I've run an ACKS campagin for som time now. The initative rules became an issue, as the party grow and became filled with henchmens and followers of various sorts. At some points therer was a need for rolling 12 initatives each round. It slowed combat and did not add anything to the fun.

To counter this and to make play quicker and more easy, I have tried out three solutions.

See below for optional rule A, the combat commander. This had a great effect, as it reduced the initatives from 12 down to 4.

The optional rule B, vagaries of combat is a second attempt. I'm not that sure about it. 

Both of these two suggestions and ideas, are based upon the book; ACKS Domains of War: Campagins.

Lastly, but most important, is the tip I would strongly suggest for all (see below). Make name tags and a table as shown and put the name tag where it belongs on the initative. It makes it easy for everyone to see the overall picture and when to act.



Players may organize themselves into groups, where they allow a player to act as their commander. Instead of rolling one initiative per combatants, as the basis rules indicate. The commander rolls initiative adding his strategic ability (see below) instead of the dexterity bonus, and apply the result as the initiative for all the combatants he controls. If this option is chosen, the commander decides if the action type of the individual commanded is to be ordinary, spell or defensively. If the commanders commands creatures that takes different types of actions, the collective initiative is reduced by a -2 penalty for each additional category (ie. extra column). If a player disagree and want to break free from the command, he acts last in that particular round and must act as an individual combatants for the rest of the encounter.

Strategic Ability: An officer’s strategic ability score equals his bonus from either high Intelligence or Wisdom (whichever is better, minimum 0), less his penalty from low Intelligence or Wisdom (whichever is worse, maximum 0). For each rank of Military Strategy proficiency the officer possesses, his strategic ability is increased by 1. The minimum strategic ability is -3 and the maximum strategic ability is +6. This is according to ACKS domains at war campaigns page 20.


Instead of rolling for initiative each consequent round, instead the Judge roll on the table below; once each round – starting on the second round – after participants has informed the Judge of their intended actions.




Wavering: Initiative is unchanged from last round. All henchmen, followers and follower type enemies, select the defensive action, waits to attack closing opponents or readies missile attack.


Battle cries: All roll 1d6 for initiative. Commanders using strategic ability, get a penalty of -2 on initiative, since it is difficult to hear their commands. If there are creatures nearby, they will take notice and join the encounter after last initiative count. They take actions next round.


Chaotic: All roll 1d8 instead of 1d6 for initiative. Summoned creatures fail to understand the commands given and are wavering this round (see above), unless the caster use the entire round focusing on this task alone.


Enemy rush: Initiative is unchanged from last round, but all enemies have their initiative increased by two.


Stabilizing fronts: Initiative is unchanged from last round.


Enemy disorder: Initiative is unchanged from last round, but all enemies have their initiative reduced by two.


Standoff: All roll 1d6 for initiative, keep the one from last round or enemies take initiative 7. One enemy make a pose and intimidates, then waits. All other enemies choose to wait to see what the players do. Judge may alter this or roll again..


Shifting battlefield: It starts to rain, smoke drifts inn, a fire start, etc. All roll 1d6 for initiative or keep the one from last round. Judge decide actual event.


Second wind: Initiative is unchanged from last round. This round, all combatants has +1 on saves and no moral rolls required. Frightened or paralyzed creatures gain a second save, but may take not actions.



Create cardboard pieces (name tags). One piece per combatant showing their name. Then create a larger cardboard sheet as shown. As combatants declare action type and then roll for initiative, place their name tag on the given initiative row and in the column according to their chosen action type.






















































Question - do you as the DM keep track of the initiative of the players, or do the players keep track of their own (and that of their henchman?)

I have tried a variety of ways to keep track of intiative, from lists, magnetic markers, etc.  I've read a ton of blogs trying to figure this out, until I read one (don't remember which one) which had a suggestion that made it SO much easier:

I don't keep track of player intiative, they keep track of their own.  I just keep track of my NPC/monster initiative(s).  

What I have found takes the most time is writing down the list.  If each player (including the DM) keeps track of their own actors initiative you don't need a master list. 

Here's what I do each round:

  1.  I state in general what the the opponents are doing (the orcs move to attack, the bowman fire, the evil cleric is casting) 
  2. I ask them in general what they and their henchman are doing (e.g. move, attack, casting, etc)
  3. I roll initiative for my mosters/NPC,  all as one, or by groups (I quickly jot it down). 
  4. At the same time the PCs roll initiaitve for them and their henchman
    1. Some roll once and apply the individual initiative mods
    2. some roll for each henchman
  5. I count down from 8 ('anyone go on 8?') and the we resolve everyone's actions at that initiative.  If the PCs realize that they want to go after another combatant, they say "I will wait until after Jace casts fireball".  The DM controlled group(s) go on their turn. 
    1. If two PCs on same initiative, they decide who goes first
    2. If DM and PC on same initiative, it is simaltaneous (both occur).
  6. Repeat

I thought it would be a problem, but my PCs only have to remember 2 to 4 numbers each round, which they can write down.  We have had 15 PC/hench/subhench initiative rolls per round, and it takes almost the same time as when we had 5 PC rolls.  It really flows quickly.  

The PC's have never complained, the combats are still pretty quick (especially compared to 5e), and it taks a HUGE amount of stress off of my shoulders.  

We haven't missed the master list, and it went a lot smoother than I imagined before I tried it.  My $0.02, YMMV

1 Like

Thank you for your reply.

I give a player the responsibility for the 'master list', and just focus on paying attention to what the players are actually rolling and deciding.

The method you suggest (counting down intitative) is the one stated in the rule book. I see that it would give a certain element of stress for the players. The judge keep counting and if a player forgot his place, his number or his actions, he goes last and would be regarded as waithing. That is a good thing and keeps the combat flowing. So far so good. However.

First; the players also declare particular action types: Spell or defensive. This is an important tactical part of the game and should not be mixed. Boiled down to: move OR spell, fight OR retreat. Very important lines are drawn.

Second; some players do cheet, 'remember wrong' or actually forget his number. Following your method, it would be obvious that the Judge is incabable of revising a player claim when a lot of combatants participates. It is 100% based on trust. In addition, as the numbers grow, players will focus on keeping track on their own initative and not take notice on other players. 4-5 dices to be rolled per player, perhaps 6-12 times per encounter.

Third; giving orders and beeing in command is a part of the ACKS system and the initative in battle for commanders is based on different stats. I think this is a great and exiting aspect of the system. Incorporating it in to combat, in my oppinion, is a natural step as the group goes larger. It does save time during the initative process and it does allow for a different type of speed. But I'm not sure that my version of this is the right.

Forth; giving orders and controlling men, spells or summoned creatures. I've wondered if there should be something in the initative, that said something about this. Listening to the player that has summoned 6 creatures, and have 4 henchmen; one realize that it is not the number itself that represents the problem. It is the many different orders the player gives. Ex. You two; up there and attack, you two, to me and defend, you two; on the other side, hench1; cast a spell, hench2; defend me, hencn3; charge. It takes some time just saying the words. I see a definitive need for some clarificatins for leadership in combat and I think they should be connected to the initative. The example included only one player - and I must add - he do loves it. You can argue all day: after all the player is still the boss. Remember, there are rules regarding Activation Points for commanding large units. One order per unit is the same as one order per individual. I see a need to adress this and it is something that perhaps should be explored in an Axiom (Leadership in combat on squad level).

Regarding the practicallities.

I have played the Savage Worlds systems, and they use player cards that the player places in front of them. Their take on this is quite different and not something I recomend for use in ACKS.

Have you tried a version of this where the players are required to write down their initative on a sheet in front of them? Or using a dice, playcard or marker of some sorts? I personally would think this would be a less effective way. It would require time to find the actual piece to show and it would still be questionable if this piece was for the player or one of your two or three henchmens. Plastic name cards, where the number written, could be erased each round..?

I must admit that I'm quite sceptic to your solution. It is probably the best when the group consists of perhaps 8- combatants. But when the groups becomes a small army; Ex: 4 players, 12 henchmens, 4-8 summoned creatures, and perhaps 30 enemies of different sorts. Then I'm not so sure.




We use a spreadsheet accessible by all players in Google Docs. Said spreadsheet also allows us to mark notes like spell/retreat/fighting withdrawal declarations and conditions.

There are five columns: NAME (color-coded by player to keep track of henchmen and followers), INITIATIVE, MODIFIERS, ROLL, and RANDOM (1d6).

Every round, after declarations are complete, I copy/paste the values from the RANDOM column into the ROLL column. There’s a formula in the INITIATIVE column that sums ROLL and MODIFIER. Then I sort high to low using the INITIATIVE column.

I like this method because it’s transparent, simple, keeps everyone on the same page, and keeps “die” rolls in the open. Plus, can’t get enough spreadsheets!

I was skeptical at first as well.  Once we started using it, it really wasn't that difficult.  Each player has multiple henchmen (and even a few sub-henchman).  In many combats, my two mages cast one or more summon beserker spells.  We also use figures and a battle mat.  

The players have NEVER forgotten their own initiative.  They are on the edge of their seat waiting to go. They each are the commanders of their own 'army' of henches.  My rule is that summoned creatures move on the initiative of the summoning spellcaster.  Familiars and animals move on the initiative of their owner.  If each player rolls initiative one time, all they need is a list of the different mods of their crew.  

Now they do not know when the other players go (unless they ask each other), but that actually fits within the game fiction. 

Each player is locked into their original declaration made before initiative.  I don't make them pick targets until their turn, but they sometimes waste their actions as a result.  I do allow movement before and after attacks, but not if engaged.  I also make the spellcasters declare the spells they are casting (but not targets).  With figures on a battle mat, most of the time it is obvious what each actor will do.  

Cheating is a potential problem.  The potential solutions are:

  • Making every player roll a specific color d6 (I have some green ones)  and keeping them in front of them.
  • Spot checking players with suspicious lucky streaks and punishing cheaters with a 10% xp penalty until next level
  • Reward players for catching other players.  (My players are competitive with each other, so they are a check on each other without rewards).

I'm not going to say that it has never happend, but I haven't noticed an advantage for the players (unless i go into a funk on rolling initiative).  I make all of my rolls in the open, so I try to encourage openess at the table.  

We have had some big battles. About two sessions ago we had a battle involving:

  • 6 pcs
  • 6 henchman
  • 3 familiars
  • 3 sub-henchman
  • 1 sub-familiar
  • 8 summoned berserkers

fighting against 3 groups of gtihyanki.  It went fairly smoothly, (although a lot of the henches and sub henches in the back were dropped from a gith mage's lighting bolt who came in from the rear). 

The largest fight occured when the party and their full compliment was travelling in the wilderness with 20 marines and were attacked by about 100 bandits.  The players had 16 PCs/henches/sub henches (not including familiars), 16 berserkers, and 20 marines.  It was a complicated fight, but intiative was not the issue.  

One of my groups (with 3 PCs) doesn't like a lot of henchmen (they see it as an XP drain), but my other group (with 5 PCs) routinely brings about 6-8 followers each dungeon delve.  As they are higher level they are finding that low level sub-henches tend to die as they go deeper into the dungeon, but that hasn't disuaded them.  

Hardrada's spreadsheet idea is  interesting.  I usually have my laptop hooked up to a tv during play.  Automating initiative rolls and sorting the list by initiative number would be a quick reference for the table.  I just haven't seen a need for a list after we moved on to players keeping track of their own numbers.  

What works for me might not work for you.  My suggestion is to try it a few times with an open mind.  If it doesn't work, don't use it, and try something else.  

I second the suggestion that you have players keep track of their own initiatives, and just count down from eight (or nine, if someone in the party has a +3 initiative modifier.)

[quote="Frank"] I see that it would give a certain element of stress for the players. [/quote] No, not really. It's very little information to keep track of. My players just roll one die for each character under their control, and then leave the die face-up on the relevant character sheet as a reminder of the number they rolled.

So? Your players still have to declare whether they cast a spell or engage in defensive movement before rolling initiative. This isn’t any change from any other system of tracking initiative.

[quote="Frank"] Second; some players do cheet. [/quote] If a player is not interested in following the rules of the game, they are not interested in playing that game. Remove cheating players from your campaign. If your players are cheating so much that you feel the need to cheat-proof the rules, the game is a mis-match for your players, so you should play something else.

[quote="Frank"] But I'm not sure that my version of this is the right. [/quote] There's no One True Way that's objectively "right." Every campaign is a law unto itself: If your group wants to do this, you are free to do it.

I must admit that I have a negative respond to this last answer. In particular to the cut regarding players that cheet. It would be wrong to say that I or my players are not interested in playing or that cheeting is a part of our game. I have no plans on either to cast out one of my friends or stop playing the ACKS rules. I found that to be a strange advice. Actually I think the ACKS rules have a lot to them. But I do think there are some issues to be discussed.

In my experience, only players that are very invested in a game would fall for the temptation to cheet. They get carried away and fear for the life of their character. I find this as a prove of exitement and immersion. And, not to forget, some players just remember the rules and numbers wrong. Perhaps the players in this last category are the one less invested in the game? Lack of exitement and immersion, leads to lack of interrest and is a sure game killer.

Taking sentences out of the contex of some others comment does not in general contribute to the discussion. I will insted focus on getting to my point:

Role playing rules in general, are complex affairs - some more complex than other. The more complex rules, the higher risk of errors. Complex rules require more stop time to check the rules. In my opinion, everything that can be made easy without compromizing the intentions of the game and the rules, should be considered. Experiences with the rules leads to House rulings and some House rulings are made unintentional believing one actually follow the rules. This is why I raised the point on Initiative.

I have tested your advice, on counting initative from 8 and in my experience players tend to mix things up. In my experience the table and the cards (tip above) takes less time and works better for us. It also becomes clear that players with high static modifiers in the initative generally always goes first. The initative dice (of 1d6) seems to be less important when adding +3.

This leads to another point. If one managed to reduce the: 4-5 rolls per player times with 5 players and a judge = 20-25 dice rolls each round, down to a lower number, and still have the chance of the initiative changing each round, it would be an improvement. Rolling the dices is fun only when there are tension in the outcome, else it takes time and becomes repetative and tedious. 

So, I rarely sit down during game... I usually arbiter the game on my feet, standing in front of a white board where I am free to draw maps and write some useful stuff. And before each game session I prepare this simple setting for Initiative counting. In blue are the names of our players, and under then are Allies, Enemies and Villain ("Aliados", "Inimigos" and "Vilão"). Every combat round I ask for Initiative and the players shout their results at me so I can quickly set the order of said round. Normally I have a small table next to me to roll some dice, but I'm starting to let the players roll the dice for me, telling me the result. It is unusual I know, but I find it saves a lot of time (and I really enjoy having no control on the rolls and attacks of the NPCs)

Here is a picture of their fight against a vicious Giant Scorpion they faced on the desert. It took 4 rounds for the monster to be slain, and poor Edu, our Dwarven Delver, was downed on the third round. But thanks to the healing spells of our Shaman he survived with only some severe scars.

If you rarely sit down, the rpg session also provide some work out. ;) This is cleary an entertaining event! I truly admire your compassion. 

I decided to test out the advice that the user Hardrada gave.

I've been too 'old school' in my mindset to consider using apps, spreadsheets or similar 'modern' tools. I downloaded the Initative Tracker (IN) app. ( to my android cell phone. You put in the name of the actor, select d6 as initiative dice and put in the modifer of the actor. Repeat for each player, henchmen or other participant (monster 1, monster 2 etc.) - and save the list. The save option makes it a one time job.

With a simple push on the 'play' button, the initative is rolled and the list created. Amazing! I just ask the players if anyone is withrawing or casting spells, then push play and I call out the names of the various actors in the order of the list. Highly recommendable. With my challange of having 25 different actors - everything is organized in a blink of an eye!

There are probably other apps that is similar in functionality and usable on tablets, pc or other tools. Please do try it out.

I run initiative as follows:

  1. Each player rolls a separate die for his PC, each of his henchmen, and each group of identical troops
  2. I roll a separate die for each named NPC, monster with more HD than the players, and each group of identical monsters with lower HD than the players. If any group is larger than the number of PCs, I split it into PC-party sized groups.
  3. I then count down from 10. When I get to a number whoever is on that initiative can act or hold. You can hold up to your negative number.

So for instance:
If a party of 4 3rd level heroes encounters two 4+1 HD ogres, they’d roll initiative for their PCs and I’d roll initiative for ogre #1 and ogre #2.
If a party of 6 9th level heroes encounter five 4+1 HD ogres, they’d roll initiative for their PCs and I’d roll initiative for the five ogres as a unit.

These are just my rules of thumb but they work to keep to keep the number of die rolls manageable. Big threats get their own die, small threats act in groups.

I do something similar to Alex, and I like his house rule monsters with higher/lower than the PCs. I’ll adopt it.

I have never had a problem with calling initiative down and letting the players track their initiative. If they have problem remembering, simply have them place their initiative die plainly visible on their character sheet in front of them where everyone can see them. It helps them remember and might prevent the temptation to cheat. If you catch someone cheating you should address that with the player. It’s a game, and like any other game, cheating ruins the fun for everyone else.