Initiative Order Patterns

Our group has fallen into a consistent pattern with initiative in a way that doesn't break the system at all, but which has turned things less dynamic.

We have 4 heroes.  It goes: 3 heroes act, they hand initiative to the GM, I do all the GM actions, then the last hero goes.  The "dynamic" part is usually just choosing which hero goes 1st and last.  Even when I do the NPCs, I often just do them "scene tracker, then NPCs from top of the list to the bottom." I need to shake things up in a more interesting way.

Question: Do you ever interrupt your list NPC actors to let a player act?

On the one hand, I did that when I ran the starter kit and it usually made things easier for the heroes.  They didn't have to endure all the enemy attacks before changing up the situation.  On the other hand, it means I could re-capture initiative and go last to let villains go first next turn.  But if I do that, it seems like a jerk GM thing to do, especially when I have more than 4 actors to choose from and I can guarantee this.  (My players almost always win, but they're not walking over the opposition, so it's not like I have to step uo the difficulty necessarily.)

How do you decide this in your games? Do you find yourself in a similar pattern to mine? Do you pretty much insure some villain always go first? Do you really make it situational, in which case do the players take advantage of that in a game sense (i.e., "Ha! He let us have initiative; let's make sure we all act now.")?

I have a villain or environment thing pass to a hero all the time, and surprisingly, have avoided falling into patterns.


I attribute this to two things. First, my threats have a tendency to act based on how many of them have yet to go versus how many heroes have yet to go. So if there are fewer threats left to go than heroes, they often act to minimize the impact of hero actions (based on the knowledge they have of what the heroes can do). If there are more threats than heroes remaining, then the threats act to maximize how much impact they can make before passing back to a hero. If there's an equal number, then they engage with a hero who hasn't gone yet and typically pass to them. The push and pull of it doesn't keep the heroes or villains from going against the above if they want to make a big push, but it makes large coordinated actions far more impactful from a story perspective.

In our games (me running and me not running), there are many times when the heroes pass to the villain, minions, or environment, and the GM passes it back, leaving the heroes no choice but to pass it to whatever is left that the GM controls. Makes for hard situations, but the GM can't get that every time -- the heroes get it the rest of the time. 

And we've never fallen into a specific sequence (except maybe to allow the person who is going to persistent-boost everyone to go first one round and last in the next). :-)  

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It is stale unless the situation calls for it. In our current campaign one of the heroes is a mass healer, so it makes sense for him to go last if everyone will be in the yellow. Sometimes I’ll go last just to wipe out the minions so the others can focus on the BBEG.

We’ve been playing around with random twists, meaning the DM rolls when we get a twist and consults a chart. Some of the twists are a determined initiative order like: Environment goes next. To get more twists the DM has more Overcomes in each encounter. It’s pretty easy to get a Minor Twist. So far it’s been working rather well and I think it’s making the encounters a lot less predictable.

I rarely have all non-player characters go all in a row. I like saving them so that way the heroes have to pass it around to the villains from time to time. I also mix it up with who I pass it to, that way I don’t feel like I’m ignoring anyone.

I do all GM actions at once, mostly because it’s easier on me. But that being said, I’m also very upfront about “Once you pass it to me, everything goes, and if I’m last, I’m going again”.

My players in the past generally tried to arrange it so I don’t get last slot… and I’ve often bounced it back before they were really ready. They know that if they force me to have a bunch in the end of the round, I’ll take that as carte blanche to then give myself the best attacks first.

I’ve been thinking of a limit, but it’s a bit mathy…
Side A cannot go more than 1+(NumA/NumB) round up in a row.
Side B cannot go more than 1+(NumB/NumA) round up in a row.

Informally, I try to keep to that, anyway.