Thursday, November 24, 2011
Initiative in AD&D, particularly when combined with the equally obscure rules regarding surprise, was one of those areas where, in my experience, most players back in the day simply ignored the official rules and adopted a variety of house rules. I know I did. My system was a variation on rolling 1d6 per side with modifiers and a dash of common sense. D&D's combat has always been pretty abstract, so it never made much sense to me to fixate on making one of its aspects more "realistic." Unfortunately, in this period of D&D's history, that opinion wasn't held by all, least of all those who wrote articles for Dragon. "Realism" was all the rage.
Hall introduces an attack priority system that makes good use of weapon speed factors -- another aspect of AD&D many gamers dropped -- in order to model advantage such "faster" weapons have in combat. His system is an individual initiative system rather than a group initiative one, which, right there, means it's going to be much more complex than the commonest house rules used at the time. Add to this that there many, many modifiers to a character's attack priority, such as weapon length, dexterity, size, hit dice, among others, and you have a recipe for a system that, despite its claims does require "more work." The other issue is that, like many such systems, Hall distinguishes between manufactured and natural weapons, which necessitates that there be seven pages of supplementary stats to cover the modifiers for all the creatures in the Monster Manual. What one is to do with the Fiend Folio monsters is never addressed.
Articles like this were no doubt extremely well-intentioned, but, even at my most obsessive, I never felt the desire to use them. I understood the logic that leads to creating an individualized initiative system with lots of modifiers and special cases, but, at the end of the day, the result always seems like more work than is necessary for a combat system as abstract as D&D's. I'll readily grant that AD&D is a mess when it comes to initiative and the other complexities it bolted on to OD&D's "alternative combat system." However, articles like this strike me as cures worse than the disease.