Initializing Initiative  

Posted by Michael Donaldson in , , ,

When I first started getting into computer programming (I very briefly almost learned basic C++), I decided my very first project would be RPG-related. After all, I'd used a variety of very excellent tools in the past (shout out to DMGenie for helping me make it through early high school as DM) and couldn't think of a better practical application for barely functional programming skills. What came to mind first, you ask? Why, an initiative tracker, that's what! Needless to say it never really materialized. I have a habit of getting excited about things and never finishing them.

I bring it up because I've been experimenting with a new initiative system these last few months, and I'd like to share my results with you, dear readers. As someone who often runs games for large parties, I have dealt with the crippling slowdown that can occur as initiative drags painstakingly from player to player. People who complete their turns can sometimes have as much as 20 minutes in worst case scenarios to wait for their next turn. People occasionally have a hard time staying focused, especially if there are forms of entertainment about, or something else preoccupying them (March madness, anyone?). (continued after the jump)

Someone (not sure who, wish I could give them credit!) mentioned on their blog that they were running initiative essentially in turns by faction. The breakdown looks something like this:

  1. Everyone rolls initiative. I roll the monsters initiative by group. Each unique "group" of enemies (as defined purely by their initiative bonus) gets its own roll.
  2. I condense initiatives by faction. If the results were [21, 15, 12, and 9] for the party and [14 and 13] for the monsters, the Initiative order looks like this: [Party Members who rolled above a 14, Monsters]. NOTE: In this first round of initiative, the party members who rolled worse than the monsters do not get to act.
  3. Everyone who gets to act, acts at the same time in the order in which they are prepared to give me their actions. Rather than waiting around for their turn, the entire party is capable of acting all at once, and the party members not immediately prepared to give me their action will be actively preparing it while the other players act.
  4. Once the monsters have gone, then the ENTIRE party gets to act (since the low rolling initiative characters would have gone, and then the high rolling ones next) as we condense those two groups further into a single group. Combat trades back and forth between party and monsters until finished.
Essentially what it boils down to is this: You run a normal initiative for the first round to determine how the very first moments of a fight play out (as these are the most crucial benefit of rolling high on initiative) and then immediately condense it into Party vs Monsters. Even if you have a wide variety of monsters and the players find themselves interspersed between them, you can still condense it with just a glance at your initiative sheet. First round is over and more monsters go before players? Initiative proceeds Monsters then Players, and vice versa.

When running combat encounters with large groups of enemies (and especially battles without much tactical thought or particular difficulty) this can triple or even quadruple the speed of which you can complete fights. Ever sat around during a session and spent eight hours getting through four combat scenes? (Don't lie, you know you have!) Using this method, I was able to guide a six-person party through a dungeon crawl and get through more than 15 separate combat sequences in a single session.

It works fairly well against Big Bads as well, since single opponents always devolved into Monster -> Party initiative orders anyways, and party members are more than capable of delaying and holding themselves to act in the order that they please. If you require a character-by-character turn order for a particular fight, the method doesn't actually change any of the initiative mechanic so it can be used interchangeably as you see fit.

All in all, I've noticed it greatly improves the efficiency of our combat encounters. Do you have any tips and tricks on how to slug through the number crunching of your tabletop games? Feel free to share them below.

This entry was posted on March 16, 2012 at Friday, March 16, 2012 and is filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


I like the idea. What happens if you have rolls that would split the party? Which is to say, two players roll high, one monster comes next, then two players, then another monster, then the other two players? Do you bring the lower monster up or the higher monster down? Or is it not really relevant beyond the first round?

March 18, 2012 at 2:27 PM

The situation you just described looks like this, then?


I would typically run combat like this:


March 18, 2012 at 4:56 PM
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March 18, 2012 at 8:09 PM

Hmm, okay, that makes sense. Thanks.

March 18, 2012 at 8:10 PM

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