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Initiative and the one-minute round

I'm using simultaneous initiative (with an action declaration phase) and one-minute combat rounds for In the Realm of the Nibelungs, both a first for me and my group. Combat mostly runs via Swords & Wizardry Continual Light, a D&D 'retroclone', albeit with some changes (such as simultaneous initiative).

One question which has come up is "What, if anything, can combatants do with the rest of their round if their action is clearly resolved at the very beginning?"

During yesterday's session I, as a DM, declared that a wicker child would shoot its bow* at the cleric. The player declared his cleric would leap behind a tree (which would provide a cover bonus to Armor Class).

*It actually threw a spear, but for purposes of my question, I'll assume a missile attack with a bow. An archer gets only one attack roll, but I imagine him or her shooting multiple arrows in that time frame, with one 'meaningful' attack. If the need to track ammunition arose after the fight, I'd probably rule that 1d6 arrows were used per round. If it arose before due to limited arrows etc., I'd assume a single careful shot.

Anyway, I ruled that the missile attack would not automatically go first because the cleric was standing next to a tree. I had made this ruling in the prior session: 10' or less and you have a chance to move first via winning D&D's d6 group initiative roll; else, missile attacks are resolved before movement.

The attack was resolved - I don't remember if it hit or not, but the cleric lived - and the question came up, mostly post-game, whether combatants can do anything with the rest of their round in such situations. I'm inclined to stick with my no, as I think there should usually be only one action / endeavour per round. However, even going with that, the additional question comes up on how to narrate this. What's the cleric doing after leaping behind the tree? What's the archer doing? Or should they get some kind of second action after all?

(Using simultaneous initiave has been - and still is! - an exciting journey. I'm very pleased how all manner of positioning and initiative questions have fallen by the wayside - and almost imperceptibly so! - as common sense can be used to judge situations. Still, it has taken me a long time to wrap my head around it and my journey is clearly not at an end. In any case, today's question is mostly about one-minute rounds.) 

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Sean_RDP's picture

The one-minute round strikes me as one of those artifacts of wargaming or assumptions that stayed a part of the games. Certainly a minute is a long time when it comes to action. I coached my daughter's soccer team last year and in a minute they could go from a scrum in the middle of the pitch to break aways going each way. Trained musketeers can fire three aimed shots a minute. Apocyrphal writings suggest Prussian fusiliers could do 5 or 6...

I guess the point is a minute is a long time in combat, real or imagined. But I also do not think the 6 second round of D&D 5E is any more realistic than one minute. Realism is not the goal, at least not mine as much as narrative verisimilitude. A fancy way of saying everyone got their fair shot and it was meaningful in the time segment. 

Even though the round is one minute, I suspect with simultaneous initiative, most action happens in a 20-30 second segment. The rest of the time is positioning, catching breath, basic survival shit. 

Love D's picture

Hi! Good to see that play is continuing In the Realm of the Nibelungs!

Action declaration, action economy, and what the characters are doing when we aren’t looking (or when we aren’t focusing on them) in combat – this is fun topics! I’ve been thinking about similar stuff in regards to Holmes D&D, where you can’t use the procedures for resolving actions, interrupts, etc., to their fullest extent without knowledge of what everyone is doing or is about to do. 

Sean wrote:

“I suspect with simultaneous initiative, most action happens in a 20-30 second segment. The rest of the time is positioning, catching breath, basic survival shit.”

The one-minute round may not be the main reason for the perceived dissonance in Johann’s played situation, but i’m curious, is there a particular reason in the games you have played Sean, or this game specifically Johann, to have the “one minute round” actually be close to one minute in the fiction every time or even most of the time? Couldn’t a specific round happen to conclude after what looked like 20 or even 10 seconds of bloodbath, without destroying anything procedurally (like the ratio between turns and rounds)?

***

Johann, you have mentioned “simultaneous initiative” and that missile attacks and movement are resolved in a specific order, or in different phases, possibly with some wiggle room between them.

Do you mean that the effects of all the actions during a given phase are applied simultaneously when that phase concludes? Meaning that if I fire an arrow (or several volleys) and kill my enemy during the missile phase, the simultaneous missile attack volley(s) of that enemy could conceivably kill me too, before the movement phase begins when the characters typically reach the end point of their movements (i.e. they probably started their movements before that, or are imagined to have done that anyway)?

Johann's picture

@Sean: Realism is not my stated goal either, though I do appreciate an entire fight actually lasting more than 20 seconds.

I opted for the one-minute round because it allows for actions other than fighting -- one might improvise a barrier, run for help (which actually arrives before everything is over) and so on.

I also appreciate the added abstraction, i.e. moving away from accounting for everyone's whereabouts and actions second-to-second.

(Phoenix Command has 0.2 second segements IIRC, which is ridiculuous as, understandably, no time is alloted to even perceive the battlefield, let alone make decisions. Apparently, everyone is in bullet-time.)

@Love D: That's an excellent question: Do we even need to nail down a given round's length?

I guess it rarely matters -- and when it does, we have one minute to fall back on. I may actually suggest thinking about round length this way to my players!

Regarding In the Realm of the Nibelungs, I guess I have informal (and somewhat flexible) phases: missile, movement, melee, spells.

Group initiative is rolled only once, when needed, which is often only at melee (due to little ranged combat).

Group initiative is d6 vs. d6, higher side goes first, a draw means archers can kill each other, combatants in melee can kill each other etc.

Movement is special insofar as winning initiative would only be relevant if two combatants tried to reach the same door first. (This hasn't happened yet.) Else, combatants charging each other meet in the middle (and what a relief that is, compared to D&D 3e).

We've had a brief discussion regarding bragging rights: Who delivered the killing blow?

When several PCs attack the same target and the first player rolling causes a kill, nobody else needs to roll if we do not care about bragging rights. Dead is dead and you can't just switch targets. But the players have wanted to know several times and I spontaneously went with "in order of declaration", which is by social rank for In the Realm of the Nibelungs (i.e. nobility before clergy etc.).

This makes some sense because when a knight and a scoundrel both deliver killings blows, the noble knight would probably get all the credit if he claimed it.

In retrospect, I wish I'd gone with "roll your attack against the monster which we already know dies this round to see if you can also claim to have killed it." I've been too impatient to get on with the game for this procedure, but it matters to the players so I should probably accomodate them.

Regarding missiles and movement, I'd probably roll to see where a character went down, e.g. if Eberhard charges an archer and is cut down and we need to know where his body ended up (scarcely having left his cover, out in the open, at the archer's feet), I'd grab a d%.

Love D's picture

Johann wrote:

“Group initiative is d6 vs. d6, higher side goes first, a draw means archers can kill each other, combatants in melee can kill each other etc.”

Ah! With “simultaneous initiative” I was picturing something similar to Tunnels and trolls, meaning that every attack of the round (or rather phase) always were simultaneous in terms of effects/applying damage. But it’s simultaneous only within a given side! (barring the special case of matching initiative rolls). I didn’t get why you used initiative rolls before, but it makes sense now. 

Johann wrote:

“ … I spontaneously went with "in order of declaration", which is by social rank for In the Realm of the Nibelungs (i.e. nobility before clergy etc.).

This makes some sense because when a knight and a scoundrel both deliver killings blows, the noble knight would probably get all the credit if he claimed it.”

Although I don’t know how this exact mechanic plays, it’s cool as hell when the theme or setting – even the social dynamics of the setting – is brought forward by simple mechanics like this! 

Johann wrote:

“ … if Eberhard charges an archer and is cut down and we need to know where his body ended up (scarcely having left his cover, out in the open, at the archer's feet), I'd grab a d%.”

The d% is so simple and intuitive for such a purpose, I’m flabbergasted that I haven’t seen it as an explicit procedure/constraint in any rules texts!

“What's the cleric doing after leaping behind the tree? What's the archer doing? Or should they get some kind of second action after all?”

This looks similar to the freeze-frame problem. For those reading who don’t know, it’s usually referring to games where (like in many modern games) the other characters in the fiction freeze like statues during your character’s turn, while he or she resolves his or her whole action from intent and initiation to execution and effect (IIEE). Of course, here everyone starts their actions at about the same time, so it’s more like the Cleric and the archer “runs out of juice”.

To combat dissonance, maybe borrow a page from Circle of hands, that you announce your next action right after completing your current, so that every character can be imagined to be in motion all the time, even of it’s only in terms of intent or initiation of action (the character will still complete their action next turn). I don’t know if it works though!

Johann's picture

Circle of Hands' approach sounds like an interesting wrinkle -- or are these additional declarations a core feature?

To me, simultaneous movement is major improvement, but I think simultaneous melee would be a good fit for one-minute rounds, too, though less so for some older versions of D&D: With low hit points and instant death at 0 hp, at least, you'd have plenty of combats (a third, if we assume one-hit kills at 1st level) which would lead to both sides killing each other. That seems a bit comical.

(This is somewhat more palatable if people are assumed to be mortally wounded and incapacitated, but die hours or days later. Better yet, just incapacitated -- and then usage of death & dismemberment tables.)

Fraction-of-a-second freeze-frame combat has its uses -- I think it's one nice fit for the kind of shoot-out pictured above (though by no means the only approach; Dust Devils does fine without it).

Love D's picture

or are these additional declarations a core feature?

Yes, its the textual rules if that's what you mean. It's not really "additional", or not neccessrily so. The declarations of next action just happens right after the resolvement of the current action. You can change it when your "go" comes up thought, but I suspect that doesn't happen often.

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