Initiative in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2e


The Combat sequence in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons version 2e was very much streamlined compared to the previous two versions.

First of all, the new designers, led by David Zeb Cook, introduced a clear definition of what an Action is, with a list of things that you can accomplish during a combat round, such as an attack or casting a spell. They also introduced a small list of things a character could do without the use of an action, such as yelling a few things to the other party members.

In the previous version, we already had actions we could accomplish during combat and they were defined but in a pretty scattered/unclear way.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook developed by David "Zeb" Cook

Click the picture to find AD&D 2e

New Terminology

As mentioned in the previous section, version Second Edition introduces the term Action within a Combat Round.

This makes it so much clearer what you can do and can't do during a round, it's like day and night.

This version actually clearly defines all the terms as in an encyclopedia. Here are those terms with a shorten definition as found in the combat section.

Damage—in most cases hit points, it could also be side effects from a poison or spell

Initiative—determine the order in which combatants will perform their action

Melee—close battling with fists, tails, teeth, hooves, claws, weapons, a Goblin...

Missile Combat—weapons and other objects that get thrown

Saving Throws—measure of character and monster resistance to special attacks

Surprise—when a party attacks another by surprise, eliminating the counter attack

THAC0 (Acronym for "To Hit Armor Class 0")—number one has to roll to successfully hit an opponent; the new design simplified the large hit tables we had before to one line per class group. It was a good idea already! The only thing they have not done yet is swap the order in which it goes. That will happen in the next version. So a good Armor Class is still a negative number.

Such definitions are presented for all the sections. I think it is great. The THAC0 acronym did not stick, though.

Combat Round

Now combat rounds clearly define the expected cycle:

1. The Dungeons Master has to determine what the monsters are going to do

2. The players have to determine what their characters will do

3. Roll Initiative

4. Attacks are made in order of initiative, which is locked

So just right there we resolved one huge problem of the first two versions: The action each player and creature is going to take is decided before initiative and before each round starts afterward.

Also in this version, the default initiative is mostly immutable. That is, we are not expected to re-roll initiative on every single round. Various things can happen that will change the order, though, but it's not something I will discuss here.

No More Segments

Segments in AD&D 1e were used just like modifiers to break ties. In 2e it was transform that way instead of using something that would modify time directly, which makes more sense.

However, the designers of 2e still used the word segment in the definition of a round, which I find a bit perplexing.

Round—in combat, a segment of time approximately 1 minute long, during which a character can accomplish one basic action. Ten combat rounds equal one turn.

I just would have looked into using a different word.

Surprise Round

Surprised is determined by a 1d10 roll. A party that rolls a 1, 2, or 3 is surprised by the other.

A surprised party cannot react at all during the surprise round.

There is generally only one surprise round per combat, although hidden creatures could spring out of their hiding at any moment and generate another surprise round for that creature.

As a new thing in 2e, the surprise round cannot be used to cast spells. You can use all the other actions, though, including the use of magical items.

Surprise has some other effects such as reduced Armor Class for the surprised party (Dexterity bonuses don't apply) and other bonuses and disadvantages.

Note that if both parties are surprised, then that round is wasted for both.


Version 2e introduced a new feature called an Ambush.

This is in addition and happens prior the Surprise round. A successful ambush gives the attackers a totally free round to cast spells and attack with missiles, melee weapons, or hand to hand combat.

Whether an ambush succeeds is decided by the Dungeon Master. Unfortunately the rules do not go any deeper than that in that regard and there is no dice being rolled. I think that's okay for characters, but it can be harsh if you make many monsters succeed their ambush. That's a lot of damage to take upfront if you can get hit twice in a row before your party can do something about being attacked.

Once that first round is over, the other party has to roll for surprise and if they are surprised, the attacking party gains a second free round where they can attack with melee weapons.

At that point initiative can be rolled and combat can ensue as usual.

After the Ambush/Surprise Rounds

Until now we have not needed initiative. So this breaks the default steps of the Combat system which does not show the possible Ambush and Surprise rounds.

I would imagine that anyone playing this version of the game caught on and did not roll initiative if preparing and initiating an ambush or  a surprise round.

Especially because the players may be able to kill all their opponents within those two rounds so it would be a waste of time to have rolled initiative.

Initiative Roll

In the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition, the designers decided to offer several different ways to roll initiative.

These are called the Standard, Group, and Individual initiative procedures. The Standard Initiative Procedure is very similar to the Initiative found in the previous versions of Dungeons & Dragons.

Standard Initiative Procedure

So in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2e they changed the die to roll from the old 1d6 to a 1d10.

The Dungeon Master rolls 1d10 for the monsters.

One player rolls 1d10 for the player's party.

The party that rolls the lowest roll wins initiative. Notice that is reversed compared to the two previous versions which made the winners those who rolled the largest number.


To make things more realistic, this version includes a pletora of modifiers that are to be applied.

Specific Situation Modifier
Hasted -2
Slowed +2
On higher ground -1
Set to receive a charge -2
Wading or slippery footing +2
Wading in deep water +4
Foreign environment +6
Hindered (tangled, climbing, held) +3
Waiting +1

With the Standard Initiative Procedure, all the individuals in a party must be in the specific situation for the modifier to apply. So if all the characters are hasted, you get a -2 modifier, meaning that you have a greater chance (20%) to get first in the initiative order.

Interestingly enough, this means that if only one character is in a foreign environment, the +6 modifier does not apply...

Modifiers, sure, but...

The good thing here is that we have clearly defined modifiers. Personally I like that change. It made a lot more sense that using a time based concept even though time is still involved, it does not need to be some fixed amount of time, which could make some actions take more than a round.

The bad thing may be that there are too many. Nine in the Standard Initiative and if you decide to use one of the optional initiatives instead, it adds another 17.

Also among the list of 17, there are two spell casting time and one weapon speed. Those are many more numbers to have handy to be able to run your combats smoothly. Of course, you are not likely to change weapons mid-combat and your players should have noted their weapon speed on their character sheet to avoid having to look it up every other combat because they forgot. As for the DM, you should have a screen with the info. Nothing secret, but you're going to have to play many monsters, each of which will have different weapons. That's quite many tables you're going to need.

More Than Two Parties

The new version also mentioned the possibility that more than two parties could be involved in one combat, in which case each additional party will also roll a 1d10. The order is from lowest to highest, one party at a time.

Handling Ties

This version clearly spelled out what would happen when two (or more) parties get the same initiative roll:

All of their actions had to be run simultaneously and the resulting damages applied only after everything was cast, thrown, swinged, etc.

This is really a big one to have resolved from the previous two versions which did not have a word about ties, whether you like this resolution or would prefer a re-roll to break the tie.

Group Initiative Procedure

The Group Initiative is a new concept in 2e. In this case each side still rolls 1d10 as in the Standard Initiative Procedure.

Next, each character and monster adds various modifiers that gives them a form of disavantage depending on the action taken. For example, a spell caster has to add the amount of time the spell takes to the 1d10. This is his new position in the initiative order. Casters trying to send spells with long spell casting time are not unlikely to end up last in initiative order.

The size of a creature is another important factor when the creature is attacking with one of its natural weapons. Really large, creatures such as the Tarrasque, are likely to always come last because they move so slowly.

Ties are handled as defined in the Standard Initiative Procedure. Modifiers won't prevent ties, it will change how they occur, but they will still occur. Since modifiers can add as much as +20 or more, chances for a tie can be reduced, but in most cases modifiers won't be that large.

Individual Initiative Procedure

This procedure lets each individual creature involved roll for their initiative. Each one rolls 1d10 and adds their modifiers as in the Standard Initiative Procedure, and then the modifiers of the Group Initiative Procedure.

Then the one creature with the smallest initiative die roll handles her actions first and the one with the highest will handle her actions last.

Just as defined in the Standard Initiative Procedure, creatures with a tie handle their actions simultaneously and the damages and the other resulting effects are applied right after all the roles for all the actions.

This is close to the initiative systems we have in newer versions.

No Intermediate Initiative Process...

Interestingly enough, they didn't talked about the possibility for the DM to roll just one die for the monsters, especially if they are pretty much all the same, and thus modifiers would apply as if they were rolling Individual Initiative.

Handling Second and Further Attacks

Initiative determines the first attack for a character or monster attacking with a weapon in hand. The second attack will happen in the "second Half-Round". In this version, this is called the slow phase of the round. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of things are defined in this version that were not in the previous versions.

Note that attacking with two hands happens in the first part of the round. The slow phase only happens with the user has two attacks with the same weapon.

There are monsters that have special exceptions too. For example, an Ettin attacks with two brains and two arms. It is considered to be two different creatures attacking. So it all happens as if it were a single attack from two creatures.

Compatibility with Turn Watcher™

Our simple initiative tracker, Turn Watcher™, was created for version 3.5e which uses a 1d20 as its initiative die and also it does not include all the modifiers capabilities of Second Edition.

We currently do not see much interested in supporting such an old version either.

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