Saturday, October 13, 2012

PHB on Dex-based Initiative

Guess who's got the higher Dex? By Trampier, from the Monster Manual
     In the oft-overlooked back of the 1E Player's Handbook (1978), Gygax ends a section titled "First Strike" with "When important single combats occur, then dexterities and weapon factors will be used to determine the order and number of strikes in a round" (pg 105). This, plus the reference in the Monster Manual (1977), makes me think that for a time Gygax considered including a Holmes Basic (1977) type dexterity-based initiative for certain combats in AD&D. However, by the time of the Dungeon Master's Guide (1979) there's no trace of using the dexterities of opponents to determine first strike other than a reaction bonus for missile weapon fire. Perhaps Gygax dropped this in a (futile?) attempt to keep the complexity of the DMG combat rules for initiative under control. The PHB reference does suggest a way to adapt Holmes-initiative if moving on to AD&D: subtract the AD&D weapon speed factor (e.g., fist = 1, dagger = 2, two-handed sword = 10) from dexterity to determine an adjusted dexterity for each melee combatant, and use this to determine strike order. Number of strikes per round is more difficult to determine/integrate, particularly when monsters are also considered, so I'm not going to consider it today.

(I was inspired to write this after reading a post in this thread on Dragonsfoot)


  1. The weapon factors he mentioned in the PHB may have been intended as weapon speed factors. In the case of a tied initiative when both combatants have the same number of attacks (a true tie) then you use the weapon's speed factor to determine who strikes first (otherwise its the guy with the most attacks in a round). Dexterity in AD&D is only factored into surprise - if you have a DEX reaction adjustment, the characters with the bonus aren't surprised for a number of surprise rounds equal to the bonus. It doesn't allow them to attack though (except they are allowed to cast a 1 segment spell per the ADDICT document which can be downloaded from Dragonsfoot), it just keeps them from being attacked so it doesn't really factor into who strikes first as in Holmes.

    We are playing AD&D now (switched from Labyrinth Lord) and the ADDICT document posted at Dragonsfoot has been a godsend for helping us figure out how intiative and surprise works in AD&D - it is needlessly complicated but works well once you commit it to memory.

    The one thing I really don't like about B/X basic is that if you use the group initiative and your side consistently loses intitiative it means that your side can get beat up pretty bad by the other side including lost spells and guys going down before they can attack. I have to say after experiencing that and fighting several battles where we either lost or tied the entire time, that I much prefer the Holmes method for Basic (or individual initiative) or the AD&D method since no one side can get first strikes on the other before they can hit back (the attacks are staggered).

    1. Thanks for the comments, Dan. I'm slightly familiar with the use of the weapon speed factors in combat in AD&D (meaning I've read it over but never actually played that way). In the game I play in, the DM adds a weapon speed factor to our initiative roll to determine an adjusted initiative - I think this is from 2nd edition. I still think Gygax meant something else when writing in the PHB since he referred to "important single combats".

  2. Yeah, he could have been talking about one on one duels where two leaders fight to settle a disagreement or something while the others on the opposing sides sit out, or when a lone thief surprises a lone orc and tries to backstab him or whatever. I found that in our B/X Labyrinth Lord games we rarely if ever actualy used individual initiative even though it was written into the rules for single combats (I'm pretty sure B/X has this option too).

    Its funny but after reading the DM's guide and PHB and playing with a DM who actually runs AD&D RAW now, I have come to the realization that as kids, we took what we liked out of the AD&D rules and just used the rules for basic for the rest (more of a mashup than one or the other) or just house ruled stuff that was too complicated in AD&D. For instance, I'm pretty sure we didn't use Gary's initiative and combat system exactly as written or even the surprise rules, but I'm also not sure if we were using Dex based initiative or not either (though we may have been, I just don't remember it either way).

    I guess it all depended on the DM's house rules but whatever we were doing was relatively simple because I don't remember a lot of the intricacies of the AD&D system from back then that we are using now (or if we were using the AD&D rules we didn't really understand them 100%). We also didn't use the to hit adjustments or speed factors listed on the tables either because we thought they were too complicated and slowed things down too much. Some of that extra detail is flavorful but you have to ask yourself if its all really necessary.