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Jacob Lewis

(Updated) Initiative using playing cards

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EDIT: I felt the original writing wasn't very clear so I touched it up. I hope its an improvement!

Since I've been coming here for years and picking up tons of excellent advice and resources, I thought I would share an idea I had. I want to do something different with Initiative to make combat a little more fun and a little less predictable. My original thought was to introduce a mini-game for a variant of sabaac, but quickly discarded that idea in favor of a standard deck of playing cards. Not only are they are easier (and cheaper) to obtain, they're also simple, familiar, and perfectly balanced (as the Force will it) with the division of colors, suits, and values. I just need to figure out a way to incorporate it into this system that adds to the fun without ignoring existing mechanics or options. I also want to ensure that it doesn't distract or otherwise take away from the game itself. I think I have a solution, but I want to bring it here to where the most experienced players and GMs can poke holes in it and find any potential blindspots.

BASIC RULES:

When determining initiative, each player is dealt two cards from a standard deck of playing cards. Each player then gets an additional card depending on which skill they would normally use during their check for initiative (i.e. usually Vigilance or Cool). For every Ability or Proficiency die they would normally add to their dice pool for initiative, they receive one additional card.  For example, a character with 2 Presence and 3 ranks of Cool would receive 3 more cards (2 Proficiency dice and 1 Ability dice), plus their original 2 cards for 5 cards total.

Next, each character chooses to keep a number of cards in his hand and discards the rest. Each character can hold 1 card, plus an additional card for every Proficiency die he would normally use for the skill chosen earlier. Using the same example before, the player would choose 2 cards to discard and keep the other three in his hand.

Once the players are ready, the GM shuffles all of the discarded cards into the deck and then draws the top card and displays it for the group. This represents the first initiative spot of the combat round. Players must now compare their cards to the one showing in order to see if they can act during that initiative spot. In order to do so, they must show a card that matches or exceeds the value showing. If a player has more than one card in the same suit, they may combine their totals. If they do, then they can take their turn at that time.

As normal, only one character or adversary (or groups) can act at a time. Thus, if more than one character can go, the players can choose which one will act at that time while the others wait for another opportunity to act. Once the player completes his action for that round, the hand is discarded and the player must wait for the next round to be dealt a new hand.

If none of the characters are able to beat the card currently showing, then the GM chooses an adversary (or groups) take their turn. This process continues until all of the characters and adversaries have taken a turn, which signifies the end of a combat round. Once completed, the GM shuffles all of the cards into the deck and repeats the process for every round of combat as necessary.

Notes:

Anything that would normally add a Success or Advantage to a character's initiative result (such as a talent or piece of equipment), increases the value of a card played by 1 for each Success or Advantage the character would normally receive.

If the character would normally receive a Boost for their initiative check, they may draw another card before the round begins and decide to keep or discard it.

A Setback forces a player to discard one of his cards randomly before selecting which cards to keep. If the player is left with no cards in his hand, he must draw one and keep it.

Summary:

My goal is to keep players more involved during the slower pace of a turn-based combat system so they don't distract themselves while waiting for their turn. Since no one knows who might go next, it should add a little more tension and excitement. And while the card game is only a minor distraction, it distracts enough to keep players focused and engaged. At least, that is the hope.

I will be testing this idea in my own game soon, but I wanted to get some feedback first. Maybe there is something I'm not seeing that could be a problem, or somebody might have other ideas that might work better. And if you try it out, let me know how it goes!

Thanks.

Edited by Jacob Lewis
Edited for clarity

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Initiative House rules are somewhat of a third rail here in my experience (probably because the RAW initiative is pretty awesome), but I applaud your willingness to try something new and fun :) I have experimented with Narrative Initiative and also Popcorn style Initiative in order to try and get the flow faster when transitioning from Narrative Time to Structured Time. 

I don't think you will get a boost in speed of resolution from this as I read it, but it's an interesting idea. I think it is smart of you to use tactile as well as visual to try and keep them engaged, and I think that unpredictable is good. 

 

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I'm with Archlyte on this and don't think it will get much speed here but I would make one change suggestion if you are going to be testing it.

Quote

If the character would normally receive a Boost for their initiative check, they may discard one of their cards and draw another card before the round begins. A card received in this way may not be discarded by the player.

I would change that to:

If the character would normally receive a Boost for their initiative check, they may draw another card before the round begins and decide to keep it and discard another card or discard it.

This indicates that the boost could be either beneficial (success or advantage) or not worth keeping (blank).  This prevents a player from discarding a card first and then drawing a worse card whichis not how Boosts work.

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18 minutes ago, Varlie said:

I'm with Archlyte on this and don't think it will get much speed here but I would make one change suggestion if you are going to be testing it.

I would change that to:

If the character would normally receive a Boost for their initiative check, they may draw another card before the round begins and decide to keep it and discard another card or discard it.

This indicates that the boost could be either beneficial (success or advantage) or not worth keeping (blank).  This prevents a player from discarding a card first and then drawing a worse card which is not how Boosts work.

Yeah, that makes sense. I've updated the rules. Thanks!

Also, I don't think I mentioned anything about speeding up play. That wasn't my goal with this. I'm fine taking the time to engage the mechanics that are such a strength of this system. But I would like to make it more entertaining and fun, if possible. :)

Edited by Jacob Lewis

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Eh.  Err.

I've played games that use playing cards as both initiative (Savage Worlds) and as a Random Number Generator (for a game system that was so broken and contemptible that I will not repeat it's name, partly because I'm mentally blocking it out from my memory it was such a despicable and horrible system to experience).

Anyrate, my experiences with using playing cards and random number generators was not positive . . . 

To be honest (and dishonest at the same moment . . . ironically) I got so frustrated with the playing cards, that I'd actively cheat and stack the deck so that the PC's would have a better than average chance of going before the adversaries.

I'm not a very skilled card shark, but I got good enough to pull it off with surprising regularity.

From my perspective, card's aren't really that random (I know, statistically, I'm wrong, but . . . see above).  And it's a LOT easier to cheat at cards than it is at dice.

 

I do like the initiative system that FFG uses for Star Wars and we make the D&D 5E initiative system work well enough.

The system outlined by the OP seems excessively complex and time consuming.  But if it works out well, great.

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17 minutes ago, Mark Caliber said:

for a game system that was so broken and contemptible that I will not repeat it's name, partly because I'm mentally blocking it out from my memory it was such a despicable and horrible system to experience

Are you talking about Malifaux - Through the Breach?  I love that system. 

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20 hours ago, Mark Caliber said:
  • To be honest (and dishonest at the same moment . . . ironically) I got so frustrated with the playing cards, that I'd actively cheat and stack the deck so that the PC's would have a better than average chance of going before the adversaries.
  • I do like the initiative system that FFG uses for Star Wars and we make the D&D 5E initiative system work well enough.
  • The system outlined by the OP seems excessively complex and time consuming.  But if it works out well, great.
  • Yeah it can be a bummer if the PCs bolo the init all night and keep getting sucker punched by the bad guys. When using Narrative Initiative I have the PCs as the default winners of initiative absent some other reason such as being ambushed, etc. 
  • Yeah the default Initiative system of SWRPG is superior to what most systems have imo. The idea of the slots which can be used as it fits the story is inspired. 
  • I think using what works for the scene is a good guideline. I think it's important to give the players as much stability as you can and to not invalidate their character creation choices, but every so often a dynamically called scene is a nice change and can provide better flow than doing a number list. 

 

 

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On 9/20/2019 at 5:18 PM, Mark Caliber said:

From my perspective, card's aren't really that random (I know, statistically, I'm wrong, but . . . see above).  And it's a LOT easier to cheat at cards than it is at dice.

I do like the initiative system that FFG uses for Star Wars and we make the D&D 5E initiative system work well enough.

The system outlined by the OP seems excessively complex and time consuming.  But if it works out well, great.

Thanks for sharing!

One thing I have done to lessen my own mental burdens as a referee and game master is stop worrying about cheaters. I even tell players upfront, "I won't care if you cheat if that's what it takes for you to have fun." Especially in a game like this. For most people, this is enough of a deterrent. I am focused on telling a story with the players, not keep score and hunt down abstract rules.

Besides, cheating at cards is just another cliche of playing cards. It should be expected. In fact, using it as a thematic part of the setting (i.e. a substitute for Sabaac), I think I may include a rule about cheating and getting caught to encourage more cheating! Thanks for the inspiration!

There is nothing wrong with the initiative systems as written, obviously. They work. But I'm not trying to improve or replace them because they are lacking or ineffective. I just want to try something different and come up with adifferent way that will enhance the process in a different way. I will let you know how it works out when I get to actually playtest it with a group. 

Also, isn't it ironic that we also hear "excessively complex and time consuming" as a common complaint about this particular RPG by people who haven't really tried it yet? That, and the "funky dice" defense always baffles me when coming from veteran gamers who have collected "funky" dice for years! :)

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3 hours ago, Jacob Lewis said:

 

Also, isn't it ironic that we also hear "excessively complex and time consuming" as a common complaint about this particular RPG by people who haven't really tried it yet? That, and the "funky dice" defense always baffles me when coming from veteran gamers who have collected "funky" dice for years! :)

I have to guilty admit, my first reaction to the funky dice was "urgh, I have to by special dice? " until the bit of my head that goes "ooooo... "at shiny new dice piped up, lol.

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On 9/22/2019 at 8:47 AM, P-47 Thunderbolt said:

This is my first (and so far only) RPG and my first reaction was "Yay! Now you can't have guaranteed success!" I (in theory, at least) don't really like regular d20 systems for that main reason.

I think that the Initiative system in this game is pretty standard except for the Slot mechanic which is an amazing way to make the order of action fit the scene. 

In most systems that have a random initiative the thing that most people do is to try and make it less random for them by having a numerical bonus that outweighs the dice roll. To me this is not great because it just uses numbers instead of the circumstances of the situation, unless you are willing to roll first and describe from the numbers. 

I think that in this game Combat should have narrative elements, but when the game combat devolves into D&D standard (Do as much DPS on your turn as you can or lose) that goes bye bye. I try to heavily weight narrative effects so that if someone does something besides their most damaging attack on their turn it can have some impact. 

 

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One of the reasons I have gotten into this game so much, so quickly is because I love math and mechanics, but at the same time, I love story even more and while I am good at coming up with stories, I am not good at writing or telling stories, so this allows me to craft stories that then write themselves. I got a little bit off track, but what I was trying to say was that I love the mechanics, but I value the story enough that there needs to be more than just the mechanics to make the game fun, interesting, and entertaining. I will play Axis & Allies or Risk by myself (cuz no one will play with me because either they hate the game, or we play AoR instead), but I can't play this by myself because it takes more than just the mechanics and strategy to make this interesting. The more I hear about D&D's combat and leveling mechanics, the more I love this game for it's narrative emphasis.

Edited by P-47 Thunderbolt

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1 hour ago, P-47 Thunderbolt said:

One of the reasons I have gotten into this game so much, so quickly is because I love math and mechanics, but at the same time, I love story even more and while I am good at coming up with stories, I am not good at writing or telling stories, so this allows me to craft stories that then write themselves. I got a little bit off track, but what I was trying to say was that I love the mechanics, but I value the story enough that there needs to be more than just the mechanics to make the game fun, interesting, and entertaining. I will play Axis & Allies or Risk by myself (cuz no one will play with me because either they hate the game, or we play AoR instead), but I can't play this by myself because it takes more than just the mechanics and strategy to make this interesting. The more I hear about D&D's combat and leveling mechanics, the more I love this game for it's narrative emphasis.

D&D is the standard. As someone who played it for 30 years I respect its position as the eminent system. But, I also personally find it vapid, and with the new edition, very deterministic. The characters are no longer built by players but are somewhat constructed by the books. At 3rd level you have to take one of their paths, and it's always been a system built on the idea of telling you what you can't do. 

This system is also built so that combat will always be risky for the players without necessarily having to make ridiculously powerful enemies. That's good for stories because you aren't funneled toward Dragons and Mindflayers and Liches. You can have interesting combats without having to fight gods. 

I think you don't need to be good at telling stories if you are good at letting story happen and reacting in a smart way. Playing to find out what happens will make it so that you don't have to try and be an amazing writer and concoct something with complex twists and turns that the players may not end up being interested in anyway. A good rail GM and group are a great thing, but it is not something that can always be the case. 

 

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9 minutes ago, Archlyte said:

I think you don't need to be good at telling stories if you are good at letting story happen and reacting in a smart way. Playing to find out what happens will make it so that you don't have to try and be an amazing writer and concoct something with complex twists and turns that the players may not end up being interested in anyway. A good rail GM and group are a great thing, but it is not something that can always be the case. 

 

Exactly! You said it better than I did.

9 minutes ago, Archlyte said:

D&D is the standard. As someone who played it for 30 years I respect its position as the eminent system. But, I also personally find it vapid, and with the new edition, very deterministic. The characters are no longer built by players but are somewhat constructed by the books. At 3rd level you have to take one of their paths, and it's always been a system built on the idea of telling you what you can't do. 

This system is also built so that combat will always be risky for the players without necessarily having to make ridiculously powerful enemies. That's good for stories because you aren't funneled toward Dragons and Mindflayers and Liches. You can have interesting combats without having to fight gods.

One of the biggest issues I have with D&D (again, I haven't played, this is just what I've heard and picked up on) is the way opponents work and the "oh you have a knife at my throat! Ha, that's so cute! You know you can't do anything to me with that right?" once you get leveled up enough. That can have a place in a fantasy universe were regular people can basically become gods, but I prefer how (unless you really stack defensive bonuses) you can get dropped by a couple stormtrooper groups. It makes you feel vulnerable and, I think, gives you more respect for the game and the NPCs and makes you want to pursue methods other than "I'll just shoot them" because that won't always turn out great for you (aside from legal ramifications and story ways of rectifying the situation).

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19 hours ago, P-47 Thunderbolt said:

One of the biggest issues I have with D&D (again, I haven't played, this is just what I've heard and picked up on) is the way opponents work and the "oh you have a knife at my throat! Ha, that's so cute! You know you can't do anything to me with that right?" once you get leveled up enough.

With D&D5 that isn't as true as it was in the previous editions. If a PC takes more damages than his / her wound threshold in a single hit he / she can be reduced to 0 HP whatever the number of HPs left. The wound threshold is equal to a character's number of hit dice + the constitution bonus. That's from memory since it's been more than a year that I've played D&D5. Armour Class is capped too, so even a low level creature can hit and inflict damages to a high level one. That means a lot of low level can kill a single high level, most of them being killed in the attempt.

Well, I like D&D5 because it remind me of many feelings I had playing AD&D1 39 years ago. Something that wasn't the case with D&D3.* and D&D4.

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On 9/24/2019 at 9:11 AM, WolfRider said:

With D&D5 that isn't as true as it was in the previous editions. If a PC takes more damages than his / her wound threshold in a single hit he / she can be reduced to 0 HP whatever the number of HPs left. The wound threshold is equal to a character's number of hit dice + the constitution bonus. That's from memory since it's been more than a year that I've played D&D5. Armour Class is capped too, so even a low level creature can hit and inflict damages to a high level one. That means a lot of low level can kill a single high level, most of them being killed in the attempt.

Well, I like D&D5 because it remind me of many feelings I had playing AD&D1 39 years ago. Something that wasn't the case with D&D3.* and D&D4.

They utilized something they call Bounded Accuracy to get the numbers under control and not have characters with like 56 for Armor Class, which was a great move and restored it to more like what we knew in the old days of AD&D and even 2nd Edition. Almost makes it as good as this system.

But

The new edition seems to cater to the modern D&D mindset, which seems to be centered on sensationalizing and aggrandizing the character over other concerns. This is different from old school D&D in which the character was built by adventuring, instead of templates from the rulebooks.

If you want something that feels like old D&D there are OSR (Old School Revival) Rulesets out there that are stripped down rules that allow the DM and the Players to create instead of just doing the build-a bear stuff that 5e is all about. 

 

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