Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"It's also funny watching morons froth at the mouth"

--James E. Raggi IV

So there's me and James Raggi talking about games on a podcast again. This time it's The Game's The Thing. As usual, it starts with me and James doing our whole salesguy catalog spiels and slowly transitions into advanced GM theory and drunken namecalling so if you just want that stuff, feel free to skip ahead.

On to the serious business:

Is there any RPG that does initiative like this:

-Each side rolls initiative (one die for all the PCs, one die for the GM).

-The winning side has one character go (if it's the PCs, they just choose among themselves who'll go first)
-Then the losing side has one character go
-Then the winning side has one character go...
etc. etc. the side with more characters has the leftovers all go at the end.


I've never played that way but it seems like it combines the tactical complexity of having individual initiative with the simplicity and "hey everybody put those Cheetos down and pay attention" quality of group initiative.


  1. I can't think of any particular rpg implementations, but tabletop wargames tend to follow that initiative structure. At least the Games Workshop ones did.

    The advantage is that many smaller units get more turns than the opponent, but on the other hand, fewer larger units would be more resilient in combat. I don't know if this balance would apply in an rpg, or even if you'd want it to.

    Now that I think of it, you did get something similar in Shadowrun in the third edition. Initiative scores could get quite high, so you'd go in initiative order, subtract ten from everyone's scores and anyone with a positive score would then have another turn, again in order, and so on until no one had any turns left. Really fast characters would often end up with two or three turns after everyone else had acted.

  2. Better than the you go/they go system from the 1e DM's guide. I prefer having each character, monster, NPC and such roll a die or have a die rolled for them and use that number for who does what and in what order, tossing in the dexterity reaction bonus and other factors into the mix. Rolls that are tied go simultaneously. I use a d10 for rolling intiative and start with the high rollers.

  3. I like how Tunnels and Trolls does combat. Basically, and I am skipping parts, its add up an attack value on one side compare it with the monster rating on the other. Loser takes damage - the difference - and gets to pick where it goes. On to the next round!

  4. I can only think of wargames, but it's not a bad way of doing initiative really. I'm tempted to give it a go in my next game.

  5. You are a sublime genius and I want to bear your love-child, except for not having a womb, so forget that last part. I'm definitely going to try this out.

  6. Thinking about a sane way to push this into my 3.5 dnd game. At first glance it will indeed make combat more lively.. Though Im wondering how to implement it without making the initiative modifiers utterly worthless.

  7. It's ok I guess. Works. I don't know. I tend to go with a very simple "who's faster" method. Everyone goes either a)in order of their Dex Bonus or b) 1D6 + Dex bonus.

    Been doing that for 20 years or more. An attempt to make it seem like their is some benefit to a high Dex in combat other than using a Bow and Arrow, etc.

    I also use a lot of tactical stuff from Champions. You can hold your move, block, full on dodge, etc. Each gives anyone attempting them bonuses and drawbacks to hit or AC based on what they want to do without needing feats.

  8. I think the one side goes and then the other has been used as an option for a variety of games. One that has used it has been Savage Worlds. I am not 100% sure on this point though.

  9. I'm usually a fan of rules-lite everything in combat, but initiative has always bothered me, even the 3.5 everybody-rolls thing--it stills seems too limited. Getting to act first in the first round is obviously a big advantage--but after that initiative barely matters. I've always wanted a system to allow faster characters to get more turns--the party acts twice for every one move from the gelatinous cube, the rogue acts three times for every two from the paladin, etc. Never could think of one that wasn't too computationally intensive, though. I quite like the Shadowrun system mentioned above, though--I might try that...

  10. @Mobius Soul: From what I remember Champions works that way with initiative...

  11. My personal favourite initiative order is from NOD's Pars Fortuna game. It goes something like this:

    1. Spell casters declare spells.
    2. If both sides are using missile weapons, they roll initiative against each other. Missile weapons are fired for immediate damage.
    3. Melee characters move. If they come within 10 feet of an enemy who hasn't already used their initiative (prepared a spell or fired a missile) both sides roll initiative. Melee attacks and damage are made.
    4. Spells activate if the caster hasn't taken damage.

    I love this method because every round is potentially different depending on what the players decide to do that round.

  12. @ Ambient Dust- How long does combat take with this style of initiative?

    Second how is the Land of NOD: Pars Fortuna? I'm trying to find reviews of it or the Basic Free rules, but can't find any or a link that works.


  13. I have found this method to make combat very interesting, and melee characters will suddenly pay attention when missiles are flying at them before they reach their target.

    As far as combat time, I don't find it slows anything down, it just sort of adds variety and depth. I usually just say something like, "Is anyone casting spells? Okay. Anyone firing missiles? Roll d6. 4, nice! Take your shot. Alright, an arrow whizzes by your head from the other side of the room. Who's attacking melee? Okay, move in. Roll d6. 2, huh. The monster takes a wild swing at you but you deflect it with your sword. Make your attack. All spells go off now."

    I usually just have them make group rolls depending. So for missile phase, whichever side wins, all of the people making missile attacks for that side go, then the other side. Same for melee. They decide quickly amongst themselves who will act first.

    Pars Fortuna is really neat, I like a lot of the rules variants. I haven't actually played the setting with the races/classes, just swiped a bunch of things such as the spell casting rule, which I love:

    Spell casters can cast 1 level 1 spell per hour, and for higher levels it's 1 per day. But you can sort of muster your strength and try to spit one out with a saving throw minus the level of the spell. If you succeed, spell goes off. Hurra! But if you fail, roll on a chart to see what bad stuff happens (dazed, nauseated, etc). Kinda neat and let's the casters not feel helpless when they've used their spells up.

  14. Oh nice! Are the things in NOD easily portable to a system like LotFP?

  15. @Mobius Soul - You might like the Dragons at Dawn system drawn from Arnesons work on Don't Give Up the Ship (the game Gygax and Arneson wrote before D&D). Anyway, combat begins with a Morale roll, with higher Morale gaining initiative and combat advantage. As combat continues, shifts in Morale indicate shifts in momentum and who attacks when in the round. It's fairly simple and allows a lot of variation in combats.

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  17. @wrathofzombie Yes, it's basically just another retro-clone, in a good way.

  18. Alternating turns is a bit unfair to the speedy team of halflings against the ogres.

    I roll init for each monster, and go in that order. It keeps people guessing, and it is easy to keep track with a magnetic init chart. Groups of monsters like a bunch of skeletons should just all go with one init.

    Also, what is the most cinematic? How would it play out in a film? Usually you DO have goo vs evil guy over here, then other good/evil match there; you cut between them.

  19. @ Nick - surely you're cutting between micro-moments with either approach? The different systems are both potentially cinematic, just in different directorial styles.

    The IGO-UGO simple initiative approach just guarantees that, if we cut to a PC and they don't kill the dude they're fighting, that the dude they're fighting reacts to them before we cut to another PC. Action shot - reaction shot - cut to next PC.

    The strict everyone-has-their-own-initiative-order can lead to jumpy, hard-to-parse cutting, from PC to PC to NPC fighting the first PC to PC to a whole mess of NPCs fighting in different places. If that's your style, good on you - personally it would give me seizures.

    @Zak - Advanced Fighting Fantasy (which even calls its DM the Director and is rooted in bad fantasy films) has an implicit version of the system you describe. A PC and all the NPCs fighting them take part in an opposed roll - anyone outscoring the PC hits them, the PC hits one target that they outscore. Then we cut to the next PC, and then the next...

    It works the other way round for big monsters like dragons which will usually be able to strike multiple PCs (so anyone who beats the dragon gets to hit it, and anyone who the dragon beats gets a claw to the face).

    I'm not sure how well it would hold up to fighting a dragon and a whole mess of little guys - presumably the dragon would take its turn like a PC and the little guys would just be abstracted into the turns of the PCs they're fighting. That seems tidiest.

  20. battletech and the D&D minis game use this system

  21. Hm. I don't usually find this necessary with simple enough combat rules/options; fights are rarely more than 6-8 engaged figures to a side and there's engagement both in "do I hit" and "am I hit". Seems worth considering with larger battles or tanglier rules.