Sunday, May 24, 2015

Movie Initiative (Part 1)

I find it rather laughable that many D&D clones (including itself) put together huge and complex weapons subsystems, armor subsystems, saves vs. magic systems, monster abilities, etc., all to enhance the feel and drama of the combat, and then shove it all into an initiative system that makes it feel like waiting in line at a coffee shop.

You can think of cyclical initiative (what D&D has used since at least 3e) as the Power Rangers combat choreography system. Each enemy lines up opposite the PCs, and they all take turns punching each other. The camera cuts to each ranger one at a time and stays completely still as the ranger or his opponent takes a swing.

Snooze. Fest. (Edit: Even more snooze fest now that it was deleted from YouTube! Darn you Fox!!)

Here is the initiative system you SHOULD use. It's more like the Avengers saving Manhattan choreography system.

First, you establish the stakes. The biggest of the stakes is what magics are planning to be used this turn. Next, it would be what projectiles are about to fly through the air. But you don't resolve these yet.

Think of Legolas taking aim with his bow, or a sorcerer speaking words of dark power. In the movies, these moments of aiming/casting are never set and resolved in the same cut. The camera always goes to their target first. How about Boromir at Amon Hen:

Lurtz draws his bowstring. >>> Ranged attackers declare actions.
We see Boromir protecting the hobbits. >>> Melee attackers declare and resolve actions.
Lurtz looses his bowstring. >>> Ranged attackers resolve actions.
We see Boromir get hit by the arrow. >>> Aftermath of round, new stakes for combat established.

See what I mean? No? Okay, watch this:
This fight scene has an epic feel not only because the scale is epic, but because the way we move through it is epic. We follow the drama (generally in a character or projectile moving) from melee to melee. But what is key is that there is a rhythm that is consistent throughout. At the beginning of the fight we follow characters on the fringe of the battle into the fight's center. We see how high the stakes are, then, we resolve the most intense of those stakes (the giant galacta-whale) by the end of the "round" of combat.

Is the fight over? No, of course not. But when you frame each round around the most relevant stakes and the combatants' immediate goals, you feel like the fight is moving somewhere in EVERY moment. It also makes the fight feel like one big team effort as opposed to a couple really good hits from the designated hitters. It allows for a combined strategy like the Hulk and Thor made to take down that soar whale, or Iron Man and Cap America used to zap those goons.

So here is how I would organize each round:

Phase 1: People using magic declare they are going to do so. Describe the beginning of the ritual/casting.
Phase 2: People using ranged attacks declare they are going to do so. Describe the aiming, nocking,etc.
Phase 3: People attacking in melee declare so, and then do so simultaneously.
Phase 4: People moving declare so and then do so simultaneously. (Helpful to have a speed mechanic here).
Phase 5: All ranged attacks are resolved.
Phase 6: All spells/magic effects are resolved.

There we go. Stew over that, and you can read more about its implications (as I see them) in my next post.

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