Lance and I talked a while back about weapon speed factors, and I still haven't quite shaken the idea that weapon speed factors are a great idea. Although he and I don't agree exactly on the implementation of them, we seem to agree in principle that they can serve to add a dynamic feel to tactical round-based combat.
I read some viewpoints on this variant. One staunch detractor was Sean K. Reynolds. His post was interesting, and I get where he's coming from. But he took a 'case closed' approach that I don't feel was justified. He seemed to feel that introducing a speed variant justified revisiting other combat rules. Well, it does, if you want to. Heck, you can do whatever you want in your own game! But it doesn't have to. Attempting to bring in one factor of realism to combat doesn't require bringing in ALL factors of realism, lest we have to account for the efficacy of piercing/slashing/bludgeoning weapons versus leather/chain/plate armor, just as an example. We don't want to do that; we want to reflect the dynamic, unpredictable flow of combat (while rewarding quicker characters with a very slight edge) without bogging down the game.
I propose something light and simple as a solution:
Weapon Initiative Penalty
Unarmed, spells 0
Finessable weapon -1
One-handed weapon -2
Two-handed weapon -3
Now, I do agree with Mr. Reynolds in the greater body of his article that weapon speed factors become a moot point after round one. At least they do when using the standard initiative model. Sean says that weapon speed factors still result in 10 attacks by side A and 10 attacks by side B in 10 rounds (assuming low level characters). Heck, almost everything about initiative is a moot point after round one. Improved initiative is a waste of a feat, at least.
The point of this post is, then, two-fold. I wish to justify weapon speed factors (and hopefully coax comments about them), and propose a floating initiative system, which resolves the aforementioned mootness of weapon speed factors.
I've done a floating initiative system before, in which initiative is rolled every round. While this CAN slow combat down, it doesn't have to. Just about every game table I've seen in the last five years has a laptop at it. Why not open up a spreadsheet program with a random number generator formula? (E.g., =RANDBETWEEN(x,y) in MS Excel). Hit F9 to recalculate every round, and use an auto sort macro to put it in top-down order each time? A proficient user could recalculate initiative every round in a second or two.
What does this look like at the table? Round after round, the quicker character (i.e., the character with higher dexterity, lighter weaponry, and the improved initiative feat) gets a chance to go first more often. But there's always a chance that your foe gets two full rounds off before you get yours. I liken this to the dynamic flow of exciting battles in novels and movies.