Initiative thoughts

The very concept of initiative seems to be hard coded into gaming. To play a game without it feels unusual. I like it, and want to see it used in my War game, but I also want to keep bookkeeping for the GM to an absolute minimum.

To do this I’ve started experimenting with using different systems in my regular fantasy game. This is perhaps the simplest hack I’ve ever been able to pull off. The initiative roll sits quietly in the mechanics, and with the increasing prevalence of cyclic initiative (you do it once and keep the results all the way through the conflict) it’s almost invisible in the game as a whole.

Which makes me wonder what impact it actually has. It seems to me that the original point of initiative is to see who goes first (naturally) but has morphed through time to become more about a structure to see who goes in which order. That’s subtle, but it’s real. I want it to be about who goes first when it matters. In my game that would be about who grabs the pistol on the floor, or can the grenade be flicked away before it detonates.

I’ve hit upon a mechanic that works for me. When the conflict kicks in, the GM rolls initiative for the opposition as usual. That number is announced out loud. It then becomes the DC for the players to hit. They will either beat it, equal it, or miss it. On a draw, I will write it an option for groups to decide either way. So all the PCs who beat the number are in a group. They decide the order of play.

Then the opposition goes, deciding within themselves the order.

Then the PC missers go.

Everyone gets one go, and all that really matters is do you go before or after the opposition? The order within that silo is better discussed at the table than dictated by the dice and a list.

This throws up nice little tactical nuances (which fits my genre perfectly) like the Fastball special, yet doesn’t need complex rules for delaying or over watch.

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7 thoughts on “Initiative thoughts

  1. Great post Baz, but… you know that now you’re part of the Collective you’ll have to start designing some games ;). Seriously dude, why not? You’ve got years of playing and GMing experience behind you, give it a go!!

    • Ha! I am indeed writing a game, and have been for a little while now. I’m just not cheating and writing some two page parlour game, I’m going Trad As Funk and writing actual rules stuff. Takes time y’know? 😉

      • Two-page parlour game?!! Oh, you monster, how you have wounded me, how my delicate hippy heart bleeds :(. [Stagger, stagger, clutches heart, from which foaming blood gushes forth]

  2. Ooh. I like it.

    You could have it as a core mechanic, even. So that it’s never about whether you can succeed in doing something, but about whether you can do something faster than your opponent.

  3. I’ve always gone that way with initiative systems (I never saw why it mattered which order the players acted in).

    If I can suggest taking this one step further…
    Players always act first, Enemies always act second. In the first round each player must beat the GM’s initiative score to take there action.

    Mechanically it’s identical except you remove the split between players acting early or late in the round.

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