Last updated: 181201, 200704
1st Edition initiative is … complicated. Even with the excellent fan-created 20-page A.D.D.I.C.T document delving into 1e intricacies, discussions about the details of how 1e initiative works never end. And in a 10-segment round, rolling a d6?
While I consider the game I play 1st Edition AD&D, I use 2nd Edition initiative: roll d10 and add modifiers such as weapon speed. While initiative—at its very core—simply determines who goes first, I prefer a bit more granularity in a round to determine who is where, and when. If nothing else, it clarifies where the fighters are when the fireball goes off.
I ran across an article from Imagine Magazine #28 proposing an action-based initiative system years prior to 2e. The article reworked initiative to more directly use weapon speed, using the die appropriate to the weapon speed (dagger d4, long sword d8, etc.) for individual initiative, and defaulting to d10. The article proposes a number of other modifications (modifying initiative by class, changing missile-weapon initiative, explicit segment-by-segment actions) which don’t interest me. But the idea of using weapon speeds more directly intrigued me. Could I integrate that method into my modified 2e initiative?
I already use individual initiative. Using only the die appropriate to the weapon—instead of a d10 + weapon speed—means that (unlike adding weapon speed to the initiative roll) every weapon has the chance to go first (or tie) regardless of the other person’s roll. That chance varies more directly with the weapon speed. And less math with every roll!
Using the weapon speed to determine the die to roll for initiative requires tweaking weapon speeds that don’t match a die, adding +1 to odd-numbered weapon speeds. My default speeds for unarmed combat (e.g., claw, bite, etc.) for Small/Medium/Large are+3/+5/+7. As those also don’t align with a die, they also increase by 1 to +4/+6/+8. All that’s missing then is weapon speeds for missile weapons, which don’t exist in 1e. 2e gets me there quickly, with: Bow 6, Crossbow 6/10, Dart 2, Sling 6. After those adjustments, the core attacks—Bow, Long Sword, and Medium creature—use d6 (the default 1e die); other rolls vary from that baseline. A non-proficient character would roll the next higher die. Non-melee actions such as digging in a backpack continue to use d10, more directly representing the likelihood of being hit before accomplishing some other task.
The next consideration is spell casting—weapons just sped up compared to d10 + weapon speed. AD&D ostensibly has spell casting begin prior to melee, but in practice spell casting generally completes after melee attacks. As the baseline melee attacks occur on d6, a d6 for spell casting seems appropriate, modified by casting time. While each spell has a casting duration, for simplicity I usually use 1 segment / spell level. 1st level spells then default to slightly slower than the baseline, which feels about right.
Switching from d10 + weapon speed to d[weapon speed] also lends itself to, as suggested by Imagine, a more open, continuous initiative, where the round never ends; instead, you just add your next die roll to whenever you last acted. But in that way lies madness.
Imagine Adventure Games Magazine, Issue 28. July, 1985.