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Alternative Duel Arcane [2E Houserule]

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  • Alternative Duel Arcane [2E Houserule]

    The new mechanics for the Duel Arcane in 2nd Edition are pretty cool, but they don't quite match my personal tastes so I've been exploring some potential adjustments. This is a bit of a work in progress, but I'd love to hear people's opinions.

    What is the Duel Arcane?

    Two mages brought into conflict with one another have an ancient method of resolving the dispute by creating a temporary Astral space where they can pit their magic and their will against one another. This is a natural ability possessed by all Mages upon awakening and functions as per an attainment. While some spells or attainments have been used to duplicate the Duel Arcane in alternate forms, the basic form has always functioned the same way.
    • Only two Mages can be included.
    • Both Mages must be willing and cannot be directly forced to join the Duel Arcane by any known means, (although indirect coercion such as threats and manipulation do work).
    • They must be in intense sensory contact with one another, this is usually done by eye contact but can also include physical contact or even shouting matches.
    • It is usually not possible to perform the arcane duel remotely, even if brought into sensory contact by a spell or machine, however it can be attempted remotely at a -3 to all rolls to begin the Duel Arcane.
    • The match occurs in an Astral dream realm, this is shaped by the Duel Arcane and tends to symbolically reflect the conflict between the two Mages. Neither mage consciously selects the environment, but it is determined by how they view themselves and the conflict on a subconscious level.
    • During the conflict both Mages remain aware of the fallen world, but must divide their attention between the fallen world and the duel arcane if they wish to act in both. When focused on one reality, the Mage suffers a -2 dice penalty to all actions within the other reality or a -1 penalty to static values such as defense.
    • During the conflict neither Mage can form an Imago to cast a spell as their Gnosis is focused upon creating the Duel. They can however still use any Attainments as per normal (remember the -2 penalty however if they're focused on the Duel Arcane).
    • While the environment created by the Duel is most similar to an Astral realm, unless otherwise stated it does not follow the normal Astral rules and is not considered an Astral path. It does not require a special location to be created, cannot be entered into by other beings not involved in the duel and the dream actors who populate this realm cannot be summoned as Goetia. No known spell can manipulate or interact with the Dueling realm, although the individual mages can still be targeted by other spells normally.
    • The Dueling space can be viewed through any active Magesight looking at either participant.
    • This view of the Dueling space can be veiled through either Prime or Mind veiling effects, although this does not affect the participants in any way.
    • Initiating the Duel Arcane triggers peripheral Magesight to anyone nearby either participant.
    • Once begun, the participants can continue the Duel Arcane, even if they become separated from one another and lose sensory contact.
    Beginning the Duel Arcane

    The two mages must initiate intense sensory contact by whatever means is chosen, both mages must be able to perceive one another through at least one mundane sense however. While in sensory contact if one mage attempts to initiate the Duel, the other can perceive the attempt automatically and can chose whether to participate or not without any other communication necessary between the two.

    It requires each mage to spend a willpower however to initiate the duel. If one participant is unable or unwilling to spend willpower for whatever reason, the other can choose to spend the willpower for them however both participants must still be willing to Duel. The willpower is only expended when the Duel begins and is not spent if beginning the Duel fails for any reason.

    Both mages, if choosing to participate, roll a resolve + composure dice pool and add the result together (not using the normal limited teamwork rules). Although this is a meditation roll, the duel arcane is suited to combat and violence so no penalties apply for a distracting environment. It requires a number of instant actions dedicated to concentrating from both Mages equal to 5 - the number of combined successes to begin the Duel Arcane. If this number is reduced to zero, then the Duel Arcane begins as a reflexive action. A dramatic failure from either party means that the Duel fails to form and cannot be attempted again between the same two mages that scene.

    The success of the conflict is determined by doors, as per social maneuvering or the canonical arcane duel rules. Each participant has a number of doors equal to their total willpower, the modifiers from the canonical arcane duel rules do not apply.

    Actions during the Duel Arcane

    Actions taken within the Duel Arcane follow initiative, as per regular combat. However instead of the regular initiative modifier, Gnosis is used instead.

    Mages can speak to one another during the Duel Arcane, however the communication automatically takes place in High Speech rather than languages of the fallen world. If they are still close to one another, they may speak aloud in fallen languages as well. While this communication takes place rapidly, it is not instantaneous and requires about as much time as it would normally take to communicate the concept being conveyed. Speaking in this fashion does not distract either Mage from the Duel Arcane.

    During their action, the Mage may select a single attack form from any of the forms that they know. Their opponent may reflexively select a single defense form from any of the forms they know, but only if attacked. The mage does not have to perform an attack during their action, however no other actions can take place within the Dueling space. (Although players are encouraged to "stunt" and describe their dream self performing actions appropriate and symbolic to the duel taking place, this has no mechanical result however).

    Ending the Duel Arcane

    If either participant succeeds in opening all their opponent's doors, the Duel is ended. There is a few moments afterwards during which the connection is maintained long enough to communicate briefly with one another, before both are returned fully to their bodies. This is sometimes used to send a demand, a threat or similar posturing. The losing participant suffers the defeated condition and the winning participant gains the triumphant condition and refreshes their willpower.

    Both participants may choose together to end the Duel, this can be done as a reflexive action and has no extra consequence. This is not usually considered a victory or defeat in itself by Mages, however this may be done to end the duel after a yield, "first blood" or whatever other victory condition was accepted by both mages.

    One participant, during their action, may choose to end the duel as an instant action. They must roll resolve + composure (this is considered an action taking place within the duel, for purposes of -2 penalty for divided concentration) and on a success they may leave the duel. This is usually considered a yield by other Mages.

    A participant may break the connection automatically as a reflexive action, however the participant who does this suffers the Soul Shocked condition as a result. This is usually considered a yield by other Mages.

    The Duel instantly ends if one participant is killed, rendered unconscious or otherwise becomes incapable of participating. Where relevant the participant forced from the duel suffers the Soul Shocked condition. Most mages consider this something of a draw under most circumstances, although a participant deliberately knocking themselves unconscious or similar is regarded as a yield.
    Appendix: Attack and Defense Forms.

    A mage intuitively figures out a single attack form and a single defense form upon Awakening and gaining the first dot of Gnosis. This is almost always from their path Arcana, although in very rare circumstances it may be from another Arcanum. Every time the character increases their Gnosis they gain an additional attack or defense form of their choice. Extra attack or defense forms can be learned at a cost of 1xp. A Mage can only know a combined total of attack and defense forms from an Arcanum equal to their dot rating in that Arcanum.

    There are more attack forms than those listed here, these are works in progress and other forms can also be invented.

    Attack Forms

    A Mage need never lose the Duel Arcane unless they choose to. However each Attack Form raises the stakes of the contest. On a successful attack, the defender must choose to either open a door for their opponent, successfully use a defense form or suffer the consequences of the attacker's attack form. Each attack roll is made with Gnosis + the attack form's Arcanum.

    Sympathetic Strike (Spaces): The attacker targets a sympathetic link possessed by their opponent. They may either select a specific link if they're aware that it exists or name it by description and the storyteller would select the relevant link (see the spell Correspondence for details). If successful and the defender refuses to open a door, the attacker may either weaken the defender's sympathetic link by one category, or gain one category of connection to that target themselves. On an exceptional success the attacker may both weaken the defender's link and gain one category if they wish. The attacker's connection cannot be raised above the defender's original rating.

    Memory Loss (Mind): The attacker targets a memory possessed by their opponent. It may not be more than five minutes worth of time or a single page of information, however on a critical success this increases to a single scene worth of time or an entire book of information. This may be a specific memory that the attacker knows the defender possesses or it may be selected by category "childhood memory" or "first kiss", etc. If successful and the defender refuses to open a door, the memory selected is permanently lost. While the defender remembers accepting to lose a memory, afterwards they will not remember what the memory was that was taken. The attacker does not gain or perceive the memory either.

    Distort Time (Time): This is an unusual attack form that alters the Dueling environment itself, or rather the ratio that time passes within the Duel compared to outside the Duel. If successful and the defender refuses to open a door, the attacker may raise or lower the time ratio between the two realms by one step. On an exceptional success the attacker may alter the time ratio by two steps instead. For example, if the ratio becomes 1:3 between the outside world and the Duel, then for every single action that takes place outside, three actions take place within the Duel. While this may not seem like an attack, when Duels are performed as a delaying tactic this battle of patience can be very relevant. Also while the passage of time is distorted, each participant must spend the entirety of one round focused on a particular world or suffer the -2 distraction penalty, even if that one round represents many more rounds in the other realm.

    Inflict Curse (Fate): If successful and the defender refuses to open a door, the next time an opponent acts against the defender in the outside world, they will receive 8-again, on a critical success this become the rote quality instead. This does not benefit the attacker during the Duel Arcane, however if they are simultaneously performing an action in the outside world then the attacker may benefit from this dice trick.

    Strike the Flesh (Life): If successful and the defender refuses to open a door, they suffer a single point of bashing resistant damage, on a critical success they suffer a single point of lethal resistant damage instead. This damage cannot be prevented by means outside the Duel Arcane.

    Draw the strings (Spirit): If successful and the defender refuses to open a door, the attacker may choose to grant the defender the Resonant condition to a particular category of spirit, this condition will last for one scene. If the target is already Resonant, further attacks may name a different category of spirit or increase the duration by another scene. A critical success also applies the Open condition.

    Corrupt Imagos (Prime): If successful and the defender refuses to open a door, they gain a single paradox dice on the next spell they cast. On a critical success this increases the paradox dice to as per Gnosis. If already afflicted by this attack, then the number of dice doesn't increase, however they gain a single paradox dice on the next spell after that as well. This attack form is generally outlawed within pentacle society, but is often known by Banishers, Scelesti or the truly desperate.

    Luddite's Curse (Forces): If successful and the defender refuses to open a door, the defender cannot successfully use any electronic device for one scene. On a critical success this increases the effect to include powered mechanical devices (but not tools, or anything self-powered like a bow). If already affected by this curse the duration increases by one scene.

    Defense Forms

    Defense Forms offer up a sacrifice in exchange for protecting a door. While they require a cost of some type, the Mage benefits in that they are selecting the price that they pay rather than allowing their opponent to select the cost. A Defense Form also allows the Mage to resist an attack by rolling an opposed Gnosis + the defense form's Arcanum. This dice pool can be used whether or not the Mage decides to pay the alternate cost that the defense form allows.

    Offer Oath (Fate): The Defender may offer an oath to the attacker in place of the usual penalty of the attack. It is up to the attacker whether to accept this oath, if they do then the attack has no effect and no doors are opened. The oath is bound as per the negative effects of the Fate spell Sworn Oath (no boon is gained for adhering to the oath). The duration is lasting as this is a natural effect, rather than a spell.

    Offer Secret (Mind): The Defender can offer a secret to the attacker in place of the usual penalty of the attack. It is up to the attacker whether to accept this secret, although the defender must describe the general category of the secret "I'll tell you who attacked your hallow last Thursday" for example. If the attacker accepts, the defender speaks the secret (in High Speech, so it must be truthful) and no further penalty applies.

    Martyr's Price (Life): The defender suffers a single resistant bashing wound per success on the attack in place of the usual penalty of the attack. This damage cannot be prevented by any means.

    Allied Support (Spaces): The defender calls upon their friends for help. Anyone with a sympathetic link to the character's Shadow Name (if they maintain a separate identity as a Mage) can feel a sense that the defender needs help. For sleepers this strange experience is forgotten quickly, explained away as a moment of concern by the Quiessence but may still assist as below. Mages may recognize the experience as this defense form. If those with a sympathetic link to the mage spend a combined total of willpower equal to the attacker's successes the attack is nullified without further penalty. However enemies may have a sympathetic link too and also perceive this defense and may spend willpower to add to the total cost required from the Mage's allies. No one person can spend more than a single willpower towards this effect.

    Protection's Price (Prime): The defender spends a number of points of Mana equal to the number of successes on the attack in place of the usual penalty of the attack.

  • #2
    Veeeeery interesting! I like it! I'll need some more time to digest it, but so far I like it a lot.


    • #3
      Originally posted by Falcon777 View Post
      Veeeeery interesting! I like it! I'll need some more time to digest it, but so far I like it a lot.
      Thanks, the key differences are.

      Everyone can do it, it's a natural attainment instead of a spell.
      It can be combined with physical actions at the same time, so you're potentially psychically dueling a Moros while you and your friends fight off his legion of zombies.
      It makes you pay a price to fight off attacks, some of them are particularly brutal (Mastigos have some very cruel attack forms which seemed appropriate).
      Each Arcanum works differently to others in both attacks and defense.
      Most of the rules, resolution, etc that turn it into a Duel in Mage society are by custom and not mechanically enforced.
      I wanted it to feel more primordial so that I could imagine stone age Mages dueling one another at the dawn of time.

      It's inspired by a bit of a combination between Trump duels in Roger Zelazny's Amber and soul-gazing/mental magic from Dresden Files.

      Unfortunately it's a bit more complicated as a result. I also put in a lot of detail just because I think up a lot of "what ifs" and like to have clear mechanical answers to them all in the rules I make. Published books can't do that due to page counts, but I tend to do it in my house-rules.