Saturday, January 25, 2020

Taking the Initiative (or some other init joke)

Almost every RPG I have ever ran or played has some kind of initiative system. Such a system determines who gets to act first and next and since most RPGs are terribly concerned with the crunchy details of battles this proves to be an important feature.

So when people tell me you don't need any initiative system I give them the same look a parent gives their 14-yo when he says he doesn't know how those magazines got under his pillow*. I mean, I get it. You don't need initiative, really. A good gaming group will roll with the drama and it'll be great. A less-cohesive group may struggle. And while I don't ever try to write my game materials specifically for dysfunctional gaming groups, I do like to include tools that I want to use myself. And I do like having some kind of initiative system in my fighting-heavy games.

I have monkeyed with various methods. Issue #1 of Black Pudding features Quick Init. In this system you roll a die and subtract 1 and the result is how many PCs get to act before the enemies. The GM chooses who acts based on the fiction. I tried that method a few times and it works just fine, but isn't exactly what I was hoping for.

Another method I like is the one used in The Black Hack. Each PC makes a Dex check. Those who pass go first, those who fail go after the enemies. It's just about as quick and dirty as you can get and it lends a huge advantage to those with a good Dexterity score.

The method I'm noodling right now for my Dead Wizards RPG is as follows.

When battle is imminent, the Judge switches to combat mode, which is pretty bog standard for RPGs. It just signals to the GM and group that rules specific to action order are now in effect. So the Judge makes a threat roll, which is just a d6 roll that determines if enemies get to act before the PC and how many of them. Then the Judge selects the first player to act. After that player acts, the Judge rolls another threat roll and then the player picks the next player to act. And you just continue that same pattern until all PCs and enemies have acted in the round.

What I like about this method is that it embraces the narrative power of not really having initiative, allowing players to decide who goes next. But it maintains some randomness to the order of events via the 1d6 threat roll. It also grants the GM lots of leeway in deciding which enemies get to act next.

I haven't playtested this yet.

*OMG... does that date me? Nobody has "magazines" anymore. We have the world in our pockets, including nudie pics. Also... I'm not some sexually repressed asshole. I wouldn't necessarily be all "Junior, you know better" if I found a magazine stash. It's just a funny example. Get off my back!!

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