Initiative

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I think the biggest think that could ever be done to improve tactical combat is very simple to implement: reverse declaration.

As is, you roll for init and then act in order high to low. people who roll high have 2 options, initiate combat or sit back and wait to see what the enemy is capable of. People who roll low may not get in first hit, but by the time their turn comes they probably have a good idea of how the fight will go. Then you bring in the fundamental problem of ready actions basically requiring you to tell your opponent what you're going to do, giving the low roller yet another advantage.

Reverse declaration means you roll and perform actions as normal, but you reverse the order in which people declare actions. this means the people who roll high on their init regain their rightful tactical advantage over the low rollers, and have the ability to influence the direction of combat.

I realise this system is already being used by certain game systems, but once you get used to it it makes complete sense.
People who react first shouldn't necessarily react best. As it stands, people with high initiative have the opportunity to go first and perhaps miss the chance to immediately react to something that happens after their turn, or they can choose to be patient. Sometimes acting rashly will cost you - thus initiative is sound as-is.
At least I have my proper avatar now, I guess. But man is this cloud dark.
In addition to what Tenzhi said: Readying an action is an entirely mental action. When you ready an action, no one gets to know what your readied action was, or even that you readied an action at all. I'd call for a sense motive at least to even realize that you've readied to react to something.

Besides, if you reverse declare and high init actions make low init actions impossible, do you get freed from your declaration? or do you just lose the around? Neither way seems very appealing.
There was a thread on this some times ago.
I myself prefer the reverse declaration, tactically it is more sound. Makes combat a bit slower, thus I would recommend it only for especially important fights.

On the other hand systems utulizing reverse declaration, such as Battletech have simultaneous actions. Thus there is now fear of invalidating actions (albeit you can hit a 'Mech that is already down.)
I don't think it should be changed...
I was amazed with that idea when we were playing some white wolf games, but after a while you realize that it gives you a major unbalanced advantage if you are first.
Let's say in a 1 on 1 fight the cahracter with a higher initiative, knows every move of his enemy and has the chance to act first.
Like that he can adapt his action perfectly to ruin the slower characters action... So the slower one really doesn't have a fair chance to win.

That ruins all the unpredictability of battle... I agree that a faster character must have some advantage of it, but this would be too much.
As is, you roll for init and then act in order high to low. people who roll high have 2 options, initiate combat or sit back and wait to see what the enemy is capable of. People who roll low may not get in first hit, but by the time their turn comes they probably have a good idea of how the fight will go. Then you bring in the fundamental problem of ready actions basically requiring you to tell your opponent what you're going to do, giving the low roller yet another advantage.

(1) Nothing in the rules requires that the opponents known what you have readied.

(2) You forgot "delay". If you don't like being high in the initiative order, you can always voluntarily go lower, except that you are no longer flat-footed.

The discussion above is "wanting to have your cake and eat it too". As it stands, you can act or wait. Reverse initiative, besides slowing play, gives the high roller the benefits of waiting (gets to see what everyone else does) and then lets them act as if they hadn't waited. Plus, it introduces the nasty problem where a low roller will either (a) have everything countered before it even happens or (b) is considered inconsequential enough not to do this.

D&D 3 simplified initiative to a simple turn-based system with a bonus for going first. Re-calculating initiative every round, making heavy use of interruptible actions or adding a decision stack are all big steps backwards.
I think the biggest think that could ever be done to improve tactical combat is very simple to implement: reverse declaration.

The homebrew I'm fiddling with currently does something like this. Note that it's a lot less granular and tactical-rule-intensive than D&D, though.

At the beginning of the round, characters give a general declaration of what they're going to do from slowest to fastest. So, you get declarations like, "I aim at the guy with the shotgun," or, "I start moving toward the skinny guy at the computer." Those declarations are binding (with some minor modifications allowed).

It's kind of early to judge how well it works in play (although early testing looks promising), but I never liked the idea that being the slowest guy in a combat round should confer an advantage.

In a turn-based system (and every attempt I've made at any kind of simultaneous action system has been a disaster), the last guy moving gets several minutes of assessment before he acts. In a game where a round may only be a couple seconds, that seems a little odd to me.
Any advantage gained by a lower initiative is automatically open to a higher initiative as well, if they'd like to delay. Given how infrequently people delay, at least in my experience, it seems to imply going first is still a larger advantage than going last.

With Reverse Declaration and you were low in initiative you would never:
Get to Charge. If the DM puts a reasonable amount of features such as furniture, or the like, in his combat situations, you would never get a clear path. Not to mention the ability to block you with your own allies. It isn't as if you can declare a charge in general, you have to specify an opponent, leaving very little chance of succeeding.

Hit with an area spell. Unless the space is enclosed enough to where your foes cannot move out of the area. Otherwise, your fireball, much less your flaming sphere or grease, will never actually hit anyone unless they let it hit them.

I'm sure there are other examples, but those are the two that came to mind first. Reverse Declaration is all the supposed problems the OP has with readying an action, except that those problems don't actually exist with readying an action, but they certainly do with Reverse Declaration.
A system where you declare bottom-to-top and then act out a round top-to-bottom is too much. The person with high initiative has a ridiculous advantage.

If you keep 3e's "one initiative order for the whole combat" thing, it would be even crazier. That one roll decides way too much -- I don't care about balance that much, but it would make combat even more by-the-numbers and not-fun.

But, lets assume you don't... you have to make a new initiative roll every round, resolve the order, then declare backwards and keep track of all the already-declared actions. That slows the game down a lot. This gets horribly clunky when you add:
- lots of enemies
- people taking multiple actions
- fiddly mechanics for moving around the map

So, with simplified movement, smoother rules for taking a lot of actions (separate multi-stage resolution for each attack is stupid and really bogs down play), and good mook rules, reverse-initiative could work. I don't hold that against reverse initiative because I think all of those are features D&D sorely needs anyway. But, without those, I think it would suck.

Also: have you considered last-to-first declaration without first-to-last resolution? E.g. in lots of games, the actions are more "simultaneous"; or, in Reign, your roll determines when in the round you get to go (kinda like rolling a separate initiative for your attack, except you're not doing that because of how One Roll Engine's dice mechanics work).

-- Alex
Hit with an area spell. Unless the space is enclosed enough to where your foes cannot move out of the area. Otherwise, your fireball, much less your flaming sphere or grease, will never actually hit anyone unless they let it hit them.

The wizards declares that he begins to cast a spell. But the resolution of the spell is still at his action and not beforehand. The tactical advantage of the highest initative guy is to yell "duck" or "disperse" because he might think the wizard is going to throw a fireball. But the wizard decides on the center at his action. One can come up with a good system, albeit it will be very wargamey.
Also: have you considered last-to-first declaration without first-to-last resolution? E.g. in lots of games, the actions are more "simultaneous"; or, in Reign, your roll determines when in the round you get to go (kinda like rolling a separate initiative for your attack, except you're not doing that because of how One Roll Engine's dice mechanics work).

Most conflict rolls in this system are already simultaneous. Two guys in HTH combat both roll their dice, and the effects of the combat round are applied to the guy with the lower roll. So, if an opponent declares that he's moving toward your computer geek, your initiative may enable you to intercept him and protect the geek, but it doesn't really give you a first swing at the guy if he decides to engage you.

One of the reasons I'm trying to do initiative like this is that the simultaneous resolution nerfs the ordinary advantage that faster or more perceptive characters might get. To use a baseball analogy, all characters in a round typically get their "fair ups".

It's a work in progress, to be sure. This is the latest of a series of ideas to make combat a little less clunkily sequential. I'm really interested in getting past some of the difficult suspension of disbelief that comes with a pure Igo/Hugo system.
The number 1 thing that I can see this not being implemented, regardless of how much you may think it makes sense (being that turn based combat doesn't make sense much in real-time anyway).

Initiative is already seen as overpowered by the Devs, especially in high level play. He who goes first, kills first. High initiative determines who wins in higher level play. To add a tactical advantage in addition to a real advantage of high initiative just boosts initiative's power up even more.

Not to mention, it makes little sense.

Target B has 20 initiative
Player A has 10 initiative
Player A: "i'm going to jump across the gap and attack target B."
Target B: "I'm going to jump over and attack Player A."

Target B jumps over, attacks player A, and then player A does a final fantasy 1 "ineffective" attack by jumping over and not being near Target B so his action is wasted... why did he stand there and get hit, and then jump after someone who wasn't there?

It makes no sense in the D&D turn based system.

Then there's more bookkeeping that has to be done as well, and what happens with readied actions now, and delaying? It's a completely different system that doesn't fit D&D, nor does it add anything but more imbalance and confusion.
The wizards declares that he begins to cast a spell. But the resolution of the spell is still at his action and not beforehand. The tactical advantage of the highest initative guy is to yell "duck" or "disperse" because he might think the wizard is going to throw a fireball. But the wizard decides on the center at his action. One can come up with a good system, albeit it will be very wargamey.

Ah, see, I thought the proposal was to declare your action in reverse order. Not declare a vague version of your action in reverse order.

In that case, yes, you could get area spells off. However, what is the system? If I'm a fighter, and I want to make a full attack of three attacks, first a trip, then disarm, then attack, do I declare: "An attack," "A melee attack," "a melee full-attack," "A melee full attack beginning with a trip," or, "A melee full attack consisting of a trip, disarm, and normal attack."

Also, do I declare movement, or where I am attempting to move? Do I declare a charge, a combination of moving and attacking that could be charge, or exactly where and who I am charging?

In the end, I still say it is unnecessary in D&D. Yea, it was kinda fun in Battletech, but Battletech isn't D&D.
Going first in D&D lets me get out someone's potential charge range, I don't need to ruin that foe's actions for the round too, just make sure he doesn't charge me.
Yea, it was kinda fun in Battletech, but Battletech isn't D&D.

Uh, Battletech (at least not the editions I played) didn't have reverse-declaration either. Movement was alternating with loser going first, declared at the time you actually moved. Fire declaration was loser-first, winner-first, but resolution was simultaneous based on state before the fire phase began, so order of declaration made no mechanical difference and minimal tactical difference.

The only odd effects occurred when declaring a ramming attack against a mech that hadn't yet moved; typically this was a waste of time since the target would move before you resolved your attack.
First off I participate in this discussion because I like the idea, but I don't think that it is the "one most important aspect of the game, and without it I will never ever buy 4th edition". But the discussion is very enjoyable to me

Ah, see, I thought the proposal was to declare your action in reverse order. Not declare a vague version of your action in reverse order.

Yes. You declare a vague version of your action. Declare and attack on an orc. If the orc come to you, then you can make a full attack in whatever combination you like. If the orc is still some distance, then you have to move toward it (remember, you declared that you are going to attack the guy). Of course you can declare that you attack whoever comet to you, but you stand your ground (also implies, that you do not move even if none comes to you).

As for general movement. You either want to go to a specific place ("I try to go to the altar") or to an enemy ("I approach the wizard"). Now these can be off course contested, by blocking combatant. There can be rules for that.

As for delay and wait actions, they will be gone.
I've played a tactical game where the player with the higher initiative player gets the advantage of seeing what happens first and then move. I also played a different, but similar tactical game where the player who wins initiative does all of his actions first before the opponent. My opinion of these two systems is that the one where the initiative winner does all of his actions first is the better system. It is simpler and faster making the combat move more quickly.

In D&D, I think that it is better to have combat move along faster. When you win initiative, you already have the advantage of being ahead by one action half the time (and being even the other half). This extra action is probably going to be enough of an advantage whether on the first turn or several turns later.
<\ \>tuntman
There was a thread on this some times ago.

Uh, I guess this discussion has popped up about five quazillion times...

I don't think it should be changed...
I was amazed with that idea when we were playing some white wolf games, but after a while you realize that it gives you a major unbalanced advantage if you are first.

And after about 400 pages of discussion, the bottom line was that most people agree with this statement.

How are the bets that the same would happen this time ;)

Ceterum censeo capsum rubeum esse delendam

So rolling high on initiative is SUPPOSED to be a bad thing? How would you like it if you were a fast character, and everybody is able to beat you because everybody is able to change their actions after you've gone?

All it would ever take to beat a high init character is one suicidal npc to force you to waste your action on him, and then hit you with a bunch of low init casters. With the reverse declaration, the high init character would rightly realise this guy is goading you into killing him so the casters can waste you with impunity, and be able to decide whether or not to attack. And delaying is no way to 'fix' this since all the casters have to do is delay as well.

Like kunadam pointed out, this simple change also means you no longer have this wierd metagamey need for readied actions that generally end up being wasted because the npc affected by it 'chooses' not to do whatever would set it off. It means the devoted defender (or it's equivalent) actually makes sense from a development standpoint and can actually be implemented correctly rather than forcing the character playing one to be permanently be stuck in 'ready mode'. It means counterspelling is actually counterspelling rather than an extremely roundabout way of saying 'you just wasted your action' since you have to ready to counterspell beforehand, have to successfully spellcraft which spell he's casting IF he doesn't simply choose not to cast that round, AND have to have the exact spell he's casting to counterspell (and if you ever want to be an effective counterspeller, you have to build the entire character around it).

And to all those saying it slows combat down, in the long run it really has no appreciable impact when you consider that the caster usually spends an inordinate amount of time choosing which spell to cast based on what everybody has done earlier in the round.
So, with simplified movement, smoother rules for taking a lot of actions (separate multi-stage resolution for each attack is stupid and really bogs down play), and good mook rules, reverse-initiative could work. I don't hold that against reverse initiative because I think all of those are features D&D sorely needs anyway. But, without those, I think it would suck.

Also: have you considered last-to-first declaration without first-to-last resolution? E.g. in lots of games, the actions are more "simultaneous"; or, in Reign, your roll determines when in the round you get to go (kinda like rolling a separate initiative for your attack, except you're not doing that because of how One Roll Engine's dice mechanics work).

-- Alex

Well, I'm partially going on the assumption that 4ed will have some to most of these things, so that the reverse declaration would add to the feel that everything goes on all at once instead of 3.5s 'everything happens one action at a time' setup.

I've never played ORE, but I've used this system in shadowrun and cyberpunk and once you get used to it it moves fairly quickly and greatly facilitates tactical combat.
The number 1 thing that I can see this not being implemented, regardless of how much you may think it makes sense (being that turn based combat doesn't make sense much in real-time anyway).

Initiative is already seen as overpowered by the Devs, especially in high level play. He who goes first, kills first. High initiative determines who wins in higher level play. To add a tactical advantage in addition to a real advantage of high initiative just boosts initiative's power up even more.

Not to mention, it makes little sense.

Target B has 20 initiative
Player A has 10 initiative
Player A: "i'm going to jump across the gap and attack target B."
Target B: "I'm going to jump over and attack Player A."

Target B jumps over, attacks player A, and then player A does a final fantasy 1 "ineffective" attack by jumping over and not being near Target B so his action is wasted... why did he stand there and get hit, and then jump after someone who wasn't there?

It makes no sense in the D&D turn based system.

Then there's more bookkeeping that has to be done as well, and what happens with readied actions now, and delaying? It's a completely different system that doesn't fit D&D, nor does it add anything but more imbalance and confusion.

To be honest, your combat example makes absolutely no sense. The declarations would be made in order of lowest to highest init, so the second declaration means the DM either wasn't paying attention (very bad) or doesn't understand the system (even worse).

Target B has 20 initiative
Player A has 10 initiative
Player A: "i'm going to jump across the gap and attack target B."
Target B: "I'm going to cast wall of force and set it halfway across the gap."

In that example, the higher initiative target has a chance to prepare himself against the player. A fine example of real tactics instead of whoever loses init gets to make the full attack.
And delaying is no way to 'fix' this since all the casters have to do is delay as well.

Someone with a higher initiative can delay longer. This may be something that's only listed in the encounter stuff in the DMG, rather than the initiative write-up in the PHB, but I'm pretty sure it's in there. There's an example with a shadowy figure in an alley or something.

-- Alex
So rolling high on initiative is SUPPOSED to be a bad thing?

No. But neither is it supposed to be omniscience.
How would you like it if you were a fast character, and everybody is able to beat you because everybody is able to change their actions after you've gone?

With all due respect, what are you blathering about? The only D&D mechanics allowing a character to actually change actions are wish and reality revision. Ready actions allow contingent activity, where you trade off your initiative advantage to be able to interrupt a later action by another character.

D&D is turn-based. On your turn, you attempt to change the game state to favour you. On their turn, they attempt to turn it back to favour them. On your next turn, you again change it to favour you. And so on.

Sure, those who act later in the initiative order can respond to you, just as you will be able to respond to them on your next turn. But I don't see that "responding" is some all-powerful advantage. On your next action, you'll get to "respond" too, and at that point will have taken two actions - one with the "advantage of responding" - to your opponents' one.

If you are really convinced that you want to respond, just delay. For the most part, you'd be better to activate buffs or launch a pre-emptive attack before they are ready to do anything about it.
So rolling high on initiative is SUPPOSED to be a bad thing? How would you like it if you were a fast character, and everybody is able to beat you because everybody is able to change their actions after you've gone?

The effects of a person's actions don't happen simultaneously at the end of a round or phase like in battletech or other games. They happen immediately. If you act first and stab a guy in the neck he just gets no action ever. Definite advantage.
Sure, those who act later in the initiative order can respond to you, just as you will be able to respond to them on your next turn. But I don't see that "responding" is some all-powerful advantage. On your next action, you'll get to "respond" too, and at that point will have taken two actions - one with the "advantage of responding" - to your opponents' one.

Yup. Key point here is that responding is different from preempting.

It's the difference between shooting a guy after he shoots you and shooting as guy as he's trying to shoot you. The latter's clearly more useful most of the time.

And, in most cases, shooting the guy before he shoots you (which is what winning initiative basically already gives you) is preferable to either of the above.

EDIT: Illustrative example: Lokathor was faster than me, so my post now seems really lame.

-- Alex
To be honest, your combat example makes absolutely no sense. The declarations would be made in order of lowest to highest init, so the second declaration means the DM either wasn't paying attention (very bad) or doesn't understand the system (even worse).

Target B has 20 initiative
Player A has 10 initiative
Player A: "i'm going to jump across the gap and attack target B."
Target B: "I'm going to cast wall of force and set it halfway across the gap."

In that example, the higher initiative target has a chance to prepare himself against the player. A fine example of real tactics instead of whoever loses init gets to make the full attack.

Yes it makes perfect sense. Target B doesn't care in that situation, what Player A is doing. Perhaps he doesn't have the resources to do something different, perhaps he's a hot head, but for whatever reason, Target B chose to close the distance himself, and attack. Just because he didn't do the same tactical choice you would have done, doesn't mean it makes no sense.

What doesn't make sense is when Player A's action is dependent on where Target B is. He can attack or jump but since he said he'd do both, and in an order that no longer makes sense, he has to have some sort of revision rule in there somewhere, which in all honesty, doesn't make sense because it takes away from the whole point of the LIFO (Last in first out) method of executing orders.

This is where there's a loophole in the rules. For it to be a working system, you have to have rules for the exception of when the model doesn't work or you have to have restrictions on how people declare their actions. If in the same scenario Player A said "I'll close whatever distance there is to Target B, and attack him" then there would not be an inconsistency with Target B saying "I'll jump over and attack Player A."
Yes it makes perfect sense. Target B doesn't care in that situation, what Player A is doing. Perhaps he doesn't have the resources to do something different, perhaps he's a hot head, but for whatever reason, Target B chose to close the distance himself, and attack. Just because he didn't do the same tactical choice you would have done, doesn't mean it makes no sense.

What doesn't make sense is when Player A's action is dependent on where Target B is. He can attack or jump but since he said he'd do both, and in an order that no longer makes sense, he has to have some sort of revision rule in there somewhere, which in all honesty, doesn't make sense because it takes away from the whole point of the LIFO (Last in first out) method of executing orders.

This is where there's a loophole in the rules. For it to be a working system, you have to have rules for the exception of when the model doesn't work or you have to have restrictions on how people declare their actions. If in the same scenario Player A said "I'll close whatever distance there is to Target B, and attack him" then there would not be an inconsistency with Target B saying "I'll jump over and attack Player A."

Perhaps I should have left in my caveat that unless the DM ruled they met halfway through the jump and did their attacks there, no matter what initiative system you're using it makes no sense the way you worded it because the gap prevents meeting normally in the middle (unless you want CTHD combat where people hover around fighting in midair).

Also, the wall of force was just one example of many i could think of. a fighter carrying a spiked tower shield could set it up so the player hits it when he lands (think improvised spike wall) or set a polearm against him (provided the player charged).