While realistically all of the participants of a battle would more or less be fighting at the same time, this is impractical to facilitate in a table top RPG. Turn order brings some semblance of order to the chaos of combat, establishing when each character and each foe can take their turn in sequence, and in doing so adding a tactical edge to combat.
Turn order in combat is determined by your Initiative Score (equal to your current Initiative Stat plus 1d12) and is rolled only once, at the start of the battle, though it can be affected by abilities or other effects throughout the battle. Turn order in combat goes from highest Initiative Score down to lowest Initiative Score, regardless of whether models are GM controlled enemies or player characters. A round of combat is represented by each model taking a single turn (unless otherwise prevented by some form of crowd control). Once each model has taken its turn the next round begins, following descending Initiative Scores as normal.
GM Tip: At the beginning of each combat write down the turn order, or otherwise record it, in a manner that everyone at the table can see. A small whiteboard or numbered tokens can usually do the trick.
If Initiative Scores result in a tie between player characters or GM control enemies, a further 1d6 tie breaker roll takes place between the tied models. This additional roll does not effect the actual Initiative Score in any way. The higher rolling side is placed above the lower rolling side in the turn order. This applies to all models involved in the tie breaker. Once this order is established it remains the same throughout the battle unless the original Initiative Score is effected by abilities or other Initiative altering effects during combat.
Player characters that have equal initiative scores may decide turn order among themselves, though if there is ever a dispute they can use a 1d6 tie breaker roll to decide their turn order.
All GM controlled enemies (or minions controlled by players) that are the same type and have the same Initiative Stat, are grouped together and treated as one unit for the purposes of determining turn order. A single d12 roll is made for the Initiative Score of the group and they are placed accordingly in the turn order. When it is their turn they act in whatever order deemed fit by whomever is controlling them.
A GM puts 3 Goblin Light infantry (each with an Initiative Stat of 7) up against a Player Controlled Human Knight (with an Initiative Stat of 15). To begin the combat, the player rolls a d12 for his Knight, with a roll of 6. This gives him an Initiative Score of 15+6=21. The Goblins are all the same type and have the same Initiative so they roll a single d12 for all three. They roll an 12, resulting in an Initiative Score of 7+12=19. 21 is greater than 19 so therefore the Knight is first in the turn order and then the goblins are second. The GM can put the goblins themselves in any order, so long as they are all second to the Knight. Once the Knight and all three Goblins have had a turn, the round is over and a new round begins with the Knight once again having the first turn.
Things that May Impact Turn Order
Choosing to Act Last
At any time during a round, one model from each side may choose to willingly act last (often referred to as “going to the bottom of the queue”) regardless of their Initiative Score. If both sides choose to do this there must be a d6 roll off between the two models that have chosen to act last. In subsequent rounds they are returned back to their normal turn order based on their original Initiative Score unless otherwise effected by abilities or other Initiative altering effects during combat.
“Rolling with the Blow”
If at anytime you suffer significant damage it can sometimes be worthwhile to roll with the blow in an attempt to disengage from combat and prevent any further damage. However doing so will temporarily reduce your Initiative Score by 10 on the next round that you would have a turn. This may cause a temporary change to the Turn Order
Skills that Directly Impact Initiative Score
Some skills exist with a direct ability to increase or decrease Initiative Score. These effects may be permanent (lasting for the full duration of the current combat) or temporary (with a set number of rounds). If skills that impact Initiative Scores are in play, GMs must readjust the Turn Order accordingly. It is advised to keep track of the original (unmodified) Initiative Scores as reference.
Crowd Control and other Persistent Effects
Any effect applied to a target which state a duration such as “x” rounds means that the target will experience that effect until “x” number of the target’s own turns have passed, regardless of Turn Order or Initiative Score. Effects are cleared at the end of the effected target’s turn.
In the opening round of combat, a Shaman is hit by an enemy ability that stuns him for 1 round and inflicts 2 damage per round over 3 rounds. If the Shaman was ahead of his enemy in the turn order, this means that he is stunned until the end of his next turn in round 2. At the same time that the stun ends he also takes 2 damage. He takes 2 damage again on his turn in the 3rd and 4th round. But after his 4th turn the effects ends. If, on the other hand, the Shaman was below his enemy in the turn order, he is stunned until the end of his turn in round 1. He takes the 2 damage at the end of each of his turns in the 1st, 2nd, and finally 3rd rounds.
If a party has foreknowledge of an encounter and their enemy is unaware of their presence they may set up an ambush.
GM discretion applies based on the location of the encounter (i.e. setting up an ambush in a forest is quite possible where as in a featureless empty room it is not). All party members may choose to begin the battle hidden. Any party member that is a Stealth class may roll for their available Stealth. The ambushing party can choose to remain hidden and observe the enemy for as long as they like, however the longer you wait the more likely that you will be discovered and the ambush will fail, resorting to standard combat. This also does not give the ambushing party free license to indefinitely stack non-combat or no-damage abilities (i.e. Prayer of Faith, Study Prey, etc…). GMs will find creative ways to make you pay for such obviously exploitative behavior.
When the ambushing party decides they are ready to attack, Turn Order should be established using the standard method. However before standard combat Turn Order begins, the ambushing party can choose to take a complete turn before the ambushed party can take any of their turns, acting in descending Initiative Score.
A Ranger (Init Score = 26), a Thief (init Score = 21) and a Marksman (init Score = 16) set up an ambush for a party of 3 goblins (Init. Score 17). Once the goblins are in position the ambush is sprung and the Ranger, Thief, and Marksman all take a free turn, in that order. Now that the ambush has occurred combat resorts to standard Turn Order as follows; Ranger, then Thief, then Goblins, then Marksman. Both the Ranger and the Thief effectively get two turns in before the goblins can even act. Thus having high initiative allows for often lethal ambushes.