Random initiative using cards

So with the greater tactical encounters my players are fighting, one thing that has been creeping in is the locked turn order. Everybody goes in the same order, round after round. At worse, if you blow a roll, you’re stuck going last the entire combat. Granted, for some groups, they might want this for tactical planning with their teammates (shifting for combat advantage or maneuvering targets for a blast spell). But my players wanted something a little more chaotic, so I thought of some alternatives.

We could roll initiative each round, but I dumped that idea as it would slow down combats. An alternative would be to have everyone roll 3-4 initiatives all at once. Each player calls out an initiative they want to use from their list. Every 3 rounds, I ask for a new turn order and write down what initiative the players call out. A little more paperwork, but it does throw in some randomization.

Still I was not too happy with that idea. I wanted something that was:

  • Easy to run – It didn’t require a lot of record keeping and could keep things moving. Plus if I needed to hold up the action to work out some mechanic, I could jump right back into the turn order without a hitch.
  • Simple to explain – If I needed another set of clunky rules to run the initiative, no sense in bothering.
  • Reward high initiatives – If a player got a high roll, or invested into feats and powers to gain a higher than normal initiative, they should get some benefit.
  • Random – I wanted a turn order that would be mixed up from turn to turn.

I settled on using initiate cards. Each of my players are assigned a card from one suit. I do the same for the monsters they fight (using another suit). Typically each type of creature gets a card, but I’ve broken larger minion groups up into 2 if needed. The key point is to have at least 1-2 monster cards less than the player cards.

I have players roll initiative, and do the same for my creatures. If players, or monsters, roll a 20 or higher (25 or higher for paragon tier, and 30 or higher for epic tier), I make a note regarding their card.

After shuffling the deck, I set aside the top half. Going through the bottom half, I note any player cards that rolled a high initiative (greater than 20). If so, I move it up one card in the deck order.

I then do the same for any monsters, with one exception. If a player card is on top of the lower part of the deck, it remains there (players trump monsters in turn order for this case).

I return the top half to the top of the deck, turn over a card and play out the turn. Next turn, shuffle, and repeat the process.

Things are random from turn to turn. If a player rolls a high initiative, there is no guarantee they will go first. However they can guarantee they will not go last (and likely be in the middle of the group for that turn).

My players have been loving this do far. I’m still thinking of tweaking the rules a bit. Say giving a player with a phenomenally good initiative one opportunity to jump to the top of the deck once per encounter. Or if players hold an action, move them down one card order the next turn (to impose a small penalty for going out of order).

On that last point I’ll say one thing my players have done a lot. I’ve been seeing players hold actions and waiting to run coordinated attacks, far more than with my regular games. It’s far from perfect, but my group has gotten a lot of enjoyment out of shaking up the typical encounter initiative. So if people have been adding a little randomized initiative in their games, what have you folks been doing?


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