News for October 2009
Combat Training 101 60
Initiative, Rounds, and Player Turns in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay | Published 06 October 2009

The Old World is a dangerous place. Sometimes, despite the characters’ best efforts to avoid conflict, they find themselves fighting for their lives. Other times, the characters provoke someone to the point where they retaliate. With threats lurking in every darkened corner and deepening shadow, the adventurers need to rely on their wits and skill at arms to see them through combat encounters – else they end up face down, bleeding to death in the gutter like so many nameless people who have gone before them.

This is the first in a series of designer diaries that will provide an in-depth look at how combat is resolved in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. This installment takes a closer look at managing Initiative, and the round and turn structure used to help organise the action that takes place during combat.

A Human MercenaryOverview

Combat generally takes place in encounter mode, which is the gameplay mode where the order of activation tends to be important. Each round, the players decide what order their characters will act in, based on their initiative for the encounter. Meanwhile, the GM performs actions for NPCs and monsters. After all participants have had a chance to act, a new round begins. Combat generally ends when one side surrenders, attempts to escape, has been defeated, or some other event resolves the encounter.

Initiative & Turn Order

For a variety of tasks, the order in which participants act or react may not matter. When two characters are haggling over the price of a sword in the market, it does not matter who makes the first offer or counter-offer, and can be resolved using story mode – a more freeform, less-stuctured means of resolving action. In other situations, the specific order in which characters act is far more important. During combat, for example, knowing who acts first, or whether your character acts before the troll tries to bite his head off can have a significant impact on the outcome of the encounter. These sorts of actions are easier to resolve in encounter mode.

The order in which participants act during a round in encounter mode is called initiative, or may be referred to as the initiative order. In one round, each of the participants has the opportunity to act. These actions occur in initiative order. When a character acts, his player becomes the active player and takes his turn. An individual turn may go through several phases to resolve. Once all the participants have taken their turns and acted, the round is over. The participants continue to act round by round until the encounter is resolved.

Initiative in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is managed using a progress tracker, one of the tools GMs use to easily track information during a session. More information about the progress tracker can be found in this previous designer diary, as well as in the Tome of Adventure, the book for the Game Master included in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay core set.

For initiative, the GM should prepare a progress track with about six spaces, orienting it vertically. More puzzle-fit pieces can be added, if necessary. He also sets aside several of the tracking tokens, selecting one colour to represent the player characters. He should also include a few tokens of at least one other colour for NPCs or creatures.

At the beginning of an encounter, each participant makes an initiative check. The characteristic used to make the initiative check depends on the type of encounter. For combat encounters, Agility is used for initiative checks. For social encounters, Fellowship is used for initiative checks.

The GM places tokens on the tracking meter based on the number of successes generated. Hero tokens break all ties for any markers occupying the same space on the initiative track.

The tokens can all be placed from the highest to lowest initiative, arranging them from top to bottom in a single column on the track. After all participants have made initiative checks and had a token placed on the initiative track based on the number of successes generated, the initiative order is set and a round of actions can begin.

Starting at the top of the tracking meter, initiative tokens are resolved one at a time. If the top-most token is a hero marker, one of the adventurers gets to act. If the top-most token is an NPC or creature marker, one of the corresponding participants gets to act. After that turn is resolved, the next token on the initiative tracking meter is resolved, and so on, until all the markers on the tracking meter have been used.

An Example of Initiative

An Example of InitiativeFour adventurers are travelling together when they encounter an orc and a group of four goblin henchmen, and combat ensues. Neither side has the element of surprise. The GM asks the players to make initiative checks to determine initiative order.

Andy’s Human Roadwarden and Brad’s Dwarf Soldier each generate 2 successes on their initiative checks. Charlie’s Grey Wizard Apprentice ends up with 0 successes, while Diane’s Wood Elf Hunter generates 4 successes. The GM takes the coloured markers he set aside for the PCs and places one marker on the 0 space, two markers on the 2 space, and one marker on the 4 space.

The GM makes initiative checks for the enemies. The orc rolls its initiative check and generates 3 successes. Large numbers of NPCs grouped together use the same initiative check, so the group of four goblin henchmen rolls together. The goblins generate only 1 success on their initiative check. The GM takes the coloured markers he set aside for monsters and places one marker on the 1 space and one marker on the 3 space to reflect that those are the monster’s initiative.

Turn order starts at the topmost marker. At the top of the track, there is a hero marker on the Initiative 4 space. This means one of the heroes gets to go first during the current round. The fact that Diane rolled 4 successes with her Wood Elf Hunter does not necessarily mean it is Diane’s turn to activate her character – it is a group decision to determine which character acts, based on the needs of the situation. The fact that Diane’s Wood Elf character generated 4 successes, yet has another character act first can reflect Diane’s character reacting quickly enough to warn Charlie’s character, or her adventurer providing leadership to the group, allowing Charlie’s character to go first.

After one of the heroes is activated and takes his turn during Initiative 4, then one of the NPCs is activated at Initiative 3. The GM can choose to activate either the orc or the group of goblin henchmen. Once the NPC on Initiative 3 has acted, two heroes activate and resolve their turns during Initiative 2. The remaining NPC group activates during Initiative 1, and finally the last hero activates during Initiative 0.

The Active Player

When a player takes initiative, he becomes the active player. His character goes through the entire turn sequence, then that player’s turn is over and the next initiative is resolved. After the active player completes his turn, he turns the activation token on his character’s stance meter face down to indicate his character has already acted this round.

Once the active player has been determined, the other players should allow the active player to complete his turn with minimal distractions. If for some reason the group cannot decide who gets to act, the GM should prompt his players. If the discussion continues for more than a few moments, the GM advances the party tension one space. If the group continues to struggle or delay, the GM issues a final warning. After that, the party’s tension advances one more space, and that spot in Initiative is passed for the current round – there’s only so much time to plan and react in the heat of combat!

Continuing the Encounter

After the last participant in initiative order acts, the current round ends. If the encounter continues, a new round begins, going back to the top of the initiative order. At the beginning of a new round, all characters turn their activation tokens back over to the active side.

Once the initiative order is set at the beginning of the encounter, the order remains the same for the remainder of the encounter unless changed by a specific effect, such as a Delay result on a conservative die. However, which hero or NPC is activated during a particular initiative can change from round to round. This provides players with flexibility to react to changing situations.

Dwarfs Prepare for BattleAdditional Considerations for Initiative

When determining the initial order for initiative, the difficulty of the initiative check can be modified based on the situation. If the party is ambushed, for example, the characters may need to roll an additional challenge die as part of their initiative check.

When hero markers and NPC or creature markers occupy the same initiative order, heroes act first, then NPCs and creatures.

Beginning & End of Turn Phases

A lot goes on in the middle of the active player’s turn – he may use a skill, roll dice, perform manoeuvres, or play an action card. The beginning and end of the active player’s turn are also very important to help manage information and the character’s status.

Beginning of Turn Phase

At the beginning of a player’s turn, the active player may adjust his character’s stance one space in any direction, for free. The active player then has the option to adjust his character’s stance additional spaces. For each additional space moved, the character suffers one stress.

Other effects may occur during the Beginning of Turn Phase, based on card effects or special abilities.

End of Turn Phase

During the End of Turn Phase, the active player removes one tracking token from every brief condition currently affecting the character, and from each of his currently recharging cards. Once the last tracking token has been removed from a brief condition, the effect expires and the card is returned to the supply. Action cards that have their last tracking token removed have fully recharged, and are returned to the active player’s options to be used again on a future turn.

Finally, during the End of Turn Phase, the active player flips the activation token on his character’s stance meter over, to indicate the character has completed his turn. Once this has been done, the next initiative token is resolved.

Other effects may occur during the End of Turn Phase, based on card effects or special abilities.


Set in the grim world of Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy universe, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is a roleplaying game that sets unlikely heroes on the road to perilous adventure. Players will venture into the dark corners of the Empire, guided by luck and Fate, and challenge the threats that others cannot or will not face.




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Comments (60)

Published: 10/21/2009 10:26:50 PM


Looks like a solution looking for a problem.  I like the notion of deference and cooperation in party tactics but this seems a bit contrived.

I am still hopeful that when I see the whole game I may be swayed, but so far I am not so sure this will replace the 2nd edition as the WFRP of choice for my group.

Published: 10/9/2009 2:47:39 PM

Wow.... talk about re-making the wheel...

Published: 10/9/2009 1:16:08 PM


Ah, I see what you're saying. That's typical in many RPGs. Some re-reroll initiatives, some have things like delays and such (that do not reorder the initiative). The problem is more pronounced with particularly powerful players (like Wizards or Assassins).

Published: 10/9/2009 3:20:30 AM

Exactly, there is nothing more I could say

Published: 10/8/2009 7:32:37 PM

Each path through the track is a turn. At the begenning of the next turn (or at least the next hero action) any of the player / heros can take their action. IF the last player to take an action is chosen to take the first action in the next round that person essentially acts twice in a row.

Published: 10/8/2009 6:37:37 PM


Maybe I'm missing something (need to read the article again), but I didn't see that the same player could go twice. The way I understood it, the players decide who goes on each marker. Once a player goes, he flips his tracker marker to indicate that he has gone and doesn't go again till the next round. Maybe I misunderstood you.


Ah yes, Descent. I knew there was something familiar. Thanks, that was really bugging me.

Published: 10/8/2009 2:59:46 PM

 I've actually always had issues with the traditional initiative systems in most games. Using miniatures for examples, I can't say how many times there has been a group that has had one or two people at the head of the line , in a corridor lose initiative to people in the rear.  Using a system like this, the players and DM can logically work together and figure out who could react first and how. 

Published: 10/8/2009 1:39:40 PM


Just to clarify, I was talking about how you could represent this same group turns for trying with other systems. FFG uses the cards and tokens to represent cool downs in this game. As stated in the article.

Published: 10/8/2009 1:31:45 PM

One game that uses this same style of party deciding is Decent (yes I know it is a board game). Having the party decide to me breaks the code of scout always going first or having to delay their action, rather than let another person take their action in place of the scout.  This always bugged me and reminded me of WoW style "you do this I do that" tactics. That was the reason I switched my role playing games to using a turn order more like this and Decent.  My players loved it but Sycore is right only time will tell whether it breaks the game. 


I have a feeling that with a system like this they will be doing what I did for actions that take a while to reuse (or a cool down). In the example of the 2 turn spell an addiction marker would be needed and placed on the left hand side of the track. That represents when the spell is ready again. They can still take the first turn for the next round but cannot cast the spell until it is ready again. I may have read your post wrong because another way I am seeing what you are saying is that a caster can a spell twice in a row and not have to wait. In that case then instead of using the marker to represent when the spell can be cast again maybe the character is forced to remain inactive until that time in up.

I do see what you are getting at and you have a very valid point. Thanks for providing an example to back up your concern.

Published: 10/8/2009 8:15:01 AM

Ditto on the love for the Magnetic Initiative tracker. All of my players love it.

So I guess that the features explained in this article aren't groundbreaking for me (except for the part about the party choosing amongst themselves which character acts when, which I love).

Published: 10/8/2009 7:20:06 AM

@ Nezzir

This combat-Tracker seems to be very useful. You can live without but, if i would think about a helping tool I would prefer this one. Thanks for the inspiration.

Published: 10/8/2009 7:15:56 AM

If good or not I can still not say, but another issue with this sort of Initiative is, that a player can act twice in the example above. One time at the end of the round and one time at the beginning of the new round.

So there is a point in the game where a mage can cast a spell, which would cost him 2 rounds, without worrying if the GM can stop him.

Also, some has written that this will have the whole group beeing concentratet the whole fight. But with one session lasting over 6-12 hours and beyond there is a point, where I sometimes dont't want to concentrate any more than necessary or even can. On the other side I think that even with this Initiaive-System, not all players will be concentrated the whole time while fighting the foe.

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