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: 10/8/2009 3:46:06 AM

So heeeeyyyyy... back on topic here, how 'bout that new initiative article! Pretty nifty eh? (heh)

I think it's a pretty neat idea letting the party decide who goes first. I have to say, I've never played a game that works like that (though there must be one out there). Some of the comments I've seen say this may cause them problems, but personally I like the challenge. One of the reasons I write week to week is to see how the players will handle things.

I won't use the Initiative track as presented. I use a magnetic combat tracker ( and it works wonderfully. In fact, I've come to say that I'll never run another game without it. This will free my 'tracking' pieces up for skill challenges though, so it works out great.

Isn't it nice to be back on topic? Yeah, I think so too.

Published: 10/8/2009 1:12:55 AM

 We have widly different views of what the comment section is for, they are posting these articles with a comment function attached. I fail to see how they don't want our feedback, positive or negative.

Again, it's not your job to police whether someone posts their issues with the article or it's content. The authors are  giving actual game examples here, not just ideas. To suggest that we can only comment on the content of an article unless we've been privy to the playtest seems a little presumptious to me. 

When FFG tells me that I shouldn't be posting my opinion, positive or negative, I will do so. I happen to think they like hearing our feedback. My personal experience with FFG has been that they do listen. I was the founder of Against the Shadow, and an avid supporter of Midnight and FFG.  During that time I found that they "want" to hear feedback. 

Published: 10/7/2009 11:50:13 PM

True but we have a forum to debate board game or not in. Also these articles are not meant to get feed back from. I think they are previews. The most accurate feed back is coming from the play tests. In any case I stand by my proposal to have anything not pertaining to the article to be modded. 

Unless we as a community just make sure to post only things relevant to the article. 

When Jay post the article "Why should I switch?" then feel free to unload. Until then I am sticking to the articles. Starting now.

Published: 10/7/2009 11:25:51 PM

 I'll wrap up by saying that I actually didn't know if you meant that by your post our not, it sounded very condescending. 

People are going to have to get used to the fact that people are going to have issues with this game regardless of what edition it is. The negativity that is heaped on anyone that suggest that the game looks like a boardgame (and on the surface it most certainly does) is just as bad as the negativity that has come from people that are happy with the previous edition of the game and don't see the need for the implemented changes. 

If comments are civil, but unfavorable then they should be my opinion. Otherwise you just end up with the designers not getting accurate feedback about their ideas.  

Published: 10/7/2009 11:09:35 PM

Thing about running games is it;s an individual style dictated by both what the DM wants to do and what the players will let him do, really. It could make for a very interesting discussion if people want to sit down and be civil about it, but that's not really what this topic is about, nor are people even being terribly civil. Someone really does need to clean up the random insult posts or move them to a new OT thread so this one can actually be informative.

Published: 10/7/2009 10:38:47 PM


I am not saying that at all. Those were the words I told my players. Lighten up man. It is more difficult for MY play groups to immerse themselves into a world of imagination with mini's. Because if you are able to make a well worded and epic deion to add for an action then grids are going to be the only thing holding you back because it won't matter if you are "out of range".

Shadowspawn I would like it if you did not respond to my post anymore in return I won't respond to yours. I don't like how you always take my post and pick out the one negative thing I say out of all of them and try to make me (A major contributor of free material to the gaming community) look bad among my fellow supporters. I hope my reason for getting so upset sometimes doesn't confuse you.

In this case I was pointing out to the public why I (as in ME) likes this idea. If YOU don't run into that problem then that is cool. But, because of the way I focus on the story more than the game, mini's and grids don't do it for my group. 

JUST TO BE CLEAR, I am not implying that you don't focus on the story any less. I do not know you, nor have I seen you play. Everyone runs RPGs differently. 

Now can we please get these post back on the actual article rather than my gaming styles?

While I was at work today I realized that FFG really needs to start modding these articles. Including some of the things I have said. 

It seems each article gets off track and just ends up in fights. The comments should only pertain to the above writen article. So in this case talk should only be about the Initiative in this game or what you think of this article. For example, was it worded clearly? Are you confused about anthing? What else could be added? etc. 

None of these articles should have posts (including mine!) about 2nd edition, Games Workshop, Black Industries, or anything not gone over in the article. If you have personal rants or raves that don't deal with the article, then by all means keep them in the forums. I am sure propper modding would help relieve the infighting.

Published: 10/7/2009 9:27:01 PM

I really like the idea of flexible initiative.

How many times do you accidently end up with a caster or a poor healer stuck behind the lines getting their face chewed off by a monster? Flexibility gives THINKING groups a chance to do things better without having to pray for a lucky initiave roll to get things done.

In groups of 4 maby 5 (tops) i can see this system working beautifully. In large groups of say 8 or 10 people i dont think it will work. Fighting over who does what and when they will do it will KILL group cohesion dead. The encounters may get done BUT in-fighting will make the game just not-fun anymore. IMHO large or very large groups should stay in a fixed initiative system. The right group could make any system work but sometimes a simpler system is needed.


as for Dwarf speed ... Stuntys may not run fast BUT Dwarf combat reflexes must not be underestimated.  A fighting Dwarf is ALWAYS ready for combat (and beer) under any circumstances and that should count tward initiative (at leat a little :P )


Good luck on your book Dark. Just remember , the only groups who hate each other more than the Lizardman / Skaven combo is the High Elf / Druichi conflict. 5 thousand years and going strong , thats A LOT OF HATE :0

Published: 10/7/2009 3:18:08 PM

 [quote]Welcome to my world of RPing. Where it is all about story and fun, rather than numbers and mini's.[/quote]

Just to be clear, you are stating because an RPG has numbers and minis that it can't be fun or have story? 

Published: 10/7/2009 1:50:44 PM

Hey this is how I ran the White Wolf game encounters. I wanted the players to not feel like combat was static so I came up with the exact system. Have the Players, NPCs, and Opponents all roll like normal. But instead of deciding the order based on static numbers I decided that each players roll determined when one of them could act in the initiative order so it felt more like a team.

"Wait! So because the nimble spy rolled a very high number now the fat oaf gets the option of going first?"

Yep I told them to try and not think of initiative as a dice roll. Instead think of it as a collection of party perception and wits. Maybe the spy noticed something before the combat happened. 

"What?! b-bbut that is what perception (listen spot) checks are for".

Welcome to my world of RPing. Where it is all about story and fun, rather than numbers and mini's. This didn't break our game an actually opened up for more team based decisions for some great non-mini tactical play. 

As stated int he past I see all of these components and counters to be more for RP newbies FFG wants to help. I won't be using many of it. Just the books, dice, and trackers. But that is just because they are already included so why waste money on index cards, ink, and more dice.

Published: 10/7/2009 1:28:13 PM


I have heard that if you use a GW rep then you are treated fairly, so I don't doubt your experience. I avoided a GW rep because I did not want them to know I was marking down price for the products that were not selling as well as say, the newest army to be released. Great example, I remember tacking a 30% off on Dark Eldar after the Tau and Necrons sales shot up and Dark Eldar went no where. If you mark down or discount GW products (despite the fact that it is money lost to the store I own and not them) they will remove you from the Rogue Trader list of stores in every White Dwarf. You cannot advertise you carry their product online. AND you STILL are required to purchase a certain % of their products every month.

This is where the mixed reviews come from. It all depends if you were willing to lose money and GW support in order to make the products affordable for new players. 

As in all cases remember my experiences and the people I have talked to may be different then yours. So confusion is bound to happen. That is why I made sure not to state the report I got from my distributer as fact. 

Published: 10/7/2009 1:13:39 PM

You are wrong about my hate towards Games Workshop. I have fully (2000 pts) painted armies for Ork, Dark Elf, Lizardmen, Wood Elf, Beasts of Chaos, Bretonnian, and Black Templar. I have WarCry (The first attempt at a Warhammer card game) and 1st edition WFRP. 

In any case I didn't realize how long my post was, because we have no preview post and I was typing from what was on my mind. =P 

I said at the end of it though, that I trust my distributor, based on my previous dealings with Games Workshop. Maybe Games Workshop has changed since 2000 (when sales dropped due to the increased price in all products). But from the lack in sales I see and the lack of support I hear about at Game Cons I find it hard to believe.

My main reason for posting was to apologize for my rude and immature behavior. Seriously though, talk to your store and have them ask the distributer about the sales. The products could be sold out because not many were made in the first place.

I have my 245 page book fr running campaigns in the elf lands done. It has new careers specifically tied to the different type of elves. Stats for the Wood elves and Dark elves. Weapons and spells, religion and background, and layout of the lands. Ulthaun, Athel Loren, and Naggaroth. I want to release it for playtest but I am worried about getting negative responses.

1. Don't hate Games Workshop anymore than I do Blizzard.

2. No way to preview before posting so sorry for the length.

3. Games may have sold out in your area because distributer didn't want more than needed.

4. I am still sorry for my comments in the past.

5. My 245 page elf book is ready for play tests, but scared to release it. 

Published: 10/7/2009 12:37:47 PM

I ran a small hobby shop in a very small town in the middle of nowhere.  I ordered from GW directly, and I never had a problem getting what I wanted in a timely fashion.  I even got some of the army boxes and such which were limited printed runs.  We were not a high-volume store, and I made that clear to my GW sales rep, and I still never had any problems.  I've heard the "dealing with GW sucks for stores" thing a couple times now, but not in my experience.  The price increases sucked sometimes, as they would tick off my customers, but I was also honest and didn't mark up things that were already on the shelf, so they knew I wasn't trying to screw them.

Also, darkkami, just from what I've seen those guys post here, you don't know owe anybody an apology.  Most of the comments I've seen from them have been spiteful, insulting, rude, and trolling with little to no substance.  I try to just ignore them.

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