D&D Hack: Initiative Damage

December 22, 2014

This is a simple hack from a game mod I was working on a couple of years ago.  It’s designed to give people a simple way to give combat damage more effect while avoiding the complications of hit locations, wound damage, etc.

Initiative, slightly bent

Instead of a D20, use a D12.  D12 + Dex mods etc. has two effects – it means the initiative totals are lower and the attribute mods play a bigger part.


For characters and creatures, they each get two ratings:

Shaken: 1/4 their total Hitpoints (round up)

Reeling: 1/2 their total Hitpoints (round up)

Initiative Damage

Whenever a creature takes hitpoint damage from a single attack equal or greater than their Shaken threshold, they lose 4 Initiative from their total.   When a creature takes damage from a single attack equal or greater than their Reeling threshold, they lose 8 Initiative.

A) If the creature hasn’t acted this round – it will act on it’s new initiative total.

B) If the creature has already acted this round – it will act on it’s new, lower initiative total NEXT round. It does not get to act again this round.

Stunned – Initiatve Zero or Negative Initiative

If a creature is reduced to zero or negative initiative, it cannot functionally act.  It is rolling around in pain, stunned, or otherwise unable to functionally do much.  At the end of the following round, it regains 1D6 initiative.  If it is still zero or negative, it will need to continue to spend rounds regaining it’s senses (+1D6 initiative) until it has an Initiative of 1 or higher.

For the sake of gameplay, creatures at 0 or negative Initiative cannot be take further initiative damage until they have a positive score.

Managing this in Play

My suggestion is to take index cards, put the characters’ names on them, along with their Shaken/Reeling ratings and you can write the initiative in pencil.  As they take damage/recover, you can line up the cards in order.


A useful thing to consider is whether certain actions or attacks do greater initiative damage as part of play.  Some attacks may do relatively low hitpoint damage but pretty big initiative damage (“I shoot down the beehive with my sling.  Let the enemies play with that…”).  You can easily suggest saving throws or attacks against alternate defense ratings that may result in a -4 or -8 initiative.  Monsters that typically suffer saving throw penalties from certain types of attacks may suffer initiative damage whether they succeed or fail the roll.

Magic vs. Magic Users

The basic rule listed above naturally favors tough, high hitpoint characters from getting stunned this way.  You might want to rule that spellcasters are less likely to be stunned by magic, being more accustomed to dealing with such things.   Spellcasters might be only be Shaken at 1/2 hp and Reeling at 3/4 hp from spells.  Or, if they make a save, maybe they suffer no initiative damage whatsoever from magic.

You can customize this accordingly – this might be true of clerics vs. life drain or evil spells, or of druids vs. poisons, elementally based creatures vs. that type of element, and so on.  Obviously consider this with care, the point is to keep this relatively simple.


This system works really well if you want to make certain types of monsters immune or resistant to some types of damage.  For example, arrows are not going to bother a zombie, really.  Or a stone golem.  Or a treant.  Once players become accustomed to dishing out damage to stun creatures and taking advantage of it (and also, having to cover their own team mates who are stunned), finding something that simply, won’t, stop, is a great way to highlight why they’re scary.

Consequences in Play

This rule can make combat more lethal in all directions – getting stunned opens the door for followup attacks that simply mob someone.  Smart play with stunting can swing things in the player’s favor.  You can also set up monsters or events that do mostly or solely intiative damage (“The dragon’s wings cause gusts of wind to knock you down, take 1D6 initiative damage.”)

Heavier damage attacks are favored over lighter attacks, so you might have to find some balance if your game is supposed to do the usual “light damage several attacks vs. heavy damage few attacks” setup that shows up.


The math here assumes you’re playing a D&D or D&D like game that is 3rd edition or later where the attribute modifiers tend to sit in the -5/-4 to +4/+5 range.   If you are using a game that has a smaller range (such as -2 to +2) you’ll want to both use a smaller initiative die (D6 for example) and do correspondingly less initiative damage (-1/-3, for example).

If you’re using a game that relies heavily on multiple actions/attacks per round, you might want the stun status to only cost 2 or 3 attack/actions rather than fully leaving the creature unable to do anything.

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