A new RPG system

Timing Mechanics

Every well developed RPG has a system for timing actions.  Who goes first, what and how much can they do in their time slot, etc…

The universal approach involves a Round (everyone gets to act) and a Turn (one characters actions).  Exactly how much in done in a turn, and how many turns are in a round is where the details get interesting.

There are many approaches to this, and here I will explore a few and follow with an outline of the system Living Myth will be using.

One Action per Turn, One Turn Per Round.

This is by far the most common.  It is featured in both GURPS and Fate.  In the case of GURPS, you can perform one amongst a set of Maneuvers, in Fate you may perform one action and move one zone (before or after).  However what is an action?  GURPS defines that explicitly, Fate defines it as something that requires dice.  So in Fate you can say “I swing down the Chandelier rope attacking the enemy with a slash”, and the Swinging is assumed to work and the attack is rolled.  In the case of GURPS you’d have to first swing down the rope, then on the next turn you would attack.  GURPS assumes small rounds, and Fate assumes no specific amount of time per round other than “whatever it takes”.

A nice property of this system is that it gives an equality to screen time.  Everyone can do the same amount of something every round even if the effectiveness of that something is different.  You could imagine that if one character got two turns per round and everyone else got one they would tend to dominate the narrative focus.

However, it also means that the same amount of time is taken regardless of what is being done.  While GURPS limits the actions to “one second”, the differences in weapon speed aren’t captured, neither are the differences in character speed.  Also the action is completely static, each person follows the same person every round regardless of what they did.  There is typically no mechanic for interrupts, and generally the actions seem to follow each other rather than feel simultaneous.

Multiple Actions per Turn, One Turn Per Round

I’ve only seen this in D&D.  The idea is that you can perform one Standard Action and one Move action, or one Full Round Action; additionally you may perform any number of Free actions, a Five Foot Step, and One Swift Action.

D&D is full of convoluted systems, but I see where they were going with this.  The Move and Standard allows again the Chandelier plus the Attack, or any of an wide assortment of combinations.  The Full Round Action on the other hand is focusing on a single thing, and typically the better you are the more of that single thing you can do.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time going into details about why I think this is actually worse than the One Action per Turn method, other than to say that it feels immersion breaking to have a single individual engage in several attacks, and then the next engage in several attacks, and so on.

One Action per Turn, Multiple Turns per Round

This is any of several systems where a characters action determines how many turns that character takes.  The two main approaches to this are: The Combat Wheel, and The Action Tick

The Combat Wheel

This is used in Exalted.  Divide the combat into 7 segments.  A single action will take anywhere from 1 to 6 segments.  When a character performs an action they move forward a number of segments equal to the speed of the action, if they go above 7, they count again from 0.  For example if it is segment 0, swinging on the Chandelier might take 3 segments so the character will move again on 3.  Play proceeds until Segment 3, and then the attack happens and the character moves forward a number of segments equal to the attack speed.  With all the characters doing this combat becomes more interesting and dynamic.  A character can do something small in preparation for something big, and with all the characters doing similar things combat has an intensity it doesn’t with One Turn per Round.  The only problem is that it is a foreign abstraction, and that can result in immersion problems caused from potentially dissociated mechanics.

Action Ticks

The other system for doing this is Action Ticks.  Action Ticks can be devised in a way that’s similar to the Combat Wheel, but they are much more flexible.  I first ran into one of these systems with Feng Shui, but it goes back at least to Champions RPG.  With this system each player is given a pool of action tokens, the one with the most tokens goes first and the action they perform takes a certain number of ticks.  Alternatively, each character bids on the speed of their action from their action tokens and the person that bids highest (or lowest) goes first.  This system has the same advantages as the combat wheel, and doesn’t feel dissociated the way the combat wheel does.  However, it is more complex, and depending on the specifics of the system tracking the tokens can be distracting from the narrative of play.

A Proposed System

I have used forms of the Action Tick system enough to know I have a preference for them.  The previous incarnation of this system used it.  Unfortunately the action tokens began to take on an ever increasing role in the game and became used for everything, to the point that it broke the system completely.  Poorly designed Action Tick systems are the worst, well designed they are the best.  I however trust we can develop a very well designed Action Tick system.


On the first round of combat everyone would roll initiative (say 1d20 for convenience right now), and would add their speed.

If an individual was the initiator of the combat, for example “I punch him”, they would gain +10 to initiative.

If one side was surprised, they would not roll dice for initiative.

The initiative would determine the number of Action Points they have on the first round.  The person with the most Action Points would declare first.  The speed of that action would cost a certain number of Action Points to perform, and then the person with the highest pool after that would go next.

When all characters are out of Action Points (up to 10 can be banked for the next round), the round ends.  The following round everyone gets 10+Speed+Banked Action Points in action points.


An Attack (and using a skill) would take 5 Action Points + Modifiers.  Defending would Cost 1 Action Point.  You may use a skill (e.g. attack) more than once in a round, but every subsequent use has a penalty (e.g. -5).

Modifiers to attack would be things like weapon speed.

Obviously this would need detail work.  What about Aiming, how does one interrupt, can you cancel an action.  However the basics are there.  You could even adapt this relatively easily to a D20 game by making Swift, Free, and Immediate Actions cost 1, Move actions cost 3, Standard actions cost 5, and Full Round Actions cost 10.

So, dear reader.  What are your considerations for timing mechanics?


4 responses

  1. I can’t recall the system, but I played one game where in the case of duels we rolled initiative before each round if you were closely matched with your opponent. This happened until there was a significant difference in the level of damage each player had suffered, at which point the one with less damage had the initiative. It was complicated, but interesting.

    February 16, 2014 at 7:40 am

  2. Pingback: Character Oriented Systems and Statistics | Living Myth Rpg

  3. Matt

    The Marvel Heroic RPG got it right, mostly. In essence, whoever takes the lead goes first (always a PC unless the GM pays to go first), then from there each player passes the spotlight to whoever they want (usually whoever is raising their hands and saying ‘ooh, me next’, but sometimes to the GMCs for strategic purposes), allowing for fast-paced tag-team action with the assets and complications each PC creates building on each other. It probably wouldn’t work for every genre, but for high-powered action, it was simple, effective, and fun.

    December 30, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    • I like The Marvel Heroic RPG’s system, especially for the way it encourages teamwork. However it lends itself to a particular play style that doesn’t match what I’m going for.
      That being said, it’s a good addition to my list.

      December 30, 2014 at 8:18 pm

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