Sunday, June 22, 2014

Seizing the Initiative (or Not)

In Dagger for Kids by Brave Halfling Publishing, a rules lite game designed to help introduce the fine art of tabletop role-playing to young people, we adopted a funny little initiative rule that I probably never would have considered otherwise, entrenched as I am in my Moldvay Basic / AD&D mash-up way of thinking:

When there is a combat in Dagger, the player characters always go first.

Obviously the intent of this rule is to reduce complexity for young players ... die rolls are mainly about answering the questions "Did I hit it?" and "Did I kill it?" ... but how would stripping out party initiative, individual initiative, or weapon speed factors (heh) impact actual game play?
Won't the players take advantage of the knowledge that, "we always go first" to unfair tactical advantage?

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Turns out, not-so-much.  

Consider the actual results of our gameplay: By the end of the third session, out of 23 starting characters, only six remained alive.  This wasn't due so much to hideous tactical blunders (though there were several), or a sadistic "killer dungeon" (there were never more than five attacks per round directed their way, and that from a bunch of 4 hp tasloi), but rather from the mere fact that an AC of 14 and 5 hit points in an environment where are dice rolls aren't fudged won't get you too far unless you quickly learn to mitigate your risks.

In practice, at our table, the "player characters go first" rule was also mitigated by common sense of course.  If monsters have set an ambush and searching fails to reveal them, then naturally the critters will get the first attack.  Certain monsters (like the camouflage, jack-in-the-box that is the giant caddisfly larva) may have first attack as a special ability if anyone blunders too near its protective case.

copyright © 2013, Stephen Belcher Photography Ltd
By the time we had played six or seven sessions, especially when considering the focus of the action, the involvement of the players, and the outcomes of encounters, things at the table were basically indistinguishable from any other session of D&D I've played, Moldvay 81 through 3rd edition.  I'd found that setting aside all the (perfectly reasonable) complexity of Dexterity modifiers and surprise rounds and letting player characters go first as a default doesn't really make that much of a difference and speeds game play considerably.  

I'm thinking that this may become my new default ... at least when gaming with younger players.