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Author Topic: Is Initiative Dumb?  (Read 5428 times)

Steven Mitchell

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #45 on: May 18, 2020, 01:08:34 PM »
Quote from: VisionStorm;1130470


If actions where truly simultaneous and initiative was simply a tool to facilitate the GM managing actions in combat both characters would have been fried. But they didn't because individual initiative does tend to work like characters frozen in time in practice. And not simply as a matter of perception, but as a matter of demonstrable fact.


You are skipping several logical and empirical steps there.  For one thing, not all such initiative systems claim to represent simultaneous actions.  So those systems aren't doing what you think they are.  Second, an approximation of "simultaneous" is always going to have edge cases and areas where it works better or worse, because it has to make compromises same as any other system.  if nothing else, it has to deal with the problem that the GM is one person processing the actions of multiple players and creatures.  Plus, when talking about people, measuring a thing changes it.  That is, the initiative system itself has feedback on player behavior.  (Thus the rabbit hole of "written orders" that some systems will delve into.)  

All that said, some systems will produce a feeling of simultaneous actions better than others, and better for some groups than others.  There is a tension between "having details" and "moving fast" that has to be balanced, and not always the same way for different groups.  "Sides" versus cyclic initiative is only one aspect of that.  For example, "sides" won't help at all in a game that is so intricate that it moves slow anyway.  Likewise, cyclic will generally work better the simpler the "action economy" of the game.  Which is another reason why with a simple game, it really doesn't matter how you do it.  

One thing that surprised me in my experiments was that tolerance for the moderate complexity I wanted went up vastly if I adopted a flow that encouraged a "stop and go, stop and go" type of pacing.  Such systems are fast for me, too.  That is, too frantic combat can cause players to stop paying attention almost as badly as too slow combat can. You need that "stuff happens, narrate, more stuff happens, narrate some more" in there to give the flow, but there has to be the Goldilocks amount of "stuff happens" each time.   Too little, (e.g. extreme cyclic) and the big picture is lost.  Too much, the players can't process it.

NeonAce

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #46 on: May 18, 2020, 05:39:49 PM »
Is initiative dumb? No. It's just a type of mechanic that can be used poorly or well or be unaddressed. Asking if initiative is dumb strikes me like asking if 12 sided dice are dumb. There is no one standard best practice, perfect set of mechanics that makes the best game. There are a variety of games that are entertaining in different ways, for different reasons, including the way in which their mechanics interact and how they shape the play experience.

Quote from: Theory of Games;1130306
Why not let the PCs go first all the time?

What are the goals of the game design, and does letting PCs go first all the time serve those goals, run counter to them, or just not matter? I fully would expect this to vary based on the game. Like, an Old West game where players got to go first all of the time would take some of the edge off a gunfight, where the Westerns themselves make a big deal out of the contest and the protagonist doesn't always get the shot off first. On the other hand, if you were playing Vampire or some Demi-God style game (Godbound, Exalted), and decided PCs always went before mortals... that wouldn't seem crazy. It would reinforce their inherent superiority. So, my answer to "Why not let PCs go first all of the time?" is that there are times it would undermine the vibe. Not in every game, but certainly in some.

Quote
How does that hurt the game aspect?

Again, this varies greatly, depending on the game. I'm Mr. "Street Fighter", and I can tell you that game is about beating people up like in the video game, but with crazy adventures along the way. The initiative rules are core to how the combat functions, tactics, guessing what your opponent is up to and that makes it enjoyable. If you remove it, you destroy the "Game", and are just left with a mediocre incarnation of the Storyteller system. It would be like removing Sheep from Settlers of Catan. On the other hand, where games aren't about that, other initiative approaches make more sense, even as loose as Apocalypse World-like, "just decide what makes sense and kinda work it out as you go".


Quote
I think rolling for initiative is archaic. It worked once but now it's dead.

Initiative regards the determination of who gets to act, when, and how often. Even, "Players always go first" is an initiative system. Rolling for initiative is only one of the ways initiative can be determined. For the most part I'm not a fan of individual rolled initiative, but it's not the worst thing in the world. (That would be individual initiative, rolled every round, bleh). Overall, though, my point of view is that there is no inherently "dumb" or "archaic", divorced from the context of the rest of the game. An initiative system can just be someone's cargo cult-like afterthought tossed onto their system, without them thinking about why they're adding this particular amount of overhead and tracking. In that case, it could very well be dumb and archaic. But... it's not something I can judge in isolation from seeing how the rest of the game works with it.

ffilz

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #47 on: May 18, 2020, 06:02:18 PM »
I've played a variety of games with a variety of initiative systems, everything from "mostly simultaneous" to individual initiative rolled each round. The one general system I don't think I've really played is a continuous action point system without rounds.

I'm not thinking of any initiative system I didn't like except a free from game (no rounds or initiative of any sort) where my character was left taking no action while others ran up and down stairs and took multiple actions, because I wasn't as deft at shouting out into the fray to get the GM's attention.

I enjoyed the initiative in D&D 3.x. I enjoyed games with a mostly simultaneous action. I love RuneQuest's strike rank system. I'm liking rolling group initiative each round in OD&D. I like Burning Wheel's system. In each system, the initiative system is part of the deal.

Oh, one more I didn't like, but I was just observing and not playing, and I'm not sure it was being run right. I watched a couple people playing Melee, where the faster guy always got to run around his opponent and attack him from behind. That seemed really absurd (given that it wasn't some kind of super hero or super martial arts game).

My personal preference does tend towards simultaneous (which of course can't be purely simultaneous unless everyone including the GM is writing detailed orders) with GM arbitration to handle "yea, that doesn't make sense" reactions after declarations. In such systems I generally get a mind for what the NPCs will do before calling for player declarations, then I start arbitrating.

Mishihari

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #48 on: May 18, 2020, 07:27:03 PM »
No, initiative is not dumb.  That question, on the other hand ...

Yes you can function without initiative, but you lose some realism, verisimilitude, and tactical depth in your game.  Knowing who goes first is important: there are many situations where going first means winning.  Han shot first, so he won.  At the range neither he nor Greedo would miss, and neither had armor or ability to dodge that would allow them to avoid being fried.  That instance can arguably be resolved by surprise rules, but there are plenty of similar situations where it doesn't make sense to do that.

I don't accept the argument that everything is simultaneous anyway.  For game purposes, simultaneous means that one character can attack another after he has received an attack that will disable him.  With swords and one minute simultaneity is expected.  With guns and one minute rounds, not so much.  If a character gets a head shot and is even a tiny bit faster than his enemy there is no opportunity for a counter attack.  Simultaneous attacks can happen in this case, but I would expect them to be rare, which won't be the case of you use everything is simultaneous rules.

I prefer systems where initiative order can be different every round; I often find the other way repetitive and a bit boring.

Kuroth

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #49 on: May 18, 2020, 08:23:27 PM »
For some that feel the initiative step is stale or whatever they change the artifacts used.  So, in savage worlds playing cards are used, with wild cards and all that sort of thing to change it up.

I use a diceless or cardless priority of action method for initiative in my D&D type game.

I would ask your players first, before you go throwing out the step all together.

I read an interesting article once about how the writer took renewed favor for the group dice rolled step, after observing how focused the whole group becomes at the step. Even when it is not anticipation, though it often is such, there is a group focus, rather than everyone focusing on there own thing.  Sort of a game huddle, before the the individual focused rest of the process.  The article was by Zak Smith I believe, some time ago.
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Kyle Aaron

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #50 on: May 18, 2020, 08:23:32 PM »
Thinking on this, it occurs to me there's an argument for making initiative based on... hit points.

The way I understand hit points in AD&D1e is that they abstract two other things not dealt with much in the rules: general fatigue and parrying. If you've ever been a young guy who gets humiliated by an older guy on the squash court you'll know what I mean about people experienced in a kind of movement knowing how to conserve their energy, while the inexperienced ones lurch about. And of course, the experienced guys know a few tricky movements the newbies won't.

Now, you can represent this in a few ways. For example, you can have a fighter's level be a bonus to hit, a malus to their foe hitting, and also be the number of rounds they can fight before they get a -2 to everything. Or you can let them split their fighting skill between hitting and parrying, and so on.

Or you can just use hit points. Dodging a big blow fatigues them ("you were "hit" for 6 points"), and parrying a heavy blow fatigues them, too ("hit for 4 points"). Eventually the fatigue accumulates and the next blow gets through and does actual damage.

Hit points can also be taken to abstract the finer details of combat. For example, if a fighter is in a corner, most systems don't account for their having less room to dodge or swing. Movement is typically accounted for at a scale of not smaller than a couple of yards. Backed into a corner and barely able to swing their sword, or standing in the middle of the room and able to move freely - they're not accounted for. Obviously, a more experienced fighter will make better use of the space they do have. So hit points can be taken to abstract this, too. The 30HP fighter knocked down to 10HP? Maybe they've parried blow after blow, they're puffing and backed into a corner. A newbie fighter on 10HP to start with? "Damnit, my teacher told me: never get cornered!"

With this view, hit points could also be used as initiative. Highest current hit points goes first, and as that 30HP fighter gets battered down by the four 10HP fighters, eventually maybe they go first. And this, by the by, makes big high hit point creatures scarier - not only are they tougher, but they'll probably have the initiative!
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Kuroth

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #51 on: May 18, 2020, 08:38:28 PM »
This type of thinking is one of the reasons I switched to a priority of action method Kyle.  So, At first, priority is more or less based upon weapon/action choice, terrain advantage or such things, but as combat progresses, priority can shift for such affects.  It does require a little ref judgement, though.

Some games use a character's status to set 'who goes first', which is similar to what you are talking about using hit points.  I think a hit point method would be ok for a real world type setting, where men and women are your choices of adversaries and perhaps a fairly narrow level spectrum.
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jhkim

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #52 on: May 18, 2020, 09:04:51 PM »
Quote from: Mishihari;1130513
Yes you can function without initiative, but you lose some realism, verisimilitude, and tactical depth in your game.  Knowing who goes first is important: there are many situations where going first means winning.  Han shot first, so he won.  At the range neither he nor Greedo would miss, and neither had armor or ability to dodge that would allow them to avoid being fried.  That instance can arguably be resolved by surprise rules, but there are plenty of similar situations where it doesn't make sense to do that.
I think there's some talking past about different mechanics here. There are a number of different possible initiative systems

(1) Individual rolled initiative like D&D
(2) Fixed action order like HERO or GURPS, going in order of character stat
(3) Group rolled initiative like older D&D
(4) Arbitrary order like clockwise among players, usually in groups
(5) Rerolled initiative like Savage Worlds, where order is randomly determined every round
(6) Declare all actions, then resolve actions - like RuneQuest

It seems to me that the point of the first post is that there isn't much difference in practice between stat ordered initiative (#1, #2, and #3) and just going around the table clockwise. After the first round, there's no advantage to being faster -- everyone is just going around in the cycle. So especially if combat tends to go for 4+ rounds, initiative order has little effect. When using a system without rolled initiative, you can allow faster characters to get an extra action in at the start, but then go around clockwise thereafter. That eliminates the complexity of initiative order for most of the combat. Yes, going around clockwise is still technically an initiative order, but in practice, no one refers to standard boardgames like Monopoly as having an "initiative system".


I think when people talk about simultaneous action, it's usually some variant of what's done in RuneQuest - you first collect what everyone intends to do in a round. Then all those actions are resolved in some order, which can be one after the other or could be simultaneous. The point is that the actions are all declared before any are resolved.

Psikerlord

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #53 on: May 18, 2020, 09:31:02 PM »
Quote from: WillInNewHaven;1130380
Why not have the players say what the characters are going to do (the GM knowing what the NPCs and monsters are going to do and not changing it) and then have it all happen in what I call the natural order.

Spells take effect
Missiles are fired.
Then everyone in melee range takes their attacks, parries or whatever and the results are applied.
Combatants moving into range act in order of reach. Sometimes, the character with less reach doesn't get to attack.

No initiative rolls, no PC exceptionalism.


I think like this idea. GM declares first, then players declare?
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Kuroth

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #54 on: May 18, 2020, 09:35:10 PM »
That is what is often called a 'phase' method.
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Shasarak

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #55 on: May 18, 2020, 10:05:09 PM »
Quote from: Kyle Aaron;1130520
Or you can just use hit points. Dodging a big blow fatigues them ("you were "hit" for 6 points"), and parrying a heavy blow fatigues them, too ("hit for 4 points"). Eventually the fatigue accumulates and the next blow gets through and does actual damage.

So in this case what is the difference between blocking and taking 4 points damage and being hit and taking 4 points damage?  Does my fatigue damage return after a few minutes rest?
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ffilz

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #56 on: May 18, 2020, 10:30:24 PM »
Another aspect I like about RQ strike ranks is the ability to delay your attack in exchange for the ability to move the hit location. Also, RQ handles multiple shots per round with faster missile weapons using the strike ranks. And there are some additional actions you can take in a round if your strike rank is low. It adds up to a lot of interesting options. And the chance for a first or second shot takeout is significant enough that going first has value.

I agree with the assessment that over a longer combat, any kind of ordered initiative starts to devalue advantage of the faster character.

Kyle Aaron

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #57 on: May 18, 2020, 11:32:43 PM »
Quote from: Shasarak;1130527
So in this case what is the difference between blocking and taking 4 points damage and being hit and taking 4 points damage?  Does my fatigue damage return after a few minutes rest?
That'd depend on the rules and the DM. In AD&D1e rules-as-written, absent any magical healing, proper rest somewhere comfortable gets you back 1HP a day, with the Con bonus if any each week, and in any case everything is healed after a month. This gives us the apparently odd result that the 6HP man-at-arms might recover more quickly from a fight losing half his HP than would the 30HP 5th level fighter.

I actually don't mind this. It's not widely-discussed, but an athlete is not able to repeat their effort the day after a competition, indeed many in endurance sports will have an elevated heart rate - at a level like a mild fever - for 1-2 weeks after the competition day. This is not the case for the middle-aged sedentary man who does a 5km fun run, but it is the case for someone who's been doing it for years and runs 5km and places at a national competition. Likewise, the amateur boxer can recover from a match more quickly than the professional boxer. I have competed (a long time ago) in running and weightlifting, and taken many lifters to powerlifting competitions, and everyone is exhausted immediately after meet day - but the guy who did 40% of the world record is ready to go again in a week or two, the one who did 60% might need a month before they can match their old performance, and the 80+% guy - well, he can only match or exceed that performance once a year.

Which is to say, people recover quickly from a newbie level of performance, and slowly from a high level of performance. If say 100kg is your best lift, though it's the most you can do, it just doesn't take as much out of you as 200kg does for that guy. Part of the skill of sports is being able to draw on more of your reserves, so to speak. If this is the case for top sports performances and non-lethal combat sports, how much more true must it be of lethal combats? Surely even a great warrior facing half a dozen men with his life at stake - well, that's got to take a lot out of him.

Obviously we can go too far into the weeds of analysing and trying to simulate this stuff. But I do think that ordinary old hit points are a reasonable way to abstract not only physical toughness, but fatigue and parrying.

As well as being reasonable in terms of real-world challenging performances, a long recovery for a higher-level fighter fits with adventure stories - fight big, rest big, party big.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2020, 11:35:08 PM by Kyle Aaron »
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Kuroth

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Is Initiative Dumb?
« Reply #58 on: May 18, 2020, 11:40:06 PM »
I was wondering if Kyle was going to explain/describe AD&D 1's hit points!  Good work
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« Reply #59 on: May 19, 2020, 12:58:58 AM »
Quote from: S'mon;1130425
I agree, but running 1e AD&D again currently in a PBP with Segments I've been really struck by how that was not Gygax's (poorly-explained) intent. The intent of the Initiative roll as first conceived seems to be much more about resolving which (eg) sword strike is first in a melee, not which side acts while the other freezes in place. Declarations are made, actions begin more or less simultaneously, initiative roll is used more as a tie breaker. Often it's not used - Fighters with multiple attacks always go first & last; when closing to melee the longer weapon always strikes first. Init roll determines stuff like whether you get a spell off before the other guy stabs you, or whether you are casting when you got stabbed - a low init roll might be preferable then, since it may mean you are hit before you even began to cast.

Edit: It may help that I'm using OSRIC, where it's explained a lot more clearly than in the 1e DMG!


I really like the 1e combat system, except for ranged weapons having 2+ rate of fire. It interfaces weirdly with 1e initiative (are they all fired in the same segment?) and with multiple attack routines. It also wrecks the balance of the ranged weapons and makes it too easy to disrupt spellcasters, IMO. Next 1e campaign I will simply give all ranged weapons 1 ROF.