Seizing Initiative

Kilgore's battered Red Six

Kilgore's battered Red Six

James at Grognardia has a post up on initiative. It begins thus:

One of the key advantages of OD&D is its simplicity, which makes it very easy to modify. One of the areas I’m thinking of modifying is initiative, because I’m not really happy with any of the systems I’ve tried over the past year. I’d like something a little more complex, or at least that better takes into account things like weapons used, armor worn, and Dexterity.

Now, who am I to critique? But this touches a topic that I had meant to post on before my gaming came to a screeching halt a couple of moths ago, so I feel I must comment at bit. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m defining “OD&D” to include Labyrinth Lord.

Let’s look at that first sentence.

One of the key advantages of OD&D is its simplicity, which makes it very easy to modify.

That is very true, but it can be, in my humble opinion, improved a bit. Here’s my “punched up” version:

One of the key advantages of OD&D is its simplicity, which makes it very easy to modify.

Now, as I’ve written on this site, I’m certainly not above tweaking things here and there, and it’s much easier to do so well when using a simple system. But the primary advantage of a simple system is not that it’s very easy to modify. The primary advantage of a simple system is that it’s simple.

The d6-for-each-side initiative scheme is what I consider to be probably the most useful example of why and how I think a simple system (generally, but not always, ‘old school’) is vastly superior to a more complex and sophisticated system. I see it as sort of the “gold standard” example of why simple is better.

James has some tables to take weapons, armor, and dexterity into account when determining initiative. They are based on the good old Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets, and look to be quite good. In fact, they’ve got a lot going for them. They are not overly-complex and get to the meat of what James wants to accomplish. Bravo. It appears that you could simply calculate an initiative score for each character (or maybe for each weapon a character uses) and go from there, not needing to consult the tables too often during actual play.

Still, I can’t help thinking that and quick and easy d6 for the party is better. For one thing, it’s quicker and easier. That carries nearly as much weight as anything. For another, the chaotic nature of combat means that a thief with a dagger somehow always striking after a fighter with a 2-handed sword (which should be slower) is easily explained. Finally, the purely random nature of the d6 roll against the other side’s d6 roll to determine something as important as who goes first is just plain fun.

And ‘just plain fun’ trumps ‘realistic’ every time.

So while James’ tables are good, I’ll be sticking with my straight up d6 for each side, thankyouverymuch.

Additionally, I don’t think I’ve ever (and I mean ever ever ever) used individual initiative in a game.

I could bring myself to allow the dexterity initiative bonus when a “side” consists of a lone individual, whether he’s fighting against a “side” of one opponent or of more. So Thadeus the Theif with a DEX of 16 would get a +1 (per the Labyrinth Lord rules) bonus to his roll whether he was fighting one other guy (who might get his own bonus) or a group.

Now that I think about it, I could even be convinced to give a whole side the bonus if every member had that bonus. This would be similar to how a halfling gets a +1 on initiative when alone or in a party composed only of halflings. So a side would get a +1 if everyone had a DEX of 13 or greater. Sort of using the lowest common denominator for initiative modifiers.

(I’d have to think about what to do with initiative penalties. Would one person with a penalty require the whole side to roll using that penalty? Not sure.)

The quick, random, exciting nature of the d6 vs. d6 is a major bonus to the old ways, as far as I’m concerned. I know that different folks have different takes on things, but I’m going to stick with that method. I think it’s the perfect model of simpler is better.

Now, if only the LOW roll won, it would match up better with all the other old school d6 checks where lower is better. I haven’t made that change yet, but I’ve considered it.

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