Friday, November 1, 2019

Discussion: Favorite Initiative System

If you've explored multiple systems, which one has your favorite initiative system and how does it work? If you have only played one system, what do you think would make the initiative system better for you?

Regardless of system there is always something clunky about initiative. The very idea of turn based resolution for combat - where everything in story is supposed to be happening all at the same time - is always going to be messy. It's one place where mechanics and story have a heavy divorce from each other.

I have a couple systems that I've liked over the years. I really enjoyed 3rd ed Roll and Keep for L5R where initiative was dynamic. As you were hurt your initiative slid down. If you held your action to a later turn, you moved yourself down to that later spot in the order for real. At the same time, if you held your action all the way you could put yourself back on top. It put decision and cost into a lot of things that I liked.

Edge of the Empire's system is also nice where you get "player" turns and "NPC turns" and anyone can take any slot. This lets the PCs strategically use their turns to coordinate strikes, move people in precarious positions, or try and take out key NPCs.

I like Edge of the Empire's system, but I've also seen it slow things down where players aren't sure who should take a turn or what is going on from it.

I also think I like the system from the Sentinels RPG a little more. In the Sentinels RPG you determine who goes first at the beginning of combat, and then at the end of everyone's turn they choose who goes next. You only get to go once per turn, and the environment also gets a turn. This makes for a lot of interesting choices. It lets players do combination abilities which is awesome, but there is also real incentive to give turns to the enemy. After all, everyone gets to go, so while it may be nice to let all the players go in one huge alpha strike, that then leaves all the enemies to go at once too...and at the end of the round, they choose who goes next which could lead to them getting two turns in a row.

What I also like about the system is how portable it is. You can't take L5R's system with wounds slowing people down to a system without wound penalties. Limiting the choice to just player X chooses who goes next seems to reduce the option strain that is otherwise there.

But what about you? Which do you like? Where is it from? How does it work?


  1. In my home-brew, I use group initiative, 1d10. We check initiative bonuses (based on movement rates) only if there is a tie in the roll; if there is still a tie, we re-roll. Who rolls for the group goes around the table. Sometimes we re-roll each round, but usually I forget about that. I like group initiative because I usually have large groups (I've DM'ed up to 12 at once), and because of the way I handle combat rounds. It is all supposed to be occurring in the same 6 seconds, right? And the action is more abstract than tactical. So each round we do the same things in the same order, specifically: 1 Morale Checks (to see if the baddies/hirelings run), 2 Movement (here's the positions for "tactics"), 3 Missiles, 4 Melee, 5 Magic (last, because it takes time to chant the spells, and can be interrupted). All the missile attacks happen at once, all the melee attacks, etc. Also, since it all happens in the same 6 seconds, if you kill a baddie (or would be killed outright yourself), they still get their attack for the round they were killed; a last gasp attempt to take you with 'em! So initiative is really just "who gets to roll first in each part of the round", not a "Ha! I got a lucky roll at the beginning of combat, so now you'll be dead and I'll be OK!" Which, to me at least, makes more sense and combat a little more dangerous.

    1. That sounds really cool! I may have to try it!

    2. Uhh, re-reading that, I left out the most important part. After initiative is rolled, but before anything is "done", I go around the table and have each person tell me their intended actions for the round, and I'll say what the baddies intend to do. Whichever side *loses* initiative has to tell their intended actions first, giving the other *winning initiative* side the opportunity to plan their attacks around that. Granted, 90-95% of the time it still comes down to "I'll swing my weapon/shoot an arrow/cast a spell", but that other 5-10% of the time makes winning initiative something that is still worthwhile.