Shattered Swords of Hyboria
(or When does combat begin)
I pulled this from the Mongoose Forums. Consider this a house rule.
Now according to the way initiative works, you figure out who is aware of who, with the aware people getting a surprise round. Then, everybody rolls for initiative. Those with the higher initiative goes first; those with lower initiatives going later, in descending order and getting no active defenses until their first action (I assume this is to simulate that ‘catching up to speed/dear God I’m in a fight’ type response).
OK, that’s good for about 90% of the situations I am seeing when running a game.
However, what I’m seeing about 10% of the time is players ‘gaming’ the initiative for their benefit, even when not realistic.
The scene: the King stands at a table covered with gold, silver, and jewels spilled across its surface. Four guards are standing about 20 feet away from him, between you and the noble, eying you suspiciously, weapons at the ready.
Player: I approach the guards smiling. As soon as I’m within 30 feet, I roll for initiative…Oh, I have a nat 20! I charge past the flat-footed guards and strike down the king who can’t defend himself.
The scene: A city guard has stopped the player for suspicious activity (shouldn’t be wearing that muggers hood to go carousing!). He is covering the player with a loaded crossbow from about 25 feet away, demanding that he drop to his knees until assistance arrives.
Player: OK, I try to intimidate him into putting down his weapon by commenting on his masculinity. That failed? OK, I don’t care for this, so I start combat (rolls initiative). OK, I got higher than him. I use quick-draw to pull my knife, cross the 25 feet and stab him. Oh yeah, he’s flat-footed so I get sneak attack damage.
In these instances, the player is initiating combat when it is most advantageous to him (or her). The problem is, their opponents should already be in a combat status – even if they have not attacked. The Kings guards are mostly relaxed until someone moves into threat range of the king (think Jet Li’s Hero, when Jet’s goal was to get into striking range of the emperor before the guards strike him down) As soon as the players cross a line, the guards go into combat mode, switching to a defensive stance and holding their action until the threat becomes obvious or dissipates (players leave the threat range).
In the second scene, combat has started for the guard when he pulled his crossbow and trained it on the player. Even though the player may be trying to negotiate his way out of the mess, the guard is now in a combat rush, holding his action, waiting for suspicious activity (which includes the player trying to defend himself). In a sense, the guard has the drop on the player, and this should act as an extended surprise round with the guard holding his action. If a player does something (like run for cover, draw a weapon) the guard shoots him with no active defense.
This doesn’t mean the players can’t work around these situations. The players know where the Kings guards are, they can use stealth/tactics if need be. In both situations the players can use bluff to attempt a distraction (player to guard: I think that noblewoman behind you is in danger LOOK! (guard falls for bluff) Player dives for cover while drawing sword).
The scene: The barbarian player has been thrown into the gladiator pits for the amusement of the crowd. The player and the opposing gladiator stand in their assigned spots, 50 feet away from each other, armed with broadswords and shields. The noble drops his thumb, signaling the fight to begin:
Player: I won initiative, so I charge the gladiator. I roll really low for an attack, but he’s flat footed, so I still hit. With the extra damage from the charge, I do enough damage to do a massive damage check.
In this instance, both players are aware of the fight, and are in a combat status. As soon as the thumb drops, both should be in their defensive stances. this is a fight designed to give the crowd maximum thrills, so they want to stretch it out to do away with the initial flat-footedness.
The Scene: A bar. The PCs are sitting at a table enjoying their triumphs. One of the players get up to get new drinks, as he approaches he sees an old foe who spots him as well so no surprise round.
Player 1: Inesh? I hate that guy and he still owes us gold. I always said I would beat it out of him so now is the time. I leap at him throwing a right hook (rolls initiative) Nuts, a 1.
Player 2: I rolled a 20, I leap up from the chair, run past Player 1, and sock Inesh in the jaw.
As hard as it may be for players to accept, while some players may be involved in combat, the rest are not. The mistake here is trying to get all the initiative rolling out of the way, letting other characters feel as if they should have an input. In this instance, only immediately aware characters should get to roll/act on initiative, meaning Inesh and Player 1 get their licks in at each other. If you want, as soon as one of them attacks, the others can make notice rolls to see that their companion is engaged in a fight, and assist on the next round.
So keep in mind, even though the rules don’t really state it, combat may have begun around the players, without directly affecting them instantly.