Random initiative and a fixed GURPS turn

+Christopher R. Rice laid down a post about using random initiative in GURPS that turned into both an interesting “GURPS 201” post (small house rules based only on the Basic Set) as well as a thought experiment.

Some notes:

  • GURPS combat is based on a fixed turn order. Mess with this at your peril, perhaps.
  • GURPS combat is based on a fixed person-to-person turn length and so messing with turn order might lead to the destruction of causality and the end of the world as we know it
  • GURPS maneuvers and action resolution frequently depend on turn order, especially things that resolve “on your next turn” or “until the beginning of your next turn.”

That doesn’t mean that rolling initiative can’t work, though. The uncertainty of “roll for initiative” can be a real feature.

For more commentary, there’s a thread going on the SJG Forums. Start here.

Every Point Counts


Having Basic Speed 6 instead of 5 can be expensive. It’s a minimum of 20 points per level to buy it up (p. B17). And it can cost as much as 80 points per level for +4 to DX. So if you’ve shelled out the points, you’re going to want to have an advantage there. In short, an extra point in speed should give a decisive advantage over a foe.

We probably want it non-linear, too. Each quarter-point of speed puts you even more decisively ahead in turn order.

Roll 3d6 of course


So if I were to do this, I’d probably ditch the concept of DX+HT/4 and just make it DX+HT for Speed. Move would still be divide by four and drop fractions.

But for turn order, take DX+HT (which for Joe Average is 20) and add 3d6. 

Combat Reflexes might add +3 as it’s a 15 point advantage, and Enhanced Time Sense gives +9.  

Someone that has Basic Speed 24 will only be out-sped by someone with Basic Speed 20 roughly 10% of the time.

You could also just run this as a Quick Contest vs DX+HT. So the typical margin of victory will be 14 for he who used to be Basic Speed 6, and 10 for Basic Speed 5. Act in descending order of Margin of Success. That might even allow things like “if you fail your roll, you suffer partial surprise; crit fail and it’s total – you were caught off-guard completely.” Combat Reflexes and ETS would have their usual prohibition (perhaps) against total surprise.

Roll Every Turn


The above is a fun way to establish a fixed turn order that will trend with the current “descending order of Speed” rule. Roll once, at the beginning of combat. Turn order is thus set.

But what if you want to roll every turn?

This can be an issue. You can get two declarations in a row, or your foes can, making it hard to hard to adjudicate Waits and things like Judo Throw, where after a Parry, you can usually count on stepping in for a throw without your foe getting a chance to step away from you.

On the average, though, I suspect this cancels out. For every time that a Wait is ruined because your foe goes first, the PCs will get a chance to act twice and ruin the foe’s day.

Where I think things get hairy is that typically, it’s presumed that every character’s action is a second apart from that character’s last action, but you don’t really know how much time elapses from character to character.

If you throw a grenade with a 3-second delay, it goes off presumably at the start of the thrower’s third turn after the throw.  For randomly resetting turns . . . when does it go off?

One possibility is to declare that GURPS does in fact have a specific round, and people move around within that time scale.

And the grenade: Give it its own die roll, at the same basic speed as the thrower. On the average, it will detonate on the third second from being thrown. But specifically? You don’t know quite when it will go off. So you might be able to run to it and throw it back. Or it might blow up in your face.

That would be another way to resolve long-distance sniper shots too. Hmm. Give the bullet a speed score, and have it arrive at some random time in a particular turn that makes sense based on the speed of the bullet. That might be able to be extended to even short-range shots (but I’d not bother) from guns, but might be an interesting way to figure out when ranged muscle-powered weapons hit (though again, the book-keeping factor here will tend to sink this idea).

Parting Shot

Random initiative or even turn-by-turn initiative might not break anything if done right, even in GURPS where some of the maneuvers and other options are built around the assumptions of fixed turn order. With the norming tendencies of the 3d6 roll, the basic tendency will be “descending order of Basic Speed,” but with slight differences in order depending on who rolls well. 

Many people seem to play GURPS (and speak about it) with a bit of a “round-based” instead of “turn-based” mindset anyway – perhaps a legacy from Dungeons and Dragons, perhaps not. I’d be interested to actively play a few sessions with both styles (roll at beginning of combat, and roll every turn) to see specifically what breaks, if anything.

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