Conflict: Surprise & Initiative
In any game system, one of the more difficult aspects is initiative. Who gets to go first, and why? If they can act, how much can they do in each round? Can the foe interrupt their action? Can they change their minds partway through the round? Every system is necessarily an imperfect abstraction. Luckily, abstractions work - if you do them right. Because Conflict has the aim of encouraging scouting, planning and teamwork, as well as trying to model individual training beyond performance on the firing range, Readiness is key.
The unfortunate truth is that there really only three kinds of combats:
- Ambush! - all of you live, all of them die.
- Ambushed! - all of you die, all of them live.
- Stand-up fight - everyone dies.
The sensible adventurer will endeavour to ensure they are always ambushing. An ambush is achieved when the attackers achieve surprise. When two parties come across one another unexpectedly, or when one lies in wait for the other, there is a check for surprise. The throw is:
Party A: throw 1d6 + Readiness + Stealth (if a planned ambush) + terrainvsParty B: throw 1d6 + Readiness + Observation (if scouting) + terrain
The difference between the totals is the free actions the winner has before the loser can react. On some occasions, Presence or Acting may be relevant, for example a disguised person suddenly attacking someone in a crowd is also an ambush. If the victim is making a deliberate effort to watch for danger, they move at half rate, but get a +1 against surprise.
Terrain may grant a bonus to either party, for example a group hiding behind rubble in a destroyed city, or with a scout at a nearby high point, or a group moving through a jungle.
Once surprise has passed, initiative is used.
Note that because surprise gives a certain number of actions before the enemy can react, even a combatant with Readiness+0 may act usefully – while they've surprised the enemy. After that, they become useless. An example of this was given in the Readiness article, where slapper Ginger (Readiness+0) ambushed Merkava on her way into the ladies' - but not having neutralised Merkava in the surprise rounds, was then helpless.
Thus, surprise will tend to go to the group with a designated and able scout who take their time moving through protective terrain, and with well-trained and experienced members.
After the surprise round has passed, regular initiative is used. This is,
Party A: throw 1d6 + Readiness + Leadership + terrainvsParty B: throw 1d6 + Readiness + Leadership + terrain
For the purpose of initiative, the Readiness of the leader, if any, is used. This Readiness may have been reduced by suppressive fire. The winning side, each individual gets their Readiness in actions. As for ties, ranged combat ties are resolved in favour of ascending order of weapon size, thus for example knife, then handgun, and finally longarms. Melee and brawling combat ties are resolved in reverse order of weapon size. In mixed combat, ranged fire wins initiative over 6m, and melee and brawling under 6m.
As with surprise, terrain may assist in initiative, for example if one group is in a building with windows firing through them, and their enemy is in the street below, the group has cover from view and fire (the building, DM+1) but being higher has a wide field of view of the ground (DM+1).
Thus, initiative will tend to go to the group with trained and experienced members who have a designated and competent leader, and who are sensible in their use of terrain to provide cover from fire and view, and to help them observe the enemy.
Example: So far today for the team, Sgt Anna was snipered, they called a mortar fire mission on the snipers, casevaced Anna, then patrolled up to the sniper point where they found one dead and the other not far off, but were refused a casevac for him and had to leave him to die, and then move quickly out of the area to avoid any enemy clearing patrols. This is rapidly becoming the worst day of Merkava and Tony's service.
"It'll be dark soon," she says as they make their way out of the ruined building, "We won't make it back to base in time, we'd better find a place to lay up for the night." They take their time moving through the rubble and wrecked cars of the streets. By habit, Merkava acts as scout - she has Observation/Tactical giving her a DM+1, Tony hasn't. Taking their time gives another DM+1, and Merkava's Readiness+2 adds in, too, for a net DM+4 on any surprise throw.
Unknown to them, a team of half a dozen local militia are nearby, with a team leader called Dez. As militia they have grown up in an area with constant conflict, and individuals among them will have been exposed to trauma, though they won't have proper firearms training - most of them will have Readiness+1. Dez has no particular leadership skills, he's just the only one who finished high school (Edu+1 vs their Edu+0) and at 24yo is a little bit older than most of them so they tend to listen to him. The area recently having come under mortar fire, Dez's team are alert and paying attention, moving along the street slowly, also giving DM+1. None of them will have Observation/Tactical or the like, but they grew up around here and can make use of the terrain, giving them another DM+1, for a net DM+3.
Surprise round: As the teams unknowingly approach one another, the referee has everyone throw a d6. Merkava and Tony throw 2, adding 4 and getting 6, and the Dez's militia also throw 2, adding 3 getting 5. Merkava spots the militia before the militia spots them. She has a single surprise action. "Contact front!" she calls, flicks her assault rifle to fully automatic and opens up in their direction. Tony opens up, too. Neither are firing directly at anyone, they are firing blind (DM-4) to create a "kill zone" of suppressive fire. As they have surprised Dez's team, Dez's team is not under cover from fire, and Merkava and Tony get to roll an attack against them.
The referee arbitrarily decides they're 30m apart, making it DM-3. Automatic fire grants DM+1, though firing blind makes it DM-4 - for a net DM-6. Merkava has only default DM+0 in automatic weapons, and Tony has Firearms/Assault Rifle familiarity for DM+1, for a net DM-6 and -5 respectively. But given they need 10+ to hit throwing 2d6, it is impossible for them to hit Dez's men.
Even though Merkava and Tony can't hit, because they are actually firing they need to throw to see if they get stoppages. Their firearms started out the day in new condition, but have been fired and lugged around today, so are in acceptable condition, which gives stoppages on 4-. Merkava throws 4,2 for 6 but has the DM-6 for a net +0 and so burns through her magazine in the first round, Tony throws 6,6 with a DM-5 and gets +7, so he's still able to fire next round. "Reloading!" she cries and prepares to change mags.
However despite it being impossible for Merkava and Tony to hit anyone, the fire will still be suppressive, subtracting 1 from the Readiness of Dez's team - leaving them with zero. With long bursts of automatic fire pinging around them kicking up dust, they'll be pinned down next round.
While Dez's team are pinned down under fire and taking cover behind rubble and wrecked cars and thus Readiness+0, Merkava and Tony still have Readiness+2. Surprise being over, it's now time to determine initiative. This is simply a throw of d6 and Presence/Leadership, which neither team has. Terrain can make a difference, but both teams are in the street among the rubble. Merkava throws 3, Readiness+2 makes it +5. Dez's team throws 6, adds nothing - but wins initiative by 1.
First round: However, Dez and his guys were pinned down by suppressive fire, so all they can do is drop prone and cower, or crawl away. They do nothing this round.
Merkava and Tony both still have Readiness+2, and thus have 2 actions. Merkava will equip (change magazines) and then fire suppressively. Tony will watch for a better firing position with some cover, and then move to it.
For her fire action, again she has no chance of hitting but most still throw the dice to see if she gets a stoppage, which with a throw of 2,2 and the DM-6 for a net -2 she does - she burns through another magazine. But the automatic fire does suppress Dez's team once more, allowing Tony to safely get to some cover. After a long blaaaat, "Reloading!" and a moment of silence, the clink of a magazine dropping to the ground.
Now comes initiative for the next round. Dez's team win initiative again, but still cannot do anything.
Second round: With Dez's team unable to act, Merkava and Tony decide what to do. Merkava realises she is out of reloads for her assault rifle. Her equip action is no longer changing magazines, but slinging her rifle. Her second action will be another equip, unholstering her pistol. Tony will watch and fire at any targets who pop up.
Once again, Dez's team win initiative. No longer being under suppressive fire, they are back to Readiness+1, and have one action each.
Third round: Dez and two guys will move forward, while the other three guys fire a series of single shots. Three guys firing single shots into a zone constitutes suppressive fire, which will drop Merkava and Tony's Readiness by 1. Both of them lose an action. They now watch from cover as Dez's team approach.
Dez's team have just default +0 with their firearms, and are firing blind (DM-4) into a zone 30m away (DM-3), for a net DM-7, and of course need 10+ to hit, so like Merkava and Tony they can't hit. Being militia, their firearms are in poor condition and have stoppages on 5-, so they will all get stoppages - they blaze away. But Dez and his two guys were able to get 8m closer and are now 22m away.
This time initiative goes to Merkava and Tony.
Fourth round: Tony still watching begins suppressive fire, but has to decide whether to target Dez and his two guys, or the three behind them. He chooses Dez because he's closer. Again firing blind (DM-4) but automatic (DM+1) but this time under 25m away (DM-2) and with Firearms/Assault Rifle familiarity (DM+1) Tony has a net DM-4. Tony throws a natural 1,1 - not only does he get a stoppage, but he doesn't fire effectively at all. "Fuck! Stoppage!" he cries.
Merkava is just watching with her pistol, ready to fire at anyone she sees.
Dez's three guys behind him are doing an equip action to reload, and so Dez decides this is as good a time as any to use his only fragmentation grenade. He equips it to throw the next round.
Not counting Tony's "click" there has been no firing this round. Dez's team win initiative for the next round.
Fifth round: Dez will fire - specifically, toss his grenade at Merkava. His back three guys will move forward to join him and the other two. Tony will equip a new magazine and then fire.
A grenade may normally be thrown up to 25m. Merkava is 22m away (DM-2) and Dez has just his default of +0. He biffs the grenade and misses her; a miss goes 1d6 metres in a random direction from the target. With "1" being forward of her, it goes in the "5" direction - forward and to the left of her facing, missing her by 3 metres. While all the rubble will protect her from fragmentation, this is still within range for concussive effects, and so Dez throws for a blunt wounding attack against her head - she has no helmet and he throws 6, a WIA effect (had she been helmeted, a 6 would have been no effect). She is stunned and woozy, with a DM-2 to further actions.
As he does this, Dez's back three guys now join him and his two.
Having been wounded, Merkava loses 1 Readiness for this round, and loses her watch action. Tony reloads his rifle and lays down suppressive fire on Dez and his now reunited team. Of course he gets another stoppage.
This time they are tied for initiative, however Dez's team are suppressed and have no actions this round, so Merkava and Tony can act as they wish with two actions each - though Merkava will have DM-2 to all her actions, and has run out of assault rifle ammunition and is relying on her handgun. "Time to fuck off!" says Tony and Merkava woozily agrees. They use their actions to do a double move each, moving 16m further away from Dez's team, making it 38m.
Given the amount of rubble around, if they win initiative again next round they'll make the distance 56m, making it very hard even for aimed shots from Dez's team to strike them. On the other hand, Dez will be able to follow them.
It's been a shitty day.