So I thought I’d take some time to discuss turn order in Fate Core based games. Those of you familiar with Fate are aware that turn order is fairly well fixed in that system based on your skills and the type of conflict in which you are engaged. Here is the relevant text from the Fate Core rulebook:
“Your turn order in a conflict is based on your skills. In a physical conflict, compare your Notice skill to the other participants. In a mental conflict, compare your Empathy skill. Whoever has the highest goes first, then everyone else in descending order.
If there’s a tie, compare a secondary or tertiary skill. For physical conflicts, that’s Athletics, then Physique. For mental conflicts, Rapport, then Will.”
The turn order rules as written are fine, but I personally prefer a little randomness thrown in to shake things up. After all, whenever conflict occurs in a novel it rarely follows the turn order paradigm. There are many things which can and do affect the ability of characters to take action in a conflict.
So, with that in mind, I came up with a few tweaks to the turn order system to make conflicts a touch more engaging:
Characters roll 2dF each exchange to determine their turn order
At the beginning of each exchange, have each character roll two fate dice and at the result to their skill to determine their turn order. So if My Notice was Good (+3) My range for turn order would be anywhere from +1 to +5. In the event of ties, the characters roll is also added in to their secondary and tertiary skills to determine who goes first. If you feel a +/- 2 point range is too large, you could reduce it to rolling 1 fate die, but then you lose the advantage of the bell curve giving a larger probability to a result of 0.
Characters can invoke aspects and boosts to improve their turn order
If an aspect or boost can reasonably be applied to a characters turn order, then go ahead and use it to do so. Treat it the same way you would invoke an aspect or boost for an action roll.
Characters can be compelled to worsen their turn order
If an aspect or consequence can reasonably be applied to a characters turn order, then go ahead and use it against them. Treat it the same way you would any other compel.
An example of these rules in play
Let’s see how these alternative turn order rules are supported by an actual duel narrated in White Night, the ninth novel of the Dresden Files series written by Jim Butcher. Here is how the first exchange is narrated in the book:
“Some people are faster than others. I’m fast. Always have been, especially for a man my size, but this duel had gotten off to a fair start, and no merely mortal hand is faster than a vampire’s.
Vitto Malvora’s gun cleared its holster before my fingers had tightened on the blasting rod’s handle. The weapon resembled a fairly standard Model 1911, but it had an extension to the usual ammunition clip sticking out of the handle, and it spat a spray of bullets in the voice of a yowling buzz saw.
Some vampires are faster than others. Vitto was fast. He’d drawn and fired more swiftly than I’d ever seen Thomas move, more swiftly than I’d seen Lara shoot. But bodies, even nigh-immortal vampire bodies, are made of flesh and blood, and have mass and inertia. No hand, not even a vampire’s, is swifter than thought.
Ramirez already had his power held ready when the scarlet cloth hit the ground, and in that instant he hissed a single syllable under his breath and flipped his left hand palm up. That bizarre glove he wore flashed and let out a rattling buzz of furious sound.
A sudden, gelatinous cloud of green light interposed itself between us and the vampires before even Vitto could fire. The bullets struck against that gooey cloud, sending watery ripple patterns racing across it, plowing a widening furrow through the semisolid mass. There was a hissing sound, a sharp pain high up on my left cheek, and then I was slapped across the chest by a spray of tiny, dark particles the size of grains of sand.
Ramirez’s shield was nothing like my own. I used raw force to create my own steel-hard barrier. Ramirez’s spell was based on principles of entropy and water magic, and focused on disrupting, shattering, and dispersing any objects trying to pass through it, turning their own energy against them. Even magic must do business with physics, and Carlos couldn’t simply make the energy the bullets carried go away. Instead, the spell reduced their force by shattering the bullets with their own momentum, breaking them into zillions of tiny pieces, spreading them out, so that their individual impact energy would be negligible.
When the dispersed cloud of leaden sand struck me, it was unpleasant and uncomfortable, but it had lost so much power that it wouldn’t have gotten through an ordinary leather coat, or even a thick shirt, much less my spell-laced duster.
If I’d had time to breathe a sigh of relief, I would have. I didn’t. Every bit of focus I had was bent on slamming a surge of energy and will through my blasting rod, even before I had the business end lifted all the way up.
“Fuego!” I cried.
A column of fire as thick as a telephone pole flew from the tip of the rod, struck the ground twenty feet away, and then whipped across the floor toward Vitto as I finished lifting my weapon.
He was fast. He’d barely had time to register that his bullets had missed their target before the fire came for him, but he flung himself to one side in a desperate dive. As he went, he gained enough of an angle to get him just around the edge of Rodriguez’s highly visible shield, and the vampire’s hand flickered to his belt to whip one of those knives at me in a side-armed throw . . .“
And now here is an example of how our turn order tweaks would allow for the exchange above to be possible.
According to the stats given for Harry Dresden in the Dresden Files RPG, Carlos Ramirez and Vittorio Malvora they each have Good(+3), Good(+3), and Fair (+2) Notice skills respectively. (Actually it’s called Alertness in the Dresden Files RPG, but it is analogous to Notice in the Fate Core ruleset). Additionally, Vitto has Inhuman Speed which gives him a +4 bonus for determining turn order. Given these stats, turn order would be Vitto, Carlos, then Harry, since Carlos has Good(+3) Athletics and Harry has Fair(+2). With the original turn order rules then, there would be no mechanical way to achieve the result we saw in the narrated version of the exchange. Now let’s join a group around the table playing that first exchange:
GM: OK, We have Vitto whose turn order is Epic (+7), and Harry and Carlos both have Good (+3)
Carlos: But my athletics is higher, so I go before Harry!
GM: We’ll see about that. Everyone roll two Fate dice and add the total to your turn order.
Carlos rolls +2, Harry rolls 0, and the GM rolls -1 for Vitto.
GM: OK, so we have Vitto at Fantastic (+6), Carlos at Superb (+5) and Harry remains at Good (+3). Vitto draws a pistol from . . .
Carlos: (Interrupts the GM) Hold on a minute. That vamp is going to waste us if we don’t go first. I want to invoke my high aspect, Hot Shot Warden. Carlos has been in scraps before, so he’d be well prepared for the start of the duel. And besides, no matter how fast a body is, a mind is faster. Magic is a matter of will and I want to cast a spell.
The group agrees that the aspect applies and Carlos Spends one Fate point to raise his total to Legendary +8.
GM: OK, Carlos is buzzing with magical energy, what is your action for this exchange?
Carlos: Since Vitto went for his gun, I am going to use water magic to create a shield.
GM: Alright, we’ll call this creating an advantage then. You can invoke the shield when making defense rolls.
Carlos succeeds at casting the shield spell and, after some discussion, the aspect “Gelatinous Cloud of Green Light” is added to the scene with one free invocation.
GM: Now it’s Vitto’s turn and he is going to shoot Harry down like the rabid dog he is!
The GM rolls to attack. Harry rolls to defend. The result is a 5 stress hit.
Harry: Crap, it’s too early to start taking consequences. I’m going to use the free invocation of Carlos’ spell to increase my defense roll, dropping that to a 3 stress hit.
Carlos nods agreement and Harry marks off the third box on his physical stress track.
GM: Vitto’s bullets pass through the shield. They are disintegrated into fine pellets, but some of them still have sufficient mass and speed to be painful to exposed skin. Harry’s duster absorbs most of the impact.
Harry: Ow, my cheek! Well now it’s my turn and that guy’s gonna pay. Fuego, you dirty vamp!
Harry rolls his attack with his spell. Unfortunately the GM’s defense roll for Vitto succeeds with style.
GM: Vitto was moving too fast for you to catch him with your blasting rod. And let’s say that, since he succeeded with style, he’s angled around the shield to have a clear shot at you two. That means you won’t be able to invoke it against him. That exchange is over, now let’s roll for turn order again.
In the next exchange, Vitto gets to go first.
GM: Well, since Vitto emptied his magazines on that first exchange, he now draws a knife and flings it at Harry . . .
I believe these three small changes allow a little more randomness to come into play when determining turn order, which in turn makes each exchange a little more exciting, with minimal impact on the crunchiness of the mechanics. I’d love for people to give it a try and let me know what they think!
Here is a link to the only other alternative turn order system for Fate I found online. I am sure that there are more of them out there to be found, since I didn’t look extremely hard: