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Role for Initiative
I bought a couple core gaming books recently -- Call of Cthulhu (6th ed.) and All Flesh Must Be Eaten. The former I bought because somehow I've managed to never read the system in all my years of gaming, and the latter because I've been percolating ideas for a Zombie survival horror game and wanted to look at a system built just for that.

Both games suffer from the same problem: page bloat. CoC clocks in at over 300 pages, AFMBE at 256 (though it is an oddly smaller page size: 9.5 x 7.5). Most of this bloat is extra fluff and super hand-holdy explanations of basic roleplaying concepts. Do these authors really think they're getting many complete neophyte readers who have no idea what an RPG is? And really, I know you're a frustrated novel author, but could you at least try to keep the stories and the rules in separate sections so the book is actually useful as a reference during play?

That aside, after reading a couple different mechanics for initiative I came up with an idea for it that I thought I should write down. The most common initiative question is, group or individual? Group is easier to deal with, especially as it lets you go around the table and makes play order obvious. Individual gives the players another thing their character can shine at (or not).

I was going to say something about how individual initiative allows more intermingling of play order between players and monsters, but really that's kind of not true except for the very first round. After that, if you just shift your perspective to thinking that the round starts (or ends) with the GM, play does alternate between GM and all the players. I suppose the GM could break apart the monsters into separate groups with their own initiatives, but what a pain that is.

So here's my idea. Basically, every combat always begins with a surprise round. Each player makes some kind of test (perception, notice, dexterity, etc.) to determine if they may or may not act during the surprise round. Play begins with the player to the left of the GM, skipping any player who failed the test during the first surprise round. Once play reaches the GM he goes, and then play continues around the table as normal. You could interpret this as the GM always going during the surprise round (thus the turn ends with the GM), or never does (thus the turn begins with the GM). It doesn't really matter.

Basically, this allows some players to go before the GM, and some not. Or, perhaps all the players do poorly and fail the roles, thus are all skipped and the monsters go first. The GM can apply circumstance modifiers to players (blinded, purposefully on watch, etc.) or decide they don't get a roll at all (asleep, blithely unaware). Annoying feats/edges that imply some kind of 'sixth sense' could simply supply a constant bonus to this roll, or always allow the player to roll even if circumstance would normally forbid it.

I think it might be interesting. It would allow some players to play the quick, always on his feet type and others to be slow and ponderous, while still gaining all the benefit of a simple group initiative. I'm eager to try it out at the next one-shot I run.
September 22nd, 2009 - 03:14 pm | Comments (1) | PERMALINK

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