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Old February 15th, 2008, 01:53 PM
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Default Initiative System and Squads

In an effort to mitigate the fact that the initiative system will rapidly become unplayable (whatever its other purported virtues), the designer has implemented an odd "squad rule".

To recap, a figure cannot take a "combat action" in a 3 second round unless his initiative is 6. Since tracking individual initiative on any significant sized group is a major hassle for the referee, the designer allows the referee to create "squads" of 2+ folks who act together. A squad of 2-5 can act on a 5 or 6; a squad of 6-10 on a 4-6; and a squad of 11+ on a 4-6 (plus they get a "bonus tick" which appears to be functionally about the same as being able to act on a 3-6).

"A squad is treated as a single individual for the purposes of all tick-based actions, such as moving, dodging and taking cover."

So presumably, this means that an entire squad must do the same thing. This seems to fly in the fact of standard tactical doctrine which often has fireteams and squads doing separate things. I am also assuming that the exclusion of attacks from the list is intentional.

Anyhow, the combat rules seem vague:

"If the squad's Initiative number at the start of the Combat Actions phase is higher than the minimum number they need to act on, then the squad may make one extra action per excess tick."

Yet later, we're told "Each member of the squad may only act once per round.

And the example flatly states that a ten man squad with a initiative of 6 can "attack three times" and notes that 3 timing rolls ensue (which indicates that only 3 attacks were made).

So, reconciling this hash of vaguely worded rules and examples, we get the following rules for squads:

1. All members of a squad must take the same non-combat action. Unresolved is the issue of whether this is equally true of combat actions.

2. Only one member of a squad may execute an action per initiative point over 3 (or 4 for 2-5 man squads).

3. When a sqaud executes a combat action, it's initiative is lowered to the lowest timing roll made.

These rules cause a number of extremely dubious situations to arise:

1. Requiring the squad to act identically makes a squad unable to implement standard infantry tactics.

2. A squad using automatic weapons will almost certainly be dropped to a timing of 1, due to the fact that it becomes highly likely when firing automatic weapons that you'll roll at least one timing die of 1. This means that a ten man squad will average activating 3 of its men once every 2-3 rounds.

3. With larger squads (say 20 men), the results get even more comical. Imagine a straightforward combat task -- charging an enemy position.

Round One
-The commander yells "charge" and 3 members of the squad move forward 6 meters (-2 ticks). The rest of the squad is frozen. (Squad has initiative 6; this reduces the squad to initiative 3. After movement, initiative is increased by 3 back to 6)
-The 3 members that advanced open fire with automatic weapons. This resets the squad's initiative to 1.

Round 2
-The next combat round, the 17 remaining squad members are frozen. Initiative increments up to 4. One squad member fires a burst of weapons fire and resets the squad's initiative to 2.

Round 3
-Realizing that in 6 seconds, only 3 of 20 men have managed to advance 6 meters, the squad leader orders all firing to stop in a desperate attempt to get his squad moving. No one moves or fires. Squad's initiative is 5.

Round 4
-Realizing that the most efficient way to move his squad is to move in 3 man increments and under no circumstances fire any weapons, the squad leader orders 2 men to move forward 6 meters. Squad's initiative is 3, which increments up to 6. The squad leader sternly orders three men not to fire as this will continue to freeze the squad.

Round 5
-The squad leader orders 3 men to move forward 6 meters. Squad's initiative drops to 3, which increments up to 6.

Rounds 6-9
-The squad leader orders 3 men to move forward 6 meters. Squad's initiative drops to 3, which increments up to 6.

So...after only 27 seconds, the charging squad has thundered almost 30 feet. Had those fools not fired their weapons, the squad could have covered that distance in 24 seconds.

<sigh>

Did this get playtested at all?

This example highlights one of the more offensive (to me) aspects of the initiative system. Characters will take actions in the game that they would never take in real life, just because the artificial sequencing system rewards it. Similarly, they will refrain from actions that would be logical and sensible in the real world, because those actions are irrationally punished by the sequencing system.

This is what I was trying to get at when I compared the initiative system to Chinese Checkers. Like Chinese Checker, the initiative system might be engaging and even fun (though it seems about as enjoyable to me as calculating alternative minimum tax liability). But it does not reward (or in many cases even allow) normal combat tactics.

And no matter how good the initiative system is, I think that most folks would agree that it becomes effectively unplayable for the referee as the number of NPCs increases. If accurate, that criticism alone, if unmitigated, should be enough to make a reasonable designer discard the system. Thus, the failure of the poorly conceived squads rules is a prettly big deal.

You know, if this was a World of Darkness game, or even some D20 modern variant, I wouldn't be bothered. But this is Traveller. A game where the designers have always tried to design sensible rules that, no matter what their other faults, did tend to yield reasonable results. I guess times have changed...

EDIT -- I was incorrectly handling the effect of combat actions on initiative; you reset your intiative to whatever you roll on the timing die. This has no effect on the example above, except to make it particularly foolish for anyone in the squad to use their weapons.

Last edited by tbeard1999; February 15th, 2008 at 06:28 PM..
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