Friday, February 26, 2010

Initiative Rant

Can someone explain to me the appeal of individual initiative?

When I started gaming, we had just plain initiative. We'd roll a d6 and the DM would roll a d6 and the higher roll went first. If we tied, it was simultaneous.

Sometimes we'd win initiative and then lose it, so the monsters would go twice in a row. But sometimes we'd lose and then win, so we'd go twice in a row. We didn't know, from one round to the next, exactly what would happen. The tension of having to wait to find out was excruciating sometimes, but it was part of the fun.

And then, all the whiny little crybabies who had extremely high dexterities wanted to use the individual initiative modifier (which as I understand it was intended for use in one-on-one, very important or climactic duels). Usually, our DMs would tell them to sit down and shut up.

(Sure, some of you started with Holmes, who had you go in order of Dex. This doesn't work for me because:

a) The DM has to roll for (or assign) the Dex for all the monsters, which is one more thing he doesn't need on his plate, and

b) All the guys with an 11 Dex clump up and have to roll off anyway. So no real advantage there.)

I don't remeber 2e, but it seems to me it worked the same way as 1st. (Although I had at least one DM with his own weird system...)

And then, along comes 3e. And enshrined in "The Way Things Must Be Done!" is the individual initiative system. And I'll admit, when I first saw it I thought it was pretty cool. But then actual play happened.

I can't count the number of times I saw a scene like this:

The party is lined up down a 5' corridor:

DM: "Okay, Bill you go first."

Bill: "Really? I'm like fifth in line!"

Buttinski Other Player: "You can move through the others; we're not in melee." (Puts book back down, smug look on his face.)

Bill: "Um, okay, sure. But we kinda lined up like this for a reason, didn't we?" (Looks around for reassurance)

DM: "Oh, just go already, willya? We're burning game time here."

Bill: "Okay, I guess I advance up to the front."

DM: "Finally! Okay, now the monsters go. Bill, I guess you're the only target. All four of them attack..." (Rolls dice for what seems like forever) "Okay, that's 37 points to your ... first level Cleric." (Looks up) "Sorry, dude."

Bill: "Y'know, it seems to me THAT'S WHY I was lined up so far back in the party!"

DM: "Whaddya gonna do? It was your turn!"

And that's it. It's your turn, even if it doesn't make a lick of sense.

So, please, somebody, explain to me how individual initiative is a good thing.

And before you blast my example, provide one of your own. I'm not kidding here; I've lived through and/or seen that same kind of thing many many times (the last was a couple of weeks ago). Sure, I've played with a lot of groups that don't do common sense, but I kind of like to try it every once in a while...


Norman J. Harman Jr. said...

I'm sold on group initiative so no explanation of why individual initiative is good. But I must point out your example shows a distinct lack of knowledge of "ready" and "delay" actions available to those playing 3.x

Al said...

All in favor of group initiative here, regardless of edition.

Anonymous said...

I'm for group initiative all the way. Individual initiative is great if there is a special circumstance (i.e., the character is alone, a duel, etc.), but used all the time bogs down combat, at least IMO.

I use the Moldvay/Mentzer initiative system for OD&D, Classic, & 1E. It's what I've always done, & I find it very simplistic (with OD&D & 1E, I of course drop the Dex adj. for initiaitve, but retain it for Classic).

It's so easy to use. I never could understand using a more complicated system. I feel your pain, brother.

Joethelawyer said...

Question then--how did you determine who did what in which order within the group? Do you group actions according to missile/melee/spell with actions needing to be announced before initiative is rolled?

Anonymous said...

A) It's more simulationist, allowing faster-on-the-draw characters and monsters to get the drop on slower guys. B) If the characters aren't in a situation (for some reason) where they're coordinating actions, individual initiative gives you a nice, easy, random order or action, rather than having to discuss it or have the DM do it by fiat. If the PCs are coordinating their actions, they still have the OPTION to do so, and any PC who happens to roll high can use the Ready or Delay actions. Your example of play is an example of bad/incompetent play.

BTW- individual initiative was common in 2nd ed too, though it used a D10 and weapon and spell speeds added to the roll, so lower numbers were better. Tim Kask recently adopted and praised this system over on Dragonsfoot.

JB said...

When I played AD&D, initiative was largely an individual affair, depending on weapon speed factors and casting times as well as Dex bonuses and the roll of the D6.

On the other hand, I never used battle maps or miniatures or any of that...individual initiative basically determined when someone got a "go" and since I wasn't worried about 5' steps or attacks of opportunity it wasn't a big deal...a person in the back of the party with a high initiative in cramped quarters would generally be SOL depending on common sense circumstance.

That being said, when I DID play D&D3, *I* never had a problem because I generally designed my characters to be High DEX fighters that always walked point, often had "Tumble" or "Rage" skills and wanted to get stuck in as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, most of the people I played with weren't nearly as on the ball with how the game was played...I've since come to the conclusion it's too needlessly complex for a table-top RPG, individual initiative rules or not.

Barad the Gnome said...

A better choice for the player in the pack who had the highest initiative was to choose to delay his turn until after the player in front of him went. If they lined up for a reason in a certain order there is not reason not to go in that order. It just means that the 'initiative duel' in this encounter is between the monster in front vs. the character in front. Then the others behind would follow. That seems to make sense to me.

As to the simulationist argument... that has been done before. There is no right or wrong answer; it is a continuum. You either like it more or less and adjust your game to suit. I wish folks would give up deriding others games over that point.

Zzarchov said...

Well in my case I've always had actions announced BEFORE initiative so going first was big. I also make some of your effectiveness tied to initiative.

Im strongly considering going back to a simpler rule that I used to use. Actions are declared in reverse initiative order, then carried out in initiative order.

So if you go last, someone else can see exactly what you are going to do, and try to prepare a counter move.

Just me though, speed (in my mind) should be important in a battle, chase or the like.

note I also tend to avoid miniatures, as im not a fan of the "Static" combat where people aren't jumping and rolling all over the place.

Rob said...

In my group we used the simple group system for years. I got smart and tried the newer 2e individual system. The players kind of liked it (with their high dexs and magic weapons they always go first). I noticed combats took longer as we had to count off the segments. Then one combat I lost track of who had gone, who was left, and where the hell we were in the round. [For the record it was a very complicated encounter-juju zombies, intellect devourers, and a high level mage blasting spells]

That is when I said screw this and went back to group initiative, players go in marching order. Combats go faster, I don't lose track, and the players sometimes go last. Wins all around.