D&D 5th Edition - Story Mode

Variant: Left/Right Initiative

This variant of Initiative eliminates the bookkeeping of the official rules. Additionally, the variable turn order adds an element of group coordination.

Initiative Roll

  • At the beginning of combat, everyone must roll for Initiative (Dex).
  • The DM makes one roll for all enemies. Rule of Thumb: Add +1 for every fast or special enemy.
  • The side with the highest roll goes first.
  • The players automatically win if there is a tie with the DM, or if they roll a natural 20.
  • The player with the highest roll is designated the First Player.
  • If there was a tie between players for the highest score, they decide who is the First Player.

Turn Order

  • On the players' turn, play always starts with the First Player.
  • After the First Player takes their turn, they decide whether play proceeds Left or Right around the table.
  • When all players have taken their turn in order, it is the DM's turn.
  • On the DM's turn, all enemies take their actions in any order.
  • Play continues back and forth between sides until combat is over.


The DM determines if the attacking side — the side that initiated combat — has the element of surprise. If so, they automatically win initiative.

Rule of Thumb: If the defending side is unaware of the majority of the attacking side before combat, they are probably surprised.

If the NPCs are surprised, the DM can selectively decide which ones lose their first turn as they get ready for combat.

The PCs are usually alert enough to avoid a complete surprise that would cause them to lose an entire turn.

In either case, the PCs still roll to see who is the First Player.