J Is for Jumping into Action

Today I talk about initiative. Yeah, I know. It should be I for Initiative, but I did I for Ichi, and today is J.

Anyhoo, I have a love-hate relationship with initiative checks. Too often, I’ve experienced initiative something like this:

GM: Roll for initiative!

Players: Yeah! Combat! Woo! Excitement!

GM: Okay, here we go! Twenty? Anyone? Anyone? Nineteen? Anyone? Anyone? Eighteen? Bueller? Bueller?

Then, to add to the excitement, I get to further experience players who want to delay and/or specify conditions for when their PCs take their actions. And let’s not forget the monsters. They get to go too. What should be an exciting combat ends up being an intiative roll call where most of the time most of the players sit around watching another person do stuff.

Of course, there are many techniques for speeding up initiative. I know about them (well, probably not all of them). I’ve used several of them. They help. For example, I “chunk” initiative in my current campaign. I roll for the monsters. The players roll for the characters. Any characters who beat the monsters get to act in whatever order the players want. Then the monsters go. Then the rest of the players go. I usually default to letting the players win intiative ties. This speeds things up quite a bit.

Still, most of the time initiative checks up end being almost unnecessary. I mean, unless my monster kills a PC, it usually doesn’t matter if the monster hits the PC before the PC hits the monster. Back in 1E days gaming while stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, we only rolled initiative when a PC or foe was killed or otherwise incapicitated, and then only to determine if the victim would get in a one final whack. From what I remember, it worked like a charm.

One of the neatest initiative check systems I’ve seen is in Dyson Logos’s Geodesic Gnomes. Here’s how it works:

“Then the Game Master announces initiative numbers starting at 4 [N.B. The lowest possible score] and counting upwards. If the initiative count for your character is called and you haven’t acted yet, you must declare your action now. On any initiative count anyone with a higher initiative count than the number called may declare their action. In addition, once an action is declared, anyone with a higher initiative count than that person may declare an action to interrupt them.”

This system has the “I want to interrupt him because I’m faster than he is” option built into it. I’ve not had a chance to test this out at length yet, but I going to run a Geodesic Gnomes session next month for Friday Game Night.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is Dungeon World, which doesn’t have initiative checks. Refresh your memory by looking at me fiddling with the rules. Notice that Dungeon World‘s attack mechanic doesn’t require initiative checks to resolve who goes first between the monsters and the PCs.

Well, that’s it for this one. I’ve got to get back to work on my Villains & Vigilantes adventure for tomorrow evening.

April 11th, 2013  in RPG No Comments »

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