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The Initiative "Cyst"

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#1 Alekzanter



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Posted 11 September 2012 - 06:11 AM

The Initiative mechanic is quite simple: the Players each roll a d10 and add their respective PCs' Agility Bonuses, then modify their totals by any special circumstances (Paranoia, Rapid Reflexes, etc) to achieve their final "steps" in the Initiative order, and the GM does the same for the Mooks/Goons/Scrubs/Nancys and any "elites"/major villains. As Mooks average an AgB3-4, a poor die roll puts them at the bottom of the Inititative order, and this is the "cyst". The Initiative order becomes heavily weighted, and it is then my observation that it's really not so bad having ALL the Mooks taking the final Turn in each Round. Let's be generous and say one PC ends up with a total Initiative less than the Mooks…there still exists this "cyst", a clump of Mooks, all taking their Turns at (essentially) the same moment. This…doesn't sit well with me. Even if I (as a GM) end up having the highest (or even the middling) Initiative step in the coming combat encounter, it is still heavily weighted in favor of the Mooks. Wherever the "cyst" lies in the Initiative order it creates a pendulum, first swinging heavily one direction, then the other.

They're Mooks: in a ranged engagement a few will "martyr" themselves, laying down cover fire and acting the fool target in the open while their compatriots dodge for cover (unless they have the lowest Initiative in the Round, in which case all of them end up caught in the open clearing) or, if it's a melee encounter, they mob up on the Acolytes, one at a time, taking their Turns charging in, attacking…but…the Mooks have a sort of "GM precognition". Let's say Mook #1charges Acolyte A (Flak Armour and TB3), gets a good hit in and does 4 points of Damage. Assuming the Acolyte begins the encounter unhurt, the Mooks (all armed with swords and SB3) realize he's still in for a bit, so Mook #2 charges Acolyte A, gets a really good hit in (maxes out) and does 6 points of Damage. Mook/GM precognition then kicks in: Mook #3 (the GM) surveys the situation and can decide to throw himself into the fray with Acolyte A as an "overkill" measure, hoping to critically injure or incapacitate Acolyte A, or move to engage a different target. Mook#1 gets the Charge bonus. Mook #2 gets the Charge bonus AND the Outnumbering (2-1) bonus. Does Mook#3 go for the "overkill" charge AND Outnumbering (3-1) bonus, or decide to tie up another target to deny Acolyte A assistance (negating the Outnumbering bonus)? I've manipulated firefights in this manner, too. Is this fair to the Players?

As the GM, I'm not concerned whether I get the highest Initiative step or not. I have the "cyst" and Mook/GM precognition on my side. And I don't think that's fair to the Players. So, here's what I've been doing to create a level sense of combat ebb and flow…

First, I determine if anyone is Surprised. Surprised PCs/NPCs/Mooks will miss their first Turn.
Next, I have the Players roll Initiative and I record their scores. I use 4"x6" cards, the first laid out like this:

PC/NPC/Mook      Agility (Bonus)     Paranoid (+/-)     Unnatural Agility/Rapid Reflexes (U/R)     Total

At this point I'm simply recording Initiative scores, so the Mooks can be recorded on one line, but NPCs (both allied and "special" villains) receive their own, individual Initiative scores.

Note: for those instances when 2 (or more) PCs have the same Agility score AND the same Initiative score, I "bump" the PC(s) with Paranoia one "step" higher. If 2 (or more) PCs still have the same Initiative score, I have the Players roll off (high d10 wins), bumping the winner one "step" higher, but never equal or greater than the PC with the highest Initiative score.

Example: PC/NPC/Mook     Agility (Bonus)     Paranois (+/-)     Unnatural Agility/Rapid Reflexes (U/R)     Total

                        Evan                        39 (3)                       -                                                 -/-                                          10
                        Cyan                        33 (3)                       -                                                 -/-                                            9
                        Omen                      33 (3)                      +                                                 -/-                                            9+
                   Mooks (x10)                 30 (3)                       -                                                 -/-                                            7
                   Evil Bastard                 42 (4)                      +                                                 -/-                                            9+

No one is Surprised. The Initiative order is: Evan, Evil Bastard, Omen, Cyan, Mooks. Evil Bastard's 9 is "faster" than Omen's 9 (based on Agility scores), Omen's 9 is "faster" than Cyan's 9 (because he's paranoid), and so on. Regardless of whom actually has the highest OR lowest Initiative scores, PCs will ALWAYS act first (they're heroes [unless they're Phaenonites]) and last in a Round. So, even if Evil Bastard had scored 11 or higher for his Initiative score, Evan would still be acting first in the Round.

Next, I put the names of PCs, NPCs, and Mooks in descending order, from the first to act each Round to the last, on another 4"x6" card. The Acolytes are outnumbered (almost) 4:1, and I split their opponents into two groups. Evil Bastard will take personal command of one group, and the others will follow his yelled orders.

The Initiative order now is: Evan, Evil Bastard, 4 Mooks, Omen, 6 Mooks, Cyan. The Mooks could easily have the 9+ and Evil bastard could have the 7, in which case EB takes command of the larger of the two groups, moving in more slowly. 
The "cyst" of Mooks is broken up, its weight more evenly distributed through the Turn, and the PCs can mitigate those distributions by acting in concert with each other (we've found that the Delay Action is used more frequently and to better advantage) and by having the first and last Turn in every Round. I let the Players know who the Mooks are and who the Evil Bastards are (we use the minis, and the Players usually recognize the Mooks/Goons on sight, and can tell the difference between them and their commanders…which is as it should be, considering Acolytes must always be observant).

Used in concert with my Armour/Toughness House Rules (see "Armour Protects. Toughness, uh…" thread), Players are making better use of set dressings (cover, flanking, suppressing fire, etc), they're playing smarter through cooperative tactics (using their strengths to cover their weaknesses), combats and firefights roll smoothly from one of the hall to the other end of the street, and there are smaller blocks of time between the GM's and players' Turns, meaning everyone stays focused on the game instead of twiddling their thumbs.

Now, looking back on this, I don't think I've explained this near well enough for it to make complete sense to everyone.  One thing to remember is it doesn't really matter that Mooks are going before PCs even when they're Initiative is lower than PCs. The Acolytes in the examples above (Evan, Cyan, and Omen) range in Rank between 3-5,m were supported by a cast of four other Acolytes, and (due to poor circumstances) have little of their standard gear, weapons or equipment (a Flak Vest, a Hand Flamer, a Las-Pistol, a Knife…nothing major, really), their encounter takes place in a run-down brownstone hotel, spanning decrepit halls, defunct elevators, fire escapes, street-side vendor carts and the appropriation of a laundry truck, the Mooks (of which there were 16) use the Kill Squad Trooper profile but are only wearing Flak Vests, and Evil Bastard uses the full Arbitrator profile. Evil Bastard also had a pet Psyker… The PCs prevailed, some heavily wounded, others scratched, but they carried the encounter. I guess it has more to do with a GM knowing his/her Players; and knowing their Characters; than it does with an actual "template" for this Initiative House Rule. I guess I'm throwing it out to the forum, unrefined and hoping for a bit of help getting it defined.

Give it a try.
For all I know it can't be a Initiative template, rather just a different thing I do.







#2 kjakan



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Posted 12 September 2012 - 01:58 AM

"Now, looking back on this, I don't think I've explained this near well enough for it to make complete sense to everyone."

I didn't really get a handle on all that.

Am I to understand that you are concerned that group of NPCs may have an unfair advantage if they act on the same Intiative?


#3 Alekzanter



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Posted 12 September 2012 - 04:39 AM

Not really. I just don't like having all GM controlled Mooks/NPCs going at the same time. It seems static and boring and lopsided…and boring for players who wait and wait and wait for a GM to finish all the dice rolling. This would mix it up, a little you-go-I-go-you-go…

It's rattling around in my head, I've toyed with it a bit at the game table, but it's not refined, and I thought I'd share what I have in the off chance someone wanted to offer suggestions, advice…

You probably don't get it because I can't explain it correctly…it feels innate when I use it, like people who play piano at age 2. And just like that 2-tear old…I don't know how to explain it.

#4 kjakan



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Posted 12 September 2012 - 08:38 PM

Players get bored with waiting for their turn, which more often than not means waiting for other players as well as the GM to resolve their character's actions.

In my experience the bulk of the time is spent waiting for other players going through their decision-making process: Rolling dice and working out damage is quick compared to the time spent figuring wether to move, attack or even do nothing and wait for a better opportunity. On the other hand, the GM is usually the most effective player at the table, even with multiple characters for which to resolve actions.

My best suggestion is somewhat counterintuitive: Let each group of PCs act on the same initiative, as you would do when resolving a group of NPCs. This has two advantages:

  1. It levels the playing-field with regards to "optimal performance": The same advantages are now available to the PCs.
  2. Since the PCs are going to act in any order, and can be actively involved in deciding that order.

In my experience, players may spend a more time deliberating their decisions as a group, so this may very well slow the game down overall, so it's not a win-win.

Obvious question: How does one determine Initiative for a group with diverse?

Obious objection: This character's main advantage is a high Initiative. A group Initiative is going to take that away from him!

I'm not going to address these issues right now, though I have some ideas.


#5 Alekzanter



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Posted 13 September 2012 - 04:08 AM

Perhaps it is just a matter of gently keeping Players focused on the game.

Still, I'll keep toying with this "innate" Initiative system, maybe I'll end up keeping what (if anything) I work out for myself. I like the "swirling" feel it lends to the Rounds. There seems to be more ebb and flow, back and forth, and (when a certain group of Mooks or an NPC falls out of the Initiative order) there is a definite "turning point" moment in the encounter…the Acolytes are suddenly on the back foot, or the Mooks teeter on the verge of bottling out. 

#6 BrotherKane



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Posted 14 September 2012 - 04:51 AM

Had a bit of a think about this and I like it in principle but I don't like the "PCs go first and last in the turn always".  This just takes options away from you in my opinion.  From my experience it will just end up with whatever he rolls the assassin going first, even if he omces up against an enemy assassin…  Yes they are the 'heroes' so if there is draw I let the PC go first, but sometimes the big bad gets to go first, it just should be a thing that happens.  I don't really understand the justification for making one go last as well.

One other option I sometimes use to speed up play is to run the mook groups as pseudo hordes like in DW and BC.  I say there are 10 gangers in that group.  Each number of wounds caused to the group knocks one out of the fight (say 3 wounds caused = -1 mook).  When they fire they get a bonus to skill based on the number left.  So basic BS of 30 with 10 guys firing might be effective skill of 60-70 until they can be thinned out.

Please note though I don't do this when it is PCs vs mooks.  If that were the case it would devalue the mooks, and that isn't what DH is about.  I only do this when the PCs also have mooks to allow the mook squads to fight each other and the PCs without it taking ages.  I have done combats with up to 70 people in using this system and it didn't take ages.  I like to think it gave a more 'large battle' feel to the encounter.

#7 Baalkaedran



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Posted 11 October 2012 - 08:35 AM

What I usually do is simpl to divide the mooks in different more or less equivalent groups and normally roll initiative This speeds up the game but doesn't mean that all of the enemies go together all at once . Basically lets say I have ten cultists led by a sorcerer I roll initiative for the sorcerer ,then for 1 group of five cultists and a second group with the remaining cultists OR (more appropriate in this case) have an initiative roll for the sorcerer plus 2 cultists as bodyguards ,a second roll for four of the cultists and a last roll for the rest.Players roll their respective initiative and then I organise it by order of initiative and that's it . It works really well for my group and I and both speeds the combat up and rewards high initiative rolls as well as have several enemy attacks ,between which te Players get to act.
Hope this helps!

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