Saturday, April 4, 2009

More Drug Induced Dazes: Variable Initiative Idea

For awhile I've been toying with the idea of using "Initiative Points" or "Action Points."

So, say, a character might have 4 +/- AGILITY modifier action points to spend each round. Actions could cost various points, such as:
1 = Move one square
4 = Make an attack at full strength
3 = Make an attack at 1/2 damage
2 = Give an order
1 = make an opportunity attack
2 = parry
1 = ready an action

Some CRPGs use a system like this, such as the FALLOUT line's "VATS" system. There are two main problems I see.

First, the bookkeeping at the table would be a pain. Tracking points remaining during a multiphase turn would be obnoxious as hell. Its not bad at all for a computer game, because the computer can keep track of the points, but even if you used tokens at the table and had players toss you poker chips as they took actions, it'd be really annoying and time consuming.

Second, as 4E makes abundantly clear in its design philosophy, the economy of actions is king. In those CRPGs, abilities that get you more action points are highly prized (and often restricted until very high level, a tacit acknowledgment that yes, they break the game, but we'll just limit the amount of time you get to use them). Players will twink anything they can to get more APs because anything that gets you more actions is very valuable.

During my mefloquin induced haze last evening (Yay more drugs!), I had a pondering, however. What if you had variable turn initative where each action you took has a chance to end your turn? Basically, it'd work like this.

After each action, roll 1d6. There is a chance -- based on the action that you took -- that your turn is over. If you roll below the number listed below, your turn is over and you can take no more actions this round. If you roll equal to the number listed below, take a -1 penalty on all rolls until the start of the next round.

Move a number of squares equal to 4 +/- AGILITY modifier: 3
Make an attack: 5
-- Using a light or one handed weapon wielded alone (no shield/dual wielding): 4
-- Charge: 6
Cast a spell/add to your spell matrix pool: 5
Parry: 3
Give an order: 2
Draw an item: 2

If attacking, use a specially colored die for your "action" die and roll it at the same time that you roll "to hit."

Example of Play

Frimli Groin and his trusty sidekick Bobo Sackins are escaping the dungeon when they come across a wandering ogre. The encounter begins at 30' range.

The ogre opens up by hurling a heavy two-handed javelin at the duo. He barely misses Frimli and rolls his action die -- a 5! He can continue to act. The ogre then draws forth a club (Rolls a 2; normally he could continue to act, but with his -1 penalty, he is done).

Frimli draws his axe (rolls a 6 -- he's fine) and orders his henchman to throw a dagger (rolls a 3 -- still fine). The dwarf then charges into combat (rolls a 2 -- his turn is over). Bobo hurls a dagger into the fight (rolls a 4 -- he can continue his turn with a -1 penalty on further action checks!), draws another blade (rolls another 4 -- still good), and then parries (rolls a 1 -- his turn is over).


Hopefully the prices for various actions could be done systematically with the game's verb system. That makes it easy to memorize and negates the need for referencing a table of costs.

Also, this involves more die rolling. That is bad because rolling dice is often slow.


While rolling dice is slow, this can remove confusion. You no longer need to track actions expended ("Did that monster use his move action yet?" "Hey, did you use your minor action for anything?"). Things are binary: Either still good to act, or all done. This is good if you plan on running a game with lots of monsters or lots of henchmen/hirelings.

It involves uncertainty. A lot of wargames use uncertainty to keep players on their toes and to replicate the fog and friction of combat. It removes the mechanical surety of always knowing how your turn will play out, often before you've even made it. That helps keep players engaged as they're not sure how things will pan out, and it discourages making overly complicated plans that can slow down gameplay.

It increases tension. Some moves are not interesting (i.e., most move actions in D20). In this system, even drawing your weapon or moving is important, and it ensures that the player always has a chance to roll.

Finally, there is a slight improvement to missile weapons and the defense (and thus reach weapons). Because an attacker that needs to move risks ending their turn prematurely, its good to be able to stand in place to act.

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