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Thinking sideways: initiative passes

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  • Thinking sideways: initiative passes

    Much ink has been spilled over how to balance multiple actions, whether split dice pools or flat penalties, and how to balance Celerity. I've thought about it in the past, but revisiting Shadowrun a bit made me think of this again. Has anyone mussed with initiative passes, in the ST system?

    By that I mean, Players roll initiative. Everyone gets their action, but at the end of the initiative list, everyone's initiative scores are reduced by ten. Anyone with an initiative score still positive then gets a second action in the same turn; then, the process repeats. Only after everyone's had their full passes, do Celerity actions come into play. Of course, this supersedes split dice pools, so as to avoid mass confusion and truly ludicrous numbers of actions in a given turn. So, for example,

    [We always play with d10 + Dex + Wits. I know various editions have swapped this for rolling Dex + Wits and counting successes, but this happens to be the way my table has always played and what we know best. Bugger me if I remember how it is as-written in V20 at the moment. Though, for Dex + Wits dice pool rolls for initiative, I could see passes being done at 5 successes to reflect dramatic success on initiative rolls.]

    Alice rolls her initiative and gets 13. Alice buys two Celerity actions. Bob rolls his, and gets 9. Bob buys one Celerity action. Chuck rolls his, and gets 10. Delilah (the elder NPC they're fighting) rolls, and gets 21.

    So, the order would be: Delilah (21), Alice (13), Chuck (10), Bob (9)

    Subtract 10, then: Delilah (11), Alice (3)

    Subtract 10, then: Delilah (1)

    Then Celerity actions: Alice, Bob, Alice

    At the end of the turn, Alice has had four actions, Bob has had two, Chuck has had one, and Delilah has had three. Or hell, you could even then house rule spending on Celerity nets you an extra 10 on initiative per blood point spent, bumping the player up and giving an automatic initiative pass. In which case,

    Alice's initiative would be 33. Bob's would be 19. Chuck's would be 10. Delilah's would be 21.

    Which means, the initiative order is,

    Alice (33), Delilah (21), Bob (19), Chuck (10), Alice (23), Delilah (11), Bob (9), Alice (13), Delilah (1), Alice (3).

    Or, to point out how this can help players with Celerity but subpar Dexterity + Wits pools, Let's say Chuck was the one with two Celerity, and Bob had one: Alice (13), Bob (19), Chuck (30), Delilah (21).

    Chuck (30), Delilah (21), Bob (19), Alice (13), Chuck (20), Delilah (11), Bob (9), Alice (3), Chuck (10), Delilah (1).

    It's an interesting thought, and while it's not perfect does hamper Celerity's effectiveness at least by providing players opportunities at additional actions per turn without it. It also means there's extra incentive to buy up Wits, especially for combat-oriented characters.

    Anyone else have a couple cents to spare on this?

  • #2
    I have been using a converted Shadowrun 4e system in my cWoD games. I have started using Willpower in place of Edge (using modified Edge rules from Shadowrun 4e instead of the Willpower rules from cWoD), and it is an interesting experiment because it makes Willpower incredibly valuable.


    • #3
      Passes isn't a bad system, but I'm not sure what it solves.

      The WOD combat rules bog down with multiple actions. Passes add extra actions for all (getting to at least 11 init on average is not hard). That seems to make things worse. I'm not really sold on how this reduces the average number of actions per combatant significantly.

      There's going to need to be adjust every power that interacts with initiative and/or boosting Dex/Wits.

      It reduces the tactical choices of mundane multiple actions by making it a choice of less "good" actions and more "weak" actions by just, "get Initiative as high as possible for as many actions as possible." High Dex/Wits builds are just going to dominate combat. If you have Dex 2/Wits 2, you 60% of combat rounds you get 1 action. If you have Dex 5/Wits 5, you always have 2 actions. The second character is pretty much impossible to beat in this. Adding in supernatural powers only makes it worse.

      I can make a Garou that can easily have a Dex + Wits + supernatural bonuses of 20, which means their minimum Initiative is 21, so they get three actions before spending Rage. All this feels like such a character got more actions and more power over those not invested in jump init super high. It doesn't help that Dexterity is a factor of attack/defense rolls and init.

      I also don't think Wits needs more reasons to buy it. In many of the WoD systems Wits is a very useful trait for all character types. So make Wits even better doesn't seem like a plus to me either.


      • #4
        Originally posted by Aya Tari View Post
        I have been using a converted Shadowrun 4e system in my cWoD games. I have started using Willpower in place of Edge (using modified Edge rules from Shadowrun 4e instead of the Willpower rules from cWoD), and it is an interesting experiment because it makes Willpower incredibly valuable.
        Shadowrun is a great example of why initiative passes are a bad idea. It just passes the buck from celerity to everything that increases initiative rating in general. It's pretty much law in shadowrun that characters with lots of points and ware that affects their initiative are significantly better than characters that focus on other things, to the point where other options are pretty much non-starters and only exist to act as though a point of strength is as valuable as another point of initiative.

        This is how getting multiple actions works in every game system based on turns pretty much ever. You want them, because when the system is built around a baseline that you'll have one action, getting two actions pretty much doubles your output in a fight, and from there the gap between speed demons and characters with, say, fortitude or potence instead, only widens, despite the fact that those disciplines are supposedly equal and potence should be as valid as a combat option as celerity.


        • #5
          But Shadowrun 4e is more balanced than cWoD because defense is separate from actions. Yes, you might get to attack you target eight times during a turn, but your target gets to defend against each of those attacks (and lots of Initiative Passes does not matter when you have a Troll punching you for 16 Physical, plus successes on a 10 dice pool, before you get your second Initiative Pass). If cWoD would just separate action and defenses, like Shadowrun 4e, multiple actions would not matter nearly as much.


          • #6
            Being more balanced than cWoD is not a high bar to set, and initiative passes are certainly not a part of it.

            Also the troll punching you doesn't matter because you already shot him dead.


            • #7
              The OP is using SR5e Initiative Passes, not SR4e ones. So SR4e isn't really relevant. To the idea presented.

              The only thing SR4e does that most WoD iterations could use is everyone acts once until they're out of actions, rather than everyone does their main action with any splits/mundane multiples, and then supernatural multiple actions all happen as a second phase (except defensive ones). The WoD did this in DA Rev (which the core rules are available for free on DTRPG) and I've always felt it was a shame this was not adopted for the X20 books. It doesn't necessarily speed up combat, but it at least keeps people more engaged because you have much less, "wait for Bob to roll 3 combat attacks' worth of dice rolls before anyone else can do anything," since nobody is going attack more than once before someone else gets to go.


              • #8
                Follow-up comments:

                1. Honestly, WoD really only bogs down when it's one or two players, max, who have large numbers of extra actions. Beyond that, multiple actions (as in, splitting your main action in a turn) bog down the game more than anything else, as a player has to calculate dice pools for each given action or decide how to split their dice pool. Another hindrance is the action declaration phase of the turn, and changing actions once declared. The idea behind using initiative passes, here, is to keep players without Celerity from getting bored, and to eliminate split actions and the action declaration phase. The very act of eliminating an entire phase of a combat turn is well worth it, on its own, I believe.

                2. Action economy always has been and always will be king. There's no getting around that, no matter what you do. What one can do, however, is break the oligopoly on action economy held by Celerity and the smattering of other discipline levels which allow for extra actions (Temporis 5, Obtenebration 3, Focused Mind 4, among others). The most expedient and elegant solution for that, is to by some means allow any character the opportunity for extra actions (those extra powers simply being an additional bonus); initiative passes being a solution I'd be prepared to explore.

                3. And, bear in mind, VtM isn't a hack and slash. Combat in every scene, game session, let alone story, isn't a guarantee. Using this system, indeed a character can twink Dex and Wits to guarantee extra actions; however, they're trading off a monstrous amount for it (doing so and remaining remotely combat-viable would require a 5/3/2 split in physical primaries with the 5 going to Dex, and 5/2/1 split in mental secondaries with the 5 going to Wits, before freebies, and dump statting socials). That's an extremely cost-prohibitive trade-off for two actions in combat, especially taken into consideration our combat monster can't spot an ambush to save their life, can't soak worth a damn, and is likely to end up attacking the floor with their face on a surprise round for it.

                You're probably saying "well, we're talking about combat, it makes no sense to talk about non-combat scenes here! Compare apples to apples!" right now. Which is an apt counter-argument, except for one thing which is elaborated upon below. cWoD combat doesn't invoke MAD. You twink Dex, blood buff when necessary, buy a couple dots of Celerity, all without compromising socials or mentals; in fact, you can do this while having physicals as your tertiary. This way, to become a combat monster, you are invoking MAD and in a way that appreciably detracts from socials and mentals.

                4. Honestly, for as long as I've played cWoD and as many house rules I've gone through, in my opinion Celerity/extra actions aren't the root cause of the ST system's problems with overwhelming amounts of damage invalidating soak pools and Fortitude. Combat overage is; it makes Dexterity not just an "accuracy" stat, but also a secondary damage stat. Celerity simply enters the equation by allowing attacks against which a target cannot defend, thereby causing large amounts of overage. Players don't have to choose between hitting fast and accurately, and hitting hard; characters who hit fast and accurately, hit hard by merit of game mechanics, and even Potence pales compared to it (that is, until attack dice pools are already maxed out and players are left buying Potence to maximize potential).

                The simple act of house ruling out combat overage, something I do in all the cWoD games I run since I realized that alone goes about 90% of the way towards balancing combat. [Well, I actually do allow combat overage...on dramatic success. Five successes is one overage, six is two, and so on. But, it's rare to see dramatic success on an undefended attack, and almost unheard of against a target which can defend somehow.] Plus, it actually places a damned high premium on Potence, soak pools in general, and Fortitude, when solid hits without Potence will only do 2-4 damage. You have to have a high Strength and/or Potence to deliver stronger hits than that, Fortitude can and will soak most (even aggravated) hits, and Potence is what's needed to bust through a strong Fortitude rating.

                [Hell, the first chronicle in which I implemented that rule, one of my players had a Salubri antitribu. He toyed with the idea of buying up Celerity, until the game session in which he face tanked a frenzied Brujah and walked away with three total levels of lethal, two of which he healed up on the next round. Had I been employing combat overage, there was no question he would have ended up in torpor. The entire party went from begging the Assamite player to teach them Celerity, to begging the Salubri player to teach them Fortitude, in the course of one combat round. Never thought I'd see the day.]

                But, I digress. Perhaps the best-possible solution would be to implement both initiative passes, and "no overage", at once. Sure, you can theoretically get tons of extra actions in one round by twinking Dex + Wits and Celerity; they won't amount to much offensively since you can't get carried by combat overage against targets who cannot defend, and you won't be able to punch through the soak pools of someone built for Sta + Fort, who won't in turn need extra actions because they can straight up ignore attacks.


                • #9
                  Or you can just get rid of extra attacks entirely if you are house ruling things. In V20, you could just have Celerity become 'spend one blood point to convert bonus Dexterity dice into (level) free defenses this turn and, for each free defense, increase movement speed by 100%'. You would change the action economy and would remove one source of excessive complication.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Aya Tari View Post
                    Or you can just get rid of extra attacks entirely if you are house ruling things. In V20, you could just have Celerity become 'spend one blood point to convert bonus Dexterity dice into (level) free defenses this turn and, for each free defense, increase movement speed by 100%'. You would change the action economy and would remove one source of excessive complication.
                    I've worked with that house rule before, and neither I nor my players were terribly happy with it. It initially threw the imbalance even further in favor of powers which provided extra attacks by other means (like Arms of the Abyss), forcing those powers in turn to be house ruled, more often than not into more or less cosmetic effects which simply conferred extra dice on multiple actions, which complicated matters further (I ended up modeling Arms after Entrail Saraband, if I remember right, albeit with the ability to spend your action grappling at range). Additionally, players' only real source of extra attacks came from splitting actions which more or less enforced the rigamarole of figuring out dice pools and difficulties, per player, every time. Which made action declaration a necessity if there was a hope of keeping it all straight.

                    All for keeping Celerity overpowered, albeit in a different way than usual. Celerity characters could split their dice pool to the high heavens, against characters who had to hold their actions for defense (and therefore were unable to attack), and keep their Celerity actions in reserve for defense. Sure, you're removing one source of excessive complication, but aggravating three or four others, and giving Celerity an absolute, commanding monopoly over action economy. The only other way around it was to bring retainers and military forces to each and every fight, which had its own, even worse, complications in turn. It was bad enough the one time a PC brought two or three ghouls along, each with Celerity, for the fight; God help me if they'd decided to shovelhead up before a big combat (and the gears were already turning on that one).
                    Last edited by Theodrim; 02-22-2017, 04:01 PM.