Friday, January 8, 2016

Why I use initiative rolls in GURPS DF

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.


  1. It works for me. It makes Combat Reflexes worth it...
    And reaction rolls for some things can be fun. Like the Behir.

    1. You don't find Combat Reflexes worth it otherwise? That would surprise me - it's pretty aggressively discounted, I've always thought.

    2. He's running a berserker with the Enraged and Battle Fury options. The +1 to defenses is nice, when he's using Committed Attack, but mainly he needs to make sure fear and surprise don't mean he gets taken out before he can charge and kill stuff. A +1 to defend every few turns when he's actually defending is just kinda nice, but not worth 15 points. :)

  2. One thing - and I brought this on myself - I never really should have used the word Initiative in my original post. I used it casually as to mean "who's driving the pace and direction of the fight" instead of "who goes first," which is the common RPG effective meaning as a term of art.

    What I wanted to do is create a system or metric that woudl shape the battlefield by denying full agency to the one who's rocked back on his heels - lost the 'initiave' in the casual parlance.

    All of the discussion about it, though, makes me wonder if there's another way to go, with some sort of Initiative number that not only stands in for "who goes first," but also if that number is (say) negative, represents surprise. If your Initiative Number is zero or less, you Do Nothing, and must roll for Mental Stun - that kind of thing.

  3. In appropriate situations, I make everyone who is potentially surprised roll perception or something else appropriate - failure means a round of Do Nothing. I then use Will (+2 for Combat Reflexes), rather than IQ (+6 for CR) to recover, because it keeps the roll interesting for more creatures.

    With Will and Per disconnected from IQ, Wizards no longer tend to be masters of surprise.

    1. Wizards in my games tend to buy Will 15+, and aim for 19+, if only to max out their distraction roll of Will-3. They don't generally buy Combat Reflexes.

      How does this work with the fighter-types? Most of them would have lower surprise recovery with Will+2 than IQ+6, if only because you'd need Will 14 to equal what IQ 10 gets you.


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