Friday, September 4, 2009

I go, You go: Fine, but lets improve upon initiative

This post deals with either the lack of initiative, group initiative or only having one initiative per combat. On the one hand this style of initiative is very simple to keep track of, on the other hand it really robs combat and other time sensitive conflicts (I also use initiative for chases, and even scenes of hiding and evading view from pursuers) of a lot of tactics.

Not knowing if you will go first in the next round adds a lot of tactical considers , especially at lower levels. If you have players announce their actions before rolling initiative it increases even further.

Do you attempt to rush to the other side of the hallway before the guard looks? What if he wins initiative and sees you bolt across his field of vision?

Do you attempt to cast Safety Fall? Whats the casting speed? Can you get it off before you get tackled off the bridge (taking the villain with you) or you should you try and dodge out of the way and hope you can make your rolls to cling to the bridges railing?

In Piecemeal, round by round initiative is extremely important in combat. Piecemeal has no static defense number (ie, no armour class) its about pairing defense rolls to attack rolls. Going before or after your opponents can dictate if you get to both attack and defend, or only do one. This makes the speed and number of your opponents incredibly important when choosing how to do battle. A brute and a fencer (or a Giant and a Spaniard) fight very differently and have different strengths versus different opponents.

How do you run Initiative?


  1. I keep initiative as basic as possible. In GURPS its decided by a character's basic speed, no roll needed. In D&D or C&C roll a die who ever wins get first crack, but I only do this one per combat. It would be great to do it round by round because it would bring up different strategies, but combat is often the longest part of the game so I try to streamline parts of it.

    What I was considering trying in my next game I plan to run (good old fashion 1st Ed. AD&D). Was roll a d10 and that's the segment in the round you get to act. Dexterity bonus would apply. Not sure if it would work, but I am tinkering with the idea.

  2. I don't use initiative at all. I say what the NPCs are visible doing; the players have their characters do what they're going to do in whatever order they wish; I mark up the NPC sheets; then I handle the NPCs actions. And then I let them know if any NPC died or fell unconscious.

    I wasn't sure it would go over well at first, but its worked great; it's a lot easier, and it more accurately reflects the imprecise nature of rounds and hit point damage. (I wrote about it at when I first started using it.)

  3. Everyone states what they are doing, then the actions are resolved. If the combat is tactical, which is by no means common, having a longer weapon or the like obviously gives initiative, no roll required. In unclear cases roll a die or something or let both actions happen at the same time.

    In most of our games, tactical combats are quite unnecessary, so we don't really consider initiative.

  4. Tactical combat is one use for initiative, but its not JUST for combat.

    Any high stakes tactical issue can use initiative mechanics. Chases, Escape and Entry stealth missions, three stoogesque scenes where you are trying to avoid being seen as you sneak out of the Harem while the king wanders around with his guards...

  5. Yes. Most of the time I find a simple opposed roll to be sufficient, much like in combat. When detail is desired, everyone tells what they are doing and then we make the opposed rolls; winners succeed at their goals, which in some cases implies them having acted faster.

    Like a chase. Maybe we roll a simply pilot versus pilot roll, or if your approach is to hide, maybe stealth versus pilot to see if you manage to hide before they are close enough to see where you are going. Knowledge of the local area versus pilot of trying to do something clever that would only work in the current area. Maybe a linked test using several of the skills above.

    Initiative is already, by definition, part of those rolls. I don't see a need to handle it separately.

  6. If you really want to put a wrench in things, assign 1-2 players a card. Do the same for monsters (specific types given a card, or break up into groups of 2-4). Shuffle the assigned cards to make up a 'deck', and resolve each initiative one card at a time. After the turn, shuffle up the deck and repeat.

    Using face cards of one suit, and another for monsters works well doing this. Players have to be willing to give up on initiative bonuses though (or the DM can stack the deck by moving up player cards each turn ).