Alternate Initiative System

Copyright James Walker © 2004

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

This article presents alternative rules for handling combat initiative. It combines some of the basic principles of the RMSS initiative system with concepts from CEATS (Combat Environment Activity Tracking System by Joel Lovell). I'd like to thank my players for their patience in humoring the trial and error needed to create a playable initiative system.

Here are the changes I've made to initiative:

1. First, initiative is now based on a (non-open-ended) d100 roll. The initiative stat is no longer QUx3, it is now QU+SD+IN. I believe this a more accurate reflection of the combination of perception and reaction needed in combat. Characters can develop an initiative skill, which progresses as Alertness (1% per rank), to reflect their combat anticipation improving with experience. The cost for developing the skill is based on loosely defined character classes presented below. The GM should determine to which class the professions in her/his world belong. (Editor's note: The initiative skill can also be placed in the Awareness·Perceptions category.)

Initiative development by class

Class Example Cost
Pure Fighter fighter, barbarian 1/3
Semi-Fighter rogue, thief, paladin 2/5
Non-Fighters laymen, priest, dabblers 3/7
Pure Spell Users magician, illusionist 4/8

2. Instead of using the Snap/Normal/Deliberate phases, initiative can be increased or decreased by +/-- 20 by decreasing or increasing one's offensive bonus For example, if a PC wants to get a quick attack in on an opponent they can opt to "hurry" an attack with a +20 initiative at the expense of --20 OB. The PC can also choose to speed an attack by +5, +10, or +15. Conversely, if a PC has an opponent on the ropes (e.g., stunned) this option allows for a haymaker or finishing blow because they can sacrifice up to --20 initiative in exchange for +20 OB.

Other Considerations

  • Skills used within a combat round can be modified by option #2. A good example would be a thief trying to pick a lock while his friends hold off a monster.
  • Skills that require a minimal % activity, such as power-striking, can be used by applying the minimal % activity as an initiative penalty, cumulative with option #2.
  • The initiative total is d100 + Initiative skill + speed modifiers + attack type + weapon size. The roll is not open-ended, but may exceed 100 after modifiers are applied, or drop below 0.
  • Exhaustion & concussion damage penalties modify initiative.

3. In combat the type of attack and weapon size modify initiative. The tables below outline some common attack speed considerations.

Attack Type

Melee +0
Thrown +5
Missile +20
Spell +50

Weapon Size

Small: dagger, dirk, dart +10
Medium: broadsword, hand-axe, mace +0
Large: battle-axe, war mattock --10

Other Considerations

  • Spears, and other pole-arms, should be treated as small weapons for the first round of combat, and large weapons thereafter.
  • Weapon size, as presented above, is based on a man-sized character. Small peoples such as Halflings may need to have a more detailed table; the same can be said for exceptionally large peoples such as Giants or Trolls.

Example Combat Round

Grall the fighter is armed with a hand-axe and shield, fending off an Orcish brigand armed with a spear. Grall decides to get a quick strike in, hoping to stun his opponent; he chooses to attack with a --20 OB to receive +20 initiative. He has 4 ranks of Initiative skill and a stat bonus of +4. Grall's initiative roll this round is modified by +28.

The Orc's initiative bonus is +6, with an additional +10 for the first round of combat with a pole-arm. He chooses to rely on the weapon for speed. The Orc's initiative roll is modified by +16.

They roll their initiative: Grall rolls a 57 + 28 and will attack at 85; the Orc rolls 61 + 16 and will attack at 77. Grall attacks first and scores a few hits, but no critical. The Orc's attack is blocked by Grall's shield.

Next round, Grall knows his opponent's spear is less effective in close quarters, so he decides to sacrifice a bit of attack speed to increase his attack potential, taking a --5 initiative and gaining +5 OB. The Orc, unknown to Grall, is going to try to disengage and regroup to regain his initiative bonus. The Orc takes a +20 initiative bonus to accomplish this, sacrificing --20 OB.

Grall's initiative bouns is 8 -- 5 = 3; the Orc's is 26. Grall rolls 64 + 3 totaling 67, and the Orc rolls 38 + 26 totaling 64. Grall strikes the Orc before it can run, scoring a critical and severely injuring his opponent.

Next round Grall sacrifices all of his initiative, gaining +20 OB, to strike a finishing blow against the injured Orc, felling him with a mighty blow.