Let’s set the scene! Your party has walked into the wrong cave. Your rogue told you it was safe, your fighter doesn’t care and your cleric followed because they had to. And now something is with you, something is about to attack!
Your DM might describe an arrow flying through the air towards you, or perhaps a horde of goblins coming out of the shadows to ambush you. Either way, they’re going to say one thing and one thing only:
“Everyone roll for initiative!”
But if you’re new to the 5th Edition of D&D you might not be familiar with the term. What exactly is initiative, why is it important, and how can I increase it? Does initiative count as an ability check? If you find yourself wondering these questions, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we’re going to be explaining everything to do with this special stat and whether or not it counts as an ability check. We’ve also made sure to include a few extra sections about managing initiative and what the official rules say.
What Is Initiative?
Okay so let’s start at the very beginning. For most of the time you’re playing D&D you don’t have to take it in turns.
Although your DM might give you some direction, the general roleplay sections of a standard game act much like a normal conversation. You are able to chime in and out, and the rules are a lot less set.
But when the talking ends, it’s time for combat! If your party is reckless, you’re likely to be getting into combat every session – and this is where the rules of D&D get a lot stricter. Like many RPGs after it, the combat in D&D is turn-based.
The first step of any battle in D&D is to roll initiative. This is what allows the DM to determine the order in which everyone will take their turns in. This is the moment when you as a player can begin to survey your surroundings and work out the best way to win.
In terms of lore, it’s the defining moment that decides which characters take initiative and realize they’re in a battle first. You can think of it almost as a reaction – who is it in your party who reacts fastest?
What Does The Initiative Stat On Your Character Sheet Mean?
Well, in short, it is what you will add to a classic d20 die to determine how much initiative your character has in any given situation. So let’s say your character has +3 initiative on your sheet.
It’s time to roll initiative. If you’re playing the D&D traditional with dice, then you roll a single d20. You get a 7 – not so great, right? But your modifier (+3) increases your overall initiative to 10.
Everyone in the party will do this and then your DM will work out the order for combat – sometimes including the monsters that you’re fighting.
Generally, you want to get high initiative scores because those who go first in combat have a natural advantage. Rolling first sometimes means that you can kill an enemy before they are able to do anything, or cause adverse effects to your party if you’re unlucky!
Is Initiative An Ability Check?
So now we’ve covered the basics, let’s answer the original question – does initiative count as an ability check? The answer to this question is yes! Technically, Initiative is a Dexterity-based ability check.
If you think of this in terms of lore then it makes a lot of sense – it’s how quickly your character is able to react to the situation unfolding around them!
If you’re new to D&D, you might be wondering why this is an important question? Well, there are various status effects in 5e that can change how your character rolls with certain ability checks.
For example, if your character is exhausted or being constricted, this can affect what your roll is and the outcome of certain situations.
Let’s take exhaustion first of all. Exhaustion is a status effect in which your character is gassed and can no longer fight as they once were.
Exhaustion happens in rare occasions but grows in strength each turn. The first level of exhaustion gives your character a disadvantage on ability checks.
So this means that your character has disadvantage on ALL ability checks INCLUDING Iniative. It’s rare that you’ll have to roll initiative mid-fight, but if you do then your character will have disadvantage if they are exhausted, meaning you roll twice and take the lowest outcome.
This is why it’s important to know that initiative counts as an ability check. There are more scenarios where it will be important, including spells and others.
If you find yourself wondering about this mid-game, you can refer to the player manual, the rules lawyer, or the DM to work out how initiative is affected by various statuses in game.
So there you have it! Initiative does count as a dexterity ability check, and is affected in the same way as all other ability checks are in the game.
This is a more niche piece of information that your party might not have come across before, and if you ever find any arguments arising out of it, just let your party know that it’s not something everyone knows about!
We hope that this article has helped you understand a little bit more about initiative in D&D 5th Edition. Happy gaming!