Reasons that I like side initiative:
2. Nothing to track
3. Creates comradery
5. It is dynamic
This might be controversial but, from my experience side initiative goes faster than any other method, which includes a 5e style where one roll is made for the whole combat. One person rolls a d6 and we move on, that takes about 5-10 seconds at most. If you do individual initiative each round it takes forever even with the most organized group. I used a countdown with that method, starting at 10 and working my way down. Players are constantly interrupting the count, or not speaking up when it is there turn, it is a mess. Second to that is roll once for initiative, keep that order. You still run into the issue of player not paying attention, or the GM accidentally going out of order, skipping a player, etc. Overall this all takes time, time I do not want to waste.
Nothing to track
I don’t like to write things down during game, maybe it is the sign of a bad DM, I am not sure? I do not like noting all the initiatives and then cycling through each round. This generally takes time, which noted above I do not like, and seems like accounting work that I do not need to do at the table. I have enough to track with hit points, spell effects, possible ticking clocks in a battle, I don’t need one more thing. Side initiative solves this problem and cuts down on things I need to track because it is either my turn or the players.
The main reason I switched to side initiative is I read that it creates some great group moments at the table, and this is extremely true. There are times in the game where a lot rides on whether the players win or lose initiative, this creates a great tension at the table. The players are all rooting for the person rolling that round, and if they succeed, there is a great cheer at the table and the group bonds a bit more. There have been more nail-biting rounds at my table since I made the switch then in a year of games in the old fashion initiative style.
This allows both players and adversaries to work in a coordinated fashion. It encourages teamwork among the players and their actions. Ok, I am going to hit them with X spell, then you rush in for the kill. Which normally this is at the whims of the initiative order. The players start to communicate more at the table and working together, which is generally what I am looking for in my games. You often see people’s roles at the table shine through a bit more, with the abilities of the particular characters making a difference in the right context.
I am not a fan of static initiative because it lets the players have too much information in a fight. They might not worry about a particular opponent because they know they go before it in the initiative order. When you are rolling each round that might not happen. You might go, you might not. This also leads to the dreaded double round. When one side lose initiative the first round, then wins it the second. This creates a scenario where you can be attacked twice before you can strike back or move, but the opposite is true as well. This means you cannot count on anything as given, the best laid plans are subject to the tide of battle.
|It's go time|
One of the only augments against side initiative that I have heard that is relatively valid is that high DEX characters get a bonus and this is not reflected. I am not concerned with this, mostly because DEX has many other uses already, this small loss is not that big a deal. DEX adds to certain attacks, it helps with AC, it makes you good at DEX checks, and depending on edition it helps with one of the most popular saves. It is a wonderful ability without the initiative bonus, and frankly it might bring back down out of the clouds a bit as the best stat.
Say you want to spice it up a little, one of the things I like from 2e was the Critical Event Table from Combat & Tactics. This table had many different results for when the groups rolled a tied initiative value. This added some really fun results to the activities in battle. I have created a truncated form of the table below, and I added a few options of my own. Before rolling on the table, roll 1d6. On a 1-3, it favors the enemy and on a 4-6 it favors the PCs.
|Battlefields are crazy|
Critical Event Table
1 – Armor Trouble
2 – Battlefield Damage
3 – Item Dropped
4 – Shoved Over
5 – Lucky Break
6 – Luck Opening
7 – Slip
8 – Weapon Trouble
9 – Combatants Switch
10 – Freak Occurrence
One random person in the combat has an issue with their armor. If they have a shield, it is lost and goes 1d6 x 5’ in a random direction. If they do not have a shield, something is wrong with their armor, a plate is missing or a strap comes undone. The combatant has a -2 penalty to AC until an entire round is spent to fix it. Note: This can only effect people with armor, if this is an impossible scenario, ignore the Critical Event Table result.
Somewhere on the battlefield something is damaged. A table might get broken, a statue is smashed, or the wall to a tunnel collapses.
One combatant loses a random, non-weapon item. It will land 1d6 x 5’ in a random direction.
One combatant that is in melee combat range is shoved by an opponent. The shoved model moves 5’ back, and must make a saving throw or fall down.
For the round, one random combatant gets a +4 AC and saving throw bonus.
For one round, one combatant gets a +4 bonus to attack rolls.
One random combatant that is in melee range, will slip and fall.
One random combatant has a weapon issue. If that combatant killed an opponent last round their weapon has become stuck, it will take an entire round to pull out. If not, the combatant throws the weapon unless they make a successful saving throw.
Two combatants in melee circle each other and switch places
The DM determines an unusual situation on the battlefield. This will offer an advantage to one side, and a disadvantage to another. This could be a random monster appearing for a round, a magical effect that was not expected, or an enemy switching sides.
This is my thoughts on side initiative give it a try, if even for one night. I think a lot of DMs and players might enjoy it, and you can add the table in for a bit of flare.
I went ahead and created a Facebook group for the blog, if you are interested the link is here.