Back when I created Necrotech (a computer roleplay game which was itself loosely based on the setting I made for Snapshot 3000 - a game which only my oldest friends and family ever got to play) I implemented a round based combat system into the game. The game played out a little like a Final Fantasy battle, except for one crucial difference - actions took time to complete. Actions and times were displayed together in a menu format so that the player could make informed decisions about what to do - should he risk two snapshots with his pistol or go for one aimed shot instead?
Recently, in our D&D sessions, I decided to resurrect the idea of a continuous initiative system. Continuous initiative means just that - it is continuous - and does not have a one person acting per combat round order. The order is determined by how high the initiative values are (like normal) but then instead of going back to square one after all have moved, the higher initiative combatants may be acting multiple times over low initiative value combatants. This fundamentally changes combat.
Part of my reasoning in trying this out was because we have a number of house rules which we agree on (me as the referee and the players) and its fun to try new ideas out and see which ones stick. The other part is that if the players ever wanted to create a character like Conan the Barbarian, as it is, the game system would completely punish them for this choice. Note that I am playing classic D&D here (Labyrinth Lords ruleset) where platemail and shield is preferable any day to being unarmoured. Unarmoured characters drop like flies. Not necessarily so with a continuous initiative system, however. Read on...
First of all, when thinking about changing or updating combat in a table top roleplay system, anything that gets introduced needs to be simple. Really simple. It mustn't interrupt the flow of combat or it will cease to be fun. So I decided on five initiative bands that combatants can fall into. These are: Gold, Silver, Bronze, Steel and Copper. Gold is very fast while Copper is very slow. Both extremes are fairly hard to get into and bronze is the one that most characters will end up in.
To determine what band a character is in, look at his encumberance first, then his armour type, then his weapon. The 'lower' the band (the closer to Copper) any of these is, becomes the band he or she will act in.
GOLD: Padded or no armour. Club, Dagger, Dart, Light Hammer
SILVER: Leather, Studded Leather, Chainmail. Using a Shield. Light Pick, Light crossbow, Quarterstaff, Shortbow, Spear, Shortsword, Trident, Shuriken, Nunchak, Flail, Hand axe
BRONZE: 41-60lbs carried (lightly encumbered). Scale mail, Banded mail. Battle axe, Morning star, Heavy crossbow,Heavy Flail, Longbow, Heavy Pick, Scimitar, Longsword, Polearm, Two handed sword, Bastard sword, Torch, Oil, Sling
STEEL: 61-80lbs carried (medium encumbered). Platemail, Splint mail armours.
COPPER: 81-160lbs carried (heavily encumbered).
You now need a Continuous Intitiative chart. A chart is helpful because you can draw it out and then place a marker on it to show where in the sequence you are, then move the marker to traverse the sequence. The chart must show the following steps, in order (note that G=Gold, S=Silver, B=Bronze, St=Steel, C=Copper)...
When in combat, anyone in the marked sequence can act as normal. You may note that there are seven golds, six silvers and so on down to only three coppers. This means that Gold gets to have just over twice the amount of actions as copper - but its quite difficult to get into copper (you have to be encumbered, or a zombie). Gold to silver, for example, is only one extra action - although that could prove crucial when fighting for your life. Also note that initially, every band gets to act early on, which was crucial for keeping heavily armoured characters in the battle when I was looking at balancing this.
I share this with you now because the Continuous Initiative rules proved to be a big success in the game session we tried them out. Even the heavily armoured heroes (in the Steel category) did not complain and the mages certainly enjoyed being in Gold, making them far more useful in combat than ever before. The players have sinced started to outfit their characters with secondary, quick weapons (daggers, shortswords), I presume, so they can switch out of bronze if facing an exceptionally quick opponent which is definitely quite interesting!
If you're looking to spruce up your game session, or give players a reason to use a lightly armoured character, why not give them a go?