Reversing Initiative: A Modest Proposal

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Here’s an idea for tweaking initiative in Pathfinder and other games that use d20-style system. It is loosely based on some ideas from Exalted. The system there had some neat ideas, but it was far too complicated. The system here is simplified quite a bit and requires minimal deviation from the basic d20 ruleset:

  • Each participant rolls a d20, as normal, but they subtract their initiative modifiers instead of adding them.
  • Find the character with the lowest initiative. That character goes first.
  • Each action happens immediately upon the initiative rating of the character who performs it. That action costs an amount of Delay. Add the Delay rating to the initiative count. That is when the character will be able to act again.
  • Different sorts of actions have different degrees of Delay:
    • Free actions: 0 delay if performed as part of an action with delay 2 or more. 1 delay otherwise.
    • Immediate actions: add 1 delay to your last action
    • Swift actions: 1 delay
    • Move actions: 4 delay
    • Standard actions: 5 delay
    • Full-round actions: 9 delay
  • When time is measured in rounds, 1 round=10 delay
  • You may delay your action normally.
  • The initiative count proceeds upwards. It stops only at the end of combat.
Five effects of this system:
  1. You don’t have to wait around too long for your turn to do something.
  2. You need to pay more attention to what is going on. Combat is less of a series of states and more of a fluid thing.
  3. Some combat manuevers (such as charging) become much more useful.
  4. Characters who plan elaborate multistep things to do on their turn will have that broken up (and possibly disrupted).
  5. You get to brag about how long (or short) your combat was. “I killed that dragon at initiative count 29! That’s a personal best!”

Six optional rules tweaks for use with this system:

  1. Surprise. If you start combat unaware of your opponents, roll initiative as normal. You cannot act normally until you are aware of your opponent, however. Delay until your first opportunity to notice your opponent and make a Perception/Spot check, which is a standard action (5 Delay) with a DC set by the circumstances. If you fail this, you may retry it on your next turn. The difficulty is likely to be lower by that point.
  2. Quick Attack Option: You may make a single attack with a light weapon at 4 delay. This attack is made at -1 to hit, and you may not add a strength bonus to either your attack or damage rolls.
  3. Haste causes all actions to have one less delay, except for movement actions and full attacks, which have 2 less delay. Slow causes all actions to have one more delay, except for movement actions and full attacks, which have 2 more delay. These effects and modifiers to attack rolls and AC are the only effects of these spells.
  4. Attacks of Opportunity add two to the Delay of your last action.
  5. The Dazed effect simply adds 10 to a creature’s Delay. To add some uncertainty here, allow the dazed creature an optional second saving throw against the effect. If it succeeds, the effect ends after 8 Delay. It it fails, the effect ends after 12 Delay.
  6. Two Weapon Fighting can be handled as follows: Attack penalties remain the same when fighting with two weapons. When making a full attack, you get an extra attack with your off-hand weapon as normal. In other circumstances, instead of getting a free attack with your off hand weapon each round, you may attack with both weapons as a standard action that has 6 Delay.
Despite the above, I’d avoid adding in too many deviations from the basic Delay costs. That’s the road Exalted went down, and I feel like it rendered the system cumbersome.
This hasn’t been playtested at all. If you try it out, let me know how it works.



1 Response

  1. There's a reason that move and standard actions were split: to encourage a more mobile combat, and represent the fact that footwork can occur while attacking.

    Perhaps there should be a discount for movement actions taken directly after attacks, or visa versa?

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