Initiative Tracking Trickery

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As part of our fall roadmap, we have started work on support for chat tools. We are now working on the first of these tools, the Pathfinder Initiative Tracker. We’re using the initiative tracker as a sort of ‘prototype’ to suss out how chat tools should interact with the chat room, and what technical support they need to do their work.

Unrestricted Initiative

One of the issues we encountered while working on the initiative tracker comes from our philosophy that RPGpad shouldn’t arbitrarily restrict what you can do. This philosophy means that our first design allowed everyone to adjust the initiative order, or to simply remove entries from the initiative. This mirrors how we track initiative at the table: we often use paper cards placed in order: everyone can see them, and everyone can move them around or adjust the order.

Of course, chat roleplay is a little different from the table. Communities are larger, often open for anyone to join, and most roleplay is done in rooms that everyone can join — which is a good thing! However, this also means that it becomes more difficult to build trust, and not everyone knows the community’s conventions and expectations when they join.

Because of this, we always try to think through our designs from an adversarial perspective as well. We don’t think that this happens often, but we want to give every campaign the tools to deal with situations such as “someone joins the room, and messes up the initiative.”

After a short brainstorm, we end up with three solutions for this problem, each with their own pros and cons:

  1. Exclusive Use Not everyone is allowed to interact with the initiative tracker. The game master can add players to the initiative tool, and those players are then allowed to use the tool.
    • Pros: this prevents new players (and trolls) from misusing the initiative tracker.
    • Cons: the game master now has to manually adjust this list. If the initiative tracker is not cleared other players cannot reset it to run a different adventure in that room.
  2. Show Use Everyone is allowed to do most things but a message is shown in the chat room and the archive that that player adjusted the initiative.
    • Pros: this makes adjustments of the initiative tool visible, allowing players in the community to handle issues themselves by seeing who was responsible for the change and adressing them
    • Cons: your initiative is still going to be messed up after someone accidentally (or intentionally) adjusts the tracker
  3. Track Adventurers Each room keeps track of a list of ‘adventurers’, which players can be added to and removed from by game masters hosting the adventure.
    • Pros: this prevents new players (and trolls) from misusing the initiative tracker. Knowing which players were “officially” part of the adventures makes other features possible.
    • Cons: the game master now has to manually manage the list of adventurers. The list can be made to reset after everyone leaves the room, because it is an integral part of the roleplay support now.

We rejected the Exclusive Use solution almost immediately, because we do not want to add to the workload of the game master by having them manage the initiative tracker permissions. We can see the use of tracking which players are the adventurers in the room, especially if we combine it with actual Adventure support (a more powerful version of the time spans introduced two months ago). However, both these solutions are based on restricting what players can do.

The initiative tracker as we are currently building it uses the ‘Show use’ solution: it does not restrict players, but makes everyone in the room accountable for their actions by showing who did what. This is, in our view, the perfect balance. It allows everyone to do the things they want — which might mean helping out the game master by handling readied actions and delays, or the game master delegating the initiative to a player — while at the same time making sure that everyone can see who changed what. Incidentally, this is more tabletop-like than the other two solutions.

Sneak Preview

The initiative tracker in its current “in development” state, including a lovely red border showing who is currently taking their turn:

Initiative Tracker Sneak Preview

The initiative tracker can be seen directly above the message input field.

When activate the initiative tracker recognizes initiative rolls by players, and it will automatically add players to the initiative — the repeated “alia added {name} to the initiative” will not be shown if a game master is tracking the initiative, but it will if a players is doing so. As discussed above, this is to keep the initiative changes transparent.

We are also adding support for a “magic” marker in the form of (&next) that can be added to a post to automatically pass the turn to the next player in the initiative. There will, of course, also be a normal “End turn” button available.

We have several other ideas for the initiative tracker, but since it is early in the development we won’t go into details.

Next week we will continue work on the initiative tracker… For this week, we have a changelog ready for you with several relevant bug fixes. If you find any bugs or have any feedback let us know via the community forum!