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A "tick" refers to a single execution of each players' scripts in the game. On the official world, a new tick begins as soon as the last one has finished processing. This means that a tick is not a definite unit of time; they average about 3-4 seconds each, but sometimes take longer. Almost all time in the game is measured in ticks rather than real time; exceptions include novice zones and the leaderboards.
The current tick number can be accessed through