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Aetrion

If you win Vigilance Initiative, did you attack first?

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So, something has come up a few times in my games lately, where the GM makes the party roll Vigilance Initiative, a player wins top slot, and then the GM says the players attacked first. That doesn't exactly seem right to me, because in my mind whoever calls initiative initiated hostilities, even if they don't win the roll. Who exactly starts the fight, the first person to fire a weapon in the initiative order, or the person who caused initiative to be rolled? 

When I'm GMing I only call for initiative rolls from the players when the enemies are definitely attacking, unless it's some kind of narrative sequence that benefits from having a turn order, like doing things in a vacuum where people take damage every turn, so counting actions and maneuvers becomes important. In the latter case I make it clear that it isn't a combat initiative, we're just setting it up to structure a play sequence. To me that seems to be the natural way to use initiative, if someone compels and initiative roll then they started the fight, even if they don't get the first turn. 

However, there is technically no rule that says you can't call initiative, then use your first turn to do something non hostile, but that seems to go against the spirit of the game to some extent. It makes powers like foresight inherently cause conflict if winning the initiative against an opponent simply counts as striking them down out of the blue because you had no idea if they were going to use their first turn to negotiate. Is the person who rolls Cool Initiative obligated to attack with their first turn? 

Any thoughts on how initiative applies and who started the fight in those cases?

Edited by Aetrion

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The first paragraph implies that the game is using team initiative (all the players act, then all the opponents act, or vice versa) rather than the slot system. That might just be confusing wording though.

Regardless, the fight was started by whomever started it narratively. Initiative tells you whose actions have an effect first across the minute or so that the turn actually entails, but it doesn't retroactively cause someone else to start the fight. If the GM is not only doing this but using it to claim that the PCs generated conflict by attacking first then they need to be introduced to the hammergun.

As for the latter question, you don't have to do anything hostile on your turn if you don't want to - nothing obliges you to take an attack action. It would be unusual to call for initiative if a fight hasn't started, but it could happen in some situations requiring structured time, such as social contests.

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It's a floaty concept (see the Constant Vigilance talent), but I generally treat Vigilance-users as defenders and Cool-users as aggressors, and I'm pretty sure that's how the game more or less treats them. To me, Vigilance is how well a character can react and how prepared they are for unexpected events; winning a top slot on a Vigilance initiative check means that the character reacted well enough to turn the surprise attack (or whatever) around on their foes.

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Yea, in narrative terms turns don't constitute the order in which people fire their weapons, but the order in which they land effective shots. I think of it as cuts in the movie, where everyone is shooting, but only the character who the camera is focusing on at the moment is actually changing the scene. 

But you still frequently get situations like "The Inquisitor ignites his lightsaber and roll initiative!" or "The swoop gangers pull out their blasters, roll initiative!", where winning the roll means you pre-empt them, but you could still argue whether pulling out a weapon is the same as attacking.

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Others have kind of said the way I think about it, but just to ensure it is clear. Whoever narratively starts the battle is irrespective of the roll. Imagine you're in a tense negotiation with a crime lord, when suddenly things go sour, or it's an ambush. They roll cool as the aggressors and you roll vigilance. You win! My read on that is, they pull blasters and start shooting, but don't really hit anything. Maybe their fire goes astray, or one of them blows their cover.

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Mechanically speaking, with regards to Talents like Quick Strike, that depend on this definition to function, the Initiative slot  you act in determines whether or not you have "mechanically" acted. At least at my table.

I'm not gonna deprive a player of a mechanical bonus they've paid experience for because they didn't "cause initiative to be rolled".

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If the NPC's are starting hostilities, then they are starting hostilties. Though, for those inclined to do so in less obivous situations making a social check at the start of an encounter might be a interesting shakeup. I wouldn't punish the players in the guy was "obivously going for his gun" because there is very few ways a gun can be used. Either to threaten with violence or with actual violence.

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Point to consider: "Roll initiative" does not necessarily mean "combat is happening now, whether you like it or not." Having your PC treat an encounter as "combat only" simply because initiative has been rolled is pretty much the definition of metagaming (like, the bad kind).

A good Vigilance check could be described as "sensing the trap before it's sprung," in which case the acting character should do whatever is in character for that person. Preemptive attack, call of warning to his compatriots, perhaps even trying to talk down or intimidate their ambushers before hostilities start in earnest. Could certain actions taken here, in this situation, generate conflict? Absolutely. A Force using character that senses an impending ambush and—instead of seeking to mediate, avoid, or mitigate—eagerly jumps towards the violence with abandon? Yeah, easy conflict. 

But a good Vigilance check could also just mean that your attackers aren't as sneaky as they thought. Maybe one of them shot too early and missed, giving away their position and allowing for a swift counterattack. Or maybe one of them yelled loudly as he charged at the characters, giving your rightly-paranoid PC the chance to shut the attacker down with a high degree of bad-assery. 

It's very situational, but should be grounded in the narrative, and the GM should be careful that his Force-using players don't feel screwed over. Equally, when initiative is rolled, both parties should (at the very least) be aware that combat is in the offing. Of course, how they respond to it should make sense for the story and the characters in question.

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Yea, there is kind of a gray area when it comes to when the initiative check should happen in some cases. For example, drawing a weapon, taking cover and aiming twice is two whole turns of maneuvering, all of which gives you a siginficant advantage in an exchange of fire, but none of it is technically attacking. So what if the GM started describing an opponent who just walks up, takes cover behind some crates, spends a few turns setting up an E-web, and starts taking really good aim at one of the players? At some point the players probably say "Right, enough of that, have at you!", so do you ask them for a Cool Initiative? 

Of course that's an example of a GM being ridiculous, but it illustrates how sometimes it's very ambiguous who started the fight. It'd be even worse in something like D&D where if you let a Wizard spend a few turns turns buffing and summoning monsters you're just dead if he attacks you with that much preparation. D&D doesn't distinguish between aggressor and defender initiative though, so there the question of who attacks first is genuinely resolved by turn order.

Edited by Aetrion

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One of the key elements that I think is badly explained in the books is setting the difficulty of Initiative checks. All it really says is that the standard is Simple difficulty but GM's are free to adjust it. Once you introduce various difficulties I think the whole picture will become clearer.

So let's do a little example. A Sniper on a roof is my favourite for this. The sniper probably has concealment, and is hopefully about to spring a trap on the PC's walking down a normal city street. That Sniper has no difficulty on a Cool check, potentially even with a boost or two. The PC's on the other hand are facing a Hard Vigilance check, upgraded once for the concealment and with 2 Setback for the hustle and bustle distractions of a city.

So there are 2 possible outcomes that matter. The first and most likely is that the Sniper "wins" initiative and gets to shoot first. They are patient and choose the exact right moment to strike, hitting hard and potentially leaving themselves the chance to run from view before fire is returned.

The second possibility though is a PC "wins" initiative, either through sheer luck or exceptional skill and talents... but what does that mean? For me it means the PC's senses are tingling, they spot a gleam of a barrel, see movement on a roof, disturbed birds give the shooter away. Whatever the exact outcome is, the PC knows of the NPC's existence, their location and their intent. It's the fact they made a hard check and still won that frees me up to give them all this information. So they get to act first, dive for cover, draw and shoot, protect others. They where awesome and I'll let them bask in that.

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To add to what Richardbuxton said, I often use Stealth to set the difficulty for the Vigilance check for initiative.  If Perception has spotted the foes then the PCs roll simple Vigilance check for initiative as usual, but if not then the ambusher rolls Cool and the PCs roll Vigilance opposed by their Stealth dice (with setback etc as appropriate).  The Perception check can also apply advantages to the initiative check, advantage can give boost die to comrades, and I allow Triumph to make one other PC aware (unopposed initiative check).

Combat may very well begin with what seems like an action (shots fired) but they will not be effective until that person gets a slot in the order.  It's not that tough to make this sensible via the narrative.

Edited by FinarinPanjoro
clarity

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On 04/04/2017 at 0:14 PM, Richardbuxton said:

One of the key elements that I think is badly explained in the books is setting the difficulty of Initiative checks. All it really says is that the standard is Simple difficulty but GM's are free to adjust it. Once you introduce various difficulties I think the whole picture will become clearer.

So let's do a little example. A Sniper on a roof is my favourite for this. The sniper probably has concealment, and is hopefully about to spring a trap on the PC's walking down a normal city street. That Sniper has no difficulty on a Cool check, potentially even with a boost or two. The PC's on the other hand are facing a Hard Vigilance check, upgraded once for the concealment and with 2 Setback for the hustle and bustle distractions of a city.

So there are 2 possible outcomes that matter. The first and most likely is that the Sniper "wins" initiative and gets to shoot first. They are patient and choose the exact right moment to strike, hitting hard and potentially leaving themselves the chance to run from view before fire is returned.

The second possibility though is a PC "wins" initiative, either through sheer luck or exceptional skill and talents... but what does that mean? For me it means the PC's senses are tingling, they spot a gleam of a barrel, see movement on a roof, disturbed birds give the shooter away. Whatever the exact outcome is, the PC knows of the NPC's existence, their location and their intent. It's the fact they made a hard check and still won that frees me up to give them all this information. So they get to act first, dive for cover, draw and shoot, protect others. They where awesome and I'll let them bask in that.

In this I actually disagree, the effects of initiative order are narrative. Esssentially during a round everything happens at pretty much the same time, it's just that the effects of each persons turn are felt in that order. Example, we all know that a combat check isnt necessarily a  single attack.

So in the case of a sniper who gets beaten in initiative by two players, his first shot rang out, the two players make their maneuvers and actions (dive for cover and / or make a perception check) then the snper makes his combat check, which may or may not hit.

Perhaps they acted first because the perception check was successful and they saw the glint of  light on the scope or were otherwise alerted to the sniper, either way 2 players got the jump on the sniper. Difficulties of  checks dont change, but  can be upgraded or increased, I wouldn't say this warrants an upgrade, though the sniper my get better boosts or increased check. The players have no difference between this and a check if they walked round the corner into a bunch of stormtroopers . The person whose situation is diferent is the sniper who should get bonuses on their check

Edited by syrath

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On 4/4/2017 at 4:14 AM, Richardbuxton said:

One of the key elements that I think is badly explained in the books is setting the difficulty of Initiative checks. All it really says is that the standard is Simple difficulty but GM's are free to adjust it. 

I agree that setting different Difficulties for rolling Initiative really helps with this, and it's a suggestion well made - but have to point out that RAW doesn't give this option, "To determine the Initiative order, each Player Character and NPC makes a Simple (-) Cool or Vigilance check."  It doesn't state that's the "standard" check or that that's the "default" check or any mention of GM input for it.  It gives an instruction to use Simple Difficulty.  Certainly doesn't mean you can't do it anyway obviously, but since we're in the "Rules Hut", if you will - it's not what RAW says.  Again, I like the suggestion, though!

So I think that leaves two options.  Either House Rule it and always have the GM set the Difficulty, or to adjust the Initiative rolls use Boost/Setback dice instead.  From Core pg18, "Boost dice are most often used to reflect the character's possession of some sort of benefit or advantage...."  Page 316 adds, "...Boost dice may be used to reward a PC for good planning..." - those sound like an ambush!  Decent ambush perhaps warrants two Boost dice to the attackers?

There might be a case to be made that using Difficulty level is possibly cleaner (because how many Setback dice would it take to equal the Hard Difficulty in your example) but, if you want to stick to RAW, Boost/Setback dice will do the trick.

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9 hours ago, seanpp said:

I agree that setting different Difficulties for rolling Initiative really helps with this, and it's a suggestion well made - but have to point out that RAW doesn't give this option, "To determine the Initiative order, each Player Character and NPC makes a Simple (-) Cool or Vigilance check."  It doesn't state that's the "standard" check or that that's the "default" check or any mention of GM input for it.  It gives an instruction to use Simple Difficulty.  Certainly doesn't mean you can't do it anyway obviously, but since we're in the "Rules Hut", if you will - it's not what RAW says.  Again, I like the suggestion, though!

So I think that leaves two options.  Either House Rule it and always have the GM set the Difficulty, or to adjust the Initiative rolls use Boost/Setback dice instead.  From Core pg18, "Boost dice are most often used to reflect the character's possession of some sort of benefit or advantage...."  Page 316 adds, "...Boost dice may be used to reward a PC for good planning..." - those sound like an ambush!  Decent ambush perhaps warrants two Boost dice to the attackers?

There might be a case to be made that using Difficulty level is possibly cleaner (because how many Setback dice would it take to equal the Hard Difficulty in your example) but, if you want to stick to RAW, Boost/Setback dice will do the trick.

Nobody reads chapter three. 

"The difficulty for a Vigilance check is typically modified by the likelihood of the incident that occurs. A character might be prepared for an ambush when traveling through a darkened alley, but he is unlikely to expect a ground quake in the middle of the night. A poor result on such a check might leave the character momentarily unable to act as he mentally attempts to decipher the current situation.", no reason to assume that this is exclusive to preparation vigilance checks, especially when the ambush scenario is even mentioned. 

Furthermore the showdown rules for duels are another example for a modified initiative roll. 

 

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On 4/3/2017 at 9:34 AM, Aetrion said:

Yea, in narrative terms turns don't constitute the order in which people fire their weapons, but the order in which they land effective shots. I think of it as cuts in the movie, where everyone is shooting, but only the character who the camera is focusing on at the moment is actually changing the scene. 

But you still frequently get situations like "The Inquisitor ignites his lightsaber and roll initiative!" or "The swoop gangers pull out their blasters, roll initiative!", where winning the roll means you pre-empt them, but you could still argue whether pulling out a weapon is the same as attacking.

Well, your question made me think of the scene in New Hope, when Han is fiddling with stuff on the Falcon on Tatooine, and the squad of troopers rush in to attack them.  Sure, the troopers initiated the combat, but Han saw them before they were in position to actually start shooting.  Now Han technically doesn't shoot first, but he does notice them coming before the first shot.   The fact that he noticed them coming, even before they started shooting, seems to me, to establish the idea of how someone who isn't "initiating" combat, could react first.  They see the situation about to unfold, but are able to react quickly enough.   In this case however, Han just didn't roll well enough to shoot first.  

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48 minutes ago, Aetrion said:

The question is, would Han Solo have taken conflict for shooting at the stormtroopers if he had the morality mechanic? 

As a GM, I would not give my players any conflict for firing their weapons at a group of stormtroopers who opened up with the statement, "It's them! Blast 'em!" 

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8 hours ago, SEApocalypse said:

Nobody reads chapter three. 

"The difficulty for a Vigilance check is typically modified by the likelihood of the incident that occurs. A character might be prepared for an ambush when traveling through a darkened alley, but he is unlikely to expect a ground quake in the middle of the night. A poor result on such a check might leave the character momentarily unable to act as he mentally attempts to decipher the current situation.", no reason to assume that this is exclusive to preparation vigilance checks, especially when the ambush scenario is even mentioned. 

Furthermore the showdown rules for duels are another example for a modified initiative roll. 

 

This is certainly good input for the subject SEApoc...however, I don't think it's a smoking gun.  If the designers intended for the GM to set the Difficulty for Initiative rolls, in the Combat section where establishing Initiative is explained, would you expect them to say "To determine the Initiative order, each Player Character and NPC makes a Simple (-) Cool or Vigilance check"?  There's maybe a half dozen permutations of the ways the designers could have expressed that GMs will set Initiative Difficulty levels - but that's just not what they said...at all.  They instructed that a Simple Difficulty is used.

Back at you with Chapter 3  :-P  ---  on pg 124 under Perception Skill it says, "A character who is unprepared for a trap or an ambush may have an opportunity to make a Perception check to avoid being surprised."  A full reading of Perception and Vigilance skills makes clear that Perception is used "...for an active attempt to study his surroundings.  This is how a character notices concealed or inconspicuous signs of danger or other items of significance when actively seeking them out" (emphasis mine), while Vigilance says, "Sometimes a character may have a chance to notice small but important details in his surroundings while not specifically looking for them."  (Again, emphasis mine.)  So if the PCs state they're looking for an ambush, or even just state they're being wary of any nonsense while traversing that area, then that "active attempt" would use a Perception check to spot the ambush.  If they're just going about their business none-the-wiser, then a Vigilance check is used.

The smoking gun part, is that Perception is never used for Initiative rolls.  With that being the case, how do all these pieces fit together?

I would assert here's what RAW has given us:

  1. If characters who are unprepared for a trap or ambush are making an active attempt to study their surroundings, then a Perception check is used to "avoid being surprised".
  2. To determine if characters are prepared for an ambush when they are not actively looking for trouble, then a Vigilance check is used.
  3. There's every reason to think that Difficulty levels are used for these Perception and Vigilance checks, including that it specifically states so under the Vigilance skill in regards to spotting ambushes.
  4. Initiative rolls use Simple Difficulty.

I think those pieces make at least some of this pretty clear.  Characters make either a Perception or Vigilance check to see if they detect the ambush.  Then the Initiative roll uses Simple Difficulty.

What I do not believe is clear, is how the results of those Perception/Vigilance checks are manifested in the Simple Initiative rolls.  I can think of three possibilities:

  1. Individual characters who failed their Perception/Vigilance check do not act in the first Round.  Characters who made their checks do act in the first Round.
  2. If anyone in the attacked group makes their Perception/Vigilance check (or if the GM only allows them one group roll), then none are surprised and all Initiative dice pools are unmodified.  If no one made their Perception/Vigilance check (or if the group check failed), then no one acts in the first Round.
  3. Characters who failed their Perception/Vigilance checks get Setback dice, while characters who succeeded at those checks roll Initiative unmodified.
    1. You can get as complex with this one as one likes.  Characters with failed Perception/Vigilance checks gets one Setback die. Threat can be spent on additional Setback dice, or Threat can be spent to force an immediate Fear check.  Maybe a Despair forces an immediate Fear check either with upgraded Difficulty or that gives the character Conflict.

I don't believe RAW ever mentions anything about a Surprise Round or characters not acting in the first Round - so I don't think options #1 & 2 fit within RAW.  However, option #3  fits within RAW just fine.  You can have Simple Initiative Rolls but get as jiggy as you want with Boost/Setback dice.  I reserve the right to keep thinking about this & perusing the book, but I think option #3 is where I am going.

Edited by seanpp

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It seems like you have a decent grasp of the rules, @seanpp. But I'm pretty sure the game developers themselves would tell you it's okay to put a difficulty die in an initiative pool when it makes sense to do so. 

If it makes sense for an initiative check to have "bad" dice, whatever those dice are, throw them in there. It's really not even a "houserule" or "RAW" issue. It's not something that needs to be meticulously codified. You just do what makes sense when playing the game. Speaking from experience, throwing the very occasional difficulty die (like maybe once every few sessions, if that) into the initiative pool can have incredible meaning, if narrated properly.

If a player complains, just tell him your sensible reason for it, and move on.

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15 hours ago, Aetrion said:

The question is, would Han Solo have taken conflict for shooting at the stormtroopers if he had the morality mechanic? 

 

14 hours ago, awayputurwpn said:

As a GM, I would not give my players any conflict for firing their weapons at a group of stormtroopers who opened up with the statement, "It's them! Blast 'em!" 

Pretty much this.  If I, as the GM, have the troopers initiate combat, I wouldn't punish the PC's for defending themselves.  Even if Han got the initiative roll to go first, despite the ambush.   It's clear they are there to hurt him, and he does have a right to defend himself.    I'm a firm believer in non-violent resolutions, but that doesn't always work, if the other party has no intention of playing nice.  

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