Or: Okay, Now Roll For Initiative!How you conduct combat makes a difference. This is not, of course, a revelation to anyone running a D&D campaign. This post is just a quick look at how changing initiative and order of combat alter combat and strategy.
Everybody ActsAt its simplest, combat is a question of rolling a couple of d6, with highest roll winning. The winning side acts, performing all attacks and resolving all actions. Then the survivors on the losing side get to do the same. It has the advantage of being simple and fast, a resolution for D&D I typically prefer.
Phased InitiativeTaking a cue from Holmes (among others), some referees use Dexterity based initiative, acting in order of highest to lowest. This is a nice perk for player-characters with high DEX, granting importance to ability rolls. It puts a bit more work on the referee, rolling DEX for all monsters. The default position of assigning the same Dexterity to all NPCs or rolling once for a group of monsters can help out.
Phased CombatThen there is phased combat, inspired by Chainmail et al. In this system, the faction winning initiative moves first in a series of steps comprising a combat round. Typically magic/missile, movement, melee. I like to call this the 3M's. This adds more subtlety to melee tactics but takes a little more time at the table. Phased combat using this order makes the magic-user a bit more prominent as the artillery of the group, also allowing missile fire or an offensive spell to interrupt the other side's wizard. The movement phase in the middle allows for split-fire and move, a big advantage of the elf class. Movement also lets the fighters maneuver to protect team members or go on the offensive against a particular opponent. Finally, we have the melee phase.
Besides adding a bit more tactical thinking to the game? Phased combat also gives the referee more options. One can decrease the potential of magic-users by moving spell-casting after the melee phase, giving two opportunities (missile and melee) of interrupting spell-casting. Or one can do as we do, adding a second missile phase after movement. This allows half-move/fire or fire/half-move for non split-move and fire characters. This greatly increases the punch of missile fire in the game.
Declaration Of IntentWe have seen games that require declarations and others in which the referee merely asks each player, in turn, what they are doing either before or after rolling initiative. Declaring a spell before knowing if one has initiative requires a bit more thinking than knowing one gets to act first before deciding.
Recommendations?Go with group initiative and declaring one's actions when it is time for them to act. If you want a more war-gamey feeling game go with:
- Declaration of Intent
- Roll for Initiative
- Phased Combat: magic/missile, movement, missile, melee
- Morale Check