The Continuous Clock

Under this system, time passes in segments―individual moments of time―and you keep counting segments until combat resolves itself. Every action lasts a set number of segments (see table, below), so once you perform an action, you can’t act again until that number of segments has passed. For the sake of clarity, we have not changed the names of the actions even though they refer to “rounds” in their names.

Action

Segments

one round

20

full-round

18

standard

10

move

8

swift

2

attack of opportunity

2

free

1

 

When you declare your intention to perform an action, that action is complete after the segments have passed. For example, if you declare an attack at segment 12, you will perform that attack at 22, which leaves 10 segments in between for other people to act.

During combat scenes, the GM simply counts through the segments, (e.g., “1, 2, 3, 4…”). Players are responsible for keeping track of their own action durations so that when the GM calls a segment, the player(s) who act on it will speak up. In the above example, the player would wait until she heard “22” to point out that it’s time to resolve her attack. In the intervening time, she can roll all her dice and figure her totals to save time. The GM must make sure to speak slowly to give players a chance to jump in, and players must make sure to keep their ears open so that they hear their segment when it comes along. GMs who race through the segments and players who don’t listen for their segments will only annoy everyone at the table.

In the case of simultaneous actions, whoever has the highest initiative bonus acts first but on the same segment. If the initiative bonuses are the same, then you compare Dexterity bonuses. If those are the same, you flip a coin.

Roll initiative using a d20 but subtract your Initiative Modifier from it because that number is the segment on which you act, so a lower result is better.

Attacks of opportunity take a swift action because they do interrupt you a little, but they don’t take nearly as much time as an attack action because your opponent has left himself wide open for you to strike, the putz. You can take as many attacks of opportunity as you like. They simply slow you down. (Thus, the Combat Reflexes feat is useless in this system.)

If you Ready an action, you must state (a) what will trigger your action as well as (b) how long you’re willing to wait in segments; e.g., “I’ll duck when that guard tries to shoot me or for 10 segments.” If you Delay your action, you simply state a number of segments during which you don’t want to do anything; e.g., “I’ll wait for 10 segments.”

 

Metagame Analysis 

The action lengths (see above) are based on the assumption that a round lasts about 20 segments. To fit a standard, move, and swift action in, then, they last 10, 8, and 2 segments respectively. The reason the actions are pegged at 20 segments is because under the standard rules, you roll initiative on a d20, and thus that’s the possible span of starting actions in the first round of regular combat. In addition, all of the modifiers (Dexterity, Improved Initiative, etc.) are pegged to a d20-based roll, so altering the segment length would require altering the modifier values, which would be very messy.

This system changes combat significantly, not least because it makes speed an even more important element. Initiative rolls can range from 1 to 20, so someone who rolls very low can potentially act a couple of times before everyone else and then act again around the same time as everyone else. This potentially gives fast characters an extra couple of actions at the top of combat.

With no maximum of one standard action per round, you can potentially gain many more attacks. For example, a sniper character could simply plant him or herself in place and do nothing but shoot. A reach fighter (someone with more than 5 feet of threatened space) could plant themselves in the midst of combat and just take nothing but Attacks of Opportunity. There are ways to get many attacks in this system that aren’t possible under standard d20 rules.

The actual passage of rounds is also eliminated, so there is no sense that everyone takes a complete turn consisting of two actions. Instead, people simply act when their segment comes up, which will promote more of a sense of controlled chaos in combat, a sense of a fight that is genuinely on-going rather than one broken up into turns.

Finally, this system will take some paperwork out of the GM’s hands because she no longer has to track initiative order herself. She does have to note what segment each NPC acts on next, which consists of adding a number next to the NPC, but the players will track their own segments and simply jump in when it’s their turn.

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