Turn-Based Combat

A form of Tabletop/Video Game combat where players and their units act in turns. Combat time is split into chunks (turns), during which individual units can act in more or less fixed order. While a player contemplates their next action, Time Stands Still for everyone on the battlefield.

Turn-based combat is one of the most glaring Acceptable Breaks from Reality: while utterly unrealistic, its major appeal lies in the ability to abstract the chaotic mess that is Real Life combat with a few concise gameplay rules. Furthermore, its implementations tend to go easier on video game hardware than real-time combat, and it also allows for more gameplay complexity, since the players have all the time they need to review all options and select the best course of action.

Turn-based combat will often but not necessarily feature some of the Common Tactical Gameplay Elements. For additional classification see Analysis.Turn Based Combat. Compare Real Time with Pause, which is sometimes used to hide a turn-based move and attack resolution behind seemingly real-time gameplay. See also Sliding Scale of Turn Realism.

All War Gaming, Tabletop RPG, Turn-Based Tactics, and Turn-Based Strategy games feature turn-based combat by definition, making it an Omnipresent Trope in those media/genres, so please put those examples directly on the respective genre page.

Turn-based combat is often confused with another, less popular but distinct video game combat system—the Combatant Cooldown System. The rule of thumb to tell them apart: in a turn-based combat, every character gets to act at least once per turn (unless killed or otherwise disabled) and their speed mainly determines who goes first (see Action Initiative); in a Combatant Cooldown System, faster characters can act more often than slower ones, so it can occur that a latter has only moved once in the time it took a former to move, cool down, and move again.


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    Eastern RPG 
  • Final Fantasy I, II, and III used turn-based combat before the introduction of the Active Time Battle system in later titles. However, it is also used in the relatively recent Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (which is also a spin-off of the core Final Fantasy series) and its even more recent Spiritual Sequel Bravely Default (which also takes some elements from the FF series), mostly because these two are throwbacks to classic Final Fantasy (4 Heroes of Light, to the NES era FF and Bravely Default, to the SNES era FF sans ATB).
  • The Uncharted Waters series switches to turn-based combat mode during naval battles. In Uncharted Waters: New Horizons, sword duels between fleet captains are also fought like this, with each combatant attacking and defending in turns.
  • The main Shin Megami Tensei series tends to a be variation of One Side, One Turn where your party members act in order (based on the position in your party) until you run out of actions, and then the enemy goes in the same fashion. While they fit into the basic One Attack formula, the twist is that you can have more actions per turn than you have party members, and can gain or lose them based on what you do during the turn, generally gaining extra actions for critical hits and targeting weakness, while losing them for missing or targeting resistances. You don't have the freedom to choose who uses which actions, so the extra actions go to people further up on your party list, making formation very important. There are no out-of-turn actions except basic reprisal attacks on some characters.
  • Eternal Eyes.
  • In Golden Sun, actions are made at the beginning of every round with each party member going after the other. In some cases a party member can act twice.
  • The Dragon Quest series uses turn-based combat and, from DQ4 onwards, included a limited party member AI (it is possible to order them to automatically heal allies, enemies, etc.), which can speed up the combat considerably but is best to turn it off for boss battles.
  • In Epic Battle Fantasy, orders are not given at the beginning of a round but individually, making it easier to react to battle events (particularly useful against a boss whose resistance changes after every attack).
  • In Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World, each battle turn begins with player inputting commands for the Player Party and then watching as party members and enemies duke it out in order based on their agility stats.
  • In EarthBound, everyone's actions are chosen at the start of the round, then they act in Speed order. The game does not tell you in advance which one of your party members will go first (other than manually checking their stats).
  • In Pokémon, the one with highest speed goes first, though some moves (Quick Attack, etc.) override it.

  • While most scenes in Otakon LARP are conducted in Real Time, when timing becomes an issue (usually for combat), characters act in turn order. Turn order is determined first by their Dexterity stat, with ties broken by Intelligence. If characters have the same dexterity and intelligence, their actions are simultaneous.

    Strategy RPG 
  • The Disgaea series uses a pure One Side, One Turn system, with more freedom than most. Because of the emphasis on a combo bonus for multiple attacks on the same target, you're encouraged to move all your characters into position before making them attack, and in fact there's an "execute" command you need to use in order to make anything actually happen, upon which the actions occur in the order you selected them. There's also some meta-fiddliness you can do involving placing characters into position to support attackers, executing, and then canceling the movement. Since the support character never actually acted, they can then move again to support other attackers repeatedly until finally acting themselves. This doesn't make much logical sense in terms of movement rates, but it's a very "gamey" series that encourages clever abuses of game mechanics like that. As inferred, it uses One Move And One Attack and a Field Grid. Other games not in the main series have experimented with Continuous Terrain but have always felt awkward. Sometimes they also use a non-turn based initiative system like FFX.
  • Soul Nomad & the World Eaters is similar to Ogre Battle in that you construct parties that, for tactical purposes, acts as a single unit. Whenever this unit comes into contact with an enemy unit, themselves a full party, on the tactical map, it zooms in and has a little mini-battle plays out where each member of the party goes through their predetermined and limited action set (i.e. no more micromanaged player choices happen at that point). After that, the mini-battle ends regardless of whether or not any party-unit was fully destroyed, and the tactics game begins again. There's often a lot of complicated fiddling you can do with formations or side attacks or whatever. Ultimately though, it's no different from the One Move and One Attack thing combined with Field Grid, except each "unit" and each "attack" is a slightly more complicated array of mini-units with their own mini-actions.

    Western RPG 
  • All of the 1970s mainframe/minicomputer RPGs: dnd, Avatar, Dungeon, Moria, etc. These were all based on Dungeons & Dragons anyway.
  • Dragonstomper.
  • Ultima IV featured a simplistic turn-based combat wherein the player could perform a single action (move one square, attack in one of the directions, cast a spell, or skip turn) with each party member in the order they were recruited, after which every enemy got to act in the same way, and so on.
  • Might and Magic 1-5.
  • Betrayal in Antara.
  • Fallout and Fallout 2 are played in real-time but switched to turn-based when initiating combat. Then Fallout Tactics went the full-blown Turn-Based Tactics game route. Starting with Fallout 3, combat can be peformed either with the turn-based VATS or in real time. In Fallout 4, VATS no longer pauses time like in previous games, but only slows it down, and is the only way to trigger a critical hit.
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura is one the few games that offer both real time and turn-based combat modes.
  • GoldenLand switches between real-time exploration and turn-based combat similarly to the Fallout series.
  • Ancients 1: Deathwatch and Ancients 2 Approaching Evil.
  • Shadowrun Returns.
  • The Banner Saga is centered around tactical action point-based combat on a squared movement grid.
  • Divinity: Original Sin features tactical turn-based combat with initiative, action points, and free movement (no grid). A portion of the action points can be preserved by ending the turn early, so you can perform more actions on your next turn.
  • Torment: Tides of Numenera features turn-based combat, which will be tied into the (likewise turn-based) Dialogue Tree system.
  • Wasteland 2 has tactical squad-based combat with a square grid, action points, and initiative.
  • Underrail is similar to the classic Fallout games, but with a larger complexity reminiscent of the Jagged Alliance series.
  • Undertale uses this as is common with many RPG games. What makes it especially notable though, is the Final Boss of the Kill 'em All route...Sans the Skeleton. He starts by taking the first turn and delivering an Alpha Strike which can waste you in seconds, and in a game without accuracy/evasion stats, he dodges all of your attacks. Then he starts delivering Interface Screw attacks that are basically attacking you during your turn. At the end of the fight, he knows he can't defeat you, so he just does nothing in his turn so your turn never comes and the battle never ends.