Doug took the initiative and got inside my OODB loop (Observation-Orientation-Decision-Blogging) and posted a way to deal with shifting initiative in a fight.
If I had to sum up the GURPS rules for surprise, they are for "attacked out of nowhere" and "blundered into an ambush," basically.
Otherwise, initiative is fixed, there is no overall turn, and being fastest means going first. Being slow means you react after. If you're all in a hair-trigger situation like a Tarantino-inspired Mexican Standoff, GURPS Martial Arts has Cascading Waits rules to see who really goes first. And similar rules for quick-draw contests and such. Otherwise, fixed order.
I'm okay with that, and ran games that way for a long time. It's simple enough, it works, and it rewards people who make fast and capable PCs by giving them fast and capable PCs.
Even when we went to round-the-table initiative order instead of interlayered speed order, I just let the side with the fastest guy go first.
But not DF. With DF, I went with random rolls, detailed here:
My DF Alternate Surprise Rules
This wasn't because I had an issue with the GURPS system.
It was, in fact, because I liked the feel of "surprise" and "initiative" from D&D/AD&D and from early video games. "You are surprised by 4 bushwackers, 4 bushwackers, 2 bushwackers, and 1 goblin" - you know, after you kicked down the door in a dungeon while you're on hair-trigger and terrified of death. Stupid stuff, but fun.
I also assumed that walking around a dungeon, even noisily, meant that sometimes you blundered into prepared opponents who knew you were coming. And sometimes you'd blunder into unprepared opponents who just assumed, wrong, that the metal noises were those stupid orcs from down the hall again.
Pretty much, it's a dungeon genre switch. In dungeon delving games, you have to see if you're surprised by the monsters behind the door you just kicked down. You may know Charlie is in the trees but still get surprised when he's in that tree, not that other one.
My game is full of this kind of homage:
- wandering monsters
- doors that need forcing
- treasure in chests in rooms, often trapped.
- non-breakable environments
- a safe town to sell loot in
- reasonably cheap and available resurrection*
- more danger as you go deeper
It's not logic, it's genre switches that push this. And surprise/side-based initiative is one of them.
Pretty much the only way I could make this more D&D would be rolling Reaction Rolls for all of the monsters. "You are surprised by a beholder! Hahaha! Oh, wait, he's friendly and wants to negotiate."
That's a different, future post right there.
* In GURPS DF, getting raised from the dead costs 15 x Starting Wealth. That's like charging ~1500 gp in AD&D.