(Back to the Rule Reference)
TYPE OF CONFLICTS
Not every situation can be resolved through peaceful means; sometimes there’s no choice other than violence, humiliation, or harassment. When one or more characters seek to harm each other — physically (injuring body), socially (impugning reputation), or mentally (breaking down resolve) — it’s time for a Conflict.
There are many types of Conflicts, from fistfights and Allomancers hurling steel projectiles at enemies (both Physical Conflicts) to mudslinging campaigns and caustic Assembly battles ( Social Conflicts) to brutal interrogations and vicious head games ( Mental Conflicts).
Some of the many other possible examples include:
• Any attack, including Allomancy or Feruchemy used to harm
• All forms of slander
• Attempts to undermine an opponent’s confidence
• A wrestling match in which contestants are trying to injure each other (a wrestling match without the threat of bloodshed is a Contest)
• Belittling an enemy
• A chase in which one or more characters use weapons to slow down or even kill the competition (a chase without violence is a Contest)
CONFLICTS IN BRIEF
The following sections cover Conflicts in detail but here’s a simple overview of the steps involved. We recommend you refer back to this section as you read through the full rules.
1. Set Up
– Is the Conflict physical, social, or mental?
– What’s at stake and what’s the scope?
2. Frame the Scene
– Identify starting Attributes, Standings, Powers, and Resiliences
– Add details
3. Group Extras
4. Conflict Rounds
– (Lowest to Highest Wits) Declare Actions and Determine Action Dice
– (Highest to Lowest Action Dice) Resolve Actions
When a Conflict breaks out, the Narrator establishes a few key points of reference for everyone, starting with two questions:
• What’s the nature of the Conflict? Is it physical, social, or mental?
• What’s at stake? Why are the characters fighting, and what does victory look like for each side?
The answers to these questions may seem synonymous but what’s important here are the story implications. A boxing match and a sword duel are both physical fights but the match is far more likely to end with someone unconscious, while the duel may very well end someone’s life. Likewise, slandering a noble’s good name may see him ousted from his position, while convincing the Obligators that he’s been stealing from the Lord Ruler may land him in prison, or worse.
It isn’t important whether Allomancy, Feruchemy, or other powers are being used, though how powers are being used may inform the Narrator’s answers. For example, an Allomantic duel in which two Coinshots are trying to fling the same meat cleaver at each other is clearly a Physical Conflict, with the loser standing to suffer physical injury. Conversely, two Steel Allomancers demonstrating their powers to win a prized spot in a celebrated crew stand to win or lose in a very different way.
Finally, be sure to define the scale and scope of what’s at stake. It’s easy to get carried away here, letting a single Conflict turn the tide of an entire war, or putting a newcomer in a critical seat of power among the noble houses, but that spoils the drama and excitement of a well-paced story. Look at each Conflict as one chapter of the larger saga; consider the situations and challenges that might naturally arise from any side winning before anyone starts rolling dice.
FRAMING THE SCENE
Once the Conflict’s nature and stakes are established, the Narrator describes the scene’s set-up from the perspectives of both the players and their characters. The players are primarily interested in the nuts and bolts — which of their characters’ Resiliences is at stake and which Attributes, Standings, Powers, and other game rules apply — while the characters are in the thick of it, their Resiliences on the line and story consequences close at hand. Everyone needs to know what they have to do and what they stand to win or lose.
This is also everyone’s opportunity to add minor details to the scene, just as they would with any other description (see page 133). As usual, players may veto anything related to their characters, and the Narrator may veto or approve anything at all.
With a Conflict it’s almost always best for players to keep descriptions to what their characters can see and sense, as the chance of taking unfair advantage of the situation spikes significantly the further a player’s description wanders outside the character’s personal awareness.
Note that the Narrator and other players are only concerned at this point with what the Conflict looks like at its outset. Every Conflict unfolds differently and the characters’ actions and responses can quickly steer the action in unforeseen directions. This is one of the most exciting aspects of any roleplaying game and it’s especially true in the Final Empire, where sudden and unexpected twists lurk behind every corner.
You may recall that characters can act together in a Contest, using the best of their Results (see page 159). This is also possible in a Conflict and it’s recommended for Extras, whose actions aren’t supposed to frequently turn the tide. Grouping Extras also simplifies description and speeds Conflict resolution, which is extremely helpful when you’re juggling more than a few characters. Fortunately, it’s perfectly plausible for most Extras to act together: military units follow orders as a group, just like politicians band together to argue a single stance.
Sometimes a group of Extras will fall under a Hero’s command: when they answer to him or her on a crew, for example, or when they’re hired by the Hero as mercenaries or rabble rousers. Even in these cases it’s critical to remember that Extras are ultimately controlled by the Narrator, who should take the Extras’ personalities, beliefs, and goals into consideration when deciding their actions. Despite their less prominent position in the story, Extras have free will and they can say no, change their minds, or do something entirely unexpected, as fits their view of the situation.
Heroes and Villains always act independently, as their actions define Conflicts. Grouping them undermines their impact and diminishes their status as movers and shakers in the story.
THE CONFLICT ROUND
Conflicts unfold in Conflict Rounds (or “rounds” for short), and each of these rounds is the length of a single Beat. During a round each Hero, Villain, and Extra group may take only 1 meaningul action (including any action that requires a roll), declaring and resolving their actions as follows.
STEP 1: DECLARE ACTIONS AND DETERMINE AVAILABLE DICE
At the start of each round, the Narrator and other players describe their characters’ intended actions. They start with the character with the lowest Wits and end with the character with the highest Wits (allowing characters with the best response time to go last). When characters have the same Wits, the Narrator chooses their order, commonly favoring character(s) whose locations are unknown, and those with a logical or plausible edge over their opponents. These favored characters describe their actions last (so they know their opponents’ actions before deciding their own).
Regardless of their Wits, characters who are surprised — perhaps due to a failed Contest before the start of the Conflict — always declare their actions before the characters getting the drop on them.
Without surprise, Extras in groups tend to telegraph their actions and rarely get the drop on Heroes and Villains. When a group of Extras includes characters with different Wits scores, the group declares based on the lowest Wits among them.
Many Conflict actions will be attacks (harming the opposition is the point, after all), and whenever an attack is declared the player also has to name one Resilience being targeted. At first this will likely match the Resilience the Narrator identified while framing the scene but as the Conflict progresses and the action takes on a life of its own players may want to focus their actions elsewhere. For example, a crew trying to capture an enemy might shift gears midway through a physical brawl to talk their outmatched opponent into surrendering (thus shifting from Health to Willpower).
The Narrator may swap any targeted Resilience if he or she feels another is more appropriate for any given action. As a general rule, physical attacks reduce Health, social attacks reduce Reputation, and mental and spiritual attacks reduce Willpower, but there are notable exceptions — like physically beating someone to break their will, Rioting someone into a shameful display of emotion, or tricking someone into physically harming themselves. As long as the targeted Resilience makes sense within the context of the action and the situation, you’re good.
With this in mind, let’s get back to our crew’s Conflict…
Notice the variety of actions being taken there. Conflicts can involve lots of characters and it won’t always be important that everyone focus exclusively on hurting the opposition; some characters will take unrelated actions that still support their side. As another example, in a pitched battle deep in a noble house basement a Lurcher may choose not to attack the hazekillers coming after his crew so he can instead Pull open the cell holding their captured ally. Remember, in a roleplaying game you can attempt practically anything so long as it makes sense given the details already in play.
As each action is described, the Narrator makes the choices necessary to gather dice, just as with any other roll. Working with the player, the Narrator decides which Attribute, Standing, or Power is most pivotal and determines whether any Traits, Tools, Circumstances, and other rules apply (see page 140 and the Conflict sections on pages 195–231). Remember that catching a Beat does not grant any additional dice (see the sidebar on page 144).
IMPORTANT: These dice are not yet a pool and you may have any number of them. They’re called Action Dice and are used to form pools for various actions you take throughout the Conflict Round. Place these dice on or near the labeled part of your character sheet.
Some common sources of Action Dice, based on intended actions:
• Physically attacking another character: Physique
• Attacking with Allomancy: Appropriate metal
• Taunting an enemy: Charm
• Performing a feint or stalling for time: Wits
• Wrestling with a foe: Physique
• Distracting someone: Charm
• Torturing someone: Wits or Physique
• Leveraging a mark’s poverty to shame him (or her): Resources
• Slandering someone: Influence
• Threatening an enemy: Spirit
• Bribery: Resources
• Rallying support in a crowd: Influence
• Belittling someone: Spirit
A character may sometimes choose not to take any overt action, instead committing all of his or her effort to defending from incoming attacks. In this case the character gains no Action Dice. Instead, he or she receives Defense Dice, which are figured just like Action Dice and are based on how the character is guarding against attacks. For example, dodging or hunkering behind a shield are governed by Physique, while guarding against tricks relies on Wits, and steeling oneself against emotional trauma falls to Spirit. Traits, Tools, and Circumstances are applied just as with any other action.
ACTIONS THAT PRODUCE NO DICE
Some actions require no roll at all (e.g. reading when quick or precise comprehension isn’t an issue, turning a crank that doesn’t require a great deal of strength, and so on). These actions don’t produce Action Dice, so the character gains none of those, and he or she only gains Defense Dice if attacked. These Defense Dice are always based on the type of attack, as a character preoccupied by other actions isn’t able to focus attention on guarding, and can’t choose how to defend. Physical attacks produce the defender’s Physique in Defense Dice, social attacks produce the defender’s Charm in Defense Dice, and mental attacks produce the defender’s Wits in Defense Dice. Traits, Tools, and Circumstances are applied as with any other action, but are defined by the character’s response to the attack.
Some characters can use Powers in extraordinary ways, like a Lurcher who can Pull metal objects as they fly through the air or a Coinshot who can Push the same. These abilities exist outside the typical exchange of attacks and defense seen in Conflicts, and fall into a special category of actions called Reactions.
Much like defense, a Reaction is used in response to another action, a specific event, or a particular circumstance, rather than as an action unto itself. A character may either react to or defend against an action, but may not do both.
When a character with access to an applicable Reaction uses it during a Conflict, he or she gains a number of dice to use as part of the Reaction’s roll, as noted in the rules for the Reaction being used. There’s no reason to hang on to these extra dice, as they’re immediately lost unless used for the Reaction roll.
A reacting character may also apply any Action or Defense Dice he or she has, but the rules for forming a pool still apply — the pool may be no larger than 10 dice.
TYPES OF ACTIONS AND DIFFICULTY
At this time the Narrator also declares whether each action is a Challenge (uncontested by the target) or a Contest (opposed by the target). This is important when applying additional rules and when determining what options are available to each target (i.e. whether they can react or defend). In general, any attack is automatically a Contest unless there’s a reason the target can’t fight back (he or she is unconscious or restrained, for example).
The Narrator may also assign a Difficulty if there’s more than a small chance the action may not succeed at all.
Both these factors play a role during Step 2.
STEP 2: RESOLVE ACTIONS
Actions are taken in a different order than they’re declared. They start with the character or group with the most Action Dice and end with the character or group with the least Action Dice (allowing characters with the greatest ability to go first). Characters with the same number of Action Dice act simultaneously.
As each character’s turn comes up, the player may respond to all the declarations and actions so far. There are three options:
1. TAKE THE DECLARED ACTION
In this case the player forms a pool for the declared action from his or her available Action Dice. Like any other pool, this one must fall between 2 and 10 dice (see page 140).
Even if the player has 10 or less Action Dice he or she may still want to hold some back, as any dice left after forming a pool are used to defend against incoming attacks. Especially when facing several hostile declared actions, it can be extremely helpful to withhold Action Dice for defense rather than go with the bigger pool to get something done.
Action Dice remaining after forming a pool become Defense Dice and are moved to that area on the character sheet.
2. DECLARE A NEW ACTION
Alternately, the player may declare a new action instead (the action declared in Step 1 doesn’t happen). This is dangerous, as it costs the character precious moments and dramatically impacts his or her performance.
The character’s Action Dice are immediately refigured for the new action and halved (rounding up), and the character now goes at the very end of the round (as if he or she has only 1 Action Die).
Defense Dice are what remains after this new action is taken, per the rules described earlier in this section.
Each character may do this only once per round, and no character may do this if their new action produces only 2 Action Dice (as they would only have 1 die after their new total is halved, and that’s not enough to form a pool).
3. CHOOSE NOT TO ACT
Whether performing the action originally declared in Step 1 or a new action declared since, the player may always choose not to act at all. This ends the character’s chance to act in this round, and converts all of his or her Action Dice into Defense Dice.
CHALLENGES, CONTESTS, AND ATTACKS
As each action occurs, first look at whether it’s a Challenge or Contest, as the rules vary a bit for each. A Challenge is resolved like any basic roll — that is, a matching set that also beats the Difficulty (if any) is a success (see What’s the Outcome? on page 146).
If the action is a Contest the target may defend, though it isn’t required. The dice used to defend are based on whether the target has acted yet in this round:
• If the target has not yet acted, he or she may spend between 2 and 10 Action Dice to defend, and the new (lower) Action Dice total is immediately used to refigure his or her spot in the turn order. As you may already have surmised, this makes attacking a target an excellent way to keep them occupied, thus preventing them from doing anything else.
• If the target has already acted, he or she may spend between 2 and 10 Defense Dice to defend (assuming of course he or she has any Defense Dice left, or started with any in the first place).
• If the target has a special ability that grants a Reaction, he or she may use the Reaction instead of defending. The target gains the dice listed in the ability description, which may only be used for the Reaction roll, and may add one or more Action or Defense Dice as well, though the Reaction pool may not exceed 10 dice, as normal.
Any target may choose not to defend, in which case the attack is automatically successful so long as the attacker rolls a matching set.
In any case the choice to defend and the number of dice spent must be settled before anyone rolls any dice (no one gets to wait and see what their opponent rolls before committing their dice).
A character may only defend or react once against each action, though he or she may defend against any number of actions in each round (so long as dice are available to do so).
The Contest succeeds if the attacker scores a higher Result than the target and beats the Difficulty (if any). Nudges break ties as usual, and tied Nudges mean the struggle continues into the next Conflict Round.
Most successful actions are handled the same as any basic Challenge (see page 140) or Contest (see page 157), and all the rules and guidance for determining their Outcomes, impacts on the story, and descriptions still apply in a Conflict.
Attacks have a special Outcome, which is detailed under Damage and Defeat (see page 183). Remember, an attack can be any Challenge or Contest intended to harm another character.
DAMAGE AND DEFEAT
With a successful attack the target character suffers 1 damage, plus 1 additional damage per Nudge applied, plus any bonuses from equipment (see page 199). Damage has a variety of effects and for all of them it’s important to remember the Resilience targeted by the attack, which was determined during Step 1 of each Conflict Round (see page 174).
Extras are bit players in the story and defeated when they suffer even 1 damage. By and large you won’t even bother tracking damage for Extras — they’re usually just overpowered on the way to more important things. In fact, some particularly large-scale Conflicts may see Heroes and Villains brushing aside several Extras with each successful attack (see Epic Conflicts, page 191).
Heroes and Villains, on the other hand, can usually stand their own, and this is where their Resilience scores come into play. Damage inflicted on a Hero or Villain reduces the target Resilience by the same amount. Write the damage on the character’s sheet, in the box provided (which is kept separate so you never lose track of the character’s full Resilience score). Damage is cumulative, so be sure to add it to any the character has already suffered.
Damage can wound or defeat a character when they lower a resilience to 0