Clashes and Dueling

Clashes and Dueling #

This subsystem outlines a process for one-on-one conflicts (though a whole group can contribute).

The Game’s Concept of Conflict #

First, think about the game’s concept as it relates to conflict. What tone is being set? What are the important aspects? What part of the characters matter or don’t matter for combat? Does restriction on an archetypical level (i.e. character classes, etc) make sense?

You might end up using some character qualities (like Health, etc) and not conflicts at all. That’s entirely valid. Not every game actually needs explicit personal conflicts!

This could also easily be repurposed for more “civil” conflicts, like arguments or legal battles.

Examples #

Liminal Void #

This is used for ship combat. In a lot of cases these aren’t dogfights - this can also be used for an unarmed civilian ship maneuvering to escape or board another ship.

Machinations of Court and Frame #

This is used for semi-formal mecha duels between representatives of Houses.

Character Qualities #

For both systems, each character can be defined by various modular components. Player Characters should have all of these, while GM Characters will probably have far fewer.

Health, Harm, and Defeat #

To engage with this system, characters need something representing their physical well-being. The generic term used going forward is Health (though the name will often change depending on the game.) If someone is at half or less Health, they’re considered Staggered, which is used as a condition for various abilities. You might make a distinction between “combat” Health, representing something more temporary, and “real” Health, representing more lasting harm. When they have 0 Health, they’re Defeated.

PCs should probably have 12 Health on average, going as low as 9-10 or as high as 15-18.

Health is reduced by Harm. Harm is most frequently a Low, Mid, or High die from a roll depending on the character or circumstance causing it (and as such, it’s usually in the 1 to 6 range).

For reference:

  • Low Die Harm is on average 2 Harm.
  • Mid Die Harm is on average 3.5 Harm.
  • High Die Harm is on average 5 Harm.

As such, a character with 12 Health will take roughly 5-7 Low Die Hits, 3-4 Mid Die hits, or 2-3 High Die Hits before dropping.

Lower than average Health should probably come with some kind of benefit (like Disadvantage to or Resistance against attacks of a certain Harm type or at a certain range, or more Resources). Higher than average Health should probably come with a penalty (like Vulnerability to a Harm type, Advantage to attacks of a type, or less Resources).

Increase this for more durable characters, or decrease it for less durable characters.

When they hit 0 Health, a character has been Defeated. What that means should be different for each game depending on your game’s tone and intended harshness.

Examples #

Liminal Void #

Health for ships is split into Integrity and Armor: Armor is outer layers of protection, while Integrity is the ship’s ability to hold together. When Integrity is damaged, the ship (and everyone inside it) starts to be in peril: like with Health/Endurance.

Integrity will be about 6-10 depending on the size of the ship, while Armor is about 2-8 depending on how combat-focused it is. The majority of ships don’t have both. When Integrity hits 0, the ship has been damaged enough to be disabled, and is at the mercy of any other nearby ship. Less military-oriented ships should mostly be trying to escape or launch a desperate boarding action rather than stick it out and fight.

Machinations of Court and Frame #

Integrity is used here as well - assuming the intention is a “chunky” mecha feel, all Harm is an actual hit, if glancing. It’s based primarily on your mech, but a pilot trait or two might also contribute. When Staggered, something is disabled, like a particular weapon.

Integrity is about 12-18 on average. When it runs out, the pilot is permanently scarred in some way - or if they’re put in negatives, they run the risk of more meaningful harm. It’s a little higher than the average of 12 because I want there to be more of a choice: A pilot can eject prior to this if they don’t like their chances.

Non-Health Statuses #

Statuses are abilities beyond Health.

  • Staggered: As mentioned before, this is usually just an indicator of when you are at half or less Health.
  • Conditional Advantage/Disadvantage: The character either gains Advantage or Disadvantage when rolling to do certain actions, or gives anyone who rolls against them Advantage or Disadvantage when doing certain actions.
  • Resistance: Step down any Harm dice. Only one Resistance is in effect at a time. If a target both Resists and is Vulnerable to an instance of Harm, the effects cancel out.
  • Evasion X: Any effect that deals X or less Harm misses you entirely, dealing no Harm and ignoring any side effects that would be applied to you.
  • Invulnerable: Any Harm taken is divided by 5 (round down).
  • Vulnerability: Step up any Harm dice. Only one Vulnerability is in effect at a time. If a target both Resists and is Vulnerable to an instance of Harm, the effects cancel out.
  • Immune to X: The noted category of abilities does not affect you. This can include:
    • Vulnerability: Ignore anything that would grant Vulnerability from outside sources.
    • Disadvantage: Ignore anything that grant Disadvantage from outside sources.
  • Slowed: You step down any Evasion gained.

Stances #

The entity involved in a clash will have abilities associated with one of three Stances. The Stance associated with an ability informs the general character of what it does via its Sub-Stances, but it also matters in combat (see page XX).

Aggressive abilities are focused on dealing as much Harm as possible. Aggressive abilities have priority over Indirect.

  • Spike abilities deal increased Harm.
  • Pursue abilities provide bonuses when certain kinds of enemy actions are taken.

Defensive abilities are focused on avoiding Harm. Defensive abilities have priority over Aggressive.

  • Defend abilities do things that let the character gain Evasion, Resistance, or reduce incoming Harm.
  • Disable abilities dampen the results of enemy actions.

Indirect abilities are focused on secondary effects and bypassing Defenses. Indirect abilities have priority over Defensive.

  • Pierce abilities bypass a specific kind of defense (Evasion, Resistance).
  • Boost abilities increase capabilities.

Roles will be noted for all sample abilities as a reference.

Traits #

Traits are small, passive effects. These should be useful and meaningful but not terribly complicated. Characters will have 1-3 of these depending on their level. These are sometimes associated with one of those Stances but this has no mechanical effect.


Examples #

Liminal Void #

Traits are various qualities of the ship. Sometimes these are fully related to ship combat, but sometimes they’re not.

  • Sophisticated Sensor Package: The ship’s sensor package can be used as if it were equipment to analyze anything nearby. Survey actions gain 1 Advantage, and even without Survey you always gain a Tell against any Charge ability.

Machinations of Court and Frame #

The first Trait comes from your mech’s model, but later Traits are from pilot skill.

  • Jump Thrusters: Step up the die whenever you gain Evasion.

Actions #

Actions are the abilities that a player can declare. When using an Action, the character’s player rolls and uses the Total to determine what happens, and uses any dice to determine the Effect.

They usually use the following template:

Stance, Keywords, (X Uses/Charges)

Baseline outcome.

X+/X-/etc: Changes to the outcome based on the roll.

  • Targets(s) describes who or what this ability can be used upon.
  • Range is the range at which and is usually not inclusive (so Near doesn’t include Melee, for instance).
  • Stance is Aggressive, Defensive, or Indirect.
  • Type usually refers to any keywords.
  • X Uses/Charges only exists on Powers. This indicates that the ability can be Used X times before being expended or requires the use of X Charges from a pool defined elsewhere. (Expended means it can’t be used again for the rest of the duel unless something Recharges it.) Sometimes, several Powers can share Uses or Charges (such as if they’re associated with the same weapon and it represents ammunition or fuel). If omitted, the ability can’t be expended through use.
  • Baseline Outcome is what always happens when using this power. It’s changed by the qualifiers below it if the Effect rolled matches any of the conditions noted.

There are several kinds of Actions:

  • Baseline Actions: These are Actions that everyone has access to and works the same for everyone.
  • Variable Actions: These are Actions that everyone has access to but change based on various common Traits, equipment, or similar other factors. In some cases, it’s the same action but it’ll gain advantage or disadvantage instead based on those factors.
  • Powers: These are Actions that have specific effects and limited uses. These are usually entirely different from character to character.
  • Standards: These are a subset of Powers that don’t have limited uses.
  • Finisher: These are a specialized kind of Powers that are extremely effective but only at high Escalation. (This typically means outcome changes that trigger on an Effect of 18-20+.)

Each character should always have at least one Aggressive, Defensive, and Indirect action.

Examples #

Liminal Void #

Every ship has Endure & Evade (Defensive), Ram (Aggressive), and Survey (Indirect). Powers and Standards typically come from weaponry or defensive systems bolted on for more civilian ships, or integrated weaponry for more military vessels. Finishing Moves are only present on the heaviest of military vessels.

Machinations of Court and Frame #

Every Frame has Endure & Evade (Defensive), Feint, and Recharge; as well as a Standard, two Powers, and a Finishing Move specific to that Frame.

Resources #

Resources are quantitative measures of how much capacity a character has to push themselves in various ways. (Health is also a resource, but is covered above. You could use it as an alternative to Charges though!)


Examples #

Liminal Void #

In this case, the main Resource in combat is Charges/Ammo on Powers. These can’t be recharged in combat.

Machinations of Court and Frame #

Resources here are Uses of Powers. These can be recharged with a Recharge action.

Combat Qualities and Leveling #

When characters gain levels, their base “numbers” don’t go up. Instead, they gain new features. As such character should gain at least one thing - like a Trait or a Power - per level, or gain the capacity to get it. Certain things can also be Tier-unlocked instead of Level-unlocked.

Examples #

Liminal Void #

A ship’s capacity for Traits and Powers (as well as any standard loadouts of such) is initially decided by its base model. As levels progress, more modifications can be made. As higher Tiers represent increased prominence, more base models and more opportunities to refit are available.

Machinations of Court and Frame #

Your Frame has a preset Trait, two Standards, two Powers, and a Finishing Move: it’s a standard military model and it’s outfitted as such. Everything else along the way is from the pilot: further Powers and Traits are signature maneuvers and qualities. At higher Tiers, you can customize your Frame as you gain status and fame.

Sample Characters #

Liminal Void #

  • Freighter: A hulking civilian vessel built for hauling ore or ice. (Has the Trait Large which affects Defend, Evade, and Ram.)
    • Integrity: 10; Armor: 4. Not heavily armored, but due to its bulk, it’s harder to target critical systems when that armor is stripped away.
    • Capacity: 12 (+4 because of Large).
    • Traits:
      • Large: Alters Endure, Evade, and Ram.
      • Hauler: Has a hold that has enough space for a small ship, and enough shielding to carry radioactive or otherwise dangerous materials without harming the crew.
    • Actions:
      • Endure: The Large trait gives this 1 Advantage.
        • Defensive
        • Reduce the Harm of any attack this turn by half Low Die.
        • 13+: Gain Resistance against any attack as well.
      • Evade: The Large trait makes this lose its 13+ ability.
        • Defensive
        • Gain Low Die Evasion this round.
      • Ram: The Large trait doubles enemy Evasion, but steps up Harm to Mid/High.
        • Aggressive, Charge
        • Deal Mid Die Harm and take Low Die Harm. Double enemy Evasion.
        • 13+: Deal High Die Harm.
      • Survey:
        • Indirect
        • Next round, you gain a Tell on the enemy’s next action that expires at the end of the round.
        • 11+: The Tell remains for that action.

Machinations of Court and Frame #

  • LM05-PONIARD: Light assault Frame with a high-powered revolver and an energy sword that excels at close range. (Has the trait Light which affects Defend and Evade as noted.)
    • Integrity: 12.
    • Traits:
      • Light: Alters Endure and Evade.
    • Endure: The Light trait makes this lose its 13+ ability.
      • Defensive
      • Reduce the Harm of any attack this turn by half Low Die.
    • Evade: The Light trait gives this 1 Advantage.
      • Defensive
      • Gain Low Die Evasion this round.
      • 13+: Mid instead of Low.
    • Feint:
      • Aggressive
      • Next round, you gain a Tell on the enemy’s next action that expires at the end of the round.
      • 11+: The Tell remains for that action.
    • Recharge:
      • Indirect
      • Pick half Low Die expended Powers and Recharge them.
      • 13+: You gain 1 Advantage the next time you use any of the Recharged powers.
    • Magnum Shot:
      • Aggressive, Standard
      • Low Die Harm
      • 10-14: Mid instead of Low Die.
      • 15+: High instead of Low Die.
    • Emergency Boosters:
      • Defensive, 1 Use
      • Gain Mid Die Evasion this round.
      • 11+: High instead of Mid.
      • 13+: Gain Low Die Evasion next round.
    • EMP Grenade:
      • Indirect, 1 Use
      • Low Die Harm. Ignores Evasion.
      • 11+: Prevents the use of Evasion next round as well.
    • Radiant Blade:
      • Aggressive, Finisher, Energy, 1 Use
      • Low Die Harm.
      • 10-14: Mid instead of Low Die.
      • 15+: High instead of Low Die.
      • 18+: Add Escalation to Harm.
      • 20+: Double the Harm dealt.

The Components of a Clash #

Escalation #

During a Duel, both parties track Escalation. This adds to Effect like Escalation, but instead of there being one global value, each character has their own, including GM-controlled characters. As usual, Escalation goes up to 6, but during Clashes can also be negative too (down to -6).

  • Escalation goes up by 1 for both characters at the end of every round.
  • A character winning Priority immediately adds 1 to their Escalation.
  • A character losing Priority immediately subtracts 1 from their Escalation.
  • Characters interfering can add or subtract Escalation.

You can also have other effects grant or remove Escalation.

Stances and Priority #

Actions have Priority over one another based on their Stance:

  • Aggressive actions have priority over Indirect actions.
  • Defensive actions have priority over Aggressive actions.
  • Indirect actions have priority over Defensive actions.

When one character’s action have Priority over the other:

  • The character who has Priority resolves the two actions in the order of their choice. (Usually this means that character will resolve their action first, but they have the option to resolve afterwards or simultaneously if that would make more sense.)
  • The character who has Priority immediately adds 1 to Escalation (to a maximum of 6) before rolling, and rolls with 1 Advantage.
  • The character who loses Priority immediately subtracts 1 from Escalation (to a minimum of -6) before rolling, and rolls with 1 Disadvantage.

If both actions have the same Priority, they resolve simultaneously with no benefits or disadvantages.

Tells #

A Tell is a more telegraphed action, or one that the other character has figured out how to anticipate. The default way to gain Tells is through the Feint action.

When actions are decided and revealed, one character may reveal that they have the appropriate Tell for the other character’s action. If they do, they can change their action to be any other action before resolution. If not, they gain 1 Advantage on their roll. Characters can’t reveal Tells on changed actions, which makes this a good opportunity to use strong actions that normally have Tells.

When both characters reveal Tells against the other character’s action, both may secretly decide to pick new actions or maintain as per one Tell.

Examples #

Liminal Void #

You mostly gain Tells through the Survey action. Some Traits will also give you free Tells on abilities with specific keywords (like Charge or Missile).

Machinations of Court and Frame #

The primary ways in which you gain Tells outside of Feinting is through Bonds with your opponent: if you’re known to each other, you each gain a Tells for a specific Power or actions. You can also share tells with other people who have faced the enemy in question.

Anatomy of a Round #

A round proceeds as follows.

  1. Each combatant decides on an Action secretly. (If both are non-GM players, they should both tell the GM secretly, including the Stance, or write it down.)
  2. Both actions are revealed. If either action is revealed as having a Tell, the player who reveals the Tell can choose another action.
  3. Priority is determined and Escalation is added or subtracted based on it.
  4. Each combatant resolves their actions. Depending on priority, they either resolve at the same time or in the order designated by one character.
  5. Advance Escalation for both characters.

Ending a Clash #

A Clash typically ends when one participant is at 0 Health. You might be able to end a Duel in other ways, however:

  • A participant could spend a certain amount of Escalation to escape.
  • After a certain number of rounds the opportunity to continue the fight might be lost.
  • Someone could interfere to break up the fight.

A Duel’s resolution could have other effects if it’s part of an overarching combat.

Examples #

Machinations of Court and Frame #

All participants start a duel as Recharged as possible. Anyone else could break up the fight, or interfere to ensure one party’s downfall, but they do so at social peril. Once a participant is at 4 Escalation, they can concede the fight in an honorable fashion; the other participant can choose to continue the fight at the expense of looking distasteful, but at this point it’s socially acceptable for allies to directly come to their aid.

If a conflict continues past a duel’s resolution, the victor’s side gains 2 Advantage to all rolls and the loser’s side gains 2 Disadvantage to all rolls.

Liminal Void #

At any Escalation, a ship may roll to attempt to escape or board the other craft. They have to roll under the current Escalation on a die based on either their ship’s characteristics (to escape) or the boarded ship’s characteristics (to board). This is declared as an action, so on a failure they’ve wasted a round while their opponent still acts.

Clashes and Multiple Players #

Given that clashes are typically 1 on 1, and in many cases 1 Player-controlled character vs. 1 GM-controlled character, I recommend:

  • Give the GM controlled character over to a different non-GM player, and as the GM focus on facilitating and introducing outside complications.
  • Let multiple characters have input on one character’s actions (like 2 non-GM players controlling one PC and 2 controlling one GM character).
  • Giving other characters things to do.

Sometimes, you’ll get a situation where several characters are engaged in a Clash with another character. If so, the following changes apply:

  • Each side of a Clash shares an Escalation.
  • Each character on each side picks an action at the start of a round. The side with multiple characters gets to choose which of their actions counts as the dominant action for Priority purposes after the reveal. (Both actions then count as that Priority this round.)
  • Depending on the situation, characters may share Tells, or they might be independent.

If you’re in a situation where multiple characters are engaged in a Clash with multiple other characters, pair them off into individual Clashes wherever possible. Because they can stay independent and non-GM players are typically running both sides of an encounter, this shouldn’t be too chaotic from the GM’s perspective. (If this is something that will frequently come up, you may want to use Combat and Tactics instead: see Combining with Combat and Tactics below if you want characters who do both in similar contexts.)

Examples #

Liminal Void #

In general, the whole group should decide what the ship will do. If the ship starts to take damage, individual characters can break off to help mitigate it (quick repairs, patch jobs, medical attention, etc) while everyone else continues to make decisions.

Sometimes crews may find themselves outnumbered by enemy attackers. Conversely, crews may decide to acquire a smaller ship for advanced maneuvers, especially if they have a larger ship that can house it.

Machinations of Court and Frame #

This is where giving players control of enemies really comes into play: given that most Clashes are semi-formal duels, both combatants are going to be on fairly equal ground. In addition, many enemies will be player-made, and as such the player who made the enemy may want the opportunity to play them!

Most of the time duels are going to be one on one for societal reasons - one commander against another. However, one side or another may decide to do something that breaks the rules, like attack someone who’s surrendered - or they may be tricked into doing something to that effect. In that case, all bets are off.

Enemies #

Enemies are any character clashing with player characters, or vice versa.

Enemies are Characters #

Before a combat situation starts, an Enemy is just a character, be they people or otherwise. Their motivating factors (what do they want out of a fight, do they even want a fight, will they fight to the death or run when things look bad, etc) are important to think about, because they’ll impact how they fight, who they target, etc.

Enemies in a Clash #

Mechanically, sometimes it makes sense to make Enemies as if they were PCs, especially if a lot of Clashes are between named characters. If that’s the case, have players make a handful periodically as you need more. Making more than one at the start of the campaign is recommended at this place, especially as it gives players a chance to use one they made in the past as an enemy!

If that’s not the case, you might be able to create a few suggested versions based on templates or stock models. If those aren’t a thing in this game, create a few for GMs to use when running the game. Above all, the last thing you want is for a GM to have to stat something up from scratch - provide enough examples so that they can either use whatever as-is or tweak it manually.

Examples #

Liminal Void #

Most enemies in this context are just a type of ship. A few other enemies are provided for things like heavily improvised ships or unmanned drones.

Machinations of Court and Frame #

Almost all enemies are going to be another pilot in a standard model of Frame. Players are typically expected to make at least two pilots each, partially so there are enemies to Duel but also so nobody is left out when the focus of conflict shifts.

Combining with Combat and Tactics #

If you want both Combat and Clashes in a game with characters in the same context, I recommend you start by creating them for Combat and Tactics and adjust accordingly for Clashes:

  • Use an ability’s Role (Attacker, Defender, Support) as its effective Stance. For priority purposes, Attacker beats Support, Defender beats Attacker, and Support beats Defender.
  • Hustle is a Defender action, Recharge and Recover are Support actions.
  • Add Feint to the standard actions:
    • Feint:
      • Attacker
      • Next round, you gain a Tell on the enemy’s next action that expires at the end of the round.
      • 11+: The Tell remains for that action.
  • Ignore range and movement. Any abilities that would cause you to move instead give you Evasion (Low Die if you’d move to Near, Mid Die if Far).
  • If you use a Reaction in response to an action before it resolves, your action gains the Role of that Reaction. (As such, prioritize Reactions that can React to your own action or an enemy’s action against you, so this comes up more.)
  • Any effects that would normally only affect allies affect you. (You can’t use any Support/Command-style abilities that would make allies take actions, however, so maybe design with less of these in mind.)
  • Anything that would last for a round instead lasts until the end of next round.

If your game is Clash-first, you should probably find a way to abstract out group combat rather than dedicating a system to it when it comes up.