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Sep 27, 2018 19 tweets 4 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
Initiative means every party in a combat acts exactly as often as every other party. In reality, this isn't how fights work, from a schoolyard brawl that gets you sent to the principal to trench warfare. It's *fair* from a game perspective, but not realistic or cinematic.
Yeah, screw it. Let's thread this.

Fair makes sense in a tactical board game. But does it make sense for a tabletop RPG?
Many tabletop RPGs also come with a tactical board game that the designers throw in for free.

Crap, that sentence is so good I should have started the thread with it.
What I mean by that is that you're playing Pathfinder, a game about characters presented with challenges by the GM, inventing with creative solutions that the GM makes spot rulings about to keep things exciting, and then you meet some goblins...
Now everything's cool. You and the gobbos are threatening each other, and the role-playing is going on. You're coming up with creative solutions to a problem, the GM is doing the whole "keep things tense" thing... Then you get a 6 on Intimidate, and the GM says "roll initiative."
So up UNTIL this point:
- You WERE taking turns, but it wasn't regimented
- Everyone DID have a fair chance to act
- Things WERE realistic
- Characters were not acting with clockwork equality - everyone acting the same amount... but that's fine, because that's how the world works
As soon as the initiative order is established, the role-playing game is put on hold. We take out the tactical board game.

We use white boards or tents for initiative. In many games, we LITERALLY take out a board. And pieces and status tokens and cards and stuff and set them up.
In combat, in an RPG, you often have choices:
- Between tactical options
- Occasionally between strategic options

But rarely do you have to make a choice that is tactically/strategically irrelevant, but dramatically weighty.
Or even tactically relevant AND dramatically weighty.

Most RPG combat scenes are purely procedural (get past the giant spider), and the personal, dramatic moments in them are few and far between, and usually obvious:

"I saved my friend! It was dramatic!"

No, it was obvious.
There are a few RPGs that don't use initiative. They say "In a fight, shift the camera around to whoever is the focus of the action. And shift the focus of the action frequently, so everyone has a moment in the spotlight."

(So as I go on, remember that there is an alternative.)
Point of clarification: When I say "initiative is a tactical combat board game," I am INCLUDING the hundreds of tabletop RPGs that do use initiative and don't use a grid and minis, such as Vampire and even Fate.
Vampire has a chapter on Combat. It's its own sub-game. Fate has special Conflict mechanics. It's its own sub-game.

When you write initiative rules, you're creating a SECOND game that goes inside the main game.
I don't want to belabor this from an design point-of-view. I'm not an RPG designer. I'm a GM blogger, but designers: Don't include initiative in your game unless you want to bundle your RPG with a free tactical combat board game where the players shift from story/RP to tactics.
Instead, I want to talk about this from a GM perspective.

When there is a GM, the GM's great power and great responsibility is to decide when to use the rules, and which rules to use.
You can have attack rolls and damage rolls in Pathfinder or #dnd or Vampire or any RPG without initiative. And your players won't even notice as long as you're not screwing anyone over.
So here's my advice:

If the battle scene is not tactically interesting, but it is dramatically interesting, don't use initiative.

If it's not dramatically interesting OR tactically interesting, don't even use dice. Just narrate it -- or let a player narrate it.
We use initiative for battles that are tactically interesting -- that is, we use initiative to take a break and play a fun board game. And that's fine! I love #Pathfinder and I love combat in it. But it shifts me to tactical thinking (what is most effective).
Final piece of advice: If a battle is tactically interesting and you are using initiative, ask yourself how you can also make it dramatic. How can it affect the RELATIONSHIPS between characters (including NPCs)? How can it CHANGE characters (more than just HP and status effects)?
When you can answer those questions, highlight them each turn (not just round) for the acting character.

(Old thread on how to do that:

/End Thread

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More from @RunAGame

Oct 5, 2018
Information skill check frames time. Thread in 3... 2.... 1...
Many RPGs have information skills. You know, like "Knowledge: The Planes" or "Arcana" or "Occult" or whatever. These are "know information about the thing" skills.

But also "Sense Motive," "Gather Information," "Investigate," and "Perception." These are "find the thing" skills.
To understand information skill check frames, though, we have to talk about why we use dice AT ALL. There are generally three reasons to use dice.
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Sep 28, 2018
The initiative thread got unrolled, too. So I'll use this as an opportunity to talk about running away.

Running away from a conflict is absolutely essential to a lot of styles of RPG play. It's common in real-life violent conflicts. But it's also nearly impossible in initiative.
That's because every character gets the same amount of time to do everything, as if they were all acting in turn, but also simultaneously. When you act in turn, you act with full knowledge of the other parties' actions on previous turns.
As a result, the INSTANT Merlin breaks and runs from the goblin, the goblin also starts chasing Merlin. At the end of the goblin's turn, he's adjacent to Merlin again. In reality, the goblin would have a few seconds delay reacting to Merlin, intuiting if it was a feint, etc.
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Sep 13, 2018
RPG Combat Gamerunning Thread

Today let's talk about a technique I learned to use to make combat more exciting.
This is a simple trick, but it keeps all the players engaged, keeps the stakes sharp, and focuses the action more like a story than a board game.
Each time a player's turn comes up, don't just say "OK Andy, your turn." Here's what you do, instead...
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Jun 1, 2018
Thread! Blades in the Dark's Position and Effect are useful for almost *every* RPG from #dnd to #FateCore because you consider not how HARD something is but how RISKY it is and how EFFECTIVE it could be. 1/
Position is the level of danger. In BitD the Positions are Desperate, Risky, and Controlled. Position communicates the possible complications. Desperate=*Real* bad if you fail. Controlled=Pushes you to a riskier position if you fail. Risky=Consequences, but not catastrophic. 2/
Effect is the level of potency. Limited=Make some progress. Standard=Do what you came to do unless it's super ambitious. Great=Impressive effect. 3/
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