Unearthed Arcana Unearthed Arcana: "Greyhawk" Initiative

The latest Unearthed Arcana by WotCs Mearls is up. "Mike Mearls introduces an alternative initiative system, inspired by AD&D and the journey to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin—the birthplace of D&D—for Gary Con 2017. While the initiative rules in fifth edition D&D are great for keeping the action moving and being easy to use at the table, the Greyhawk initiative variant takes a different approach. These rules add complexity, but with the goal of introducing more drama to combat."

He's calling it "Greyhawk Initiative". It'll be interesting to compare this to how we interpreted his earlier version of alternative initiative.

Mearls also talks about it in this video.


[video=youtube;hfSo4wVkwUw]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfSo4wVkwUw[/video]


 

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Lord Twig

Adventurer
That doesn't make any sense.

Yes, it is an anecdote. But that is all that is needed in this case. It speeds up combat in our game. It won't speed up combat in all games and it might not in yours, but it does in ours.

And I believe that you believe that it actually made your game faster. I am still skeptical, however. There may have been other factors that slowed things down before that were not present when the new rules were used. Or you might just not have noticed that it was taking longer because you and your players were more engaged with the new rules. Or any one of a dozen different things.

Now if your group was so engaged that you didn't notice it took longer, that would still be a good result. So there is that. But as for it actually being faster, I doubt we will get an impartial study under controlled conditions. So I am going to have to go with what my own mind is telling me based on the systems as presented and my own experiences. And those factors tell me there is no way Mearls' Grayhawk Initiative is faster.
 

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I've tried this in one session. There were things I liked and things the players dislikes, sometimes they were the same thing.

One player was extremely critical, because he said he couldn't decide what he was going to do without knowing if he was within AoO range of an enemy. I like this idea, because it applies some chaos to combat. After all, plans never survive contact with the enemy.

The players in one of my games suffer from a lot of "not -ing paying attention". They cannot take their turn in combat in less than a minute, because they are asking "which enemy is more injured? where are they? how far am I from the door? what did X do on their turn? what is the range of my spell again?" all of thich could be answered by paying attention during the rest of the combat.

This initiative idea meant all that discussion happened at once, at the beginning of the round. The rest of the round went really quickly, as I counted off "1.. 2.. 3..". I don't know if the combat actually went quicker (we have to use it more), but it *felt* quicker.

An extra dice for Bonus Actions is too much. I'm going to make them "free".

Stunning enemies needed a bit of careful thought. I think the intent of the rule is that if a bugbear is stunned or incapacitated (or knocked to 0 HP) *before* their turn this round, then they lose their turn this round and attempt a save at the end of this round. If the bugbear has already used their turn this round then they lose their turn next round and attempt a save at the end of the next round. This makes "one turn" duration effects last a little longer, but it applies to PCs and monsters, so that's OK. The same happens in Popcorn Initiative.

The biggest problem I had was getting the players to be more general in declaring their action. I don't want to know "If the bugbear moves then I'll move after it and attack it but if it doesn't then I'll attack it but if Juma kills the bugbear then…" — I just want to know "I want to move and make a melee attack".

One player said "I might want to atack, I might want to cast a spell.", so I said roll d^+d8+d10, to which they replied "Why do I have to go last?". Contrary to him, I like this feature of the rules system. If you want to leave your options open, you go last, since you are essentially sitting, watching what is happening then making a decision based on what others have done. Choosing flexibility has a consequence. I'm big on consequences.
 

To clarify the stunning rules a bit more:

How do you think it would be if stun effects (incapacitated, held, 0 HP) always made their save at the end of this round, regardless of turn?

For example, Mojourna is trying to cast hold person of Conan. If Conan goes first, then Conan acts, then Mojourna holds him, then at the end of the round, Conan gets to make a save to throw off the effect. It is possible that Mojourna actually gets zero benefit from casting the spell.

In this case, Mojourna's player has a choice to make: move+cast, possibly going after Conan and getting no benefit from the spell, or just cast, probably going before Conan, but risking being smacked by Conan if the spell doesn't work.

I wonder if the chance of Mojourna's player wasting a spell is too much - no-one like losing a resource like a spell slot for nothing.

On the other hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And even in the initiative system in the PHB a player can end up being unable to take an Action.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Maybe you have to split these out into two rounds worth of stuff?

I’m confused, are you talking about making a ranger cast hunter’s mark as their entire turn and then attacking next turn or are you talking about moving to the pillar (I meant it as a vantage point which was probably unclear, but moving into cover works as well) as their entire turn and then casting and shooting as turn two?

Either way, under the current system you can do all three in your turn, and generally early in the round, which makes you feel like a mobile archer with magic.

Breaking them up or making it so disadvantageous to take all your actions just seems like an odd design decision, because despite what may be recommended players will always try and do as little as possible so that they can act as quickly as possible.




The biggest problem I had was getting the players to be more general in declaring their action. I don't want to know "If the bugbear moves then I'll move after it and attack it but if it doesn't then I'll attack it but if Juma kills the bugbear then…" — I just want to know "I want to move and make a melee attack".

One player said "I might want to atack, I might want to cast a spell.", so I said roll d^+d8+d10, to which they replied "Why do I have to go last?". Contrary to him, I like this feature of the rules system. If you want to leave your options open, you go last, since you are essentially sitting, watching what is happening then making a decision based on what others have done. Choosing flexibility has a consequence. I'm big on consequences.


Oh yeah, I hadn't even considered the resurgence of... back-up plans doesn't sound quite right, but that is definitely something that is going to happen during that tactical "pre-round planning" because players need to decide exactly what they are going to do.

And, I know a lot of people are think "just say I'll move and attack and be done with it" but that isn't how a lot of us will see this system, at least early on. You are being told by the system to declare your actions, and so you need to consider how the round is likely to play out before you can even begin deciding. And maybe your turn is simple, maybe your sniping from far away and all you do is declare I'll be attacking again this turn, but the more options you have the more things you have to consider before anyone declares anything, because people are going to make assumptions about what they are likely to roll and then plan an order of actions and assume certain things will happen before they will do their thing.

It's just how a lot of us gamers have our brains wired.



And as for consequences... I mean, I get the inclination but choosing to play smart or clever seems to be the most consequence ridden choices in this system. For example, how likely is someone to do something cinematic in this system when they know it will slow them down and they have to declare it before seeing the battlefield. You aren't likely to have someone swing down and kick the fire brazier onto the troll if they have to decide to do that while the troll is 30 ft away and hasn't declared any actions yet.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
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cooperjer

Explorer
You seem to contradict yourself a bit with these statements:



I'm not talking about a player "changing their mind" - I mean when their chosen option simply isn't viable at the point their turn comes up. Not declaring the specific spell ahead of time, even though it's likely they know what they're going to cast, allows for them to switch to a backup spell, adapting to the changing circumstances of the battle.

Making them stick to what they've declared in the initiative phase could also have the effect of creating indecision - they've got to cast the spell they choose, so what's the best spell to pick if things change during the round?

Would you also make archers declare a target in advance, and if that target dies or becomes no longer visible, make them lose their action as well? A ranged attacker can currently simply pick the best/preferred target when their turn comes up. They may still end up with no targets, but that will happen far less than having to declare one. Same with casting spells.

And if you're worried about adding time for a player to figure out their turn, why, oh, why have a system where you have to stop and look up the specifics of the spell each time one is cast in combat? Think of the poor DM who has more than one spell caster NPC fighting the party.

The "adding a d6" to take a turn later ... nope. If they can't take the action now, it's still unlikely they'll be able to do it later. Unless you're suggesting they can also make a new declaration of what they're doing (potential for abuse there.) I mean:

DM: Any 9's?
Player 1: That's me, but the orc I was going to charm is dead.
DM: OK, roll me a d6 to act later.
Player 1: I got a 1.
DM: Alright. Any 10's?
Player 1: Uh, that's me, and the orc I was going to charm is still dead.

Like someone else said, this UA system is slightly more simulationist than the current initiative system. The question is, how far down the simulation rabbit hole to you want to go with further tweaks? Especially with non-real world things like casting spells.

I have a feeling you misunderstood me. I would ask the spell caster player to determine if they are going to cast a spell that has 1, 2, or 3 components. If the situation changes once the players turn has started then they choose a spell that matches the limit of 1, 2, or 3 components to cast. If the situation changes such that they need to change to a spell that requires more components than originally stated, then the player would roll a 1d6 and add it to their initiative. When their turn comes up a second time then they can cast the spell.

With respect to looking up the number of spell components, my first thought was that all of the caster characters sheets I've printed out have had a page that lists the spells known or spells available to know for the day. So, my initial thought was that it would be fairly simple to look up the number of spell components; however, this assumes a player is using such a sheet and that such a sheet is accurate. I'm told by one of my players who enjoys casters that this is not always available and not always accurate. With respect to the DM looking up spells, I do see that could be a bit of a challenge; however, I use a resource such as Roll20 Compendium or D&D Beyond to quickly check spells.

The example you give is interesting and I feel I would add a rule that says only one change of action is available with the 1d6 increase in initiative position. The next time the players turn comes up and the new action is not available then they are stuck with no action that turn. Let me clearly state that the increase in 1d6 initiative position would allow the character to add a move, change the complexity of spell cast, change to a Dodge action, etc.

However, giving a player a chance to decide upon options tends to increase the time it takes to complete a turn. Because there is discussion at the beginning of the round by many players then waiting for one player to make a choice feels less time consuming. However; once the spot light is focused on one player and they are making a choice, then if feels as though time is being consumed. This is one way the added 1d6 to change your mind could be a problem. In addition, if there are ways to abuse the system then I'm sure my players would find it. I would expect them to play fairly and if abuse becomes a problem then I start adding rules.

In the end, I most likely will not implement this system any time soon. If it becomes AL legal then I might be able to use it more often; however, my home non-AL game is at level 10, meets once per month, and my caster player feels this system does not work well with casters and does not work well with her character concept.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
I don't really like this, for many reasons. It's fiddly, wastes time, warps balance, wastes actions and overall it feels like a pet project that will only waste design time with important opportunity costs for the worse of the game.

If you don't like cyclic initiative, there is a simpler way to keep stuff running. Get a deck of cards running from 1 to 50. Whenever it's time for combat shuffle and give each player two cards + Dex bonus (minimum 1) then the DM draws one card for each monster + the best Dex bonus in the group (+1 for any legendary actions). DM puts her lowest card and declares which monster acts in that slot. Players with a lower card can show it and get their action or movement before that monster. Monster gets their turn, DM shows another card and players with a lower card can get an action or movement before that monster. And so on until all monsters get a turn, then any residual players get their turn. Shuffle and repeat. As long as players have actions or movement they can keep intervening with their initiative cards. Once they are out of them they discard all of their cards.
This way players have to keep attention as they don't know when they get to intervene, and they aren't pressured to use their bonus action as it could still be useful later.
 

cooperjer

Explorer
I’m confused, are you talking about making a ranger cast hunter’s mark as their entire turn and then attacking next turn or are you talking about moving to the pillar (I meant it as a vantage point which was probably unclear, but moving into cover works as well) as their entire turn and then casting and shooting as turn two?

I still like the idea that bonus actions do no add to the initiative count. Someone said up thread that a bonus action from GWM can trigger; but since the player didn't roll dice from it then do they get to take the action? I'm sure there are several examples like that.


Oh yeah, I hadn't even considered the resurgence of... back-up plans doesn't sound quite right, but that is definitely something that is going to happen during that tactical "pre-round planning" because players need to decide exactly what they are going to do.

And, I know a lot of people are think "just say I'll move and attack and be done with it" but that isn't how a lot of us will see this system, at least early on. You are being told by the system to declare your actions, and so you need to consider how the round is likely to play out before you can even begin deciding. And maybe your turn is simple, maybe your sniping from far away and all you do is declare I'll be attacking again this turn, but the more options you have the more things you have to consider before anyone declares anything, because people are going to make assumptions about what they are likely to roll and then plan an order of actions and assume certain things will happen before they will do their thing.

It's just how a lot of us gamers have our brains wired.

My caster player made this point a couple of times. Her particular example was when to cast Fireball. I'm assuming the player discussion at the beginning of the round would indicate that she is going to specifically cast fireball. In this discussion I imagine all of the other players saying they delay their action until after the fireball is cast to attack the monsters. But what happen then if the monster move to engage the PCs. Does the caster still cast fireball or then switch to a different spell? If my opinion, the player gets to select a different spell, but as you said the player initially feels locked into the first statement.



And as for consequences... I mean, I get the inclination but choosing to play smart or clever seems to be the most consequence ridden choices in this system. For example, how likely is someone to do something cinematic in this system when they know it will slow them down and they have to declare it before seeing the battlefield. You aren't likely to have someone swing down and kick the fire brazier onto the troll if they have to decide to do that while the troll is 30 ft away and hasn't declared any actions yet.

You bring up a couple of good points. The first is predicting what a monster might do vs reacting to what a monster has done. In the example given by my caster player she indicated that she would like to be able to cast Misty Step, run 30-ft, and use a meta-magic to cast a cantrip if she finds her caster in melee range. Well, this new initiative system gives no guarantee that she would roll lower than the monster, which is most likely going to stand in once place and attack. Even if bonus actions do not add to initiative, then she is still rolling 1d10 + 1d6 and hopes to beet a 1d8 from the monster. In the current system, she can react to the monster position and be confident her character is safe. In the new system, she feels much less confident that the caster can escape.

The second point you bring up is regarding monster declaration. It was mentioned up thread. The response was that it's up to the DM to be fair in choosing the monster action with respect to what the monster knows. However, I get the feeling from the UA article that the DM does not declare what the monsters are doing at the beginning of the round. If the DM does need to do this, then I foresee my players using that advantageously to make the encounter that much easier, because they shift their declarations to account for this. I guess I could see a DM declare "The orcs will move and attack" or "The orc shaman will move and cast a spell." This may not be enough information for the players to change the encounter difficulty.
 

ad_hoc

(they/them)
And I believe that you believe that it actually made your game faster. I am still skeptical, however. There may have been other factors that slowed things down before that were not present when the new rules were used. Or you might just not have noticed that it was taking longer because you and your players were more engaged with the new rules. Or any one of a dozen different things.

I understand what you're saying. The thing is, we have measurements. We got more done in the last 3 sessions that we have used this system than we ever have before.

Greyhawk Initiative likely plays much differently than it reads.

There are likely 2 main factors that make it much faster for us at our table:

1. Deliberations all happen at the same time. This means they only happen once. Not up to 4 or 5 times.

2. Because there is a built in pause between when a player has declared an action and the resolution of that action they have time to prepare for the resolution of that action. That makes the resolution part quicker than in standard initiative.

I realize that both of these factors won't apply to all tables. They apply at my table.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
I don't really like this, for many reasons. It's fiddly, wastes time, warps balance, wastes actions and overall it feels like a pet project that will only waste design time with important opportunity costs for the worse of the game.
Mike's the lead, I suspect he doesn't really design a lot of stuff anymore, mostly just farms it out.
Things like this aren't exactly dangerous, they're still optional, and the couple of bits that most nearly make sense (spell interruption, weapons with different dice) are double-dog-optional.

If you don't like cyclic initiative
There's really nothing wrong with cyclical initiative, as long as you have robust enough off-turn reactions, so you don't have silliness like archers shooting adjacent enemies in the face before they can react, spellcasters with no fear of melee, and enemies streaming past armed warriors with no risk whatsoever.

...

I mean... er.. nevermind.
 

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