Popcorn initiative (AKA Elective Action Order or Balsera-Style Initiative) has been around for a while, but it’s new to me, a lot of fun, and might be perfect for your game. I’m playtesting a game for Pelgrane Press right now that uses it, and I’m stealing it for my Numenera playtest.
How It Works
Use the normal initiative process from your game to determine which player or NPC/Monster goes first. So far, no change.
Then, that player (or GM if it’s an NPC or Monster) chooses who goes next. When it’s your turn, you choose who goes next. Pop, pop, pop, the initiative goes around until everyone has gone and the round is done. Whoever went last gets to choose who goes first on the next round and can choose themselves.
Why Choose the Balrog?
The first time you use popcorn initiative, players will want to choose each other in a row, thinking of how smart they are. Then the last player must choose one of the GM’s characters. All the baddies get to go, and guess who the GM chooses to go first? The baddies! Yes, let’s give the balrog two turns in a row.
Gaming the System
The side with more turns has more control of the battle. If the GM has one boss and a bunch of minions who would normally go at the same initiative, the baddies can get boxed into the middle of the initiative order by astute players. To avoid this, break up that one big group of minions into a few smaller groups. Having roughly equal numbers of initiatives on both sides makes the popcorning more fun.
Some players who invested into having better initiative may feel cheated. I allow them to change their character if they no longer want those feats (d20), skill training (Cypher System), or whatever your game system uses. However, going first the first round is an advantage, so they might want to keep their initiative powers.
To help track who has gone this round, index cards with “Ready” on one side and “Done” on the other are perfect. Flip to “Done” once you’ve move, everyone reset to “Ready” when a new round starts.
Have you tried popcorn initiative? How did it work for you?