Saturday, 13 October 2018

Physical Initiative and Query Initiative

Thinking about Davids post on Initiative brought up some ideas.

The first part is a silly list, the second part is less immediately useful but more conceptually interesting.


First idea is what if The Initiative is like a literal physical thing that you can find or recover in a game world, or just in one dungeon, city or area, and as long as you have it then you have the initiative. I.e, you fight first.

And everyone in this area knows what the initiative is, so if they see you with it, they will say 'oh shit, they have the initiative' and be afraid to attack, but if they can steal or grab it off you then *they* will have the initiative, and if they can break, kill, destroy or lose it then there is no initiative.

So here are 12? Dumb Physical Initiatives

For probably a cheesy game or the goblin kingdom in a normal game.

All of these must be held openly, visible, or held in one hand.

1. A small fragile bird like a starling, or a bat. Delicate bones, moves fast if it can get away. Very specific diet.

2. A big fat awkward robust bird like a Turkey. You have to cradle it under one arm. It becomes alarmed in violent situations, escapes and runs about. There can be no fighting in its presence till it is caught at which point whoever has it has the initiative. The bird is imperious.

3. A delicate glass flower, or a real one in a pot.

4. The Ark of Initiative. A huge heavy stone box that has to be carried about by at least two people.

5. The Expressive Initiative Snake or Repelling Rope of Initiative. A long thin thing that will not curl up into a neat wrap or spiral but must be carried full length, either be several people or just dragged along the ground behind.

6. A tall sign like a preachers apocalypse sign.

7. An instrument of some kind, like a violin or trumpet, while your side is playing it, you have the initiative. Good because it announces every fight you have. Bizarre because it ensures first strike on an unsuspecting enemy. Like a tuba you play very very quietly as you sneak up to backstab someone.

8. Quicksilver in an open chalice, must be held open in one hand like a saints object and not spilled. (Angels probably have one of these in one of their multiple arms when they appear.)

9. A Princess. Either a small and troublesome one or teenage, dissolute, hot and narcissistic. Someone has to be holding hands with the princess. (Or combing their hair?)

10. A balloon on a string.

11. A tall tiered hat (perhaps the enemy fear it so much that gives you initiative over them).

12. A glass shield, no more robust than normal glass.


Second idea is influenced somewhat by the description of fights in Amber Diceless. What if initiative was related to the number of questions a player or side could ask about the encounter before they lose initiative.

This is probably easier to conceptualise as a per-side thing. Enemy types would have an Initiative Value, with low being good. Something like this;

Ambush: D4 -1
Fast things: D4
People: D6
Bigger things: D8
Slllooow things: 2d6 (like Zombies)

You would begin with the most basic description possible;

"A shape attacks. Initiative begins."

Then the player side can ask precise questions about the specific physical qualities that they can sense. Like;

"What shape is it?"
"How many limbs?"
"Is it dressed?"
"Does it/they have a weapon?"
"How many of them?"

I'm not sure on the exact quality of the questions that can be asked. Yes/No seems a bit too tight but wider questions could get easy too quickly.

Then the Players get to ask questions about what their particular character can see or sense, and if they go over a creatures initiative number, then the monsters/opponents get to attack first.

Its not that well worked out after the first round. Do the 'winners' of the first round keep initiative for the rest of the fight? Do the players get to ask more questions on each subsequent round or is info disclosed as normal? If more questions are needed then do you re-roll the monsters initiative values each round?

The thing I like about it is that it forces both the Players and DM to think hard about the precise physical qualities of the game world and how to express them, and becasue the limiting of information mimics the way adrenaline and high-stress situations, and ambushes, really work; by limiting the information available to the object of the attack, meaning they respond in a sub-optimal way. And because as the fight goes on and the PCs gather more and more context, they can make more complex decisions.

To begin with something is just right in your fucking face and you need to do *something* and you don't really know exactly what you are fighting right away. Then if you can survive the first round or so you begin to work out 'oh right, its goblins' and this can mimic the way in which an ambush or attack that doesn't work or follow-through can lose imeptus and be beaten back.

A big question is whether you can, or should, ever "trick" people into getting into fights they wouldn't want to, either because the enemy is too big or an 'innocent'. The mere question of announcing an initiative situation strongly suggests that violence is already in the offing whether the PCs want it or not.


Silent Titans - the book I am making with Christian Kessler and Dirk Leichty is written, mainly illustrated, going into final editing and we are getting final quotes from printers.

Expect a Kickstarter in December and expect the book itself in February 2019 (HOPEFULLY).


  1. So I can see this working really well for the 'oh shit you're getting ambushed wtf how' situation to model the lack of knowledge on what's going on, but standard inits less so.

  2. Love both of these! Quick question though. With the second method, would you ask dX amount of questions before the round starts, with combat occurring as usual after the questions are asked?

    1. I think the way it would go is that you can ask questions and declare an attack or action, but if you go over a random number of questions, that you don't know, then you lose initiative and whatever it is attacks you first.

    2. Very interesting second part. It made me think of an alternative to skill checks, where your roll determine a budget for asking questions to the dm. An example: player rolls to check for traps, rolls 2 under Dex (or whatever value), gets to ask 2 specific questions to the dm, 'do the floors look suspicious? Can I sense anything wrong with the architecture?'
      The idea of the players having a budget (determined semi randomly) for asking for information really makes sense when used in certain situations, like initiative. Someone could probably write similar rules for basic diplomacy, searching/traps, wilderness exploring, anything where there is a trade off between going quick and dangerous vs slow and careful.