Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Wiffling About Initiative

Further to Doug Easterly's post on initiative at Savage Sword of Athanor I'm gnawing over the old bone of who goes first yet again. It seems there are as many ways of determining who goes first as there are retro-clones...

Retro-Clones (incomplete list*)
  • OD&D (via Swords and Wizardry): Declare Spells > Initiative > Winners' Actions (spells, missiles, etc.) > Losers' actions > Held Actions.
  • OD&D (Judges Guild Ready Ref. Sheets): Individual initiative determined by action/weapon, modified by Dexterity and movement speed.
  • BD&D (via Labyrinth Lord): Initiative > winning side Move, Shoot, Spells, Melee > losing side Move, Shoot, Spells, Melee.
  • AD&D (via OSRIC): some wild-eyed, complexity-fetishist individual initiative madness about tracking segments (or, as they're known in English, "seconds") within each combat round.
* Yes, I know I've completely overlooked Basic Fantasy, Swords & Spells, [insert game of your choice here].

Further OD&D Variations
  • OED: Initiative > Move, Shoot, Melee, Spells
  • SSA: Initiative > Missiles, Move, Melee, Magic
Other Systems of Interest
  • D20 System: Actions taken in individual initiative order.
  • GURPS Goblins: first to say "I whack 'im!" strikes soonest.
  • GW Mordheim: Initiative > Alternate turns (Move, Fire, Melee, Recovery).
  • Legend of the Five Rings 1E: Initiative > Actions declared in reverse order (lowest first) > Actions taken in order (highest first) > Blood all up the walls.
Much as I'm taken by the sheer simplicity (and the rigorous emphasis on player skill) inherent in the initiative system of GURPS Goblins, I'm currently leaning away from the 'all or nothing' BD&D/LL initiative system towards something a bit more OD&D-ish.

Stuff I like right now:
  • Team initiative (No Grandstanding!)
  • The idea of both sides acting in the same phase (winner does A, loser does A, winner does B, loser does B, etc), 
  • The idea of people being pelted by arrows before they close to melee.
So which system to nick?

PS: 'initiative' is a bitch of a word to type...


  1. My all-time favourite Initiative system is in Weedkiller (obscure small-press tabletop wargame of anthromorphic gunfighting vegetables - this might be why it remains somewhat obscure...)

    Pick a number between 1 and 20 by setting a d20 to that score and conceal it. Everyone reveals at the same time. Order is from lowest to highest BUT the number is also your base roll "to hit" - your selected Initiative score or lower. Evil, wicked genius.

  2. Coopdevil, that inish system is awesome.

    The problem I have with "winner does A, loser does A, winner does B, loser does B, etc" is that someone will want to fuss over moving tactically.

  3. Right now, obviously, I'm on the same page about winner does A, loser does A.

    I understand Jeff's hesitance, but I figure that the fuss happens no matter what. I'm countering the winner does all, loser does all method (since it compounds tactical movement with one side beating the snot out of the other with impunity) and the individual initiative system common from AD&D 2e on (because it's, quite frankly, a pain in the posterior).

  4. I ran a C&C game with alternating phases once and it went very well (when I didn't screw it up by forgetting something). It ran basically like this-

    Roll for init. High roll wins and goes first in each phase. Then the loser does that phase.

    phase 1- Those who don't have to move to attack go. This includes missile weapons and long weapons.

    phase 2- Those who move before attacking go.

    phase 3- Spells are cast. Spellcasters who are hit in the round before casting lose their spell.

  5. I like group initiative because it pulls all the players together as a team for the few seconds it takes to roll initiative--though Coopdevil's Weedkiller discovery sounds pretty cool.

  6. Winner should attack before looser.
    Winner should move after looser. (so as to react to opponents plans)

    L move
    W move
    W attack
    L attack

    Not sure were missile fire should go... Kind of just want to lump it in with attack and not treat it special.

    I like the idea of casters writing down the spell they will cast at the beginning of round and resolving its effects at end. I also think spells are rareish, that it's ok that they're used as "ace in the holes" and/or often in reaction to everything else that has occurred.

  7. Screw what I said above, this is better or at least less bad.

    Group initiative, d10 Leader's/Scout's stat/other modifiers. In initiative order all sides finish each phase before anyone goes onto next phase. Each character may act in only one phase.

    1. Ranged attacks
    2. Move
    3. Attacks (including ranged attacks not taken in step 1)
    4. Castings and other activities

    The key is "people" act in one and only one phase. So each round you can attack, or move, or cast, or do something (drink potion, etc). If you feel bows should fire twice/round (you're wrong btw) they go off in 1 and 3.

  8. Argh!

    Roll Surprise. On 1d6, you're surprised 1 or 2. If surprised, you lose the first round of actions.

    Roll initiative. On 1d6, whichever side gets higher goes first. Ties reroll between them. Usually there are only two sides, but whatever.

    When it's your side's turn to go, work out what people want to go first, then next, etc. Usually someone jumps up and says they want to Fireball, so everyone else get a hit in and skedaddle. Or they want to punch through the lines, so someone else go up and whack that dude before I go. Or they want to swamp a monster, so everyone melee it and the latter attackers can get their back attacks.

    If you take damage, you can't cast spells on your next round. If you get set on fire, you won't be able to cast until a round after you stop taking damage, for example. This replicates spell disruption in a game that doesn't have casting times.

    If you want to act in your initiative, you get an action and a movement. You can't split up the movement as in "move, attack, move". If you have unused action or movement after your side ends their turn, you're assed out.

    Except! If you haven't done your action, it's assumed you're "holding action" which means if someone steps near you (obviously it's their turn and not yours) you get your melee hit on them at that time. This simulates setting spears for a charge, etc. You can't cast, or use magic items, or anything else with a held action - just a whack in melee.

    The phases seem attractive but they bog down in practice, in my experience.


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