Initiative System (player choice matters) playtest results

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
So you’re asking the players to make specific decisions, but all of the goblins are just “continuing their assault”?

Wait... I’m thinking in terms of miniatures. It matters whether each goblin moves or attacks. Are you using theatre of the mind only?
I ask the players to declare what action they’re taking (e.g. Attack, Cast a Spell, Dash, Disengage, Help, Hide, Ready, Search, Use an Item, or an improvised action). I assume everyone is going to move. You decide when your Initiative comes up where you move and what you attack. I use a mix of grid-based combat and TotM.
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
Our table also uses a form of 'Greyhawk Initiative'.

We find it speeds up play too. The key is that all of the AP players have their paralysis at the same time.

So instead of player A taking 1 minute to decide, then player B taking 2 minutes, and player C taking 20 seconds, and so on adding up to 4-5 minutes of people deciding on what they're going to do;
we have the action declaration phase last as long as the slowest person, so in this case, 2 minutes.

The other major benefit we see from it is that combat becomes more cinematic for us as actions are resolved swiftly giving a feeling of things happening all at once.

As far as 'take backs' we play on the honour system mostly. If you feel that things changed significantly then you can go at the end of the round but you must decide what you are doing as soon as your turn comes up. No deliberating.

I think the system really depends on the players at the table. If there are players with AP it's great. If there is a table captain who wants to coordinate every other player's action it's also great to prevent that as initiative order is random so it cannot be as planned as regular initiative. The "okay player A do this, then player B when it is your turn do this, then I, player C will do this other thing, and then player D use this spell to do that thing."

Obviously that is problematic behaviour but I do find some enthusiastic players slip into it without meaning to. It's the curse that cooperative board games face.
 

ikos

Villager
One of my groups has been using variable initiative, round by round, without speed factor or declaring actions beforehand. Dropping cyclical initiative alone has noticeably taken the feeling of inevitability out of the equation with the added benefit of keeping players tuned in and on their toes rather than drifting off into books or D&D Beyond between turns. In all, less predictability has been good for the quality of our combats and the tone of our sessions.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Tried simultaneous initiative briefly but theorycrafted that it could mess with bonus action synergy, such as a knocking a foe prone and getting a bonus attack. In ad&d which didn't have bonus actions, I think it'd work fine.
Ah - didn't think about bonus actions. But even there if two (or more) characters/foes end up acting at the same time any bonus actions could still resolve then, right - even if the bonus actions are also simultaneous?

Movement costs nothing, unlike greyhawk. This was solely to reduce the number of dice rolled.
What I'm asking is that if, say, a character wants to use her move action to break cover, run across a 20' bridge, and take cover on the other side and her initiative is 14, at what initiatives at or around 14 is she actually on the bridge and exposed such that someone with initiative close to 14 can shoot her? (ignore readied actions*)

This to me is a huge flaw with non-simultaneous initiatives and instant movement - there's no time (again ignoring readied actions*) when a moving character is actually in transit; and so by RAW I could have initiative 15 or 13 and be correctly ruled as being completely unable to shoot the bridge-crosser even though it's going to take her a lot longer than a third of a second (6 seconds divided by 20) to cross the bridge.

* - the reason I say 'ignore readied actions' is I don't feel they're a viable answer here; if I'm an archer and my turn's come up I need to know where each possible target is at that moment so I can decide who I'm going to try and shoot...and at that moment there might be someone on the bridge. Readying an action to cover the bridge effectively takes me right out of combat if nobody ends up crossing it.
 
Bounced several options but ultimately settled on using the Ready action rather than allowing a substitute "change your mind" action. Speed is a goal, to lessen "analysis paralysis" during turns where players hold up the game debating the optimal call.

Other thoughts that didnt work or fit goal of speedy play: delay and go on 0 next turn, add a d20 to initiative if changing mind, allow dodge to be substituted.
Cool, I like it. How did you players respond/adapt to the rule of "there is no changing your mind"? Was there any pushback there?
 

Harzel

Adventurer
18 months ago, I posted the results of 1 year's play using the DMG's "speed factor" (p270) optional initiative system. Our goal in switching was to (1) make player choice matter and (2) to shake up predictable combat orders, thereby increasing thrill and tension. We met Goal #2 but not #1. The player choice had minimal impact.

1 year ago, I posted a rough draft based off AD&D and Mike Mearl's much maligned and over-complicated Greyhawk Initiative. For the last year, it's been simplified and fixed quite a bit after brainstorming with other DMs and test play. I've been happy to find it's met both goals and been smooth sailing!
So, first, thanks for going to the effort of reporting your experience.

I am, though, somewhat uncertain as to how to interpret your report that the DMG speed factor variant did not make player choice matter, but your modification of GI did. Both systems modify the initiative roll based on player choice, and both are probabilistic in that they favor but don't guarantee that the PCs taking 'faster' actions go first.

Conclusion: It's quick once people "know their dice" and player choice of action makes a huge difference. Players are liking the control they have versus the sheer randomness of a d20, and we've de-emphasized the notion Dexterity should have such a heavy hand given all the other game mechanics it affects. Traditional "first strike" classes like rogues with daggers have great odds of striking first. Like in the DMG system, players need to watch the battlefield and plan accordingly because despite the odds, that ogre might roll well enough to surprise you and bring that club up quicker than you were expecting. It's added something to our game without taking anything away.

Your comment at the end seems to imply that in the DMG system the swinginess of the d20 overshadows the modifiers so much that the effect is not generally obvious in the course of play, whereas using the different dice in your system more often produces an initiative order in line with the 'speed' of the chosen actions. So I ventured into the math* a bit, and, provided I did not err in my calculations, the results seem, well, mixed.

Using the DMG system, differences of 2 or less in the modifiers produce results that seem to me to be unlikely to be easily noticeable as to who gets to go first more often. In particular, for instance, in a contest of d20 vs d20+2, the d20+2 wins outright only about 57% of the time. With a difference of 3, it's about 62%, which you might notice; a difference of 4 brings it to 66%, and 5 to 70%.

In your system, a difference of one step in dice size (d4 vs. d6, d6 vs. d8, etc.) looks like it also produces results in which the distinction will not be easily noticeable (bigger die wins less than 60% of the time). But then two steps seem much more likely to be noticed (more in the range of 65% and up), and in d4 vs. d10, the d10 wins outright 75% of the time.

So both systems have dice contests in which the effect of being 'faster' would be easy to see and ones where it wouldn't, but they don't necessarily line up with the same combinations of actions. It seems like the overall effect would depend on which combinations of actions were more common at your table.

I guess my general point (if I have one) is that I'm somewhat surprised you saw a dramatic difference between the systems in the extent to which character choice mattered in determining initiative order. Any further thoughts?

* Just arithmetic**, really.
** Which is math, of course, but 'math' always sounds to me a bit too grand*** for this kind of exercise.
*** I worry about the damndest stuff.
 

toucanbuzz

Explorer
So you have 14 monsters, and you have to decide their actions in advance. How is that. It 2-3 minutes of players chatting amongst themselves?
The number of monsters isn't really an issue because, like the default system, I do initiative by groups (e.g. boss and flunkies). I'd never make my players sit for more than 30 seconds, but I'll admit for DMs new to 5E and/or those who haven't used AD&D's system, the default is definitely easier to apply. You've got a list that requires no maintenance once setup whereas here, each round I'm either remembering actions + initiative or jotting down a note on some scratch paper next to the monster's hit points. It became second hand to me in AD&D so I personally don't need many notes, but that would vary by the DM. For someone just trying it out, organization would be key to keep delay down.

With that in mind, I'm not seeing slowdown, even with large groups, in theory because (1) most D&D monsters have very few actions from which to choose. My choice is often a "no brainer;" and (2) it helps in either system that I know my bad guys in advance and what they can do. Sometimes, I'll script out a strategy in advance (this was often done in 3rd edition modules).

Otherwise, I make a swift call based on how the battlefield looks. It might not be the best one, but that's also part of the benefit on saving time. By declaring an action on what looks good at the time, I'm not pausing on my turns to decide the perfect action.
 

toucanbuzz

Explorer
Cool, I like it. How did you players respond/adapt to the rule of "there is no changing your mind"? Was there any pushback there?
Two groups have been using this system. The first was already used to the DMG's weapon speed system, so it wasn't really a concern for them. The second group had one player voice the concern before play started. Since play, that concern hasn't come up again. I've found it's simpler to let the players try the system than to argue the mechanics work.
 

toucanbuzz

Explorer
...But even there if two (or more) characters/foes end up acting at the same time any bonus actions could still resolve then, right - even if the bonus actions are also simultaneous?

What I'm asking is that if, say, a character wants to use her move action to break cover, run across a 20' bridge, and take cover on the other side and her initiative is 14, at what initiatives at or around 14 is she actually on the bridge and exposed such that someone with initiative close to 14 can shoot her? (ignore readied actions*)

This to me is a huge flaw with non-simultaneous initiatives and instant movement ....
It's theorycraft for me on whether simultaneous actions could work. We'd be removing all Dexterity (or Intelligence) from influencing initiative altogether.

As to movement and action, that was part of the Greyhawk Initiative theory, and Matt Colville tried out something (at the 4:00 minute mark) where you rolled your d6 for movement, but instead of simply adding it, that's when your movement first could occur. E.g. you rolled a 3 for movement and a 8 for your actions, you go on an 11 but you'd be able to move on 3. I think it would be proper that you could take some or all of your movement on 3, and anything you have left on 11.

If anything, I think it's a great watch to see why he thinks it would be fun, and addressing some common concerns and design issues to fix the dice.

Again, my only reason for not using a movement die was to speed up the phase, make the math easier. I might re-evaluate, but Morrus noted that if you're dealing with 14 monsters, I might not want to be dealing with extra dice.
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer
@toucanbuzz How do you deal with variable duration effects? Dodge, for example could last anywhere between 2 turns (good initiative followed by bad initiative) or be non-existent (bad initiative followed by good initiative). Two options I considered when looking into variable initative was: duration doesn't include the current round, normally ending at the end of the following round (giving a benefit for a minimum of 1 round, and potentially 2) or you mark the initiative of when the effect should end, so that it will always last the same duration (such as on initiative 8 of the following round).
 

toucanbuzz

Explorer
I am, though, somewhat uncertain as to how to interpret your report that the DMG speed factor variant did not make player choice matter, but your modification of GI did....
It was the DMG's seemingly minimal 10% modifier (+2 for light weapons on a d20, or -2 for heavy ones) and a comment our Ranger player made. He felt that he was choosing a "quick" (short sword) weapon but it didn't feel like he went first very often. I didn't feel we could move to a d10 system, which lessened the effect of randomness, because of spells (-1 per level) as they'd never go first, and that penalized casters too much.

In a 2nd playtest with new players, we have a rogue who dual wields daggers quite often. Since I'm not getting paid, I haven't recorded our numbers, but it feels like his d4 puts him near the top of initiative orders quite a bit, though not based off his Dexterity.
 

toucanbuzz

Explorer
@toucanbuzz How do you deal with variable duration effects? Dodge, for example could last anywhere between 2 turns (good initiative followed by bad initiative) or be non-existent (bad initiative followed by good initiative). Two options I considered when looking into variable initative was: duration doesn't include the current round, normally ending at the end of the following round (giving a benefit for a minimum of 1 round, and potentially 2) or you mark the initiative of when the effect should end, so that it will always last the same duration (such as on initiative 8 of the following round).
Your options are the 2 options our system has. The "end of the next round" is easiest to track but also gives benefits above and beyond the effect's design. Tracking the # the effect came into play is better but requires one extra layer of recording a number. It's a DM thing. If you don't mind scratching down or memorizing that effect for a turn, it's all good. I wouldn't put it on players if possible.
 

Zaukrie

Adventurer
I'm experimenting with similar things, after playing Gloomhaven some....

The way I'm going to handle changing your mind is an initiative penalty. You get to your turn, you realize you want to do something else, roll a d8 ( I think it will be 8) and go on that turn instead. It "simulates" reacting to what is going on.

As for things with durations....it seems to me that the rules intent is the key. If you are intended to have more AC until the end of your next turn, that's what you get. If you end up going back to back, before monsters, oh well. That's the price you pay for going faster in the next round. Decisions have consequences.

We'll see how it goes....
 

Harzel

Adventurer
It was the DMG's seemingly minimal 10% modifier (+2 for light weapons on a d20, or -2 for heavy ones) and a comment our Ranger player made. He felt that he was choosing a "quick" (short sword) weapon but it didn't feel like he went first very often. I didn't feel we could move to a d10 system, which lessened the effect of randomness, because of spells (-1 per level) as they'd never go first, and that penalized casters too much.

In a 2nd playtest with new players, we have a rogue who dual wields daggers quite often. Since I'm not getting paid, I haven't recorded our numbers, but it feels like his d4 puts him near the top of initiative orders quite a bit, though not based off his Dexterity.
So I don't mean to deny your experience, but one factor that you haven't described is what the other characters in the groups were doing. As I noted earlier, with either system where you end up in the order is affected as much by the choices of the other participants as by your choices. So if, for example, the Ranger was rolling d20+2 vs d20 and the rogue was rolling d4 vs d8 and/or d10, the difference is not due to the system.
 

toucanbuzz

Explorer
@Harzel Perception definitely affects the experience. In the first go, we had a sorcerer, paladin, bard, and the ranger. No one else voiced any issues with the DMG system and making player choice matter, but the ranger player also DM's, so it may have been he saw things a bit differently.

Personally, I think it would be interesting if we removed ability score modifiers from initiative rolls altogether and only player choice affected the d20 roll with the DMG system. I noticed our sorcerer had the most difficulty because he had to modify -1 per spell level + his DEX modifier. Unlike classes that might repeatedly take the same action each turn (e.g. fighter), he never got fully accustomed to what may appear simple math.
 

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