The Free City of Riverhold
When a player takes action, he describes what his character is doing and, if necessary, rolls an appropriate skill. Each action is resolved as either a simple action against a GM assigned difficulty, or as a contest, with the details depending upon the specifics of the action.
Contests are very much like simple actions, except the action is in direct opposition to someone else and the action can be resolved quickly and decisively. Rather than setting a difficulty, each person rolls the appropriate skill, and the outcome is resolved as if the high roll had beaten a difficulty equal to the low roll. A tie means both succeed, but whether that means the outcome is a tie or if it calls for another roll depends on the situation. Some sample contests include:
- An arm wrestling match
- A footrace
- Telling a lie
The difference between the difficulty and the result of the roll is the magnitude of the effect, which is measured in shifts. Shifts are used, primarily by the GM, to determine the potency of a character’s efforts and to govern the resolution of complex actions. Shifts may be spent to affect the outcome of a roll. Often, the GM will apply shifts in accordance with the player’s description of his character’s actions. Sometimes, players may apply shifts as well. Basic uses for one shift include:
- Reduce time required: Make the action take less time.
- Increase quality of outcome: Improve the quality of the job by one step.
- Increase subtlety: Make the job harder to detect by one.
Exactly how shifts can be applied depends on the skill and the situation. If the rules do not cover a given application of shifts, and they usually won’t, the GM will simply assign them whatever effects he feels are appropriate. Depending on the circumstances, shifts may have no effect whatsoever. In other cases, such as conflicts, shifts can play an important role.
Modifiers may be applied to rolls depending on the nature of the action or scene. For most circumstances, the GM will assign them on a case-by-case basis rather than using a set list of modifiers. The way a player describes his character’s actions can have a significant bearing on the application of modifiers.
Conflicts are what happen when two or more characters are in opposition in a fashion that cannot be quickly and cleanly resolved. A conflict is broken down into a number of exchanges where each party makes an effort to try to achieve their goal, taking turns to act. Opponents who stand in their way may be called upon to roll a response. They will accumulate success in the form of stress on opponents. Eventually, opponents will accumulate enough stress, or suffer enough consequences, to be taken out; alternatively, opponents may preemptively offer a concession. Conflicts are the most involved actions, and an entire scene may revolve around a conflict.
- Any kind of fight scene
- An argument or debate
- A long, tense staredown
- Trying to talk your way past a watchman
Once a conflict begins, it follows this regular pattern.
- Frame the scene and define zones
- Establish initiative
- Begin exchange
- Take actions
- Resolve actions
- Begin a new exchange
If the scene is taking place over a broad area, the GM will describe the zones the scene will be occurring in. Each zone is a loosely defined area where characters may directly interact with anyone else within that zone. Who is in what zone affects things like whether or not characters can attack each other or if they’ll need to throw things or use ranged weapons. At the outset, determining which zones characters start in should be reasonably intuitive, but if there is a question, the GM can rule on where the character starts.
When looking for a quick rule of thumb, remember that people in the same zone can engage each other in melee combat, people one zone apart can only shoot or throw things at each other, and people two (and sometimes more) zones apart can only shoot each other. Any one given scene should not involve more than a handful of zones.
Most actions in a fight will be either attacks or maneuvers.
An attack is an attempt to force the attacker’s agenda on a target, by attempting to injure them, by bullying them, or by some other means. An attack is rolled as a contest, with the attacking character (the attacker) attempting to beat the defending character (the defender) in a roll of skills.
Not all attacks are violent. An attempt to persuade or distract someone is also a sort of attack. When determining whether or not the contest rules apply, simply look for two characters in conflict, an agenda (or “want”) pushed by the acting character, and the target or obstacle to that agenda, the defending (or “responding”) character. The skills used depend on the situation.
Here are some examples.
|The attacker wants…||So he uses…||And the defender can use…|
|To engage in close combat||Melee or Brawling||Melee, Brawling, Athletics|
|To hit a target at a distance||Archery, Throwing||Athletics|
|To deceive||Bluff||Sense Motive|
|To move silently||Stealth||Perception|
A maneuver is an attempt to change the situation in some way, affecting the environment or other people, but without damaging or forcing the target (if force is used or damage is dealt, it would be an attack). When a character tries to jump to grab a rope, throw dust in an enemy’s eyes, draw eyes upon himself at a gathering, or take a debate down a tangential path – that’s a maneuver. A maneuver is either a simple action or a contest, with the difficulty or opposition determined by the nature of the maneuver.
Instead of picking from a predefined list of stunts and maneuvers, players will need to be somewhat narrative when describing their maneuvers. A good description of a maneuver should be clear and concise, stating the character’s intent and how he plans to carry it out.
Some kinds of actions are “free” – they don’t count as the character’s action during an exchange, regardless of whether or not a roll of the dice is involved. Rolling for defense against an attack is a free action. So are minor actions like casting a quick glance at an area or shouting a short warning. There is no set limit on the number of free actions a character may take during an exchange; the GM simply has to agree that each action is free, and should feel free to impose limits if it seems like someone is taking excessive advantage of this rule.
Movement is one of the most common free actions. When it is reasonably easy to move from one zone to the next, characters may move one zone as a supplemental action. If they wish to move further than that, they must forfeit a regular (not free) action. Sometimes, it is more difficult to move from one zone to the next, such as when there is some sort of barrier (like a fence or some debris) or there is some other difficulty (like getting from a rooftop to the street below and vice versa). Any such complications will be resolved by the GM on a case-by-case basis.
A character can opt to do nothing but protect himself for an exchange. By foregoing his normal action, he gains a +2 on all reactions and defenses for that exchange. Characters who are defending may declare it at the beginning of the exchange rather than waiting for their turn to come around. Similarly, if they have not acted in the exchange at the time when they are first attacked, they may declare a full defense at that point, again foregoing their normal action for the exchange.
Hold Your Action
A character can choose not to act when his turn comes around. When a character takes a hold action, he has the option of taking his turn any time later in the exchange. He must explicitly take his turn after someone else has finished their turn and before the next person begins. He cannot wait until someone declares what they’re trying to do, then interrupt them by taking his turn.
Weapons and Armor
Some general guidelines for combat modifiers based on equipment are listed below, but certain weapons will naturally be more advantageous in the right situation. These modifiers can change depending on reach, obstacles, and how much room there is to maneuver.
|0||Unarmed, thrown rock|
|1||Knife, club, sling|
|2||Sword, mace, axe, light bow, spear|
|3||2-handed weapon, heavy bow, polearm|
A successful attack inflicts an amount of stress on its target equal to the number of shifts on the attack (the difference between the attacker’s effort, and the defender’s effort). Stress represents non-specific difficulties a character can encounter in a conflict. In a fight, it’s bruising, minor cuts, fatigue, and the like. In a social conflict, it’s getting flustered or being put off one’s game. In a mental conflict, stress might mean losing focus or running in circles. Stress can usually be shaken off once a character has some time to gather himself, between scenes.
The type of stress that a character takes in a conflict should be appropriate to the type of conflict. Every character has two stress tracks. The first is the Health stress track, used for physical stress, such as wounds and fatigue. The second is the Composure stress track, representing the ability to “keep it together” in the face of social and mental injuries.
A character can only take so much stress before being unable to go on, represented by a stress track filling up. Each stress track defaults to a maximum of five points, but the tracks can be increased by certain skills: Endurance can increase the Health stress track, and Resolve can increase the Composure stress track.
When stress is determined, the character should mark off that box on the appropriate stress track. For instance, if the character takes a three-point physical hit, he should mark off the third box from the left on the Health stress track. Needs text
At the end of a scene, unless the GM says otherwise, a character’s stress tracks clear out; minor scrapes and bruises, trivial gaffes and embarrassments, and momentary fears pass away. Deeper issues resulting from attacks, called consequences, may last beyond the end of the scene, and are covered further below.
Stress is a transitory thing, but sometimes conflicts will have lasting consequences – injuries, embarrassments, phobias and the like. These are collectively called consequences, and they are a special kind of aspect. We’ll talk more about what this means shortly.
Any time a character takes stress, he may opt not to check off a box and instead take a consequence. If the character takes a hit which he doesn’t have a box for, either because it’s higher than the number of boxes on his stress track, or because it rolls up past his last box, the character must take a consequence.
The exact nature of the consequence will depend upon the conflict – an injury might be appropriate for a physical struggle, an emotional state might be apt for a social one. The first consequence a character takes is a mild consequence, the second is a moderate consequence, and any additional consequences are severe. Consequences typically convey a -1, -2, or -3 modifier, respectively, to any actions which might be influenced by the consequence.
Normally, the person taking the consequence gets to describe what it is, so long as it’s compatible with the nature of the attack that inflicted the harm. The GM acts as an arbitrator on the appropriateness of a consequence, so there may be some back and forth conversation before a consequence is settled on. The GM is the final authority on whether a player’s suggested consequence is reasonable for the circumstances and severity.
Characters may only carry three consequences at a time. If the character has already taken a severe consequence, then the only remaining option is to be taken out.
If a character takes a hit which takes him past a severe consequence, that character is taken out. The character has decisively lost the conflict, and unlike the other levels of consequence, his fate is in the hands of his opponent, who may decide how the character loses. The outcome must remain within the realm of reason – very few people truly die from shame, so having someone die as a result of a duel of wits is unlikely, but having them embarrass themselves and flee in disgrace is not unreasonable.
The option to determine how a character loses is a very powerful ability, but there are a few limits on it.
- The effect is limited to the character who has been taken out. For example, the victor may declare that the loser has made an ass of himself in front of a crowd, but he cannot decide how the crowd will respond.
- The manner of the taken out result must be limited to the scope of the conflict and the effect must be reasonable for the target. For example, after the victor wins a debate with someone, he cannot decide that the loser concedes his point and the loser gives him all his property. Property was never part of the conflict, so it’s not an appropriate part of the resolution. Similarly, a diplomat at the negotiating table is not going to give the victor the keys to the kingdom – that’s probably beyond the scope of his authority, and even if it’s not, it’s unlikely something he would give away under any circumstances.
- Players are not always comfortable with being on the receiving end of this and may, if they wish, spend all the fate points they have left (minimum one) and demand a different outcome, and the GM (or winning character) should then make every effort to allow them to lose in a fashion more to their liking. That said, if this is a real concern, the loser may want to concede somewhere before things reach this point (see “Concessions”, below).
Consequences will fade with time – characters heal, rumors die down, and distance brings perspective. How long this takes depends upon the severity of the consequence, which in turn depends upon how it was received.
Mild consequences are removed any time the character has the opportunity to sit down and take a breather for a few minutes. These consequences will last until the end of the current scene, and will usually be removed after that. The only exception is if there is no break between scenes – if the character doesn’t get a chance to take five, the consequence will remain in place.
Moderate consequences require the character get a little more time and distance. A good night’s sleep or other extended period of rest and relaxation is required. Moderate consequences remain in place until the character has had the opportunity to take several hours (at least 6) of “downtime.” This may mean getting sleep in a comfortable bed, spending time with a charming member of the opposite sex, reading by the fire, or anything else of that ilk, so long as it’s appropriate to the consequence. An afternoon of hiking might be a great way to get past a Heartbreak consequence, but it’s not a great choice for a Bad Ankle.
Severe consequences require substantial downtime, measured in days or weeks. Generally this means that such a consequence will linger for the duration of a session, but will be cleared up before the next adventure begins.
If the character is in back-to-back sessions where no in-game time passes between them, such as in a multi-part adventure, he gets a break – any consequences he begins the session with are treated as one level lower for how quickly they’re removed.
Some skills, such as First Aid, Herbalism, and Medicine, can also reduce recovery time, as determined by the GM.
Any time a character takes a consequence, he also has the option of offering a concession. A concession is essentially equivalent to surrendering, and is the best way to end a fight before someone is taken out (short of moving away and ending the conflict). The character inflicting the damage can always opt to not take the concession, but doing so is a clear indication that the fight will be a bloody one (literally or metaphorically). If the GM declares that the concession was a reasonable offer, then the character who offered it gains one fate point, and the character who refused it loses one.
The concession is an offer of the terms under which the character is taken out. If the concession is accepted, the conceding character is immediately taken out, but rather than letting the victor determine the manner of his defeat, he is defeated according to the terms of his concession.
Many conflicts end with a concession when one party or the other simply does not want to risk taking moderate or severe consequences as a result of the conflict, or when neither party wants to risk a taken out result that might come at too high a price.