Age of Ambition: Initiative & Action Economy

Age of Ambition: Initiative & Action Economy

Welcome to the latest post in our weekly design series, wherein I talk about the design of one of our upcoming games or review the design of one of our past games. The goal of these posts is to have a frank discussion on game design, both what works and what doesn't.

Today I want to talk a bit more about our next roleplaying game, which for now we're still calling Age of Ambition. (I'm not entirely happy with the name and it may change later.) A few weeks ago I made a post about its design goals and one about its base mechanic, but today I want to talk about combat, specifically about the game's initiative system and action economy.

Initiative and Player Agency

There are a lot of different RPGs out there with a lot of different ways to establish the order in which actions are resolved in combat. My favorite systems for this always involve some degree of player agency - that is, players have some degree of control over how and when their actions are resolved.

In our past games, we've used a couple different initiative systems. Against the Dark Yogi and Dime Adventures both use a variant of "popcorn initiative," which means that the player who acts chooses who acts after them. On the other hand, Shadows Over Sol uses a three-phase system where acting earlier in the round costs more action points than acting later in the round. 

Both of these systems offer the acting player a choice. The former system lets the player chose who goes next, while the latter system prompts the player to decide whether they want to act earlier in the round and go first, or whether they want to act later in the round and potentially act twice.

For Age of Ambition, I am planning to employ an initiative system that I see as a streamlined version on the one used in Shadows Over Sol. In this streamlined system, instead of spending action points to act in different phases, each player simply makes the choice to go before or after the NPCs. This cuts to the core decision the player is making and speeds up the initiative process. Players who act first get the benefit of going first, while players who act last get the benefit of knowing how many action points they've spent on defenses (see Action Points below).

Furthermore, to keep players on their toes, a few monsters or villains may have special abilities allowing them to break the initiative rules in some way - perhaps acting before the players get this choice or limiting the number of players who can act early, etc.

Action Points

Each round a character will have three action points (AP). This is similar to both Shadows Over Sol and Dime Adventures. Typically, each action taken during the character's turn will cost one point, although some actions may be limited to once per round.

Characters may also take reactions, which are executed during other characters' turns. The most common of these are defensive reactions, such as dodge and parry. Since reactions cost action points, each round fast-acting players will have to decide how many they're going to spend on actions and how many they're going to hang on to for reactions. Characters who act last in the round have the benefit of knowing how many they've already spent. In essence, players are making a choice between offense and defense.


That's it for the examination of the Age of Ambition initiative and action economy systems! I hope it's been useful to anyone interested in game design or who might be interested in the games we have in the works. Tune in next week for the next post in the design series!

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