Wednesday, June 7, 2017

AD&D initiative technology

Oy - quite a lull between posts, but as mentioned it's a busy year. Sean and I were talking about initiative in D&D this week, and the merits/detriments of different approaches. I don't think any initiative system I've seen is perfect, but I do enjoy the unpredictability of the AD&D systems that require new rolls for every round.

That said, rolling and collecting initiative every round can be burdensome, let alone accounting for combatants individually. In our game, we make a single roll for each side, adjust for casting times, and that's it. The approach works reasonably well, but can lead to polarized situations where one full side acts twice in a row. I told Sean that I'd be willing to try individual initiative per round, IF I could distill it down to a single click.

Achieving that managed to not be too difficult after all; I created a spreadsheet that calculates and sorts the data I need quickly and easily enough that I'd like to give it a go on Saturday and see how the party fares.

Instead of asking anyone to roll initiative, what my spreadsheet allows me to do is:

  1. Gather intended actions from each player, as I do today.
  2. Determine actions for each DM-controlled participant, as I do today.
  3. Type a single keystroke to get full initiative results for the round.

The sheet will include individual modifiers, and durations can be entered to calculate the "end segment" for a particular action (completion of a spell, end of a long movement, etc.). It enables me to use a more robust initiative system while streamlining the initiative process for everyone - hopefully leading to a smoother combat experience overall.

This is what the results look like after issuing a click to make the rolls and accounting for casting times:

Not many drawbacks to at least trying it out. I don't intend to show initiative results to the group regularly - not for any desire to hide them, but simply to avoid putting up a second monitor and distracting everyone with the numbers (not to mention that it could spoil any secret participants in the combat). While this does take initiative rolls out of the hands of the players and is a step away from the transparency I've been shooting for as DM, in this case I think the streamlining of initiative may be worth the exchange. Moreover, since any edit to the initiative roll column on the sheet forces a re-roll of the entire round, it would be difficult for me to "fix" anything as long as I'm willing to show the results when needed.

All for now!


  1. Hey Matt,

    I came across this blog randomly, and like this campaign. Even the stuff that I handle differently I feel the arguments put forth are well-reasoned and thoughtful. As a FWIW, I thought I'd share my initiative system. I've used it since the early 80's, and several of my players have gone on to use some version of it in their games.

    I have players roll a d10 individually, applying any adjustments (DEX and such). The number they get is the segment they act in (using the 10 segments to a round time system). If there are 3 or fewer opponents, I roll them individually as well, otherwise I roll the opponents collectively. Spells are cast in the segment indicated by casting time i.e., a 3 segment spell goes off in segment 3.

    Multiple attacks are split into pass throughs of the numbers. So, if a character has 2 attacks in a round, and rolls a 3 initiative, he uses his first attack in segment 3. If the owlbear he's facing rolls a 4, it uses it's claw/claw attack in segment 4. On the second pass through, the character uses his second attack, followed by the owlbear's bite.

    I typically keep an easel board handy to keep track of things (gettin hard to keep all of it in my head in my old age).

    I give the players the option at the start of things as to whether we re-roll at the start of each round, or stick with the initial numbers until a particular combat is resolved.

    Just, as I say, a FWIW. It's worked well for me. Happy gaming Sir!


  2. Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the comment! We don't get much traffic outside of our group, so always good to know that the content is being enjoyed. Initiative is one of those things that's tough to get exactly right. I also use ten segments per round and think our approaches are pretty similar overall. Three seems like a natural rule of thumb for grouping enemies onto the same initiative count.

    The way I've been handling spells is by saying that casting begins on the caster's initiative segment, and requires a number of segments equal to the casting time to complete. During that window, while the spell is being cast, a successful attack against the caster will disrupt and terminate the spell. I don't recall if that's "by the book" or not for 2e - I'll need to go reread the examples with Rupert, Rath, and Delsenora from the Player's Handbook.

    In your approach, if the spell fires on the casting time segment, then presumably the caster is casting up until that point in the round and any attack prior will disrupt them. Do casters actually need to roll initiatve for a round then? I imagine not. Definitely more favorable for them to not have to wait until their initiative segment to begin casting.

    Thanks again for the post!


    1. When I was formulating the system, I did actually go back and forth on the very issue of casting time + initiative roll versus casting time only. I found (at least in our game) that spell casters seemed to have a tough time getting spells off (particularly Clerics). I liked to err on the side of them getting spells off in the first round, given how often they are neutralized in later rounds.

      Thanks for the reply...Cheers!