that Gary Gygax would at times actually use a 1d10. This decreased the chance of having a tie quite a bit (see below).

It is said that Gary kept 1d6 in the AD&D rules because he had to get the rules out pretty quickly and he did not have time to make sure it was updated throughout the books. It got updated in the following version, though.

Ties when using 1d6

When you roll two 6-sided dice, you get one of 36 possibilities, 6 of which are ties. So 16.7% chance to get a tie.

Ties when using 1d10

However, when you roll two 10-sided dice, you now get one of 100 possibilities, 10 of which are ties. So 10% chance to get a tie.

Surprise, Initiative, and Segments

If you were to take all of these in account to the letter, outside of the fact that resolutions would take forever and cause a duration problem, you would often find out that the segments would win.

Instead, the rules as I understood them were:

a) if a party is surprised, it cannot do anything for 1 round (actually some monsters lost some abilities while surprised, for example a Dryad could not enter her tree for protection during that round);

b) when there is no surprise, initiative is used, if no tie, use order as defined by initiative, no matter what segments tell you; use half-rounds to resolve order when some combatants have more than one attack;

c) when the initiative has a tie, use segment craziness to resolve the tie to the best of your DM ability...

We used a mix of these rules, but that was the main idea. In most cases we would be in case (b) and not sweat it.

Duration Problems with Segments

Yes. There was quite a problem with that concept in these rules. If all the characters were to start simultaneously (i.e. forget about initiative for a moment), and what you would take in account were just and only the segments, then you would end up in a completely different situation every time too.

The fact is that you should take time to move (not described in terms of segments).

You should take time to talk.

If a spell takes 10 segments to cast, then it should happen on the last segment of that round, always at the very end.

Now the Owl Pike weapon took 13 segments to handle. Yes. More than 10 segments, so in other words, more than one round. So unless you had 18 or more in dexterity, you would not be able to handle that weapon within one single round. But you'd hit on segment 3 on the next round...

Now most of our fighters would have heavy weapons such as the Two Handed Sword which takes 10 segments to handle. I never saw any explaination on how you would use use such a weapon and strike twice in a round... because if it takes 10 segments, you should never be able to strike more than once in one round and you would not be able to do anything else like move to the next Gobelin and strike or talk to your Magic-User about the trap you can see in the corner over there, which may be where the treasure thought is hidden...

We never handled such cases!

We used that number of segments as a way to determine who goes first. My Cleric with a Jo Stick would strike first against that evil Paladin with his Two Handed Sword on a tie...

Spells and Initiative, now you want to watch out!

Starting with this version, Gary Gygax introduced many new concepts in the casting of spells:

  • Time it takes to cast a spell (in segments);
  • Components to cast the spell (Verbose, Gesture, Material);
  • The type of magic; and
  • Probably the most important of all: the concept of concentration to finish up casting a spell.

The concentration concept meant that at the beginning of a round, you would say you'd want to cast a spell and if hit, you would lose it... This is because you needed all that time to cast the spell and if it wasn't ready before you get hit, you would not be able to finish your incantations.

Not only did you lose the concentration and the spell would just fizzle, but you lost it from your memory. In other words, you could not try again on the following round. This made your magic users rather weak at lower levels. This also applied to scrolls. Trying to cast a spell from reading a scroll required concentration just the same and if hit by an adversary while reading the scroll, the spell fizzled and the words on the scroll still disappeared rendering the scroll useless.

Later in the game, once spell casters were of much higher level, they had extraordinary reach (i.e. the range of many striking spells such as a fire ball, was so great that Magic-Users could stay far away enough from their enemies to avoid being hit, at least in most situations.)

Yeah, but you said ...

Indeed. There was nothing in the rules saying that the players had to tell ahead of time what they were going to do. I also mentioned that spell casters were often handled somewhat differently. We would tell what spell we were going to cast, but we did not have to indicate which target(s) was going to be hit until it was our turn. So this rule would work as expected.

This was a discovery process for us. Newer rules are much clearer about these problems.

Was there anything a caster could do to avoid loss of concentration?

No. Not in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. If hit, that was it. You lost your spell and took heavy damages. (For a spell caster, damages always look heavy!)

The only one good thing was that you did not lose your Dexterity bonus, if you had one(spell casters often used their high score in Intelligence and Constitution). So your armor class remained normal, albeit for a Magic-User or Illusionist, it was 10 since they did not have the right to wear any armor at all (wizard magic did not work correctly through any kind of armor).

Compatibility with Turn Watcher™

The current version of Turn Watcher has no support for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Turn Watcher only support 1d20 initiative rolls and offers options that were not available in this old version of AD&D. That being said, you could still use Turn Watcher with AD&D, to track your players and monsters initiative order and their hit points (we track hit points especially because of the bleeding feature.) Make sure to turn on Ultra Initiatve if you are to play this version. It will better match AD&D which expected initiative rolled on each round.

P.S. One day Gary Gygax said that he wrote Lejendary Adventure Fantasy Role Playing Game to simplify what looked like a jungle of a way too complex set of role playing game rules sprouting from all over the place. I think his Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules were in that group! Also if you look a the Initiative handling in the Lejendary game, it was not any easier... far from it!

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