Monday, November 11, 2019

Initiate This

I ran a one shot just the other day of one of my favorite Japanese tabletop RPGs, Wares Blade. While gearing up for the game (pun intended) I was reminded of the games somewhat unusual Initiative rules and thought I'd share them with you.

Initiative, as I have discovered over the past ten years or so of blogging, is an extremely popular subject among the participants of the gaming blog-o-sphere. Good grief! It seems that gamers, especially D&D types, are absolutely obsessed with Initiative. I see more posts and articles about that aspect of the game than any other single element.

This has lead me to the conclusion that A) those who have created and worked on D&D over the years have no clear idea what they wanted to do when designing the Initiative system B) since the rules they designed are absolutely daft! Just terrible. C) Those who play the game and blog about it on the internet definitely feel this way. 

Wha...? I'm wrong? How could this be? I am merely an outside observer taking in what I see. If the Initiative system isn't woefully flawed why is it modified and remade so often in so many ways? 

Humans are so confusing. 

Back to the Initiative rules from Wares Blade. I simplified things a little and will try to keep the description of this idea pretty simple as well. 

Basically, Initiative is a number on your character sheet. You roll one 10 sided die, add the result to the number on your sheet, and you get your Initiative for the combat you're about to be in. Now here's the fun part...You can take away points from your Initiative Number and use those points to 'Avoid Attacks'. 

Imagine you have a 5 Initiative, you roll a 5, and now your Initiative for the battle is 10. You take away 4 points and now have an Initiative of 6. Your 4 points buy you two Avoids. Twice during the combat, you can say that your PC avoids an attack that would have hit them. 

In game, the idea is that you are quick enough, perceptive enough, and skilled enough to predict an enemy's move and dodge or deflect it. Mechanically, this gives characters with low Health Points and poor Armor a better chance of survival. In Wares Blade, where early stage Wizard and Clergy PCs have more support style abilities and magic in addition to being rather fragile, having the capacity to Avoid a good number of attacks while going last each round is a pretty fair trade off. 

Anyway, I just thought the idea was interesting. In play it worked pretty well, with the Avoids giving the feel of a fight where blows and slashes were deflected by the Warrior's sword, the Wizard's cleverness, and the Professional's skill and agility. 

Are there any other systems that use something similar? I'm curious as I am still planning to devise a Dark Crystal game. 

Barking Alien


  1. It might work with supressive fire as well. Putting supressive fire down on a hex will steadily eat into the initative of everyone there, and once it crosses zero they can do nothing else than keep their head down.

    1. I like this. A lot. Can you expand on your idea?

      Are you saying I could spend my PC's Initiative to 'buy' Suppressing Fire, each purchase subtracting Initiative points from opponents?

      There is something great here but my mind hasn't fully wrapped itself around the idea.

    2. It's still on the sketch stage in my group. We play an BRP-based Cyberpunkish type setting, and I'd like to add more tactical depth to combat. One weakness with the current system is that it tends to devolve into people shooting directly at each other until one side is down. And hits are quite deadly and it's not really fun to die all the time. But it has to be balanced against having some actual risk. I've done a few things to try and make things more interesting: a) The opposition will use stun weapons, flashbangs, smoke grenades and other tactical goodies when appropriate and within their abilites. As an example, if they want to cross a contested street, they don't necessarily need to kill all the PCs to be able to do so, but they might pop a couple of smoke grenades and then advance under cover. b) The opposition have their own goals and motives and are not always fanatics. If they suffer losses, they will often try and withdraw, retreat to a more defensible position or even surrender. c) The opposition also have imperfect information on what is going on. I try and keep that in mind when planning their next moves. Our last session we had an interesting confrontation in a wooded area crisscrossed by roads, and at least I as a GM had a great time watching both PCs and NPCs try and execute battle plans based on engine and shot sounds from rough directions, which mostly failed and sometimes in hilarious ways.

      And I thought bringing suppressive fire into this would give everyone an additional tool in the toolbox, while keeping casualty levels down a bit. And eat into their precious ammo supply... :D And as a former infantryman I think most fire is suppressive fire anyways.

      So every character has an initiative of DEX + 1D10, 16 on average. And a movement score of 22 on average. I would like the rule be able to bring both of these down, so if you're under enough fire you will just keep your head down and lie still for the round. The basic premise of the rule is that you tally up incoming fire and assign it a value.

      My current idea is that incoming fire will steadily subtract from your initiative, until you have 0. Then you lose your actions for the round, but you can still attempt to crawl away if you're under cover. When initiative is 0 incoming fire will start to subtract from movement. When you're also out of movement you can just cower in place.

      How much to subtract? Maybe 1 per round impacting your hex, and 3 per round if they are rocket rounds (semi-common in the setting).

      Advantages is that it's fairly simple. Disadvantages include the need to track suppression level.

      Still leaves a lot of things to be determined, though. Shouldn't the intestinal fortitude (or blood drug level) of the person under fire count? And how are other kinds of ordnance handled, like mortar fire? And what are the odds of being hit anyways if you're not in perfect cover? That chance should probably be lower than with aimed fire otherwise it would feel a bit silly. And should the shooters have to roll for skill, slowing down the process even further?

      I'd love to hear your thoughts as well.