Action Initiative

So, this is just  a musing I’ve had for an alternative initiative system.  This system would probably work best using OD&D or Swords & Wizardry:

Roll 1d6 for initiative, without DEX modifiers.  Players roll separately for their characters; the GM rolls for monsters/NPCs in groups.

High result goes first.  Ties default to the PCs; ties amongst the PCs are resolved as desired between players.  Note that a character’s actions are never resolved simultaneously with another character’s actions.

The result of the initiative roll is also the number of Action Points a character has to spend for the round.  Action Points must be spent the round they’re generated; they cannot be carried over to the next combat round.  Also, a character must use all their AP when it is their turn to act in the initiative sequence; they cannot, for example, spend an AP, wait for another PC to spend an AP, and then spend another AP.

Under certain circumstances, the GM may apply a -1 penalty to the initiative roll, typically when a group is caught unawares (such as the first round of an ambush, though could also be applied to characters who are stunned or dazed).  If this results in an initiative score of 0, the character is too surprised or dazed to act that round.  This is the only modifier that should ever be applied to an initiative roll.

Every action costs 1 Action Point:

  • Move – Fast characters move 10′ (2 spaces), slow characters (heavily armored) move 5′ (1 space) per move action
  • Attack – A quick, unmodified attack; character does not apply their Attack or Ability bonuses to the roll (though penalties may still apply); I’m inclined to not place a limit on attack actions each round
  • Aim – Each sequential Aim action grants a cumulative +1 bonus to one attack roll; aim bonus is lost if the character takes another action before taking an attack action; not yet decided if there should be an aim bonus cap or not
  • Defense – Each sequential Defense action grants a cumulative +1 bonus to AC until you act again on the following combat round
  • Draw – Draw a weapon or item from inventory
  • Use – Using a device or item drawn from inventory; pushing a button, pulling a level, quaffing a potion
  • Cast – Casting a spell requires a number of sequential casting actions equal to the spell’s level (i.e. Magic Missile only requires 1 casting action; Fireball requires 3 casting actions)
  • Hold – Hold an action until a specified trigger event occurs; holding effectively ends a character’s actions for the round

The idea is that most actions should only require 1 AP, so as to avoid creating a long laundry list of actions and associated AP costs.  Also, avoid adding lots of initiative modifiers, to keep the numbers of AP per round manageable.

So, this system provides greater granularity, and allows players to do some interesting things.  For example, they could opt to make several swift, unmodified attacks, or opt to aim for a few seconds and make one well-timed attack.  They can also opt to go full defensive for a round, granting a nice bonus to their AC until the next time they act.

I haven’t quite figured out how to handle a few details yet.  For example, is attacking with a bow 1 attack action, or would drawing an arrow to fire the bow again also count as an action?  In which case, how long should it take to reload a crossbow in this system?

Also, how do each class’ inherent Attack Bonus tie in?  Maybe change Attack Bonus to an Aim Bonus:  All classes start with a +1 Aim Bonus for each aim action, but maybe as Fighter’s progress their Aim Bonus improves to +2, then +3, and so on?

Finally, this system roughly doubles the average number of actions monsters can take each round.  Even the lowliest goblin could potentially get 6 basic, unmodified attack rolls per combat round; that would be absolutely devastating to a poorly defended low-level character (such as a magic-user).  A couple of options:  the GM can cheese things a bit and just assume monsters use the bulk of their AP on aim or defense actions; alternatively, the GM can halve the number of monsters encountered to account for each monster taking, on average, twice as many actions.

Thoughts, ideas and suggestions are appreciated.  Cheers.


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4 Responses to “Action Initiative”

  1. The Bane Says:

    “I haven’t quite figured out how to handle a few details yet. For example, is attacking with a bow 1 attack action, or would drawing an arrow to fire the bow again also count as an action? In which case, how long should it take to reload a crossbow in this system?”

    Just knee jerk reactionary comments here: for bow, I’d say the same as a normal attack action (1) because, for example with a sword you have a swing and a re-cock (granted you could swing back through on that re-cock, but don’t imagine that happening). Same two motions to shoot a bow; arrow to string, pull, and release (forward and back). As for a crossbow, again thinking in motions, it would depend on a light or heavy crossbow. Light, tip to ground, pull sting to notch, place quarrel (3 actions). Heavy, same but you would add maybe 2 actions for an assisted cocking device (so 5 actions?)

    “Also, how do each class’ inherent Attack Bonus tie in?”

    For the attack, ie anytime a d20 was rolled as normal. But, I would want to try a d3 + Dex Modifier for initiative instead with that.

    “Finally, this system roughly doubles the average number of actions monsters can take each round.”

    Also why I would go with a d3 + Dex Modifier.

    This is a rather interesting concept IMHO. I will have to play-test it should I ever get a group together. Again (disclaimer), these are knee jerk pre-coffee responses to your post and should be ignored if they are completely ludicrous!

    • edowar Says:

      Good call on the follow-through for melee attacks, which would be even more pronounced using a heavy two-handed weapon. I imagine a practiced archer should be able to draw and nock an arrow in one quick, fluid action, so keeping a bow attack as 1 AP sounds like a good idea.

      I also like your ideas for reloading crossbows, though I’d probably tweak it a bit. But it’s a good place to start.

      I’m less sold on D3+DEX mod to determine initiative. There a number of reasons I went with D6: 1) it ties in with d6 initiative rolls already used in most old school D&D games; 2) gives a wide enough range of results for determining initiative; 3) While the results for Action Points could be described as “swingy” I rather like that, and it ties in well with the -1 modifier for surprise, giving a roughly 1-in-6 chance for being caught completely off-guard.

      Also, depending on which system you’re using, the DEX mod can range from anything to +1/-1 to +4/-4.

      I wanted to avoid a long laundry list of actions and AP costs, but an alternative may be to classify things into three broad categories of actions: Quick, Standard and Slow. Quick actions are 1 AP, Standard are 2 AP and Slow are 3 AP. This way, a melee or bow attack could be Quick, a two-hand melee or light crossbow could be Standard and a Heavy Crossbow could be Slow. Aim and Defense actions could fall into the Quick category, you can just take several of them with cumulative benefit. Anyways, just another way to approach the system.

      Thanks for your ideas and suggestions, always glad to hear them.


  2. The Bane Says:

    Like what you are dishing out here. Also, “Quick actions are 1 AP, Standard are 2 AP and Slow are 3 AP.” makes me think that you could do something like; Quick actions are at -1, Standard actions are +0, and Slow actions are +1 by default. So, for example, pull off a quick shot of a bow without taking a penalty, one would have to ‘aim’.

    This might in turn eat up some of the APs, say for Defense in the example of a quick bow shot.

    But then again, I might be over thinking it and adding unnecessary complications to an otherwise eloquent system. It’s fun to think about such things though… how can you add a bit of the tactical without gumming it up like 4ed… always fun. Thanks for the response!

    • edowar Says:

      Ooo, I like that idea, too.

      Heh, a lot of different ways one could play with the system. That’s partly my problem, I have problems focusing on one good idea. Maybe just need to try all of them to see what works, and what doesn’t. Cheers.

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