In most situations, you don’t have to keep strict track of time while playing Shadowrun as long as the gamemaster and players have a clear sense of continuity and the sequence of events. While it may often be necessary to keep track of time for specific periods within the game (for instance, if the runners must meet with the Mafia don for a dinner, and he hates tardiness), it is best dealt with in a fluid and abstract manner.
In certain situations, such as combat or pursuit scenes, timing becomes critical. When this occurs, the Shadowrun game proceeds in turns. Each character acts in order, the fastest first, according to their Initiative Score. Characters act in a set sequence known as the Combat Turn that is roughly 3 seconds long (see Combat Turn Sequence, p. 144). The point during each Combat Turn when a specific character can act is called an Action Phase.
Some characters may have magic or implants that allow them to act more than once in a Combat Turn. When this occurs, the Combat Turn is divided into Initiative Passes. Everyone gets to act during the first Initiative Pass (in order according to their Initiative Score), characters with two actions get to go again during a second Initiative Pass, characters with three actions get a third action during a third Initiative Pass, and so on.
Within an Action Phase, a character can carry out a number of actions depending on their complexity. Each phase, a character can take one Complex Action OR two Simple Actions (see pp. 147–148 for a complete listing of what actions fall into which categories).
In addition to Complex or Simple Actions, a character can take one Free Action during each Initiative Pass in which she has an action. This Free Action can only be taken on the character’s Action Phase or at any other point later in that Initiative Pass. Free Actions are detailed on p. 146.
When a character’s Action Phase arrives, the player may declare that she is delaying action until a later Action Phase (note that it is not necessary for the player to state which exact Action Phase). While the character waits, she may take Free Actions as normal. When something occurs to which the character wishes to react, she may then intervene and take her action as normal. Delayed actions can be carried over into the next Initiative Pass (or even the next Combat Turn), but the character loses any action she would have had that pass in exchange for taking the delayed action instead.
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