Initiative Stack: Making combat order a meaningful choice for players

The Initiative Problem

I continue to churn along in the development of Playtest 005. One of the things that struck me the other day is just how dull and meaningless the current iteration’s initiative system of Tier Die + Response score is. It’s almost entirely luck-driven, and there’s nothing about it that would lead players to make interesting decisions. Plus, it shoehorns characters into acting in a relatively similar order every combat.

A Solution

After mulling this over for a little while, I was struck by a bolt of inspiration, and after a day or so of furious tinkering, emerged from the darkness with a brand new initiative system! The intent of this revision was to make determining initiative a meaningful decision for the players. The party can virtually guarantee that it will act before the baddies they face, but there will be an immediate impact in terms of reduced capability in the first few rounds.

How the Initiative Stack Works

Each adversary the players face has an initiative modifier: arranging these from lowest (typically minion opponents) to highest (fast, mobile enemies) before the fight provides you with the Initiative Stack.

To determine when they go in each combat round, the heroes first decide among themselves the order in which they would like to act. It might make sense for the nimble Rogue to go first in one combat, but in the next, the party may wish to get its heavily armoured Knight into position right at the outset. This decision is made by the party, and the GM has no role to play. Once the heroes have determined their combat order, they as a group exhaust combat powers (as many as they like), totaling the Force Score of the powers they have bid to form an Initiative Stack of their own.

The order in combat is determined by comparing the values of the competing stacks. The side with the highest-valued stack goes first, the largest value is removed from the stack. This done, another comparison is made, and the next-highest value is removed. This continues until the full order is determined. Once determined, initiative order does not shift for the remainder of the combat.

Players begin the first round of combat with all powers chosen for the purposes of determining initiative order exhausted.

 

An Example

In the above Stack, the heroes have committed to winning the initiative, and have exhausted five powers to try and make sure they go first. In the first comparison, their stack has highest total value (9 vs. 8), and Sue acts first. The heroes remove the rightmost value from their stack, and another comparison is made. This time, the adversary stack is largest (6 vs. 8), and so the Sargent is placed next in initiative order. The adversary stack is reduced, and another comparison is made, identifying Bill as the next to go (6 vs. 4). The comparisons continue in this manner until the order of one side is full determined. At that point, the remainder of the other side is appended to the initiative order.

These comparisons leave us with the following combat order:

 

Class Powers Revised: More choices for everyone!

Class powers are a central way for a character to define themselves in Let Thrones Beware. Today’s post is look at how I’m revising how players select class powers
for the next playtest.

Old and Busted

A few weeks ago I ran the first playtests for Let Thrones Beware; one of the issues that came up was that players felt constrained. Each class provided two combat powers and one non-combat power, and this combined with a background which gave the opposite. All told, though each character had six powers, in practice, people found that to be too limiting.

(Another tester observation: class/background power assignment meant that every character with the same class and  background combination would possess exactly the same toolkit).

It was very obvious from feedback that a new approach was required. A new approach to ensure that characters are interesting to make and fun to play. Player advancement wasn’t covered in our first playtests, though it had always been the plan that as a character advanced in experience, she or he would gain more power options. What this meant was that there was already a body of unpublished class powers.

Which in retrospect made for a rather obvious solution.

New and Shiny

First, I split classes into two archetypes (for rogue, as an example, there is one archetype that focuses on traps and one on feints). Each of these archetypes automatically provides a character with a default power that highlights the archetype’s intent. Plus, five power additional options that can be selected during character creation and later on as players advance.

Second, I increased the number of combat powers with which a character begins play. Now everyone gets to choose three additional class powers above and beyond the default and the one provided by the background. Players may select from all the optional available powers to their class (including powers from the other archetype, with the exception of the other archetype default power).

Finally, a character receives a special capstone power only available to their archetype when she or he reaches the end of a tier. Presto, classes are immediately more distinct and far more interesting for players to choose between when creating a character. Plus, there’s another benefit: two characters with the same class will now play differently.

Rogue in the Woods: A Let Thrones Beware Adventure

When I was little, I was a big fan of the 1991 New Easy-to-Master Dungeons & Dragons Game – it came with this really clever introductory adventure on flashcards that introduced newcomers to Dungeons & Dragons and role-playing games in general one step at a time. Playing through a series of quests taught me everything I needed to know about the game, and equipped me with the knowledge to play in and run my own adventures with friends. Since then, I’ve never found an RPG that opens with a more accessible, easy-to-use adventure. In crafting an introduction to Let Thrones Beware, I wanted to design something that does more than merely list the mechanics players use – I wanted to convey a sense of the world of the game and how the game actually plays out, while also explaining the game’s mechanics and how they interact in play.

My ultimate goal is to develop a series of linked adventures, guiding people from knowing nothing about the game, its mechanics, or rpgs in general to experienced players capable of GMing for an entire table of friends.

A Rogue in the Woods Covers the following subjects, and while it doesn’t have the layout or graphics finished yet, it’s feature-complete and ready to be evaluated.

  • Making Decisions & Interacting Fairly
  • Character Attributes
  • Character Race
  • Character Background
  • Character Class
  • Trivial Challenges
  • Introduction to Skill Checks
  • Introduction to Combat
  • Skill Checks and Tests
  • Complete Combat

Download Rogue in the Woods: A Let Thrones Beware Adventure!

Class Preview – Meet the Knight

 

Now that we have a new skill contest system in place, it’s time to go back and rework classes and backgrounds to incorporate the changes. With this in mind, here’s the Knight class, with all the trimmings.

The big change you’ll notice is that there’s no longer a specific section for ‘Skills,’ as there was before. Instead, Skill Actions and Combat Maneuvers have been divided between backgrounds and classes. Backgrounds now have two Skill Actions and one Combat Maneuver, and classes have the reverse.

 

Download the pdf

A bunch of effusive thanks, and an updated Quickplay Adventure

Over the past few weeks, the Quickplay adventure has seen well over a hundred downloads. I’d like to take a moment to thank each and every one of you for the support and encouragement. I was expecting a dozen downloads at best, so it’s safe to say that my expectations have been wildly exceeded!

I’ve received a lot of great feedback from the community, and I’ve capitalized upon some excellent observations and suggestions; I’m pleased to announce that I’ve completed a revised version of the Quickplay Adventure that provides clarification for a number of game and setting elements.

With no further adieu, I give you the new adventure: Download the revised version here!

The quickplay has been updated again – the new version is here: Quickplay rev3