At GenCon this past year I got to play in a demo run of the Sentinels Comics RPG. It is a super hero RPG based off the universe used in the Sentinels of the Multiverse CCG. One of the neat things that happens in the game is that during combat, the environment you are fighting in gets a turn.
It's an idea I kind of like. And today I want to talk about it. This isn't a full on "mechanics worth stealing" though as I haven't seen the mechanic enough to fully know how it works. So this is more just me going off the idea and what I think and hope it could be.
How It Works
Initiative in the Sentinel Comics RPG is in and of itself interesting. You determine who goes first, and then the last thing that person does is determine who goes next. This enables players to set up their own combos - i.e. Player A does the ally-oop, and then passes the turn to Player B for the dunk - but it also means you have to think about things. Do you let all the players go first before passing it to the villains? Are you sure that is wise? Because the last villain to go at the end of the round gets to choose who starts the round, so that could very quickly end up with the villains - all of them - getting two turns before the next PC gets to go.
The thing is, in that list of things that get turns, the environment gets one. On the environments turn the environment "acts." This isn't to say a tree gets up and punches someone in the face, but some change from the environment can happen. A building catches fire, upping the intensity of the scene. A child gets knocked out of a window and is dangling precariously needing to be saved. More bad guys show up to reinforce the ones getting the snot kicked out of them.
It doesn't always have to be against the heroes, but in general the environments turn is about raising the stakes and presenting more opportunities for the players to be heroes. It also puts choices in front of them. Do you save Timmy from falling to his doom? Or do you punch Baron Nukesalot and hope someone else saves Timmy before the environment gets another turn and sends the little boy plummeting?
Kind of like Lair Actions
In a lot of ways it is kind of like a Lair Action in D&D 5e. Only a lair is specifically 'magical' land twisted by a powerful creature to help defend it in its lair, and this is more just stuff happening in the environment. It should make things more intense and interesting, but it doesn't have to be as 100% against the players. After all, the building you're fighting in being on fire is a problem - and an opportunity - for all sides of a fight.
Easy To Port
One thing I like about the idea is how easy it is to port. You can just throw the Environment in at a random spot on your initiative tracker and use it, or you can whole hog steal the initiative system from Sentinels as I laid it out above.
Harder to Execute
The tricky part is having the environment do things every round. The idea being to liven up the fight. Part of this though is I think a lot of us are trained to think of the environment in combats as being static, and this mechanic tries to make them more dynamic. That is a lot of built in training to fight against.
On the other hand, I've never complained about a combat scene being too dynamic. In general it has always added to the enjoyment, and one of my favorite parts of Super Hero games is that when things get dull you can just throw someone through a building to help liven things up.
If nothing else, it is something I want to try and play around with.