Saturday, June 07, 2008

Playing with Initiative

Earlier I mentioned how I was handling weapon damage for my hack of Moldvay/Cook/Labyrinth Lord. The question was raised: why bother lugging around a sword if it only does the same 1d6 damage as a dagger?

Good question. The answer is initiative.

Initiative is an iffy beast in ten second rounds. Ten seconds is forever in a fight. There’s going to be a lot of back and forth. But you need some way to decide who gets to wound the other guy first, unless you just say everything is simultaneous (which I was tempted to do).

So once you decide that initiative is important, there are all sorts of ways you can handle it. Highest Dexterity score, or fastest weapon, or longest reach. Of course, then you have to wonder which is most important. If a fast man is swinging a two handed sword at an average man wielding a short sword, who should have initiative?

Mr. Moldvay dispensed with all that headache by granting initiative to the luckiest. That is to say, it’s a dice-contest. Both sides roll a single d6 and the highest roll wins. If you are feeling fancy, you could do individual initiatives, which are handled the same way, but everyone rolls instead of just one roll per side, and you add an adjustment based on individual Dexterity scores.

I, however, lack Mr. Moldvay’s wisdom and gleefully charge ahead where angels fear to tread. Why would I do this to myself? Simply because I think your choice in weapons should matter. Weapons look and work differently because they’re made for different jobs. A sword is easy to wear and great for slicing up unarmoured foes. An axe is a bit unwieldy strapped to your belt, but it’s much better at busting through chain or getting around a shield. A mace or hammer is even better at hammering around heavily armoured opponents, while a flail is great at getting around shields, but doesn’t work well at all if you really just need to decapitate an insolent peasant.

Keeping that in mind, I’m banishing randomness from initiative and basing it solely on your choice of weapon. If you’re fighting with two weapons, your initiative is based on the lower initiative of the two.

How am I deciding what weapon gets which initiative? I’m using a variety of factors. First, and most important, is reach. If a weapon’s got reach, you have to deal with getting past the hurty part before you can get to the soft, squishy wielder on the other end. Reach is a function both of how long a weapon is, and how it’s wielded. If a weapon is meant to be swung, it might be longer than a stabbing weapon, but the stabber might arrive first since it doesn’t have as far to travel. Mass, of course, is another issue, since a weapon with less mass is faster and more maneuverable. Finally, there’s the weapon’s flexibility, the number of different ways it can be used to put the hurt on someone. A weapon with greater flexibility opens up more options for the skilled the warrior, while forcing the warrior’s opponent to be more cautious.

Ok, keeping all that in mind, here are the weapons:

WEAPON

DAMAGE

INITIATIVE

NOTES

Bastard sword

1d6

9

2d4 when wielded two-handed

Battle axe

2d4

8

Club

1d6

2

Dagger

1d6

4

Hand axe

1d6

3

Lance

1d6

9

Double damage on charge.

Mace

1d6

6

Pole arm

2d4

8

Short sword

1d6

7

Spear

1d6

10

Double damage when set to receive charge

Staff

Highest of 2d6

7

Sword

1d6

8

Torch

1d6

1

+ 1d4 burning damage

Two-handed sword

2d4

7

War hammer

1d6

5

And there you have it. Highest initiative, adjusted for Dexterity using the initiative adjustments listed in the Moldvay book, goes first. Fists have an initiative of 3 and feet 1. Missile weapons firing at range always go first. However, if someone is in your face with a melee weapon, you can’t fire. And I’ll have to come up with initiatives for monsters who don’t use weapons. As a general rule, canines and reptiles have initiative 5, felines and bears 6.

I like this for a number of reasons. First, it makes your choice of weapons more interesting. The spear is an excellent weapon, as it should be. There’s a reason it’s been a popular infantry weapon throughout the world since pre-history all the way up through the 20th century. But a spear isn’t always welcome at social events, or easy to hide under your cloak like a short sword or dagger. The swords are still good choices, especially if you want to use a shield, but the staff remains an interesting choice for warriors on a budget.

Second, there’s no need to roll for initiative, with all the searching for the right die, then searching for any modifiers and all of that. We get all the benefits of individual initiative without waiting around for people to roll dice. Your initiative is a flat number, pre-calculated. If you know you’re attacking with a sword, then you know what your initiative is. Saving time is vital when you’re playing online and already dealing with the slowdowns of the ‘net and typing.

9 comments:

Erekibeon said...

Given I'm a fan of the axe as a weapon of choice, I'm a bit surprised you gave the hand axe such a low initiative.

In case you have time, I'll recommend you the episode of the program "Conquest" (History Channel) dedicated to axes: http://es.youtube.com/watch?v=9xcmmj0LETg
That should give you an insight on how really the axes were used in combat. They weren't so bad after all ^.^

trollsmyth said...

You have a point, I'll take a look at that. Still, keep in mind that the hand axe is a relatively small, one-handed hatchet. Not the sort of things they're swinging around most of the time in that video, which would fall under the battle axe (8 init and 2d4 damage).

- Brian

Erekibeon said...

Well, I thought you were referring with the Battle Axe to those huge two-handed axes. As you can see later in the video, they are wielding axes that can be hold with one hand and a shield.

It seems that you are discouraging a bit bringing a handaxe to a combat... same damage as a club and veeeery slow. Why would anyone want to use that? Probably I would fix it making the axe deliver more damage, so it would be a fair choice. Slow, maybe, but if I hit you...

After all, why the axe would be so broadly used if it was so useless compared to the mace?

And thank you for at least reading my humble opinion ;-)

Erekibeon

trollsmyth said...

Good point on the one-handed wielding. What I should probably do is do for the battle axe what I did for the bastard sword and give it a one-handed option for 1d6 damage.

As for the hand-axe, I'm afraid the gameist in me gimped it too much, and I do need to adjust it. The hand-axe, like the dagger, is one of those weapons that's also an incredibly useful tool. I'll probably bump it up to be on par with the dagger, I think.

Thanks for the feedback!

- Brian

Alex Schroeder said...

I'm a bit surprised at the damage output. As far as I can see, a torch is the most dangerous weapon, doing 1d6+1d4 damage, and it is the fastest weapon, too. Is that intended? On a similar note, the quarterstaff seems to be better than most 1d6 weapons because of the two-handed nature. I was also surprised to learn how slow a dagger is compared to a club (isn't stabbing faster than swinging?).

It's a very inspiring read that makes me rethink weapon specialities, and it helps reinforce the conclusion I drew some time ago (in the comments): Starting to tinker with the rules is an endless business and I'm not sure I want to go there. :)

The Recursion King said...

For a completely different take on initiative altogether, check out my continuous initiative house rules here which are based around a different idea ... in the same time as one mighty swing of a two handed sword, a skilled knifesman can jab a number of times.

trollsmyth said...

Alex,

Actually, you've got it backwards, since the higher numbers go first. The "fastest" weapon is the spear, since whoever is fighting the spearman must get past that point before they can do anything else.

trollsmyth said...

Oh, and of course you want to go there! It's half the fun. ;D

trollsmyth said...

The Recursion King,

Very nice! Though I imagine at higher levels, players find that they actually want to ditch the armour and go with the more numerous attacks. Has this been the case?