Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Initiative!" Part 1 (Basics)

This is a little subsystem for Initiative I cooked up with my players. It introduces Player-Coop and flexible Combat Moves to D&D without being too complex. It's a rather long post with a lot of stuff in it, so for your compensation:

"Roll for initiative, fools!"*

Initiative is trouble

Despite the fact that there are several ways to handle Initiative in D&D, most of them (if not all of them) are derived from the idea of fighting battles with miniatures. That's not bad at all and you can play it very fast and simple by rolling a d6 for every side and be done with it. Or you may have individual Ini, too, all with amour restrictions, weapon speed and whatnot. Regardless how you play it, I always felt something missing. There is no tension and no narrative aspect provided in those rules.

What? It's all right there, man!

True, you have the freedom to play the game (and combat especially) all the way you want. But that's not the point. I would like to have a simple system that considers the rules but gives the players a little something to think outside the box and to cooperate. Not the usual hack-and-getting-hacked-at routine.

Initiative fast and furious?

This is how we do it. Take an ability (we take Luck but you might also take DEX, I have my reasons, though), divide it by 6 (round up) and you have the number of d6 you might use for your Initiative. Add AC (descending AC, I might add), DEX bonus, Level of Weapon Mastery (we play Rules Cyclopedia, after all) and any relevant bonuses from magic.

(Luck/6)d6 + AC + DEX bonus + Level Weapon Mastery + Magic bonuses (if any)

Combat Moves and Player Coop

Every natural 6 and rolled doubles are worth a Combat Move, triplets are worth 2 Combat Moves and so forth. Furthermore you get an extra d6 for any rolled 6. For Coop you may compare you results with another player to get more Combat Moves. Example:

Player 1 (Fighter, Luck 15): 2 5 6 1 (bonus d6)
Player 2 (Magic User, Luck 5**): 5
Player 3 (Thief, Luck 12): 3 6 3 (bonus d6)
Player 4 (Cleric, Luck 9): 2 5
Player 5 (Fighter, Luck 13): 2 5 5

Let's say Fighter and Thief fight together in this combat. They would have 4 Combat Moves to share in this encounter (two doubles and two sixes). The other team (MU, Cleric and the second fighter) would have 4 Combat Moves to share (one quadruplet and one double).

So what is a Combat Move? A player might spend one Combat Move per attack to aid his allies or to put more hurt on his enemies. It's an additional attack roll vs. the enemies AC and success means a +1d4 for any one combat related coefficient that round (it may be the enemies AC, his Fatigue, a damage roll, etc.***). Succeeding with two Combat Moves in a row fixes the result from the first roll for the fight.

The Fighter in the Fighter/Thief combo decides to spent his first Combat Move to reduce the AC of the orc chief (a tough SOB with an AC of 2) they fight against. He succeeds, rolls 3 on his 1d4 and reduces the orcs AC to 5 for this round. Even if his following attack fails, the Thief has a better chance to hit the orc, too! In the second round the fighter again spends his Combat Move on reducing the orcs AC and is, again, successful. So, for the rest of the encounter the orc chiefs AC stays reduced to 5.

Reasons for different Class Combos

This is the icing on the cake. When different Classes work together, it effects the fight:

  • Fighter and Thief: The pro and the sneaky bastard. The number of Combat Moves they achieve is the number of sneak attacks a Thief may bring into the fight.
  • Thief and Thief: They fight dirty. The number of Combat Moves divided by 2 is a bonus to damage rolls.
  • Cleric and any number of Followers: Faith United. The number of achieved Combat Moves divided by the number of coop members is a to hit bonus. They scream their gods name a lot.
  • Any number of Fighters: Professional hacking. Double their Fatigue and their number of Combat Moves.
  • The Wizard: The brain. Add the MUs INT modifier to the achieved Combat Moves.

The enemy

So the players choose their coop, roll for Initiative and count their Combat Moves. But what are they up against? As a DM you only need the HD/level of the Monsters in the encounter. Add 30 to it and compare it to the individual Ini-values of the players. HD/level also indicate the number of Combat Moves a creature has. It may look something like that:

Player 1 (Fighter): 2 5 6 =
14 + AC 0 + 1 DEX + 1 (Basic Weapon Mastery)  vs.  6 HD Orc Chief + 30 = 36

To compare Initiative, just substract the players Ini from 30 + HD of the enemy.
36 - 16 = 20

The whole fight would look like this:

First Coop, 4 Combat Moves, 4 Sneak Attacks for the thief.
Player 1 (Fighter): 2 5 6 1 /
16 vs. 20 (6 HD orc chief)
Player 3 (Thief): 3 6 3 /
19 (AC 3, +3 DEX, Basic Weapon Mastery) vs. 17 (6 HD orc chief)

Second Coop, 4 Combat Moves, +2 to hit for the fighter, +1 for the rest.
Player 2 (Magic User): 5 /
14 (AC 8, +1 DEX, Basic Weapon Mastery) vs. 18 (2 HD orc)
Player 4 (Cleric): 2 5 /
9 (AC 0, Skilled Weapon Mastery) vs. 23 (2 HD orc)
Player 5 (Fighter): 2 5 5 /
19 (AC 3, +2 DEX, Skilled Weapon Mastery) vs. 12 (3 HD orc bodyguard)

Changing Coops or establishing a Coop during fights is -4 to Initiative. A round is 6 seconds and you might either attack, cast or move (which includes standing up, etc.). That's it. For this encounter the Thief and the fighter in the second Coop are the fastest, the orcs are next in line, then the rest of the group. Repeat.

It's actually a pretty fast system and easy to keep track of in a combat. But the nice thing is, my players adapted it instantly and the fights are much more intense due to Combat Moves and Player Coop. Opinions? Questions?

* A clip from A Fistful of Dollars.
** Because he sacrificed 8 points to save his ass in another fight. See here.
*** The players are free to decide on the effect, but it's always 1d4.


  1. Honestly, it seems a wee bit complicated on my reading :)

  2. I know! I was half through with writing it and thought "Goddamnit! Nobody is going to read that and believe it is an easy and fast system!" But it is! We play that way for nearly half a year now and I don't have to ask for anything, the players do it all themselves (Not like: "How was that rule again? You know, the new one, that is so unnecessary complex?"). Maybe one of them cares enough to write some words about it...

  3. I have a couple of questions regarding the system presented:

    Are exchanges of blows resolved in a decreasing initiative order, independent of Coop? If so, wouldn't the 2 HD orc (against the Cleric) be the first one to act? Also, the chief has two initiative scores, so would he act before the Fighter but after the Thief, or once before the Fighter and once after the Thief?

    (I may have more questions in store, if you don't mind; this system is pretty intriguing)

    1. Well, fire away! Never thought somebody would be interested enough, but I'd be happy to answer all your questions :)

      Yes, initiative order is decreasing. If an initiative is won or lost is decided in direct comparison to the enemy that is faced. The fighter is faster, the cleric is slower, so the order will be fighter - orc - cleric.
      It's not really two different initiative scores for the orc. His counter-value, so to say, is fixed at 32 (30 plus 2 HD). To establish an initiative order, the numbers are relevant for 3 results per character: faster - slower - draw. After that the numbers might get relevant if something changes in the fight.

      We had a few changes since I wrote this and I'm afraid they are all over the blog, but here are two relevant passages and some further reading:

      Necessary changes 1 (Combat Moves)

      Mostly the players just used the cooperative bonuses, but not the Combat Moves during battle. Maybe it was just to much of additional work. Anyway, it didn't come naturally in the game, so it needed to be changed.

      This is now a vehicle for escalation. The number of points gathered and distributed as Combat Moves is now the highest possible one-time-only-bonus to any one possible die-roll in a combat (1 point = +1; 2 points = 1W4; 3 points = 1W6; 4 points = 1W8; 5 points = 1W10; 6 points = 1W 12). How many points a player is able to spend depends on the number of combat rounds he waits. So if a player with 5 points uses this in the 3rd round, he gets +1d6 to damage or whatever. The rest is lost. If the fight is over and the player didn't spend any points, they are lost.

      Necessary changes 2 (weapon size)

      There is one obvious problem with the alternative Weapon Mastery I presented in part 1: weapon size in close combat. Especially big weapons are not that useful in combat (still more damage with one hit), because they are slow. Small weapons, on the other hand, are as fast, but do the same damage as medium sized weapons (due to the fact that damage dealt is a matter of class, not the weapon).

      The easy fix is to make weapon size count for initiative. So in our game small weapons get a -5, medium sized weapons get a +0 and large weapons get a +5 to initiative (with a possibility of +10 for even bigger weapons). Additionally, wielding a large melee weapon against smaller melee weapons gives a benefit of attack. This means, if a character, NPC or monster is only able to attack every other round with a large melee weapon (due to level of Weapon Mastery), smaller weapons need to apply to that rhythm. They can only attack, if attacked by the larger weapon (in that case, every other round, too).

      Very fast characters may circumvent this (for instance if the enemy drops into a negative initiative, which might happen with some good re-rolls).

      Those quotes are from here:

      A newer, streamlined version of the alternative Weapon Mastery is here:

      I hope this is useful information. Maybe I got a bit carried away just now... But it is all pretty much connected. Right now I'm contemplating to change the basic counter-values to a more alternating version. From a base of 25 for creatures with HD under 1, up to a 40 for very powerful enemies...

      If you have more questions, you're very welcome to ask, of course.


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