Aces High: Cards for Initiative

Yes, I "borrowed" this idea from Deadlands.

One of the problems with Feng Shui's initiative system is that the narrative tends to be dominated by the characters with the highest speeds. Not only do they get more actions, but they also get to act first, which means they get first choice on props/scenery, and sometimes that can influence the actions for the rest of the sequence.

So I was thinking... can you add a deck of cards to "randomize" a bit who goes first? Divide your Initiative result by 3, deal out that many cards to that player. Thus, a Killer that dumps everything into Fastdraw may get 5 cards, but a Medic with a Speed of 4 can still hope he gets an Ace and still maybe get the drop on the Killer.

I haven't had a chance to playtest this yet... I thought about trying it with the BoF playtest, but I hadn't quite worked out how to handle cards on, and I thought it was outside the scope of what was asked for in the playtest.

I haven't quite worked out what to do with active dodges, however. Similar to Deadlands, you can discard an action card to make an active dodge, but a 3-shot action card actually represents three potential active dodges. My initial idea is you turn this card face-down or rotate it in a particular way to show that you still have 2 shots left that you can use for active dodges, and then maybe rotate it again to show one active dodge left, and then discard the card entirely when you finally use this last dodge. But I'm not entirely sure I want to use a tapping/cranking mechanic for that... maybe I need to try it out, but it just didn't seem quite as elegant as I wanted it to be.

My other idea is to pass out two white chips (again, borrowing from Deadlands) to represent the remaining active dodges. This at least allows those PCs that didn't roll exactly in a multiple of 3 to get something to represent "going over": Initiative roll of 11 = 3 cards, 2 chips (active dodges). Once all the cards have been played, you turn in your remaining chips/dodges for a single 3-shot action. (How to determine who goes first for that, though? Hmm.)

I also hadn't quite worked out what to do with the Jokers. Obviously, Black = Bad, discard the joker plus your highest action card is the typical Deadlands result, or you could just say "no actions this round". Black Joker would probably still be the "reshuffle" method. Red Joker = Go first, before aces, or interrupt any other action. I'm also thinking about tinkering with the fortune points... maybe Red Joker = gain 1 fortune point until the end of the encounter.

Deadlands also has a "hole card" that can be set aside and used later, similar to a Red Joker, to interrupt someone else. Again, this provides a way for low-Speed characters to get "the drop" on someone else. However, I'm not sure allowing every PC to save up an action card that can automatically interrupt anything else would necessarily be a good thing in practice... particularly during BBEG monologues, although there may be another way to address that.

Maybe I need to expand the "chip" idea. For each Fortune point a PC has, give them one red chip at the beginning of a session. Fortune points still work normally (+1d6 positive die on a roll, or +1d6 active dodge). And maybe one blue chip at the beginning of the session: blue chip = ignore the result of an open roll and roll the entire thing again. Not quite sure what would award the players with drawing from the pot... maybe rolling boxcars, or tie it in with the PC's Hook somehow. It's also tempting to kitbash something around playing "sets" of cards for additional benefts: two jacks = +2 AV, full house = three positive dice with two negative dice, and so forth, although again that rewards high-speed chars, and I'm not sure it would balance out (probably badly).

Hmm. Maybe my next Feng Shui scenario should be a Deadlands crossover in 1850. Shake out the system, and see how she rolls.

As someone who has run Solomon Kane (Savage Worlds) online since 2011, I have to say I like this idea better than I would have thought, back before I started. I hadn't played SWD then but HATED the idea of the initiative cards, just because I felt like the more things there are (cards, dice), the more cluttered and confusing things become, and though I am still not sure the cards help in a chatroom (where I usually run), at the table, initiative cards turned out to be, much as I hated to admit it, a really useful feature.

I can see where you could replace the shot counter with that many draws (Init/3 as you mention) which makes you more likely to get at least one high draw, it isn't guaranteed, and keeps combat more dynamic and unpredictable, but also allows you to keep, right in front of you, your turn(s) you act on. Essentially I think you could use chips or even a different colored die (such as a d6) and just sit it/them on top of your initiative card, and increment your counter on that card, to represent how many shots lower it actually is, once you spend shots for Dodging and such, so you might have a 7 of clubs, but if you have a total of 3 shots for Dodging, you'd have a d6 sitting on it with the 3 face up, and you subtract it.

I think the main problem with this, though it would work probably pretty well for a personal home game, it is far too obviously THE Savage Worlds/Deadlands initiative mechanic, and it would be both seen as possibly ethically dishonest and legally risky - I'm just guessing here.

Bleah! So little activity, I forget to check this forum. Sorry for the delay.

Well, I think Hal Mangold is in charge of the reboot, and you see his name on an awful lot of Deadlands books... but yeah. Kinda shameless.

Based on what I've seen Robin working on recently, though, he seems to favor Karma or Bidding mechanics as of late. I'm not sure he'd embrace a Fortune mechanic like a deck of cards. Another problem being the standard poker deck is pretty Westernized. Mahjong tiles would fit the theme better, but I don't think that would improve the "cluttering up the table" issue.

I don't know Majong myself but I'd say just from the connection with general Asian culture, I'd agree it probably would fit the theme better. Since I don't know Majong and it isn't something I'm likely to learn, it isn't the same for me as a Westerner, who doesn't actively play regular cards games (played Hearts, Spades, etc) mainly because I just don't like them.

But still card decks are numerous and cheap enough (local dollar store or even convenience store has a deck of cards for a buck, usually next to a pack of six sided dice) that I'm not sure if you WERE going to use some sort of card-related mechanic, you'd move away from regular cards to something far less common. To me, if you're going that route, you might as well just have printable cards or sell decks of special "Chinese Zodiac" cards or something and go all the way into the theme, though I guess in context, majong tiles are second-most-common, after cards but before custom things. Maybe you could "interpret" cards like majong tiles, like people do regular cards for Tarot?

Where do I find out about the current state of the new FS and what rules are being implemented or considered? I hadn't seen anything about a karma/bidding mechanic for initiative? Thanks.

I'm not sure where they are with FS. Last I heard, the new edition is being developed as a Kickstarter project, but I didn't hear anything about it on the AGSpecialOps group. In fact, I was only aware of the kickstarter when I logged in to the forums and noticed the forum post, but that was over a month old. I don't really follow the atlas-games blog but there hasn't been anything about FS on there recently.

What I meant by karma/bidding mechanic is that's what Robin Laws more recent games have been focusing on. Gumshoe is designed to use karma mechanics: you want to try something, you get stuck, or you want to move the story forward, you spend points. His Hillfolk game relies mostly on "beads", which are spent to resolve narrative conflicts. Multiple players can spend beads, though, and some beads are allowed to trump others, so it's somewhat similar to an auction mechanic. He's spent the last several years trying to weld more freeform-style narrative games with some crunch-style old-school RPGs. Actually, he's spent most of his game design career trying to bring these two playstyles together. Feng Shui may have been his first major breakthrough, by making the description of stunts more mechanically important while making the combat mechanics get out of the way of good narration. Since then, every game he's worked on has been an attempt to reward more narrative style play with better crunch mechanics: HeroQuest, Dying Earth, Rune, Pantheon, etc.

I don't know how involved Robin is with Feng Shui 2. I suspect it's a "Show me a really cool RPG, and I'll give it my stamp of approval" sort of thing. He's on the "Feng Shui 2" panel at Gencon. Hopefully somebody at the panel will be able to report back any pertinent details.