Truth be told, I was never happy with any version of D&D or Pathfinder initiative. It did take me a while to figure that out. I mean when you first start playing these games, you are so enthused with all the promise of the game that you don’t sweat the procedures. But as my mind moved more toward game design and underlying architecture the discontent grew.
By far the best initiative system came with the advent of 3rd Edition. With that system initiative was rolled once by every participant, the initial order was determined, and play could move forward with only a jumble of fuss in the beginning. But it still had its problems. The cycle had to be vigorously tracked either with a tracker or cards. With the proliferation of reactions in 3rd Edition, some things affected initiative and the other things did not.
I know that there are gamers out there that shake their fist at attacks of opportunity, special initiative actions like ready and delay, not to mention the very ambiguous “ready” action. I like those kinds of actions. I think they make for a more compelling and narrative body of play, but there were always things that bugged me about them. And not only those types of actions but the idea of weighted actions in general.
For instance, let’s look at the various types of actions in Pathfinder. During your turn, you can take a swift action, a move action, and a standard action. If you want to take two move actions, you can downshift your standard to a move. If you don’t want to move, you can take a full-attack action. There other exceptions hiding within the rule’s passages. When it is not your turn, you can take an immediate action and a number of attacks of opportunity you have access to (at least 1). It’s very familiar after over 16 years (or 13ish for swifts and immediates), but it has its issues. It’s muddled and full of exceptions. Just trying to explain it to a new player is a lesson in patience. It saw significant simplification in the Beginner Box for a reason.
The newest edition of D&D seems to simplify it, and some ways it does. In other ways, it keeps much of the complication but hides it from you until you need it. The thing I do really like about it is that most of the exceptions are things you have to choose in one way or another.
As the years rolled on, I started to wonder why we kept on sticking to these weighted actions? Why did we keep on adding actions to take care of corner cases or to expand on character and monster abilities? Why couldn’t we just have actions? So Delve just does that. Typically, you get three actions. What can you do with those actions? Basically whatever you want, and you have the ability to perform. Can you build to more than three actions during a turn? Yes. Do those things have limitations? Often. The Faithful Hound talent shows one example of how those extra actions are limited. But I wanted to be able to explain what you can do simply and to the point. You have three actions. Do what you want. So, when can you do those things?
So, when can you do those things? To be honest, I was taken with the solution presented in Shadow of the Demon Lord. I’ll be honest. When I first read it, back when Rob was building his game system, I was skeptical. Then, I played it one Gen Con during a late playtest and I was hooked. It was simple, highly tactical, and allowed the players (and the monsters) the ability to synergize their strategies.So, in a nutshell, here is the round and turn structure in Delve. At the start of each round every actor gains a number of turns (typically three), that they can take when they want. Most actions are taken on your turn, but reactions can be taken at any time, even when it is not your turn, as long as its trigger occurs. As an example, let’s look at Ez, our iconic rogue, and how her Strike talents morphs at 2nd level.
I presented her 1st-level Strike talent last week and explained how Strike was one of the most fluid talents in the game. In this version, it has been modified by both the Subtle Blade and the Opportune Strike talent. The first talent grants her the ability to throw her dagger at a greater range and such attacks lose the ranged element. This is important considering what she gets with Opportune Strike. This talent allows her to make the strike as a reaction, if a creature within her reach takes an action with the manipulate, move, or ranged element. In other words, it’s an attack of opportunity but fully embraced by the action economy rather than being a kind of dangling bonus action. An observant reader may notice that Subtle Blade strips the ranged element from a dagger throw so that action no longer triggers Opportune Strikes from opponents.
So, how does Ez know when it’s her turn? Well, like all of her allies, she goes after all of her enemies go.
That’s right. All things being equal, Ez always loses initiative. Monsters and other adversaries are just that bad ass. Now hold on, before I lose you, there are always exceptions. Ez, like every hero in the game, also has the following heroics talent.
As long as you still have 1 Heroics in your pool, you can always take Heroic Surge. It allows you to go before your enemy, but at the cost of one action (it’s a reaction, which is just a type of action with its own rules). You can do less, but you can do it faster, and if you spend all of your actions it will limit your ability to react, but sometimes it pays to go a hasty first.
No matter when the heroes or the monsters go, their players get to pick the order of turns in that particular phase. If both Ez and her friend Brumthra decide to use Heroic Surge, the players of those characters decide among themselves the order that they want to take their turns during that phase. For instance, Brumthra may choose to go first, getting into a position to help Ez gang up on an opponent and gain the full use of her Dirty Fighting talent. When it’s the monster’s turn, the Delve Master decides which monster goes first, and can change that order in later rounds.
All fo this just scratches the surface of the Delve action economy, but it’s a scratch that breaks the skin in a way that allows you some insight on what’s to come.