MalcolmLittle in "HardlyLand"

Posts Tagged ‘initiative


What lessons could be learned from using the turn sequences from Chainmail for your OD&D game?

Well, war games are played on a table with game pieces. If you are playing D&D without that kind of tactical overview, are things like “half moves” or “facing” important?

There are certainly situations where those rules have a place and are fun to play with, but the turn sequence could at the very least be the backbone for a structure of combat, even with “theatre of the mind” style of play.

Here is how it can look at its most basic:

  1. Ask everyone to declare what they’re going to do this round.
  2. Roll d6 for initiative (98% you will want to go first)
  3. Decide what movement will be made.
  4. Shoot missiles
  5. Resolve combat
  6. Check for morale

Things to ponder:

Just getting into the proximity of combat (meaning, being right up there in the first row, next to enemies) will break casting. So, when do you want spells to be in the combat sequence? It is really up to you, since that it was never actually stated in either the original box set or in Chainmail. Should it be at the same time as missile fire, as written in the previous posts? Or do you want it with melee combat, as in the OD&D inspired clone Swords & Wizardry Complete?

I also topped the sequence above with having every player declare their intended actions. That way, you get a touch of the craziness of battle, with the possibility of plans being dashed by unfolding events, which you would otherwise get using simultaneous movement. You can be remove it, if you wish.

Third consideration: The DEX adjustment “clarification” from The Strategic Review no. 2 can make things difficult if you are using group initiative. Would they apply to the whole group? What happens if one person has a bonus while another has a penalty; would they cancel each other out? Or worse, two PCs with penalties?

My suggestion is to keep what everyone’s declared actions in mind and see if the DEX bonus or penalty would help or hinder that individual character. So, the baddies go first (rolled a 5), but the Magic user gets to fire their Sleep spell at the same time as the enemy shoot their arrows (the players rolled a 4).

Even including Chainmail and the Q&A article from The Strategic Review, there is a LOT of room for referee interpretation and decision making: the hallmark of original box set.


The second type of turn sequence suggested in Chainmail is simultaneous movement. No one seems to remember anyone ever actually using it for the war game, but it is intriguing none the less.

It begins with both sides writing down their orders for movement (including instructions of which direction they’re facing). Any charges are also noted (plus orders of “charge if charged”).

  1. Write down orders for character movement, including facing and eventual charges.

Both sides then determine the movement of the characters according to their orders, starting with half of the move, in order to make any possible split-moves (see the previous post) but also to see if any unintended encounters of opposing forces has happened (meaning that their movement has now been blocked by hostile opponents and the rest of their movement is ignored). The remainder of the move is then concluded (if possible).

  1. Enact written orders for both sides, noting any split-moves, pass-through fire and opponents encountering each other.

Magic users will then check if any of their spells can be cast (were they encountered by moving enemies, or were they fired upon by a split-move?).

  1. Magic users cast their spells (and any eventual artillery is fired).

The outcome of missiles fire is then determined.

  1. Determine missile fire.

After missile fire, any intentional and unintentional melee combat is resolved.

  1. Resolve melee combat.

And finally, make any needed Morale checks (remember, there are several different morale systems in Chainmail and some morale checks can be made during other phases in the combat sequence).

  1. Check for morale.

That’s it!

So, let’s summarize.

  1. Write down orders for character movement, including eventual charges.
  2. Enact written orders for both sides, noting any missile fire (pass-trough or split-move) and encounters for melee combat.
  3. Cast any available spells (and fire any eventual artillery).
  4. Determine (regular) missile fire.
  5. Resolve melee combat.
  6. Check for morale.

The rules state “exact orders for each unit […] must be given”, and the question can be raised if spells, missile fire and normal combat should also be included in such written orders. If you are using the 1:20 combat rules found in Chainmail their addition wouldn’t make much of a difference (distance isn’t a factor for arrow fire in that rule set, for example)¬† but since D&D is not a war game there might be reasons to ask the players to add even those actions to their orders.

The thing about simultaneous movement that attracts me is the unknown quality of the battle, with all the guesswork. “Will the enemy move to close in the gap between the characters, or will they stay put and send another volley of arrows? Will they charge soon? Oh shit, what happens if my characters meet a hidden force and we fight out here, opening us up to coming flank attacks?” That sort of stuff.

I wouldn’t say that the order in which combat takes place is sparingly described in the original box set of Dungeons & Dragons; it’s goddamn non-existent. All you get is the Alternate combat system and texts such as how the ability Dexterity affects the “speed with actions such as firing first, getting off a spell, etc.”. Monsters get one attack per Hit Die when attacking “‘normal’ men”. The surprise rules explain a little more about when fighting can begin, if any of the parties are surprised. That’s pretty much all you get.

How was this supposed to work?

Well, if you have a copy of Chainmail, you will find two possible sequences for how combat can commence. The “Move/counter move” and the “Simultaneous movement” systems.

Chainmail is a war game and it kinda shows.


If we start with the one order of combat D&D players would most likely recognize, where combatants take turns to resolve their combat. Each side rolls and the one who rolls the highest score gets to choose who goes first.

  1. Roll d6 per side for initiative. Highest score decides.

The game is so far built on group initiative.

Those who go first will move their characters (every character has a Movement rating, stating how many “inches” they can move). The type of terrain can affect movement.

Some characters can also shoot missiles during the Movement phase. Stationary characters who see others come into range may fire now (a combat move called “pass-through fire”). Mounted archers, and elves on foot, can also fire missiles halfway through their move (called “split-move and fire”).

(Stationary means here that the archers will not move this turn.)

  1. The chosen side moves first (including missile fire from mounted archers and elves). Stationary bowmen on the opposing side may shoot if characters come into range.
  2. The other side can move (including missile fire from mounted archers and elves), and any stationary bowmen on their opposing side may shoot any who come into range.

Then there is the Artillery phase. Since most players and enemies will not have cannons or catapults this might seem unimportant but hear! Nowhere in the Chainmail is it stated when casting of magic spells are to take place. It has been said however that Gary Gygax meant spells to be executed during the Artillery phase.

Observe! Magic users must remain still and unmolested in order to cast spells (so they must be both stationary and stay out of melee combat this turn).


  1. Both sides execute magical spells and fire artillery.

Regular missile fire is done next, including gunpowder weapons.

Observe #2! Artillery and missile fire happen simultaneously. Normal archer fire cannot mess with Magic users’ ability to cast spells in this way of using the system.

  1. Both sides fire their missiles.

Combatants who have met in the movement phase will now have their round of combat executed. Who moved on whom, i.e. attackers and defenders, can be significant if you are not using the Alternate combat system provided in Men & Magic.

  1. Any meeting combatants on both sides will partake in a round of melee combat (often in terms of the attacking side’s attacks, and the defending side’s counter attacks).

Finally, there is the morale check phase. There are quite a few possible morale systems in D&D. One is vaguely suggested in Men & Magic.


Otherwise there are a few in Chainmail, that can even interweave with the previous phases (devastating results due to missile fire or melee combat can for example trigger immediate morale checks).

  1.  Check morale of affected combatants.

So that’s about it! A lot it seems.

I’ll abbreviate the phases further.

  1. Roll d6 per side for initiative. Highest score decides.
  2. The chosen side moves first. Stationary bowmen on the opposing side may fire.
  3. The other side can move, and any stationary bowmen on their opposing side may shoot.
  4. Both sides execute magical spells (and fire any artillery).
  5. Both sides fire their (regular) missiles.
  6. Both sides partake in a round of melee combat.
  7. Check morale.

As I wrote above the original rules state that Dexterity should affect how quickly spells could be cast, crossbow bolts can be fired, etc. In the second issue of TSR’s house magazine The Strategic Review it is stated in a Q&A article that high Dexterity could give a +1. I assume that you could use the same adjustments that are used for missile fire (DEX 3-9: -1 and DEX 12-18: +1).

The same article also gives a sense that initiative could be determined per melee. So, if there are more than one combat encounter, one Initiative could be determined per group (or perhaps even per individual?).

The upcoming post will look into simultaneous movement as an option.

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