Hey Jake. So: you first, because i don't understand why speed factors are good.
Hi Zak. Sure thing. Using speed factor initiative – where everyone announces actions at the start of each round and the actions taken impact the order of combat – enhances a D&D campaign in a bunch of ways.
It provides a lot more verisimilitude than other initiative methods. Quick characters with daggers are more likely to get a jab in before a lumbering great-axe wielder can swing her mighty weapon. A Magic Missile spell will often fire before an enemy spell-caster can conjure a Gate.
Also, battles are made more chaotic. Just like real-life battles, there's no set order to combat. Furthermore, you can't hit a “pause button” on your turn to figure out what's the optimal move at that instant, much less have a conversation with allies to develop and execute a plan.
So why are those good things? Several reasons:
1. All other things being equal (e.g., complexity, speed at the table, etc.), rules that better reflect reality tend to enhance the game's immersion.
2. Because most decision making is front-loaded at the start of each round, the pace of the action during each round really speeds up. Taken as whole, speed factor initiative isn't quicker (or slower) than other methods, but there's fewer stops and starts in the action, which tends to keep players more engaged.
3. It leads to more diversity of action. Players get a choice to weigh that they otherwise wouldn't have: should they use the most powerful tool at their disposal, or is it better to use a less powerful tool that may let them act more quickly? In a D&D game with cleaving or spill-over damage or a Great Weapon Master feat, this makes battle less monotonous and more tactical.
4. Combat is more dangerous because what happens in battle is less predictable. More danger tends to equate with more engagement. Also, if your game looks at combat as a fail-state – a consequence of not being sneaky or clever or persuasive enough – more dangerous combat helps to reinforce that for the players.
5. Equipment choices have more consequences and tend to be less homogeneous. A sword & board fighter might not always choose a long sword over a short sword, or wear plate armor when less encumbering chain provides a better chance of getting a jump on opponents.
So, questions? Thoughts?
These all seem like legitimate points to me, but the counterargument is that it's more numbers to explain to players, for them to keep track of, and to look up. And isn't speed factor different for every single armor class for any given weapon? (forgive me, I can't remember).
It is a thing that needs to be explained at the start of a campaign. No question about that. However, there's an easy way to avoid having to look things up (and thereby slowing things down) in combat.
Before a game, players figure their basic initiative modifier. This is based on Dex and, if the speed factor system in play accounts for encumbrance, based on the load the character typically carries. So that's pretty much normal, and the result is written in their “Basic Initiative Mod” box on their character sheet.
Then, where the weapons are listed on the character sheet, there's a new entry that goes before Range, Damage, etc.: Speed. Speed is the Basic Initiative Mod plus the modifier for that weapon.
At the start of each round, players announce what weapon they're using, roll the initiative die, and add the weapon's Speed. That's it. Adding that single number is one more step than it takes to do group initiative, but it's still very easy. It's no more complex than an attack roll, or the standard 5e initiative roll for that matter.
Spells are equally easy. The Speed for a spell is your Basic Initiative Modifier minus the spell's level. These can also be prefigured on the character sheet. Thus, a player chooses a spell of a particular level, rolls a die, and adds (or subtracts) a single number.
AD&D 1st edition has a gestalt initiative system. It's mostly side-based but, on a tie roll, the order of actions is based on weapon speed factor. But I think you're thinking of Weapon vs. AC adjustments. Each weapon had a modifier for hitting each AC.
That's actually a very interesting system, as it helped fighters (and, to some extent, thieves) because the weapons they could use generally had better bonuses than the weapons usable by clerics and magic-users. I think it was one of Gary's responses to the “linear fighter, quadratic wizard” problem. However, it doesn't bear on initiative.
Anyhow, speed factor initiative can benefit from having a very slightly modified character sheet, but it's easy to keep track of and doesn't require looking up anything.
"It's no more complex than an attack roll, or the standard 5e initiative roll for that matter." Well it has one more number--and more than one if you have more weapons.
The formula is the same as with standard 5e initiative. It's just that instead of applying a generic modifier to their initiative roll, players apply the modifier noted next to the weapon or spell that they're using.
It's definitely true that side-based initiative doesn't require anyone to apply any modifiers. It's also true the standard 5e initiative doesn't require rolls each round. So, in some sense, each of them are a bit simpler than speed factor initiative.
And you're also right that this system encourages characters to carry more than one weapon. Those daggers that characters tend to get at the start of the game see a lot more use in a game with speed factor initiative. When an accomplished warrior needs to take out a guard before he can cry out, a stiletto may well be a better choice than a battle axe. That's almost never the case with any other initiative system.
I like that it encourages carrying more than one weapon, but it is more numbers like: each weapon has an initiative so if 5 pcs have 2 weapons each that's 10 initiative modifiers rather than 5.