Is Initiative Broken?

I was taking some time to relax and clear my head this morning after the craziness of the Kickstarter launch. Forgetting the content creation, Kickstarters require a huge amount of effort and planning, especially when you are a one-man-band/freelancer running the project. Keeping on top of the social media and marketing (all my ‘skills’ in this area are self-taught and based on what I’ve learned doing this before, and I’m no master in this art).

The Kickstarter is doing IMPRESSIVELY well. 56% funded in 24 hours!
Check it out here:

Anyway, I digress. My head was a little mashed, so I needed to chill a little, and when i did, it got me listening to podcasts and thinking…

Back to my Initiative thoughts…

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Making a player roll to see where they goes in initiative order seems to be a little odd. Think about having a fight with the local bully, I would wait until I see an ‘opportunity’ to strike before attacking. As an attacker, I might try to use feints and moves which open up an opportunity, the more skilled I am, the more successful I might be.

The emphasis is on the defender to NOT let an opportunity arise, and the attacker to create one (an improvable skill).

So, here’s my thought for an equally simple alternative that addresses my issue:

  • Instead of Initiative, all players roll 1d6 for Defence. Those who roll 6’s are better prepared to defend and hence are open to being attacked later in the round order.
  • The GM starts the round with anyone that rolled a 1 for Defence. Those poorest of defenders are allowed to be attacked by anyone that can make a viable attack against them. The GM then goes to the next Defence roll of 2, and so on up to 6.
  • Competent attackers, such as Fighters can influence the Defence rolls of defenders, and cause a -1 penalty against those they come into base contact with at the start of the round. They can-opener them up to attacks with feints and pulled lunges.
  • Successful surprise means that those surprised are at Defence rolls of 0.
  • Multiple attackers in base contact at the start of the round could create additional -1’s per opponent. It makes it hard to defend on multiple fronts, and increase the chance of an early hit.

Now I need to consider how to deal with movement, other non-combat actions, and non-combatants…

Interested to hear your thoughts,


4 thoughts on “Is Initiative Broken?

  1. I always feel initiate in RPGs is missing something and a little confused. Its often described as speed and something similar to reaction time. It isnt always about speed, or reactions though, its about other things often hard to explain.

    Martial Arts discuss it as things closer to focus and will and create advantage in a fight that though it may swing back and forth often slides decisively in favour of the one combatant where he asks the questions of his opponent who is forced ever more onto a back foot.

    The fight between Hector and Achilles in the film Troy represents this extremely well imo. Hector is a great great fighter, a Hero in his own right. Achilles however is always in command, forcing the issue and constantly forcing Hector to dig deeper and deeper until the inevitable slide out of control where Achilles can dismissively thrust out a hand onto Hectors unguarded chest. Hector looks by this point barely able to stand, staggering onto Achilles’ hand he has given everything (Goosebumps for the tragedy and beauty of the scene) and in fact Achilles is by that point stopping Hector fall to the ground. Its arguable thats represented by weapon skill alone but I feel its subtler than that.

    Beyond the Wall deals with Initiative with Class+Lvl+Dex Bonus as fixed scores for Initiative, with Casters having no Bonus, Fighters having +1 and Rogue classes +2.

    WFRP 1st Edition used a Statistic called Initiative which was modified by weapon and circumstance, for instance and Rapier was considered ‘faster’ than most weapons and gave a bonus to initiative.

    I could also see potential for translating something like the Beyond the Wall numbers into a point system that are spendable in a given round to allow a chance to win the advantage of initiative in combat. Instead of inflicting damage that round you gain an initiative bonus in some subsequent rounds. This gives you an advantage but also the knowledge you have a time limit to assert it and make it count. The other combatant might be pressed into a corner right now but if you dont make it count the tables always have the threat of turning if they have any similar points to spend later. Limiting the number of points per combat adds to the sense of how seasoned a warrior you may or may not be be.

    Alternatively, depending on the type of OSR system, a ‘Tactics’ type skill could be rolled in a given combat to work out Initiative order.

  2. Interesting idea. It feels a bit complex perhaps, but I like the overall approach of turning it around and having initiative determine who can be attacked first, rather than who attacks first.

    FWIW, my favorite initiative systems these days don’t involve any die rolling. I really like Shadow of the Demon Lord’s approach, where rounds are divided into fast and slow phases. Players go before monsters, but need to choose whether to take a fast or slow turn. Fast turns allow them to go first, but only take either an action or move, not both. Slow turns go later, but allow both moving and taking an action. So the order becomes: Player fast turns, monster fast turns, player slow turns (only those that haven’t taken a fast turn), monster slow turns (ditto). It works amazingly well and is very quick to resolve.

  3. Initiative is about defeating your opponent first, in most role playing games it takes many rounds to defeat your opponent due to lots of HPs, this makes init a bit pointless and why a rotation works. Instead init, in rpgs, should be about gaining an opening that allows a decisive blow or effect. Rogues get knockout or sneak attack etc.

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