Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Initiative for U13

I was taking a break from the “Knoll” & “Astral Web” posts this week. This post was originally going to be “A Low Fantasy Combat in U13.” James was going to run a fighter through a combat with a skeleton so I could test the system, and I was going to let you know how it went.

It didn’t. It turns out that U13 doesn’t have an initiative system.

The “Unlucky 13” Gaming Engine (“U13” for short) combines elements of Clout and the Crowfield talent system. Because Crowfield assumes that there’s a D&D clone underneath it, that means that D&D’s DNA is a entwined within Crowfield’s.

That means I should be able to use the initiative system from Clout or D&D, right?


Turns out that Clout doesn’t have an initiative system, either. But such a system wouldn’t make sense in Clout as it’s a “single roll combat” system: The player rolls once and that determines whether he hit the monster or vice versa.


RPGs have been around for about 50 years now. For pretty much any idea that I can come up with, I can be pretty sure that someone smarter than me has already done it. I’ve played enough games that I know that my thoughts are just evolutions of thoughts I came across before. Three games contributed to my solution.

Dungeons & Dragons

In older versions of D&D you determined initiative by rolling 1d6. In later editions you would add your dexterity modifier. While this is “boring,” it is simple and could easily be ported to U13.


  • Simple
  • Matches U13 dice mechanics
  • Roll20 compatible
  • Allows some characters to be faster/slower than others
  • Allows simultaneous actions


  • Rather boring and uninspired


I’ve never played Troika. In fact I never ever heard of it until a few days ago when it was mentioned in a podcast episode that I was listening to. In that game, each character/monster gets tokens that are put into a bag, box, or other container. Additionally an “end of turn” marker is also placed in the container. Tokens are pulled out of the container one by one, and the corresponding character gets to act. When the end of turn marker is drawn, the turn is over even if some players never got a move!

I like this system a lot. It adds variability. The random end of turn event makes combat feel that much faster and more furious. I’d love to use this system, except it does not translate into online play. There’s just no way to drawn tokens out on a bag if I’m playing on Roll20. I suppose that I could place tokens into a physical bag and tell the players what the result was, I prefer something that they can witness for themselves.


  • Interesting
  • Allows some characters to be faster/slower than others


  • Not compatible with Roll20
  • No simultaneous actions

Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds has a different initiative system. In that game each character is dealt a card from a standard poker deck. Characters then act in a weird sequence: play goes from high card to low card, except for “ones” which go first because counting is hard, I guess.1 Also the system doesn’t allow simultaneous results, ruling that ties are settled buy some arbitrary sequence of suits.2

Because Savage Worlds was wildly popular a while back, Roll20 supports playing cards on the virtual tabletop.


  • Interesting
  • Compatible with Roll20


  • No simultaneous actions
  • All characters are equally fast/slow
  • Poker theme seems out of place unless playing a wild west scenario.

The U13 Initiative System

I made a few systems, and experimented with them. In the end, this is what I came up with. It combines the systems above, and uses playing cards.

The first thing that you need to know is that characters in U13 might be #slow as molasses, or they might be #fast as lightning. Of course, most characters won’t be either.

  1. Gather all the cards and shuffle the deck.
  2. Deal one card to any combatant3 who is #fast as lightning.
  3. If any combatants are neither #slow as molasses nor #fast as lightning, deal one card to those players and to those who are #fast as lightning.
  4. If any combatant is #slow as molasses, then deal a card to every combatant. At this point every combatant should have one to three cards.
  5. If any combatant received a Joker, deal that character two more cards and discard the Joker.
  6. The combatant holding the highest card discards that card and can make a move.
    1. If there’s a tie, all the tied combatants are considered to act simultaneously.
    2. If a combatant holds multiple of the highest card (e.g. two kings), he can act twice.
  7. If everyone has moved, this turn is over. Start the next turn (go to step 1).
  8. The GM draws a card and places it on the table face up. This is called the action card.
    1. The combatant holding the highest card that is higher than the action card discards that card and can make a move.
    2. If no one has a card higher than the action card, this turn is over. Start the next turn (go to step 1).
  9. Go to step 7.


So that’s the system. It’s more difficult to explain than it is to run. I like that you can never be sure if you’ll get a turn, yet fast character do have a better chance. It needs some playtesting, but from what I can tell so far, it has these pros and cons:


  • Interesting
  • Compatible with Roll20
  • Allows some characters to be faster/slower than others
  • Allows simultaneous actions


  • Doesn’t match the U13 dice mechanics
  • Cards might be weird, but they could be replaced with d12.

What do you think? Is it too complicated? Do you have a better mechanic?

I plan on writing an example in a future post, but for now this post is long enough.

  1. Actually I think this has something to do with poker, but I’ve never played that game.

  2. Maybe this is a poker thing too?

  3. If the characters are facing many enemies it will probably make sense to group some of all of the enemies together.

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