Monday, May 16, 2011

Initiative by the Book (Labyrinth Lord)

I always used to think that group initiative, especially d6 group initiative, was both incredibly boring and unrealistic.  I have used d20 individual initiative, plus Dexterity modifier, in my Mutant Future campaign, and I have been generally happy with that.

Recently, in my friend Carter's Labyrinth Lord campaign, we switched back to by the book group initiative.  The key thing that I had always failed to grasp when I read the initiative rules was that initiative was rerolled every round.  This is a ton of rolling if you are doing individual initiative, but really not hard at all if you are doing group initiative.

Short story:  I really like d6 group initiative, rolled each round of combat, ties meaning simultaneous action.  It allows the tide of battle to change rapidly, it allows dramatic things like knowing you are already dead but getting one last attack in (and the chance for the ultimate cinematic moment, the simultaneous death shot), and it actually takes less time than the mess of going around the table and recording initiative rolls and constantly having to remind everyone when it is their turn in the initiative order.

I think I am going to switch my Mutant Future game over to this system, and I am seriously thinking about switching my 4e game over as well.  I have to think about that latter proposal a little more, as there are feats that you can take in 4e that improve initiative (I am not sure if any of my players have taken these feats, but if they have, it would be cheesy to completely castrate their usefulness).  I still think I am going to do it, and may just allow players to pick new feats and or powers if they want to given this new information.

I really like the way that this simple change in initiative has made the combats in our Labyrinth Lord game WAY more exciting, and I see no reason why it wouldn't work in other systems as well.


  1. Introducing group initiative into systems like D20 3.x, 4E or Pathfinder with their many feats that modify individual init. could pose a concern. One idea to consider is to add the effects of init. feats into a group's init. I would recommend adopting a ruling against stacking similar to how armor bonuses work, ie: only permit one instance of each type of init. bonus. This should prevent groups from having too great a bonus while still allowing their init. feats to contribute.

  2. You could also fix the individual initiative feat problem (besides simply dropping them) by still having them apply to the individual. First, you probably want to scale them: a +1 on a d6 roughly a +3 on a d20, so divide by 3 (I'd round down, on the theory that if you have a mere +1 or +2, moving first isn't really that big a part of your character's shtick).
    Then you could either:
    a)roll once for the side and have the modifiers add in for the character, so if players roll a 2 and monsters roll a 3, the char with +2 goes first, the char with +1 is tied with the monsters, the rest go after. Still simpler than everybody rolls, and not so bad to track since the PCs will always go in the same order relative to each other, with the roll just determining where the monsters fall in that line.
    b) roll once for each side, and use the init bonuses just to determine the order within that side. Having an init bonus isn't as valuable then, but at least you're always faster than your companions if you've made that part of your character shtick.

  3. I have deemed this my "stupid initiative" variant for 4ed:

    When combat starts, I pick a single opponent and roll initiative for that NPC (usually the one with the highest initiative bonus.) This becomes the initiative target number. I have the players roll initiative, and the first round goes like this: players who meet or beat the target number get to act, then all opponents act, then the remaining players act.

    On the second round of combat and beyond, the players go as a group (I let them choose what order they act,) and then the opponents go as a group.

    I like stupid initiative because it allows characters with high initiative modifiers to get the drop on enemies in the first round of combat (the only round where such a thing really matters,) and after that there is no need to keep track of who is going next.

    Maybe you could do something similar? First round of combat do standard initiative and then following rounds you do group d6?

  4. Nice! I agree that re-rolling group initiative every round has greatly enlivened combat in our LL game. I suppose the main disadvantage is that it eliminates the possible benefits of individuals' high DEX. But it's a small price to pay!

  5. Some good thoughts, gentlemen. I like your "stupid initiative" variant, DeadGod, and if I decide not to end up rerolling initiative each round I may just adopt it.

    I think I am going to do a variant on what Spiralbound and Joshua are suggesting. I doubt I am going to get much guff from my players no matter what I do, as none of them have optimized their characters for initiative and none of them are Dex builds, so they usually end up going last anyway barring some spectacular rolls.

    My tentative system, after thinking on it last night and reading the comments:

    The players roll as a group and can receive a +1 mod to the d6 roll if any player has a feat, class ability or power that grants an initiative bonus. Likewise, if any member of the combat on either side has an initiative bonus that is +4 or more higher than the next highest initiative bonus on the opposing side, that would also equal a (non-stackable) +1 bonus.

    I will probably see how that works and maybe end up allowing up to a +2 bonus if two or more of those conditions are met (e.g. one player has an initiative feat and another player has a class feature that grants a bonus to initiative, the party would get a +2 bonus)

    I want to start out with +1 as the cap because I really like simultaneous initiative, it is one of the reasons I find the by-the-book Labyrinth Lord initiative so exciting in that game.

    Thanks for commenting, everyone!

  6. The other thing I like about re-rolling every round rather than one time is that it marks the start of every round and everyone focuses on the roll for a moment. It pretty odd the way the tension builds around that one d6 roll. And of course there's all the shit-talking back and forth between us and Carter depending on the result. Good stuff!

  7. Yup (@Spawn). Really, if you don't roll initiative each round combat just devolves into one big merry-go-round of "whose turn is it now", the onus to keep things moving and the order correct falling, of course, on the shoulders of the DM.

    Having been in a bunch of d6, roll every round combats, I think it is one of the best mechanics I have ever seen to make combat exciting. It is really amazing how such a simple thing can really simulate the back and forth nature of "real" combat, where the tide of battle can quickly turn and momentum shifts constantly. Getting to go twice in a row (if you lost initiative last round and win it next round) is great fun, and of course, ye olde simultaneous initiative is the icing on the battlecake.

  8. I love the group initiative for quick and dirty fighting. I go to individual initiative if there's a tie instead of going to simultaneous actions.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...