No More Turns


The Real Time Combat Engine of Unchained Heroes is structured to do away with the concept of Turns as we know them. The idea that we roll Initiative once and then the order of actions is static for the entire battle is put to the wayside. The Real Time Combat Engine is built upon dynamic actions and fluid combat and by doing away w with Turns, there are more options for that type of combat experience .

In Unchained Heroes, actions are given Action Times (AT) that are measured in Time Intervals (TI) and plotted on Combat Timelines. These Combat Timelines are visible to everyone at the table and can be anything from lines on a sheet of paper to a board with numbers with miniatures marking their place. Action Times simulate the preparation time, casting time, or positioning time it takes to perform the action you intended. The Time Intervals are simply “ticks” or “hashes” on the Combat Timeline and represent 1 second in game time. If you were to drink a healing potion it might take you 5 seconds to pull it off your belt, unstopper it, and chug it down. This would be an AT5 action, meaning it took 5 TI to complete from start to finish. If you wanted to cast a Fireball Spell through a Staff focus, it would be an AT13 action as you build up the power within you (and the staff) to unleash the powerful blast it is capable of performing. For 13 TI on the Combat Timeline, you would be preparing the spell and making ready to unleash it. If you were going to make a quick lunge with your dagger at your foe, your action would take AT7. This would represent your maneuvering and positioning to find the right moment to strike.

For those of you that would like a video, this one shows you a few quick examples of how some actions work.

You can find a much more detailed example of a Combat Encounter on the Combat Timeline in Action page. 

Like other Tabletop Roleplaying games, you start with rolling Initiative to determine the action declaration order–something we call the first Declaration Phase–and then each Hero and Villain (what we call our monsters) tells everyone what they will be doing. At that point, their action goes into something called the Preparation Phase, the length of which is determined by the Action Time (AT) of the action. You can think of the Preparation Phase as the time it takes to get out your magical components to cast a spell or the time it takes for you to position yourself for a perfect strike. Those of you that are fans of MMORPGs might call it the casting time or swing timer. When this phase is complete you get to jump into Activation Phase–when the action is actually performed.

Each action you perform on the Combat Timeline is added to the previous action to determine when it occurs. This sets the order of combat for everyone, telling you when you will go next and if someone else gets to go before you. The Combat Timeline is read from left to right, and actions are resolved based on the next lowest TI that an action is set to activate.

Combat Timeline Example

If you drank a fleet-foot potion at TI5, and declared a Fireball with AT13, you would add 13 to 5 for a total of 18. This tells you that your Fireball occurs at TI18 on the Combat Timeline. Since your potion drinking is complete, the GM needs to read the Combat Timeline from left to right and look for the next action that will occur. She sees that your Goblin opponent has an AT9 action set to go off at TI9. Since an action is triggered at TI9 before TI18 comes up, the Goblin gets to go next and attempts to hit you with their poison tipped spear. At this point the Goblin (controlled by the GM) would decide their next action. If it just so happened that the AT of their Action plus the TI when their last action occurred is less than TI18, they would get to go before you! This occurs to the GM and she decides she is going to do just that by throwing an Incendiary Potion at you in AT5. Adding AT5 to TI9, means the Goblin’s action occurs at TI14, which is before you get to act with your Fireball. This is the beauty of the system, if you can see a way to do it, you can get multiple actions off before your opponent in rapid succession.

(You can find a much more detailed example on the Combat Timeline in Action page.)

For those of you furrowing your brow that one person can get off multiple actions before the next, don’t despair! Faster actions are frequently less damaging or powerful than slower actions by nature of the rules system, but they give you more attempts at triggering a particular effect. Slower actions, by comparison, pack a hefty wallop, but don’t trigger effects as often.

Different Action Times

Different Abilities are assigned different Action Times and different equipment, such as weapons, change the speed of your actions. A Dagger for example has a Weapon Speed of 7, while a Two-handed Greatsword has a Weapon Speed of 13. Now if we were playing a typical Turn-based RPG, your choice of weapon would be very important to maximize damage. In fact, I remember a game that I used to play where it only made sense to used 2 No-Dachi swords with d20 for damage each. Anything else would be hindering your damage output. Why use a dagger for d4 damage when you could use d20? You may say, for character reasons. Yes, I agree, that is a great reason, but game mechanics and role-playing mechanics were misaligned in that system. It forced you to choose one or the other and depending on the situation, you were hindered. The Combat Timeline and the Real Time Combat Engine are meant to give you options and tactical control over combat, part of those options involve flavor and play-style choices. We don’t hinder a person for not choosing the “best” weapon because all weapons are good in this system. In Unchained Heroes, the AT of weapons allows for damage “normalization”, so choose your weapon based on what you feel like using for your Hero!

If we look at a dagger and a no-dachi in Unchained Heroes you would find the following:

  • Dagger Stats = Weapon Speed 7, Weapon Dice Size d6, Hands 1

  • No-Dachi Stats = Weapon Speed 13, Weapon Dice Dice Size d12, Hands 2

Without jumping too deeply into mechanics right now, you can see the person that chooses to use the Dagger is capable of 2 attacks for every 1 attack a No-Dachi user would be capable of performing. This normalizes damage output and frees a player from having to choose between handicapping their character for the sake of sticking to their role-playing story. It puts the power gamer and the role-player on a level playing field that rarely exists in Paper RPGs.

Designing a system that could put the role-playing aspect of RPGs and combine it power-gamer style combat was the fundamental goal I had when designing this game. I never wanted to sacrifice my play-style for the need to pick an role-playing spell in my spellbook over a fireball and I never wanted to have my dagger wielding Halfling rogue play second fiddle to my brother’s dual wielding Minotaur with double No-Dachis.