When there seems to be a fight on the horizon, the Judge* makes a threat roll. This is a d6 roll referencing the table below. Or, if you have a d3, you can throw it. Whatever.
|1-2||No enemies act|
|3-4||At least 1 enemy acts|
|5-6||More than 1 enemy acts|
The results are self-explanatory. Since I can't predict how many enemies any given fight will feature, I am not going to put ranges of numbers. The Judge will use their best judgement based on the fiction. If the result is 3-4 and there are 3 enemies then maybe just 1 of them acts before the players. If the roll is a 6, maybe all of them act first. Only the Judge will know in a given situation what would be the most natural or most badass way to handle it.
After the threat roll and any resulting actions from the bad guys, the Judge chooses 1 player to go first. That player will take action or hold their action as they wish. Then they will choose the next player to go. They cannot choose a player who has already acted in the round. They can choose an enemy to go next.
But before that player goes, the Judge will make another threat roll. And that same process will repeat until all the players have taken a turn. So the order of events in a battle round would look like the table below.
|2||Judge chooses first player to act|
|4||First player chooses next player to act|
|6||Last player chooses next player to act|
|7||Repeat pattern until all players act|
|8||End of round|
If all the enemies have acted, the Judge stops making threat rolls until all the players have acted. Then, if necessary, a new round begins with the Judge making a threat roll and selecting a player to
In any event, after the last player acts, then it is time to start a new round by exactly the same process.
*I'm using the term Judge for the GM as a placeholder for now. It might stick, or I might invent something cooler.
I have played a lot more RPG sessions in the past 5 years than I did in my entire gaming life beforehand. I just didn't have a lot of friends to game with when I was young and we were too meandering to get our shit together for "regular" games. Playing a ton of Labyrinth Lord, in particular, has lead me to think of the standard D&D initiative systems as a little too clunky for the vibe I am going for in Dead Wizards. I want there to be combat, but I want it to be a little more fast-and-furious. So I am working on ways of handling initiative that I believe are faster and smoother.
I might be wrong, but this method feels like it would do the trick. It reduces the GM's load to a single d6 roll prior to each player's actions. And it reduces the players' load to just taking their action and picking someone else to go. There isn't much to keep track of except who has went so far.
Same as above, but the Judge doesn't track which enemies have attacked and so they make the threat roll between every player turn until the end of the round. They select enemies each time purely based on the drama. In this method I would tweak the threat roll table a little bit so the enemies don't get action quite as often.
|1-3||No enemies act|
This one is kind of a totally different method and it eliminates all tracking, making initiative 100% random.
The Judge still makes a threat roll on 1d6, but they also make a PC roll at the same time. The PC's initiative die would be based on how many characters are in the group. So a group of 4 would just use a d4. A group of 5 would be a d5 (or d10 divided by 2 if you don't have an actual d5, which most people don't). And so on.
The Judge would roll both dice. If the threat die indicates the enemies may act, then they do. The PC die would indicate which of the PCs gets to take their action next.
This is probably an even faster method than the main one detailed in this post. But my thinking is that you'd always go with the dice, which means player 1 could potentially go 2 or 3 times before player 2. A single PC could end up taking a crazy number of actions before all the PCs have gone. Unless you want to re-roll the PC die each time it indicates someone who has already went.
Or perhaps after player 1 has taken action and the die is a 1 again, that means player 2 gets to go. Or something along those lines.
The side-based initiative, such as what we see in D&D (B/X 1981), is also quite fast and easy. I would even argue against myself here and say it's faster and easier than what I've outlined here. And maybe I'll just go with it in the end. It all depends if I feel like an alternate method better serves the vibe of game I'm going for.
Also wanted to say that the ideas herein are not altogether new. There are games that allow players to decide who goes next, especially outside the OSR sphere. There are probably games with highly random initiative. I know that the Troika! method is completely random, fast, and fun as hell to use. I use it when running that game. My only hesitation with adopting something similar here is that it loses some of its charm when gaming online. I do most of my gaming online so I'm writing my game with that in mind.