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Devlog: Tampalasan Initiative System

I'm currently running my initial draft for Tampalasan, a tropical fantasy adventure game that has strong influence of Filipino and Southeast Asian concepts, but still has stereotypical fantasy elements. Planning to launch a playable version of it on Session Zero Online, this coming Jan 30 2021.

One of the things I've pondered for a while is its initiative system, which I want to focus more on strategy and less on tactics. Combat options will still be there, but it shouldn't be the main focus of the game, and it shouldn't alienate those who do not delve deep into combat mechanics. I've covered before how an initiative system dictates the type of game your playing, and I still believe that. 

Here are some aspects from initiative systems I took inspiration from, and what aspects I don't like about them. 

1. Group initiative, where roll against your Speed/Dex stat to go first before the enemies. Used in Into the Odd, Bastionland, and a few other games. Simple and intuitive, allows teamwork within allies. But this feels undynamic at times as they usually don't allow reactions. You often have to homebrew something in.

2. Shadow of the Demon Lord initiative. The ability to choose whether to go fast or slow is good, but the cost of losing choices on some actions makes the game focus about action economy and tactics rather than thinking like they are in the fight. I am also not comfortable with effects happening/ending at end of round instead of end of turn.

3. Ironsworn initiative. The concept of initiative as status instead of an order track is amazing. Having only some moves/abilities available when you have initiative is dynamic, and moves/abilities that allows you to steal back that initiative is just as good. What I rather dislike is the laundry list of moves that players have to study to understand this flow of battle. I want a more intuitive approach to the same concept. 

4. Rerolling of initiative when situation changes. The only game I can recall at the moment that explicitly says this is Best Left Buried, which is a strong influence in making Tampalasan. 

So, here's an amalgamation of the 4 mentioned systems, and will probably be the final version of combat initiative system for Tampalasan. Also, here's one of my commissioned art for the game, made by Diwata ng Manila/Sin Posadas


a crab Hiraya (spirit god) walking around its domain. art by Sin Posadas

Some context for rules here: 

Grip is an amalgamation of stamina, mana, mental strength, and luck. You spend it to activate talents, mitigate damage (like HP), and reroll any rolls you are involved with. Note that this game also just uses d20 for any roll, including damage rolls. 

Grip tests are unmodified d20 test/roll against TN 13. Usually happens when experiencing overwhelming awe or horror (bewildering event), when trying to gain initiative, or when you want to defy death (at 0 Grip or heavy damage received). Passing the test gives you 1 Grip, and failing removes 1 Grip.

Gaining Initiative and Combat Order:

When conflict arises and opposition is apparent, involved parties can make Grip tests to gain initiative. You may choose to forgo the Grip test.

The combat order per round is as follows:

1 - Players with initiative
2 - Opposition with initiative
3 - Players with no initiative
4 - Opposition with no initiative 

The GM can choose to make everyone make a new Grip test to gain initiative when a drastic event happened or the situation changes during conflict, such as change of battlefield or environmental effects.

On your turn, you can move 1 zone (similar to Best Left Buried) and do one action. Actions made by characters in the same combat order happen simultaneously. If more than one character made combat tests against a single enemy, only the highest damage roll with be inflicted. 

// Will retract the details of possible actions, but it's essentially similar to BLB / Into the Odd actions.// 

Outside your turn, a character can forgo their initiative to react against another character's action, potentially interrupting it. After resolving the action, their turn next round is adjusted accordingly.

//This one is me trying to imitate Heroic Rescue from BLB, limiting it to one action rather than a full movement + action, but flexible enough to be used for other purpose. // 


I think that covers most of what I want to show. Here's what I like about this:

1. It has the dynamic order of SotDL's fast and slow turn system, without the cost of some actions unavailable to you.
2. Having initiative allows you to move faster than everyone in the round, so testing to get it is still valuable.
3. You can still plan and act as usual even when not having initiative, but you will mostly act in response to enemy actions, or follow up to other players' actions.
4. You can also choose to forgo gaining initiative if you think your character is better for follow ups, or you just don't want take the chance to lose Grip in the process.
5. Those in the same order can still act as a group, so teamwork is still possible.
6. Interrupting reactions are still possible, but it will cause you your initiative for this combat. It can be used to do a nova turn to eliminate an enemy quickly or use it to save someone from certain death. Note that enemies can also spend their initiative to do this
7. There will be effects from classes, talents, items, or circumstances that will give advantage and disadvantage on this Grip test, so planning and equipping beforehand is important. For example, having excess bulky items give you disadvantage on this.
8. This version of the rules is currently tied to the Grip and Grip test mechanic, but this can easily be hacked in any game with initiative rolls or turn-by-turn action system. 

I've yet to actually use this, as we haven't been put in a direct confrontation in our game, but I'm pretty confident with this version. 

Let me know what you think and if you have ideas to make this better for your own table or gaming style. 


  1. Very interesting style of handling Initiative mechanics. I would love to see an in play example of how it works with players (when that happens). Cheers and I enjoy the rationales behind the elements you pulled together.

    1. Thanks! Will definitely try to provide updates on how it goes in play, and what changes I might do with it.

  2. I'd also like an in-play example to see this in action (or the latest version).

    I like the reroll when the situation changes - in another system, the Grip test could be tied to different characteristics, depending on the circumstances. Rerolling generates more narrative than 'who goes first this time'.

    I recently saw something on Twitter about the player choosing who goes next - but don't know if this was just in-party or across the whole combat, so don't know how that would work.

    But it did make we wonder about characters passing their initiative (rather than just interrupting it) to someone else, maybe for setting up particular action sequences rather than waiting for the ideal set-up to occur randomly.


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