View Full Version : Mayhem and Murder: Dynamic Initiative for a more Chaotic Combat

2018-09-23, 05:47 PM
Hello the Playground,

This is inspired by some discussion over at Methods & Madness (http://methodsetmadness.blogspot.com/) regarding initiative changes, and the Pathfinder 2e changes to the structure of initiative. The intent of this concept are as follows:
- Make a more dynamic flow to combat, that avoids the predictability of round based combat, but (hopefully) makes for a more interesting flow to combat.
- Have different character concepts play and feel differently from each other beyond “Caster vs. Martial”, and hopefully make weapon choices among martials feel different.

This does add complexity to the system, but my hope is that with an initial set up of having a list of various action costs done up for each character that this is minimised. But I also play 3.5, and I like games that have the various resource costs, so this isn't as much of a bug for me as it may be for others.

Let’s see if these ideas yield useful fruit.

Basic Initiative Structure

The basic initiative structure is best summarised as a combination of Speed Factor Initiative from the 5e DMG (pg. 271) and the 3 action system of Pathfinder 2e. For this concept, the 3 actions are categorised as Greater, Lesser, and Reaction. In using this system, most actions that are currently Bonus actions will be covered under Lesser actions. While there will be a few cases where certain abilities may end up being redundant in this conversion (more on that later), I think that it works out well enough. The Speed Factor table is below for reference.


The start of combat is similar to Speed Factor Initiative, where everyone rolls for initiative, and modifies their roll based on what sort of action they wish to take (see table below). The difference is that their two “on turn” actions (Greater and Lesser) will have separate values, and movement will cost one third of your movement for point of your initiative.

Greater actions are the main weapon attack and spell casting action of the character. For martial characters, all extra attacks are on this action, while spell casters do not cast their spell until their place in initiative. More detail will be given in their respective sections.

Lesser actions are for bonus actions, skill contests, or bonus action attacks. The free form nature of this allows one to initiate Shoves or Grapples before their Greater Attack Action, potentially setting themselves and allies up for a series of Advantage attacks. The skill contest could probably also be used to speed up maneuvers such as climbing up walls by doing a flying leap or something like that. Perhaps could be spent for an extra 10’ of movement? More thinking on this is required. The only overlap I can see happening with this is where you have Rogues and Goblins Hiding as a Bonus action in comparison to a Regular action. Perhaps the Skill contest portion of a Lesser action can be limited to a select actions such as Grapples, Shoves, etc. while leaving Hide as a Greater action for most characters.

Reactions are typically spent off turn, although there are cases where this can arise on your turn. Opportunity attacks will always cost your reaction. On the subject of opportunity attacks, I would bring in a half movement cost to stand and risk a reaction attack from a melee opponent, or a full movement action to avoid it.

Movement having a cost to initiative is more something that arises when considering that an enemy can charge at you for 10 m and try and murder you while you do nothing about it. The exact number of 1/3rd per point of initiative is more of a gut check and trying to make the best fit without fussing with movement too much. It also makes movement boosts feel faster, as they can travel more before anyone can react. The other option under consideration is to just make it 10’/initiative point and allow a speed boost to give 15’/initiative score plus adding 15’ to the base movement speed.

When declaring actions at the start of the round, the actions are declared in order of lowest Intelligence to Highest Intelligence. This gives Wizards a means to plan as they can “predict” enemy actions. If one wants to benefit Clerics as well, then perhaps make the declaration order based on the total of INT and WIS score. This gives a slight boost to odd scores, and it gives another reason to have higher mental stats on a Fighter or Barbarian.

Spell Casting in This System

The goal of this system is to make spell casting be a balance between getting the right spell off before the situation devolves in uncertain ways. While a higher level spell may be more effective, you may not get it off as you become a target for faster moving enemies.

When casting a spell, a caster deducts the spell level of the spell they plan to cast from their initiative roll. When it gets to their turn, they spend the number of actions equal to the number of components to cast the spell (V,S,M). If a spell requires 1 component, they can cast it with a Greater Action, Greater and lesser (if the Lesser action is not spent) or 3 actions to lose their reaction for the turn. For spells that have 1 or 2 action cost, the caster can spend additional Actions to modify the spell. For example, Cure Wounds can be a 1 action spell that heals 1d8/spell level on a touch, or a 30’ ranged touch at 2 actions, or 1d6 to all allies within 30’ for 3 actions. If a caster is hit by an attack, they must make a Concentration check, or lose the spell. If the situation changes, the caster can choose a different spell of the same level and cast it, or drop the spell and cast a Cantrip, saving the spell slot. This minimises “wasted” actions that will hit spell casters more than martial combatants. If a caster decides to use a three action spell, they sacrifice their reaction and cannot cast reaction spells unless they are willing to lose the spell slot.

I think taking this sort of spellcasting concept may allow for the spell list to be condensed, as specific spells can be reached by a more general action and spell slot cost. Aura based effects can become a full round version of a touch attack. While it might not make as much of a difference from a Wizard perspective, I like the idea of "Cause/Cure Conditions" (needs a better name) to replace Cause Fear, Blindness/Deafness, poisoned, etc. as well as Lesser Restoration, etc. While this will require a lot of spell rewriting, it gives more flexibility to casters that have the problem of dynamic combat.

For the number of spells cast in a turn, I would off the top of my head say that only one leveled spell can be cast per turn, but Lesser and Reaction spells can be Cantrips if you have a Quickened Meta Magic (or a different effect if possible).

Martial Combat in This System
For weapon-based fighting, this also brings on changes to weapon categories. I will be the first to admit that I may miss some details, and I apologise in advance for my errors.
For weapon-based fighting, the idea is to make the category of weapon you are using feel different in how it functions. Rogues will tend to light, fast weapons, while Strength based fighters are looking for the biggest number they can reliably get.

The regular Speed Factor Initiative is detailed above is what I would use, with the added bonus of Magic Weapons adding their bonus to your initiative for all attacks made with them. So a +3 great-axe adds +1 to initiative, instead of the regular -2. A +3 dagger adds +5. Maybe this leans too much towards Magic Weapons, but I like them to be noticeably scarier at all levels.

The table below details the weapon properties, and potential changes.

Weapon Property

No changes

No changes

Heavy (Great)
Damage Die must be at least 1d10. On a Critical hit, double STR modifier to damage

On a Critical Hit with a Light weapon, you may spend your Reaction to make an extra attack for every Light weapon you hold

No change

Can spend Lesser and Reaction attacks to attack as normal. Cannot add ability modifier to damage.

No changes (considering making movement within range difficult terrain, but that might be Feat territory.)

No changes

Works the same as Ammunition, but can be used as a Melee Weapon

Two Handed
Allows wielder to take a penalty to hit up to proficiency roll to add double the penalty to damage

Switch between 1 handed and two handed attacks. One handed attacks can sacrifice up to proficiency bonus to hit to deal the penalty to damage

The main idea is to make Heavy weapons be useful to any STR based fighter that foregoes a shield, with Light weapons tending to lower damage, but more attacks. The bonus attack on a critical hit allows for a dual light weapon wielder to carve up an opponent in a flurry of attacks. I am not currently happy with the property of Great weapons, but I do not want too much to the Heavy weapon style that it unbalances the other way. Thoughts on this would be appreciated, as my personal bias is towards the Heavy Weapons.

I am also of the opinion that a lot of Feat based options, such as -5/+10 should be available for standard combat maneuvers (such as up to -proficiency/+proficiency for 1 handed weapons, up to -proficiency/+ double proficiency for Heavy weapons as shown in the table) with Versatile allowing for one to switch between them. Feats can be spent to gain Lesser Action options for certain fighting styles (Extra attack for GWF on a crit, 1d4+STR for haft strikes with PAM, etc. I would probably look at modifying PAM to be for all two handed shaft weapons, and allow for extending reach, second strike, and 1 handing a Quarter staff or spear cannot benefit from this, but can be used to Power Attack.)

For Dual weapons, perhaps the Fighting style is +1 AC and the ability to use two non-Light Weapons, with the Feat giving Ability Mod damage to the 2nd attack and a Rend attack of adding an additional weapon die + Ability modifier to your attack if you land a Greater and Lesser attack or two Reaction attacks on a single target. This gives a nice benefit to TWF that can take the Fighting style, but Rogues can still invest in the feat and get some additional damage options.

For Ranged Weapons, the idea of them being able to fire 3 attacks per round is based on the idea that being outranged by your opponent is a really big disadvantage, and an undistracted opponent can get a large number of arrows in the air in the time given to them. To balance this out, I would take away Ability modifier to damage for all ranged attacks, as well as the Power Attack option with Sharpshooter. So you lose on damage, but you gain on sheer volume of attacks when using a bow. Sharpshooter applies to all ranged attacks, and gives the entire range at regular attack (no disadvantage) and the ability to ignore quarter cover and downgrade all cover one category save full cover. So if you want to hurl hand axes, you can be just as accurate as a bowman, but have less range.

For Monks, or any hand to hand combatant, I would treat them as Light weapons in terms of function. With Monk Martial Arts attacks counting as a magical at 6th levels may count as a half proficiency bonus to Martial Arts attacks (so +1 for 6th-8th , +2 for 9th – 16th, +3 for 17th-20th). This stacks with the light weapon bonus of +2. Another means of doing this could be using the Kensai Sharpen the Blade bonus as a guideline as well. However, Monks being skirmishers may already be considered fast enough, but they do lose out on magical weapons if they rely on Martial Arts, and this seeks to balance that.

As far as Ki uses go, since I recall hearing that Ki costs are not equivalent across Traditions (some 2nd level spell equivalents cost more for 1 tradition than others), this would have to be standardised and then treated the same as spell casting.

In conclusion, the goal with this system is to make the flow of combat more dynamic, and for various characters to feel and play very differently in combat. A paladin in Heavy Plate with a greatsword may take longer to get where they want to be but can really lay down pain as they prep a Smite spell as they close and strike an enemy with their greatsword. A rogue with twin daggers can carve up an enemy Under Hold person, with Sneak attack and 3 other dagger attacks, all at double the number of dice rolled. A Barbarian with a Great weapon strikes the balance between the two as they close they quickly react and close the distance on the quickly chanting spellcaster looking to lay down a Fireball on the rest of the party. Spell casters feel more like artillery, having to plan for what spell to cast with the changing battle field, but the casters can still do quick changes to adapt to any last minute changes, and are able to last minute switch to cantrips if everything falls apart.
I hope that this write up isn’t too disorganised and is at least clear enough to get the point across. Let me know if things need to be clarified, and thank you for your thoughts!
I have followed this post with some other smaller ideas that can be considered separately from this larger post, but I don’t feel like bouncing around separate threads for.