Doug Anderson proposed an idea for Initiative a while back that I'm rather keen on. At the time my slow as molasses Dwarf player wanted to have some way to not go last in Initiative and this worked perfectly. After plenty of playtesting I'm rather satisfied with the end result in the context of my HP system. Read more about it here
Doug proposes that when the party encounters another group you allow them to Spend HP to improve their initiative. When they run head first into a party of goblins they have to decide whether to conserve their resources and let the goblins act first or to spend some of their Luck (HP in his system) and strike first. It's a quick but important decision that adds a good deal of oomph to combat without over complicating things. Simple and Clean, my kind of thing.
Doug's Luck system and my HP system both have a limited and fairly small amount of HP to deal with. This is where paying HP for Init shines. If you're Thief has 20+ HP it is fairly inconsequential for him to spend some excess HP and unleash a Surprise Attack on some unsuspecting fool. The Dwarf in my example had a dearth of HP after a few levels in Labyrinth Lord and pretty soon rising to the top of the Initiative ladder was trivial for him and a bit unfair to the higher Agility characters. It was time to change things up a bit.
Limiting the amount of Hit Dice available gets the job done just fine but there are a few other ways to tweak the system. Here's how I handle Initiative.
- At the start of combat roll a d12.
- Add 3 if you have chosen the Guile Stat.
- Subtract your Armor's ACP from the roll.
- At the start of each round you may spend HP to improve your Initiative for the round.
- If at the end of the round your Initiative is 10+ you may take a bonus turn.
- If multiple combatants take a bonus turn follow the Initiative order as usual.
So a Naked Warrior with the Guile Stat can occasionally roll a 10 and get two turns a round. Not too bad a deal in the absence of life saving armor. Anyone wearing Armor can look forward to low Initiatives for the burden they bear. Fortunately our Fighter reduces all ACP by default making this character able to hit harder and fast. Design goal met.
On each round a combatant can decide to spend HP to either act before someone else does, or go for the full monty and hit that 10+ initiative and get a second turn out of the deal. When you've only got 3 six sided dice for your HP this can be a pretty tough decision to make. Burn out early and make yourself vulnerable, or take it slow and steady. Tortoise and the Hare.
JDJarvis post on Initiative reminded me that I left out how I allow Speed Factor in my game. Speed Factor used to factor heavily in an earlier more mechanically complex system that was cyclical in nature. Higher speed factor weapons meant waiting longer before you went again. Fun, but more complex than what I'm aiming for currently. Instead this is how Speed Factor comes into play.
Surprise comes in two flavors a [Surprise Round] and a [Surprise Attack]. A [Surprise Round] occurs whenever a group of people have successfully ambushed one another or the two of them have stumbled upon each other and some particularly opportune ne're-do-wells strike before everyone else can collect their wits. A character with Guile always acts in the Surprise Round. People walking into an ambush can potentially act in the Surprise Round provided their Initiative exceeds their weapon’s [Speed Factor] or they wield a Concealed weapon. In this way anyone planning on ambushing you is more likely to strike first while you are still drawing your sharpened mountain of metal.