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In other editions of the old world of darkness games, there is a declaration phase during combat rounds, where every participant declares what he intends to do in the next turn, from lowest to highest initiative, after that phase ends, the highest initiative starts acting.

But, in chapter 9 of the core Mage 20th Anniversary book (p.397), where these rules are explained, there is no mention of such a phase, the highest initiative just acts first, without knowing what the others will do, which can be fine and probably results in faster gameplay.

Yet, there is a rule that seems to imply that there actually is a declaration phase:

Phase Two: Defense (p.411)

[...] You can declare a defensive maneuver at any point in your turn, so long as your character has an action left to perform that turn. If you had already declared a different action for that turn, the Storyteller may have you make a Willpower roll (difficulty 6), or else spend a Willpower point in order to change your character’s mind in the blur of combat.

Aborting an Action (p.416)

As mentioned above under Phase Two: Defense, you can have your character abort his planned action in favor of a defensive maneuver, so long as he has an action with which to act. Such abrupt changes of plan technically require either a temporary Willpower point or a Willpower roll, difficulty 6. [...]

According to the text I quoted, you can change an action you have already declared by making a Willpower roll, or by spending a Willpower point. But as I understand it, there are no "declared" actions, when your turn comes up, you say what to do and do it immediately.

Have I understood something wrong? How are you supposed to use this option?

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You are missing the beginning of chapter nine Dramatic Systems, which describes how to run the turns. This spans pages 399-401

During those action turns – especially the ones that cover combat situations – the Storyteller can break things down into three stages:

  • Stage One: Initiative, in which the various players determine who acts in which order. (See below.)
  • Stage Two: Action, during which everyone rolls dice and figures out what’s happening; and...
  • Stage Three: Resolution, in which the results of those die rolls make themselves known. Damage gets figured. Success or failure plays out through character activities. And then the stage gets set for the next turn, where it all begins again.

For combat-based situations, see the section of that name. For non-combat situations, check Dramatic Feats, below. And for details about time, see the previous chapter.

It then talks about how to determine initiative. I will not quote the entire section just the gist of it:

  • Initiative rating is equal Dexterity + Wits.
  • Roll 1d10 and add initiative rating to get a number. Higher numbers go earlier.
  • If two characters get the same number (e.g., roll of 3 + Dex 3 + Wits 4 = 10 and roll of 5 + Dex 2 + Wits 3 = 10), the higher initiative rating gets "wins" and acts first (Dex 3 + Withs 4).
  • If the initiative rating is the same, both act and resolve their actions at the same time.

NB: The combat section does not explicitly state that players declare actions. However, surrounding text supports that interpretation. As does the legacy - since 20th Anniversary Edition is refinement of previous editions, then it does seem reasonable to pair that with the implicit mentions of declared actions in order to conclude that each character should have an action declared for them for each combat turn.

Continuing with the common sense interpretation, I will explain how things should work that fits the rules as written and as intended.


The initiative order applies for aborting actions the following way: combatants still need to say what they do and then the resolution happens later. Stage two and Stage three are distinct, as per the rules.

This means that the following situation happens:

Alice and Bob are in combat.

For simplicity, assume that the initiative order is first Alice, then Bob.

Bob decides to run up to Alice and punch her.*
Alice decides to shoot at Bob.

As Alice starts shooting, Bob decides to abort his planned action and dodge for cover instead.

In real terms, both characters decided how they wanted to act and Bob probably started to move towards Alice. After all, in real life, we do not move one by one during the same three second segment (combat turn), we act at the same time but somebody might just finish what they were doing faster. With that said, since Alice was quicker and opened fire Bob had to stop midway and dodge. That is what aborting a planned action is. Which is also why the Storyteller might require a Willpower roll or spending a temporary point. After all, Bob would not have just stood still.


Now, if we were to reverse the initiative order and made Bob act first - he would have moved and maybe attacked. When Alice opened fire, he would not have an action left, so he would not have been able to do a defensive manoeuvre.


To round up: remember that phase two of the combat turn (defense) only applies if a character is attacked. Therefore, if we introduce a new scenario where Alice, Bob, and Carol are all in a fight (assume alphabetical initiative order). Alice and Bob still take their actions from before:

  1. Alice is first and starts shooting at Bob Phase 1: Alice has to roll to hit. Phase 2: Bob decides to dodge which exhausts Bob's action but turns the attack roll of Alice into a contested one.
  2. Bob does not act further because he aborted his action.
  3. Carol has not had a chance to abort her action and can just execute whatever she had in mind at the beginning.

* It is worth pointing out that while 20th Anniversary Edition rules imply actions should be declared, they does not specify in what order order such declarations happen. In Mage: the Ascension Revised Edition includes this section which has a lot of practical sense:

Once initiative rolls have been made, each player (and the Storyteller) must declare what her character(s) are doing for the turn. At this time, it is also necessary to state if your character will perform multiple actions, cast magical Effects, use Willpower or Quintessence or perform any other strangeness. Players must declare their characters’ actions in the reverse order of initiative, so the character with the lowest (last) initiative number declares first, and the character with the highest (first) initiative declares last. Faster characters are thus allowed the opportunity to anticipate and react to the actions of slower characters.

It makes it much clearer how things work. A character with lower initiative declares their action first, so a character with a higher initiative can decide to react to that. If Bob had higher initiative order, he could choose to hide behind a nearby car, so Alice would have greater difficulty hitting or doing damage with her action. And if Alice has higher initiative, she might decide to devote her entire action to blocking without ever needing to spend or roll Willpower, since she is not aborting an action.

This also makes it clear when somebody would be aborting their action - after they have declared it but before they have acted.

The "reverse initiative order" declaration furthermore avoid another "common sense" problem. Initiative shows who is the "quickest" combatant in terms of reaction time. They are supposed to have an edge over the others. However, declaring actions in descending initiative order puts anybody with higher initiative at an disadvantage as they have to act blind. Conversely, anybody with a lower initiative is supposed to be having a harder time keeping up with the action, however, they get an advantage since they can base their actions on others'. This is definitely not how the rules were intended. From the description if initiative on page 399:

Those with high initiatives act first, while the others scramble to catch up.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @YopiLapi M20 does not specify how people declare their actions. That is why I included the section from revised because it makes sense. The text does support declaring actions before going through with them and I chose the Revised interpretation to show them. Because othewise you get into weird situation where the slowest person has the largest tactical advantage for being able to determine their action after people with higher initiative have acted. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 16 '21 at 7:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ At any rate, Alice attacks which then prompts a Defense phase. If Bob chooses a defensive manoeuvre, then that is Bob's action. Unless he has split his actions, in which case, he can do something else. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 16 '21 at 7:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Yes, Bob can decide to abort his action, but since he has not declared a different action, he would not need to make a Willpower roll, or spend a Willpower point." this is exactly one of the weird situations you run into if you run the actions in descending initiative order. Bob will never be required to do that because he would never have declared an action. Moreover, Bob gets to react to Alice, even if Bob has an initiative of 1 and Alice has 20. It inherently gives lower initiatives an advantage and higher one an disadvantage which is the opposite of what should happen. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 16 '21 at 7:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ So, summarizing, your point is that you actually have to declare your actions in Mage 20th Anniversary, like in previous editions, despite the handbook not telling you to, possibly because of an unintended omission? I could get behind that, would be nice to make it clearer in your answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yopi Lapi
    Nov 16 '21 at 7:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ My personal opinion is that the combat mechanics are unnecessarily cumbersome and I'd advise taking any common sense shortcuts to reduce them. But yes, it does seem like M20 dropped the ball a bit on declaration rules. The combat section there is clear as mud on how you're supposed to use it. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    Nov 16 '21 at 8:00

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