Monday, December 2, 2013

Initiative and Weapon Speed

Over at Hack and Slash Courtney Campbell raises a point oninitiative, simple works best. It’s true it does, nice simple roll 1d6 per side and highest rolling side goes first gets the job done and you get to plow through a number of fights a night if that’s what you are doing.  What if you want a little more in your campaign? Here’s how I’ve been doing it in my current campaign:

*At the beginning of each round each side rolls 1d12.
* The initiative roll is modified by the rolling characters initiative modifier (a DEX modifier in my campaign)
*Highest roll goes first.
*If your side’s initiative score is less than the Weapon Speed Factor of your weapon in hand any attack rolls you make with it are at -4.
*If you are drawing a weapon in a round any attacks you are making with it are at -4 or the negative of the weapon speed factor.

Each weapon has a WSF score along with a damage score. Most barehand attacks and most monster attacks have a WSF of 3. 

Some longer weapons can be used to fend off foes, if a combatant is standing their ground with a longer weapon they get to attack before you do, if they hit you can’t close this round and can’t make an attack. This isn’t an extra attack, it’s an attack out of order allowed because of the decisions combatants have made. Once a hit has been scored on a foe they can’t fed off your blows in this manner unless they have withdrawn. Yup someone with a longer weapon can keep shoving it in your face and keep poking you with it unless they mess up (just like folks can in reality).
(don’t forget penalties to attack  if the initiative roll is less than your WSF)

The dexterity modifier to Initiative is a simple modifier to the D12 roll. The player making the roll applies his initiative modifier to the roll for his side. Fighting together with other folks does depend on their capabilities as well not just your own, having a slow, clumsy, and unlucky guy on your side can and does turn the tide in a fight. We move around the table clockwise from whoever rolled first in the fight, the point man or guy in front usually rolls first (but not always).

Here’s a sample fight using  A Fighter with a battleaxe and encumbered by his load vs a Rogue with a dagger and unencumbered by his load. In my campaign encumbered is dangerous it applies a penalty of -4 to some saves and physical attack rolls (it doesn’t modify initiative as initiative also covers mental and magical actions). I’m not going to apply any  tactical modifiers into the combat to kepe this an example only initiative. Bear in mind even though I'm only using 2 combatants here(for brevity) they each constitute a side in the fight.

Able the Fighter. 1st level +3 to hit (STR and skill), +1 to initiative (from DEX),HP:10 AC 16. Encumberance penalty is -4. Battle Axe WSF 7, DMG: 1d10+1
Blake the Rogue. 1st level no bonus to hit, +2 to initiative (from DEX), HP:6 AC 12. Unencumbered.
Dagger WSF:3 DMG:1d4

Round 1.
Able has an initiative score of 6 (d12 roll of 5 +1 for DEX).
Blake has an intiative score of 5 (d12 roll of 3 +2 for DEX).
Able attacks first with his Battle axe in hand. He’s got a heap of troubkle here however he’s -4 to hit because he’s encumbered and -4 to hit because his initiative score iss less than the BattleAxes WSF of 7. Able’s to hit  score in round 1 is 7 (1d20 roll of 12 +3 -8) he misses blake.
Blake attacks with his dagger. Even losing the initiative for the round his nimble weapon choice allows an attack at no penalty (Dagger WSF is 3). He rolls a 17 , that’s a his for 3 pts (after a d4 roll) of damage.

Round 2.
Able has an initiative score of 8, Blake has a 7. 
Able get first attack again. This time Able only has a -4 penalty. He rolls a 16 that with his +3 to hit and -4 penalty is a score of 15 enough to hit Blake who suffers 5 points of damage.
Blake foolishly decides to keep on fighting.  He has no penalties to his roll. His hit roll is only a 4 so no damage on able.

Round 3.
Able has an initiative score of 5. Blake has a 11.
Blake gets first attack. He gets an attack roll of 17 and manages to get 4 more points on Able.
Able attacks Blake (who should have ran for it) this round he’s -8 again however. A roll of 13 to hiut results in a total score of 8… not good enough to hit Blake.

Round 4.
Able has an initiative score of 11. Blake has a 3 (as bad as he can get, he actually can’t suffer a penalty to attack for a low roll).
Able attacks Blake rolling a 17… resulting in a total  hit roll of 16  strikign Blake for 7 points of damage in the process.. Blake has been defeated.

Having a slow/unbalanced weapon can create difficulties in combat (As can being encumbered).
The above example was simple and quick and really only displays the impact of Weapon Speed Factors and the Initiative score.

Now let's have a different fight. This time by a chain of circumstances Able and Blake in the previous example are fighting a pair of zombies.  Able and Blake have the same stats as before except Able isn't encumbered this time, the Zombies are AC 12 Atk: +2 DMG; 1d6, HP:8 each initiaitve -4 (these are slow zombies).

Round 1. 
Adventurers roll initiative. Able's player rolls first and the initiative score for the adventuerers this round is a 5. the Zombies got a 3. The adventurers go first.
Able is -4 to hit as his WSF is 7 and initiative this round is a 5. Able strikes at zombie 1 the d20 roll is 12 -4 for initiative related penalty +3 due to abilities resultign in a hit socre of 11... the zombie isn't harmed.
Blake strikes at the zombies. He has no penalty as his WSF is < the adventurer initiative score of 5. He hits Zombie #1 for 3 pts of damage. 
The Zombies attack. Able is missed. B;ale is hit for 3 pts of damage.

Round 2.
Adventurers roll initiative. Blake's player rolls initiative this round, he rolls a 10 and adds his +2 initiative mod so group initiative is 12 easily beating the zombies score of 7 (11-4).
Blake stikes at a zombie, hittign for another 3 points of damage on Zombie #1 (it has 2 hp now).
Able strikes at Zombie #1, he gets a +3 bonus with no penalties this round because of the initiative score. He hits on a dies roll of 10 for a total score of 13... inflicitng 7 points on Zombie #1 destroyign it.
Zombie #2 stikes at the impressive muscled fighter cutting zombie #1 in half. It's attack score total is only 14 not enough to harm Able.

Round 3.
Advnetuers roll initiative. Able's player rolls this round gettign a score of 2.... uh oh. The remaing zombie gets a score of 4.
Zombie #2 attacks Able getting an attack score of 17... harmighn able for 5 points of damage...
Able attacks the zombie not caring to retreat, this round he's -4 to hit. He misses on an attack roll of 11 (11+3-4 = 10, not enough to hit).
Blake strikes at the zombie, this round he;s -4 to hi because the initiative score for his side this round is a 2 which is under his dagger WSF of 3t. He rolled a 12 so he misses as his total attack score was 8.

Round 4.
Adventurer's roll initiative. Blakes roll, a die roll of 7 and +2 bonus gives the good guys a score of 9 this round. The zombie can only get an 8 at best, the adventurers go first.
Blake rolls to hit and does so on a 14 hitting the zombie for 3 pts of damage.
Able takes a swipe at the zombie, with no penalties this round he easily hits on a die roll of 11 inflicting another 5 point son the zombie, enough to destroy it.

Again no fancy maneuvers but the ebb and flow of combat can be seen based on individuals choices of weapons and the scores of their allies. 

High roll wins and a using Weapon speed Factor as an index to apply or not apply a modifier to the attack roll makes choice of weapons telling.


  1. Hi JD, followed your link over from H&S. Thanks for the detailed explanation of your initiative system. I think it is an interesting system that offers some of the things that I would want in an initiative system. I like that your combat system as a whole makes room for the roll of encumbrance and weapon speeds. I find the decision to make these features modify attack rolls rather than initiative rolls an interesting choice, and I do like how, "in the first round", having an initiative score lower than your weapon speed adds a penalty to attack rolls. This would seem to be a good way of modelling the fact that someone has been caught off guard.

    That said there are a few things about this system that I find curious. First, I don't see what is to be gained by calling for a new initiative roll each round. For one thing, this seems to unnecessarily increase the amount of rolling that needs to be done, and consequently slows down combat.

    Second, given how attack rolls are modified by the interplay between weapon speed and initiative, it seems odd to me that a combatant may continue to suffer penalties to attack rolls due to initiative well into the combat.

    Third, and related to my question over at H&Q, I'm not yet convinced that using the stat modifiers of just 1 PC, particularly on a rotation system like yours, makes all that much sense. As I pointed out in my comment over at H&Q this seems would seem to either advantage or disadvantage the other members of the group in a way that is not only unfair but more importantly, inexplicable.

    In your post you try to deal with this concern by observing that "Fighting together with other folks does depend on their capabilities as well not just your own, having a slow, clumsy, and unlucky guy on your side can and does turn the tide in a fight." This is certainly true in some circumstances. An assault team that carefully coordinates their actions sometimes move and strike as one, and thus, the group is only as quick as its slowest member. But if this were the insight that you wish to capture in your system then it would make more sense to ditch the rotation system and only let the least dexterous PC roll for imitative.

    On the other hand, groups do not always coordinate their activities, and even when they do this does not always amount to moving and attacking in unison. Moreover given that different PC classes tend to have different rolls and environmental conditions might admit of different tactics, sometimes it is best if movement and attacks are not made in unison. For instance, it may be best for the thief to move first and get into position behind an enemy in order to get into a back-stab or flanking position before the fighter attacks. So I'm not yet convinced by the reasons given in favor of using the stats of a single PC to determine the initiative of the entire group, though I am wiling to entertain the idea if more can be said in its defense.


    1. Part of what I want to model in combat is uncertainty, the fog of warm\, the ebb and flow of circumstance without drowning in too many details.

      Rolling each round keeps everyone on their toes and demonstrates combat is not static. Changing who rolls each round adds to the uncertainty, gives everyone an opportunity to impact the entire combat without the lowest weighing everyone down all the time and keeping the high and mighty from carrying the weight of the fight the whole time.

      One roll each side/team each round doesn't slow things down much at all and keeps initiative factors relevant.

      I see initiative as advantage and momentum not just speed of action and reaction. (Thus the impact on hit chances)

      I've been in huge fights with hundreds to a side and thought things were going great until I realized a half dozen other guys and myself were ringed by 50 guys with polearms. The advantage had shifted suddenly and I hadn't noticed until it was too late.

      The tabletop environment offers folks an unnatural ability to coordinate and communicate that simply doesn't exist in real (or semi-real) melee the randomness of rolling initiative anew each round models that.

    2. OK, knowing what you are attempting to simulate makes better sense of the purpose of a fluctuating initiative system. BTW, just wrote on this topic at my own blog as well.

  2. I'm glad you posted this you reminded me I had completely left out how I handle Speed Factor in my Initiative system. Also, it's good to know I'm not the only one that doesn't despise Weapon Speed Factors.

    Encumbrance as an attack penalty is interesting. What saves does it affect besides Vs Dragon Breath?

    1. Saves that require jumping out of the way, wiggling free, not falling in a pit