Into the Odd – no initiative and the chaos of combat

Khyron the Illithid and Gideon the Human had made their way to the captain’s quarters in the aft of an overwrought spelljamming galleon. The captain, a short elf was watching the riot on the docks the duo had orchestrated as a distraction so they could swashbuckle slide down some rope to the ship.

He offered a pompous sneer, “This is your work. I see…” He drew his cutlass and the fight was on.

Cutlass subject divider

I had forgotten how much I adore combat without initiative. Yes, we were playing on zoom, so we had to take turns talking about what the characters were doing but even that could change as one player heard what another character was focusing on and changing their action. Then the dice hit the table and we see whose attacks worked and who was dodged.

Unlike D&D’s Hit Points, Into the Odd’s Hit Protection isn’t vague about what they mean. If the damage doesn’t erode the Hit Protection points to nothing, the attack misses – at most a piece of clothing got snagged. The dice act like a kind of damage-tarot as we create a picture from the rolls.

Jay, playing Gideon, made some clutch saves to stay standing or else the fight would have been a very different affair. The cocky elf failed their roll once the damage got to their Strength through their Hit Protection, as Gideon’s hatchet snapped one of the elf’s ribs and the little pointy-eared asshole coughed up blood and collapsed.

When we talk, we don’t decide what is going to happen. We figure out what folks are attempting – what the characters are trying to do, so it doesn’t feel like we’re talking about play. We’re playing and the second the damage dice hit the table we start the process of agreeing what it all looks like, describing things so we have a clear picture of where we are so we can declare what is being attempted for the next round.

I couldn’t figure out where I’d read about this kind of thing before. I know I saw a similar thing when Jay and I were playing Sorcerer earlier in the year. Talking about it after the game, Jay said the words, “Free and Clear.” A few searches later and I remember where I heard about this. I got my copy of Trollbabe out:

Next comes a “fair and clear” stage in which the characters’ options may be discussed without any commitment to their actions. It is, effectively, a shared brain-jam that amounts to direct-level choreography of all starting actions at once.


Another thing: this isn’t a story conference, so it’s not about consensus or approval of one another’s statements. No one has to consent to anyone else. Tend to your part and that will be enough.

Am I saying Into the Odd and Trollbabe are somehow related? No, not really. What I’m saying is that techniques that work in one game feed into another.

I’m enjoying this process where we talk about what we want the characters to do and then roll the dice to see what actually occurred. It feels like reading one’s fortune in thrown bones, runes or tarot cards.

NOTE: I had written out this blog post and was lukewarm on it but bits and pieces of it kept coming up in online discussions with gaming friends. Thanks to them, I’m hitting the publish button.

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One thought on “Into the Odd – no initiative and the chaos of combat

  1. Yes! I only played Trollbabe once but I really find many of the concepts essential to how I run games now. I really like how the game breaks down the concepts of Scene and Conflict in a conceptual way that transfers to any game.

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