I’m sorry for lagging behind so much, but that new Zelda game is not going to play itself!
This makes me think of rupertdaily, an erstwhile friend, whom I introduced to RPGs and who died eight years ago. Through an auction, I got all of his Rolemaster stuff — Rolemaster being his first RPG (as it was mine, four years before I met him). I’ll never get to play with him again, which sometimes feels like a lost opportunity.
Ambushes are a big part of combat in RPGs. One way to make sure you survive insurmountable odds is to even the odds a bit by getting the drop on the opposition! Often, this means that the group doing the surprising gets to make their attacks before the other side can get their attacks in. And from then on, it’s just the usual initiative rounds.
The most interesting rule for initiative I’ve ever seen is in the Genesys ruleset (which is also used in the FFG Star Wars games), where you roll for a different skill depending on whether you expect a fight to break out, or not. I’ve never seen that anywhere, and I’m not so sure it makes sense: wouldn’t you expect the fight to continue after the first round, and thus react with the other stat in case of an ambush?
To me, a good session is when the characters have some kind of triumph. This doesn’t have to mean that everything goes their way (in fact, I’d argue that the fiction generated is more interesting when that does not happen), but some succesfull skill checks or a turn of the story is part of what keeps me coming back to a game. I want to feel like my character is making a difference, as if it matters what they are doing, and that they are succeeding in making progress, in whatever big or small way.
If I’d want an endless, hopeless slog without any ray of light, I’d go to my job. 😉