Jun 202011

I’ve been playing a new game recently, and I’m loving it.  It has several little (and not so little) differences that make me appreciate diversity in gaming rules.  In this article, I’m going to talk about why you might consider tweaking one little part of your game for the better…

Almost all table-top role playing games utilize the function of “Initiative” to dictate the order in which characters (players and non) take their actions.  If you’re familiar with RPGs, then I’m sure I don’t need to explain the general concept any further.  However, where it gets interesting is in the various ways this function is implemented among the different games.

Some gamers like a more realistic feel of Initiative for their combat rounds, while others prefer an easier-to-manage method, foregoing realism for ease-of-play.  Very few gamers won’t play a game because of its Initiative mechanic (a bad Initiative design is not that much of a fun killer), while most others accept the mechanic as is, or will create house-rules to change the method to their liking.

Too often when house-rules are implemented, a ripple effect begins – change one thing, it affects another, change that thing to compensate, it affects two other things, and so on.  In my opinion, Initiative is one of those parts of the system that can be tweaked without game-breaking repercussions.   I know, I know… I’m breaking my creedo of “never again making house-rules,” but in this case, tweaking Initiative rarely has game-breaking consequences.

Enter Warhammer Fantasy

This isn’t necessarily an article to get you to play Warhammer Fantasy, but a vehicle to show you a great concept that can be applied to the game that you’re already playing.

If you’ve never played Warhammer Fantasy, you should.  It’s quite a game, and definitely set apart from other fantasy RPGs.  It has several innovative or revamped ideas – ideas that help make your table time more interesting, fun, and challenging.  One of those novelties is its implementation of Initiative:

  1. Everyone rolls for Initiative (players and NPCs).  NPC ‘groups’ are counted as a single unit.
  2. If the GM and the players end up with tied scores, the players go first.
  3. Initiative results for your side of the conflict apply to all characters on that side.  This means that if the PCs got scores of 4, 2, and 1, it is up to the players to decide who goes on Initiative counts 4, 2, and 1, regardless of who actually rolled those scores.
  4. Even if a character drops out of the fight, the Initiative scores remain.
  5. Initiative scores can change as the fight goes on, depending on certain combat factors.  Otherwise, the numbers stay the same from round to round.

Rule #3 is what I want to talk about, so stay with me…

In general, Warhammer Fantasy utilizes a “Party Concept” for the player characters.  It is assumed that the PCs work together for their common benefit, and have come to know each others’ strengths and weaknesses.

The concept and benefit of the group working together is seen throughout the game in several ways, including Initiative (rule #3, above).  The PCs are a cohesive group of characters that have to work together in order to survive.  The players get to choose, as a group, who goes on which Initiative count in any given round.  This reinforces the concept of team tactics, because it helps the players think tactically.  This naturally helps the players act as a team, because they’re working together to decide what’s best for the group.

Perhaps, in the fight, your character went last in the last round, and he ends up in an advantageous position – if only he could go before his partners in the next round.  In most games, you can only do this by making your partners delay their actions.  In Warhammer Fantasy, that is not the case.  Once you roll Initiative and get a score, that score belongs to the party; not you.

Most of the time, everyone can see that it makes sense for the Priest of Sigmar to go first, so he can charge out front to block for the archer.  Other times we can easily see that the archer needs to go first, because it makes sense that ranged attacks are faster.   It all depends on the given situation, the characters, the terrain, the enemies, and even how you are currently role playing your character.

Sure, if your character rolled a high score, he might actually end up going last – that’s for you and your group to decide.  What’s important is that you look past your character’s needs, and consider what is best for your group.

“That sounds cool, but how do you handle two players who want to go on the same Initiative count?”

Inevitably, this is going to happen, perhaps in some groups more than others.  All I can say is that my gaming group has been playing Warhammer Fantasy for three months, and it has never come up.   Have faith, though, because that problem ends up being its own solution!

The game (as a whole) embraces the Party Concept.  The characters are encouraged to work together in a variety of ways, and that includes the players by default.  My group has never once fought over who goes when in a fight.  Sometimes it makes sense that someone in particular goes at a certain time, sometimes it doesn’t matter.  What’s important is that we all work together to figure that out.  In deciding (as a group) who goes on which count, communication is automatically fostering cooperation, making the game that much more enjoyable.

Putting it into your game…

Ok, I realize that Warhammer Fantasy isn’t your typical RPG (action cards, stance meter, party tension, refresh tokens, original dice, etc.), but at its core it still showcases a great concept – the concept of a group of player characters coming together to accomplish similar goals, all without killing each other.  The game really encourages working as a team, and (sneakily) uses the Initiative mechanic to help make that happen.  So, there’s no reason that this can’t be house-ruled into most other RPGs!

As I stated before, I don’t normally advocate house-rules (not anymore), but Initiative is usually one of those aspects of a game that can take the abuse without serious repercussions.  Most games have an Initiative method, and most times that method is not entirely dependent on the overall system mechanic, so a little tweak shouldn’t harm your game.

I say to all of you reading this, tweak your Initiative rules for a few sessions to allow for a house-ruled Party Initiative, especially if you have a group of players that don’t always see eye-to-eye.  Sure, in some instances this might give the players a mechanical edge that they otherwise wouldn’t get, but it adds a strategic flavor to the game that is fun to explore, and individual players (who don’t always work well with others) just may start to work as a team.

And that is why Warhammer Fantasy Initiative sucks awesome.

Chris Stevens

In Chris's opinion, the very best vices are dirt bikes, rock music, and gaming, while the very best medicine is fatherhood. If he could just learn to balance them all, he'd live forever. He's much more creative than intelligent, often wakes up belligerent, and ponders many things insignificant. Lastly, in an effort to transform his well-fed body, P90X, Roller Blades, and Food are all laughing at him. And the pain continues.

  3 Responses to “Warhammer Fantasy Initiative – Why it Sucks Awesome”

  1. Excellent suggestion – sounds great! Plus it removes that “I hold my action until … ” shuffling we get all too often.

    I assumed before I read this that “sucking awesome” was a bad thing..?

  2. It is a great mechanic for the GM. If they want to take it easy on the players, they can make the easy minion-type characters go first. If they want to be tough on the players, then can make their big bad guy go at the end of the round, then again at the top of the order next round. That dimension adds more strategy without overly complicating the game.

  3. @ Tom – No sir, sucking awesome is a good thing!

    @ Samuel – I’ve watched the GM manage the Initiative count, but never really paid attention to how he utilizes it for his monsters… evil DMs indeed!

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