|Oh look - it's Plan A. Again.|
I was once a big fan of individual initiative. AD&D 2E made it a pretty significant thing (and a lower number meant going sooner!), then for me personally Shadowrun, especially in 2E form, blew the lid off - with ridiculously souped up reflexes you might be able to act 3 or 4 times before some poor meatbag mook could pull a trigger. It was all about ME baby! The the d20 revolution took place at the dawn of the new millennium and ingrained it into an entire generation of players. I don't think I've had a party yet where someone didn't take Improved Initiative in the first 3 levels.
But there are other ways to handle it. Behold a passage from the Red Book of Moldvay!
Notice this - it refers to the side - not the individual! The side! Having seen it in play both many years ago and more recently with the Apprentices it really encourages a group approach to combat. Planning! Tactics! Letting the ranged characters shoot or cast before the melee types charge in shouldn't be a revelation but it is when someone uses this approach that either never has or has forgotten how much fun it can be!
I know some of you are saying: "Well you can do that in a d20 game, you just have everyone hold or delay until everything is set up."
This tells me you haven't actually tried to make this work in play. One thing we see from time to time is when Player A needs to hand a healing potion to Player B to administer to Player C. try doing that without rejiggering the initiative order in the middle of the fight. The other reality is that the barbarian who paid a feat for improved initiative isn't going to hold his action to let the bow ranger shoot first - he's going to charge! The rules encourage it both mechanically and with the spirit of the game due to the emphasis on individual initiative.
|Timing is everything|
Yes, you can try and force a group approach to initiative in d20 games but you're fighting the system - why do that? Why not modify it to make it easier in the first place, or try it in another game and see if you like the way it plays? See a few paragraphs below for one idea.
It wasn't just old school D&D that did things this way:
Guess what game this is from? Hint: It has lightsabers and uses a bunch of d6's. It's about as far from D&D mechanically as you can get, and this version of the rules is about 15 years newer than the D&D rules above, yet per-side initiative was a good idea!
Individual capability affects the order things are handled but only within your own side. But look - there's a way for an individual character to shine by giving his side the win with a high Perception roll! We have a 4th member of the trinity: Tank, Healer, DPS, & Initiative Guy!
To bring it in to the modern age, guess what approach the FFG Star Wars game takes?
Wait, what was I thinking? They're using individual initiative here! But wait ...
Look at that! There's a way to reconcile individual awesomeness with a team approach at the same time! Now the initiative works for you instead of handcuffing you. Think in D&D terms: The healer is often OK going last because they can move up behind the fighters and heal them after they get hit. But what if two fighters get hit hard in one round? Round one you go last, move up, heal PC#1, then in Round 2 you go first, move over, and heal PC#2. That's just one, limited example of how a flexible group-oriented approach to initiative can make a situation more interesting.
I've saved my favorite for last ...
This is the late, lamented, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying approach. The GM picks a player to go first. No dice, no numbers at all. one of the players gets to go first. Unless ...
So now we have some mechanics for breaking the standard approach, and it's harder to jump in front of faster or more perceptive heroes. This is one reason why supervilllains have henchmen.
Note the blue text there - the player who just acted gets to pick who goes next. Again, no dice, no numbers. If games at their best are a series of interesting choices, then this is a great example of one. The pattern of the new team typically is to let all of the heroes go first - yay team hero!
|Well ... until this ...|
There are other interesting approaches to initiative - Savage Worlds card-based approach yields some interesting options with multiple cards and jokers while Runequest's strike ranks mainly apply to melee situations. The ones I am coming back around to liking best though are the ones that use mechanics to encourage team thinking as I assume would happen in the game world. Less "me" and more "us" makes for a more interesting game in my experience.