Chapter 33: Initiative

Initiative is the manner in which the order of play is decided during combat. Any combat undertaken is likely to dissolve into chaos, and real combat among players, if no turn sequence is adopted. Every game has some way of deciding the order of play, and combat in EXP is no exception. What the ref must decide is the level of pseudo realism that is desired for her initiative system. An initiative system for combat in a role-playing game must decide the order of action for the players and the referees. These systems can vary from the simple to the complex. Three levels of initiative are described in this chapter: None, theatrical, and tactical. They are arranged in order of both complexity and realism.  Sometimes initiative  is shortened  to the contraction “init” and it is pronounced ‘in-ish’.

Chip the pilot wins initiative and leaves the expedition behind.
Chip the pilot wins initiative and leaves the expedition behind.


This initiative system is similar to the turn system employed by most board games. All play is carried out in a clockwise direction around the table, or room. The play moves from one player to the next, treating the referee as another player. Each player is responsible for the actions her persona and the referee will be responsible for actions of several referee personas. Each player receives one move and one attack during her turn. Players must complete all actions during their turn, and cannot act until it is their turn again, or until combat is completed. The referee may get one move and one attack for every persona that she is responsible for. This is a good initiative system for players and refs still mastering the combat system. Experienced players will quickly tire of this initiative method, unless the role-playing is particularly spectacular. 

Theatrical Initiative

Theatrical initiative is the most common form of initiative found in role-playing combat. The turn sequence of theatrical initiative is determined by the the roll of a die. One player from the expedition makes a die roll representing the entire expedition, and the ref makes a die roll representing the referee personas. Initiative die rolls can also made by other groups involved in combat (police forces, or terrified civilians). Whoever has the higher die roll gets to move and attack first.

Let’s consider an example using a ten sided die. If the referee rolled 7 on her d10 initiative roll, and the expedition rolled 3 on their d10 initiative roll then the referee personas (run by the referee) get to act first. This is called winning the initiative, and the referee won the initiative, and all her personas get to move and attack the personas of the expedition. It is generally considered advantageous to win the initiative in this system because any targets that are killed, knocked unconscious or stunned cannot attack in that unit. Initiative should not be confused with ambushing a persona. Initiative is an in combat roll, and the personas that have won initiative are simply acting before other personas in the same unit, and they have no element of surprise whatsoever

Most often the order of action in a theatrical initiative system will simply be a go around each player based on their seating arrangement. If the players are concerned about this then the order of action of the players can be determined by their DEX attributes. The persona with the highest DEX acts first, and the persona with the lowest DEX acts last. Each persona may move/attack, attack/ move, or attack while moving. The initiative roll also determines when personas can carry out noncombat activities, like changing equipment, class skills and mutations during combat.

For example, and expedition of 3 personas (called Abel, Babel, and Cable) has gotten themselves into a scuffle with 5 aliens. The expedition members have dexterities of 12, 14, and 9, respectively. The aliens all have the same dexterity value. In the first unit of combat the ref rolls 6 on her d10 initiative roll, and the player representative rolls an 8 on her d10 initiative roll. The order of play is Babel (DEX 14), then Abel (DEX 12), then Cable (DEX 9), and then all of the aliens that the referee is making decisions for. Aliens disabled when the personas attacked cannot attack during their turn. In the next unit the ref rolls 9 for initiative, and the expedition rolls 3 for initiative. The order of play is all the referee’s remaining aliens, then Babel (DEX 14), then Abel (DEX 12), then Cable (DEX 9). Any personas knocked unconscious or killed cannot attack during their turn. The last possible variation is if the ref and the player were to roll the same value. They would either re-roll to decide an initiative winner, or they would move around the table with everything happening on the combat field simultaneously. Simultaneous initiative indicates all attacks are simultaneous, and any paths of movement that have crossed are assumed to have collided at their intersection.

All movement and attack sequences are the same for the referee as they are for the players. The referee may play homogeneous groups (opponents with all the same DEX attributes) in any order that she sees fit.

Gaming Initiative: The ref must watch for players who repeatedly miss their turns, and demand action after the rest of the expedition has acted. The refs best defense against this problem is her ruthlessness. It is most likely that the player honestly missed her turn, but this is no excuse. Players should pay attention, and those players that miss their turn during combat are subject to having their persona stand hopelessly confused on the battlefield.

Tactical Initiative

The fog of combat is not well represented by any role playing system. The limitations of the the theatrical initiative system will become obvious very quickly. Tactical initiative can become as complex as desired. Tactical initiative system should be adapted in parts. The referee needs to have a good handle on the combat system of choice. Both Theatrical and Tactical Combat systems will work well with tactical initiative. Players need to understand their weapons, attributes, weapon types, and the nature of movement. The benefit of this initiative system is its imitation of realism. Personas with high DEX attributes enjoy an advantage over their less dextrous opponents. Not only does a dexterity advantage give the persona a greater chance of acting first, but they also have the choice to act whenever they want.

Initiative Roll:All combatants must make an individual initiative roll on a d20, adding their DEX to the result. The ref will usually make one initiative roll for large homogeneous groups of referee personas. However a premium referee personas with special skills or mutations could be given their own initiative rolls. So if a player were to make an initiative roll of 5 with a d20, and her persona’s DEX was 12 her initiative roll would be 17. Her initiative priority would be higher than those personas with an initiative roll less than 17, and lower than those with an initiative greater than 17. Once initiative rolls have been generated for all combatants, the order of highest to lowest values must be determined. This order doesn’t designate the order of action, but the order of initiative priority.

Tied Initiative Rolls: Any tied initiative rolls  must be resolved with unadjusted d10 rolls: there is no simultaneous combat. If two initiative rolls this must be resolved. In the tactical combat system the initiative becomes an order of priority and their cannot be tied priorities. So if two players both rolled 17 for their initiative rolls. Each player would roll 1d10 to extend their initiative roll one decimal place. If the players tied again, for example they both had initiatives of 17.3, then they must roll again. When which ever player rolls higher gets a higher initiative priority. Any player that rolled 18 or higher would have a higher priority than the player with 17.37, who would have a higher priority than the player with 17.33, all of whom have a higher priority than the player who rolled 15. 

Initiative Priority : Higher initiative rolls in the tactical initiative system allows the player to act first if they so desire. If the player would rather hold back her action until others have acted they may do so.  The order of play starts with the persona that has the highest priority. This persona may either move or attack immediately, or wait until later in the unit to act. If the persona opts for the latter it is called ‘waiting’ her attack, or ‘waiting’ her movement. The persona can wait her movement, her attack or both. Waited actions are generally left until the end of the unit, but the waiting persona may intercede at any time and act if she feels it is necessary.

Waited Actions: This is the key difference between tactical and theatrical combat: the initiative winners are given highest priority, and are not required to act first. Often it is beneficial to be able to move after the opposition. Knowing what your opponent is up to can be very beneficial. So a higher initiative roll can be used to make the opposition force their hand, as well being able to beat them to the punch. Hence the concept of highest initiative gets priority, as opposed to moving first. When a high priority player chooses to intercede, she must make a Normal (1d20) AWE  attribute roll before she jump back into the queue. If she fails the attribute roll, she must wait until after the next in line for action. There can be some risk when one waits their combat actions. Any persona, except the one with the lowest priority may wait their action until the end of the unit. If several personas have waited their actions, they will be forced to act from lowest to highest priority. All personas must act before the end of the unit, unless they have chosen not to act.

Anatomy of a Unit

A very simple example of a unit of combat involving four personas is given here. The four personas are:  Abel, an initiative roll of 26; Babel, an initiative roll of 21; Cable, an initiative roll of 13; and Dabel, with an initiative roll of 9.  

Table 33.1 Combat Unit First Pass

First pass through initiative. Dabel is forced to move and attack showing her plan.
PersonaInit ScoreActions
Abel26Waits Move and Attack.
Babel21Waits Move and Attack.
Cable13Attacks and Waits Move.
Dabel9Must Move and Attack.
PersonaInit ScoreActions

Table 33.2 Same unit Second Pass

In the second pass Dabel is done her unit, and Cable must both move and attack. Abel opts to move out of the way of something, and holds her attack.
PersonaInit ScoreActions
Abel26Choose to Move (makes AWE roll). Waits Attack.
Babel21Waits Move and Attack.
Cable13Must Move and Attack.
Dabel9Completed unit.
PersonaInit ScoreActions

Table 33.3 Same Unit Third Pass

Both Dabel and Cable have ended this unit and are open to actions. Babel is forced to both move and attack on this pass. Abel is holding her attack until the last moment, giving her the last word in this unit.
PersonaInit ScoreActions
Abel26Waits Attack. Move Completed.
Babel21Must Move and Attack.
Cable13Completed unit.
Dabel9Completed unit.
PersonaInit ScoreActions

Table 33.4 Same Unit Fourth Pass

Dabel, Cable and Babel are done in this unit. Abel may choose to direct her attack at any of them, or choose to not attack at all.
PersonaInit ScoreActions
Abel26Attacks. Move Completed.
Babel21Completed unit.
Cable13Completed unit.
Dabel9Completed unit.
PersonaInit ScoreActions

Unit one has ended. All the players make new initiative rolls for their personas and the process continues, unit per unit until combat has ended.

Points About Attacks

A persona can only attack if her weapon is ready, loaded, strung, or whatever. No persona can engage in a non-combat action and be able to attack.  No persona can exceed a weapon type’s maximum number of attacks per unit regardless of her  initiative roll. Waited attacks are lost if the persona is killed, knocked unconscious, stunned, or paralyzed. A persona with a waited attack may attack before another combatant if she successfully makes a Normal (1d20) AWE attribute roll.

If personas with multiple attacks are in a toe to paw fire fight the referee and players may modify the initiative to compare each of the personas attacks. Some system like this may become desirable if the players feel that it is unfair that a nothing can empty her full automatic lazer rifle before the 6th level mercenary’ can use any of her multiple attacks. However, it is recommended that this be treated as tough luck, and that the mercenary should be treating a persona with such a weapon with respect. Spie martial artists can precede other personas that have beaten them in initiative. This is described in Chapter 8: Classes.

Points About Movement

Personas are allowed up to their entire movement rate for the unit. Moving a fraction of one’s movement rate is considered the persona’s entire movement for the unit. Personas waiting their. movement are also subject to attacks form powered, and non-powered missile weapons (weapon types C, and B). Waited movement is lost if the persona is killed, stunned, knocked down, etc. persona with waited movement may move before another combatant if she successfully makes a Normal (1d20) AWE attribute roll.

Points of Order

The reader may now feel the options and intricacies of the tactical initiative system closing in around playability. Never fear; the system can be run smoothly if everyone pays attention to their waited movements, and attacks. The biggest threat to administering the tactical initiative system is distraction. A colorful description, or hot local gossip, can send the initiative order into an irretrievable tailspin. The group must should only use those parts of the tactical initiative system that suits them.

All personas that have ended their unit should shut up, or leave the room. The tactical initiative system can become quit confusing, and interruptions can become fatal.

Referee Personas: The referee’s personas act the same as any other persona. For example, persona C could have represented 2 robotic referee personas, and the other 3 could have been expedition personas.Actions are also dependant on the weapon types used by the personas. Persona A could only attack while moving, with a type C weapon, and no persona can attack with a type A weapon on any target that has waited its movement.

Psionics: Generally psionic attacks will precede anything that involves physical action. A mutant can initiate a defensive or offensive mutation whenever she needs to, regardless of where she is in the initiative list. If initiative is a competition between psionic attacks or mental mutations initiative can be rolled on a d20 using MSTR as the adjustor. This would only be be for comparing two mental events. 

Ways to avoid complications are: ensure that the lowest priority combatant moves, and attacks as soon as possible; to not allow personas to split waited attacks and moves (if a persona wants to wait for her opposition to act then she must wait both her attack and movement); and to have all the referee’s personas act at once, regardless of their varied DEX attributes.

Winning Initiative: Winning initiative is not like surprising one’s opponent, and there is no element of disguise in one’s actions. If a persona has some action, ability or skill that could precede an attacker’s action then it should be carried out. For instance a knite can always deflect projectile attacks, regardless of whether she won initiative or not. A spie’s martial arts can precede any type A attack on her.