Monday, May 27, 2019

Take the Initiative - Twilight: 2000 Initiative Mechanics and Options

Initiative is a common feature of most RPGs, and there are a lot of posts and articles detailing the various ways of determining who acts first... and nearly as much written on discussions as to why this is important. Twilight: 2000 has a different Initiative approach compared to many systems, not only in terms of how Initiative is determined as a static derived characteristic but also it's interplay with two other the number of attacks/actions a character can take per turn and also somewhat uniquely in my experience, its influence on whether a character panics/freezes.

Who Has the Higher Initiative Here? Who is Panicking?

"An analysis of Initiative in v2.2 would be worthwhile. It's so important; high INIT characters can regularly get the drop on novices, and most everybody really. Several factors play into it: terms served in specific careers, wounds, two actions per turn by high INIT characters, etc.
I like the INIT mechanic, yet find it occasionally frustrating in play as well. It's a clean system, but is too predictable, and heavily-skewed toward the players IMO."
- Wayne Gralian (@waynesbooks), MeWe Twilight 2000 group, May 2019

Starting Initiative and Modifiers

Let's start with the basics of the v2.2 RAW (rules as written) that usually helps.

Base initiative is determined by a 1D6 roll. (The minimum initiative is 1)
  • Regulars keep their base roll. 
  • Reservists divide by 2 (round up).
  • Draftees, militia and volunteers (including government agents) divide by 2 (round down).
  • Modify by Military Careers
    • +1 for rangers, airborne, special forces, force recon, snipers, and "equivalents"
    • -1 for support, air force enlisted, aviation enlisted, and military intelligence personnel
  • Modify if the character has spent 2+ Terms in the following Civilian careers
    • +1 for Criminal
    • +1 for Federal Law Enforcement
    • +1 for State/Local Law Enforcement
  • A character's current Initiative is reduced by 1 when slightly wounded, by 3 (total) when seriously wounded, and by 5 (total) when critically wounded. 
Unlike many other games, a character's AGL (Agility) or similar does *not* modify Initiative.

On average this means that a military character / regular with will have an Initiative of 4+ (average roll of 3.5 on 1D6 and +1 for relevant career), compared to a civilian character with an average Initiative of 2, maximum 4 (if 2+ Terms in an applicable career).  

The effective maximum Initiative for a starting character is 7 (roll of 6, Regular, +1 for Military Career *or* +1 for 2+ terms in an applicable Civilian Career) - this isn't explicitly explained in the T2k v2.2 rules, but the equivalent section in Traveller: 2300 aka Traveller: the New Era (TNE) that uses the same "GDW home game" ruleset states the bonus is from either one or the other, *not* cumulative (TNE Corebook, page 36).

Experience accumulates *separately* for Initiative (page 139). Given a character is only likely to gain a maximum of two experience points towards Initiative per session, and only if "they perform a particularly outstanding shot or superior feat of melee combat", it's unlikely to gain an Initiative of 10 or more without extended play. 

Effects of Very High Initiative (PCs only)

The majority of starting characters, about two-thirds of regular army characters and all civilian characters (draftees, reservists, volunteers) will have an Initiative of 5 or less - this is referred to as "normal" initiative range and the effect is roughly linear across the mechanics. By comparison, NPCs have Initiative in this range (Novice 1, Experienced 3, Veteran 4, Elite 5). Animals have Initiative 6.

However, a regular army player character with a Term in a combat Career can achieve an Initiative of 6+ about 33% of the time (2 in 6; a roll of 5 or 6 on the D6 roll +1 modifier for career as above) - this is referred to as "very high" Initiative and has three implications which aren't normally available to NPCs if following the RAW (page 139-141).

Initiative isn't just about the sequence of play, however.

1. Sequence

As even Elite NPCs only have an Initiative of 5, a player character with "very high" initiative of 6+ will act *before* every other human opponent they will encounter, and likely the same time as an animal or even earlier.

2. Panic

A character with a current Initiative of 6+ never suffers Panic! as the result of the1D6 roll cannot exceed their Initiative unless they become wounded (page 197).
Whenever a character is knocked down by wound damage (see "Wound Effects and Healing," page 211) or surprised (attacked from an unexpected direction, ambushed, or surprised by an encounter as defined in the encounter rules), there is a chance that he or she will panic. This is not blind panic which sends the character screaming away, but panic which causes him or her to momentarily freeze. 
To determine if a PC panics, roll 1D6If the result is greater than his or her Initiative rating, he or she panics. The PC may not conduct any action for the number of turns by which the die roll exceeds his or her Initiative. However, if the character is forced to freeze for more than one combat turn, he or she may go prone on the second turn and remain there until able to move again. If the character has already conducted his or her action for the turn, the following turn counts as the first turn frozen. If the character has not yet acted in the turn in which he or she panicked, the current turn becomes the first turn frozen.
Animals, although they have an equivalent Initiative of 6 don't use the Panic rules.

To me, this makes less sense to be tied to Initiative and action sequence which is more about reflexes/agility, whereas not freezing up in combat I would have thought would be linked to will and experience. Sure being experienced and not freezing up helps you react faster, but not necessarily the other way around.

3. Multiple Attacks

A character with a current Initiative of 6+ can make *two* actions per round, the second action at the step equivalent to the character's Initiative divided by 2 (rounded down) eg. step 3 for Initiative 6 or 7, step 4 for Initiative 8 or 9, and step 5 for Initiative 10.  

Note: A character whose current Initiative level is reduced to 0 or lower, through Wounds or equivalent debility, may not act that turn at all. A character with "very high" initiative with two attacks that suffer wounds sufficient to drop their current initiative to 5 or less can then only act once per turn, losing their relative advantage.


Initiative in Twilight: 2000 works very differently to most RPG games - although it employs a "list" or "statistic" based mechanic best known from classic D&D and derived games (roll a dice, either d6 or d20 and add usually Dexterity or similar characteristic modifiers), it's somewhat unusual in the sense Initiative is a fixed characteristic or derived statistic rather than being randomly generated, awarding initiative to the side that started the fight, using variations of index cards, playing cards or even dispensing with initiative altogether.

The main implication is that the sequence of action is therefore comparatively *static*.

Unless a character is wounded, their Initiative and hence the order in which they act in a combat sequence is predetermined and pretty much unchanged, not just for a particular combat round or combat, but for *every* combat for every session, for the whole campaign. 

Essentially a character with a high Initiative will almost *always* act first and in many cases will even receive a second action during the turn sequence (see above). There's no random element or the possibility of variation which can lead to combat becoming somewhat predictable if there's a chance of a "one-shot" kill due to superior weaponry and/or skill. In Twilight: 2000 this is a very real possibility so acting first every combat has a major consequence and risk of imbalance.

Compare this to the common 1D6 (or 1D20) roll for each side (or character) per combat (or per round), plus optional modifiers found in most games of this era and you'll appreciate the effect.

As noted above, to compound this skewed advantage effect, a player character with a "very high" Initiative of 6+ not only acts first but is also immune to panic and attacks twice in one round - this effectively sets up a major power inflexion below which most other player characters and NPCs are linear in power advancement and above which characters are in a completely different power class.

This may well work for many groups and clearly favours the PCs in an otherwise somewhat brutal and often lethal rules system but it's worth looking at the wider implications before allowing a character with "very high" Initiative in play as they are likely to easily dominate any combat situation in an otherwise more balanced mixed group.

Options and Variations

So maybe it's worth considering a few different options for determining initiative - let's have a look at some of the approaches used commonly in other RPGs and see how they might work for T2k and whether they can "even" out some of the potentially unbalancing consequences of "very high" Initiative characters or otherwise improve the game.

1. Random Initiative

Most RPGs determine initiative randomly with a dice roll, so let's consider that:

a. Random 1D10 once per combat: this is the original Initiative system used in most retro-clone / OSR games based on a certain "original game system" but let's use the description from LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) because it's well written:
"All player characters roll 1d6 for initiative individually, and the Referee rolls initiative once for each type of enemy they are facing in combat. Then the Referee counts down from 6 to 1 (with each of these units being a Segment of the combat Round), with everyone acting on their particular Initiative Segment. If opposing groups roll the same Initiative number, break ties using the Dexterity modifier. For creatures without a Dexterity score, the Referee can roll 3d6 to determine their Dexterity for purposes of Initiative only. If there are still ties, then all tied combatants act simultaneously." 
So use a 1D10 and instead of using the Dexterity modifier as a tie-breaker, for T2k in the case of a tie the character with the higher AGL (Agility) score acts first.  

b. Random 1D10 roll once per turn: as above, but each character rolls once per turn. 

Both of these approaches allow a random element to determining initiative but result in difficulties with modelling experience unless you make XP in an "Initiative Modifier" and track it separately- characters with an applicable "combat" career Term (see above) or 2+ Terms in Criminal, or Federal / State / Local enforcement add +1 to their initiative Initiative Modifier and then increase it through play as normal from there.

I think it's hard to model Panic using this random approach, however - see the insert below for suggestions on how to do this if you use this alternative Initiative system. This is not necessarily a bad thing as linking Initiative to the chance to freeze or panic has it's implications as noted above.

For either of these options, characters that roll a 6+ for Initiative can optionally act twice in the one turn for the duration of the combat or round respectively at the stage equal to the roll divided by two (rounded down) as explained above. This consequence is a lot more random than the normal rules, reducing the set multiple attack advantage of player characters although still allows experienced characters to deploy multiple attacks.

2. Non-random Starting Initiative

These options are in contrast to "random Starting Initiative" which is the default for T2k v2.2. Both options allow for more player choice in order to determine their character's Initiative.

a. Use Agility: use a character's AGL (Agility) score instead of rolling, modifying by +1 or -1 depending on appropriate military careers or 2+ Criminal / Law Enforcement Terms. Characters that have 6+ AGL can act twice in the one turn. This favours a deliberate approach to character builds but can lead to significant power creep compared to NPCs (maximum Initiative 5) in terms of player characters acting first and having multiple attacks, even if you use a less favourable variant that the AGL required for 2 attacks per turn is increased to 8+.  
This approach doesn't really work for Panic however, so see the insert below for suggestions on how to do this if you use this alternative Initiative system.
There's no way of increasing Attributes during play in the RAW however, so this results in static initiative unless you allow XP to accumulate towards a separate "Initiative Modifier" as noted in the random options above which complicates the approach.

b. No. of Military Terms: in the 1st edition of T2k Initiative was modelled in a complex manner using a mechanism called "Coolness Under Fire" (T2k v1.0 Player's Manual, page 8), which determined how many of the 5 rounds in any combat turn a character hesitated, so a low score was better. The result for "Coolness Under Fire" was mostly random and still based on 1D6 (subtracting from 10), but there was a link between time in combat and better "Coolness Under Fire" that was lost in the move to 2nd edition. Military terms don't quite equate to military experience base (MEB) or time in combat however.
Linking Initiative to the number of *military* terms is an option, although this tends to favour military characters significantly over those with civilian backgrounds as using this method civilian characters will almost always start with Initiative 1 unless they're in the reserves or spent time in law enforcement. As most characters start with 3-5 Terms, so this will typically result in comparable Initiative levels to NPCs.  As usual, characters with an applicable "combat" career Term (see above) or 2+ Terms in Criminal, or Federal / State / Local enforcement add +1 to their Initiative total.
For this approach Panic and multiple attacks (characters with Initiative 6+ can act twice per turn) are worked out the same as usual and accumulated experience can increase the Initiative score after play. 

Of the two options, the AGL based one is perhaps the most intuitive but requires a separate method for determining Panic, whereas the second option ties turn sequence, multiple attacks and the risk of freezing strongly to actual military experience, which I think makes sense.

Coolness Under Fire in T2k v2.2: How to Panic Better (or Just the Same)

The first three alternate approaches above (options 1a, 1b and 2a) work for action sequence (and multiple attacks) but break the mechanic used for determining Panic. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as the concept of acting first / multiple times and not freezing from panic don't need to be linked, but I think Panic is a core part of the T2k combat experience to retain.

The simplest approach to this is to just use the old T2k v1.0 concept of "Coolness Under Fire" and determine it using the rules normally used for Initiative eg 1D6 roll modified by regular vs draftee/militia/volunteer status and specific military and civilian terms. This probably works better for the random initiative approaches rather than the AGL based initiative option.

Using this option, instead of gaining Experience in just "Initiative Modifier", characters also gain XP towards their "Coolness Under Fire" score, which adds another score to track, unfortunately as the options above suggest the use of XP accumulating towards an "Initiative Modifier". One option to offset this is to award experience each session that can be used for *either* "Coolness Under Fire" *or* "Initiative Modifier*.

Variant: use Military Terms to determine "Coolness Under Fire" as per option 2b above when using one of the other Initiative methods (random or AGL based). This makes sense and not only separates turn sequence from the risk of freezing but also factors in combat experience.


Initiative in T2k v2.2 is much more than just a determinant of the action sequence.

If STR (Strength) is the most important Attribute in game for most combat because it's linked to the most combat-related skills except for the AGL based acrobatic unarmed combat moves, then in the default game Initiative is likely a close second to have a high score in for a combat build character, but *not* by spending build points in AGL (Agility) like most other games as a good Initiative score is mostly determined by military Career choice/timing and chance.

The random generation of Initiative potentially sets up not just an unpredictable gradient between combat oriented and non-combatant characters, but also a "two-tier" effect with combat oriented characters where some otherwise equal PCs will randomly have additional abilities based only on an arbitrary initial die roll. To me, this takes away player agency and enjoyment so I've suggested some options above that might help offset this effect.


  1. The static nature of v2/v2.2 Initiative is perhaps the greatest negative of those rules versions for me (I am a great fan of them otherwise). I ran a mercenary campaign in which the fights never seemed to have any challenge, as the PCs would wipe the table with the opposition before most of the oppo ever got to act.

    The reduction for wounds, however, I consider a great strength. Currently, I run v1 rules occasionally, and I have imported the wound reduction into my Coolness under fire rule.

    If/when I run v2.2 rules again, I will consider some variant on your suggestions above.

  2. Thanks for the comments Lee - the static nature is the weakness IMO as it really sets up a "two-tier" environment for combat characters of "haves" and "have-nots" which I think leads to less fun / imbalance. The wound reduction does help but not enough unless the characters have pre-existing wounds...