Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tinkering With Initiative

So, after about a week of running my Dragon Warriors PBP, with only one combat, I'm already messing around with the rules.

Dragon Warriors has fairly straightforward and simple rules that often remind me of gamebooks like Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy. One of the things I ran into as I was reading the rules again that I thought would bother me was the way weapon damage is calculated, or rather, isn't. If you hit an opponent and roll over their Armor Factor, you inflict a set amount of damage based on the weapon being used.

As I said, I thought this would bother me, and the editors of the revised rulebook must have anticipated this, as they included an optional chart telling how to roll damage for different weapons. However, when I started running the game, I decided to stick with the original rules as written before I started mucking around with them. First, I wanted to understand the system and the intent of its authors, Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson.

As it turned out, the fixed weapon damage didn't bother me at all. What did bother me was the way you determine the order in which combatants get to take their actions: they go in order of their Reflexes characteristic score, highest to lowest. Combatants with the same score go at the same time. Now, there are a couple of stumbling blocks here, at least for my taste.

One is that monsters don't have Reflexes scores. You're told to roll 3d6 once for all of the monsters in the fight, and use that for their Reflexes (for this purpose, at least). This means that if you're fighting five feral dogs, all the feral dogs go at the same time. This is a little unrealistic, but realism isn't really a major concern in role-playing. It does keep things streamlined and simple, so I'm willing to go with it.

Another, bigger problem for me is that this system means the player characters will always go in the same order, every single time they get into a fight. To make matters worse, characters with identical Reflexes scores will always act simultaneously, in every combat. It's workable, but quickly becomes repetitive and silly when you're describing battles in narrative form, as I'm doing for this PBP campaign, especially when you consider that the player character party we're currently using has the following Reflexes scores: 14, 14, 14, 13, 10. Our Barbarian, our Assassin, and our Knight would always act simultaneously under the rules as written. That would get old fast.

So, here is my simple fix: all combatants (including groups of opponents, at the GM's option) roll a d8 and add their Reflexes score to determine the order in which they take action. I'm using the d8 because I think a d10 or higher value die will add too much variability, and because I think the d6 is boring. The variability thing could be complete bullshit - I suck at figuring out probability curves and don't really care to improve. But we'll see how it works soon enough.

I imagine that as time goes on I will continue to tweak Dragon Warriors. House ruling is fun!


  1. How do you modify the initiative for the monsters under your house-ruled system? 4d6? 3d6+1d8?

  2. I'm thinking 3d6+1d8 for monsters, yes.

  3. Feels like I'm rolling damage in Earthdawn or something. Yay for mismatched dice!

  4. ...eyes welling up...throught constricting..."I miss playing earfdawn". *sniff*

  5. Nice. I like variable initiative.

    Even more, I like games with limited fields of variability. The way you did this means that TYPICALLY initiatives will come out close to the stats in question (with the variance being less than the modifier), as opposed to d20 where the variance is significantly greater than the modifier.

  6. Footnote: What have you noticed is different between the classic edition of Dragon Warriors and the Mongoose edition? I have the old books (and even made a DW character for my blog: http://rpgcharacters.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/dragon-warriors-derthlyn-mensonge-assassin/ ) and have been vaguely intrigued by the Mongoose re-issue.

  7. Thanks for the compliments on my initiative idea. What you're talking about is what I was hoping the result would be, but I lack the mathematical know-how to back it up empirically. I hope it works out the way I planned.

    As for the differences between the originals and the Magnum Opus Press version (published by Mongoose through their "Flaming Cobra" imprint) , they are not drastic. The big ones are:

    Assassins have to pick and choose their abilities, rather than getting ALL of them.

    Elementalists have had their starting abilities beefed up.

    Warlocks have been depowered slightly.

    Other than that, the books are practically a word-for-word reprint.

  8. ive always had mixed feelings about the degrees of variability of things in RPGs. i do often enjoy things like "critical failures/sucesses" (like natural 1's or 20's, or 3/38 with 3d6) those have made for some memorable gaming moments.

  9. Played DW as a 12 year old, with all the original books except #6 (very rare here in NZ). Started off with Book 5, with no rules...

    Have followed the email group for a long time, but got back into it with the new rules - very few changes, just better organised and a few of the real issues made less drastic - assassins and elementalists, basically.

    Trouble is everyone seems to have house-ruled the game in various ways, with variable damage, initiative, new professions, etc, which is great (and understandable with a 20 year publishing gap) but it means there are as many varients out there as there are DMs.

    My major issue is that elementalists are still useless, whereas they used, at first level, to be able to make wind, grow an apple or produce a candle no-one else can see. Now, in addition, they can unleash the powers of the elements and unleash mayhem, which is a little out of scale with the rest of their powers. Oh, well.

    But the purity and simplicity of the rules is still wonderful, and the major difference is having to roll low rather than high on a d20 to stab someone.

  10. Nice, nice idea! I'm going to run a DW campaign (this is the first time I'll play this game) and I think I'll use your houserule. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Thanks for the compliments, Honey. Let me know how it works for your group!

  12. A comment totally out of the blue, but I read your blog a fair bit, and whenever I pull up this entry on the dw tag the Angus artwork makes me happy and frustrated at the same time! He was so damned good! :)

  13. Agreed, Jon, agreed! Thanks for checking out Dungeonskull Mountain.