Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Playtester Approved Stance Declaration Systems
Compiled by Cooper

What follows is a collection of stance declaration systems that were used by the playtesters throughout the two year process of trying to break 4E. You may notice some models that do not seem to match the final text of the rules, this is not terribly surprising, as game design is an iterative process and the L5R Dev Team has taken the opinions of its playtesters seriously. Even so, I can assure you that each and every one of these methods was used and proved to be a fun and viable way to pick stances in combat.

Simultaneous Declaration – Pre-Initiative

Since the rules do not provide an order for stance declaration, most play-testers came up with approaches that allowed for simultaneous declaration before initiative is known. As this seems to be the closest to the “rule book position,” I will start there.

“He Who Shouts Loudest”

First round declarations get muddy with me, often they end up not getting done until the actual action is take, but in most cases the PCs act first, and some movements is required, so it has little impact on the play.

That's how I do with my non-PT chaps now its released anyway. I can't recall any 'but I was in full-defense' style retractions.

How It Works: Everyone shouts out their stance as soon as the combat begins.
Where It Does Work: High-trust free form play groups that just want the combat to start
Where It Doesn't Work: Highly organized groups, low trust groups, PvP groups
Who It Favors: Nobody (though it can favor the person to speak up last)

“Clockwise Declaration”

Our group stopped, chose our stances, announced them around the table in order, then played.
- NotAEGTodd

How It Works: Before initiative is rolled, the GM goes around the room asking each player what their stance is.
Where It Does Work: Organized high-trust play groups that want to get into the fight quickly
Where It Doesn't Work: Free form groups, low-trust groups, min-maxers, PvP groups
Who It Favors: The person to the right of the GM (addressed by sometimes going counter-clockwise)

“Blind Declaration”

I had each player write down their stance on a bit of paper and pass it to me/put it face down in front of them and THEN roll initiative.

This could be formalized by having 'Stance Cards' like Cooper is making up, or by using CCG cards with differing force (stances being 1-5), or by placing a 6 sided die down and covering it with a cup (stances being 1-5), or with a pack of playing cards. 1-5 are stances, or 10-Ace are stances... Packs of cards are like $1 each.
- Togashi Shinjitsu

How It Works: Before initiative is rolled, each player records what stance they want to assume. Stances are then revealed after the initiative roll.
Where It Does Work: In-person games
Where It Doesn't Work: PbP Games, disorganized games, games with indecisive players, games played without scratch paper or accessories
Who it Favors: Nobody

“The Battle Plan”

One of my favorite GMs would walk out of the room and give us a couple of minutes to plan out our group strategy without him. When he returned we'd either have a consensus of who was doing what, or we'd get caught flat footed and nobody would be prepared.
- Cooper

How It Works: The GM gives the players a fixed amount of time to come to a consensus. Once the time is up the GM gathers the stances from each group involved. If a group has no answer or if there are disputes within the group, they are flat footed and suffer penalties of the GMs choosing (e.g. being stuck in Attack Stance without the ability to make an attack).
Where It Does Work: Groups with a good team dynamic, PbP games
Where It Doesn't Work: One on one PvP, groups that want to start fights quickly
Who it Favors: The PCs if they get along well - the GM if they don't

"GM Discretion"

Related to first round stance declaration, I'm just going to put in a statement that they are declared prior to the Initiative roll in an order determined by the GM. Give them the wiggle room to do it the way they want.
-Shawn Carman

How It Works: Before initiative is rolled the GM asks each player what stance they assume. The GM can have a pattern or not as they see fit.
Where It Does Work: Games where players trust the GM to be fair
Where It Doesn't Work: High tension PvP scenarios, games where the players don't trust the GM to be fair
Who It Favors: Assuming a fair GM, nobody.

Ordered Declaration – Pre-Initiative

There are two common characteristics to all of these methods. First, they require an additional roll or calculation in order to determine who reveals their stance first, and second, all stances are considered in-character knowledge. Because of these two characteristics, combats in a game using ordered pre-initiative stance declarations are likely to get off to a slower start.

“Enemies First”

If players are worried that the GM is "cheating" by always picking the best counter-stances to their choices, he can always declare NPC stances first.
- Cooper

How It Works: Before Initiative is rolled, the GM tells the players what stances each of the enemies has assumed. The GM then uses any of the strategies above for determining the order of PC stance declaration.
Where It Does Work: Games where the GM is willing to give the PCs an edge over NPCs
Where It Doesn't Work: PvP groups
Who It Favors: The PCs

“Tactician Reads the Field”

If you need a good way to pick who declares their stance first, why not use a Battle/Perception or Battle/Awareness roll? Lowest roll declares first.

It would be a good way to make the Battle skill relevant in a Skirmish.

How It Works: Before Phase 1 of a skirmish, everyone makes a Battle (Skirmish) roll using a Trait determined by the play group. Whoever has the lowest roll must declare their stance first.
Where It Does Work: A group that thinks the Battle Skill should play a bigger role in PC combat
Where It Doesn't Work: Any group that wants the combat to start quickly.
Who It Favors: Well rounded characters

“The Best Defense is a Good Offense”

Battle isn't the only skill you can use to determine order of stance declaration. It could really be any Skill/Trait combination that the Players and GM agree is important. Defense, Athletics, and Iaijutsu all seem like they could be valid choices as well.

How It Works: See Above, change the skill.
Where It Does Work: In groups that think the chosen Skill is underpowered
Where It Doesn't Work: Groups that want combat to start quickly, groups that can't agree on what skill should let you react to others' stances.
Who It Favors: Depends on the skill chosen. Defense will favor defensive builds, Iaijutsu will favor duelists, Athletics will favor well rounded builds.

Ordered Declaration – Post Initiative

Once you know the initiative order it becomes a lot easier to know what the “best” stance is. As such, post initiative stance declarations are best for tempering the value of a high initiative.

“Initiative Order”

I would do it in Initiative order for my games!
-Brian Yoon

How It Works: After Initiative is rolled, the fastest character declares his or her stance. Proceed down the list until you have a stance from everyone. Then the fastest character acts.
Where It Does Work: Games that want to decrease the impact of Initiative on the outcome of a skirmish.
Where It Doesn't Work: Games where players want Initiative to play a larger roll in combat, games with sticklers for "RAW"
Who It Favors: No one really. Low initiative characters can see high initiative character's stances before declaring stance. High initiative characters can see low initiative character's stances before declaring actions.

"Defense by Default"

For simplicity's sake, I would suggest that, until a character has a chance to change his stance at the beginning of his turn, all characters are assumed to be in the Defense stance by default. Or, Full Defense by default, but only Defense by default if ambushed.
- Otaku Mike

How It Works: Skip stance declaration and go immediately into the initiative order. Everyone is considered to be in the Defense (or Full Defense) stance until their Turn. When it reaches your turn you may change stance, even though it is still the first round.
Where It Does Work: Games that want to get into the fight fast
Where It Doesn't Work: Games with sticklers for "RAW"
Who It Favors: Those with high Initiative OR high Defenses. "Attack/Damage" builds have the hardest first round, but they're usually stronger in the following rounds, so it balances.

“Reverse Initiative”

As for me, I'm an old White Wolf fan. When it comes to combat I handled as I would if I were playing a WoD game. Players declare their actions and their stances in reversed order.
I was always liked of the 2E approach of lowest initiative declares first. And since declarations are now limited to stances rather than full actions, you actually fix the 2E loophole of being unable to attack if someone else in the party kills your target first.

How It Works: After Initiative is rolled, the slowest character declares his or her stance. Proceed up the list until you reach the fastest character. Once everyone has a stance, the fastest character may take his Turn.
Where It Does Work: High Earth-multiplier games, games where combat should be decided by Initiative
Where It Doesn't Work: Games that feel initiative is already too powerful, games with sticklers for "RAW"
Who It Favors: High Initiative characters

“Tactician Reads the Field Perfectly”

How It Works: This is handled exactly like Tactician Reads the Field (described above), only you know the initiative order before you start declaring stances. This gives characters with high Battle Skill a huge advantage over those without.
Where It Does Work: Groups that REALLY think Battle is under valued in 4E
Who It Doesn't Work: Just about everywhere else
Who It Favors: Characters with high Perception or Awareness and characters with high Battle skill.

Other Considerations

“Dramatic Declarations”

Sometimes stances are declared before combat is even close.

GM:"You are walking through a dark alley in a dangerous part of town"
PC:"Yeah? I am SO in defence stance right now!"
GM:"You hear the rattling sound of a wooden bucket rolling down the street ahead"
PC:"Full defence time. I inch forward ever so slowly, expecting to be attacked at any moment"
-Togashi Shinjitsu
How It Works: If the characters have a legitimate reason to expect violence and preemptively declare that they are assuming a stance, they will begin combat in that stance. If the GM feels the players should get some sort of benefit in exchange for "broadcasting" their stance before Phase 1, they can be allowed to change stance once it reaches their Turn even if it's the first round.
Where It Does Work: Play groups that feel the written rules come second to dramatic narrative
Where It Doesn't Work: Groups with a stickers for "RAW"
Who It Favors: Those interested in telling a good story

“Stealth is Sneaky”

How It Works: If you are hidden from your opponent(s) you do not need to declare a stance until your Turn.
Where It Does Work: Groups that do not feel there is enough of an advantage for ambushes and sneak attacks.
Where It Doesn't Work: Groups that think that -10 initiative is enough of a penalty for being surprised.
Who It Favors: Stealthy and dishonorable characters

A Final Word

A fairly big deal has been made out of the fact that a character built for high Initiative in one system will not have a high initiative in another. This is both true and entirely beside the point. Unless you intend to use the exact same character in two different games, run by two different GMs, using two different initiative systems, it will never come up. If you wish to move a character from one game to another in a casual game environment, your new GM will probably let you re-tool the character. If you are instead using the game within a "persistent world" or "league" environment, it's a safe bet that the governing body of your league will set out guidelines as to which initiative system that league considers most appropriate.


  1. Your "final word" is not quite true in living campaigns, i.e. Heroes of Rokugan. In these games the whole point is that the exact same character plays in adventures by very different GMs. Of course now that HoR is over, it may be a moot point unless HoR 3 gets off the ground.

  2. He addresses that as well, doesn't he? If you're playing some kind of league (I've never played in HoR btw, so I wouldn't know specifics) something like this would probably be ruled for every game and not up to the GMs.

  3. We usually play 1st ed + second ed with some changed rules to make them compatible.

    Happy to see that 4th ed is getting back to its root, closer to the old editions. Sure purchase for me :)

    On our side, we usually use the reverse init rule.

    It gives an edge to the fast bushi, while also making some advantage like combat reflex more important. Both scorpion bushi and kakita bushi also get their deadly speed advantage from using such kind of init and it is what makes them deadly.

    Its important for players to feel that every situation is dangerous, because it makes them feel closer to the fate of their character and usually they get more serious with their it, not only goof around.

    I like your posts, i'll keep reading :)

  4. “Initiative Order” works like a charm in my games.
    I feel it brings more interests to every players.

    High init chars still have the opportunity to choose actions / move / vs others Stances, while defensive characters still have a chance to survive by adapting their reactions.