How 1E AD&D Initiative Actually Works
(and How It Can Work Better)
I had two goals with this article. First was to explain how the initiative rules in AD&D actually work. There's lots of discussion on that to be found on dragonsfoot.org forums and of course A.D.D.I.C.T. is a go-to document to simply list steps, but for someone who just wants it explained in a way they can understand that's not a great place to start. The system is over-complicated in many ways and relentlessly unclear. My aim then is to describe it in more conversational and easy to follow language. Now, being that it's unclear and over-complicated the secondary purpose of this article is to put forth my arguments against the 1E AD&D by-the-book initiative procedures and to show my own replacement rule set. I continue to attempt to improve it for my own use as well as anyone else interested in its benefits over the original system in the books.
In the process you should be able to come to grips with how the original system is PERHAPS supposed to work, and thus to be able to finally use it yourself (should you be so masochistically inclined), or at least to better understand how to make it work for you. I've got a lot of this information duplicated elsewhere here, but since I repeatedly see the subject come up on various websites I thought it might be useful to have a link to something more concise.
I mentioned a document called A.D.D.I.C.T. - Advanced Dungeon & Dragons Initiative & Combat Table. It was assembled by DMPrata in 2006 (!). In it he more clearly collated for the first time the scattered AD&D rules, prying out its core elements and giving a new, more understandable procedure of how it actually works. It's how _I_ finally began to learn how it does what it does (I just can't bring myself to say, "how it works" because I don't believe it actually does work as it should). Prior to ADDICT I never came across a useable explanation of the system (and I found it well after it had been assembled). ADDICT can be found in the downloads section of Dragonsfoot.com. It's a long document padded with a lot of citations, but also suffers from having a very dry presentation (which is mostly the fault of the system it must detail). I think it can be explained (insofar as I personally have managed to understand the workings of the system) and presented in a slightly more reader-friendly fashion.
The core issue that causes problems with D&D initiative is that it actually seems to be an amalgamation of different approaches to initiative; approaches that tend to not want to be amalgamated. Initiative is ultimately the simple determination of which action occurs first in around, or at least is resolved first even if it doesn't happen first. That's important to understand - that initiative doesn't necessarily organize itself by ticks of a clock - it ultimately only cares which action is to be resolved before others and not necessarily how many seconds into the round that action happens. The primary procedure for combat, of which surprise and initiative are integral parts, is given in the Dungeon Masters Guide on page 61. It quite clearly notes that you just follow the six major steps (and sub-steps) given there. However, any further reading will show that's only for starters. There are plenty of special case rules that are given in the pages that follow which thoroughly confuse that simple procedure (and can even effectively render it moot). But, let's repeat those steps here:
1. Determine surprise
2. Determine distance between the parties
3. Determine initiative (once surprise is taken care of)
4. Determine the results of actions by the side that WON initiative
A. Avoid engagement
D. Missile fire, magic items, spells, turning
E. Close range or charge
F. Set to receive charge
G. Strike blows
5. Determine the results of actions by the side that LOST initiative
6. Continue to next round
That's quite straight-forward although it glaringly omits a rather important step - declaring actions should occur prior to Step 3. But all those special case rules that come after this simple procedure knocks the very idea of "simple procedure" into a cocked hat:
Even those special cases aren't even so special. It seems they apply whenever you have two people fighting and taking common actions. Initiative becomes a matter of first determining carefully who is attacking whom and how they're doing that, because secondarily every combination of the most common combat actions between two individuals has a slightly different process to determine initiative. It is almost never that "simple" procedure listed on page 61. (There's a little repetition in the following table but it's just to show that all the combinations are covered.)
Additional interesting notes:
When initiative rolls are tied WSF is used instead to determine which weapon attacks first, but having a large enough gap in WSF between your weapon and the opponent can allow additional attacks. My own opinion is that these are only opportunities for attacks and not free/bonus attacks that are being gifted to you. You still must HAVE the extra attacks to take and the rule only alters the allowed timing of those attacks. Most, however, interpret the rule to mean that you will be granted bonus attacks which will be resolved prior to the opponent with the much slower weapon. It hardly matters anyway because having both tied initiative and a wide enough gap in WSF quite rarely happens.
Often times, only spellcasters really need to declare their actions. They must announce what spell they are trying to cast before initiative is rolled, because the casting time will be needed for initiative calculations for just about any attack that MIGHT take place against that caster - spell, missile or melee attack. However, there is a rule/bit of advice (near the end of the whole combat section) which says everyone has to declare their intended actions - even writing them down if necessary. It seems DM's can either be very lax about that or especially strict. However, making declarations of actions and then determining the order in which those actions will be resolved must inevitably lead to conflicts. Some of those conflicts will arise because the actions that are intended end up being unable to be performed, usually because the actions of others make your intended action impossible before you ever get to it (like when intended targets get killed or move). No suggestion is ever given for how to handle such situations, where declared actions simply can't be performed because situations change. Some difficulties will also arise simply because who-is-attacking-whom can get complicated and all those special case rules are only organized to handle one-on-one situations, not times when 3 or more people may all be attacking someone who isn't directly counter-attacking them. There is also a notation on DMG p.70 that, "in a mass melee," you generally aren't even choosing your opponent - it's a random determination, although the DM is given authority to decide if characters or intelligent creatures are able to single out their opponents. But which absolute do you use? Must players declare their actions and targets in writing - or are their targets selected for them randomly?
I suppose it saves a bit of time if nothing else
to simply always forego those random selections and just
have all the players declare their actions and
the opponents they will use them against. [Many/most
people accept that the random selection is intended to
be used, as it says, only in MASS melee situations where combatants would find
it difficult to choose one target over another. But in such situations the opponents are typically going to be
all the same and picking one over another often doesn't matter anyway.]
Back to the issue of initiative though. If combat is just melee participants facing other melee participants then the high roll of the d6 initiative die wins and everyone on the winning side attacks first. It's just that it so seldom seems to be that simple because it's not just melee, but missile, spells, and other activities and players (and their opponents!) want to prioritize certain targets. So, to make by-the-book initiative work you need to get simple, but clearly declared actions from players about whom their PC's are going to attack and in what way; you have to be willing and able to resolve conflicts between what was declared and what's actually possible; and most of all you have to accept a great deal of complication and detail, sacrificing simplicity and abstraction, and decide if the results you get make it worth the effort. You begin each round with declarations, then each side makes their initiative roll, then the individual pairings of one combatant versus another determines the special cases which modify the die rolls to alter the initiative results for that pair of participants, or even ignore the die roll and call for some other procedure to be used instead.
Movement is certainly possible in addition to taking other actions but each segment of movement taken prior to other declared actions must, by necessity, delay those actions by the corresponding amount of time. So, for example, if you move 1 segment before attacking with your sword then YOUR initiative result with your attack is delayed by 1 segment. The initiative procedure largely assumes that characters want to get attacks in as fast as possible before using the remainder of the round to do other things. It must also be noted that in order for melee to take place at all the combatants must begin the round within 10' of each other. If not they must either spend the round simply closing that distance (no matter how little time that might take) or actually charging (no matter how relatively short a distance that is).
Now all of the above is just kinda how it's written. That may not be what was really intended. It's hard to know intentions because, as noted, AD&D initiative seems to be an amalgamation of quite different approaches drawn from predecessor games to AD&D and house rules which became written into the game, but were either not properly described as optional or they were just very badly developed and failed to merge decently with the simpler, base procedure that p.61 seems to lay out. All the rules for initiative were spread across a 10-page section of the DMG, strongly indicating that it never was a single, unified and tested system before it went into print. Because the initiative rules never were brought all together to examine JUST the initiative procedures, it was never realized how needlessly complicated it was and especially not that it relentlessly rendered the order of initiative resolution from p.61 so effectively moot. We were also never given full, revised information about how it was supposed to work from the author - 2nd Edition dropped most of the complication and defaulted to a simpler d10 roll with a few modifiers (and by then Gygax wasn't in control of the game anyway), and Gygax did not use the system he provided in 1E for his own games, preferring the actual simpler and abstract approach the DMG claimed it was trying to provide, so he had no vested interest in explaining it, fixing it or even dealing with it in any way. It's also clear enough in the DMG (if you pay attention and read carefully) that he had every reason to expect DM's to do what they wanted anyway and most decidedly NOT fret and obsess about Rules-As-Written.
When you're given all that initiative information in the DMG it becomes clear that somehow you have to decide who is attacking whom on the opposing side in order to determine what special case procedure to use to find out whose attack goes first. That is why the game really must include a declaration phase (if the default system is actually to be used) even though that's stated as almost an afterthought rather than made a clear part of combat procedure steps.
So, according to DMG page 61, AD&D should have (and supposedly does have) a simple and abstract procedure. Much is written in the DMG about why the simplicity and abstraction is both necessary and good. However, the way the section on combat is actually written, and with the rules it actually gives we get the contradiction of much more detailed, NON-abstract and complicated chunk of rules that decidedly toss any association with simplicity right out the freakin' window. By the time we reach the end of that section on combat we can go back and assemble from it that bullet list above of, "If this versus that, then do this," (which turns out to be quite important information). We are never plainly told when those bullet procedures are to be used instead of, or in addition to the procedure of page 61. It's something each DM must figure out for himself.
I personally feel that what it comes down to is this: It's an intractable mess. I've said on Dragonsfoot and elsewhere that initiative is really a Kobayashi Maru test. There ultimately isn't a "correct resolution". It is now almost 40 years down the line since AD&D was printed and no complete consensus regarding these rules has been reached and even long-time players struggle with understanding it. Anyone who might pick up the books today for the first time will come face-to-face with this problem - the initiative system is actually insoluble because it never was a unified and tested, holistic system. Without outside assistance to explain it, each DM would have to come to the realization that things just aren't making sense as-written, and then it is a Herculean effort to start sorting it out, only to come to the sensible conclusion that the the results aren't worth it.
The Kobayashi Maru test from Star Trek's "Wrath of Kahn" did not have a solution either - but that was by intent. It was a test given to candidates for command ranks just to observe their character; an examination of how they would react to inevitable failure and death. Now some people DO use AD&D initiative, having seemed to come to a position of acceptance or tolerance of the glorious mess that it is. It'd be almost amusing to see them so vehemently argue their interpretations and to advocate for acceptance of it all as-written if it weren't so transparent to me that it's a lost cause. The "solution" that Kirk comes up with to the Kobayashi Maru test, and the solution to handling AD&D initiative as well, is to finally realize that the test is rigged. The AD&D initiative rules as written result only in inevitable degrees of failure, and to win you need to make up new rules which change the test and enable you to make it work how you want it to work. That is why it truly is a Kobayashi Maru test.
When you finally put its important elements close together, as was done above, it both becomes much clearer how the system is supposed to work AND how badly it does its job. That all took me a page or two to describe, but here's a quiz: QUICK! Find the applicable rule(s) in the book where it tells you how to determine initiative between a 6 segment spell that would affect everybody, a monster with a claw/claw/bite set of attacks trying to kill the caster, an archer trying to fire two bow shots at the monster before it mauls that spellcaster, and a fighter using a longsword and dagger trying to kill the archer.
You won't be able to do it unless you're a speed reader or have a photographic memory and even then you'll have to make arbitrary rulings to fill in the gaps. Even knowing that rules exist ["I KNOW I read that somewhere..."] you have to dig them out of about a dozen pages of the DMG as well as the PH and that is a non-trivial task. Even having assembled all the pertinent rules together properly you still have to suss out how they ACTUALLY go together to form an accurate procedure for initiative - which doesn't actually explain how to handle the situation I described.
Where does the (1E) AD&D system go bad? Here's my own list of its various and sundry failings, all of which I wanted to address when coming up with my own system for handling things:
AD&D initiative and combat procedures are mostly laid out in the DMG on pp 61-71 – if typewritten it comes out to nearly THIRTY pages of information to sift through to find all the relevant rules. A.D.D.I.C.T. trims the basics of initiative procedure down to 20 pages including citations and examples. It's still 6 pages with all the citations and examples removed. That's still too much. The closer it can be abbreviated to a single typewritten page the better. In the books it is badly presented, confusingly worded, and in general just far more complicated a process than it needs to be, especially when dealing with spell casting.
The DMG says that this is supposed to be simple and should remain abstract. I wanted to make that an actual TRUE statement. Combat is supposed to be abstract because it covers a long, 60-second round. The abstraction supports the use of a long, 1-minute round and the 1-minute round invites use of a lot of abstraction. That's an idea that is driven home strongly, right from the beginning of the section of the DMG covering combat. It goes to lengths to explain how and why it is abstract, yet in the end initiative has so many rules that attempt to defy the abstraction with increasingly intricate details; to contradict itself with non-abstract WSF related procedures. It contradicts its own rationalizations. That needs to change. The default should be the abstract system that IS actually simpler. Greater complication and realism should be decidedly optional.
The system has an obsession with breaking ties and I say it is less palatable as a result. For example, if you simply let ties of the initiative die be treated AS ties rather than trying so hard to break that tie, then Weapon Speed Factors lose half their reason to exist - simply as a means to break melee weapon initiative ties. Gary once said that WSF were a big mistake and he never should have included them. I'm not sure, but I suspect that he was implying that much of the initiative system as published was a mistake.
WSF are a highly questionable abstraction, supposedly representing the “wieldliness” of a weapon with a numerical value - but that value only comes into play in 1 out of 6 rounds. Clearly the system is NOT making "wieldliness" as important a factor as randomness - so why complicate the procedure even 1/6th of the time if randomness IS the most important factor?
Most people take the interpretation that wide differences in WSF actually create bonus attacks for users of "faster" weapons - but those extra attacks only come into play when initiative is first TIED. Then it's not only that the "faster" weapon goes first but that the "faster" weapon suddenly accelerates! It now goes so much faster that it gets more attacks than it otherwise would. But again, that WSF is only seen 1 time in 6 when initiative is first TIED.
Missile weapons have hopelessly, artificially low “rates of fire” to keep them on par with melee weapons when the duration of the round suggests they ought to be vastly higher. They have no WSF to represent their comparative “wieldliness” against other weapons, but if their rate of fire grants multiple attacks then initiative is disregarded or superseded anyway.
Implementation of spells into initiative procedures is just appallingly done. It's easy to understand why Gygax didn't use it himself (though I've never heard what system he actually DID use other than it was apparently simpler and I believe subject to a fair amount of DM arbitration), and correspondingly hard to understand how it ever got into print in AD&D given the state it's in. Even if it weren't needing other changes it would need to be FAR better collated into one place where ALL the procedures can be easily consulted.
Spellcasting is made so difficult to succeed at during combat. It can even be disrupted when the spellcasters side has WON initiative - and yet so many spells are COMBAT spells. If casters are supposed to be casting all these combat spells that the PH lists, then why is it made so improbable that they ever actually succeed at combat casting? I have not found any justification that shows the need to make completion of combat spells so difficult. Saving throws and the limited number of spells that casters get are quite sufficient to keep casters in check, and the game does NOT break if casters even have an equal chance against weapon-users to complete their spells.
Surprise is given outrageous advantages and in the case of missile fire with “ready” missiles it reaches ludicrous levels of imbalance. Almost as if the system were trying to make up for the aforementioned artificially low rates of fire.
The procedure of declaring intended actions (like casting a spell), then determining the order in which actions are resolved, and then trying to resolve what you intended to do with what actually happens creates unnecessary issues. Declaration is only necessary because initiative procedures use the casting time of a spell before the round begins in order to determine the outcome of initiative when a spell is involved, and because initiative results are changed or even disregarded depending on WHOM you attack as well as how you attack them. The alternative of simply randomly determining who a PC is attacking is even less palatable a concept except in VERY packed and confused situations where choice of opponent generally doesn't matter anyway. That should be a special circumstance at best and not a default rule.
Movement in AD&D is scaled in several ways based on character activity. During combat it is scaled and limited sufficiently to generally keep miniatures on a typical kitchen tabletop, but they prevent any kind of tactical maneuvering that having miniatures on a table would actually make use of anyway. The reason why AD&D scales movement, time, etc. in so many ways only becomes apparent when you read the D&D rules that preceded AD&D (the so-called "white box" rules, or "three-booklet" rules). It's quite obvious that it was initailly an exploration game that simply happened to enable roleplaying. It was not a roleplaying game that included those rules for handling exploration. The game was still deep in the throes of a process of maturing and changing when AD&D was published and it shows.
Surprise determinations wound up trying to mix different die types for different monsters and in some cases even used percentages rather than die results. This was really, REALLY poor design and should have been revised to once again use a single type of die with consistent modifiers and rules that apply to that die.
So what kind of things did I want to do with all this?
Greater granularity in the die roll itself would mean smoother functionality of the system (for both surprise and initiative) and eliminate the need for frequent tie-breaking and all the folderol that went with that. Using the d10 would have been sufficient but the existing d6 modifiers adapt better by using a d12 instead. (A d20 meant modifiers were too small, and the random element was expanded too much. In 3E it resulted in piling-on modifiers.)
Ties are not a crime against nature. Let there BE ties. It'd be far more interesting than endless fiddling with tie-breaking.
A shorter duration round would solve issues of slow rates of missile fire, open up tactical movement during the round, and more. Some changes would be required with spell casting times and durations but the benefits outweigh those drawbacks.
Any declaration step requirements can and should be eliminated. Initiative would again be a largely random determination, given the original stated desire for abstract combat (and moreso if retaining a 1-minute round). Determine what characters want to do when their turn in the initiative order actually comes up, knowing at that time full well how the timing and chances of successful final resolution for their chosen actions will be affected.
Not needing to declare a particular spell until their turn in initiative has come up will be a new advantage for spellcasters. It may mean more combat spells are being cast and completed, but this will improve low-level magic-user survival without creating game balance issues because this doesn't change the number of spells they are allowed per day (although for my own purposes I AM actually increasing the number of spells available per day to low level casters).
Surprise and Initiative Revisions and Explanations
I. Check for surprise:
A. The DM may dictate that surprise exists simply due to circumstances of the encounter. Class or race surprise abilities might factor in that decision.
B. A 1-4 on a d12 otherwise normally indicates surprise. Dexterity and other adjustments apply directly to the d12 roll for the entire side.
C. If neither side is surprised or both are equally surprised then proceed to step II.
D. Surprise lasts 1 round. If unsurprised you act normally for 1 round. Resolve actions in order of highest adjusted surprise die roll first.
E. Encounter distance is determined primarily by DM judgment within range of visual/audible detection but should be less if surprise exists.
II. Determine initiative:
A. A d12 is rolled for the party and a d12 secretly rolled for opponents. Sides act in order of lowest to highest result, always as indicated by their own die roll. Simultaneous action is possible.
B. A caster may decide on his initiative result what spell to cast, if any. Character is then casting for the duration of the listed casting time; then the effects are resolved. Full-round spells resolve at the very end of the round.
C. Damage taken prior to completing a spell in that round prevents/disrupts any/all casting. Damage (or failed save that exerts control over the casters movements/actions) while actually casting means the spell is lost and forgotten.
D. When entering/charging into melee range of any opponent the longer weapon strikes first, regardless of initiative.
E. If anyone has multiple attack routines then initiative ties between weapons go to whoever has more. Other ties are just ties - simultaneous results.
F. Weapons always win initiative vs. unarmed unless special abilities apply [e.g. monks are always considered armed].
III. Additional combat rules:
A. A character beginning a combat round with missile weapon ready and target in sight fires/throws once before initiative is rolled.
B. Unless otherwise specified, ALL of a characters attacks or actions are resolved on their turn.
C. Casting a spell or firing missiles while in melee range draws an AoO.
D. Melee characters may use their full attack routine and still move their standard rate. Movement for casters is reduced by casting time. Movement prior to taking other action in the round delays initiative by every segment moved.
E. Spellcasters lose dexterity AC bonus only while actually casting.
F. Moving more than 5' while remaining within melee range of an opponent allows an attack of opportunity at their best possible bonus for the round. Generally only one AoO per round per character.
III. Optional rules:
A. Use individual die rolls or individual adjustments to the group roll (dexterity reaction/attacking adjustment). Even with group initiative, by individual adjustment you might act simultaneously or before the enemy despite "losing" initiative.
B. Ties in melee combat may be decided by comparing WSF. Ties between spell completion and melee strike may be decided by the lower of casting time or WSF. Ties between missile fire and spell completion may be decided by lower of casting time or initiative die.
Rule Details And Rules That Aren't Initiative:
The DM sets the encounter range (the distance between encountering parties) to whatever seems appropriate rather than attempting to provide some kind of standard encounter distance using charts and die rolls. Generally this will be influenced by the physical conditions of the encounter area and any limits of visual and audible abilities to detect that an opponent is present. Encounter distance may be a mile across an open field. It may be that two individuals actually run into each other at a corner or in a doorway. Charts and die rolls for encounter distance would be reserved for when the DM either cannot or will not simply make an arbitrary, sensible determination. There are a LOT of factors that can affect surprise and encounter distance that simply cannot be covered by compact, elegant rules and that's why determining surprise is firstly given to the DM to determine. However, if the DM has no particular reason to rule one way or another he should let the dice fall.
Surprise is simply awareness of the presence of a potential opponent and the ability to act unilaterally before they do. Surprise is determined by d12 roll. Without considering modifiers or adjustments a 1-4 on the d12 indicates surprise. The common surprise adjustments (adapted directly from what their chances were using the various surprise determinations they had originally) would be:
Elf/halfling "on point"; surprises +4
Ranger surprises +2
Ranger is surprised -2
Monk level 5-8 is surprised -1
Monk level 9-12 is surprised -2
Monk level 13+ is surprised -3
Monster previously surprised 1/8 is surprised -2
Monster previously surprised 1/10 or better is surprised -3
Surprise is always a determination that affects the entire side. Having an individual on your side who has good abilities to surprise others or to BE less surprised imparts that benefit to everyone he's with. If you do have an increased chance to surprise opponents then your adjustment applies to the normal surprise range. E.g. an elf on point makes the standard enemy surprise range 1 through 8 instead of 1 through 4. Increases and decreases in surprise chances on the same side will cancel each other out on a 1-for-1 basis. E.g., if one person in the party is a 13th level monk who has a -3 bonus to be surprised and another party member is a character with -1 penalty due to having a dexterity of only 5, then 1 point of penalty offsets 1 point of the bonus and the party winds up with a -2 to their chance of being surprised (which would then be 1-2 on 1d12). Surprise adjustments generally do not stack or accumulate, you simply use the highest and lowest adjustment that applies.
If both sides end up being surprised then the surprise round goes to whichever side has the lowest adjusted surprise total. If one side is surprised with a roll of 5 and the other side is surprised with a roll of 2 then the side with the roll of 2 has surprise over the other. If both rolls are equal then surprise simply cancels out completely.
The basic result of surprise is that one SIDE gets a single round of actions to take. You can do in that single surprise round what you can do in any normal round. Missile fire rates and number of melee attacks is not increased, nor is spell casting time impeded relative to other actions. The advantage is simply that the enemy cannot yet act to oppose you. In fact, if you also win the first round initiative then you will effectively have two rounds of uninterrupted activity before the enemy can begin to act.
Use of individual surprise can be done if desired but may require some additional adjudication. The simplest way to implement this is to apply the individual dexterity reaction/attacking adjustment to the initiative roll. This will not generally make a large difference - but when the die rolls are close some PC's may be able to act before the opposition even if others don't. It will simply mean the possibility of breaking out combat into more individual segments or character turns. Such rules are ultimately left ENTIRELY in the hands of the individual DM to work out to his satisfaction should any unusual results occur by doing so. In using individual surprise, a bonus chance against being surprised is only going to help yourself, not others on your side, that is if you have a bonus to not be surprised you may find that the rest of your entire party is surprised but you are not. A surprise round may or may not then be available to individuals on BOTH sides rather than just one side. If so, the initiative for that round of surprise would obviously have to be determined. Rather than make a separate initiative roll I'd say just use the results of the surprise roll itself – lowest adjusted surprise die result goes first. Add in reaction/attacking adjustment to this if you like. Ties, as always, are simply simultaneous actions.
The DM can also simply declare that surprise exists due to one side simply not being aware of the presence of the other and having no practical means of detection. If the DM decides that any detection chances are approximately the same for either side then he should just allow for a surprise roll and let random chance decide if one side or another is less alert. Obviously if the players have REASON to be on heightened alert and have stated that their characters are taking "greater-than-usual" precautions then that should factor into surprise, too. Player characters cannot, however, be on a constant heightened state of alert, nor always taking "greater-than-usual" precautions. "Usual" is what is usual, after all...
A few magic items and maybe monsters will simply need to be re-written for their surprise/initiative effects to integrate with this system.
Initiative and surprise rolls made by the DM for NPC's and monsters need not be made openly. There's no reason players should be able to immediately deduce their opponents surprise adjustments by seeing the die roll.
The purpose of initiative is to determine the order in which events will be resolved. This does not necessarily indicate ticks of a clock, nor directly incorporate the duration of an action. The lower result of a d12 roll is the winner of initiative. Obviously, the d12 result does not directly correspond to one of the 10 time segments in the round. [If for some reason this bothers you then assume that the two results of 11 and 12 are actually super-slow and resolved separately from the actual 10 segments of the round - the end of the end of the round] Casting of spells is always begun ON the characters initiative result but casting time of spells is added to the die roll to determine where in the initiative order the casting is completed and the effects are actually resolved. When their turn in initiative comes up it is then that spell casters decide what spell, if any, they will attempt to cast based on knowing the casting time of the spell, their confidence in their order of initiative, and the results of events that have already taken place in the round.
Casters can take greater preparations to try to complete spells, especially with long casting times or with an actual full-round casting time. When their turn in initiative comes up they can announce they are preparing a long spell. They cannot move but do not have to concern themselves for the remainder of the round about whether they are hit or affected by magic. They sacrifice all their actions that round. The next round they begin casting immediately and do not need to roll initiative. Their spell will complete as if they begin casting with an initiative count of 1. However, in that round that they are casting they ARE now subject to the normal dangers of being attacked. [This is roughly equivalent to what 3.0 Edition defined as "Refocus".] As an optional rule, at the DM's discretion a caster may be allowed up to two segments of movement before beginning such casting (a minor compensation for otherwise being rooted to the spot for two full rounds).
Having a missile attack ready and target in sight should generally give you a single free attack upon an enemy before initiative is rolled. If this occurs during combat the typical assumption is that someone has spent the previous round not attacking, but otherwise preparing for a particular anticipated circumstance. If this preparation were outside of combat then it would preempt a surprise situation. You might be able to take your prepared attack, then take a surprise round, and then roll for initiative for the first full round and get an additional attack in before your opponent. Rather than enshrine some particular procedure in the rules this is largely being left to the individual DM to sort out because, again, circumstances can vary. Just remember that getting the drop on somebody is NOT assassination - which is an ability largely reserved for assassin characters. This is simply a temporary surprise or initiative advantage. And by the way, failure to USE that advantage once combat begins means that you are standing there doing nothing for the round. So if you were anticipating that someone was going to step through a doorway as a target for your readied attack but they didn't, then you spent the round waiting and get no attack that round.
I've incorporated attack of opportunity rules. There is good reason for this. There may be additional times which are not codified in the rules when the DM feels it would be appropriate to allow attacks of opportunity. Again, this is not blanket permission for the DM to abuse the PC's. This is acknowledgment that a good DM needs tools to cover a wide variety of abnormal and unpredicted circumstances. Before a PC is hit with "unanticipated" attacks of opportunity the DM should announce that the characters intended actions can or will have such consequences, thus allowing the player to make reasoned judgments for the character which fit the circumstances as the DM adjudicates them.
Any damage that a spell caster takes prior to completing his spell in a round, even if he is not actually in the process of casting when he takes damage, will prevent spell casting in that round due to disrupted concentration. If struck while actually casting they lose the memorized spell. The chances of being prevented from completing a spell in a given round are perhaps the same as they were before in AD&D (the convoluted original process makes that comparison difficult to be accurate about), but in this way players/PC's have appropriate ability to assess the risks of losing their memorized spell. Since casters can be attacked at the same time that they begin casting, some step is needed on that initiative turn to prevent the players of casters from deceitfully waiting for opponents to make melee or missile attacks before announcing that they are casting and what spell that will be. So, the order of activity for any turn in initiative should be:
The players announce any PC beginning to cast at that moment/in that segment
The DM announces any opponents beginning to cast at that moment/in that segment
Attacks against casters, if any, is conducted.
Spell effects are then resolved as necessary (i.e., a 1-segment spell is resolved).
The DM already knows when he rolls the initiative die for the opponents whether a PC caster is likely to be attacked at that time just as he has to make a decision about casting. This simple sub-order prevents players from "cheating". The DM is already assumed to NOT abuse/misuse the foreknowledge he inevitably must have. If necessary, abuse of this process by the DM can be eliminated by requiring an openly observed initiative roll by the DM. It eliminates abuse but also removes some desirable mystery and tension when PC's choose their actions.
Under my system I intend that spell casters can move and cast spells in the same round for the same reasons that a fighter can take 5 attacks and still move. However, casters can't move while actually casting but are largely rooted in place. (Exceptions might be made if the spell does not have a somatic component.) Each segment of casting is a segment that the caster cannot spend moving during the round - casting time reduces the amount of movement the caster is allowed. Movement before beginning to cast delays actual casting commencement and completion, obviously.
I assume the use of a shorter duration round by default - 6 rounds per minute of about 10 seconds each. This has repercussions for things like actual movement distances and spell casting times and durations (although my biggest motivation for using a shorter round was actually to have missile rates of fire make more sense).
Movement rates are converted thusly: Each 3" of movement rate in AD&D means 10' of movement in a round. Characters can move 5' per segment up to their maximum rate, but each segment of movement delays resolution of their other actions by 1 segment. If a character does nothing else but run they can easily cover 3 times that distance in a round if terrain isn't an issue (150' per round unencumbered - 15"). If the character is fleeing or otherwise running ALL OUT then they can move 6 times normal speed in a round (300' if unencumbered - 15") for the first few rounds (maybe 1/2 constitution), again assuming terrain isn't an issue. Characters moving faster than 15" can add the extra movement to any segment of movement they care to, however additional movement must spread equally across all 10 segments of a round. E.g., if a character has 24" of movement he can move 80' in one round. Normally he'd be limited to 5' per segment but instead he can move 10' for four segments and 5' for the other six in order to fit all his movement into the round, and those segments with the extra movement he can take at any time in the round as needed or desired.
For spell durations, unless and until a spell description is officially house-ruled one way or another then read the durations literally. If the spell stats say "1 round" duration, it means one combat round - regardless of how long that round is in seconds. A duration that might instead say "1 minute" would mean just that - measure the duration in minutes, not combat rounds, so each minute would last 6 of the shorter combat rounds of this system. Rulings which change the written durations will be made with an eye to whether the spell is meant to last only for the length of the combat, to last well after most combats are done, etc. Some spells which have durations of 1 turn or more might have their durations reduced to minutes instead.
The initiative die result isn't an indicator of a specific amount of time – just an order of resolution. The original AD&D rules assumed rounds having 10 segments but used a d6 for ordering initiative. This system also assumes 10 segments but uses a d12 for ordering initiative. Where necessary anything with an initiative order of 10 or higher can be assumed to be taking place in segment number 10. However, the initiative die roll will not be an indicator that anyone gets less time in the round to do anything. For example, if you have a 9-segment spell it won't matter how badly the initiative roll delays the order of resolving your actions. You'll still get 9 "segments" to cast your spell and 1 segment to move (assuming you start casting right away on your turn and don't try to move first), but the order of resolving your actions can be 12th in line behind everything else anyone is doing.
When the initiative result for your side comes up players can make a decision then as to how much to move and what spell to cast. Those choices are then based on the risk of how long it will then take to cast a spell or how long other actions will be delayed by moving. Each segment of movement (or other action) will delay commencement of spell casting or taking a weapon attack, so once your initiative comes up you should avoid wasting additional time in moving before you actually do attack or cast if you can avoid it. However, if you get a particularly good initiative as a player then you can be more confident that your opponents are likely slower that round. Since initiative is re-rolled each round, such advantages will ebb and flow in a random and natural (and hopefully enjoyable) way. Full round casting means no movement. A 9-segment spell would mean that you only get 1 segment of movement at best, but then the caster will have to weigh the likelihood of being struck while casting.
So, let's assume the player's side rolls 7 on the d12 for initiative and the DM rolls a 11 for the orc opponents. (Remember that unlike written AD&D rules the winner of initiative is the lowest roll.) On a "count" of 7 the PC's begin their activities. Without knowing what the DM has actually rolled yet, they can base their choices of action on how they feel about their initiative die, which in this case is somewhat dubious. Casters might try to move a segment or two before starting to cast, or indeed any PC might want to move around a bit (keeping in mind they can't just sleaze away from opponents they're already engaged in melee with), or just make their attacks/spellcasting and then move. A PC caster for example might decide to risk a somewhat long 6-segment attack spell (like a Death spell). That spell starts on the count of 7 and then completes on 12. In this example the caster would certainly have to assume that due to the length of his spells' casting time that he's going to open to attack AS he's actually casting hit. He'll have to avoid all damage and relevant magical effects in order to succeed in completing it. However, if he were more than a segments worth of movement distant from his opponents he could still complete his spell before it were disrupted if the orcs rolled about as badly as possible. So in this specific case, if an orc needed a segment of movement on 11 to get in melee range and hit the caster on a count of 12 the attack and spell would be simultaneous and the spell would be completed without any issues - ties are simply ties. In most circumstances, however, a caster would find it much more advisable to either not attempt to cast at all and instead think of something else to do, or to try to cast a spell with a much shorter casting time to be assured of completing it.
Obviously, anyone on either side who is concerned with a spellcaster actually attempting to cast a spell must make attacks upon that caster their priority.
Everyone should be able to move 5' without drawing any drastic consequences. [This is what 3rd Edition had as the "5' Step".] However, circumstances can prevent even this. You might still move your 5' - you just draw those consequences that you would otherwise be immune to. Taking that movement still means a delay in your actions!
As a rule, ALL of a characters actions are resolved on their turn as indicated by initiative order except where conclusion of actions is actually delayed - like spells. As an option, multiple attacks may still involve more complicated rules if you like: whoever wins initiative gets first strike in the round regardless of the number of attacks but multiple attacks could then be staggered with the attacks of opponents.
I suspect I personally will be using a mix of individual and group determinations, letting PC's make individual surprise and initiative rolls, while I continue to roll for opponents as a group simply for the sake of my convenience. I did that throughout most of the years I ran 3rd Edition, and usually only changed that pattern to mix things up occasionally, or when there were significant NPC's or meaningful mixes of forces. I see the possibility that I might declare that PC's MUST also roll as a group on occasion, despite being able to act individually, though I can't recall ever needing to do so in the past.
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