New Marvel RPG came out a few days ago to general praise of various roleplaying blogs. I haven’t read it yet, though it’s quickly making its way to the top of the “to play” list. In the meantime, this post caught my attention. It describes the way initiative works in MRPG (is that the official abbreviation?), as well as some reasoning behind it. And it’s trivial to adapt to most other games with minimal changes. Here’s how I’d use it in 4e. I’m assuming you’ve read the post or the game itself, so won’t describe it in unnecessary detail.
At the start of first combat round, everyone rolls initiative as usual. Individual monsters do it too, even if they would normally have been in a group, e.g. you roll 5 dice for 5 orc berserks. One exception is minions – they don’t get this luxury, one roll for them. However, this only determines who picks the first actor. I.e. when the rogue wins initiative, she can call for the wizard to do his thing. This replaces the option the DM/Watcher in MRPG has of buying initiative with Doom points as we don’t have them, and introducing them would require a much more substantial hack of the system. It also keeps all those feats/items/powers that affect initiative valuable.
Once the first person has been chosen, the play proceeds exactly the same as in MRPG: that person picks who goes next, friend or foe, until everyone has gone. The last person in the round picks who goes first in the next one. Minions all go together. If the DM wishes to simplify things, he can have identical numerous monsters pass initiative to each other, in effect making them go together too.
Effects that last until the end of a creature’s next turn are prevalent in 4e. Normally this means that everyone in the party gets a turn to hit a dazed monster, for instance. With the new initiative the party could sometimes benefit from this twice by stacking their turn order properly. However, monsters can also take advantage of this, sometimes even letting the party wizard go first in the next round, just to see his spell fizzle. This significantly affects tactics, but doesn’t necessarily invalidate any powers or make them overpowered. Instead, group interaction is rewarded.
In a tactically savvy group, turn order gets rearranged a lot anyway, as people call for others to delay all the time. This change should improve the flow of combat. As an added bonus, the DM can pass initiative to a bored player, who would normally have to sit in the corner quietly waiting for their turn.