Initiative – Who’s on First?
Quite possibly one of the most squirrelly and house-ruled portions of classic RPG game systems is initiative. It’s the piece of the game that is often simplified at convention games and larger groups but maybe doesn’t need to be. It is also often mis-understood. For those new to OSR gaming, or those like myself who have played a house-ruled version for so long we have forgotten the original method, let’s take a look at the OSRIC method of initiative and what it means. It doesn’t just resolve “Who goes first?”
Below I will attempt to summarize in a straight-forward way, the intent of the OSRIC rule system regarding initiative. I paraphrase a great deal below.
The Combat Round
Prior to rolling for initiative, surprise actions are resolved and actions/spells are declared. It is also the time for the GM to decide what the monsters will be doing. A fair minded GM will not wait to see how initiative pans out to decide actions.
The combat round is 10 segments (usually seconds) long. Initiative (D6) is rolled to decide on which part of the first 6 segments the OTHER party’s actions take effect.
Note that the text in OSRIC alludes to the rolls of Party vs Monster. This means that in convention or large group play, there is still one roll on each side of the screen. Smaller groups may wish to decide per player.
A D6 is rolled by the party and by the ‘monsters’. Each is rolling for the OTHER side to determine when their action or damage takes effect. So if the party rolls a 6, the monsters damage doesn’t ‘hit’ them until segment 6. If the monster rolls a 3, the party’s damage takes effect on the 3rd segment.
In short, when you roll initiative, you are rolling to see when, in the 10 segment round, you will get hit with damage by your opponent.
Contrary to many house rulings, a players does NOT add their Dex bonus for surprise to their initiative roll for combat. a player DOES add their missile attack bonus if they are using a missile weapon that round.
But wait – You said 10 segments?
The remaining segments are important as spells take segments to cast or take hold, some combat rounds players may wish to hold their attacks. Zombies always go last in a round, that means on segment 10.
If a character is aiming, wants to see if the guard notices etc. these last 4 segments can mean life or death!
Yes, a combat round is 10 segments. The dice are to resolve the order of events in the first 6.
What about a tie?
Rolling initiative isn’t to see “Who goes first” as much as it is to see in which of the 10 segments of the combat round you sustain damage from your enemy. Or “Receive their action”. This adds more excitement that simply “I go, you go” gaming.
It is possible to have 2 opponents slay one another.
If Boblo the halfling is fighting an orc, they roll initiative and both get a 3. It doesn’t matter who rolls to hit and damage first, but they both receive the damage on segment 3 of the round.
So it is possible that they could each deal a killing blow to one another that segment. This would actually happen frequently enough in pitched battles with blades and swinging weapons.
A creature or character with multiple attacks I.E. claw, claw, bite, all go in the same segment. It is considered an attack routine.
Players with multiple weapons like a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other, can count those weapons as a single attack routine. Players with multiple attacks because of level, haste etc, are considered to be making a completely new attack routine. The second attack routine must be held until the opponent has resolved their attack. This puts that second routine into those last 4 slots typically.
Spells have a casting time. A wizard only begins casting on his segment of initiative. The spell is considered active or ‘fired’ after the appropriate casting time has elapsed.
All this may have just been a swirl of confusion for a new gamer. Rest assured your rule book contains all the mechanics you need. To make a short summary-
- Declare action before combat round
- Resolve surprise actions
- Roll D6 to see what segment your opponent’s action affects or damages you
- Resolve actions or attack and damage rolls
- Sort out that damage or those actions in the correct chronological order
- End combat round at 10 segments
It is important to note that OSRIC is somewhat different than 1E in initiative. If anything, it has streamlined things a bit and done away with a number of variables and adjustments. The rules do vary somewhat between systems.
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