I have a problem with initiative. I’m not talking about taking decisive action in my personal life. No, I mean the process of determining the character order of actions in a tabletop role playing encounter. I dislike most traditional systems as they tend to be random and capricious. But more than that, they tend to take the players out of the story and reduce things to the mechanical, the procedural. Coyote and Crow isn’t just about role playing your character, it’s about building a future legend. The things your character does today should become the next generation’s great stories. I want the encounters to feel closer to weaving a fable around a campfire than to a 1970s miniature war game simulation.
Before I dive into my likely solution for Coyote and Crow, I wanted to use this entry to talk about the fact that with a number of mechanics, including initiative, I’m leaning toward adding optional rules. These optional rules would allow for deeper mechanical game play that would supplement standard game play. These would be for experienced role players or those that want something a bit more crunchy.
My primary focus with Coyote and Crow is storytelling. Mechanical game play should only support that. So, in the interest of telling compelling stories, I want to make sure that players, new players especially, don’t feel bogged down by complex rule systems.
With that in mind, I have two systems for initiative in development. The first, primary, and default system is one that I believe is streamlined, easy and straight forward. It’s the one I’d like to talk about here today (the optional, more advanced version is a ways off still). My considerations were three fold:
- Ease of Use
For cinematics, I want it to feel eventful, story driven and only occasionally surprising. For fairness, I don’t want players to feel like they always have to build the fastest characters or fear they’ll always go last, especially if it doesn’t suit the story. I also don’t want to rely on rolling dice because, even with modifiers, it’s always a let down when a really speedy character acts last due to a bad die roll. And for ease of use, I want something that is light on rules, intuitive, and doesn’t interrupt game play too much.
Here’s what I came up with:
- Characters have a derived Initiative Score based on the sum of three of their traits (and maybe some other static modifiers). This number is listed on their character sheet and is usually going to be somewhere between 6 and 10. For the most part, this is a fixed number and won’t have to be fiddled with.
- At the start of an Encounter (and in Coyote and Crow an Encounter is defined as any interaction that involves use of Dice Pools between more than one character – not just combat, which is important), players will take a single d12 and place it on a value up to and including their initiative rank, but not higher.
- This number is kept private until a simultaneous reveal. Prior to the reveal, the players may discuss the numbers they plan on displaying or not. They are not obligated to tell the truth.
- Simultaneously, the Story Guide will do the same thing, either with 1 die representing all NPCs or broken into multiples depending on how much bandwidth the SG wants to put into it (for example, maybe they use a white “6” to represent a big bad guy, a grey “4” to represent all of the bad guys henchmen and a black “2” to represent some bystanders)
- Once everyone has placed their die, the numbers are revealed and an action order is established, starting with 12 and descending toward 1. There are rules for breaking ties, but I’m not going to get into them here because they involve some other aspects of game play that I haven’t spoken about yet. Let’s just say it’s thematic and easy.
I know, I know. “But, Connor, why wouldn’t everyone just pick their Initiative Score – the highest number they have? Why use the die at all?” Well, settle down. You haven’t heard everything yet. Let’s carry on with the rules, shall we?
- Initiative is only done once, at the beginning of an Encounter. However, once each character in the Encounter has taken an action (this is called a Round), rather than start back at the top with the highest initiative and repeat the process, the initiative order repeats from the bottom up. The person who went last in the first round goes first in the second round. In the third round, the process repeats from the beginning, with the highest initiative going first again. And so on, until the Encounter ends.
- When a character’s Initiative number is reached, they must take their action. There is no action holding or delays.
At first glance, this might seem unfair as it means the last character to act in the first round, essentially gets to act twice in a row. But in the long run, all characters are getting to act once per round. And there are a ton of fun benefits to this system:
- It creates teamwork among the players. The fastest player might not want to always go first as they may have an ability or action that only works based on another players actions.
- It adds the potential for duplicity. Players might need to deceive other players for any number of reasons. This allows them to take surprise actions.
- It allows for cinematic moments and sort of an ebb and flow. Yes, that speedy fellow with the rapier got in the first poke. But that giant slow fellow with the club survived and is about to bring the pain.
- It gives the highest initiative score the initial edge, but levels the playing field quickly.
- It supports fast players who are the type to wait and see what an opponent does. Not every speedster needs to be an initiator.
- It’s one and done. Once the order is established, you can just keep rolling back and forth through the order.
- It also allows for certain Gifts/Burdens, Abilities, and Skills to trigger on specific Initiative numbers, which may affect strategies (but that’s beside the point and ties in with the advanced version of the system)
Most importantly, it changes initiative from a bit of random luck to a character choice. Once you allow for backgrounds, motivations and situations to come into play, there are a host of reasons why players might choose something other than their highest possible Initiative.
That’s Initiative in Coyote and Crow. At least until it all comes crashing down in our upcoming alpha tests 😉
ConnorArticle || Tags: Connor Alexander, Coyote and Crow, games, gaming, Initiative, Role Playing, RPG, TTRPG