The Savage World System
In Savage Worlds, Initiative is determined by using a 54-card deck (standard 52-card deck, including the Jokers). Each player and enemy is dealt a card (or group of enemies, like all the goblins are dealt one card, the orcs are dealt another card, etc). Ace goes first, King second, etc., down to 2 going last. At the end of each round, the cards are discarded, and a new set of cards are drawn. This means, that with each round, the chance of drawing a Joker increases.
If a Joker is drawn, that player/enemy is allowed to go whenever they wish; this can be reactionary (though not to be used in place of a player's reaction); in response to an attack made, or to wait for an opening made by another player, etc. They are also granted +2 to all rolls they make that round (attack rolls, skills checks, damage rolls, etc.). At the end of this round, when a Joker is drawn, all cards are shuffled back into the deck.
Players can also gain abilities that can modify their draw (such as their minimum Initiative is a 5 - cards are drawn until they get a card that is 5 or above), however I will omit this from this question, as that opens up a lot of different possibilities.
My House-rule for 5th Edition D&D
Dex is important to Initiative in 5e. Some of the "feats" in Savage Worlds allows players to draw multiple cards, in order to increase their chances of a higher card. I wanted Dex to mimic this by awarding players an additional card draw equal to half their overall Dex modifier, and/or a minimum Initiative of the overall Dex modifier*.
So here is my suggested house rule:
When players would normal roll for initiative, players instead draw from a deck of cards to determine their order.
- There are 54 cards in the deck. Standard 52 plus 2 jokers.
- Players draw cards equal to 1 + (Initiative Bonus / 2, round up) taking the highest card as their initiative score.
- If a player draws a card below their initiative modifier, they instead use their initiative modifier and their initiative score.
- Cards are discarded after each draw.
- If a joker is drawn the player may choose their own initiative score. Additionally the player has advantage on all rolls for the first round of combat.
- After a joker is drawn or there is not enough cards in the deck for a new draw. All cards are shuffled back into the deck.
Example: The Rogue has +3 initiative, +5 from the Alert Feat. He gets 4 cards in his initiative. Unfortunately, the highest card he gets is a 7, so he defaults to an initiative of 8. The Fighter has +0 Dex, so he only gets one card, but by the luck of the draw, scores an Ace!
*This would burn through the deck faster than you would in Savage Worlds, meaning that getting to the Joker would come sooner/more regularly. I'm not sure how this would affect balance
I have heard of systems that use a static Initiative system, working off flat Dex, rather than using a roll, and others that do re-roll Initiative each round, to create a more variable encounter system.
This system provides a more variable initiative, and the "Wild Card" is a major twist on the existing initiative system. What aspects of the 5e Initiative and combat system will this mechanic affect?