“New Round, New Initiative”

I’ve mentioned this as an aside once before, but here’s how I do initiative. Once I explain how sublime and wonderful my system is, I expect it to catch on like wildfire throughout the OSR. Or, one person might cotton to it and end up using it with a tweak or two. It could happen.

All the players know their weapon speed. Yeah, that table on p. 38 of the Players Handbook? I use it. Monsters with natural attacks (like claws or bites) add zero.

Anyone who’s surprised automatically loses initiative. Duh.

When the round begins I say “New round, new initiative!” Everybody rolls a d10 every round. I roll one collectively for all the monsters. It’s just easier.

The players add their weapon speed or spell casting time (in segments) to whatever they roll, and subtract their reaction/attacking adjustment (for Dexterity). If they’re doing something wacky like swinging from a chandellier and leaping on the foe, I just make up a number and tell them to add it to their roll, because I’m the DM, and that’s part of my job description.

I start counting off. 1… 2… 3… 4… When I hit a number of a player’s modified initiative, they say “I go!” If I reach the monsters’ number, I say “They go”.

And that’s pretty much it.

You roll a die, add one number, subtract another, and BOOM! You’re done. And since they don’t change unless you change weapons, it’s pretty much a set modifier. It is really that simple.

There are a few special cases, of course, like missile weapons. Godsdamn missile weapons. Look at the rate of fire on p. 38 (ah, my beloved p. 38). If it’s 1, you go when you rolled. If it’s 2, you go once when you rolled and again at the end. And so forth. If it’s 1/2, you go every other round. Simple. There are other special cases, but that’s the point of being a DM. Make it work; it’s easy.

I have to say, this has worked so very well for me over the years I wanted to share. It gives a benefit to those who choose swift but light weapons over bulky but punishing weapons. It makes casting times meaningful. It gives all the flexibility a DM could ask for.

Give it a try!

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

11 thoughts on ““New Round, New Initiative”

  1. I remember when you posted that method previously and it has stuck in my head ever since. So, I am now officially put it up for comment by my current players (I always give them input on house rules even if they don't get the final say).

  2. I also run it that way, Its a basis for a lot of the round by round tactics in piecemeal the rpg. For missile weapons consider adding 0 as a way to make it inopportune to use on in melee.

  3. Isn't this the straight standard 2nd ed AD&D method? This is exactly how my group always played back when we played 2nd ed in the 90's.

  4. I've played with basically the same mechanic since the 80's. However, spells don't just happen on initiative+casting time. They are started on initiative and then if the caster is struck before completing the spell (within the casting time) the spell is spoiled. If initiative+casting time is > 10, it wraps around into the next round. This encourages lower level spells with quick casting times in combat, or being well-defended or hidden for longer spells.

  5. Been reading thru Hackmaster Basic, they use the count up method, Roll first usually on d12 (though certain circumstances allow lesser dice), then adding/subtracting like you do with dex and weapons speed. On difference is that Count continues and PCs/Monsters attack/react on their next place in count via their Weapon speed.

    I.E. A gobo Strikes with its short sword on count 7, and would attack again on count 15 as the short sword weapons speed is 8.

    Count just continues until everything is resolved.

  6. It seems like a solid system. It is more challenging for the players, I think. I have had a couple problems with systems like this in my experience.

    1) From the monster's POV, they get to all go in any order they want on the same initiative. Then some or all of the PCs will get to go, but in a jumbled order the players don't get to decide.

    Generally monsters can pull off coordinated maneuvers, but it's much chancier for the PCs to do so. And if the PC's do try to delay and coordinate, it turns into a hassle for the DM and the point of individual initiative numbers starts to disappear.

    2) The uncertainty of whether the monsters will go 0-2 times before your next action can also make it hard for the players to rescue endangered PCs.

    I think your system can be exciting and fast, and makes for good chaos, but when I've DM'd or played it, I get a sense of player-screwage. Especially I don't like when, as a player, I want to do something coordinating and tactical and the DM is skeptical because it mucks with the numbers.

  7. Is it? I don't even have my 2E books any more to check, but it's entirely possible I started using it in my 1E game by osmosis

    It pretty much is, with the exception of the dexterity modifier. It is a slight merging of the "standard" and "individual" initiative rules in second edition, and pretty much the procedure I was using until recently.

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