Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Rondel: A roundless initiative system for LotFP and other OSR games


The concept of "the round" is such a bogus, tacked-on concession to the tabletop nature of the hobby, isn't it? But when combat starts there seems to be no better way to simulate the second-by-second ferocity of deadly warfare than the board-gamey but fair division of action into turns and rounds. Different games have approached this dilemma differently. For example, fifth edition leans into the boardgameyness, making the combat so much fun that you don't mind that its a separate thing. Free-form systems such as Apocalypse World give the GM total control over what happens next in combat. Neither of these work for me—I'm not a good enough GM for Apocalypse World systems, but I'm not smart enough for fifth edition. I need a system that is impartial, but still gives combat some organic unpredictability.


For this variant, you will need to print out the circular track below and find one marker of a different color for each player and some extra markers for the enemies. If you're an old-fashioned gamer like me, you might have some Looney Pyramids as pictured above floating around (excellently suited for the purpose), but wooden markers or even d6's will do in a pinch. The only requirement is that they are easily identifiable and stackable.


To begin combat, stack the player and enemy tokens on top of each other on the starting segment in a randomized order. The character whose token is furthest behind in clockwise order on the track gets the next action. If there are multiple tokens on the same segment (such as at the beginning of combat), then the topmost token gets the next action. After completing an action, the token belonging to that character will move clockwise some segments on the track (see below for more details). Because the number of segments moved  will vary, characters may be able to take two actions in a row or skip other characters in action order.

A monster will have a number of tokens equal to the number of attacks it would normally receive in a round. If there are multiple units of the same type, consider allowing them to "pool" their tokens together, choosing which individual unit takes the action when their token comes up.


Surprise: The tokens belonging to any characters that are surprised move clockwise 5 spaces at the beginning of combat and use their surprised AC until their first action.

Movement: Move clockwise three segments plus total encumbrance points (maximum of ten segments) to run up to 25' (five squares/hexes on a battlemap or to an adjacent "zone" if using theater of the mind). Assume that most monsters have two total encumbrance points.

*Note: Using this system, characters do NOT move and attack in the same action. If the character wants to move, they will have to be prepared to pay the opportunity cost.


On a hit, move clockwise a number of segments equal to damage dealt (max of ten).

On a miss, move clockwise a number of segments depending on the weapon:

Minor weapons: 3
Firearms: 3
All other Melee weapons: 4
Great weapons: 5
All Ranged weapons : 5

*Note: If the defender of an attack has a shield, spear, polearm, lance, using any other weapon that would make closing distance difficult, or actively parrying, move clockwise two extra segments on a miss (maximum of ten segments). This penalty is not cumulative.

Parry: Move five segments clockwise. Parrying grants AC bonuses as normal until the character's next action. As mentioned above, any attack on a parrying defender also moves clockwise two extra segments on a miss (maximum of ten segments).

Spells: Move clockwise five segments plus spell level minus intelligence modifier (magic-users and elves) or wisdom modifier (clerics), to a maximum of ten segments. If the character has taken any damage since their last action, a spell cannot be case. The spell does not take affect until the caster's next action. If the spell's duration refers to rounds, place a reminder token five segments clockwise per round from the target's segment when the spell takes affect. When the target reaches or surpasses the segment with the reminder token, the spell's effect ends. If the spell has no target, place the reminder token five segments clockwise per round from the magic-user's location.

Holding: Move five segments clockwise. As per normal Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules, an action may be reserved to perform some condition is fulfilled before the character's next action.

Any other action: move clockwise five segments minus any relevant ability modifier (to a maximum of ten). For example, manipulating the Cube of Leng for an action would cost five segments minus the character's intelligence modifier, grappling would cost five segments minus strength modifier, aiming is five segments minus wisdom modifier, and so on.

The GM may decide to increase or decrease the number of segments needed for more or less complicated actions if needed. I recommend three segments for simple actions and seven segments for complicated actions.

Design Goals

My design goal with this is to maximize the feeling of a more organic combat while minimizing the number of extra rules needed. Everything is based around five segments per action to aid in memory. Hopefully, everything is logical enough that it isn't a chore to remember all these details.

The idea of using a circular track to determine who takes the next turn is definitely not new. In boardgaming parlance, it is called a "rondel." The rondel system has been used in many boardgames before to great affect (I got the idea for this variant after playing a game of Patchwork with my wife). In fact, this whole system is very similar to the variant described in supplement III to the original game with the rondel being used to greatly ease calculation and everything being adapted for use with the excellent Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules.

Here is a google doc with a copy of the rondel and the cheat sheet that you can print out and use in your games if you're so inclined:

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