Author Topic: Is D&D the best system for initiative?  (Read 979 times)

Offline PlzBreakMyCampaign

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Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« on: July 03, 2017, 03:02:37 PM »
One of the things I have had in my head for a while is using an action-based initiative system where players seem to act more during other people's turns. The idea was to preserve "chasing" and other things where the order of actions matter. When you allow ordering, the order ends up mattering. The order below needn't be memorized because it can be preserved in an excel spreadsheet (see further down).

I've never been happy with 3e's initiative system. It works, of course... Turns are supposed to happen simultaneously, but the rules abstract it away as a simplification. The fact is, the order of events shows that they aren't simultaneous. And 6 seconds of actions all at once in turns breaks a lot of the immersion of combat.

Nm3k had an interesting thread on rolling initiative numbers:
I wish something like this would be implemented. Reminds me a bit of the 2nd edition initiative rules.

Thing is - the amount of bookkeeping is very traumatizing.
I am also vaguely aware of the horror stories of AD&D's initiative system, which sounds superficially close to what I want. Can anyone give a good rundown on it in its entirety. I'm also happy to listen to why it was bad and d20's was better.

Does play a TTRPG with an initiative in its combat system that seems better than d20's? My highest priority is realism and play speed. I know they might be in opposition to one another and that 3e can be terribly slow when pushed to its limit: free/immediate/swift actions, contingencies, resetting initiative count, etc.

Offline Nifft

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #1 on: July 03, 2017, 04:14:59 PM »
You can see the wonder (and horror) of 1e AD&D initiative spelled out here:

http://knights-n-knaves.com/dmprata/ADDICT.pdf

... with citations for each rule.

I've played it -- it actually worked pretty well -- and as players, we could see why martial characters like Fighters & Rangers were more than capable of pulling their own weight in 1e.

Offline Endarire

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #2 on: July 04, 2017, 02:36:43 AM »
My experience has been that video games have handled the multi-phase initiative much better than "do everything because it's your turn."

Offline Garryl

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #3 on: July 04, 2017, 10:30:07 AM »
D&D's initiative (at least the one in 3rd edition onward) isn't supposed to be the best or the most realistic. It's supposed to be simple. 99% of the time, you have a fixed order that just repeats itself once the encounter starts. 90% of the time, special initiative actions still wind up with just shifting one character's initiative space to just before or just after whoever they reacted to with the ready or delay, even if you keep track of the exact initiative counts like you're supposed to.

The more realistic you get, or the more features you add, the more complex it gets. Computers can handle this just fine, but tabletop players have to keep track of everything manually. It's not just the DM who has the keep things in order, all of the players need to have a sense of what's going on, too, so they can plan and act accordingly.

Offline Samwise

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #4 on: July 04, 2017, 11:57:38 AM »
What Garryl said.

I've played numerous games, both RPGs, board wargames, and miniature games, with a wide variety of initiative systems, and they all come down to simplicity versus reality, and the ability of the players, who range from tactically oblivious to master rated chess players, versus computers to handle all the math involved.
That includes systems with pre-plotted movement, unit bidding from pre-set values, unit bidding with variable values, and several phased systems. Each have their good points and bad points, invariably coming down to how much complexity the players can handle.

A story I've told before covers it:
I had done some "aftertesting" of a WW II board wargame to see if anyone could pick up the rules, read them in an hour, and play the game out of the box. No problem, the rules were clear and direct, and I had fun playing the scenario.
A few months later the designer asked me about it, saying he got a letter complaining about the initiative system.
It was designed so you bid to activate your troops, but at a cost of gradually activating fewer and fewer until your turn was ended. You could outbid your opponent and go multiple times in a row, but too many times and then your opponent could respond with multiple turns while you sat helpless. And the problem in the complaint - if you bid too much, you wound up with too few turns to complete the objectives.
I understood this 30 seconds after reading the rule and looking at the activation track. The people writing in were baffled to the point of complaining.

That said, I'm currently using a variant on an option from AD&D ed Player's Option Combat & Tactics. The original version had initiative phased by weapon speed. I use it to phase iterative attacks along with movement. Every 5 ticks starting with the initiative you rolled you get to take a move or a standard action, with any extra attacks requiring another 5 ticks, and the "full attack" action eliminated and rolled into the "attack" action. (That is, you can still move and make 2-5 attacks, it just takes a lot longer.)
The result is a lot more damage output from the mundane types who no longer need to be teleported in to full attack, a lot more freedom for the spellcasters who no longer get whined at to play taxi, a lot more tactics as a result of both, and a lot more complexity in tracking multiple player and monster impulses during each round of combat.
The general response has been based on the tactical flexibility of the players. Those who can adapt enjoy it, those who can't are frightened and confused.

Ultimately it will come down to how much complexity and tactics you and your players can handle, with a minor aside into upping the relevance of mundane combat.

Offline altpersona

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #5 on: July 04, 2017, 04:02:06 PM »
back in the day... 2e w. speed factors and all that didnt seem like it took that much time...

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Offline Kerrus

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2017, 12:36:59 AM »
The best initiative system I've seen is the one from White Wolf's Storyteller system. It's straightforward, if a touch complicated initially, and keeps fights fluid, while also rewarding players that get high initiative with the ability of 'better information' to plan their actions.

I ran a 4E campaign for a while in which we used an adapted version of it, and the general consensus was that it was really fun, but had annoying edge cases caused by stuff like players not having a 'turn' anymore.

Basically it works sort of like the stack in magic the gathering- a first in last out sort of deal. The players/NPCs with the *lowest* initiative announce their actions first, going up the chain as each successive higher init roll announces their action, and finishing with whoever rolled the highest init.

Then everything happens, modified by what players/monsters did based on the information they had. So a turn of combat would look like this:


Rolls: 3 pc fighter, 4 pc Cleric, 5 npc Panther, 6 npc Drow Ranger, 7 npc Elf Wizard, 8 pc Human Wizard

#3: "I unsheath my sword and charge at the drow!"
#4: "I call upon the divine fire of my god and cast sacred flame at the panther."
#5: "The panther dives into cover."
#6: "The Drow sidesteps #3 and peppers him with arrows."
#7: "The Elf teleports away."
#8: "I cast teleport anchor!"

Then we resolve in reverse order. The player with the highest initiative, #8, casts Teleport Anchor. The Elf NPC attempts to teleport out. It fails. The drow and the panther both evade the attacks of the cleric and fighter, and the fighter takes an arrow to the back. But maybe that cleric has a reaction that lets him boost the fighter's AC. He uses it now, and the arrows miss the fighter.

We can do this every round, or- alternatively- after every change (ie: someone drops, the fight moves into different terrain, or someone else crashes the party- we can reroll init. I've had a lot of games were we reroll init every couple of rounds, and it keeps things really exciting.



Offline Archon

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2017, 03:18:56 AM »

This seems like a really cool system. Kind of heavy on the bookkeeping.

Any tips for running things this way - I might try doing it this way for my IRL game at some point.
« Last Edit: July 06, 2017, 04:32:20 AM by Archon »

Offline PlzBreakMyCampaign

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2017, 03:07:02 PM »
Okay great responses everyone. I'm aware of the realism vs speed problem and the ease of software doing it for you. I am hoping for the best "ratio" if solicited alternatives. I'll be comparing extra steps (phases) to details gained. I expect the ratios to be similar to 1:1, but who knows.

@Samwise can you give an example of the negative number ticking system you mentioned? Where are the integer values pulled from?

@Altperonsa, do you have a listing for 2e like Nifft provided?

@Kerrus your Whitewolf reverse-stack system seems useful, mainly because it seems to force players to immediately call at their actions (all of them) in rapid fire so that you can then go through and resolve the round. It seems to be a twice through system that should take double the length of time as an all-at once system like 3e. But its advantages seem to be enhanced reactions to lower initiative count actors. Can I get a more complicated example to highlight its other advantages over a forward ordered, turn by turn system?


3e often runs simpler than it is designed. There is no doubt that it's better than 1e's (thanks Nifft) with its edge cases for specific weapons, phases within phases, initiative segments rather than initiative count and special rules within actions (like secondary attacks not interrupting spells, even though the previous hit could). But I see 3e's simplicity as a red herring. When you start looking at how complicated the initiative system can actually be, it looks very different from normal play:

Example where one would benefit from a spreadsheet:
(click to show/hide)

Offline altpersona

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #9 on: July 08, 2017, 05:57:45 PM »
http://people.wku.edu/charles.plemons/ad&d/misc/arms.html

Quote
Blunderbus    500 gp    12    M    P    15    1d4    1d4    FRA
Bo Stick        2     cp    4      L     B    4      1d6    1d4     PHBR1

I believe the only other big factors were dex mod and d10 roll. they probably had some variants but thats the basics i believe.

so, if you have your basic Attack #s written down, your init should be no more complex than that.

edit: spells also had speed factors, like Feather Fall was 1 or 0...
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Offline Samwise

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #10 on: July 08, 2017, 09:16:30 PM »
@Samwise can you give an example of the negative number ticking system you mentioned? Where are the integer values pulled from?

Just straight from the init rolls.

Say you roll a 17.

On init count 17 you get an action.
You decide to move.

Then the init count continues to tick down.
When it hits 12 you get another action.
Say you decide to begin an attack action. But you have a BAB of +12, so it is just your 1st attack.

The init count ticks down some more.
It hits 7 and you get your 2nd attack.

The init counts keeps going.
At 2 you get your 3rd attack.


Now we throw some other people in to complicate stuff.
Alfred has an init of 23.
Bruce has an init of 19.
Charles has an init of 16.
Darryl has an init of 9. (And has lost his d20 because he rolled a 1 with Improved Initiative.)
For the bad guys:
Otto has an init of 17.
Zeke has an init of 12.

Init Count
23 Alfred is up first and moves up to Zeke.
19 Bruce goes next and move over to Otto.
18 Alfred gets his second action and uses a maneuver as a standard action to smack Zeke around.
17 Otto finally starts causing trouble. Since Bruce moved up Otto goes right to attacking. Otto has 8 natural attacks with tentacles, and takes his first attack, whiffing mightily.
16 Charles gets in on the fun and unleashes a psionic power on Otto.
14 Bruce goes again and begins his full attack, taking his first attack on Otto.
13 Alfred has used his standard and move actions, so he stands around waiting for the others to finish.
12 Otto lashes Bruce with a second tentacle but whiffs again.
12 Zeke joins the fun and hacks into Alfred, scoring a crit with his scythe.
11 Charles takes a move action, and floats on his magic carpet to a better position.
9 Bruce takes his second attack on Otto.
9 Darryl finally gets to play, and having found a d20 starts to summon his other brother Darryl.
8 Alfred remembers he hasn't used his swift action for the turn, and pops back into the order to heal himself with a magic item.
7 Otto whacks at Bruce with a third tentacle but misses.
7 Zeke mutters angrily and decides to move over behind Bruce so Otto will get a flank bonus. Alfred gets an AoO on him outside of the init order and unleashes some hurt.
6 Charles could insert a swift action or elsewhere but has nothing useful to contribute at this point beyond a soliloquy.
4 Bruce gets his third attack and brutalizes Otto.
3 Alfred is completely out of actions and goes back to the munchies waiting for the turn to end.
2 Otto decides Bruce is a tad too dangerous and forgoes the rest of his tentacle attacks to tumble away.
2 Zeke curses Otto excessively but he doesn't have anything useful he can do with a swift action so he just stands there waiting to get hurt.
-1 Bruce gets his fourth attack and Zeke stops waiting to get hurt.
-3 Otto doesn't have a useful swift action either and wonders if he can escape before Alfred and Bruce jump him at the start of the next turn.
-6 Bruce does have a useful swift action available, that being short range teleport behind Otto. Otto mutters angrily about Zeke being a useless piece of spear fodder.
-8 Otto remembers he has 5 more tentacle attacks and begins taking them even though he has realized he will only hit Bruce on a natural 20.
-13 Otto gets his fifth tentacle attack.
-18 Otto gets his sixth tentacle attack.
-23 Otto gets his seventh tentacle attack.
-28 Otto gets his eighth tentacle attack and final miss. Another d20 goes flying across the room to be snatched up by the DM's cat.
With that the turn ends and the order begins again.


Naturally several things modify it, such as swift actions that are explicitly keyed to go off of successful attacks, immediate actions not being part of the order like AoOs, and the such.
And you need to make some modifications to account for two-weapon fighting, multiple natural weapons, and the like.

Offline ksbsnowowl

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #11 on: July 08, 2017, 11:46:03 PM »
You can see the wonder (and horror) of 1e AD&D initiative spelled out here:

http://knights-n-knaves.com/dmprata/ADDICT.pdf

... with citations for each rule.

I've played it -- it actually worked pretty well -- and as players, we could see why martial characters like Fighters & Rangers were more than capable of pulling their own weight in 1e.
Wow.  I'm so glad my very first DM (late '90s 2e) didn't use weapon speeds/spell speeds.  The way it is described in that document seems... insane.

I like the comic near the end  :p

I could see doing something like described in that document, but without the situational rules (weapon speed only mattering on a tie, etc).  Just make weapon speeds and spell speeds (which I think is a delay equal to the spell level?) apply all the time.  Do the 5e-style "you can break up your move and attacks," allowing iterative attacks to come at –5 in the initiative order, and allowing people to move around.

BBEG Wizard rolls a 22
PC Fighter rolls a 21 (wielding a –5 weapon speed greatsword)
PC Rogue rolls a 18 (wielding a 0 weapon speed shortbow)
Three Bad Guy Mooks roll a 12 (wielding 0 WS dagger, –2 WS longsword, and 0 WS shortbow, respectively)
PC Wizard rolls an 11
PC Cleric rolls a 7

Assume the BBEG and the PC's are 11th level, and the mooks are 6th level warriors.

Initiative count : Action : Consequence
22: BBEG Wizard moves as far away from the PC's as he can & starts casting a 6th level spell : (considered casting until count 16)
18: PC Rogue doesn't move & fires 1st attack at BBEG Wizard, hitting : Wizard damaged while casting, must make a Concentration check (DC 10 + damage)
16: BBEG Wizard finishes casting, and the spell goes off (assuming he made the Concentration check)
16: PC Fighter charges BBEG Wizard, hitting : (the BBEG Wizard's spell completed before the Fighter acted, because of the "tie," but the Wizard rolled better [22 vs. 21])
13: PC Rogue moves 30 feet to avoid cover caused by the PC Fighter & fires 2nd attack at the BBEG Wizard, hitting
12: Dagger Mook approaches the PC Fighter, attacking with his 1st attack, missing
12: Shortbow Mook fires at PC Fighter
11: : (PC fighter doesn't get an iterative attack here, because he charged)
11: PC Wizard begins casting a 4th level spell : (considered casting until count 7)
10: Longsword Mook approaches PC Wizard, hitting : Wizard damaged while casting, must make a Concentration check (DC 10 + damage)
7: Dagger Mook attacks PC Fighter w/ 2nd attack, hitting
7: Shortbow Mook moves 30 feet to avoid cover caused by the Longsword Mook & fires 2nd attack at the PC Wizard, hitting : Wizard damaged while casting, must make a Concentration check (DC 10 + damage)
7: PC Wizard finishes casting, and the spell goes off (assuming he made both Concentration checks)
7: PC Cleric moves behind the PC Wizard and begins casting a Cure Serious Wounds spell : (considered casting until count 4)
5: Longsword Mook uses his last 5 feet of movement to step beside the wizard, and attacks the PC Cleric with his 2nd attack, missing : PC Wizard uses the dagger in his hand to take an AoO at the Longsword Mook, hitting.
4: PC Cleric's spell goes off, healing the PC Wizard

There are a few things that could be engineered to work a different way.  For example, at initiative count 16, should the BBEG Wiz's spell complete first?  Or should the PC Fighter get to act first?  (I basically modeled the resolution on typical 3.5 initiative rules; higher roll wins, ties are won by the higher modifier.)  Should iterative attacks be capable of disrupting spells (requiring Concentration checks), or should you model the rules in that 1e AD&D document, and only allow a character's first attack to do so?

Can casters "continue" their turn after their spell has been cast?  For example, could the cleric remain back, cast his spell, then on initiative count 4 walk up to the wizard and touch him?  This would mirror what 3.5 allows for Touch spells anyway.  Should that only be allowed with touch spells?  Or after the completion of casting any spell?  Could the wizard break up his movement like he can in 5e?  Let him move 10 feet out into a hallway intersection, spend 4 counts casting an Acid Orb, launching it down the hall at a foe after the 4-count casting is completed, then stepping back behind cover with 15 feet of movement (basically the shot on the run or fly-by attack feats, which 5e lets you do inherently)?

The Delay action could be a lot more useful, allowing you to potentially disrupt casters a heck of a lot more often (as every spell would effectively be like the 1-round casting time Summon spells, at least for a few ticks of the initiative order).  Combat Reflexes and a high Dex would also potentially be much more useful, especially in the case of melee vs. a bow user.  The archer could 5-foot step to avoid an AoO on the first shot (and maybe the 2nd, if his initiative is exceptionally higher than the melee attacker threatening him), but chances are good the melee foe would be able to close with him before the archer can take his 3rd or 4th shots, thus the Archer would provoke a few AoO's in one turn.

Anyway, just an idea.  And all the numbers above are just randomly picked; I have no clue what actual weapon speeds were in 2nd edition and earlier.

Offline PlzBreakMyCampaign

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #12 on: July 10, 2017, 02:20:02 AM »
I see why 3rd edition conglomerated the turn all at once. The number chains are a nice record, but the look intimidating as well. Here's one attempt to gain granularity without using the oldschool initiative count chains:

Initial Assumption:
A) Let's say that Orcus and Pelor duke it out. Both have many free actions available. Who gets to use their free actions first matters. Presumably initiative should be used here. B) The same thing should go for immediate actions for a caster and a raging barbarian. The immediate actions, like the free actions, can count as their own little column for initiative. With me so far? AB) If Orcus fights the raging barbarian, I would think his free actions would get to go before the Barbarians' immediate action, even though this is a RAI, grey area.

Radical Idea:
What if we apply this idea to move, standard, & swift actions (in order), so that they have their own miniature "turns"? Does the detail pay off without too much time lost?

Longhand details:
(click to show/hide)

Offline Kerrus

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #13 on: July 10, 2017, 02:32:21 PM »
@Kerrus your Whitewolf reverse-stack system seems useful, mainly because it seems to force players to immediately call at their actions (all of them) in rapid fire so that you can then go through and resolve the round. It seems to be a twice through system that should take double the length of time as an all-at once system like 3e. But its advantages seem to be enhanced reactions to lower initiative count actors. Can I get a more complicated example to highlight its other advantages over a forward ordered, turn by turn system?

Mostly my experience with it is that it requires the DM to do all the book keeping each round at the same time, rather than divvied up into smaller chunks. Depending on the combat situation this can make things easier or slightly more complex, but once you get used to the system I've found it really quite fun and useful for more dynamic combats. I never noticed combat rounds taking very much longer, outside of players who have no idea what they're going to do on their turn.

Additionally, the system handles massed combat much better than D&D, in which a player basically has to hope that his enemy can't hit him if he's facing a giant shitpile of mooks. But with this, there's a greater chance to react to things and handle mass combat.

For example.

The Good Guys are a ranger, a rogue, a monk, a paladin and a warlock.
The Bad guys are five mook rangers, three fighters, a paladin, a sorceror, and thirty angry peasants.

Everyone rolls for initiative, and the initiative track is as follows:

#3: 30 Peasants
#5: 3 Mook Rangers
#6: PC Paladin
#7: 2 Mook Rangers
#9:  PC Warlock, NPC Paladin
#12: NPC Fighter #1, PC Rogue
#15: NPC Fighter #2, 3
#20: NPC Sorceror
#21: PC Monk, PC Ranger

Players can delay actions to beneath their initiative level if they desire, so they can wait until someone lower in the order has announced, and then do something after that action but before other stuff happens. Characters can take reactions/immediate actions/swift actions whatever at any point during resolution, but may otherwise only act on their init (or if they delay).

So the peasants announce first. Since they're basically a mob, half of them are going to charge the PCs, and the other half are going to try to encircle them.

Then it's three of the Mook Rangers, who all get their bows out and take individual targets.

Next up is the PC Paladin, who (assuming 4E) uses his divine sanction to mark everyone in 25ft for a round, which is like the whole encounter.

The two slightly quicker mook rangers decide to get their shots in at the Rogue and the Monk before the Paladin's mark goes off.

Next up, the NPC paladin and the PC Warlock have the same initiative. The NPC paladin is going to sanction the party for the round- but since the Warlock has a higher initiative modifier, the warlock gets to declare after. He uses baleful transposition to teleport the NPC paladin out of sanction range.

NPC fighter goes now- followed by PC rogue (higher init mod). The fighter charges the PC paladin. The rogue moves out of range of the angry peasants and fires a hand-crossbow at the enemy Sorceror.

The remaining NPC fighters go to gang up on the Rogue.

The NPC sorceror drops a carpet of adhesion on the party so they can't run away from the peasants.

The PC monk and PC ranger both focus fire on the sorceror.

So basically everybody announces what they're doing at each step. The DM asks them to keep that in mind so they can be 'on call' when he resolves everything. Once everything is declared, he moves to resolution.

"Monk, Ranger, roll your attacks." "I get a 19vs AC on my daily, and do 4d10b+3d6+2d8+25" "I get a 15 vs AC- no wait, that's a 17 because of CA- and do 8d10+4d8b+2d10+20" "Okay, your attacks both hit the enemy sorceror. He throws up his hands and tries to ward off your attack- but fails! You drop him to 0 HP, and he loses his action."

*DM turns to the rogue*

"Rogue, you have two angry fighters charging you with greataxes. You're currently trying to circle around away from the angry peasants. Any actions?" "Yeah, I use my immediate reaction to teleport three squares and become invisible." "Okay, you disappear, the fighters lose sight of you and waste their action, but you don't get your attack against the sorceror." "Okay, he's dead anyways."

"PC Paladin, you have an angry fighter charging you, what do?" "I raise my shield and tank the hit while invoking the divine power of my god, using an immediate reaction to add 5 to my AC." "Does a 20 still hit you?" "Nope." "Damn. The Fighter's attack crashes against your shield but you ward him off."

"Warlock, roll your check vs will defense." "Fifteen? No wait, +charisma because it's the first round. Twenty." "That hits. You teleport the NPC Paladin five squares in any direction." "I teleport him diagonally up." "*sigh* Okay, he falls twenty feet, takes falling damage, and is out of range for his sanction." "Nice!"

"Warlock, a brace of arrows peppers you. Does a 17 hit?" "Yeah." "Okay, you take 15 damage, and are poisoned. Roll a fortitude save." "8." "You failed. You lose 5 on your initiative at the start of the next round. Monk? The other two rangers attack you. 15 and 23." "The 23 hits- but I'm going to use deflect arrows as a reaction." "Roll it- that's a success." "I throw the arrow back at him." "You skewer him with his own ammunition, he takes 10 damage and drops."

"Now the peasants charge all of you, I'm going to do mass rolls here. Everyone list your AC." "23." "18." "19." "25." "15" "I'm still invisible!." "Right you are.  Okay, those of you that aren't invisible get hit by approximately half the peasants using their improvised weapons. Each of you roll 3d6 and take that much damage. Paladin, your Divine Sanction triggers- do you want it to be lethal or non-lethal?" "Nonlethal!" "Okay, twenty six of the Peasants get knocked the fuck out. Next round!"


It might seem like it'd take longer, but basically all it does is shift individual resolution to the end of a combat round, which can make things easier from a tracking perspective because players have to keep track of less things. It also avoids some of the inter-round banter that sucks up time, and encourages players to think on their feet or have default actions that they follow. I'm also of the opinion that it makes combat more 'epic' or lively, with everything being way more dynamic and simulationist than it might otherwise be. 




« Last Edit: July 10, 2017, 02:34:25 PM by Kerrus »

Offline Kerrus

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Re: Is D&D the best system for initiative?
« Reply #14 on: July 10, 2017, 09:06:51 PM »
The Mothership just posted a UA aimed at replicating the 1E initiative system, here. It's basically as you expect- horribly clunky and clumsy, with some interesting bits.