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Action Initiative

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Many Roleplaying Games have a system to establish which player actions are resolved first. This is important when certain actions should occur at the same time, as one could have priority over the other.

In the type of turn-based RPGs where every character participates once in every "turn" of combat (which is most tabletop ones, and videogame ones that don't use a Combatant Cooldown System), characters with high "Speed" generally get priority on who goes first. This too can be overridden by which action they choose. In video games, this may be displayed as a Visual Initiative Queue.


One of the attributes that determines Character Tiers in fighting games is a character's (or his/her attacks') priority over other characters/attacks. Contrast Extrinsic Go-First Rule, where who goes first is determined by something outside of the game itself.


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    Fighting Games 

    Idle Games 
  • Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms has Ishi Snaggletooth, whose attack speed is always 0.25 seconds faster than the fastest-attacking Champion that's currently on the field.

  • In Dofus and its successor Wakfu the initiative stat determines the turn order.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • Pokémon: there is an abundance of moves related to one of the thirteen priority tiers, such as Quick Attack, Aqua Jet and Mach Punch, in addition to items and abilities. See this guide for the mechanics.
  • In Skies of Arcadia, healing, defensive, and shielding super moves (as well as two ultimate team moves the player can use later on and a certain move used by the Final Boss) always happen before any other moves, regardless of character speed.
  • Turn order in Shining Force is based on the characters' speed stat.
  • The Golden Sun series has several Djinn that work this way - any damage-lowering Djinn such as Flash will be the turn's first action, as well as others such as Breath who are coded to "go before anyone else can act". Using two in one turn results in the characters' Agility being used as the tiebreaker. Notably, there are very few enemy moves that have this effect, while at least seven Djinn so far work this way.
  • Penny Arcade: On The Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness has a roll for initiative before each fight, giving a random number between 1 and 20. A natural 20 starts that character off with a full action bar.
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy, like most fighting games, has a system of priority—some attacks are low priority, some are medium, some are high, etc—and is notable for having one attack in the #1 slot, the Emperor's Thunder Crest, which is a rune on the floor that, if the opponent gets close enough to, will drag them in, holding them still and inflicting damage, and there ain't nothing no one can do about it. Stay away from the runes.
  • Super Robot Wars follows a similar scheme to the two above, being their contemporary and one of the main rival series. Here, the defender may strike first if it has the "Counter" ability or a passive skill that triggers it (for example, some units gain an effect identical to it at low health, and some units are considered to always have it if they choose a specific retailation move). Since most battles are resolved by one or two well-aimed hits and devolve into a war of attrition either between Mighty Glacier types or Fragile Speedster types, being the first to strike often means being the one who survives.
    • Supa Robo Gakuen throws that out the window, as it uses a time management mechanic, with each turn consisting of 60 seconds which you may spend on an assortment of actions which may include up to one attack move and however much other actions you can fit into the allotted time.
  • The first two Fallout games as well as Fallout Tactics have the Sequence derived stat for this purpose; characters with higher Sequence go first. It's primarily determined by the player's Agility stat but there are three ways to improve it: doing anything that improves Agility, taking the Earlier Sequence perk or, during character generation, taking the Kamikaze trait which trades in the character's innate Armor Class for a permanent Sequence boost (in gameplay terms, it means that the character moves first but has a significant penalty at dodging attacks; without equipped armor, the character cannot even dodge).
  • In Project X Zone, a unit's speed stat determines the order in which they act on each turn, with faster units moving first. Several player units and bosses learn skills that greatly increase their speed, allowing them to act earlier. The sequel replaces this system with the player and AI taking normal turns.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • In Fire Emblem, the attacker always goes first. Unless the defender has the Vantage skill. This helps counter Spiteful A.I. Zerg Rush Death by a Thousand Cuts, but it's annoying when a boss has it and will kill your Squishy Wizard characters before they get a chance to act.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic also has the attacker go first, if the defender can retaliate at all (almost exclusively melee combat). Some creatures can retaliate first however, and creatures with double strike have to let the defender retaliate before striking again.

    Turn-Based Tactics 
  • In Advance Wars the attacker always strikes first. This is important because the unit's health determines how much damage they deal, so the defender usually has a weak counter attack. Sonja's ability is that she always attacks first, even when defending.
  • Turn order in Fell Seal: Arbiter's Mark is determined by a unit’s Speed stat. The Haste buff makes their turns come around faster, while the Slow debuff delays them. A few classes muck around with this, however:
    • The Gambler’s Initiative passive gives them a free turn at the start of combat, regardless of their actual Speed.
    • The Peddler’s Critical: Quicken counter lets them take an immediate turn if an enemy attack leaves them at low health.
    • The Demon Knight’s Cleave passive gives them an extra turn when they kill an enemy, though they can only gain it once per “natural” turn.
  • Fire Emblem Heroes: Combat order is resolved with the attacker going first, then the target (assuming their weapon's range allows for it or they have Distant/Close Counter), and then, if one unit's Speed exceeds their opponent's by at least 5, they get to perform a follow-up attack. However, several skills and weapons alter this.
    • The "Vantage" skill allows the user to counterattack first before their opponents depending on the user's HP.
    • The "Brash Assault" skill guarantees that the user will make a followup attack (ignoring the normal Speed rules) if their HP is low and the opponent can counter.
    • The "Wary Fighter" skill prevents followup attacks as long as the user's HP is above a certain threshold (90%, 70%, or 50% depending on the skill's level).
    • The "Windsweep" and "Watersweep" skills prevent the user from making followup attacks when initiating battle and neither will the opponent depending on the difference in speed and whether or not the opponent is wielding an applicable weapon.
    • The "[Weapon]-breaker" skills allow the user to make a followup attack and prevent the opponent from doing the same depending on the latter's weapon type, ignoring the normal Speed rules.
    • Brave weapons and the "Desperation" skill let the user strike twice before the target can react when the user initiates combat. However, "Desperation" requires the user to have low HP and they still need to follow the normal Speed rules.
  • Darkest Dungeon: The order in which heroes and monsters act each round is determined by their Speed stat plus a die roll of 1 to 8, with the highest values acting first. If the heroes surprise the monsters or vice versa, the first round has all actors on the side with surprise take their actions before the other side.
  • XCOM: Chimera Squad: In a first for the series, each unit is individually placed in a Visual Initiative Queue rather than each side taking a taking a turn with their full team.


Non-video game examples

    Card Games 
  • In Magic: The Gathering:
    • Combat damage between creatures normally occurs simultaneously. Some creatures have an ability called First Strike, which means that their damage happens before the other one can retaliate- if the first strike damage is fatal, the victim doesn't get to deal any damage.
      • Double Strike allows a creature to hit once in the first strike timing, then again in the standard combat damage timing. In Unstable, further keywords Last Strike (which is calculated after standard damage) and Triple Strike (deals First Strike, standard, and Last Strike damage in three separate damage instances) made a brief appearance. While unused, 'Split Strike' is also a concept, which only uses First and Last Strike, skipping dealing damage during the standard damage timing.
    • Those who delve deeply enough into the inner workings of the game's rules will learn about the system of layers that determine how continuous effects interact with one another (just in case you have an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth with Blood Moon, Humility, and Opalescence on the field when somebody casts Rude Awakening and Mirrorweave... hey, you never know).
    • There's also the basic 'speeds' of the game. Sorcery and permanent spells can only be cast on one's own turn, during one of the two main phases, while instant spells can be cast and abilities activated at any time, including in response to other spells and abilities—in which case, the last to be played resolves first (resolutions are determined by a zone called the Stack). There are also two special exceptions that exist for purposes of gameplay: lands can be played at sorcery speed, but the land will enter the battlefield before anyone has a chance to respond to this action, and activating mana abilities can be done at any time. Neither of these special actions use the Stack. Finally, there is a special ability called Split Second which means that although they do use the stack, no activated abilities can be activated or spells cast while they are there (triggered abilities still trigger, though).
  • Poker:
    • In Hold'em and its derivatives such as Omaha and Crazy Pineapple, in the first round of betting the person to the left of the big blind goes first, and play then proceeds clockwise around the table until reaching the big blind. In subsequent rounds, the person closest to the small blind position goes first. The dealer position or "button" is thus the most desirable spot, because that player gets to observe what every other player does before committing to an action, and much of the big-picture strategy of the game comes from taking advantage of this position.
    • In Stud variants, the player with the most powerful hand showing goes first, allowing players with (presumably) less-powerful hands wait to see if the presumed hand leader is going to bet before deciding on their own actions.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons had a Weapon Speed Factor, which determined which combatant would hit first when they tied for initiative.
    • And later editions still have it to determine turn order. As you might imagine, acting quickly is important.
  • In 7th Sea Initiative is determined by Panache - the Charisma stat, determining how often the camera focuses on you.
  • Champions. When more than one character can act during a segment, they act in order of Dexterity (highest to lowest).
  • Shadowrun. Characters act in order of their Initiative, highest to lowest. If two or more characters have the same initiative, tiebreakers include having the highest adjusted Reaction and the highest natural Reaction, in that order.
  • Dark Conspiracy. When two or more characters have the same Initiative, they act in descending order of adjusted Agility.
  • 1st Edition Cyberpunk 2020. All characters acting within the same phase did so in descending order of their Reflex stats.
  • GURPS 3rd Edition. The combatants acted in descending order of their Move scores. In case of ties they acted in descending order of their Basic Speed scores.
  • Games Workshop games:
    • Warhammer 40,000 has an initiative stat for all close-combat capable units, as well as various Psychic Powers and electric shocks that influence it, weapons that are unwieldy enough to reduce their wielder's initiative, etc.
    • Warhammer Fantasy as well. In the eight edition, a special rule allows one to always strike first regardless of initiative, and if initiative would have made them strike first anyways, it allows re-rolls instead.
    • The 40k RPGs such as Dark Heresy or Black Crusade specify that the one with the highest initiative roll acts first, but gets to decide what to do last (allowing them to try and prevent an enemy's action).
    • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay:
      • In 1st Edition, all creatures have an Initiative score from 1 to 100; in each round of combat, participants act in descending order of Initiative, though a character may choose to delay their actions.
      • In 2nd Edition, each character rolls a ten-sided die at the beginning of combat and adds that to their Agility score to determine Initiative. Combatants then act in descending order.
      • 4th Edition provides several rules options for the Game Master to choose from, including acting in order of descending Initiative score, rolling Initiative skill tests, modifying each Initiative score with a ten-sided die roll, and adding both Initiative and Agility bonuses to a die roll.
  • In Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying System, combatants acted in descending order of their Dexterity.
  • Legend of the Five Rings has an interesting take of this trope. Actions are resolved round-by-round, and are announced from the slowest character to the fastest, so that the faster characters can respond to the action of the slower characters.
  • The Old World of Darkness also has slower characters declare first.
  • Deadlands, in-keeping with The Western flavor for which it was known, resolved initiative by drawing from a deck of 54 playing cards—leave the jokers in—with faster characters getting up to five cards per combat round. Rank and suit all played a role in determining who acted when. A simplified version of this system would later be used in the publisher's more generalized rule system, Savage Worlds.
  • Fate-based games typically have two different "primary" initiative skills depending on the kind of conflict that is on the table; for instance, Spirit of the Century defaults to using Alertness for physical conflicts and Empathy for social ones. Ties are then broken in order of Resolve, and any ties left after that "in favor of the player closest to the GM's right" (SotC p. 57). (The same game covers its bases by also suggesting a fairly simple around-the-table rotation scheme for groups that just don't want to deal with initiative-by-skill at all.)
  • Lupin III: Subverted Trope. Although the rules for the board game comes with a list of who goes first to settle any arguments, it is expected for turns to consist of "Zenigata's turn" (He and his buddies move and act in any order) and "Lupin's turn" (He and his buddies move and act in any order). About half the time, the game will see three initiatives develop as Fujiko inevitably betrays the party.
  • In Tokaido, the player who is furthest behind on the road goes next. This can result in a player getting multiple turns in a row if everyone else gets a few spaces ahead. On your turn, you can move as far as you like up to the next inn, but it's generally a bad idea to move very far because then you won't move again until everyone else passes you.
  • X-Wing Miniatures is an interesting example of the positive elements to both low and high initiative. As in most games, going early gives you a chance to cut off your opponent's action, while going late in the turn lets you make an informed decision as to your action based on the events of the turn. Because movement order is lowest "Pilot Skill" to highest "Pilot Skill", but firing order is highest to lowest, both low initiative ships and high initiative ships have their advantages in both phases.
    • Ships with low Pilot skill are less likely to collide and lose their action during the activation phase, and they don't have to worry about spending aFocus token on offense and later needing it to survive. Some have additional benefits; for example, low-Pilot Skill bombers can deliberately deploy proximity-triggered explosives like cluster mines on top of enemy bases with careful positioning, because they move before the target. Lower pilot skill pilots are also cheaper than higher skill pilots of the same ship. On the other hand, they're vulnerable to high pilot skill ships dancing out of their firing arc, can be destroyed before they get a chance to shoot, and can't always equip the best upgrades, especially now that some modifications require at least a certain pilot skill.
    • Ships with high pilot skill have a much easier time maneuvering out of an enemy's firing arc because you know exactly where the enemy ship is. They can also potentially destroy a lower pilot skill ship before that ship has a chance to shoot, and have better access to powerful upgrades. On the other hand, they're more vulnerable to collisions and are easier to box in, and the decision to spend a Focus token on offense means you won't have access to it on defense. They're also more expensive than less skilled pilots, meaning you can't run as many ships.
  • In BattleTech initiative is determined primarily by a 2d6 die roll for each player, although various mostly advanced and/or scenario-specific factors (having a dedicated command unit, the right pilot ability, fielding a canon force that that comes with bonuses or penalties based on its in-universe track record...) can provide modifiers to this. What's interesting is that once initiative for a given turn is determined, it's the loser who acts first each phase (for games involving multiple units there's a further rule determining who needs to declare the actions of how many of them when, but the loser still always starts); the game has simultaneous attack resolution in particular so that the player going first can't actually hit and damage enemy units without giving them a chance to respond, while the winner of the initiative contest on the other hand gets the advantage of having a better idea what their opponent is up to and being able to react accordingly.
  • Monsters and Other Childish Things has an interesting take on the idea. Initiative is determined by the mental stat, but determines the order that actions are declared in (smarter people declare their actions later, and thus with more knowledge of what's about to happen), rather than which actions necessarily happen first (which is determined by the die rolls themselves).
  • The Doctor Who Adventures In Time And Space had the following initiative order: talkers always go first, followed by runners, then doers, and fighters always go last. This means that, as in the series, people who want to talk their way out of trouble will almost never have to worry about getting shot while they at least give it a try... we say "almost" because there is an advantage (appropriately enough, in the UNIT sourcebook) called "Five Rounds Rapid", which allows the character who purchases it to perform a combat action in the talking initiative phase — allowing for them to make people Talk to the Fist.
  • The One Ring has a three-tiered version when a company of heroes combats an enemy:
    • The defending side goes first unless the company collectively succeeded on a skill test to ambush the enemy or to detect an enemy ambush. Combat then alternates between sides.
    • On its turn, the company fights in order of Combat Stance: heroes in Forward Stance first, then Open, then Defensive, then Ranged.
    • Within each Stance, characters go in order of highest to lowest Wits score.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Wakfu has this in the form of Initiative. While it's very useful if your character is a tank or has very high defenses, it is averaged with your entire party. And seeing as how most Sidekicks have very low Initiative, if any at all, it's a nigh-useless Dump Stat unless you frequently play with other human beings. It's also not worth putting too many points into due to the fact that most shields, offhand weapons and armor have very high Initiative anyway. This has been somewhat alleviated with the new leveling system and a few Sidekicks having better Initiative, but not enough for many to take it as a staple stat.


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