Saturday, August 17, 2013

Initiative as Advantage

Initiative and it's role in combat resolution in RPGs is curious. By example: let's say you are using a fixed initiative either rolled at the beginning of the fight or as a standard fixed score and you find your character has the lowest initiative the truth of it is you aren't going last in round 1 you are going first in round 2. Order really doesn't matter too much after the first round with any sort of fixed initiative.

Do you used phased rounds where everyone moves... the lower initiative folk get to move after the fast folk, this is a huge tactical advantage unless of course you use zone of control rules that trap folks in place when in reach of an opponent. If you are using zones of control, why does the winner of the round get trapped in place before the lower initiative foe can act? So what advantage is a high initiative score?

Real combat is about controlling (by limiting) your opponents options, a touch towards reality is addressing what initiative actually does for your combats. Initiative as advantage makes some sense and works in this context. Combatants with higher initiative should get a wider range of options or possibly more actions then those with lower initiative.

There's a host of ways this advantage can be addressed. In my MOG campaign having a higher initiative gives a combatant a chance to strike before the opponent (initiative is rolled for each side each round so it isn't fixed), what weapons one can use well depends on ones initiative score (as it's really advantage) compared to weapon used (I use a weapon speed score), if one is able to make multiple strikes they need to have a high initiative to pull it off (no picky math beyond comparing to weapon speed and initiative score for me).

Initiative should be more then who goes first, it can also define advantage (number of actions, actions allowed by example) and initiative can mean more then who gets to declare actions 1st or last in round one.


  1. A couple things I've come across for handing initiative other than just "high roll goes first":

    Low rollers go first but high rollers get to interrupt the action of anyone they beat. (e.g. You want to run out the door? Sorry, but I'll move to block the door.)

    Instead of initiative directly determining who goes first, it determines who gets to pick who goes next. This can either be done individually or by sides. (This is more common in tactical wargames than RPGs.)

    One thing I toyed with back when I played some of the Palladium RPGs was a continuous initiative system that used the roll to fill a pool that could be spent on things like interruptions and defensive actions, (or going first at the start).

    Of course, the whole 'high roll goes first' thing does date from back when you declared your action and then rolled to see who acted first. Under those conditions acting first is a huge advantage because acting later can mean not meaningfully acting at all.

  2. From SkyRealms of Jorune, 2nd edition (1985):

    Both players make their advantage roll. If both players roll the same on a D20, then roll a D6 to break the tie. Depending on their advantage rolls, each player may have several options available. These options are represented on the following table:

    Advantage Roll

    1-5 No attack or defense possible.

    6-10 Defensive tactics, such as a dodge or a block, are possible. Player cannot attack.

    11-15 Player may either defend or use an attack such as a sword swing or lunge.

    16-19 Player may attack and defend in the same round.

    20 Player may attack and defend in the same round with a special bonus: all attack and defense rolls become 5 points easier.

    Now, that's using a fairly complex skill-based system not unlike RuneQuest. A character's advantage is modified by his or her Speed attribute, by his or her skill level with whatever weapon is being used, and by environmental and/or positional factors: +10 when striking from behind, -5 for poor visibility, etc. It's undeniably more fiddly than just rolling 1d6 for initiative, and it doesn't work so well with multiple combatants, but it has the advantage (pun intended) of rewarding preparation and tactical thinking.

    I'm not sure how you would fold such a system into the framework of D&D's abstract combat round. If a roll of 1-5 means "no attack or defence possible", then would the opponent get a bonus of +2 to hit and ignore any bonus for a shield (as per attacking from behind)? That could get very bloody, very quickly. Or it might make players think harder about using cover, setting ambushes, etc., so as to avoid the deadly 1-5 zone.

  3. Maybe it can be reduced to just the post title - initiative is "advantage." No mechanical effects, but players might be inspired to try crazy things "because we have the advantage."

    1. Good point that alone could change how some folk act in combat.