It's funny how games deal with surprise. It's still a minor hot mess in 5E and I would guess elsewhere as well. As far as I can tell FS2 has no surprise rules. it would not be that big of a deal however he is why you as a GM should care. There are abilities/schticks that are literally are triggered by enemies going first. and unless you are throwing someone super fast at the players it may not get used all that much.
I would like to see PC's get a chance to use all of their capabilities when possible.
So what is the easiest way to give them the jump in the sequence? Maybe just let them start 1 shot higher then the highest init roll?
Yeah, if you have surprise I'd just say it would penalize the others in the fight. In last night's session, the heroes were luring some Thunder Knights away from their post, and if it led to a fight, my plan was to start the fight but give the Thunder Knights an Initiative penalty.
I tend to handle it by giving the Ambushers +5 to their Initiative if they are Named Characters, or +3 if they are Mooks. So they get one extra actual attack in the Sequence more than they would normally, and generally better odds of going early in the turn order.
THis is good. I expected more resisted from my players but I think they are sort of agog at how many standard conventions (well by standard I mean 5e or PF2...) get chucked by FS2. I landed with my surprise bad guys getting a free start on highest player init +1 and that seemed ok.
This is cool although I think +5 really turns into at least 2 attacks without the player being able to fight back. As they say, that pour might be a bit stiff for my game. I just finished the ninth session of my home cooked campaign and hope to run the final (trying hard to not over cram stuff like my typical habit) next wed (9/20/23). I expect the players to get ambushed a couple of times and am thinking just setting their init 1 higher then the highest player. I might be doing something wrong but my mooks are getting the arses kicked and a surprise segment may be the only way they get a shot off.
If you plan for ambushes to be a common occurrence, then yes, probably tone it down a good bit from my suggestion. I only use it when one side really came up with something pretty sneaky, and caught the other side totally off guard. It's happened like two or three times in over 30 sessions of play.
Most of the time, my bad guys declare themselves and make an entrance, rather than set up a sneaky ambush. But if somebody really screwed up, and one side is totally unprepared, I want it to hurt. That goes whether it's the PCs or the baddies that are getting jumped.
Part of why I landed on the +5 was because of the rule in the book where if a fight starts and one of the PCs is somewhere else but rushes to join the fight, they get -6 to Initiative and arrive on the scene on their first action. I wanted something that felt like it was on a similar scale. Thinking more about it now as I write this, I realize that maybe a minus for the surprised people is better than a plus for the ambushers. I'd avoided that because a bonus seems more fun (important when the PCs are the ambushers), but a penalty would mean the first sequence is over faster, so you'd get back to the normal initiative dynamic after few overall actions. I wonder if it would still feel fair if it were: "when PCs ambush they get a bonus; when villains ambush the PCs get a penalty". I may experiment with that.
Sometimes when insomnia strikes I play solitaire RPGs, and I've used the +5 for surprise a lot in that. Badguys getting the big boost does a lot to make it feel dangerous -- more so than it actually probably is, which I like. But there I can get away with badguys kicking the PC around a bit first, for narrative effect. It's not the same as with a tabletop group: the fights are smaller and the solitaire player is their GM, so you don't have to worry about one player rolling really badly on initiative and having to sit around waiting while everyone else plays for 15 minutes without them.
Your idea of just going with "best PC initiative roll, +1" is also a good one, especially if all the PCs have very similar Speed ratings so no one has to sit out the start of the fight every time. But if used a lot, it could feel like "no matter what we do, the GM's just gonna say his guys go first", so I'd be careful about leaning on that too much unless you have a really good rapport with your players, and/or set it up before hand with some sort of roll they could make or action they could take to prevent the ambush.