Initiative, the third leg of the RM combat stool.


When it was first introduced in Arms Law the fluid concept of splitting a weapon skill between offense and defense was very compelling. It helped that RM’s d100 system provided a larger result range than the competing d20 systems that allowed for any number of modifiers to be used within that basic framework: multi-attack, drawing weapon, parry rules, combat modifiers etc. Mostly it was just intuitive and the allocation between offense and defense added a layer of combat strategy within a simple die roll.

However on facet of combat has been the subject of repeated rule revision and discussion: an effective initiative system. These solutions generally involve 2 components: a roll (d10, d100 etc) modified by the characters Qu. Whichever system is used, the purpose is to determine who will act or attack first—an important consideration in a system that can result in decisive criticals.

If you haven’t seen our weapon specific modifier table posted on the RM Forums I would encourage you to do so. You can find the document link here:;topic=17102.0;attach=3660

RM/RMU generally sets combat modifiers at fixed rates regardless of the weapon size, speed or function. For instance, drawing a weapon is generally -20 whether you are drawing a dagger or a 2H sword. Attacking multiple foes incurs the same penalty per/target no matter if you are using a pole arm or unarmed combat. It seems like a system that models weapon efficacy with individual combat charts can better model other weapon characteristics. In fact, even the earliest RM had weapon stats for “speed” and “length/reach” but never an elegant solution for incorporating them into combat without clumsy or complicated rules.

Our initiative combat hack brings the initiative system into the offense/defense duality, includes weapon specific factors, eliminates the need for a beginning declaration phase and adds a component to combat initiative beyond “order of action”. A new tactical “triumvirate” of combat! How does it work? Let’s lay out the parts:

Initiative (Init) = (d100) + (allocated skill bonus) + (weapon speed mod) + (Qu mod)

The character rolls d100, can allocate part of their skill bonus to the roll and then adds weapon speed mod and Qu mod. It’s important to note that these are in order of importance—Qu will often be the least important modifier. The concept, like the allocation between offense and defense, means that the character can opt for a quick strike or offensive series over accuracy or even defense:  a “wild, rushed, flurry of attacks”. Obviously the character can opt to allocate none of their OB to Init.—like parrying, this adds a tactical layer to the combat without any “one-off” rules. Weapon Speeds can range from 0 to 75 and thus are the larger part of the initiative roll when historically Qu has been the predominant modifier. This adds complexity to player weapon selection beyond its ability to deal damage.

Initiative Results: Normally initiative is used only to determine order of attack/action. Under these rules the winner of initiative also sets the “combat sphere”: the area/range that is most effective for their weapon. For opponents using the same/similar weapons this won’t matter, but for weapons with different combat ranges this can have a significant impact. So while the initiative roll uses “weapon speed”, the combat sphere uses “weapon range”. As a simple example visualize two combatants; one has a halberd and the other a dagger. The halberd has a slow weapon speed and the dagger has a high weapon speed. They roll initiative and the halberd user opts to allocate a portion of their OB to the Init. roll knowing that the dagger wielding opponent will have a speed advantage.

Combat Sphere: The winner of the Init., sets the “Combat Sphere”: the effective melee distance based on the weapon reach. Basically there are 4 broad melee ranges: Hand (1-2’ unarmed, dagger etc), Short (2-4’ handaxe, short sword etc), Med. (5-7’broadsword, longsword, battle axe) or Long (8’ whip, polearm, 2H). Alternatively, you can use the Weapon Combat Modifier chart linked above and use the proximity penalties. A penalty of -20 per range category is applied to the combatant who loses the Init. Returning to the “Halberd” and the “Dagger” combatants: Halberd wins the Init and decides to attack with his full OB. Halberd is positioned for the attack at the optimal reach of the Halberd. Because Dagger lost Init. he is outside the effective range of the dagger and is at -60 (Hand to Long range -20×3). Dagger can allocate remaining OB (been reduced by 60) to parry. If Dagger doesn’t have any OB remaining he can’t allocate to parry but is allowed to attack modified by the negative OB.

Note that if the Init. results were reversed, Dagger would have moved in close to Halberd, effectively nullifying the long weapons attack advantages. In this case if Halberd survives the attack he could elect to drop the Halberd and draw a dagger, but OB would be furthered reduced by the weapon draw penalty on the Weapon Combat Modifier chart.

Parry Declaration: No parry declaration is needed at the beginning of the round: both combatants can allocate OB to the Init. roll and then the winner of the Init. can decide the OB/DB split and the loser of the Init can decide DB as a response to the winner’s attack.

Summary: Adding the “combat sphere” not only simulates weapon reach in combat but it increases the importance of Initiative beyond determining first strike. Including Initiative into the skill bonus allocation (with OB/DB) reinforces the importance of Initiative and builds in individual weapon speed. This process is easily inserted into version RM combat, adds strategic choices for the players without new “one-off” rules, models weapon advantages and disadvantages on more than just damage, simulates the factors between combatants with widely varying weapons/reach and adds a “visual” aspect to melee with combatant positioning.

22 Replies to “Initiative, the third leg of the RM combat stool.”

  1. Hi BriH, I like this a lot, the combat “sphere” I was already using, but I very much like the tactical choice required in allocating OB to winning initiative to set the range, and optimally, then strike the first definitive blow.

  2. Thanks, I didn’t think it was very complicated but I got some feedback from a couple of people that it was…. Maybe my explanation made it seem that way?

    We’ve been using this initiative/combat sphere and the individual weapon modifiers for a couple of years now and it really adds another dimension to melee. without making any real changes to the rule set.

  3. Yep, it’s an easy bolt on, and we go a little further with the importance of having, or obtaining the initiative in a combat, as the in our house rules, it is possible for a combatant calling the shots as it were ( owning the initiative) can effectively win a fight without a blow coming back his way if he retains it by inflicting unanswered blows as we don’t allow ripostes if a combatant has used all their OB and still been hit as they are considered off balance and just in the wrong place. Moreover, the initiative stays with the combatant that hit without being hit in our game, and only resets (re-rolls) when that situation changes, that is both miss or the defender parries and counter attacks successfully (in fencing parlance that would actually be a parry and riposte but don’t want to confuse the issue!) I should probably explain the context for why we do this…

    1. That’s interesting. I like the idea that the initiative winner keeps the initiative if they didn’t get hit the previous round but I’ll have to think about it. (a miss may also be a miss only because of a parry).

      I’ve been playing around with a cumulative bonus of +10 to init roll for the winner to reflect the dominant position. For instance, once a dagger wielding combatant gets inside the halberd wielding combatants reach (or the opposite) it’s hard to change unless one combatant disengages.

      On the other hand I don’t want to add too much complexity and we do use a 5 sec RMU round so making a Init check every 5 seconds seems a reasonable trade off. For a duel or unique 1 on 1 I can see the added benefit of more complex dueling rules but for most of our messy melees the goal is to try and keep things moving along.

      So winning the Init means getting the choice of attacking first and setting the attack reach. That’s about the same abstraction as a single attack roll representing a “flurry of offense” or a DB allocation representing various defensive postures and parrying.

  4. Spot on there – as a result of signing up here I’ve been inspired to revisit my play testing a revision of our house RM rules, particularly skills resolution. Number 1 this afternoon, after I’ve mowed the lawns, is the combat round where both the attacker and the defender in any exchange make a roll – this is not for many campaigns as it introduces a whole extra step, but being a low magic campaign, my players like a more in depth process where they are involved in both sides of the tactical equation. The mechanic will be rolled out (no pun intended) to all opposed actions in attempt to standardise skil resolution across the board. More on this later, if anyone is interested.

  5. Just a quick jot today, but with my brother up for a stay we play tested combat where both combatants roll in the exchange. We used my HR skill where weapons skills are learned by style and application, not by broad familial similarities. For example, single weapon (cut and thrust), weapon and shield (arming sword), two handed (estoc) and two weapon (street sword and main gauche) are what will appear on the character sheets. In a nutshell, ones style skill bonus applies to OB and DB, with modifications based on the styles strengths and weaknesses. For our playtesting we used a few arbitrary parameters based on our collective experience with fencing, judo, boxing, stick fighting and WMA along with the geeky desire to just make out games as cool as possible for our players and us. We paired up combatants with equal skill levels in weapon and shield, single weapon, single weapon vs weapon ans shield with good initial results after an ass ton of actually rolled and collated fights. As both combatants roll attack and defence under this HR, a constant is required to be able to slot the tables into normal use – we used 50 the first time around. That is to say, A attacks B, A rolls a total of 120, B defends with a roll of 90. A’s attack is therefore successful with a margin of 30 added to the constant of 50 for a total result of 80. Had B rolled more than 120, A’s attack would have been unsuccessful and resolution would then pass to B’s attack. The constant is used because the standard tables assume the DB total (usually much smaller than what happens in a genuinely contested roll) is simply subtracted from the OB.

    Much info was generated and a number of questions thrown up, but we were happy with the results and will be continuing down this line, as there is a lot to be sorted ranging from multiple attackers, combatants with very different attack modes, initiative changes and the tempo of the fight. If anyone is interested, I’ll tidy and sort the rules into some sort of living document as we go, for those that might like this approach for their game.

    1. I would be interested in hearing how this works out as your tests progress. I like the idea of having the defender actively participating rather than the attack being something that just happens to you.

      1. Hi Peter, shall do. You’ve nailed the reason for doing so in one sentence. Our group wants to avoid the feeling that attacks are something that just happens to you – a pen and paper facsimile for the sensation gamers have on screen when it, as you say, just happens to them. More soon…I might need to start it’s own thread.

  6. Just saw this thread. When talking about RM where are you getting the weapon speeds at think I remember seeing it somewhere but now when I look for it I can’t find it. I do like your weapon attack modifier table and your new look on initiative.
    If you could let me know where the weapon speeds are located I will give it a try with my group.

    1. The only reference I can find is in the INITIATIVE DETERMINATION TABLE (table 03-01 in RMC Arms Law and 8.2.8 in RM2 Arms Law).

      These give broad initiative adjustments based on the type of weapon.

      Hopefully BriH will come back with a better answer.

    2. Rolemaster Companion IV, p. 16, gave specific Action Point costs for attacking with various weapons, with smaller weapons having lower costs.

      Arms Companion, p. 48, had initiative bonuses/penalties (‘quickness factors’) for all the various weapons.

    3. Mark:
      I can’t recall where I saw it either! When I posted that I was going from memory–was I thinking of a RoCo or Guild Companion article? With that said I have assigned individual weapon speeds but I’ve been playing around with them. The first iteration assigned a speed from 1-100, which worked but ended up producing high initiative numbers. Now I’m using weapon speed (ws) between -50 and +50. negatives are longer weapons, chain weapons etc while fast are unarmed or daggers or short weapons. Baseline of 0 is for medium sized weapons like a broad/long sword. So initiative is d100 roll + ob allocation + Qu bonus. I’ll update the weapon mod chart with the “new” WS’s at some point.

      1. Thanks all for the quick responses..
        Hurin I think you are right I saw them in the Companions and the Arms Companions. Thanks I will have to dig those up.

        GriH thanks for getting back with you input. I will be looking forward to the update.
        Still thinking about the system and want to try it out.
        Thanks again all
        Mark H.

  7. Maybe I am just missing it, but it is not clear to me if the “allocated skill bonus” in the initiative role is removed from the available OB/DB split, or if the player can simply apply whatever their skill bonus happens to be (if I am understanding correctly, up to a maximum value of 75)? Otherwise everyone would simply apply their full (up to 75 if I am understanding correctly) weapon skill bonus to the initiative roll every time.

    Is there something that I am misunderstanding here?

    Also, I assume that with the Combat Sphere use, that this initial initiative roll is used for all rounds of combat and not re-rolled each round. If that is the case, then is there a way for the shorter weapon user to somehow close the distance (at an obvious risk to themselves) to then give them the “range advantage”?

    I ask because in real combat situations if you have a disadvantage due to weapon length/size it is sometimes worth that risk to close the distance (or lengthen the distance if the roles are reversed) to allow you the advantage as once you are close with a short weapon, then the longer weapon becomes disadvantaged.

    While I like the idea of such tactical flexibility, since an actual fight has flow to it, one person trying to set up a “combat sphere” makes sense, but there should be a way to mimic the opponent trying to offset that advantage in the combat by “modifying the combat sphere” to give themselves the opposite advantage.

  8. Correct, the total skill bonus is split between offense, defense and speed rather than just the first 2. This models the idea of a reckless first lunge, over-reach or need for first strike over a careful defensive posture or maximized attack.

    We are still playing around with initiative roll frequency. For 1 on 1 combat we started doing every round. For multi-participants it got slowed things down. Now we re-roll initiative whenever there is a change of facing or a combatant declares they want to gain the combat sphere–that requires 50% of skill bonus allocated to init. I’m on board with the concepts, just trying to figure out the best way to make it work.

  9. Interesting and thanks for the quick response. That is what I was assuming from the description, but it just was not clear to me if that was the case. As far as the changes in initiative that you mentioned, they make sense to me. I may give this a try at some point to see how it works.

    As far as weapon speed, there are several articles on the site that have such values, and they vary depending on the article (I was one of the editors and occasionally an author of articles for the Guild Companion up until somewhat recently), such as the CEATSII article or the Rolemaster Weapons Attributes article from ’99, and I thought there was an article by Laura Trauthe (sp???) that has appeared in there, but I am not seeing it now, so that may have been through Mario’s old Rolemaster email list discussions from back in the early ’90’s).

    Have you been able to recall where the weapon speeds you are using are from or do you have a list of those weapon speeds that you can post for us to take a look at?

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