Melee Academy: Reordering Initiative I

I like noodling with alternate rules sometimes or just plain tinkering with how combat works. As I’ve noted before – Speed Kills. The faster you are the quicker you can attacker and the more damage you can inflict. The way GURPS combat functions combatants go in order of decreasing Basic Speed (e.g., Basic Speed 9.25 goes first, then all 9.00, then all 8.75, and so on). For gamers familiar with other systems this is a radical departure from what they are used to! In just about every popular game out there you roll for initiative and that either becomes your place in the order of initiative or you reroll every round. GURPS further confuses this by having a static, constant initiative order. Essentially, barring your opponents speed you always go at the same time in the order of initiative.

Now, this might be odd for other games, but for GURPS this is one of its tactical combat’s greatest strengths. Since the order of initiative is always static each turn, things like Wait maneuvers (p. B366) and Cascading Waits (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 108) are possible without any of the wonky effects that such actions have in other game systems. You also don’t have the pesky chore of recording initiative each turn, whcih can, believe it or not actually save time. Considering how complicated combat can get (without getting into tactical combat) this a plus.Basically, there is a reason that the initiative order is static and works the way it does. But what if you wanted to change that? What if you wanted the randomness of a dice roll for initiative? Well, I’ve got a few ideas.

Optional Rule: Dice + Adds Conversion for Basic Speed
In this initiative variant you simply take each combatant’s Basic Speed and convert them into a number of dice using Dice + Adds (p. B269). For example, if you a character had a Basic Speed of 6.00, then you’d roll 1d+2 to determine your initiative. USe the following chart to quickly determine your roll:

  • 0.25 to 0.75: 1d-4
  • 1.00 to 1.75: 1d-3
  • 2.00 to 2.75: 1d-2
  • 3.00 to 3.75: 1d-1
  • 4.00 to 4.75: 1d
  • 5.00 to 5.75: 1d+1
  • 6.00 to 6.75: 1d+2
  • 7.00 to 7.75: 1d+3
  • 8.00 to 8.75: 1d+4 or 2d
  • 9.00 to 9.75: 1d+5 or 2d+1
  • etc.etc.

Optional Rule: Basic Speed + Die Roll
In this version take the combatant’s Basic Speed-3 and add the roll of 1d. Fractional Basic Speed of
0.25 as 1d-3, fractions up to 0.5 as 1d-2, and any larger fraction as 1d-1..  For example, a Basic Speed of 6.00 results in a roll of 1d+3 (6 – 3 = 3).

Optional Rule: Exploding/Imploding Initiative Rolls
Using either of the above methods the GM can allow dice to “explode” when a 6 is rolled on the dice roll again and add the result to the previous roll. This can continue on indefinitely if 6s are continuously rolled! The GM could also allow a die to “implode.” When a 1 is rolled on the dice, reroll it, and subtract that amount to the previous roll.

Picking Over the Bones
I’m sure there are a dozen other ways to determine initiative differently. You could for example use (Per + DX + HT) /5 or (Per + HT) /3 or any other combination. The key here is that you cannot use varying initiative orders every turn because doing so will muck with Waits and that’s not something anyone wants to toy with without some serious thought. Do you have varying orders of initiative in your campaign? What method do you use?

Note: I updated this a bit because there was some problems with my math.

Posted in Melee Academy and tagged .


  1. One thing that I've instituted in my current game is that characters with Combat Reflexes get +10 to their initiative. It nicely sorts the folk who are accustomed to thinking in a fight to the top of the order, then the rest sort it out. (Surprisingly, only two of the PCs have CR. That party is sooo lucky I haven't ambushed them. Yet.)

  2. In an online game I'm playing in (a *extreme* rarity – I don't like playing in games) everyone but like two of the party has Combat Reflexes and our wizard is a tactical master. Ambushes so far don't work. It is DF though. 🙂

  3. I remember the White Wolf Streetfighter RPG. Initiative started with who had the lowest. and went in ascending order. if you had a higher initiative, you could interrupt the current players action. If someone had a higher initiative than the second person, Then the third person could interrupt the first interrupt.You should playtest this when you go to Steve's store on Saturday. -C

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