Practical Advice: Initiative Cards

Posted by on December 16, 2008


I believe that speed is essential to good role-playing. Think of a good action movie or an engrossing book; the story rockets from revelation to revelation, leaving you breathless. Not that a GM should rush from one plot point to the next, but there’s no point in taking a plot slowly.

Unfortunately, many of the rules and resolution mechanisms in role-playing systems slow down the game as players roll dice and compare numbers. They’re necessary, sure, but the time they consume needs to be minimized.

Enter initiative cards. This one of those little tricks that drastically speed up a game.

Imagine a 3×5″ card that contains the following information:

  • Character Name
  • Initiative score
  • Max HP
  • Current HP
  • Standard attack
  • Vulnerabilities

Imagine writing up one of these for each character (player and non-player). When a battle begins, write down the initiative scores, and order the cards by that score.

Boom. You call out the name of the player on the first card. The player attacks an NPC. You pull out the NPC’s card, note any damage, and slip it back in. You then flip to the next card and announce that player’s turn.

And battle zips from one player to the next. No need to write down a temporary initiative list, and all vital stats are in one place.

Even better, on subsequent battles you just sort in the appropriate NPC cards. Takes about ten seconds to set up for a battle.

It’s greatly sped up my games. I’d prefer to just do away with initiative altogether, but that’s another blog post.

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