This system is meant for creating and playing games that emulate and celebrate action-packed, story-driven fiction. It thrives when paired with a setting or theme where competent, determined, often larger-than-life protagonists face tense and perilous situations, and where collaboration and teamwork are vital to success.

    It aims to pair the action of the story with a degree of mechanical impact, so that what happens in the narration has direct consequences in the game, and vice versa, and relies on players and Gamemaster alike being active participants in both the fiction and the gameplay.

    This site serves as a central reference for the “core” of the 2D20 System, as well as several common genre-specific modifications, to be used both internally by Modiphius writers and designers, and externally by licensees and affiliates. It will also serve as the basis for a setting-neutral Core Rulebook.

    This site is broken up into seven distinct chapters, laid out as follows:

    Core Rules

    This chapter provides a basic overview of the basic mechanics, and explains the core principles and concepts of the system. It covers the following areas:

    • Scenes and Situations
    • Skill Tests and Tasks
    • Improving the Odds
    • Momentum and Threat
    • Fortune


    This chapter provides a standard framework for describing characters in the 2D20 System, including several common variants and approaches. It covers the following areas:

    • Attributes
    • Skills
    • Talents
    • Personal Traits
    • Character Creation Methods

    Action and Conflict

    This chapter expands upon the core rules, providing additional content for dealing with high-stakes action scenes, and situations where conflict arises. It covers the following areas:

    • Action Order
    • Damage, Stress, and Harm
    • Combat
    • Chases and Pursuit
    • Stealth and Infiltration
    • Morale and Social Conflict


    This chapter handles the tools that characters will use during play, and how those tools are represented. It covers the following areas:

    • Common Concepts
    • Acquisitions and Resources
    • Armor
    • Personal Belongings
    • Weaponry
    • Vehicles

    Adversaries and NPCs

    This chapter deals with the array of non-player characters, and especially adversaries and enemies that the player characters are likely to encounter. It explains how NPCs differ from player characters. It covers the following areas:

    • Types of NPC
    • Common NPC Abilities
    • Balancing Conflicts
    • Example NPCs

    The Gamemaster

    This chapter explores the role of the Gamemaster, providing advice and guidance for how the GM interacts with the game and the players, as well as explaining Gamemaster-specific mechanics such as Threat in more detail. It covers the following areas:

    • Gamemaster Advice – using the 2D20 System
    • Rewards and Advancement
    • Managing and Using Threat

    Additional Rules

    This chapter deals with rules that may not be a factor in all games using the 2D20 System, but which are necessary to have a core set of mechanics for. It covers the following areas:

    • Magic and Supernatural Powers
    • Corruption and Creeping Darkness
    • Hacking and Electronic Warfare
    • The Threat Deck

    How to Play

    What You’ll Need

    Players and Characters

    Every 2D20 System game involves several Players and their corresponding characters. One of the Players will be the Gamemaster (below), but everyone else will take on the role of Player Characters. These Player Characters (PCs) are the protagonists of the game, and each player has a single Player Character of their own, for whom they will make decisions, roll dice, and engage with the events of the story. Each Player Character has a character sheet, which is a record of their game statistics, abilities, and other important information.

    The Player Characters aren’t the only types of characters around, however. Non-Player Characters (NPCs) are everyone else, from allies and innocent bystanders, to the adversaries the Player Characters face. They are collectively controlled by the Gamemaster.

    The Gamemaster

    Of the Players gathered for the game, one will be the Gamemaster, or GM. The GM has a different set of responsibilities, and interacts with the rules of the game differently to everyone else. The Gamemaster controls the NPCs, is responsible for coming up with challenging situations and indomitable opponents the Player Characters will face, and oversees the ways in which the PCs overcome these problems.

    The GM establishes scenes, building on the actions and choices of the PCs to shape the game at every state, providing a challenge and giving the PCs opportunities to shine. They also interpret how the rules apply to a given situation, such as ruling on the Difficulty of skill tests, or adjudicating when unusual situations or disagreements arise. Above all else, the GM is not the Players’ enemy: the game works all the better when the GM is a fan of the Player Characters and their exploits, albeit one who seeks to make those characters’ lives as dramatic, exciting, and challenging as possible.


    The 2D20 System uses a few types of dice to resolve the actions a character may attempt and the situations they may face. In most circumstances, more than one dice of a given type will be rolled at once; these dice collectively are referred to as a dice pool.

    The first, and most commonly-used is the twenty-sided die, known throughout these rules as a d20. D20s are used for resolving skill tests, and for rolling on certain large tables. Often, two or more d20s will be required. This is noted as Xd20, where X is the number of dice to be rolled. Thus, 2d20 denotes that two twenty-sided dice should be rolled. It’s helpful to have at least two d20s for each player, and more is better than less, as players may be rolling as many as five at a time.

    The second type of dice is the six-sided die, or d6. These are used relatively infrequently, mainly to roll on certain small tables. If multiple six-sided dice are required, it will be noted as Xd6, where X is the number of dice required. Thus, 2d6 indicates that two six-sided dice should be rolled.

    Challenge Dice

    The third type of dice are Challenge Dice, often referred to as [CD]. These six-sided dice are used primarily for inflicting damage, making progress against some forms of challenge, and similar outcomes. Each [CD] has four faces, with three possible results – a score of 1, a score of 2, and two faces showing “!”, which is an Icon – as well as two blank faces.

    Icons have a score of 1, and additionally trigger special outcomes, often called effects, depending on the circumstances of the roll. A pool of Challenge Dice is usually rolled all at once, and their results added together, so multiple Challenge Dice are noted as X[CD], where X is the number of dice rolled. So, 4[CD] indicates that four Challenge Dice should be rolled, and their results added together.

    If you don’t have special Challenge Dice available, you can use normal six-sided dice instead; treat any roll of a 3 or 4 as blank, and any roll of a 5 or a 6 as an Icon.

    In the text, Icons are referred to either with the word Icon, or with the symbol [!].

    d6 Roll Challenge Die Roll Result
    1 1
    2 •• 2
    3   0
    4   0
    5 ! 1, plus an Icon
    6 ! 1, plus an Icon


    Many circumstances allow a character to re-roll one or more dice. When re-rolling dice, the Player choose the dice they wish to re-roll. They roll those dice again, and the new results replace the original ones, even if the new result is worse.

    Some situations allow for a specific number of dice to be re-rolled, while others allow all the dice in a pool to be re-rolled. Players may always choose how many dice they wish to re-roll, up to the number listed – in essence, you may always choose not to re-roll a die if you wish to keep that result.

    Paper and Pencils

    Having a supply of paper and pencils will be handy for making maps, keeping notes, and tracking various game effects. The players may wish to make notes of temporarily impairments affecting their characters, the names of characters they encounter, important events, and clues to help them through their adventures, amongst other things. The Gamemaster may need them to record the status of NPCs, and to keep notes of key details from the game. Sometimes, when secrecy is required, the Gamemaster may pass notes to Players rather than providing information to the whole group at once.

    It is possible to track all of this (and more) with tablets, smartphones, and computers, but electronic devices at the game table can be distracting to some groups and should only be used with the Gamemaster’s consent.

    Tokens, Beads, or Chips

    The Players and GM will also need a few counters. Players will need a set of six tokens of some kind to track Momentum saved up, while the Gamemaster will need a dozen or more to represent the Threat pool; each of these resources is described later. The players may also want extra tokens to denote Luck points, though these are somewhat more scarce and easier to track without tokens.

    While the tokens themselves can be similar, it’s advised that they be visually distinct in some way – normally a different colour – to avoid confusion between them. Poker chips, coins, glass beads, counters from other games, or similar tokens are all suitable for this purpose.

    While these resources could be tracked on paper, or by using dice to track the total, using chips or beads for this purpose has a few advantages. It’s often more intuitive to track each resource by simply adding or removing tokens from a pile in the middle of the table, and it’s easier for everyone to quickly gauge how many of each of these resources remain. Further, there’s a visceral psychological benefit to be had in the players seeing the GM’s Threat pool grow and shrink over time, and to having a tangible object to hold and move around that represents Momentum earned and spent or Threat generated.

    Basic Concepts

    The following are a few of the core ideas present throughout these rules, and a basic primer on the most common mechanics that Players will encounter in play. This section is presented slightly differently to the rest of the rules, addressing the reader – an individual playing a 2d20 System game – directly.


    As noted above, each player has a character, and each player character serves as one of the game’s protagonists. These characters – as well as many of the non-player characters the GM controls – have several common elements that help describe their abilities.

    A character’s attributes represent their core aptitudes: the things they are innately good at, the things they’re bad at, and the ways they prefer to approach problems. Each character has six attributes: Agility, Brawn, Coordination, Insight, Reason, and Will. Each attribute has a rating, normally from 6 to 12, with 8 representing an average capability.

    A character’s skills represent their training and expertise: the things they know, the things they’re trained to do, and the things they spend time and effort practicing. Each character has six skills: Fight, Know, Move, Operate, Survive, and Talk. Each Skill has a rating, from 0 (no training or knowledge) to 5 (absolute mastery and expert training). A character will also have several focuses, which represent areas of specific training and expert knowledge, building from those six broad skills.

    A character also has a few talents, which are the tricks, techniques, and feats of prowess or knowledge that allow the character to triumph against impossible odds. These are special abilities, ways to obtain bonuses in specific circumstances or under a certain condition, or ways that they can benefit from a unique approach to a situation.


    A scene is the basic building block of an adventure, much as TV shows, movies, and books can be broken up into scenes. A scene is a place and time involving a specific set of people, during which exciting or dramatic events occur.

    At the start of a scene, the GM will inform you where your character is, what’s going on nearby, and anything else useful, important, or obvious that you should know. There’ll often be a reason behind this scene, driven by what happened in the scenes before it: perhaps you came here because of a clue left by a murderer, or because you’re looking for a specific person. This is setting the scene. Once the GM has finished setting the scene, you and your fellow players can ask questions about the situation and choose for your characters to do things within the scene: move around, talk to other people, or otherwise take action. Once you’ve reached a point where you can’t do anything further towards your goal, or you’ve gained a new goal that requires you go somewhere else, the scene ends, and a new one begins.

    During a scene, your decisions are important; the choices you make have an impact upon the world around your character, and you’ll have to face the consequences of those choices in turn. The Gamemaster can shape the events in a scene too, by spending Threat and through the actions of NPCs, but this is normally in response to your choices and those of your fellow players.

    Skill Tests

    During a scene, you’ll want to do things; indeed, you’re encouraged to. Some of those things will be so simple that the GM agrees to them instantly. Others will be impossible to attempt because of some quirk of circumstance. Some, however, will fall into the grey area between automatic and impossible.

    This is where Skill Tests come in – for determining whether you can succeed, at times where success and failure are uncertain.

    First, state your intent to the GM. The GM will consider the situation, and decide if you can get what you want, if your goal is impossible to achieve (even if only temporarily), or if you need a Skill Test. In the latter case, the GM will tell you three things: which Attribute you’ll use, which Skill you’ll use, and what the Difficulty is. You’ll have Attributes and Skills for your character on your character sheet; add together the chosen Attribute and Skill’s scores, to get a Target Number. Also, look at your character’s Focuses: if you have any that you think apply, ask the GM if you can use it.

    Next, gather up some dice. You’ll want two d20s here, or more if you’ve got some way of gaining extra dice for the Test (we’ll cover that later). Roll those dice, and check what each one rolls: any that roll equal to or less than your Target Number is a success! Even better, if you’re using a Focus, any dice that roll equal to or less than your Skill score by itself score two successes instead of one (if you don’t have a Focus, any dice that roll a 1 score two successes). Then, set aside any dice that rolled a 20 – they’ll be important in a moment.

    Add up all the successes you scored. If you scored successes equal to or greater than the Difficulty, you’ve succeeded at the Skill Test. If you scored fewer successes than the Difficulty, you’ve failed.

    In either case, the GM describes what happens to your character as a result. If you succeeded by getting more successes than the Difficulty, each extra success becomes a point of Momentum, and you can spend those points to improve the outcome of your Skill Test: gaining more information from a search, or hitting more accurately with an attack, or taking less time to do something, and so forth. If you like, you can save some or all the Momentum you generated, so you can benefit from it later.

    After this, the GM then takes note of any 20s you rolled. Each 20 is a Mishap, a little problem that occurred as part of the Skill Test. They can’t turn success into failure, but they’re extra challenges, incidents, or events that’ve cropped up that you now must contend with. The GM could decide that the Mishap created a complication for you and your friends: perhaps your gun is now out of ammo after your attack, or you took too much time doing something, or you made a mess during a search, or that hand-hold you used while climbing broke after you used it. Alternatively, the GM could save this problem for later, and add two points to the Threat pool instead. If you want, you could even ask the GM to add to Threat instead of facing a new problem immediately.

    Once all this has resolved, the game continues as normal.


    As noted above, Momentum is what happens if you score more successes than you needed during a Skill Test, with each extra success turning into a single point of Momentum. Momentum can be used for all sorts of things, limited only by your imagination and the GM’s permission – it allows you to turn mere success into glorious triumph, achieving your goals swiftly and in style, and pull off daring stunts and spectacular feats of prowess.

    Momentum represents the benefits of success, the small-but-crucial opportunities and advantages you and your friends create with your successes and decisive action, and the value found in teamwork and in being patient, resourceful, and tactical.

    Throughout the game, there’ll be plenty of suggestions for different ways to spend Momentum on specific types of Skill Test, or in specific situations, but these are suggestions first and foremost, and shouldn’t stop you suggesting alternatives to the GM if you’ve got a clear idea of what you want to use your Momentum for.

    There are a few common ways to spend Momentum too, which pretty much always apply. You can spend Momentum to buy extra dice for a future Skill Test, or to make an opponent’s Skill Test more difficult. You can spend Momentum to alter the scene or otherwise create some advantage to capitalize upon later. You can spend Momentum to ask the GM questions about the situation, gaining extra information with each point of Momentum spent.

    You can also save your Momentum, putting it into a group pool to use later. As a group, you and your fellow players can have up to six points of Momentum saved up at any time. Whenever you succeed at a Skill Test, you can spend Momentum from that group pool alongside, or instead of, spending Momentum you’ve generated on that Skill Test. Further, some uses of Momentum, like buying dice or increasing opponent Skill Test difficulty, can be paid for directly out of the group pool, without needing a successful Skill Test first.

    But sometimes you won’t have enough Momentum available to achieve what you want to achieve. In these situations, you can take risks, brave the uncertain, and make your own luck, by adding to Threat, with each point of Threat given to the GM providing the same benefit as a point of Momentum spent.


    The GM has a pool of tokens like the players’ Momentum pool, called Threat. Threat is the counterpart to Momentum, representing potential unknown challenges and perils. It’s all the things that could go wrong.

    The GM spends Threat to change things in an ongoing scene. That might be to bring in reinforcements, or create some unpleasant reversal of fortunes, or make abrupt changes to the environment around the players. The GM also spends Threat for NPC adversaries in the same ways that you can spend Momentum on your own character, such as buying extra dice, or increasing the Difficulty of Skill Tests, or creating advantages.

    The GM gains Threat when NPCs save Momentum – they use the Threat pool instead of a group Momentum pool – and when you and your fellow players choose to add to Threat because you’ve run out of Momentum. Threat can also grow because of Mishaps on Skill Tests, and for a few other reasons, so the GM will normally warn you if a particular action or event will add to Threat.

    NEW PAGE Scenes and Situations

    This section covers the core rules of the 2D20 System, which will be used throughout the rest of the game. These rules are the foundation for the other rules in the game, and will be referenced regularly in other Chapters, and every player should have a basic understanding of these concepts during play.

    Just like the events of a TV show, a movie, or a novel, gameplay in the 2D20 System is structured in scenes. Each scene may cover a few minutes of events, up to an hour or so, during which the characters attempt to achieve a goal, overcome a problem, or otherwise engage in significant activities. Collectively, scenes are the building blocks of a game session, and serve as a foundation for gameplay.

    Anyone familiar with works of fiction will have a decent idea of what a scene looks like: the characters talk and act within a single location, towards resolving some conflict or challenge present. Then, once that conflict is challenge is resolved, the action moves to a new location, or even to different characters, and the whole cycle begins again. The key here is that scenes are the interesting parts of the story, and thus they skip past the parts of the story that aren’t interesting. Different groups may have different standards as to what is and isn’t interesting, so this concept is deliberately flexible.

    Setting the Scene

    The Gamemaster has the responsibility for setting up scenes that Players will play through, and on deciding when they end. The Players have free reign to do as they wish within that scene, and the Gamemaster can react though the actions of Non-Player Characters, and by spending Threat to trigger logical and consequential changes in the environment and situation. When events within that scene have concluded, and nothing else can be done in that place right now, the Gamemaster should end the scene and move onto the next one.

    Establishing a Scene

    A scene is defined by its location, the events occurring there at a specific time, and the people who are there. These elements are all facts about the scene that can influence the actions that characters wish to and are able to attempt. In the 2d20 System, these facts are collectively regarded as Traits. Each Trait is a single word or short phrase, which describes a single significant fact about whatever it is the Trait belongs to.

    As Traits represent significant facts, they represent the things that are important to know about the scene, the kinds of elements which are most obvious when a scene begins. Imagine the details that are most obvious when a scene begins in a movie or TV show, or the elements the author describes as scenes unfold in a novel. There may be lots of insignificant facts, but they’re just that – insignificant – so they don’t need to be defined. If something becomes important, it becomes a Trait. If a Trait stops being important, or stops being true, it stops being a Trait.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Traits on the Fly

    Traits don’t need to be formally defined. If the GM and players are comfortable with it, the matter of Traits can be left informal, handled by the GM as a natural part of play. Indeed, this makes it easier to emphasize or deemphasize different Traits as the situation demands.

    In this situation, the GM applies the influence of Traits by themselves as a natural part of adjudicating the game, without specifically referring to them as Traits: rather than having a torrential rain Trait in play, the GM simply applies the effects of the rain when they feel it’s relevant.

    This does somewhat lessen the players’ ability to interact with Traits as a mechanic, but this may suit some groups who care less about the mechanics and more about the story.

    [End Sidebar]

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Traits Front and Center

    If emphasizing Traits as a core part of the game, the GM is encouraged to note down Traits – or perhaps only the most important Traits – and place them in full view of all the players, perhaps on an index card or other note-paper. This allows the players to see what the most important parts of the scene are, as well as how that changes as the scene progresses, and interact with those Traits both in a narrative sense (as their characters) and a mechanical sense.

    This can be a little distracting, or serve to detract from the players’ immersion in the situation, but sits better with players who want to engage with the game’s mechanics in more depth.

    [End Sidebar]

    Traits are useful for the Gamemaster in adjudicating what is and what isn’t possible – as well as how difficult some activities are to attempt – and can provide players with an aid to imagining the situation and figuring out how their characters can interact with it.

    There are a handful of broad categories that denote what a given Trait applies ‘to’, and whether a character might be affected by a Trait. These are primarily a guideline for the GM, but they’re useful for everyone to know.

    • A location Trait is some fact or detail about the location itself. A scene should probably have at least one location Trait, a simple description of what the location is, such as “city street”, “rowdy tavern”, “dense forest”, or similar, and these Traits will exist for as long as the location does. Characters are affected by location Traits when they interact with the location itself.
    • A situation Trait describes something that is happening in the scene. Darkness, notable weather (heavy rain, thick fog, snow), or some circumstantial fact or presence in the scene (bustling crowds, heavy traffic, and so forth) are situation Traits. They affect any character in the scene, but they can often be changed through character action.
    • A personal Trait describes the nature or state of a character or creature. In some cases, this may be some innate and permanent quality, such as the species of an animal or alien, which defines how the creature interacts with the world. In others, it may be something potentially changeable like a mood, emotion, or belief, or an injury or other hindrance. Characters are affected by their own personal Traits, and those of any characters they interact with.
    • Equipment Traits describe a single item, object, or tool. They’re permanent – so long as the item functions, the Trait exists – and can be passed between characters as desired. An equipment Trait affects the character using that item to perform some appropriate activity.

    Traits have no specific or exact duration. They exist so long as they represent something that is true. As soon as what a Trait represents stops being the case, the Trait vanishes (or changes to one that reflects a new situation, such as darkness being replaced by brightly-lit when a location’s lights are turned on). Similarly, to remove a Trait from a situation, it needs to stop being true, typically through the actions of the characters.

    When establishing a scene, the Gamemaster assigns whatever Traits they feel are relevant and appropriate, thinking of the environment and current circumstances. The Gamemaster should be open with this process, and allow players to suggest Traits at the start of the scene, and allow for Traits to change as the scene unfolds.

    Permission and Difficulty

    The effect that Traits have upon the game is more than just descriptive: they help the GM determine what is and what isn’t possible, and how easy or difficult things are to achieve. In rules terms, they do one of the following things:

    • The Trait has no impact on the activity, and does not have any effect.
    • The Trait is beneficial, allowing an activity to be attempted that could not be attempted otherwise.
    • The Trait is beneficial, and makes the activity easier.
    • The Trait is detrimental, preventing an activity from being attempted which would otherwise be possible.
    • The Trait is detrimental, and makes the activity more difficult.

    If a Trait should have a particularly potent or intense effect – a larger effect than those listed above – the GM should simply make it multiple identical Traits, essentially creating a single Trait that has the effect of many. This can be denoted simply by adding a number after the name of the Trait.

    Positive and Negative Traits

    Some Traits are specifically good or bad for some characters within a scene, normally because of the actions of those characters. Where most Traits are inherently neutral – they don’t naturally favor anyone – many of those created during a scene will ‘belong’ to a specific character and may tend to be more helpful to one side or another.

    A positive trait is inherently good for its owner, and might include favorable circumstances, useful equipment, and similar.

    A negative trait is inherently bad for its owner and might include injuries or other inconvenient circumstances.

    Positive and negative traits can cancel out one another: a character may seek to create a positive trait to negate the effects of a negative one (such as securing a source of light to help see through darkness), or they may suffer a negative trait that negates a positive trait they possessed.

    There are numerous ways, described throughout the rules, that both Players and GM alike can produce traits. In general terms, where a trait may appear or vanish freely or without cost, creating a positive or negative trait normally comes at some cost, or because of some sort of trigger.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    What Hinders You Helps Me

    When a situation would allow a positive or negative trait to be created, the character who creates them may create the opposite type of trait and apply it to someone on the opposing side. For example, a character who would suffer a negative trait may choose to give their enemy a positive trait instead, or they can impose a negative trait upon an enemy instead of granting themselves a positive trait. This still needs to make sense in the context of the scene, and the GM may veto any traits that don’t make sense.

    [End Sidebar]

    Tasks and Skill Tests

    Characters in 2D20 System games are presumed to be skilled, competent, proactive individuals, knowledgeable in their chosen fields and with enough basic familiarity in other fields to ensure that they can engage with and overcome almost any problem or obstacle, given time and the right tools. However, there are situations where a character’s success is in doubt, or where failure or mishap is interesting. This is where Tasks come into play.

    A Task begins with the desire to achieve something. A player states what they want to accomplish, and how they intend to get it. The Gamemaster then judges, based on the current situation (represented by the scene’s Traits), whether the character can achieve that goal. The GM will then determine one of three answers:

    • Yes: The character can achieve that goal without effort or challenge.
    • No: The character cannot achieve that goal.
    • Maybe: The character might be able to achieve their goal… but success is uncertain.

    The first two answers are easy enough to handle: the player states their intent, the GM says “yes” or “no”, and play continues from there.

    The third answer is where Skill Tests come into play. Because there’s doubt as to the outcome, a Skill Test determines what happens.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    No, But…

    It’s important to remember that the GM’s answer to a Task may only be temporary. A character may not be able to achieve their goal right now, but that doesn’t mean that this will always be the case. Specifically, a character may change the situation through their actions… which is a key element of Traits.

    This is a key part of how Traits and Tasks interact. A Trait can influence whether a Task is possible or not, and changing that Trait, or applying a different one, can change that possibility.

    These rules presume that, given sufficient time, the correct tools, and the opportunity to concentrate, a character will be able to succeed at just about anything they set their mind to. Failure is not a matter of inability, but of insufficient time, inappropriate (or absent) tools, or some manner of obstacle or interruption. A course of action may be deemed impossible not because the character cannot ever do it, but because they don’t have the means to do it at that precise moment. Finding out a way to make the impossible possible is part of the adventure.

    [End Sidebar]

    [Begin Sidebar]

    What’s at Stake?

    The Gamemaster should have a clear idea of what a Skill Test is for, and what will happen if the test succeeds or fails. In general, one of the following is likely to be true:

    • The Skill Test is an attempt to achieve something: if the test succeeds, the character gets what they want, if the test fails, they don’t get it. This might be to create, change, or remove a Trait currently in play.
    • The Skill Test is to avoid or resist a danger. In this case, success mean that the character avoids the danger, while failure means that they suffer the danger they sought to avoid.
    • The Skill Test is to achieve something, but there’s something at stake as well. Success means that the character got what they wanted and avoided the consequences, while failure means that they suffer the consequences instead, or must choose to face the consequences if they want to achieve their goal.

    Players should be informed of the potential outcomes for success or failure before the Skill Test is attempted. The player characters are assumed to be capable enough to know the most likely outcomes for their actions.

    [End Sidebar]

    Attributes and Skills

    While examined in more depth in Chapter 3: Characters, it’s nevertheless useful to have a brief overview of these elements of a character here as well, as they feed directly into the subject of Skill Tests.

    A character has several Attributes, which encompass their innate capabilities. A character’s Attributes range from 7 to 12.

    A character then has several Skills, which cover the character’s training and expertise in specific fields. A character’s Skills range from 1 to 5.

    A character also has Focuses, which are categories of specialization, representing advanced training and practical experience in specific fields. Focuses do not have a specific rating of their own.

    For any given Skill Test, a character will add together a single Attribute and a single Skill to determine the Target Number for that Test. The character may also use a single Focus.

    Attempting a Skill Test

    A Skill Test involves rolling two or more d20s, and follows a specific process. The following explanation mentions several ideas that will be described fully later in this Chapter.

    • The Gamemaster chooses which Attribute and which Skill are appropriate for the Skill Test being attempted, as well as if any of the characters Focuses apply. This might be stated by the rules text, or the Player may suggest a combination, but the Gamemaster has the final say. Add together the Attribute and the Skill chosen: this is the Target Number for the Skill Test.
    • The Gamemaster sets the Difficulty for the Skill Test. This is normally any number from 0 to 5, but in some extreme cases can go higher. Some Skill Tests may have a default Difficulty listed in the rules, but circumstances (such as those represented by Traits) can affect those basic Difficulties. The Difficulty is the number of successes the Player must generate to successfully pass the Skill Test.
    • Once a base Difficulty has been determined, the GM and/or the players may choose to adjust it further by spending Momentum or Threat. These changes are one-time effects,
    • The player takes two d20s, and may choose to purchase up to three additional d20s by spending Momentum or adding to Threat (see “Improving the Odds”, later). Once additional dice have been purchased, if any, the Player rolls their dice pool.
    • Each die that rolls equal to or less than the Target Number scores a single success, and each die that rolls 1 is a Critical Success, which scores two successes instead of one.
    • If a Focus applies, then each die that rolls equal to or less than the Skill being used is a Critical Success. There is no extra benefit for having more than one applicable Focus, or for rolling a 1 when you have an applicable Focus.
    • Each die that rolls a 20 causes a Complication.
    • If the number of successes scored equals or exceeds the Difficulty of the Skill Test, then the Skill Test has been completed successfully. If the number of successes scored is less than the Difficulty of the Skill Test, then the Skill Test has failed.
    • If the number of successes scored is greater than the Difficulty, each success above the Difficulty becomes a single point of Momentum.
    • The Gamemaster describes the outcome of the Skill Test, and if the Test was successful, the Player may spend Momentum to improve the result further. After this, the effects of any Complications are applied.

    Test Difficulty

    When the Gamemaster calls for a Skill Test, they set a Difficulty for that Test. Many Skill Tests detailed elsewhere in this book list a basic Difficulty, which means the Gamemaster doesn’t need to determine that baseline, but even those Skill Tests should be evaluated in context to determine if other factors impact how difficult the Skill Test is at that moment. The Gamemaster should also determine if the Skill Test is possible or not, given the circumstances and the methods at the characters’ disposal.

    Unless otherwise noted, most Skill Tests will have a basic Difficulty of 1, though more routine or straightforward Skill Tests may have a Difficulty of 0, and more complex or problematic Skill Tests will have higher Difficulties. After this, the Gamemaster then considers if there are any other factors in the current scene and environment, or affecting the characters involved, which would alter this basic Difficulty.

    These factors typically come in the form of Traits — already described above — which will have one of the following effects:

    • The Trait would not impact the Skill Test and does not have any effect.
    • The Trait is beneficial, and allows the Skill Test to be attempted when it might normally be impossible.
    • The Trait is beneficial, and reduces the Difficulty of the Skill Test by one.
    • The Trait is detrimental, and increases the Difficulty of the Skill Test by one.
    • The Trait is detrimental, and either prevents the Skill Test from being attempted when it might normally be possible, or the situation now requires a Skill Test when one would not normally have been required.

    The Players should know the Difficulty of the Skill Tests they attempt: their characters are skilled professionals, who can easily evaluate how difficult an activity is. This allows the Players to determine what they’ll need to do to have the best chance of success.

    Difficulty Descriptor Example
    0 Simple Opening a slightly stuck door

    Researching a widely known subject

    Shooting a target at a shooting range at optimal range

    1 Routine Overcoming a simple lock

    Researching a specialist subject

    Shooting an enemy at optimal range

    2 Average Overcoming a complex lock

    Researching obscure information

    Shooting an enemy at optimal range in poor light

    3 Challenging Overcoming a complex lock in a hurry

    Researching restricted information

    Shooting an enemy at long range in poor light

    4 Difficult Overcoming a complex lock in a hurry, without the proper tools

    Researching classified information

    Shooting an enemy at long range, in poor light and heavy rain

    5 Daunting Overcoming a complex lock in a hurry, without the proper tools, and in the middle of a battle

    Researching a subject where the facts have been thoroughly redacted from official records

    Shooting an enemy at extreme range in poor light and heavy rain

    [Begin Sidebar]

    GM Guidance: Setting Difficulties

    Setting the base Difficulty of a Skill Test is more art than science in most cases, and Gamemasters will often learn to gauge and appropriate Difficulty with a little experience. Still, a little guidance is useful for Gamemasters using the 2d20 System for the first time.

    The biggest factor to consider is the chance of getting multiple successes on a roll. Scoring one success is relatively easy, and two successes is challenging but far from impossible, while three or four successes are tough to score reliably with only two dice. Five or more successes cannot be scored without buying additional dice. 1, 3, and 5, then, can be thought of as the points at which the odds change most dramatically.

    Most of the Skill Tests in any given game session should have a basic Difficulty of 1. If a Test needs to be particularly challenging or arduous, or which is likely to require assistance to even complete, a Difficulty of 3 is a good starting point. A Test that should be extremely difficult should start at Difficulty 5. From those base points, adjust the Difficulty with the effects of Traits.

    [End Sidebar]

    [Begin Sidebar]

    GM Guidance: Narrative Permission

    It’s useful, at this point, to discuss the concept of Narrative Permission. In short, this refers to whether some element of the fictional world around the characters would enable or prohibit the characters from attempting certain actions. This is a key part of how the Gamemaster should adjudicate Skill Tests and Traits, as Traits can allow a Test to be attempted, or prevent a Test being attempted.

    Narrative Permission is a powerful concept, and one that the Gamemaster has responsibility for adjudicating fairly. Most importantly, the Gamemaster should have a sense of whether permission for a Skill Test can be changed: if a Skill Test is not possible to attempt, what can the characters do to make it possible, or conversely, if a Skill Test is possible now, how might circumstances make it impossible?

    Used carefully, this can be a tool to help the Players feel capable and decisive: if a certain course of action is impossible, but the Players can find a way to make it possible, it can be an opportunity to reward creativity and allow the Players to shape the story.

    [End Sidebar]

    Difficulty Zero Tests

    Certain circumstances can reduce the Difficulty of a Skill Test, which may reduce the Difficulty to zero. At other times, a Skill Test may be so simple that it does not require dice to be rolled in the first place. If a Task is Difficulty 0, it does not require dice to be rolled: it is automatically successful with zero successes, with no risk of Complications. However, because no roll is made, it can generate no Momentum — even bonus Momentum from Talents, particularly advantageous situations, etc. — and the character cannot spend any Momentum on the Test’s outcome either.

    At the Gamemaster’s discretion, a character can still choose to roll the dice against a Difficulty of 0 and can generate Momentum as normal (because zero successes are required, every success generated is Momentum), but this comes with the normal risk of Complications as well. This sort of Difficulty 0 Task can be quite useful if it’s important to see how successful a character is, but there’s no real chance of failure.

    Opposed Tests

    At times, a character will not simply be trying to overcome the challenges and difficulties posed by circumstances; instead, they may find themselves trying to best an opponent. These situations call for an Opposed Test.

    With each Opposed Test, there will be a single character attempting to do something, and another seeking to resist or avoid the first character’s attempts. These are the active and reactive characters, respectively. If there are more characters on each side, treat additional characters as assistants.

    Both characters attempt a Skill Test normally, with a base Difficulty of 1, which may be adjusted by circumstances. If the situation dictates, each character may have a different Difficulty for their respective Tests. The outcome of the Opposed Test depends on both characters’ Test results.

    • Active Character Succeeds, Reactive Character Fails: The active character achieves their goal, and their Test is successful.
    • Active Character Fails, Reactive Character Succeeds: The active character fails to achieve their goal, and the reactive character’s Test is resolved. Some Opposed Tests have a specific additional outcome for the reactive character’s Test.
    • Both Characters Fail: The active character fails to achieve their goal, but the reactive character gains no additional benefit.
    • Both Characters Succeed: Compare the total Momentum generated on each character’s Skill Test. The character with the higher Momentum wins, and achieves their goal, but loses one Momentum for each Momentum their opponent scored. The loser then loses all the Momentum they generated, and may not spend any. In the case of a tie, the active character wins, but loses all the Momentum they generated.


    Things don’t always go entirely to plan. When attempting a Skill Test, each d20 that rolls a 20 causes a Complication, which comes into effect once the Test has been resolved. Complications do not prevent a character from succeeding, but they may impede later activities, or they may simply be inconvenient, painful, or embarrassing.

    Complications can take a few different forms, but the two most common are negative traits, and Threat.

    The Gamemaster may use a Complication to inflict a negative trait upon a character, which should relate in some way to the action that the character has just performed. As normal for a negative Trait, this will normally increase the difficulty of some Skill Tests the character wishes to attempt or makes certain actions impossible.

    Alternatively, if the Player doesn’t wish their character to suffer a Complication, or the Gamemaster doesn’t wish to inflict a Complication at that point, the Complication can instead be “bought off” by adding two points to the Threat pool. The Gamemaster may do this and then immediately spend the Threat to create a different effect. This is discussed more in Chapter 6: The Gamemaster. If an NPC suffered a Complication, the Gamemaster may choose to buy off the Complication by removing two points from Threat.

    Some other sections of the rules may suggest specific effects for Complications.

    There are other possibilities for Complications beyond these, however. A useful alternative during a Conflict is to impose some immediate restriction or penalty – some problem that lasts a single Turn or Round, such as losing the ability to use an option that is normally available. This will be discussed more in Chapter 3: Conflict.

    Complication Range

    Some circumstances can make a Skill Test uncertain, though not necessarily any more difficult. These factors increase the Complication Range of a Test, making it more likely that Complications will occur. A character has a Complication range of 1 normally, meaning that they suffer Complications for any d20 that rolls a 20. Increasing the Complication range by one means that Complications will occur for each d20 that rolls a 19 or 20 for that Test. Increasing the Complication range by two means Complications will occur on an 18, 19, or 20, and so forth, as summarized on the following table.

    Complication Range can never be increased to more than five.

    Complication Range Complications Occur On…
    1 20
    2 19, 20
    3 18, 19, 20
    4 17, 18, 19, 20
    5 16, 17, 18, 19, 20

    Success at a Cost

    Some Skill Tests can’t really be failed outright; rather, there is uncertainty as to whether the Test can be completed without problems. In such a situation, the Gamemaster may allow characters to Succeed at a Cost, either stating this before the Test is attempted, or providing the option after the dice have been rolled. If this option is provided, then a failed Skill Test still results in a successful outcome, but the character also suffers one automatic Complication, in addition to any that occur because of the dice. These Complications function exactly as if those generated by the dice.

    Though the Test has produced a successful outcome, Momentum cannot be spent to improve the outcome of a Skill Test that has Succeeded at Cost. Momentum can only be spent on the Test if it was successful.

    In some cases, the ‘cost’ can be increased further, at the Gamemaster’s discretion, causing the character to suffer more than one automatic Complication on a failed Test. This should be made clear when the option to Succeed at Cost is presented.

    Improving the Odds

    Even the most driven person cannot give their full effort one hundred percent of the time; in tense situations, they need to conserve their energy, capitalize on opportunities, and be willing to take risks to triumph. Thus, the 2D20 System provides a few ways for characters to improve their chances of success, by buying additional d20s to roll on a Skill Test. Extra dice allow a character to score more successes, and thus reach higher Difficulties or simply generate more Momentum.

    A character cannot purchase more than three additional d20s by any means.

    The normal method of buying additional d20s is by spending Momentum, as discussed later. In brief, this is paid from the group’s Momentum pool (because it’s done before a Skill Test is rolled), and costs 1 point of Momentum for the first d20, two Momentum for the second d20, and 3 Momentum for the third d20.

    As with any Momentum spend, a player may choose to add to Threat instead of spending Momentum, perhaps if there isn’t enough Momentum left in the pool. The cost remains the same as buying dice with Momentum – 1 Threat for the first die, 2 for the second, 3 for the third. Players may even choose to pay part of the cost with Momentum and part with Threat.

    If a character buys some dice with Momentum and some with Threat, the cost remains unchanged: the first die costs 1, the second costs 2, and the third costs three, regardless of how the cost is being paid.

    Teamwork and Assistance

    Many Skill Tests can benefit from teamwork. If the situation allows, several characters can work together as a team when attempting a Skill Test. When more than one character is involved in a Skill Test, one character is the leader, and the other characters are assistants. The Gamemaster has the final say on whether a character can assist — there might be only limited space that keeps people from helping, for example — or apply limitations or additional penalties, such as an increase to the Complication range (+1 to Complication range for each assistant after the first). The Gamemaster should be wary of allowing more than one assistant on most Skill Tests.

    To assist with a Skill Test, the Player must describe how their character is assisting the Skill Test’s leader. If the Gamemaster agrees, then each assistant rolls 1d20, using their own Target Number, and their own Focus (if any), to determine if any successes are scored. So long as the leader generates at least one success, then all successes generated by the assistants count towards the result. The Assistants’ dice can generate Complications as normal.

    Assistants do not have to use the same Attribute, Skill, or Focus as any other character involved in the Skill Test; indeed, assistance can often be best provided by someone contributing something different.  Assistants may only ever roll 1d20 while assisting, and cannot purchase additional d20s of their own. In a Conflict, assisting a Skill Test is considered to take up the assisting character’s Turn.

    Momentum and Threat

    Whenever a character succeeds at a Skill Test and scores a greater number of successes than the Difficulty, then these excess successes become Momentum, a valuable resource that allows characters to complete their task more quickly or thoroughly than normal, succeed with style, or otherwise gain additional benefits. Each success above and beyond the Difficulty of a Skill Test becomes one point of Momentum, which the character may use immediately, or save for later.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Bonus Momentum

    Some situations, items, and talents grant a character bonus Momentum under specific circumstances. This is added to the amount of Momentum the character may spend in that circumstance. Something which grants bonus Momentum may specify that it may only be used in a specific way, such as buying dice, increasing difficulty, or some other purpose.

    Regardless of how it is granted, bonus Momentum cannot be saved: if it is not used when it is granted, it is lost.

    [End Sidebar]

    Spending Momentum

    The normal use for Momentum is to improve the outcome of a successful Skill Test, such as gaining more information from observation or research, inflicting more damage with an attack, or making more progress with an ongoing problem.

    Immediately after determining if a Skill Test is successful, the GM will describe the outcome of the Test. Momentum may then be spent to improve this outcome, or provide other benefits. Momentum used in this way doesn’t need to be declared in advance, and each point can be spent one at a time as required. For example, a character may spend one Momentum to ask the GM a question, and then decide if they want to spend any more Momentum for more information once they’ve gotten an answer. Thus, Momentum cannot be wasted by being used on something that wasn’t necessary.

    Most uses for Momentum can only be used once on any given Skill Test, or once (by each character) in any given Round in a Conflict. Some uses of Momentum can be used repeatedly, and will be clearly noted as such, normally by noting that their effect is “per Momentum spent” or by marking that use as “repeatable”. These uses of Momentum can be used as many times as the character wises and is willing and able to pay for them.

    Once a character’s Skill Test has been resolved, any unspent Momentum is added to the group’s pool, as described below. Momentum that cannot be added to the group pool – because the group pool is already full – is lost if it isn’t spent.

    Saving Momentum

    As noted above, characters can save their unspent Momentum, rather than letting it go to waste. This saved Momentum goes into a group pool, which can be added to or used by any character in the group, representing the benefits of their collective successes. The group pool cannot contain more than six Momentum at any time.

    Whenever a member of the group wishes to spend Momentum, they may spend points from the group pool. This is in addition to any generated during a successful Skill Test. As normal, Momentum only needs to be spent as required, so a character doesn’t need to choose how much Momentum they wish to take from the group pool until they choose to spend it, and it doesn’t need to be spent all at once.

    At the end of each Scene, one point of Momentum from the group pool is lost: Momentum must be maintained, and will not last forever.

    NPCs don’t save Momentum in this fashion. Instead, they interact with the Threat pool, described below.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Timing Momentum

    The majority of uses of Momentum come immediately after a successful Skill Test, to improve the outcome of that Test. However, a few important uses for Momentum happen at other times. These options have their own restrictions on how and when they are used, which will be made clear in the text.

    Buying extra d20s, and increasing an opponent’s Test Difficulty are the two most common examples of this.

    [End Sidebar]


    Much as the player characters generate and spend Momentum, the GM generates and spends Threat. The GM makes use of Threat to alter scenes, empower Non-Player Characters, and generally make things challenging, perilous, or unpredictable for the Player Characters. Threat is a method by which the game, and the GM, builds tension: the larger the Threat pool, the greater the likelihood that something will endanger or threaten the Player Characters. Strictly speaking, characters don’t know about Threat, but they will have a sense of the stakes of a situation, and the potential for things to go wrong, and these things are what Threat represents.

    Throughout the game, the Gamemaster will gain Threat, and spend it to create problems or change the situation. In this way, Threat mimics the rise and fall of tension that builds throughout a story, eventually culminating in a high-tension finale.

    Threat comes from action, much as Momentum does. PCs and NPCs alike will increase Threat during play, and that Threat is spent by the GM to create consequences and raise the stakes during different scenes. In this way, Threat serves as a visible “cause and effect” for the game, with actions and consequences linked by the rise and fall of the Threat pool.

    The Gamemaster typically begins each adventure with two Threat for each Player Character, though this can be adjusted based on the tone and underlying tension of a given adventure: if the stakes are high, the GM may begin with more Threat, while a calmer, quieter situation may reduce the GM’s starting Threat.

    Threat and Player Characters

    Player Characters can add to Threat in a few ways.

    • Instead of Momentum: Whenever a Player Character could spend Momentum, even if they do not have any Momentum left to spend, they may choose to pay some or all the cost by adding to Threat. Each point of Threat added to the GM’s pool counts as one Momentum towards whatever use of Momentum the Player Character wishes to use.
    • Complications: Whenever a Player Character suffers one or more Complications on a Skill Test, they or the GM may choose to add two points to Threat to “buy off” the Complication.
    • Escalation: At times, the GM (or the rules) may rule that a specific action or decision risks Escalation, by making the situation more dangerous or unpredictable. This may be using lethal force in a game where such violence is frowned upon, or carrying heavy weapons into a populated area. If a character performs an action that risks Escalation, they immediately add one to Threat.

    Player characters typically do not spend Threat: it is spent to challenge or threaten them.

    Threat and the Gamemaster

    The Gamemaster may add to Threat in the following ways:

    • Threatening Circumstances: The environment or circumstances of a new scene may be threatening or perilous enough to warrant adding one or two Threat to the pool automatically. Similarly, some NPCs may generate Threat simply by arriving, in response to changes in the situation, or by taking certain actions. This also includes activities that escalate the tensions of the scene, such as NPCs raising the alarm.
    • Non-Player Character Momentum: NPCs with unspent Momentum cannot save it as PCs can: NPCs don’t have a group Momentum pool. Instead, an NPC may spend Momentum to add to Threat, adding one Threat for every Momentum they spend.

    In return, the Gamemaster can spend Threat in several common ways:

    • Non-Player Character Momentum: The Threat pool serves as a mirror for the Players’ group Momentum pool. Thus, NPCs may use Threat in all the ways that Player Characters use group Momentum.
    • Non-Player Character Threat Spends: On any action or choice where a Player Character would normally add one or more points to Threat, an NPC performing that same action or making that same choice must spend an equivalent number of points of Threat.
    • Non-Player Character Complications: If an NPC suffers a Complication, the Gamemaster may buy off that Complication by spending two Threat.
    • Complication: The Gamemaster may create a negative Trait by spending two Threat. This must come naturally from some part of the current situation.
    • Reinforcements: The Gamemaster may bring in additional NPCs during a scene. Minor NPCs cost one Threat each, while Notable NPCs cost two. Note that this does not apply to NPCs present at the start of the scene, only additional NPCs who arrive while the scene is playing out, and there must be some logical reason why those reinforcements have arrived and where they’ve come from.
    • Environmental Effects and Narrative Changes: The Gamemaster may trigger or cause problems with the scene or environment by spending Threat.


    Fortune and Determination are similar mechanics, and your game will only use one or the other.

    Player Characters have access to a special resource called Fortune. Fortune reflects the fact that the Player Characters are the game’s protagonists, with ambition, drive, and miraculous luck beyond that of most people. Such individuals shape their own fates by action and will, and the fate of the world around them often follows suit. Whether they are regarded as heroes in any traditional sense, Player Characters are larger than life.

    Fortune can be used to pull off exciting stunts, provide an edge during tense situations, or otherwise help to advance the story. To best take advantage of this, however, there needs to be a steady flow of Fortune points made available to the players. Gamemasters are encouraged to award Fortune points to the Player Characters regularly, because it is a tangible way of reinforcing the grand and dynamic ways of the characters, and increasing the involvement of the players. The more each player participates in making the game thrilling, the plot twisting, and their characters memorable, the more chances they will get to do more of the same.

    Each Player Character begins each adventure with three Fortune points, and cannot have more than five Fortune points at any time. Any excess points are immediately discarded.

    There are a few ways in which Fortune points can be spent.

    • Perfect Opportunity: A Fortune point may be spent during a Skill Test to change any die so that it automatically rolls a 1 (and thus generates two successes automatically). This option must be selected before any dice are rolled on that Skill Test.
    • Moment of Inspiration: A Fortune point may be spent to re-roll all the character’s dice in their dice pool. This option may be selected after the dice have been rolled.
    • Surge of Activity: The character may spend a Fortune point to immediately take an additional Major Action on their Turn, as soon as the first one has been resolved. This option has no immediate use outside of Conflicts. See Chapter 3: Action and Conflict for more detail.
    • Undefeated: The character may spend a Fortune point when they are Defeated – either when they are Defeated, or at some point later in that scene – to immediately return from defeat. See Chapter 3: Action and Conflict for more detail.
    • Make It Happen: The Player immediately creates a trait for the Character that applies to the current scene. This may be used before rolling the dice on a Skill Test, and it can affect the Skill Test it has been created for.
    • Useful Trick: Your character immediately gains the use of a single Talent they do not possess. This talent remains for the rest of the current scene.

    Regaining Fortune Points

    The Gamemaster may sometimes award a Fortune point to a single player in the group for particularly noteworthy action — perhaps one player came up with the perfect plan to thwart the enemy, made a bold sacrifice for the benefit of the group, gave a memorable in-character speech, or perhaps uttered a funny quip that diffused the tension and made everyone at the table laugh.

    Other times, the Gamemaster may choose to award Fortune points to all the players based on their progress in a campaign, or during the transition between key scenes. Fortune points make excellent rewards when characters reach a certain narrative milestone, defeat an important villain, solve a mystery, or survive a tense encounter. They can also be spent immediately, and thus provide instant gratification.

    As a general guideline, the Gamemaster should award players with one to three Fortune points per hour of gameplay, depending on the course of play and the rate they are being spent.

    Beyond refreshing Fortune points at the start of each session, there are a few ways player characters can gain Fortune points during play.


    First and foremost, Fortune points are given by the Gamemaster during gameplay to reward players for good roleplaying, clever plans, successfully overcoming difficult challenges, using teamwork, or otherwise making the game more fun for all. Players may have other opportunities to gain Fortune points by achieving certain goals within an encounter, reaching a milestone in the story, or choosing to be the one to suffer the Complications of some dire event. As a general guideline, there should be two to three opportunities for players to gain Fortune points per hour of play. In each of these cases, the Gamemaster should determine whether the point is warranted, and award a single point per instance.

    It’s generally useful for the Gamemaster to ask the players to keep their Fortune points visible, such as using tokens, for the Gamemaster to judge how plentiful they are amongst the characters. If Fortune points are being handed out too often and the players are each at the maximum, then the Gamemaster can either hand them out less often, or can increase the challenges the player characters face, encouraging their use. If the players are frequently low or out of Fortune points, then it’s a good time to evaluate if the encounters are too challenging, or if the players are not accomplishing meaningful goals within the course of play, or even having a good time. Adjustments can then be made to improve that situation. A good rule of thumb would be that each player has, on average, about half of their Fortune points at any given time.

    Voluntary Failure

    Characters may choose to voluntarily fail a Skill Test, allowed at the Gamemaster’s discretion. This should only be invoked when the Player Character has something significant to gain, or something significant to lose, when the Skill Test is being made. The Test is failed automatically, with no dice rolled, and with no risk of Complications. Voluntarily failing a Skill Test provides the Gamemaster with one point of Threat, and the Player Character immediately gains one point of Fortune in return.

    Voluntary failure cannot be used on a Skill Test that uses the success at cost rule, nor can it be used on a Difficulty 0 Skill Test.


    Finally, Player Characters may have one or more personality traits or personal agendas that can complicate their lives. Each Player Character may have one or more Traits associated with their background, as described in Chapter 2: Characters. The player chooses when to have these Traits come into play in a negative fashion, creating an immediate Complication for their character and earning one point of Fortune. The Gamemaster may suggest instances where these features can easily come into play, but the final decision on when a feature is invoked always comes down to the player.


    Fortune and Determination are similar mechanics, and your game will only use one or the other.

    Player Characters have access to a special resource called Determination. Determination reflects the fact that the Player Characters are the game’s protagonists, with ambition, drive, and grit beyond that of most people. Such individuals shape their own fates by action and will, and the fate of the world around them often follows suit. Whether they are regarded as heroes in any tradition sense, Player Characters are naturally prominent and influential people.

    Determination can be used to pull of exciting stunts, provide an edge during tense situations, or otherwise help to advance the story. Characters gain and spend Determination from acting in accordance with their beliefs, represented by their Values (or by their Drives, if you’re using that variant, described in Chapter 2). When a character’s Values aid them in what they’re seeking to achieve, they get the opportunity to spend Determination, while they can gain Determination when a character’s immediate goals and their Values conflict with one another.

    Each Player Character begins each adventure with one Determination point and cannot have more than three Determination points at any time. Any excess points are immediately discarded.

    Spending Determination

    When you attempt a skill test, or are otherwise in a difficult situation, and one or more of your Values would be helpful in your current situation, you may spend a point of Determination.

    When you spend a point of Determination, you may choose one of the following benefits:

    • Perfect Opportunity: Determination may be spent during a Skill Test to change any die so that it automatically rolls a 1 (and thus generates two successes automatically). This option must be selected before any dice are rolled on that Skill Test.
    • Moment of Inspiration: Determination may be spent to re-roll all the character’s dice in their dice pool. This option may be selected after the dice have been rolled.
    • Surge of Activity: The character may spend Determination to immediately take an additional Major Action on their Turn, as soon as the first one has been resolved. This option has no immediate use outside of Conflicts. See Chapter 3: Action and Conflict for more detail.
    • Undefeated: The character may spend Determination when they are Defeated – either when they are Defeated, or at some point later in that scene – to immediately return from defeat. See Chapter 3: Action and Conflict for more detail.
    • Make It Happen: You immediately create a trait for the Character that applies to the current scene. This may be used before rolling the dice on a Skill Test, and it can affect the Skill Test it has been created for.
    • Useful Trick: Your character immediately gains the use of a single Talent they do not possess. This talent remains for the rest of the current scene.

    Gaining Determination

    When you attempt a skill test, or are otherwise in a difficult situation, and one or more of your Values would make your situation more difficult, then the GM may ask you to make the following choice:

    • Comply: you choose to give in to your Value, suffering a Complication as a result. This complication may make your chosen course of action more difficult, or it may even prevent you attempting that action, instead requiring you to try something else. Discuss with your GM as to how this should play out. Once this has happened, you gain a point of Determination.
    • Challenge: you choose to go against your Value. You cross out the challenged Value, as it is no longer as vital to the character as it once seemed, and then continue to resolve the current skill test or situation. Once this has finished, you gain a point of Determination. See the Recovering Values sidebar on how to handle crossed-out Values.

    During play, you do not have to rely solely on the GM to provide prompts to gain Determination; you may suggest to the GM that a situation is might be a test of your character’s Values in this way.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Recovering Values

    If any of your Values are crossed out, then you are less certain of your beliefs, and of your place in the universe. It takes time, reflection, and counsel to clear away that uncertainty. A crossed out Value can no longer be used until it has been rewritten.

    When a scene ends during which you contemplated personal matters or discussed them with another character, and you did not spend or gain any Determination during that scene, you may ask the Gamemaster to allow you to recover a Value. If you don’t do this during play, it will happen automatically between adventures, should no suitable opportunities arise.

    When you recover a Value, select a single Value which has been crossed out, and write a new Value to replace it. This could be a small change, if the character’s beliefs have shifted slowly or become more nuanced and complex, or it could be a big change if the character’s underlying sense of self has been shaken.

    Once this is done, the Value is now recovered and may be used freely, though you cannot challenge a Value which has already been challenged and recovered during that adventure (people’s core beliefs do not change that often).

    [End Sidebar]


    A Challenge is any circumstance, situation, or sequence of events which requires multiple Skill Tests to overcome. There are a few different ways to structure a Challenge, depending on the nature of that Challenge and how the GM wishes to present the situation. These different options can be combined as the GM sees fit, providing a toolbox for structuring a wide range of different problems for the characters to overcome.

    A Challenge can exist on any scale, with some serving as the core of a specific scene, while others act as a framework that connects different scenes together, with individual parts of the Challenge serving as the basis for different scenes.

    The Basic Challenge

    A basic Challenge is, as the name suggests, the most straightforward form of Challenge, and is the basis for the other forms of Challenge discussed later. A Challenge consists of two or more Skill Tests, of a type and Difficulty determined by the GM. These Tests are the core of the Challenge, and are crucial activities that must be completed to overcome the Challenge, and they are referred to as Key Tests. Once all the Key Tests have been completed successfully, the Challenge is complete.

    The Key Tests can be attempted in whatever order the characters wish, and characters may attempt other Skill Tests during a Challenge; these do not contribute directly to completing the Challenge, but can be used to create Traits, generate Momentum, fend off a threat or other problem, or otherwise do something helpful for the group.

    Structuring Challenges

    There are other ways for the GM to structure a Challenge, however, which can make the situation more interesting or challenging.

    Linear Challenges arrange the Key Tests into a specific order, where each Key Test must be completed before the next can be attempted. This can be fairly limiting, but is good for situations where there are multiple difficult stages.

    Gates Challenges require a little more effort for the GM to set up, but can be quite versatile and represent a wide range of different situations. In a Gated Challenge, some Key Tests can only be attempted if one or more other Key Tests are completed first (representing things that need to be done in a certain order, or which require set-up). This also allows for the GM to create a branching choice, where taking one path opens one set of Tasks and closes off others. The Gamemaster must determine the “victory conditions” for the Challenge, and inform the players of this: it will normally be a single Key Test, or one of a small number of possible Key Tests, each of which are locked behind different choices. The Gamemaster might want to present a flow chart that shows how the Challenge progresses and which Key Tests “unlock” restricted ones.

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    Group Challenges

    While not strictly a way to structure a Challenge, this option is useful to consider. Group Challenges are intended to be completed through collective effort, rather than by a single person, often because it takes place over a relatively short space of time and is too much work for one character. In a Group Challenge, whenever a character attempts or assists a Skill Test – whether it is a Key Test or not – they may not assist in other Tasks during the remainder of the Challenge, and any other Skill Tests they attempt during the Challenge increase in Difficulty by one. This Difficulty increase is cumulative.

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    Opposition in Challenges

    In some circumstances, characters may be working against an opposing force. There are a few ways to resolve this, depending on what the Challenge represents, and the nature of the opposition.

    Direct Opposition: The opponents directly resist the Skill Tests attempted, turning them into Opposed Tests. This may also add extra hazards or consequences to those Skill Tests, as the opposition may create extra problems on failed Tests. This is common for social interactions, or attempting to avoid guards or pursuers, where the obstacles are people.

    Contests: The opposition is attempting to complete the same objective, or a similar one, and the winner is the one that reaches their goal first. The Gamemaster selects one side to have Priority at the start of the Challenge; this will be the Player Characters unless the GM spends 2 Threat. Then, each side attempts a single Skill Test towards their Contest, starting with the side that has Priority; once each side has attempted a Test, the sequence begins again. The side that doesn’t have Priority may gain Priority for the next round of Tests by spending 2 Momentum, if they succeeded at their Test. Whichever side completes their Challenge first gains some greater benefit (or may even prevent the other side from finishing).

    Conflict: Discussed in depth in Chapter 3: Action and Conflict, the opposition have different, mutually-exclusive goals to the characters, and the sequence of events is split into Rounds and Turns.

    Time Pressure

    Adding time as a concern to a Challenge can increase tension and make a situation more exciting.

    At the start of the Challenge, the GM determines an interval: this is a set time period, normally a few minutes or hours, which serve as a basic unit of time taken for each Skill Test: fifteen minutes, or half an hour are both good baselines for this. Each Skill Test attempted takes two intervals to attempt as standard, whether it succeeds or fails. Characters may spend 2 Momentum on a successful Test to reduce this by one interval. On a failed test, a character may add 2 to Threat to reduce the time taken by one interval, representing cutting their losses and giving up on the failure early. The GM may use Complications to make attempted Tests to take longer, adding one interval per Complication; for this reason, Tests under time pressure often succeed at cost (the Test isn’t failed, it just took longer than planned). This applies to any Skill Tests attempted during the Challenge.

    How these intervals interact with the Challenge is up to the GM. Normally, the GM will determine a total amount of time that the Challenge must be completed within; this will normally be 2-3 intervals per Key Test required, with fewer intervals representing more pressure. The GM should define some consequence for the characters failing to achieve their goal in time.

    If different parts of the Challenge can be attempted in parallel, the GM can also use intervals to determine who is and who isn’t busy at any given moment. This works well as a resource/people management problem, especially if the GM varies the number of intervals that individual Tests take to complete.

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    Varied Intervals

    As standard, a Skill Test takes two intervals to attempt, before adjustments for Momentum spent, Threat paid, and Complications suffered. However, this does not have to be the case: the GM may decide that an especially complex activity may take more than two intervals to attempt. In this case, a successful Test allows the character to spend 2 Momentum per interval reduced, down to a minimum of 1, and characters cutting their losses on a failed test may reduce the time taken by 1 interval for every 2 points they add to Threat, again down to a minimum of 1.

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    Variable Time Limit

    Sometimes, a time limit will represent something that will happen at a specific time, unless the characters can successfully avoid it, such as attempting to defuse a bomb before it detonates.

    However, other time limits may represent something that can be delayed: perhaps the arrival of a guard, messenger, or other troublesome person. In these situations, characters may attempt Skill Tests in order to increase the time limit. A successful Test adds one interval to the remaining time, plus an additional interval for every 2 Momentum spent. Complications may reduce this by 1 interval each, and a failure with a Complication, at the GM’s discretion, may mean that the remaining time is actually reduced, as the delaying tactics have the opposite effect.

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    NEW PAGE Player Characters

    Characters are composed of several distinct elements that collectively serve to depict how that individual interacts with the worlds around them, both in game terms and in story terms.  These elements may vary somewhat between versions of the 2D20 System, but the most common forms are Attributes, Skills, Focuses, Talents, Traits, and Features. Together, these paint a picture of who the character is, what they are good at, and how they view the world around them.

    Characters are, broadly speaking, divided into two types for the purposes of play:

    • Player Characters consist of all the characters used by a player to participate in the game. Player Characters are the protagonists or main characters of the game. Each player decides how their Player Character will act in the scenes framed by the Gamemaster. This chapter is focused mainly on Player Characters and covers a few different methods of creating them.
    • Non-Player Characters are all those characters not directly controlled by the players. They’re normally introduced and directed by the Gamemaster, though if an NPC would be friendly to the Player Characters, the Gamemaster may allow the players to direct that NPC during Conflicts. Non-Player Characters are described fully in their own chapter, and their creation is described in the Gamemaster’s Chapter.


    Each character in a 2D20 System game is defined by several attributes: normally 6, but sometimes more or less than that. These embody the character’s intrinsic physical and mental capabilities, when compared between characters, and they help depict the ways that the character prefers to approach problems.

    These Attributes are Agility, Brawn, Coordination, Insight, Reason, and Will. Each Attribute has a rating which determines its measure, with higher numbers reflecting greater ability. For Player Characters, these Attributes range from 7 to 12, with 8 representing an average capability. Some characters and creatures may have Attributes lower or higher than this, and special abilities that increase their capabilities further; this is described in the Adversaries chapter.

    A character may encounter situations for which more than one of their Attributes are applicable. In these cases, it is important to consider the context of the situation, and how the character is choosing to approach the problem. The Gamemaster may choose which Attribute is most applicable to a situation if more than one could be used, but if the GM does not pick, then the player may select whichever of the applicable Attributes they wish.

    • Agility is a mixture of speed, balance, and muscle memory, and is responsible for much of a character’s movement and similar activities. An Agile character is quick and moves with certainty and precision.
    • Brawn is the character’s fortitude and ability to endure physical hardship, as well as their ability to employ force. It also encompasses the character’s endurance, and their general health and physical conditioning. A Brawny character is strong and hardy.
    • Coordination is the character’s fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, accuracy, and sense of time and rhythm. Coordinated characters tend to be good shots, good drivers and pilots, and excel at sleight of hand and other delicate, precise tasks.
    • Insight is the character’s perceptiveness, instincts, and their ability to comprehend the world around them. Insightful characters are observant and shrewd, and may often be said to have ‘street smarts’ or be wise.
    • Reason is the character’s ability to apply logic, intellect, and the known facts to a situation. Reasoning characters tend to be lucid, rational or contemplative, and are often driven by a need to learn or understand.
    • Will is the character’s sense of self, their mental strength, and their sense of self-discipline. Willful characters tend to be single-minded, even stubborn, and they can have extremely forceful personalities.

    Skills and Focuses

    In addition to the six Attributes, each character is trained in several Skills, which encompass the various activities and proficiencies that a character is likely to need during their adventures. Each Skill is rated from 0 to 5, with each rating representing a differing level of training, expertise, and natural aptitude. Player Characters are unlikely to have a 0 in more than one Skill – Player Characters are expected to be competent, broadly-capable protagonists.

    As standard, there are six broad Skills: Fight, Know, Move, Operate, Survive, and Talk. These Skills can be mixed and matched with the Attributes above and will overlap in a few ways.

    • Fight covers the character’s ability to use, and defend against, violence. It is most often used when making attacks, but it can also be used to judge threatening situations, and covers a practical understanding of weaponry, combat styles, and strategy. A character might use Fight..
      • Agility to dodge out of the way of an attack, or to make a melee attack.
      • Brawn to defeat an enemy while grappling, or to brace against an incoming attack with a shield or similar defensive item.
      • Coordination to attack an enemy from a distance, or to defend against an attack by parrying or ducking behind terrain.
      • Insight to discern if a situation is an ambush or trap, or to judge how much of a threat (or how capable in a fight) someone else is.
      • Reason to devise a plan or strategy for a battle, or to survey the aftermath of a battle and be able to tell who or what was involved.
      • Will to warn allies of an imminent threat so that they react, to threaten someone with the use of force, or to keep their nerve amidst the clamor and horror of battle.
    • Know covers the character’s learning, education, and accumulated knowledge, as well as the character’s ability to find more information. It is most useful when trying to research information, or when trying to remember facts about something. Other Skills can contain an element of knowledge, but the Know skill tends to go into greater detail or contain a lot more of the technical or theoretical sides that practical experience might not encompass. A character might use Know with…
      • Agility to perform a studied maneuver or series of motions, or to avoid a hazard or obstacle by recalling a pattern, sequence, or vulnerability.
      • Brawn to exert precise force or leverage to move or break an object or obstacle that might otherwise be impossible to shift, or to resist the effects of an environmental phenomenon with knowledge of how to protect against exposure.
      • Coordination to perform a delicate procedure, or to follow a set of precise instructions properly.
      • Insight to gain useful information from observation alone, to avoid being deceived by falsified or biased information, or to devise a theory from incomplete information.
      • Reason to perform research on an unfamiliar subject, to form a plan or theory from studying all the available data, or to try and convince someone else using facts and logic.
      • Will to retain the composure to study something horrific or disturbing, or to argue with someone else over the facts.
    • Move covers the character’s ability to navigate their environment. It is most often used to traverse difficult terrain or move freely despite dangerous conditions, but it can also be used to move unnoticed, pass unseen, or remain undetected while moving. A character might use Move with…
      • Agility to move quickly through difficult conditions, to remain balanced while moving on a precarious surface, or to avoid hazards while moving.
      • Brawn to move while burdened by a heavy load, to continue moving despite fatigue, to force themselves through an obstacle, to scale vertical surfaces, or to swim.
      • Coordination to move through a hazard or obstacle that requires careful timing or extreme precision.
      • Insight to judge how difficult or dangerous a route is, or whether it can be traversed at all, or to select the quickest or safest route with only limited information.
      • Reason to navigate a route or course using a map or other navigation tools, or plan a path through a hazard by studying patterns and signs.
      • Will to continue moving despite physical pain or other debility.
    • Operate covers the character’s ability to utilize complex tools, such as vehicles and other items of technology, as well as the character’s knowledge of how those tools work. A character might use Operate with…
      • Agility to make a vehicle evade a hazard or attack quickly, or to perform some technical activity requiring considerable quick movement.
      • Brawn to operate stuck or rusted machinery by brute force, or to perform an arduous, repetitive technical activity.
      • Coordination to operate a vehicle effectively, or perform precision adjustments, repairs, or operations on a device or machine.
      • Insight to judge the capabilities of an unfamiliar machine just by quick observation, or to make a reasonable guess at the nature of a fault or problem with a machine.
      • Reason to determine the function or capabilities of a machine by studying it intently, or to design modifications or alterations to a machine (or even a whole new machine).
      • Will to push a machine past its limitations despite signs of imminent failure, or to continue with a dangerous technical activity despite the risks.
    • Survive covers a character’s resistance to threats and harm, as well as a character’s ability to handle and navigate dangerous environments. A character might use Survive with…
      • Agility to move carefully or quickly through familiar dangers or obstacles.
      • Brawn to resist physical debilities such as poison or disease.
      • Coordination to disable a trap or create something to mitigate a hazard, or to provide medical attention.
      • Insight to notice or anticipate a threat, hazard, or other peril, or to diagnose the nature of a debility.
      • Reason to analyze a hazard to determine a safe way to avoid it, or to study a debility to figure out how to treat it, or to resist intellectual or logical debilities such as illusions or deception.
      • Will to resist mental or psychological debilities such as fear or panic.
    • Talk covers a character’s ability to relate to and interact with people. Much of this Skill is active – it deals with talking to people – but knowing how to talk to people also means the character knows how other people talk too. Other Skills can contain an element of social interaction, often in narrower or more specific circumstances, but those rely a lot on context. A character might use Talk with…
      • Agility to grab the attention of others through dance or other motion, or to be able to discern relationships and connections between people through their movements.
      • Brawn to use size or strength to grab attention, coerce, or compel others, or to endure long-winded or tiring interactions without showing signs of fatigue.
      • Coordination to use fine body language and subtle physical contact to help persuade or manipulate another, or to be able to read body language and other signifiers to gain more information about someone.
      • Insight to judge the mood or emotions of others, or to use their observations of others to sway their opinions.
      • Reason to use logical arguments to persuade others, or to determine the logical flaws in another’s position.
      • Will to rally or inspire others during a difficult situation, to intimidate through determination or force of will, or to command the attention or respect of others through presence and bearing alone.

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    GM Guidance: Observation and Research

    One of the most common things that a Player Character will attempt during a game is to try and learn more about the world around them. This may be a short-term matter – attempting to spot if there’s a peril or hazard nearby or trying to find something hidden – or it might be something longer and more difficult, such as surveying the scene of a crime or researching an unknown foe.

    These sorts of activities are easily handled in the 2D20 System, using the Obtain Information Momentum Spend. A Test specifically to find information should have a low Difficulty – 0 or 1 – though it may be higher if the information would be especially tricky to obtain. Success should provide basic information, with players given the opportunity to learn more by spending Momentum to ask questions.

    If the information is vital for the players to learn – it is necessary to move the story forwards – then the Gamemaster should keep the Difficulty low and/or allow the Player Characters to Succeed at Cost to receive the most vital information (and Momentum may provide them with extra context or the ability to gain additional useful details).

    Crucially, observation and knowledge of a subject are not limited to a specific skill; a character with a high Fight is likely to know more about combat, weapons, and tactics, for example., rather than needing a separate “knowledge: warfare” skill.

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    A character’s Skills are broad, but Focuses allow a character to demonstrate talent for narrower areas of expertise, representing specialization and the kind of advanced training that comes from deeper study and practical experiences. Focuses are not tied to any specific Skill, and can be applied to any Skill Test a character attempts, so long as the Focus would logically benefit the Skill Test being attempted.

    Player Characters will normally have six Focuses. Each Focus should be narrower than the Skills described above, but they shouldn’t be so narrow that they don’t come up in play. Further, because there is no specific link between Skills and Focuses, a Focus may be valuable for Skill Tests using various Skills – for example, a Focus in Firearms can easily be used for Fight Tests, but it also has potential uses with the Know skill to represent the character’s knowledge of guns.

    A selection of example Focuses are below, grouped by the Skill they are most likely to be used with. This is far from an exhaustive list, however, and players are encouraged to devise their own, with the Gamemaster having a veto over any that are too broad or don’t fit the game.

    • Fight: Brawling, Swords, Firearms, Martial Arts, Explosives, Archery
    • Know: History, Science, Geography, Engineering, Linguistics
    • Move: Acrobatics, Climbing, Swimming, Stealth, Ride
    • Operate: Aircraft, Computers, Electronics, Explosives, Ground Vehicles, Watercraft
    • Survive: Concentration, Resilience, Medicine, Counsel, Streetwise, Wilderness, Tracking, Society, Repair
    • Talk: Persuade, Deceive, Intimidate, Negotiate, Etiquette, Innuendo


    A character is more than the sum of its parts, and a characters Attributes, Skills, and Focuses alone do not give a full picture of what they are truly capable of. Player Characters are the protagonists of their own stories, and it is Talents that help set these individuals apart from the rest. These characters have a way of interacting with the world that lets them overcome impossible odds and triumph when others may falter. These tricks and knacks are Talents.

    Talents are additional benefits that a character possesses, that define areas of specialty, the advantages of their personal approach to circumstances, and other decisive and definitive abilities. These normally take the form of a bonus – extra d20s, re-rolls, bonus Momentum, the ability to use a different Skill in a situation, and so forth – that applies when the character is performing certain activities or taking a specific approach to a situation.

    Many Talents have one or more specific Requirements. These are conditions that must be fulfilled before the Talent can be selected, such as having a Skill at a specific rating or above.

    Beyond that, each Talent has a condition and a benefit. The condition is the circumstance under which the Talent can be used, and the benefit is what the character gains from meeting that condition.

    Constructing a Talent

    As already noted, each Talent has a condition, and a benefit. These can be broken down into several common tendencies, though these are not hard-and-fast rules, but rather rough guidelines.

    Conditions are the circumstances in which the Talent’s effect applies. This might be mechanical in nature – using a specific game option, such as buying dice, using a certain Attribute or Skill, etc. – or they may be more narrative in nature, such as performing an activity that relates to a specific field, or during a specific kind of situation. Common mechanical conditions are listed below; narrative conditions are harder to summarize so succinctly, but largely follow the same pattern as below, replacing “specific Attribute or Skill” with some fiction-driven state.

    • The character buys one or more bonus d20s with Momentum, on a Skill Test using a specific Attribute or a specific Skill.
    • The character buys one or more bonus d20s by adding to Threat, on a Skill Test using a specific Attribute or a specific Skill.
    • The character assists another character on a Skill Test using a specific Attribute or Skill.
    • The character receives assistance on a Skill Test using a specific Attribute or Skill.
    • One of the character’s nearby allies attempts a Skill Test using a specific Attribute or Skill.
    • The character attempts a very specific type of Skill Test (such as one using a specific Attribute and Skill).
    • When the character succeeds on a Skill Test using a specific Attribute or Skill.
    • When the character uses Momentum for a specific purpose.

    Benefits are what the character gains when meeting the listed condition. Some benefits are greater than others, however, and should be used sparingly and with care, by narrowing the conditions (so that the more powerful benefit can be used less-frequently, such as changing the condition from “specific Attribute or Skill” to “specific Attribute and Skill”), or by adding some caveat or negative consequence (so that using the benefit is a choice rather than a default effect). Common benefits are below:

    • The character may re-roll a single d20. As a more powerful effect, re-roll the entire dice pool; this should come with some greater limitation.
    • You gain a unique Momentum Spend, normally costing 1 or 2 Momentum.
    • You gain a unique option for spending Determination/Fortune.
    • You reduce the Difficulty of the Skill Test by 1.
    • You ignore any increases to Difficulty of a specific type (unfamiliarity, lack of tools, darkness, etc.).
    • You may reduce the cost of buying the first d20 on the Skill Test to 0. This is a powerful effect, and should be accompanied by some limitation.
    • You gain a single point of Bonus Momentum, which must be used in a specific way. Note that Bonus Momentum cannot be saved – if it is not spent, it will be lost.
    • You reduce the cost of a specific use of Momentum by 1, or removes the cost entirely.
    • You may use a different Attribute or Skill than would normally be called for.
    • You may ignore the first Mishap suffered on the Skill Test.

    If a more powerful effect is used, the following are common caveats or consequences that can be used to provide balance.

    • The benefit comes at the cost of increasing the Mishap range by 2.
    • The effects of a successful Skill Test are only temporary, lasting until the end of the scene (if the effect would normally be permanent) or for a single round (if the effect would last.
    • The Talent can only be used once per scene.
    • The character must add 2 to Threat to use the Talent.
    • The character must accept a Complication after the Talent’s effects are resolved.
    • A use of Momentum the Talent grants can only be paid for by adding to Threat instead of spending Momentum.
    • Using the Talent consumes some finite resource (other than Momentum, Threat, or Fortune).

    Instead of these, some Talents may provide a flat benefit to some derived ability, such as an increased amount of maximum Stress, or extra damage dice or a damage effect on a particular type of attack.

    Example Talents

    Constructed using the method listed in the previous section, the following Talents are common to many versions of the 2d20 System. Individual Talents cannot be selected more than once.

    • Advisor: When you select this Talent, select a single Skill. Whenever you assist an ally and you use that Skill, the ally you assist may re-roll a single d20 in their dice pool.
    • Bold: When you select this Talent, choose a single Skill. When the character attempts a Skill Test using the chosen Skill, and they buy one or more d20s by adding to Threat, they may re-roll a single d20 in their dice pool. You may select this Talent multiple times, once for each Skill, but you may not select any Skill which has already been selected for the Cautious Talent.
    • Cautious: When you select this Talent, choose a single Skill. When the character attempts a Skill Test using the chosen Skill, and they buy one or more d20s by spending Momentum, they may re-roll a single d20 in their dice pool. You may select this Talent multiple times, once for each Skill, but you may not select any Skill which has already been selected for the Bold Talent.
    • Collaboration: When you select this Talent, select a single Skill. Whenever an ally attempts a Skill Test using that Skill, you may spend one Momentum, to allow them to use your score for that Skill, and one of your Focuses (if applicable).
    • Constantly Watching: Whenever you attempt a Skill Test to detect danger or hidden enemies, reduce the Difficulty by 1.
    • Dauntless: Whenever you attempt a Skill Test to resist being intimidated or threatened, you may add a bonus d20 to your dice pool.
    • Mean Right Hook: The character’s unarmed attacks gain the Vicious 1 damage effect.
    • Studious: Whenever you spend one or more Momentum to Obtain Information, you gain one bonus Momentum, which may only be spent on Obtain Information.
    • Tough: The character’s maximum Stress is increased by 3.
    • Rapid-Fire: When the character makes a ranged attack, they may count the weapon’s Burst quality as 1 higher than normal.

    Personal Traits

    Characters may have a few Traits that define persistent or permanent elements of their existence. Traits are essentially descriptions of the important parts of the character, in a single word or short phrase. Alongside a character’s Values – which cover the character’s personality, motivations, and beliefs – Traits help define what the character is and what they can do, and they can be employed in the same way as Traits for a location or situation, such as to increase or reduce the Difficulty of a Skill Test.

    In some games, this may be a character’s species, or it may be a character’s nationality or heritage, or some other description of their origin, encapsulating all manner of differences big and small. These are both positive and negative, and influence how the character interacts with their environment and how characters interact with one another.

    A character may obtain Traits because of things that happen to them during character creation – life-changing events that will define them going forwards – and they may occasionally gain more during play. This may be something about the character, such as a debility or impairment the character suffers from, or the influence of some external force, such as the impact of a harrowing experience.

    Traits are neutral and can be applied both positively and negatively. There is no fixed number of Traits a character will have, though in most games a character will have at least one, reflecting heritage or origin. Traits, and their effects upon play, are described in full in Chapter 1: Core Rules.


    Values are not used in all games but may be used if the game is using Determination, as they are a means by which characters spend and use Determination.

    When a character is created, the character’s Player creates statements that describe the attitudes, beliefs, and convictions of that character. These are not simple opinions, but the fundamental structure of the character’s morals, ethics, and behavior. They are the things that define who a character is as a person, why they behave the way they do, and what drives them during times of struggle and hardship.

    One type of Value is a relationship. Where most Values reflect something internal about the character, a relationship reflects a bond between two characters, or a character and an organization, specifically how the character regards the other party described by the Value. This bond doesn’t have to be positive — old grudges and resentments can have a definitive effect upon a character’s Value — but it must be something significant, and something that shapes who the character is and how they act.

    However, a character’s Values are not static. They are potent driving forces for the character; people evolve and grow with their experiences, and in many cases, things that once felt like unshakeable beliefs may come to be seen differently as time passes. There will be opportunities during play to alter a character’s Values, and Values are an important part of how characters grow and develop over time.

    Values differ from Traits (above) in that they describe what the character believes. They are statements about how the character regards the universe around them, and they are both subjective and potentially changeable. How Values are used in play is described in the section on Determination in Chapter 1: Core Rules.

    Creating a Character

    Character Creation and Advancement

    The following method can be used to create player characters for a 2d20 System game.


    This method allows a player to create precisely the character they want, and it is relatively straightforward. With this method, the player picks the component pieces of the character, within some constraints – and play can begin soon after.

    However, there is little structure to this approach, meaning that a player should have a solid idea of the concept they want to create before they start, as the method provides little in the way of guidance.


    A character begins this process with five Fortune. During character creation, the character may spend Fortune to gain extra points or options in each of the steps below. If a character has any Fortune remaining at the end of character creation, that is the number of Fortune points that they will have at the beginning of each adventure.

    Step 1: Define Truths

    The player chooses two Truths. These should be a word or short phrase that sums up what the character is about – who they are, and what they do. The simplest way to approach this is to use the character’s profession, their place in society, a major relationship they have to a person or organization. The character’s Truth is the character’s most definitive, most essential nature, boiled down to its most straightforward form.

    A character’s second Truth should reflect a quirk, flaws, personal struggle, impulse, habit, drive, personality trait, backstory, personal agenda, or something similar. This Truth should always reflect something that could cause problems in the character’s life, as they can be invoked to grant the player Fortune, in exchange for suffering some related Truth.

    After defining two Truths, the player may spend one Fortune to select one additional Truth.

    Step 2: Select the Character’s attributes

    The player should assign the character’s attributes. There are two methods that can be used here, but regardless of which method is used, only one attribute may be increased to 11 or above during character creation.

    • Assign the following values, in any order, to the character’s attributes: 11, 10, 10, 9, 9, 8.
    • Start each attribute at 6, and then divide 15 points between the six attributes.

    After assigning attributes, the player may spend one Fortune to increase two attributes by +1 each.

    Step 3: Select the Character’s skills

    Next, the player assigns values to the character’s skills. There are, once again, two methods that can be used here. Regardless of the method used, only one skill may be increased to 4 or above during character creation

    • Assign the following values, in any order, to the character’s skills: 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1.
    • Start each skill at 0, and then divide 15 points between the six skills.

    After assigning skills, the player may spend one Fortune to increase two skills by +1 each.

    Step 4: Select the Character’s Focuses

    The player then selects four focuses. These can be chosen freely.

    After selecting focuses, the player may spend one Fortune to select two additional focuses.

    Step 5: Select Talents

    The player selects three talents. These can be chosen freely, though some talents may have their own restrictions or prerequisites.

    After selecting talents, the player may spend one Fortune to select one additional talent.

    Step 6: Determine Wealth and Equipment

    The character begins character creation with a total of 10 requisition points to obtain their starting equipment, and they may select any items which have a restriction rating of 3 or lower.

    The player may spend one Fortune to increase the character’s starting requisition points by 2.

    Alternatively, the player may regain one Fortune by reducing the character’s requisition points by 2.

    Step 7: Derived Values

    The character has maximum Stress equal to the highest of their Brawn or Will, plus their Survive skill.

    The character adds bonus damage to their attacks based on their skills: a character adds [CD] equal to their Fight score to all weapon attacks, and [CD] equal to their Talk score to any mental attacks.


    The character is ready to play!

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Creation in Play

    This option allows a character to be partially-created before the first session, while leaving many of the specifics undefined until after the game begins.

    Go through steps 1 and 2 as normal, but during step 3, use the fixed array method, placing only the two highest values.

    The remaining four skill values, as well as the character’s focuses, talents, and Feature, as well as the character’s Wealth and equipment can be assigned during play – at a moment where a character element is required, the player may make a choice about it immediately.

    These choices should all be made during the first session of play. If any choices remain unmade by the end of the first session, the player should decide upon them between sessions.

    [End Sidebar]

    Character Advancement and Rewards

    One of the enjoyable aspects of a roleplaying game is watching the development and growth of a player character over the course of their adventures. Players in 2d20 System games have several options available to them to develop and customize their characters after character creation.

    Gaining Experience

    During each adventure, players will have numerous opportunities to gain experience points, or XP for their characters. Some of these will come from circumstances that occur naturally during play, while others will come from milestones in the adventures themselves, awarded by the GM.

    Adversity: Characters typically gain XP from facing difficult situations, from making mistakes, and from suffering the consequences of their actions. A character gains XP from each of the following situations:

    • Pain: A character gains one XP each time they suffer one or more Harms.
    • Failure: A character gains one XP each time they fail a skill test with a Difficulty of 3 or higher.
    • Mistake: A character gains one XP when they invoke a Truth to gain Fortune.
    • Opposition: Each character gains one XP each time the GM spends three or more Threat in one go.

    Achievement: Characters can also gain XP from achieving goals and accomplishing significant feats. Periodically, the GM should award 1 XP to each player (individually, or all at once) after the completion of a key scene or the end of some important event. In total, each player should receive 2-4 XP from these achievements.

    Declaration: A player may, once per adventure, make a declaration about a situation; only one player may make a declaration per session. This declaration must make the situation more difficult, more complicated, or otherwise make things harder for the player characters, such as a player declaring that a specific NPC is an old nemesis of their character, or that their character isn’t welcome in a specific location because of some past event. If the GM approves the declaration, then the GM immediately gains 3 Threat. If the situation is resolved in the player characters’ favor, however, then each player receives one additional XP, in addition to any others gained during that scene.

    Spending Experience

    Between adventures, a player may spend the XP their character has gained to gain advancements. Each advancement is an increase to a single attribute or skill, a new focus or talent, or some other reward for the character. A player may only buy a single advancement after each adventure. Each Advancement costs 10 XP.

    • Attributes: The character improves one of their attributes by +1. No attribute may be increased to more than 12.
    • Skills: The character improves one of their skills by +1. No skill may be increased to above 5.
    • Focus: The character gains one additional focus.
    • Talent: The character gains one additional talent.

    There are other ways for a player to change their character beyond advancements, but they are more limited or come with some other cost.

    Retraining: A character may choose to retrain some element of themselves between adventures. The character may retrain one of the following areas between adventures, and a character may not retrain and buy an advancement for the same area at the same time (so, a player could not advance an attribute and retrain their attributes at the same time).

    • Attributes: Reduce one of the character’s attributes by 1, and then increase a different attribute by 1.
    • Skills: Reduce one of the character’s skills by 1, and then increase a different skill by 1.
    • Focuses: The character loses one of their existing focuses, and then gains a new focus in its place.
    • Talent: The character loses one of their existing talents, and then gains a new talent in its place.

    Adjusting Truths: As more persistent elements of a character, Truths cannot be easily altered, gained, or lost. However, this does not mean that they are permanent, and significant situations can cause them to change. In either case, this requires working with the GM to find an outcome that’s interesting and will continue to matter in play.

    A character’s Truths can be changed in situations where the situation within an adventure dictates they should change. For example, if a character’s Truth is reflective of their job, then losing that job can cause that Truth to change, as could gaining a promotion or gaining a different job, or it could cause the Truth to be lost (this cannot reduce the character to 0 Truths). At the GM’s discretion, a sufficiently significant event in an adventure can allow a character to spend 10 XP on gaining an additional Truth to reflect that event’s impact upon the character; this counts as an advancement, though the GM may choose to reduce the cost at their discretion.

    Character Variants

    Alternate Attributes

    Depending on the themes and style of the game, there may be a different number and/or assortment of Attributes used to define characters. This section deals with a few of the possibilities for varying the number and assortment of Attributes.

    Fewer Attributes

    Some versions of the 2D20 System may use a smaller number of Attributes for characters. These might fall into a few different patterns. Fewer attributes reduces the variations and diversity between characters, but can make for simpler characters and faster play overall.

    Three Attributes: Three is the fewest Attributes that a version of the 2D20 System should use. These three Attributes are likely to be broad categories, such as Body (covering physical activities), Mind (covering mental or intellectual activities), and Presence (covering social interactions) though Presence may be switched out for Spirit (covering mystical or supernatural activities) in settings with such elements.

    Four Attributes: Four Attributes allows for a more reasonable range of variation than three does, often to provide a split between physical and mental actions. A common selection of Attributes for this might be Agility (physical activities relying on speed and coordination), Might (physical activities relying on brute strength or resilience), Insight (mental activities relying on instinct, experience, wisdom, and perception), Wits (mental activities relying on intellect and quickness of thought).

    More Attributes

    Other versions of the 2D20 System may use a larger number of Attributes for characters. This can increase the complexity of characters and may result in some Attributes being used less frequently than others. However, it can also increase the variety and diversity between characters.

    Eight Attributes: Eight is the largest number of Attributes that a character should have and allows a reasonable split between physical and mental Attributes, with four Attributes for each. Agility, Coordination, Strength, and Endurance, cover physical activities (the same as the normal Attributes listed above, with Brawn split into Strength and Physique, for active and reactive uses, respectively), while Insight, Reason, Will, and Personality for mental activities (with Personality taking the social interaction elements from the other three Attributes).

    Seven Attributes: The above list can be reduced by either removing Personality, or by collapsing Strength and Physique into Brawn.

    Different Attributes

    There are a few other variations of Attributes that can be used in 2D20 System games. A different selection of Attributes may be helpful for conveying specific themes or a specific genre.

    Example 1: The following selection of Attributes are intended to emphasize highly intelligent, highly competent individuals, with a specific focus on the methods a character uses to make decisions and solve problems. In turn, this also de-emphasizes the physical aspects of action.

    • Control deals with clarity, precision, self-discipline, and coordination.
    • Daring deals with quickly responding to peril or danger, taking bold risks, and acting without planning.
    • Fitness deals with physical conditioning, health, resilience, and the use of brute force.
    • Insight deals with instinct, experience, and emotional intelligence.
    • Presence deals with a character’s force of personality, drive, and ability to command attention.
    • Reason deals with logic, analysis, and careful planning.

    Example 2: The following selection of Attributes deal with frenetic physical action, derring-do, and pulp heroism. It the more static, reactive, or cerebral aspects of actions, merging them into different approaches towards action.

    • Cunning covers a character’s ability to spot weaknesses and exploit flaws in opponents and situations.
    • Daring covers a character’s ability to function when in peril or when movement is important.
    • Empathy covers a character’s ability to understand and heal others.
    • Might covers a character’s ability to apply force to the world around them.
    • Passion covers a character’s attempts to lead, love, or entertain.
    • Reason covers a character’s actions that relate to the mind and senses.

    No Skills Variant

    This variant adjusts how characters create their Target Number for Skill Tests and is often better suited for games and genres where a character’s proficiency matters less than their willingness to leap into the fray and their will to succeed. It also works particularly well with sets of attributes that emphasize specific approaches to problem-solving, such as those example variants above.

    This will either use a single attribute, or a pair of attributes.

    In the single attribute variant, each Attribute is rated from 6 to 16, rather than from 7 to 12 as normal. In addition, characters do not have Skills. Instead, the attribute score serves as the Target Number.

    If the character has an applicable Focus, then each Focus will have a specific score of their own, and the character will score two successes for each die that rolls equal to or less than that Focus’ score.

    In the paired attribute variant, each Attribute is rated from 4 to 8, rather than from 7 to 12 as normal. In addition, characters do not have Skills. Rather, when attempting a Skill Test, the player or Gamemaster selects two Attributes, and adds their scores together to create the Target Number.

    If the character has an applicable Focus, then they will score two successes for each die that rolls equal to or less than the lower of the two Attributes. Note that this results in a larger Focus range than normal, which will slightly increase a character’s chances of scoring multiple successes.

    For example, if a character is attempting a Skill Test using their Cunning 7 and Might 6 Attributes, they would have a Target Number of 13, and if they had an applicable Focus, it would score two successes for each die that rolled 6 or less.

    Alternative Skills

    The short list provided above is far from the only way to handle Skills. Some 2D20 System games may require a different approach to a character’s Skills, often to emphasize specific themes or aspects of play, or to increase variation between characters and allow for more specialization.

    One of the simplest ways to change the style of the Skill list is simply to rename the existing Skills. The default list uses five verbs to cover the kinds of activities that a character will be doing during a game. However, this might not be sufficiently evocative for some games, requiring that some or all of them have their names changed to better evoke the intended themes.

    Expanded Skill Lists

    Depending on the intended themes and genre of a game, the players and Gamemaster may wish to expand the list of Skills characters can be trained in. This will have a few effects.

    Firstly, a larger Skill list allows characters to specialize more in specific areas: when creating the character, they can more easily emphasize some Skills more than others, due to having a greater number of Skills to choose from. However, conversely, this can result in characters feeling less broadly competent, as the larger number of Skills means there may be more areas where a character is less capable.

    Secondly, a larger Skill list can allow for greater mechanical variation between characters – if there are separate Skills for different types of combat (melee or ranged), or even different forms of weapon (rifle or pistol, sword or axe), a character can choose to emphasize specific forms of combat rather than being skilled in combat overall. However, this larger list can be trickier and fiddlier to track, particularly in conjunction with numerous different Attributes. Beyond a certain point, it may be wise to combine a larger Skill list with the Paired Attributes and Skills variant, below, to reduce the number of calculations a player must do on a regular basis.

    Additionally, a larger list of narrower skills may clash with the way Focuses are handled by default; Focuses should normally be somewhat narrower than Skills are, and this doesn’t work particularly well when the Skills become narrower, as the Focuses either cover the same conceptual space as Skills, or they become too narrow to see regular use. As a result, a larger list of narrower skills often works well if combined with the No Focuses or Expertise and Focus variants discussed later.

    There are two basic ways to expand the Skill list. The first is to simply add new skills to the existing list. This normally works with one, or maybe two additional Skills, particularly to cover an area that isn’t already covered by the existing list, such as adding a Skill to cover mystical or supernatural abilities (though, in some cases, magic and the supernatural could be covered by the existing Skills, depending on how those abilities are integrated into the game).

    The second is to take one or more of the existing Skills and break it into several narrower Skills. This is an extremely flexible method, especially for emphasizing specific types of activity – a game that places an emphasis on soldiers and combat may break up the Fight and Survive Skills into several smaller Skills, for example.

    Several examples of this, arranged by Skill, can be found in the table below. The table is split into several different columns, with each column showing how particular Skills can be broken down further. This isn’t the only way to approach breaking down these Skills, and not all the examples below may be applicable to all games or genres. Further, not all Skills need to be broken down to the same level for all games: a game that emphasizes investigation, with very little attention paid to combat may leave Fight intact as a single skill, while expanding the Know and Talk skills out to cover lots of different areas of expertise.



    Recent History

    Military History

    Forgotten Histories



    Mental Strength

    Basic Skill


    1st Breakdown


    2nd Breakdown



    Melee Unarmed Combat

    Simple Melee Weapons

    Martial Melee Weapons

    Ranged Archery

    Thrown Weapons



    Heavy Weaponry


    Athletics Climbing
    Acrobatics Balance



    Stealth Hiding

    Moving Silently

    Pilot Aircraft

    Ground Vehicles



    History Ancient History
    Science Biology




    Technology Electronic Engineering

    Mechanical Engineering

    Structural Engineering



    Coerce Extort
    Deceive Impersonate


    Negotiate Commerce



    Society Etiquette



    Discipline Concentration
    Wilderness Flora & Fauna


    Resilience Toughness


    Healing Medicine


    Regardless of how they are added, each new Skill requires a description, noting what sorts of activities the Skill covers and what it might do in combination with each Attribute.

    Character Roles

    One alternative approach to Skills is to shift what they represent. Instead of specifically covering the things that a character is proficient in and knowledgeable about, they deal more with the character’s place in a group dynamic and how well they fulfill one of a small number of roles important to the kinds of activities that the Player Characters will be undertaking. Games that use Character Roles should typically have three to six such roles.

    For example, a classic fantasy “dungeon crawl” game may have four roles: Warrior (fighting, defending others, tactics), Priest (knowledge of religion, channeling divine energy, communing with gods), Rogue (sneaking, spying, scouting, and disabling obstacles and hazards), and Mage (casting spells, arcane lore, understanding of supernatural beings), covering the common archetypes and activities that a character will perform during such an adventure.

    Similarly, a game based upon a spy thriller may have roles of Control (strategic decisions, big-picture planning, coordinating individuals), Tactical (use of weapons, engaging in combat), Infiltration (stealth, finding and disabling security systems, entering and leaving secure places), Espionage (interpersonal techniques, manipulating and understanding people), and Technical (hacking, surveillance devices, electronic warfare).

    Regardless of the selection of Roles selected, every character will have a rating in each one, even if that rating is only a 1. While a character will naturally have a Role that they excel in, and that’s the role they’ll expect to use much of the time, they may be forced by circumstances into situations where they must use a different Role, perhaps even their lowest rated one.

    Roles may include a considerable amount of overlap: situations where a single activity could be accomplished with more than one Role. In these situations, the Role chosen may give the Gamemaster guidance as to how the activity was performed – using our spies Roles above, a Tactical solution may be very different to an Infiltration solution, even if they both accomplish the same end.

    Mechanically, though, Roles function essentially the same as Skills do – each Role is rated from 1 to 5 and combined with a single Attribute to create a Target Number. If a character has an applicable Focus – useful for showing specializations within Roles – then they will score extra successes for each die that scores equal to or less than the Role’s rating.

    Paired Attributes and Skills

    In some cases, especially where there are many different Skills (12 or more), it may become fiddly to have so many different combinations of Attribute and Skill, and a need to either remember, or calculate, so many different Target Numbers for different circumstances. This variant provides an alternative approach that, while slightly more restrictive, should speed up play and make the game easier to learn in these situations.

    Rather than being able to freely select an Attribute and Skill for a Skill Test, each Skill is associated with a single Attribute, and all Skill Tests using that Skill will use that Attribute as well. The Gamemaster should decide when they choose to use this variant, which Skills are paired with which Attributes, and this will not change during the game under any circumstances.

    Using this variant, the Gamemaster will call for Skill Tests by referring only to the Skill being used – as each Skill is only used with a single Attribute, the Attribute does not need to be mentioned.

    Alternative Focuses

    Focuses normally serve to allow a character a greater chance of multiple successes on a Test covering a subject or activity they have specialized in. The following variations allow this to be handled in different ways, or to account for changes in the rules for Attributes or Skills.

    No Focuses

    The most straightforward variant, this also reduces character variation. It works particularly well with the No Skills variant discussed earlier in this chapter, or other games where specialization isn’t considered meaningful enough for the rules to account for.

    With this variant, characters do not have any Focuses. Whenever a Skill Test is attempted, do not check to see if a character has a relevant Focus; instead, any die that rolls equal to or less than the character’s Skill (or other Focus range, if Skills are not being used) scores a Critical Success. In short, characters are always assumed to have an applicable Focus.

    Focus Ratings

    This variant allows for slightly increased variation between characters and allows a character to demonstrate different degrees of specialization. However, it does add an extra number to keep track of, which may add extra complexity.

    Each of a character’s Focuses is accompanied by a rating from 2-5 (everyone scores a Critical Success on a 1, so a Focus rating of 1 would be irrelevant). This rating is used to determine the Focus range for all Skill Tests for which the Focus is relevant, instead of using the character’s Skill. So, for a character taking a Reason + Know Test, using a Science Focus of 3, the character would score two successes for each die that rolled 3 or less, as 3 is the character’s Focus rating.

    Expertise and Focus

    This variant is best used in situations where there are many different Skills, as discussed earlier.

    Using this variant, each Skill has two ratings, an Expertise, and a Focus; these ratings are 0-5 as normal, and may often be denoted as X/X, with the Expertise before the slash, and the Focus after. Characters do not have a separate list of Focuses: Focus is instead a separate factor of Skill.

    Whenever a character attempts a Skill Test, any die that rolls equal to or less than that Skill’s Focus rating scores two successes instead of one. With this variant, if the Skill has a Focus rating of 0, then it cannot score two successes on any result, as it is impossible to roll 0 or less. Thus, this changes the rule that a character without an applicable Focus will score two successes on a roll of a 1: that rule no longer applies if this variant is used.

    Other Arrays

    Depending on the style, tone, and genre of the game you’re creating, or the setting you’re using, the typical combination of attributes and skills might not be the best fit. The following concepts can be used in place of one or other of attributes and skills, depending on the needs of the game.

    It is valuable to think of these ideas as ‘questions’:

    • Attributes and Skills can be thought of as asking “what” the character is doing
    • Character Roles, discussed above, ask “who” the character is
    • Drives ask “why” a character is attempting a task
    • Approaches ask “how” a character is attempting an action


    In this variant, characters have a short list of Drives—personal beliefs, motivations, or deeply-held values—which replace either attributes or skills. These have the same range of ratings, with a higher rating represent a more strongly held belief: if Drives are rated 4-8, then a character with a 4 may barely care about that subject, while a character with 8 in the same Drive might regard it as the most important thing.

    Choosing Drives can have a massive impact upon a game, and they should be chosen very carefully. They will represent the central themes and impactful conflicts of the game, with every test now including the question of “why are you doing this?” alongside more practical matters. Keeping this list small is useful, to maintain this emphasis: 4-6 different Drives should normally be sufficient to encapsulate the themes you want in your game.

    These drives should naturally be things which can conflict with one another, though you should avoid having drives which are simple opposites: a character who feels strongly about Individuality probably also feels strongly (but in the opposite way) about Community, . Rather conflicts should arise when drives pull a character in different directions: having to choose between Truth and Peace, or between Order and Justice can make for compelling struggles for a character to face.

    Another consideration is whether you want characters to only have positive drives or only to consider important drives.

    If you opt for positive drives, then a high rating in a drive also means that the character believes in the subject of that drive: a high rating in Truth makes an honest character, a high rating in Duty makes someone dutiful, and so forth. This makes for simple drives, and easy roleplaying prompts, but characters may end up somewhat stereotypical.

    On the other hand, important drives can add depth at the cost of greater complexity. A character with a high rating in a drive has strong feelings about that subject, but those feelings are not necessarily positive ones. A high rating in Truth might indicate someone who is honest, or someone who revels in deceit and making their own truth, while a high Duty might represent someone dutiful or someone who regards duty as indistinguishable from servitude. Making distinctions between these different kinds of beliefs means that this variant pairs very well with the Drive Statements variant, which lets the player define specific statements to give context to their drive scores, and have those statements impact the mechanics of the character. Drive statements work similarly to Values (above) but are tied specifically to a single Drive.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Drive Statements

    If you’re using Drive Statements in your game, there is an additional step to the process for attempting a skill test: choosing a Drive.

    This reflects your character’s motivation and drive behind the action—why you’re doing what they’re doing. Some of your values come with a statement. These describe the most important aspects of what your character believes, providing both advantages and limitations. To select which Drive to use, the player should look at their Drive statements and pick the one most appropriate to the situation. This will not necessarily be the most advantageous as values can often be a disadvantage in some circumstances. The Drive linked to that statement is the one you must use for the test. If multiple statements are appropriate, the player may choose which of those Drives to use. If none of the statements apply the player should choose one of their values that does not have a statement to use in the test.

    When you wish to use a value, you must check to see if the statement agrees with the action.

    • If the value statement agrees with the action, then you can use that value on this skill test. In addition, you are allowed to spend a point of Determination (described in Chapter 1: Core Rules) on that skill test if you wish. You cannot spend Determination if the value you’re using has no statement.
    • If the value statement clashes with the action—the value doesn’t support the action, or the action goes against the value—then the Gamemaster may offer you a point of Determination and ask you to make a choice about the value: either comply with the value or challenge it. If you comply, you suffer an immediate complication on the action you’re attempting (see Complications, later), which could include being unable to carry out the action. If you challenge the value, you can use it in the skill test, but the statement is crossed out immediately after the skill test is resolved, and you can’t use that value until you’ve recovered it—you now doubt how you feel about that value and can no longer rely on it. If you don’t want either of those options, you may refuse the point of Determination and choose a different value instead.

    If the value you’re using has no statement, then you may choose to use it, without restriction.

    [End Sidebar]

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Possible Drive Sets

    As noted in the main text, a group of Drives should collectively enshrine the themes you want to be central to your game, and on the types of motivations you want to encourage during play. This means that the individual Drives are important, but so too are how they relate to one another as a group of concepts.

    A game of grand politics and intrigue may be defined by Duty, Faith, Power, Justice, and Truth, for example, where these differing motivations—and attitudes towards each motivation—create a natural tension between player characters, but also within each individual player character, as they are forced to assess which of these things they prioritize when two of them conflict.

    The tone of each Drive can be valuable for shaping the tone of the game too. A game of virtuous knights may have the seven virtues of Christian tradition—Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Kindness, Patience, and Humility—reinforcing the themes of the game by encouraging players to act in ways that reflect those themes. By contrast, a game of supernatural monsters constantly tempted by darker urges might base its themes upon the seven deadly sins—Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Envy, Wrath, and Pride—and create tension because the game’s mechanics encourage players to yield to their characters’ worst nature.

    Indeed, this kind of ‘negative’ drive set, where all the drives are bad things, can make for an interesting dynamic, especially if there’s a cost for using the highest-rated drives: perhaps the loss of some scarce resource the character possesses, or adding to Threat.

    [End Sidebar]


    In this variant, a character has a short list of approaches, which can be thought of as the method or manner of performing an activity. This typically is paired with a character’s skills, turning a skill test into a question of “what are you doing, and how?”.

    This variant works well in lighter, more freeform games with less in the way of strict action rules, as it lends itself well to evocative description by both the players and the GM, and more detailed rules for action scenes can interfere with this.

    A common set of approaches recommended are below, but there’s no reason you need to stick with these for your own game or use those specific terms. However, using adverbs for these, and then verbs for each of the skills in your game, allows you to describe a skill test in natural-sounding language (such as “move carefully” or “fight boldly”), which can make the game feel more approachable to inexperienced players.

    • Boldly describes actions taken with daring and decisiveness, which are often flashy and noticeable and intended to draw attention.
    • Carefully describes actions taken with caution and patience, trying to avoid setbacks or problems, but at the cost of things sometimes taking longer.
    • Cleverly describes actions where cunning, logic, knowledge, and quick-wits are vital, such as out-thinking a foe, or solving a puzzle.
    • Forcefully describes direct, straightforward, often brutal action, even if that makes for a messy outcome.
    • Quietly describes sneaky, subtle action, trying to avoid drawing notice, even if it takes longer or has a limited effect.
    • Swiftly describes hasty, rapid action, especially when you need to achieve your goals quickly, even if the outcome is noisy.

    From a GMing perspective, approaches also provide context for setting a difficulty, as well as deciding how an action is likely to succeed or fail, or the kinds of complications likely to crop up: someone trying to disable a machine carefully is likely to fail through being overly cautious, or taking too long, but they’ll probably succeed with the machine intact and functional, while someone trying to disable it forcefully is likely to break the device, and may fail by making too much noise or causing collateral damage.

    A useful alternate set of Approaches can be to borrow the Four Temperaments from ancient medicine; these ideas are a common shorthand for character types in storytelling, with groups of four or more heroes often each defined by leaning towards a specific temperament. These deal a little more with the mood and outlook of a character and lack the “natural language” advantage of adverb approaches, but they’re a simple way to define a character both mechanically and in roleplaying terms all at once. Think of the ensemble or main supporting cast of a favorite TV show or series of books, and you’ll be surprised how many fit into these patterns.

    • A choleric character, likened to the element of fire, is likely to be ambitious and passionate, but also hot-headed and impatient.
    • A melancholic character, likened to the element of earth, are thoughtful and organized, but tend to be moody perfectionists.
    • A phlegmatic character, likened to the element of water, is likely to be relaxed, perceptive, and kind, but often stubborn or reluctant to act.
    • A sanguine character, likened to the element of air, is often sociable and optimistic, a beacon of easy charisma, but they’re impulsive, and easily bored.
    NEW PAGE Conflict

    This section provides additional content for dealing with high-stakes action scenes and situations where conflict arises.

    Conflict scenes are high-stakes and fast-paced, requiring quick decision-making and decisive action. They are intended to model situations where events happen in quick succession, typically with two opposing sides clashing to achieve mutually-exclusive goals.

    Action Order

    During a conflict scene, characters perform actions in a specific order. Each character takes a turn, during which they make take a major action and a minor action (and maybe more). Once each character in the conflict has taken a turn, a single round is completed, and a new round begins. This repeats until the conflict ends.

    At the start of the first round, the gamemaster selects a single character to take the first turn. This will typically be whichever character started the conflict—whomever fires the first shot, strikes the first blow, makes the first move, etc—but if this is unclear, then the GM will select a player character, or spend 2 Threat to select an NPC.

    Once a character has finished their turn, they hand over to an opposing side, who choose one of their characters to act. Characters may instead keep the initiative by spending 2 points of Momentum or adding 2 to Threat (enemy NPCs spend 2 Threat instead). If they keep the initiative, they allow an allied character to take a turn immediately before handing over to the enemy. Once a side has chosen to keep the initiative, they must allow an enemy character to take a turn before they can keep the initiative again.

    Each time a new character is chosen to act, the character chosen must be someone who has not yet taken a turn in the current round. If there are no characters left on a side who haven’t yet taken a turn, that side must pass and immediately nominate another opposing side. If only one side in the conflict has characters left to act, then they may all act, one at a time, until every character has acted that round.

    Once all characters have taken a turn, the round ends. The character who acted last must nominate an opposing side to take the first turn in the next round or spend 2 Momentum/add 2 to Threat (NPCs spend 2 Threat) to allow their side to take the first turn next round.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Variant: Initiative Scores

    Some groups may prefer a more structured action order, determined less by player choice and more by a character’s stats.

    In this variant, characters have a set Initiative score, which determines the order in which they act during a conflict scene. When a conflict scene begins, the character who initiated the conflict takes the first turn, but after they have acted, all remaining characters act in order of their initiative scores, from highest to lowest. Once the round is complete, the next round begins with the character with the highest initiative score.

    If two characters on the same side have the same initiative score, they choose the order in which they act amongst themselves. If two characters on opposing sides have the same initiative score, then a PC will act before any NPCs, but the GM may spend 1 Threat to have an NPC act before a PC instead.

    Characters have an initiative score equal to the higher of their Agility or Insight scores. If fixed initiative scores like this are used, the option must be provided for characters to interrupt the order: a player character may add 2 to Threat to act earlier in the round than their initiative score would normally allow (NPCs can spend 2 Threat to do the same).

    As an alternative to this, you may have random initiative scores: each character rolls [CD] equal to the higher of their Agility or Insight scores, and use the total as their initiative score for that scene. If one side has a significant advantage over the other, such as an ambush, then each Icon rolled adds an additional +1 to their total. The GM may, at their discretion, allow other benefits to come from Icons rolled, perhaps as a result of Talents.

    [End Sidebar]

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Variant: Narrative First

    This variant, rather than adding or altering rules, places the responsibility for the action order squarely in the Gamemaster’s hands.

    At the start of each Round, the Gamemaster chooses a single character to take the first Turn. Once that character’s Turn has finished, the Gamemaster selects another character to take a Turn, until every character has taken a Turn, at which point the round ends and a new round begins. As normal, each character can take only a single Turn.

    This version is the simplest, but it also places the weight of responsibility entirely upon the Gamemaster, who may have plenty to deal with, or who may not want the burden of choosing who acts when.

    [End Sidebar]

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Variant: Player Priority

    Some games may prefer to make use of a simpler action order. This lacks the inherent back-and-forth dynamic of the standard method, but it is more straightforward, and favors the Player Characters. The Gamemaster may interrupt this order, but only by spending Threat.

    In each Round, the players choose a single Player Character, who takes the first Turn of the Round. After that, each Player Character takes a Turn, one at a time, in whichever order they choose. Once all the Player Characters have taken a Turn, the NPCs may take their Turns, again one at a time in whichever order they choose. Once every character has taken a Turn, the Round ends, and a new Round begins.

    As normal, no character may take more than one Turn each Round.

    The Gamemaster may spend 1 Threat, before any Player Character takes their Turn, to select a single NPC to take a Turn instead, essentially interrupting the action order; this NPC may not take another turn later. Once this NPC has finished their Turn, the action returns to the Player Characters, unless the Gamemaster spends additional Threat.

    [End Sidebar]


    In each Turn, a character can attempt a single Major Action, and a Minor Action. Different types of Conflict may have their own kinds of Action, and there are a few common Actions that apply to every kind of Conflict.

    Major Actions

    A character can attempt a single Major Action every Turn. There are a few ways that a character can attempt a second Major Action during their Turn, but regardless of the method used, a character cannot attempt more than two Major Actions in any Round.

    The following Major Actions are common to all kinds of Conflict:

    • Aid: The character tends to a character within Reach. This is a Coordination + Survive Test or a Will + Survive Test with a Difficulty of 2. Success means that the patient—the character being tended to—removes Stress equal to the aiding character’s Survive score, plus 2 per Momentum spent.
    • Assist: The character performs an activity that will grant an ally some benefit. The character selects a single ally they can communicate with, and declares how they are assisting, including which Attribute, Skill, and Focus (if any) they are assisting with. When the selected ally attempts their Skill Test, the assisting character assists in the manner chosen.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Timing Assistance

    The Assist task works a little differently than most other tasks in combat. In these situations, you can choose to assist when another character declares the task you wish to assist, even though it isn’t your turn. However, you can only provide this assistance if you have not already acted this round, and assisting means that you will not take a turn of your own later in the round – assisting takes up your turn instead.

    While this may seem a little more complex on the surface, in play it makes teamwork and assistance easier to resolve: you don’t have to plan in advance if you want to assist someone, you simply declare it at the moment it becomes relevant, so long as you’re not doing anything else that round.

    [End Sidebar]

    • Attack: The character attacks an enemy or other viable target. See Attacks and Damage for details.
    • Create Advantage: The character attempts to create a favorable circumstance that benefits them or their allies. This is a Skill Test with a Difficulty of 2, using an Attribute, Skill, and Focus (if any) appropriate to how they are attempting to gain an advantage. If successful, the character creates a Trait which helps them in some way, or which hinders the enemy in some way.
    • Overcome: the character attempts a skill test as part of an extended task. The attribute and skill used, and the difficult, are determined by the extended task. If successful, the character rolls [CD] to determine how much stress they cause on the extended task, as described later in this chapter.
    • Pass: The character chooses not to attempt a Major Action. If the character takes no Minor Actions this Turn as well, then the character does not count as having taken a Turn, and may act later in the Round instead.
    • Protect: The character takes up a defensive stance, finds a defensible position, or otherwise makes themselves ready for attack. This requires a Coordination + Survive Test, or an Insight + Survive Test, with a Difficulty of 1, though the Difficulty is reduced by 1 if the character is in cover. Success increases the Difficulty of any attacks made against the character by +1 until the start of that character’s next Turn. A character can confer the benefits of this Action to an ally within Close Range instead of themselves; this increases the Difficulty of the Skill Test by +1, and the benefit lasts until the start of that ally’s next Turn.
    • Ready: The character declares that they are waiting for a specific situation or event to occur before attempting a Major action. This situation or event must be chosen when Ready is declared, as must the Major Action to be attempted when that situation or event occurs. When this triggering event occurs, the character with the readied Major Action temporarily interrupts the acting character’s Turn to resolve the readied Major Action. Once the readied Major Action has resolve, play proceeds as normal. If the triggering event does not occur before the character’s next Turn, the readied Major Action is lost. Characters who take the Ready Major Action can still perform Minor Actions during their Turn as normal.
    • Recover: The character takes a moment to regain their breath, clear their mind, and ready themselves for further conflict. This is a Will + Survive Test with a Difficulty of 2 (reduce Difficulty by 1 if the character is in cover). Success means that the character removes Stress equal to their Survive score, plus two more per Momentum spent). The character may also re-roll any number of conditional Resistance dice, for either Cover or Morale.
    • Rush: The character attempts a Difficulty 0 Agility + Move Skill Test. Success means that the character moves one zone (to any point in Medium range), and one additional zone per Movement spent. A character may not attempt this Task more than once per Round, and not at all if the character has performed the Movement Minor Action. Terrain and other factors may increase the Difficulty of this Skill Test, and this Skill Test always allows Success at Cost.
    • Skill Test: The character performs another activity that requires a Skill Test. The limits of this ability are left to the discretion of the Gamemaster.

    Minor Actions

    Minor Actions are extra, small activities a character can undertake that do not require a Skill Test. They are often taken in support of Major Actions, such as moving into position before attempting a Skill Test. A character may perform one Minor Action during their Turn and may perform it before or after the characters’ Major Actions, at their discretion.

    A character may attempt additional Minor Actions during the Turn, costing one Momentum each, or adding 1 to Threat for each. Unless otherwise noted, a character may not perform a Minor Action outside of their Turn.

    Each Minor Action can only be performed once per Turn. The following Minor Actions are common to all kinds of Conflict:

    • Aim: The character may re-roll a single d20 made on an Attack before the start of their next Turn.
    • Bolster: The character tries to psych themselves up, or to reassure an ally within Close range. The character, or the ally they’re reassuring, gains +2[CD] Morale.
    • Defend: The character defends themselves or an ally within Reach from attack. The character, or the ally they are defending, gains +2[CD] Cover.
    • Disengage: This action can only be taken if the character is within Reach of an enemy. The character moves to anywhere within their current zone. The character may not use any action to move into Reach of an enemy during this Turn.
    • Draw Item: The character may pick up an item within Reach, or draw an item carried on their person. If an item does not require a Major Action to use, it can be used immediately, allowing the character to draw and use the item with a single Minor Action.
    • Drop Prone/Stand: The character immediately drops to the ground, making themselves a smaller target, or stands from prone. While prone, the Difficulty of all ranged attacks against the character from Medium or greater range by +1. However, melee attacks and ranged attacks at Close range gain 1 bonus Momentum against a prone character, and prone characters cannot attempt any movement-related Major Actions. Being Prone also allows the character to re-roll any conditional Resistance (Cover or Morale). A character who stands loses all benefits and disadvantages of being prone. A character may not Drop Prone and Stand in the same Turn.
    • Interact: The character interacts with an object in the environment. Particularly complex actions may require a Major Action instead.
    • Movement: The character moves to any point within Medium range. This Minor Action cannot be taken if the character performs any movement-related Tasks. This movement is slow and careful enough to move through hazardous or difficult terrain without problems. If there are enemies within Reach of the character, this Action cannot be taken.
    • Prepare: The character prepares for, or spends time setting up, another activity. Some Major Actions require this preparation before they can be attempted.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Variant: No Minor Actions

    Some games may not need the more granular structure of major and minor actions.

    In this variant, a character receives a single Action on each turn; the Major actions list covers the actions a character can choose, but the GM should be flexible in how these are applied. Minor actions are ignored entirely. Any activity that a character could do as part of a minor action is included in the character’s normal action; if a character wants to do a lot of these minor activities in their turn, the GM may either increase the difficulty of the character’s action, or they might decide that the player has to break up their action over several turns.

    This works well with the Narrative First action order variant.

    [End Sidebar]

    Free Actions

    Some activities are not considered to be a Major or Minor Action. These are Free Actions: Actions which do not take any meaningful time or effort. A character may take any number of Free Actions during a Round, both during their Turn, and on other characters’ Turns. However, a character may not take a Free Action if something would prevent them from taking any Actions.

    A Free Action never includes a Skill Test, under any circumstances.

    • Drop: The character drops an item held in their hand(s).
    • Shift: The character can move to anywhere within their current zone. This may only be done once during the character’s Turn, and only if the character does not use any other action to move.
    • Speak: The character speaks, though this does not cover any speech or conversation that would involve or require a Skill Test of some kind.


    In addition to their own actions taken on their Turns, characters have some ability to respond to the actions of others, especially if those actions are dangerous or aggressive. Thus, characters may attempt Reactions in response to actions taken outside of their own Turn.

    A character may attempt one reaction during each round, and they may not perform it during their own Turn.

    Reactions each have a specific condition or circumstance that allow them to be used, and they must be declared immediately as soon as that condition applies. If responding to another character’s Major Action, it must be declared when the Action is declared, but before any dice are rolled for Skill Tests.

    One reaction is available to all characters. Characters may gain other reactions from Talents or other special abilities:

    • Hit the Dirt: When you are the target of a ranged attack, but before any dice are rolled for the attack, you dive to the ground bracing yourself. You can immediately move to any point within Close range and drop prone (adding +1 to the difficulty of ranged attacks). In addition to the normal effects of being prone, you gain +2[CD] Cover and +2[CD] Morale resistance until the start of your next turn.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Variant: Defensive Reactions

    A common variant to this used in some older 2d20 System games, this variant adds some rolling and some extra complexity to attacks, and can slow down play, but it can make combat feel more visceral and desperate.

    In this variant, all attacks are ordinary skill tests made against a difficulty of 1. When attacked, a character may take a Reaction to make that skill test into an opposed test—dodging ranged attacks (Agility + Move), parrying melee attacks (Coordination + Fight), resisting mental attacks (Will + Survive).

    If using this variant, you may also wish to increase the number of reactions a character may perform each Round: rather than only allowing a character to perform one reaction per turn, they may perform any number of reactions, but the first reaction adds 1 to Threat, the second one adds 2 to Threat, the third one adds 3, and so forth. NPC enemies pay Threat instead of adding to it.

    [End Sidebar]

    Environments and Zones

    In a conflict, knowing where everyone is can be of vital importance, and determining both absolute position (where you are) and relative position (how far you are from others) is important. Rather than track everything in precise distances, however, the 2D20 System resolves this matter using abstract zones.

    An environment represents the “battlefield” – in short, whatever location the conflict is taking place within. This may be a building, a city street, an area of wilderness, part of a ship, or other such areas. An environment is divided into several zones based on the terrain features or natural divisions present in the area. For example, a building or ship interior may treat individual rooms as distinct zones, using the internal walls, doorways, and other solid structures as natural divisions, while a city street may focus zones around features like parked vehicles, the fronts of buildings, alleyways, and so forth. Zones are often defined in three dimensions, so the Gamemaster may choose to map multiple floors of a building, connected by stairs and elevators, or consider a few ‘empty’ zones above the battlefield for flying objects. A relatively simple battlefield may consist of three to five significant zones, while complex environments may have many more. More zones are often more interesting than fewer, as they provide a greater variety of movement options and tactical opportunities, but this can take more planning on the part of the Gamemaster.

    Because zones are of no fixed size, they can be varied to accommodate the Gamemaster’s preferences for a given scene, and to represent certain other factors. For example, a battle in a forest may be divided into many small zones amongst the trees, and a couple of larger zones representing clearings. The larger size of the “clearing” zones helps convey quicker movement and easier target acquisition in open areas, while the smaller zones convey cramped conditions and short lines of sight. However, zones should not be too complex a consideration under most circumstances — a few seconds to describe zones and their relative positions, or to sketch out a rough map on a piece of spare paper, is all that’s needed for most situations. Of course, this doesn’t prevent the Gamemaster from coming up with elaborate environments if he wishes to spend more time coming up with maps.

    Individual zones can — and often should — have terrain effects defined when the Gamemaster creates them. This may be as simple as providing cover, or imposing difficult terrain, but the Gamemaster is welcome to devise other terrain effects, such as objects that can be interacted with, hazards to overcome, or even terrain that changes under specific circumstances, such as the expenditure of Threat. Some zones may be defined more by the absence of terrain than its presence, and some environments are enhanced by a few ‘empty’ zones between obstacles to add a greater sense or space or distance.

    Similarly, individual zones – or the environment as a whole – may have one or more Traits that define them in different ways. This is often a useful way to codify terrain: a zone with a Loose Gravel trait is naturally distinct from a zone that is Piled High with Crates.

    Gamemasters who desire concrete values rather than abstract ranges are encouraged to set specific sizes and shapes for individual zones, essentially using them as a large grid. More detailed guidance for this is presented later.

    Characters and Zones

    To help Players visualize their characters’ place in a conflict, and to manage that conflict effectively, it’s important to keep track of which zone characters are in at any given moment. This should be relatively easy in most cases. As zones are defined by the terrain and around them, tracking a character can be a matter of simple description — an enemy might be ‘behind the control panel’ or ‘standing by the blue car’. This has the advantage of relying on natural language and intuitive concepts, rather than specific game terms, and avoids the tracking of relative distances which can become fiddly where there are many characters present.

    Larger or particularly complex scenes may become tricky to track purely by memory, so the Gamemaster may wish to use something extra to help remind everyone of which character is where. If you’re already using a sketched map, then marking character positions in pencil (so they can be easily erased and redrawn) is a simple approach, as is using tokens or miniatures, and moving them around as required.


    Movement and ranged attacks need some sense of distance to make them meaningful. In combat, the relative placement of zones determines this distance. To keep things simple, range is measured in four categories, and one state.

    • The state of Reach is when an object or character is within arm’s length of the character. Characters enter Reach to interact with objects manually, to attack in close combat, and to perform any other actions where they may need to touch the target or subject of their action. Reach isn’t a specific range, but rather is a state that a character can declare when he moves — that is, when a character moves into or within a zone, he may freely declare that he is moving into or out of Reach of a given object or character. Being within Reach of an enemy is quite disruptive and distracting, adding +2 to the Difficulty of any Skill Test that isn’t a Melee Attack or Mental Attack.
    • Close range is defined as the zone the character is within at the time. Moving within Close range is a trivial affair. Close range is, in essence, a distance of 0 zones.
    • Medium range is defined as any zone adjacent to the character’s current zone. Medium range is a distance of 1 zone.
    • Long range is defined as objects and creatures two zones away from a character’s current zone. Long range is a distance of 2 zones.
    • Extreme range is any creatures and objects beyond Long range. Extreme range is a distance of 3 or more zones.

    Distance and Perception

    The further away something is, the harder it is to notice. In game terms, this means that characters in distant zones are harder to observe or identify than those nearby. A character increases the Difficulty of Tasks to try and notice creatures or objects by one step at Medium range, by two when dealing with creatures and objects at Long range, and by three when trying to discern things at Extreme range. A creature that isn’t trying to avoid notice requires a Difficulty 0 Task under normal circumstances, while attempting a Task to avoid notice makes things more difficult. Creatures or objects that are particularly noticeable — someone firing a gun, shouting, or a fast-moving or brightly-colored object — may reduce the Difficulty further.

    Similarly, characters will want to communicate during a conflict — calls for help, battle-cries, and other dialogue can abound in tense situations. In most cases, characters can converse normally within Close range — they’re near enough to one another to be heard and to make themselves understood without raising their voices.

    A character at Medium range can be communicated with, but only at a raised volume — shouting, rather than talking. At Long and Extreme range, you can shout to draw attention, but conveying any meaning or understanding someone is unlikely. Radios, phones, and similar technologies can make distance less of a consideration.

    Movement and Terrain

    Moving to anywhere within Medium range is trivial – a minor action. Moving further than this requires a Skill Test (an action), though this has a Difficulty of 0 under normal circumstances.

    Moving as a Task increases in Difficulty if the terrain in any of the zones to be moved through is rough, hindering, or hazardous in any way – as denoted by any terrain effects the Gamemaster has defined, or by that area’s Traits. The consequences of failure vary based on the nature of the terrain: failure may result in the character’s movement stopping prematurely outside of the difficult terrain, the character falling prone, or suffering the effects of hazardous terrain, which may include damage or injury.

    Movement may take many different forms on this scale; walking, running, jumping across gaps or down sheer drops, swimming through bodies of water, climbing steep or sheer surfaces, and so forth. The Difficulty of these activities should be evaluated separately.

    There are a range of other terrain effects that might be present in a zone, beyond just difficult terrain. The most common are discussed below.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Variant: Terrain Momentum

    This variant can be used to speed play where combat involves a lot of hindering terrain.

    In this variant, all obstacles and all areas of difficult terrain have a Momentum cost. When a character wishes to cross that obstacle, or move from that area of difficult terrain, they must spend the amount of Momentum listed. If they cannot pay the cost, they cannot cross that obstacle or move from that difficult terrain.

    With this variant, it can be especially useful to allow players to make Difficulty 0 skill tests to build up Momentum to allow movement—an Agility + Move test, for example. This variant also allows characters to help one another more easily with terrain, as characters can generate Momentum to allow others to cross terrain.

    [End Sidebar]

    Cover is one of most common terrain effects, representing objects that interfere with a character’s ability to see or attack a target clearly. Cover provides conditional Resistance against physical attacks, as described in the Damage section, above. A zone will either provide cover universally (granting the benefits of that Cover to any creature in the zone), or the Gamemaster may denote features within the zone that grant Cover (requiring that the character be within Reach of that feature to benefit).

    Interactive Objects are any object or terrain feature that a character could conceivably interact with. Doors and windows are a common example, as are control panels and computer terminals. Interacting with these objects may take little time or effort under normal circumstances (a minor action), but a complex system might need a Skill Test (and an action) to interact with properly.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    The Shape of Battle

    Different kinds of environments will suit different approaches to combat. Large open spaces with clear lines of sight favor snipers, heavy weapons, and other sources of heavy firepower, while confined spaces and close quarters favors short-ranged weaponry and melee combat instead. Dense terrain hinders and directs movement, while clear spaces allow characters to move freely. Mixtures of these factors in a single environment can result in a battlefield that has a specific shape or flow and encourages certain tactics – an empty street may allow easy movement, but if it lacks cover, it may also be a sniper’s hunting ground, compared to a slower, but safer route.

    [End Sidebar]

    Attacks and Damage

    During a Conflict, characters seldom emerge unscathed, often suffering pain, fatigue, or lasting harm because of the battles – physical, mental, and social alike – they engage in. This section deals with how this damage might come about, what effects it has, and how characters may recover from it.

    Making an Attack

    An attack is any action made with the intention of harming another character or inflicting damage upon an object. For physical attacks, this normally involves weapons: the tools for inflicting damage. For mental attacks, it may involve different forms of threats and intimidation, or even supernatural effects, depending on the nature of your game.

    This section deals with how characters go about making attacks of different kinds.

    There are two distinct forms of attack available to characters: physical, and mental. Physical attacks are further broken up into melee attacks and ranged attacks, each of which have their own considerations, but both are still physical attacks for the purposes of how they inflict damage.

    1. Attacker declares attack: The attacker decides that they wish to make an attack and chooses how. Many means of attacking can be used for more than one form of attack: a knife can be used in melee, it can be thrown to attack at range, or it can be used to threaten. In these cases, choose one form of attack the method can be used for.
      1. If a melee weapon is chosen, the attack is a melee attack.
      2. If a ranged weapon is chosen, the attack is a ranged attack.
      3. If the attack would affect the mind or emotions of the target, the attack is a mental attack.
    2. Attacker chooses target: The attacker chooses a target for the attack. This can be any creature or object which can be damaged by the attack.
      1. A melee attack can be used against a target within Reach (see page ##) of the attacker.
      2. A ranged attack can be used against any target visible to the attacker (the GM may allow some concealed targets as well).
      3. A mental attack can be used against any target that can understand the attack.
    3. Skill Test: The attacker attempts a Skill Test, determined by the form of attack. Each type of attack may have further adjustments to Difficulty.
      1. Melee: The attacker attempts an Agility + Fight Test, with a Difficulty of 1, opposed by the target’s Coordination + Fight (also Difficulty 1).
      2. Ranged: The attacker attempts a Coordination + Fight Test, with a Difficulty of 2.
      3. Mental: The attacker attempts a Will + Fight Test or a Will + Talk Test (depending on the nature of the mental attack) with a Difficulty of 1, opposed by the target’s Will + Survive (also Difficulty 1).
    4. Outcome: If the Skill Test succeeds, or if the attacker won their opposed test, then the attack inflicts damage, as described below. If the Skill Test fails, or the target won the opposed test, then the attack inflicts no damage, and may have an additional consequence.
      1. Melee: The target of the attack may either Disengage as per the minor action, or, if they reacted to the attack, they may inflict damage as if they had made a successful attack.
      2. Ranged: No additional consequence.
      3. Mental: The targeted enemy cannot be the target of a mental attack again during this scene.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Variant: Reach and Guard

    The ebb and flow of melee combat is shaped by the combatants and the weapons they use. Different weapons are suited to different situations, and a fight will play out differently if the combatants are using daggers than if they were using spears. This variant is useful in fantasy and historical games where melee combat is more prevalent than shooting.


    A character is said to have Guard if they are aware of their attackers and able to defend themselves. They must also be standing or crouching.

    A character loses Guard if they are knocked prone, become stunned, if they are unaware of attackers, or if they are incapable of defending themselves. Characters may also be forced to lose Guard because of a Complication, or from attackers spending Momentum to remove their target’s Guard (discussed below).

    If you start your turn without Guard, you can gain Guard as a free action if there are no enemies within Reach. If there are enemies within Reach, it takes a Minor Action instead.

    Reach and Attacking

    Each melee weapon has a Reach rating, typically from 1 to 3, with higher ratings representing longer weapons.

    When you make a melee attack against an enemy, check to see whether the enemy has Guard: If your enemy has Guard, the difficulty of your attack increases by +1 if their weapon has a longer Reach. If you succeed at a melee attack against an enemy with Guard, you may spend 2 Momentum after the attack to force your target to lose Guard.

    If your enemy does not have Guard, then the attack is a normal skill test, rather than an opposed test, if your weapon has a shorter reach: that is, the defender does not get to roll to defend themselves.

    If a character is wielding two weapons at once (i.e., one in each hand), the weapon used to determine which side has longer reach must also be used to determine damage if they win the opposed test.

    [End Sidebar]


    Ranged attacks, and some mental attacks, are performed at a distance, but not all such attacks are made equal. Some are ideal for close ranges, such as within the same room, while others are precision implements made to deal death from much further away.

    Ranged weapons, and other methods of attack that can be used at range, will have a Range category. This denotes the weapon’s ideal range – the range at which it is most effective. When making an attack with the weapon, determine the range category (Close, Medium, Long, or Extreme) the target is in, relative to the attacker.

    If the target is within the weapon’s Range category, then the attack proceeds as normal. If the target is outside the weapon’s Range category – either nearer, or further away – increase the Difficulty by 1 for each category outside the weapon’s Range, as described below:

    • A ranged attack where the target is at the weapon’s Range has no modifier for range: the Difficulty remains at 1.
    • If the target is one range category closer or more distant, then the Difficulty of the attack increases by 1.
    • If the target is two range categories closer or more distant, the Difficulty of the attack increases by 2.
    • If the target is three range categories closer or more distant, the Difficulty of the attack increases by 3.

    Weapon’s Range

    Range to Target

    Close Medium Long Extreme
    Close +0 +1 +2 +3
    Medium +1 +0 +1 +2
    Long +2 +1 +0 +1
    Extreme +3 +2 +1 +0


    Different ranged weapons can attack at different rates, from bows, crossbows, and hunting rifles that need to be loaded or otherwise operated between shots, to heavy machine guns that can spew hundreds of rounds per minute. This is all factored into the weapon’s Burst value, which is a number between 0 and 6.

    Each weapon will be accompanied by several Reloads – quantities of ammunition, such as a magazine or similar. A character does not have to use any Reloads when attacking with the weapon, but they may spend Reloads to gain a bonus if they wish: the character chooses how many Reloads they wish to spend, if any, before rolling any dice for the attack.

    A character may not spend a greater number of Reloads on one attack than the weapon’s Burst value, and each Reload spent grants one bonus Momentum on that attack. As normal with bonus Momentum, this cannot be saved.

    In addition, some weapons may list an M next to their Reload value. This indicates that the weapon must spend at least one Reload per attack. This mandatory reload does not provide its normal benefit, but it does count towards the maximum number that may be spent on the attack (so a weapon with a Burst of 1M must spend one Reload per attack, and gains no other benefit from doing so, while a weapon with 3M must spend 1 Reload, and gets the normal benefits from the second and third Reloads spent).

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Variant: Salvo Attacks

    An alternative way to handle reloads and ammunition is Salvo Attacks.

    When using this variant, each ranged weapon has a specific Salvo Effect. When a character makes an attack with a weapon, they may spend one Reload as part of the attack, before rolling to see if the attack is successful.

    If the attack succeeds, then the weapon’s Salvo Effect is added to that attack: i.e., a weapon with a Salvo Effect of Piercing 1 would count the attack as having a Piercing 1 effect if the firer spent one Reload, but would not gain that benefit if they didn’t spend the reload.

    Some weapons may have multiple listed Salvo Effects. In these cases, choose which Salvo Effect is desired from those listed when spending the Reload.

    [End Sidebar]

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Variant: Simplified Ammunition

    Some games and settings may have little use for this level of detail or with tracking ammunition in general. In such games, assume that a weapon’s normal attack is a single shot or burst of fire as appropriate to the weapon, and assume that all characters carry enough ammo to last the adventure. Weapons running out of ammunition can be represents by complications suffered by characters: gaining an Out of Ammo complication on an attack can be a considerable hindrance, and removing it requires finding another source of munitions.

    [End Sidebar]

    Mental Attacks

    Unlike physical forms of attack, mental attacks are somewhat more abstract and nebulous in their methods. Some games may not make use of them, preferring to ignore the psychological side of conflict, or to reserve it for unnatural or supernatural forces rather than allowing all characters to attempt it. This section assumes that mental attacks are in use as a routine part of play.

    A character may always use a weapon to perform a mental attack – essentially, threatening someone with that weapon. If this is a melee weapon, it requires being within Reach, while ranged weapons are subject to their normal rules for Range (and can benefit from Reloads spent; the suppressive fire from a machine gun on full-auto can be terrifying). A character making a mental attack with a weapon uses Will + Fight for their Skill Test – Fight is the most appropriate skill when threatening violence.

    Mental attacks made without weapons are not immediate threats of violence, and are often more nuanced and subtle. They don’t have a specific range, beyond a range at which they can be communicated. This will be at shorter ranges for challenges and threatening words spoken face-to-face (as the target needs to be able to hear and understand the attack), but there are many methods of communication, and range is less of a factor for a phone call, an ominous note, or a lurking shadow. These will normally use Will + Talk (as effective communication is the most important thing), but other combinations are possible at the GM’s discretion.

    The efficacy of such mental attacks varies, and how they deal damage, will be covered later in this chapter.

    Damage and Stress

    Whenever a character is successfully attacked, the attack will inflict damage. Some environmental effects can also inflict damage, such as being set on fire, or encountering something terrifying. Characters have a limited ability to resist and withstand the damage inflicted upon them, but this cannot protect them forever, and they can suffer lasting harm as a result.

    Regardless of the form of attack, the process for damage works the same way: the attacker (or the GM, if the damage is coming from the environment) rolls some Challenge Dice to determine how much stress is dealt, the target reduces that stress with any Resistance they possess. The target then marks down any stress remaining and may even become Harm if enough stress is suffered. Different forms of attack adjust this process a little, mainly in the type of Resistance applied, and in effects of Harm.


    Each weapon, environmental effect, and other means of dealing damage determines how that damage is dealt in the same way. Each source of damage has a base Damage Rating, expressed as one or more Challenge Dice. For example, an unarmed attack has a basic damage rating of 1[CD].

    Characters inflict bonus damage based on their Skills. A character with a high Fight inflicts extra damage on attacks with weapons, while a character with high Talk increases the damage of mental attacks that don’t involve weaponry. Other Skills may apply depending on the circumstances – a character operating a vehicle or heavy machinery to attack may use their Operate instead. Whatever Skill is used, it provides extra Challenge Dice equal to the Skill’s rating, so a character with Fight 3 adds +3[CD] to attacks with their weapons.

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    Variant: Attribute Bonus Damage

    Rather than inflicting bonus damage based on skills, it may be fitting for characters to inflict extra damage based on having a high attribute score. Melee attacks gain bonus damage from a high Brawn. Ranged attacks gain bonus damage from a high Insight. Mental attacks gain bonus damage from a high Will. Other forms of attack and damage—perhaps from other variants or add-ons to the game, such as hacking—gain bonus damage from different attributes as determined when the game is created: for example, hacking may gain bonus damage from Reason, while magical attacks might gain bonus damage from Will.

    • If the character’s attribute score is 9, the character gains +1[CD].
    • If the character’s attribute score is 10 or 11, the character gains +2[CD].
    • If the character’s attribute score is 12 or 13, the character gains +3[CD].
    • If the character’s attribute score is 14 or 15, the character gains +4[CD].
    • If the character’s attribute score is 16 or higher, the character gains +5[CD].

    If you are using this variant, it replaces the bonus damage characters receive from their Skills, but the base damage of all attacks should be increased by +1[CD].

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    There are a few other factors that may apply as well:

    • Momentum: A character may spend Momentum on a successful attack to add more damage to the attack; each Momentum spent adds +1[CD] to the damage rating. A character may also spend 1 Momentum to re-roll any number of Challenge Dice from the damage roll. These uses of Momentum occur after the damage dice have been rolled. This includes bonus Momentum from Reloads spent, if using the normal Burst
    • Advantages or Complications: The GM may rule that an Advantage or Complication that affects the attacker or target (respectively) influences damage, if they haven’t already applied to the Skill Test. This adds +2[CD] damage or may allow the attack to ignore 2 Resistance per Icon rolled or add +1 to the damage total for each Icon, at the GM’s discretion.

    Once these factors have all been accounted for, the attacker rolls all the Challenge Dice for the attack; the total rolled is the amount of damage inflicted.

    There is one other factor when it comes to a damage rating: damage effects. Damage effects are special rules that occur whenever an Icon, or [!] is rolled on the attack or hazard’s Challenge Dice, and they can have a considerable influence on the result. The most common damage effects are below.

    Some damage effects are listed with an X. This is replaced by the rating of that damage effect in each case. If an attack or effect would gain a rated effect that it already has, only the higher rated of the two applies.

    • Area: The attack or hazard automatically hits everyone within Reach of the initial target, plus one additional target within Close range for every [!] rolled. Secondary may use the Hit the Dirt reaction as if they were the primary target, even though the attack has already hit.
    • Destructive: The attack or hazard can quickly overcome conditional Resistance, such as Cover or Morale. For each [!] rolled, the target’s current instance of conditional Resistance is reduced by 1[CD]. If this reduces that instance to 0 dice, then it is destroyed and can no longer provide protection.
    • Drain: The attack or hazard is especially debilitating. The character hit suffers one Fatigue for each [!] rolled.
    • Intense: The attack has an especially potent effect. If one or more [!] are rolled, and the attack inflicts one or more Harms, the attack inflicts one additional Harm.
    • Knockdown: The attack or hazard causes the target to stumble or fall. If a number of [!] are rolled that equals or exceeds the target’s Move skill, the target is knocked prone.
    • Persistent X: The attack or hazard has a lingering effect. If one or more [!] are rolled, the target suffers X[CD] damage (of the same type as the initial attack or hazard) at the end of the affected character’s Turn, for Rounds equal to the number of [!] rolled.
    • Perilous: The attack or hazard escalates problems. It adds 1 to Threat for each [!] rolled. If used by an NPC adversary, this instead removes 1 from Threat per [!] rolled, to a minimum of 0 Threat remaining.
    • Piercing X: The attack or hazard is especially good at overcoming Resistance. When resolving damage, ignore X Resistance for each [!] rolled.
    • Snare: The attack or hazard can entangle and bind the target. If one or more [!] are rolled, then the target is entangled and cannot take any actions of a type determined by the type of attack or hazard (physical actions for physical attacks, etc) other than to try and break free. It requires a Skill Test with a Difficulty equal to the number of [!] rolled to break free.
    • Stun: The attack or hazard leaves the target momentarily unable to act. If a number of [!] are rolled that equals or exceeds the target’s Survive skill, the target may not take any actions in their next Turn. This does not stack.
    • Vicious: The attack or hazard is especially potent. Add +1 to the stress inflicted for each [!] rolled.


    Characters are not entirely defenseless, and may make use of a variety of factors to protect themselves. This protection is called Resistance, and it reduces the amount of stress inflicted.

    Resistance comes in two forms: persistent and conditional. Persistent Resistance always comes in the form of a simple number, while conditional Resistance comes in the form of Challenge Dice. After the damage has been rolled for an attack, the character rolls any dice they have from conditional Resistance, and adds the total rolled to any persistent Resistance they have. Then, the total stress inflicted is reduced by an amount equal to the total Resistance. If this final total is 0 or less, the attack has no further effect. If the final total is 1 or higher, then some stress has gotten through.

    • Against physical attacks, a character gets persistent Resistance from Armor, and conditional Resistance from Cover. Armor is, naturally, something the character wears (or is innate to the character’s body), while Cover normally comes from terrain the character can hide behind (or from hand-held shields).
    • Against mental attacks, a character gets persistent Resistance from Courage, and conditional Resistance from Morale. Courage is innate to the character, normally coming from a Talent, while Morale is circumstantial, coming from being in safe or inspiring places, or the encouragement and leadership of others.

    Conditional Resistance normally takes the form of 1-4 Challenge Dice – a wooden fence may provide 1[CD] of Cover, for example – but the GM may rule that a specific instance is different in some way, by applying one or more of the following effects:

    • Sturdy: the conditional Resistance grants an additional +1 to total Resistance rolled for each [!] rolled.
    • Fragile: the conditional Resistance is fleeting, and each [!] rolled reduces the number of Challenge Dice it provides in future by 1. If this reduces the number of Challenge Dice to 0, then that instance of conditional Resistance is destroyed.
    • Uncertain: the conditional Resistance may be troublesome later, adding 1 to Threat for each [!] rolled.
    • Volatile X: the conditional Resistance is dangerous, and risky to use. If one or more [!] are rolled, the character suffers X[CD] damage (physical or mental at the GM’s discretion) and the conditional Resistance is destroyed.

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    Conditional Resistance Effects

    The various effects that can be applied to conditional Resistance can represent a few different things, depending on the nature of the Resistance itself.

    For Cover – physical Resistance – the Sturdy and Fragile effects seem self-explanatory, representing especially cover that holds up well or which crumbles under attack. Uncertain Cover may represent protection from something load-bearing or important, which could have consequences later. Volatile Cover could represent containers of something explosive or flammable, or something that could collapse (if it does physical damage) or Cover that seems solid but collapses swiftly and shockingly (if it does mental damage).

    For Morale – mental Resistance – Sturdy can easily represent a state of inspiration or fearlessness, while Fragile might be a tenuous confidence that vanishes quickly. Uncertain Morale might come from foolishness or deception, with consequences when the truth is discovered. Volatile Morale is like Fragile Morale but more severe, turning from resolve to panic in an instant.

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    Variant: Flat Conditional Resistance

    In some games, it may be desirable to have conditional resistance, such as cover or morale, provide a flat bonus to Resistance rather than the roll of one or more [CD]. In this variant, don’t adjust how much Cover or Morale something provides: simply have the source provide +1 Resistance for every [CD] that would have been rolled.

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    Variant: Personal Resistance

    In some games, it may be prudent or necessary for characters to have some innate protection provided by their attributes, to represent basic resilience and durability under stress. A character with a high Brawn may gain additional Armor resistance (representing pain tolerance and the like). A character with a high Will might have additional Courage. Other forms of attack and damage—perhaps from other variants or add-ons to the game, such as hacking—gain bonus resistance against different types of attack as determined when the game is created: for example, a character’s Security, used against hacking, may gain bonus damage from Reason.

    • If the character’s attribute score is 9, the character gains +1 resistance.
    • If the character’s attribute score is 10 or 11, the character gains +2 resistance.
    • If the character’s attribute score is 12 or 13, the character gains +3 resistance.
    • If the character’s attribute score is 14 or 15, the character gains +4 resistance.
    • If the character’s attribute score is 16 or higher, the character gains +5 resistance.

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    Stress and Harm

    Beneath their armor, and behind their courage, characters can withstand a degree of punishment before any lasting injury is caused. This ability to endure is represented by the character’s ability to take Stress, while any lasting injury they do suffer is called Harm.

    Once any reductions have been made for Resistance, any damage remaining affects the target, turning into Stress. Each point of damage on the damage roll, after reductions, adds a single point of Stress. A character can only take a finite amount of Stress at any one time, however: a character’s maximum Stress is equal to the highest of their Brawn or their Will, plus their Survive score. Characters may be able to increase their maximum Stress through other means as well, such as Talents.

    If an attack or hazard causes five or more stress, after reduction from Resistance, or the character reaches their maximum Stress because of the attack or hazard, they immediately suffer Harm as well. If both these things happen, then the character suffers two Harms instead of one.

    If a character is already at maximum Stress, then any amount of stress will instead cause 1 Harm, while five or more damage will cause an additional Harm, for a total of two.

    Having any Stress does not, by itself, cause any problem for the character: it imposes no penalty, nor does it impair a character’s actions or choices.

    Harm, however, does cause a problem for the character.

    Harms caused by physical attacks are called Wounds, and they represent significant amounts of physical injury. Harms caused by mental attacks are called Traumas, and they represent significant effects of psychological and emotional distress, including fear, extreme anxiety and doubt, and panic.

    Each Harm is a trait (as described in Chapter 1: Core Rules), reflecting the way in which the character has been harmed. This may make some actions more difficult, or even impossible, depending on what the Harm itself represents. When a character suffers a Harm, the character’s player may suggest the nature of the Harm, but the GM’s ruling on a Harm is final.

    Once a character has suffered three Harms, in any combination, they are Defeated (see sidebar). If a character is Defeated and has more Wounds than Traumas, they are also Dying: their injuries are severe, and they will die at the end of the scene unless they receive medical attention first (this is explained in Recovering from Damage, below).

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    Inanimate Objects

    Objects can be damaged, just as characters can be, and use largely the same rules. Objects have Stress, representing their basic structure and solidity, though naturally an object can only take damage from physical attacks. They will also have Resistance from Armor, representing hardness and ability to withstand severe impacts, and can benefit from Cover as well.

    Harms suffered by an object are called Breaks, representing serious damage that compromises the object’s function. As with other Harms, these are Traits that the GM may use to impede the object’s function.

    The number of Breaks an object can withstand before it is destroyed depends on the object itself: a flimsy interior door may collapse after a single Break, while a sturdy wall may take several.

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    When a character becomes Defeated, they are incapacitated and unable to act. A Defeated character immediately falls prone and may only take a single Free Action each Turn, normally to talk, call for help, or crawl to safety. They are still somewhat aware of their surroundings, however.

    If a Defeated character suffers another Wound, they will die. If a Defeated character suffers another Trauma, they suffer a mental break and are either driven insane or fall into a coma; either way they are no longer a playable character.

    A Defeated character may spend a single point of Fortune to remove their Defeated state. Alternatively, a character may attempt a Skill Test to revive a Defeated ally (Difficulty 3, Attribute and Skill at GM’s discretion). The character still suffers the effects of their Harms, but they may otherwise act normally. If the character suffers another Harm of any kind, they will be Defeated once again.

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    Voluntary Defeat

    Whenever a player character suffers one or more Harms, they may choose to become Defeated immediately. If the character does so, then they suffer a single Harm (any after the first inflicted are ignored), become Defeated, and immediately receive one Fortune point.

    A character who accepts Defeat voluntarily does not start Dying, regardless of how many Wounds they have. However, they cannot be revived by an ally during the scene, and they cannot spend Fortune to recover from being Defeated during this scene.

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    Some things can wear on a character’s ability to endure, from intense heat, extreme cold, thirst or starvation, abject despair, sleep deprivation, and overexertion. These problems can mount, and though they are not as severe as a Harm, they can still pose a problem to characters.

    When a character suffers Fatigue, it reduces their maximum Stress by 1 for each point of Fatigue suffered. If a character’s maximum Stress is reduced to 0, any further Fatigue means the character falls unconscious – this is the same as being Defeated, except the character cannot take Free Actions, and is no longer aware of their surroundings. If the character suffers any more fatigue while unconscious from exhaustion, they die.

    A character can remove Fatigue with a Brawn + Survive Test, or a Will + Survive Test with a Difficulty of 1, once they have removed themselves from any sources of Fatigue (for example, if you took Fatigue from sleep deprivation and starvation, getting a hot meal and a good night’s sleep allows the character to try and remove that Fatigue). Success removes one point of Fatigue, plus one more for every Momentum spent.

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    Recovering from Damage

    Unless they die, a character can recover from the damage they suffer.

    At the end of a scene, a character removes all the Stress they’ve accumulated. Some actions allow a character to remove Stress (their own, or someone else’s) during a scene.

    Harm cannot be removed as easily.

    A character may attempt to treat their Harms, or those of another character, with a Skill Test.  Wounds are treated with a Coordination + Survive Test, while Traumas are treated with an Insight + Talk Test; in either case, the Difficulty is 2. Success means that a single Wound, or a single Trauma, is treated, plus one additional Wound or Trauma for every Momentum spent. Once treated, a Harm is renamed to represent the way it was treated, and no longer imposes a penalty.

    If a character suffers any Wounds while they have treated Wounds, then the treated Wounds stop being treated – bandaged injuries and stitches are torn open – and return with full effect. Similarly, if a character suffers any Traumas while they have one or more treated Traumas, then the treated Traumas return to full effect and are no longer treated.

    Full healing takes longer: under normal circumstances, a character can only heal Harms fully between adventures, as full healing takes time as well as treatment.

    If a character is dying, then another character can provide medical attention with a Coordination + Survive Test with a Difficulty of 2. If this succeeds, the dying character’s condition is stabilized – they are no longer at immediate risk of dying – but they remain Defeated.

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    Basic Attacks

    Even without weapons at hand, all characters have a basic means of attacking others.

    • Unarmed/Improvised Strike: This is a basic strike with a body part, or whatever object comes to hand. An Unarmed Strike can be used for melee and ranged attacks, with a Reach of 1, and base damage of 1[CD] with the Stun effect. When used as a ranged attack, it has a Range of Close, but the same damage and effects; as a ranged attack, it has a Burst score of 0, and does not use or benefit from Reloads – it represents a thrown rock or something similar.
    • Threaten: This is a basic attempt to scare or demoralize foes, using a mixture of spoken threats and body language. Threaten can be used for mental attacks. It has a range of Close and inflicts 1[CD] damage with the Stun effect.

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    Common Conflict Momentum

    In the following list, any Momentum options where the cost lists an R can be used repeatedly.

    Option Cost Effect
    Bonus Damage 1 R Increase the damage inflicted by a successful attack. Each Momentum spent adds +1[CD] damage.
    Confidence 1 R The character gains 1[CD] Morale (to a maximum of 4[CD]) until the end of the scene.
    Create Advantage 2 Create a trait that benefits yourself or an ally, or one which hinders an enemy.
    Disarm 2-3 One weapon held by the target is knocked away and falls to the ground within Reach. This costs 2 Momentum if the target is holding the weapon in one hand, or 3 Momentum if the weapon is held in two hands.
    Minor Action 1 R The character may attempt one additional Minor Action.
    Penetration 1 R The damage inflicted by the current attack ignores 2 Resistance per Momentum spent
    Re-roll Damage 1 Any number of [CD] from the character’s current attack may be re-rolled.
    Second Wind 1 R The character recovers 1 Stress per Momentum spent.
    Secondary Target 2 A second target within Reach of the primary target is also affected by the attack, suffering half the attack’s damage, rounding up.
    Subdue 1 Any Harms the attack inflicts are temporary, and will be recovered automatically at the start of the next scene.
    Swift Action 2  The character gains an extra Major Action, but any Skill Test that action requires is increased by +1.
    Trip 1 Must be used before damage dice are rolled; the attack gains the Knockdown damage effect.

    Damage, Stress, and Harm Variants

    Depending on the nature of the game you’re creating, you may wish to adjust the damage and stress rules in a few ways. These variants can all change the feel and tone of combats and conflicts in your game, making games more brutal, more heroic, more gritty, more visceral, or more cinematic.

    Number of Harms

    One of the simplest changes is to alter how many Harms a character can suffer before they are Defeated. More durable characters can withstand a greater number of Harms, while more fragile ones can withstand fewer.

    This variant can take a few different forms:

    • Absolute Harms mean that all characters can withstand the same number of Harms. This is often commonplace in games where characters are defeated after suffering a single Harm, which can make for very quick, decisive conflicts.
    • Scaled Harms can be used where different characters and creatures can withstand different amounts of Harm, perhaps based on their size or potency: a towering monster or a gigantic war machine might require more Harms to defeat than a person, for example.

    Non-Lethal Harm

    Some games may allow, or even encourage, non-lethal damage as an alternative to lethal force, perhaps as a feature of specific weapons or types of attack, or as a default option that everyone has. This variant is especially suited for heroic games where the protagonists do not resort to lethal force without good cause or may even refrain from killing entirely.

    If you wish to inflict a non-lethal Harm, you must declare that you are doing so when you declare your attack, before rolling any dice. A non-lethal Harm functions slightly differently to other Harms: if a character would be defeated and the last Harm they suffered was non-lethal, the character is rendered unconscious. However, at the end of the current scene, the character removes any non-lethal Harms they have suffered entirely.

    If non-lethal Harm is an option available to all characters all the time, then it is useful to apply a cost to differentiate it from lethal force. We suggest using one or both of the following costs:

    • Lethal force tends to escalate situations and provoke further violence; each time you make a lethal attack, add +1 to Threat. NPCs making lethal attacks must spend 1 Threat instead.
    • Non-Lethal methods are trickier to achieve than lethal ones, and a non-lethal attack has a difficulty 1 higher than normal.

    Stress Threshold

    It may be useful in some games to alter how much Stress an attack needs to inflict before the victim suffers Harm. This can be used to depict more durable or more fragile foes, or foes of different sizes.

    • One version of this applies a size category, or Scale, to all creatures, vehicles, and other objects, with human-sized creatures and vehicles at Scale 0; smaller creatures have a lower Scale (-1, -2, etc), while larger ones have a higher Scale. A Scale 0 creature takes one Harm if they suffer 5+ Stress in one attack, and the amount of Stress needed to inflict Harm on larger or smaller creatures changes by an amount equal to their Scale: a Scale 2 creature takes 1 Harm after 7+ Stress, for example.
    • Threshold by durability: some grittier or deadlier games may use the resilience and durability of a creature or object to affect its threshold, often as a replacement for resistance. In this variant, wearing armor doesn’t reduce damage taken, but rather increases the amount of Stress needed to inflict a Harm. This will mean that even the most heavily-armored of characters will still be vulnerable to being worn down by enemy attacks, reducing how effective armor is overall.

    No Stress

    In this variant, characters simply do not have a Stress track at all. This is suitable for deadlier games, and ones with quicker, more decisive conflicts, though there are other variants (such as Avoiding Injury, below) which can alter this somewhat. This can be useful in games where direct conflict is an absolute last resort, feared by all, especially when paired with a reduced number of Harms: if there’s no stress tracks and characters can only take one Harm, conflicts end very quickly.

    When using this variant, a character suffers a Harm after any successful attack. No damage roll, no stress inflicted, no resistance: a successful attack inflicts one Harm.

    This variant may require some alternative approaches to things such as armor, cover, and other forms of resistance. It may be fitting that armor allows you to count one Harm as non-lethal or allows you to sacrifice it (causing the armor to be damaged or destroyed) to ignore a Harm. Cover might increase the difficulty of attacks against you.

    Multiple Types of Stress

    Some games may suit having different kinds of damage divided amongst several Stress tracks, representing different forms of resistance to attack and harm.

    This may be a matter of having each type of damage—physical and mental, and perhaps others according to the game’s needs—have a distinct Stress track, perhaps with distinct names (perhaps Vigor for physical stress and Resolve for mental stress). When a character suffers stress from a physical attack, it is applied to their physical stress track, while mental stress is applied to the character’s mental stress track. This can make characters tougher, as physical and mental attacks are separated and affect characters differently, so it can be useful to have Damage Effects which can allow physical attacks to inflict a little bit of mental stress, and vice versa, so that potent attacks can affect both mind and body.

    Alternatively, characters—or vehicles, or spacecraft—might have multiple layered forms of Stress that are all used against the same damage type, such as layers of shields and ablative armor. This can be more complex but can easily represent characters who can withstand a considerable amount of incoming firepower. Layered stress tracks are arranged in an order according to which will be affected first—this first layer is the ‘top’ of the character’s protection. If the character takes damage, then this is applied to the top layer. If that track takes 5+ stress, or is filled, then any remaining damage is applied to the next layer down, and so on until all the damage has been applied. If the bottom track takes 5+ Stress or is filled, then the character takes a Harm.

    Layered stress tracks work better when characters can take fewer Harms—perhaps only one—as the complexity of the damage mechanics has been moved to the layered defenses. Different layers may also be recovered differently: protective force fields may recover fast when not under fire, while ablative armor or physical resilience might take more time or effort to restore.

    Avoiding Injury

    Some variants may feel too deadly or too sudden without giving players some ability to withstand or avoid incoming Harm. This is especially the case when characters can only take a single Harm before being defeated, and ones where there is no Stress track.

    In this variant, once per scene when a character suffers a Harm, they may choose to Avoid Injury. This has a cost, which can vary based on your tastes and preferences for the game. As noted, a character can only Avoid Injury once per scene, though certain actions—the Recover major action, listed on p XX—may allow a character to regain the ability to Avoid Injury. NPCs can also Avoid Injury, but often at different rates: minor NPCs cannot Avoid Injury, notable NPCs can do so once, and major NPCs can do so as many times as they wish.

    The cost to avoid Injury could be one of the following:

    1. The character spends 2 Momentum or adds 2 to Threat to avoid the Injury. NPCs spend 2 Threat. Any character may waive this cost by suffering a Complication instead.
    2. The character adds 2 to Threat and suffers a Complication (which may be a trait representing a minor injury or other inconvenience). NPCs spend 2 Threat and suffer a Complication instead.
    3. The character spends Momentum or adds to Threat equal to a cost determined by the attack. NPCs pay Threat equal to the attack’s cost.

    The first option works alongside short stress tracks and characters able to withstand only a single Harm, functioning as a last-ditch option to save themselves.

    The second option is somewhat grittier and more visceral, as the character always suffers at least some effect even if they avoid the full impact of a Harm.

    The third option requires some extra work, assigning costs to different attacks, where a more deadly attack costs more to avoid. As a rule of thumb, if converting from another game using these rules, take the number of [CD} the weapon uses for damage as the cost (before any modifiers for the wielder’s skill or attributes). It works well in games where a Stress track isn’t used, as it provides an alternative way to differentiate between weapons.


    Combat covers any kind of Conflict where physical violence is used by one or more sides. Key to this, naturally, are various forms of attack: striking enemies in melee duels, or blasting away at them in firefights.

    Combat is perhaps the most straightforward form of conflict, using the rules already covered in this chapter. This section describes additional considerations and concepts that are useful when constructing Combat scenes.


    As good screenwriters and other creators of fiction may know, all the best action scenes are about something. They serve a purpose beyond spectacle and violence. And this purpose is best served by establishing goals for those involved. Conflict occurs where two sides have mutually exclusive goals. Combat happens when those goals are worth killing for, or worth dying for, for at least one side of the conflict.

    Because of this, each side of the combat should have a clear objective, with either victory or failure conditions, or both. The victory conditions should be short-term, covering purely what each side wishes to achieve within that scene, and it could be one goal, or several, akin to a Challenge. Alternatively, failure conditions can often indicate what could cause a side to give up and retreat – very few people are willing to fight to the death for a lost cause – and these will normally come when one or more of the goals are impossible to achieve. At the very simplest level, one side’s defeat may be the other side’s victory.

    The GM may wish to keep the objective of some adversaries a secret – indeed, discovering the enemies’ plans may be a crucial part of the adventure – but they should be known, and they should be something that defines how those characters act.

    Common objectives include the following, but these can also be reversed, requiring a side to prevent these objectives being met:

    • Destroy a specific object or kill a specific creature
    • Capture a specific creature and remove it from the area
    • Capture an important location
    • Move an item to or from a specific location
    • Use a specific item on a specific object or creature
    • Perform a specific activity in a specific location

    In any of these cases, there may often be time limits involved. This is best expressed as a few rounds, or until a specific event occurs, and should naturally reflect something in the narrative: holding a location until help arrives is a simple example of this, but it could also be the time required for an objective to be completed, such as retrieving information, repairing a machine, or something else dependent upon the characters’ actions.

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    Ticking Clock

    Time limits – or something that concludes a combat – add pressure to an objective, and to a combat overall. They can be invaluable in ensuring that a combat doesn’t drag on too long, and to ensure that characters are compelled to move and take risks.

    If the combat is something the characters need to survive, then the time limit represents respite: an end to a dangerous situation. This is best thought of as working on an objective “until…” a time limit, and could represent the arrival of allies or a means of escape, or achieving something that forces the enemy to withdraw. In these cases, the danger posed by the enemies can grow with each passing round until the time limit, adding to the tension, such as by adding enemy reinforcements each round.

    If the combat is something the characters need to end quickly, then the time limit represents a point of deadly escalation: a situation growing immeasurably worse. This is best thought of as trying to achieve an objective “before…” a time limit, and can represent the arrival of more enemies, a bomb detonating, or some other disaster that the characters need to prevent or avoid. In these cases, the time limit may be represented by adding to Threat every round, or with a specific enemy’s action, building towards a big spend. Alternatively, the time limit may be something variable or uncertain, such as an alarm being sounded to call enemy reinforcements, in which case, the rounds limit remaining can be reduced by spending Threat (at least 5 points).

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    Extended Tasks

    Sometimes, how a situation progresses is uncertain, and an objective or goal may require a complex task to be completed, such as arming or disarming a bomb, disabling a trap, radioing for help, performing a ritual, or similar prolonged activities. These tasks are delicate, require continual effort, and take time to complete, especially in dangerous situations.

    Such situations can be represented by treating them like attacks and damage: a character ‘attacks’ a problem, inflicting Stress and Harms until the problem has been defeated.

    The GM determines the maximum Stress for the problem, and characters who succeed at an appropriate Skill Test to try and overcome the problem may make a damage roll (normally 2[CD], plus extra [CD] equal to the Skill used for the Skill Test), inflicting Stress as a result. If the problem is especially tricky, delicate, or arduous, the GM may give it Resistance to reduce the characters’ damage rolls. Having the right kinds of tools, or the right talents, or some other edge, may grant the characters damage effects on their damage roll, again at the GM’s discretion.

    The Harms inflicted on a problem are called Breakthroughs, and each problem will require a different number of them, depending on the scale and scope of the situation. When enough Breakthroughs have been inflicted to defeat the problem, the GM describes what happens. Before that point, individual Breakthroughs may have one of the following effects, at the GM’s discretion.

    • Easier from Here: any remaining Skill Tests made to overcome the problem are reduced in Difficulty by 1.
    • Removed a Hindrance: the problem’s Resistance is reduced by 2.
    • Making Progress: the next damage roll made against the problem gains +1[CD], or an extra damage effect.
    • Effect on the Scene: the problem reduces the Difficulty of Skill Test to do something else in the scene, or increases the Difficulty of an enemy’s Skill Tests to do something.
    • Event: the problem is tied to specific occurrences in the scene, with each Breakthrough altering the state of the scene. This could be positive, negative, or a little of both – perhaps enemies grow more numerous, desperate, or dangerous with each Breakthrough until the problem is defeated.

    Extended Consequences

    Like using Stress and Harm to represent problems to overcome, the same mechanics can be used to represent consequences that need to be avoided. This consequence can scale or escalate because of the action, and normally accompany some urgent objective. This consequence could represent a crumbling ruin that deteriorates around the characters, or the alertness of a patrol or other enemy group.

    The GM establishes the nature of the consequence: what it is, what causes it to get worse, and how to avoid it. Most importantly, the GM should determine what conditions affect the consequence, because this is how characters interact with it.

    The consequence has a maximum Stress, representing how far the situation can be pushed before it becomes disastrous. Characters who meet the conditions for the consequence – often a Complication on certain Skill Tests, a failed Skill Test of a specific type, or performing a certain kind of action – the GM makes a damage roll. The GM should determine the base damage rating for this, which is used each time the condition is met (4 or 5[CD] is a good baseline for this). If the consequence is especially stable, or difficult to affect, it may have Resistance to reflect this.

    The Harm for a consequence is called a Setback, and the GM determines how may Setbacks the problem requires before it becomes disastrous. The GM should determine what happens when enough Setbacks have been inflicted. Depending on what the consequence reflects, characters may be able to spend Momentum or attempt Skill Tests to lessen the consequence’s effects, essentially recovering its Stress. Setbacks, however, cannot be recovered.

    Before that, however, the GM may impose an effect or penalty for each Setback. This is likely to be one of the following:

    • Uncertainty: some Skill Tests suffer +1 Complication range per Setback.
    • Difficulty: a type of Skill Test related to the consequence increases in Difficulty by +1 per Setback.
    • Instability: the consequence’s Resistance is reduced by 2, or the damage roll made against it is 1[CD] or gains a damage effect.
    • Escalation: each Setback adds 2 to Threat, either used immediately or soon after to escalate the scene, such as with reinforcements.
    • Effect on the Scene: each Setback has a cumulative effect on the scene, in the form of a trait that hinders the PCs or helps the enemy; this may represent a heightened state of alert.
    • Event: each Setback signals a specific event, such as the arrival or departure of specific individuals, a change in enemy tactics, or a new instance of damage or danger.

    Combat Variant: Grid and Granular Distances

    Some groups may dislike abstract zones or might wish to have greater detail when handling character movement and distances. This variant replaces zones with concrete distances, allowing for more precision.

    The normal range bands are still used. However, they now apply to specific distances, as explained below. Distances are given in meters and feet—choose which measurement you’ll use for the game, as these are not exact conversions but conveniently rounded numbers.

    • Reach is anything within two meters/six feet of a character.
    • Close Range is anything outside of Reach, but within ten meters/thirty feet of a character.
    • Medium Range is anything outside of Close Range, but within twenty-five meters/80 feet of a character.
    • Long Range is anything outside of Medium range, but within fifty meters/160 feet of a character.
    • Extreme Range is anything more than fifty meters/160 feet away from a character.

    These distances are used for all physical environments, such as modifiers for perception, ability to communicate, and determining range for certain forms of attack and special ability. The only thing that these range categories are not used for is movement.

    Movement instead is handled in the following manner: All characters have a Speed, which is their Agility Attribute plus their Move Skill in meters (so, a character with Agility 9 and Move 3 can move 12 meters); multiply this by three if measuring in feet. A character may always choose to move less than the full distance allowed. At the GM’s discretion, some Traits or Talents may increase a character’s speed.

    • A character who uses the Move Minor Action can move their Speed.
    • A character who succeeds at the Rush Major Action can move up to their Speed, plus their Speed again for every Momentum spent (Repeatable).
    • Any other forms of movement a character may use, allow the character to move their Speed once for each zone that action would allow them to move.

    Chases and Pursuit

    A chase is like combat in many ways: it’s a physical conflict scene, filled with movement and action. However, the biggest difference is in outcomes: a chase is about movement, specifically one character or group of characters reaching a place of safety before they can be caught.

    A chase can use the normal Conflict rules already described, with the distinction between chase and combat blurring as characters snap off shots while running, riding, driving, etc. This often creates a sort of running battle, where the environment is long, thin, and has countless twists, turns, obstacles, and tricky short-cuts.

    However, a chase can also be run in a more abstract manner, focused on the narrative beats, obstacles, and sequential events of a pursuit rather than on the moment-to-moment action.

    Both these approaches are discussed in this section

    Running Battles

    The most direct approach is to simply use the existing rules for zones and environments. While this can be satisfying, it does require a considerable degree of planning on the part of the GM. An environment well-suited to a pursuit is long and narrow – perhaps 15 or so zones long, and 2-3 zones wide in most places – and overall represents a route (or several routes) to an important destination. The goal, then, is simple: if the pursued party reaches the destination first, they succeed; if they are stopped before they can reach their destination, they have failed.

    Populating that environment, however, is the important part. Most zones should contain some manner of obstacle or hazard that makes it more difficult to traverse at speed, at which point the skill of both the pursuer and the pursued become important, as it allows them to overcome these problems and travel more swiftly. At the simplest level, these obstacles and hazards can be the physical terrain itself –

    It is important not to make the route too linear – twists and turns are good, as are alternate-but-parallel routes, such as being on two different sections of road headed the same way. Often, the GM may wish to include shortcuts – zones that allow for faster travel or bypassing a section of the route – but these should only be accessible by overcoming a more difficult or dangerous obstacle, granting swift progress in exchange for a greater risk. This might be a tight alleyway inaccessible that allows a motorcycle to pass but not a car, or an impromptu ramp onto a nearby rooftop, or driving over the side of an overpass to get onto the road below, or something similarly impactful.

    Similarly, the GM may wish to include extra interactive elements: these are features that characters on either side can influence to change the situation, such as causing traffic to collide, or similar activities to add or remove obstacles from the route.

    Crucially, it is important not to get too bogged down in peripheral matters. Bystanders and traffic should be abstracted into obstacles and terrain features, rather than treated as individual vehicles and characters, as this allows the GM to be more cinematic in their descriptions as well as keep the important part of the scene – the pursuit itself – in central focus.

    Note that, as this uses the normal rules for environments, that characters can still attempt all the things they’d normally be able to do during an action scene, such as attacking. This can make for exciting running battles, mixing gunfire with high-speed pursuit.

    Abstract Pursuit

    A more abstract way to handle pursuits is the Pursuit Track, which borrows a few concepts from the stress and harm mechanics (and from Extended Tasks and Extended Consequences) and repurposes them to represent how the pursuer and the pursued gain and lose distance. This doesn’t require as much forward planning and requires no mapping – simply a few numbers that will adjust in response to skill tests.

    This is designed for a single pursuer, and a single quarry – the character being pursued. If there’s more than one character on a side, choose a ‘lead’ for that side, and then have the others assist: several pursuers can encircle and corner a single quarry, while a quarry with allies can split up and create distractions and diversions that make them difficult to follow.

    A pursuit track is composed of several components:

    • Pace: The Pace score for a Pursuit Track is akin to the maximum Stress for a character. As Pace changes, the advantage shifts between the pursuer and the quarry – the pursuer benefits when Pace increases, while the quarry benefits when Pace decreases. A Pursuit Track normally has a maximum Pace of between 8 and 20, and the starting Pace will be half that, rounded as the GM sees fit.
    • Distance: The Pursuit Track has several points of Distance, representing the space between the Pursuer and the Pursued. The Pursuer will attempt to reduce Distance, while the Pursued will attempt to increase it. If the Distance reaches 0, then the Pursuer has caught the Pursued. If the Distance exceeds the maximum (normally 5), then the Pursued has managed to escape. The starting Distance should be about half-way between 0 and the maximum.
    • Resistance: The Pursuit Track will have Resistance that represents the obstacles along the route that could slow down and impede movement. 0 Resistance represents a clear path between, while higher Resistance represents increasingly difficult terrain and other impediments.

    When the GM lays out the Pursuit Track, they must define three things: the maximum (and starting) Pace, the maximum and starting Distance, and the Resistance.

    Resolving the Pursuit

    The Pursuit Track is resolved as a series of opposed skill tests between the pursuer and the quarry, with both rolling Agility + Move Tests with a Difficulty of 0.

    Whichever side wins the opposed skill test then makes a pursuit roll – in essence, a damage roll. In the case of a draw, neither side makes any progress. A pursuit roll is 2[CD], with additional [CD] equal to the character’s Move. The total of the pursuit roll is then reduced by one for each point of Resistance. This final total is then applied to the Pace on the Pursuit Track.

    • If the Pursuer was the winner, then increase the Pace by 1 for each point of the final total. If the final total was five or more, if the Pace increases to the maximum, or if the Pace was already at the maximum before the pursuit roll was made, then reduce the Distance by 1. If multiple of those conditions occur, reduce the Distance by 1 for each.
    • If the Pursued was the winner, then reduce the Pace by 1 for each point of the final total. If the final total was five or more, if the Pace reduces to 0, or if the Pace was already at 0 before the pursuit roll was made, then increase the Distance by 1. If multiple of those conditions occur, increase the Distance by 1 for each.

    If the Distance increases beyond the maximum, then the quarry escapes and the pursuit is over. If the distance is reduced to 0, then the pursuer catches up with their quarry, and the pursuit is over.

    Pursuit Roll Momentum

    Option Cost Effect
    Bonus Pace 1 A character can increase the total from the pursuit roll. Each Momentum spent increases the total of the pursuit roll by +1.
    Evasion 1 The Obstacle Soak against this pursuit roll is reduced by 2 per Momentum spent.
    Reroll Pursuit 1 The player may reroll any number of [CD] from the current pursuit roll.
    Create Hindrance 1 Increase the Resistance of the Pursuit Track by +1 per Momentum Spent; this only affects the opponent’s next pursuit roll, and lasts only for that roll.

    Stealth and Infiltration

    Some of the tensest conflicts can revolve around avoiding the enemy, rather than confronting them. A Stealth scene revolves around characters’ ability to avoid notice and escape detection, and upon their enemies’ ability to detect and locate intruders.

    Key to this is making stealth and observation less “all-or-nothing” than they might be otherwise – a character who fails a Skill Test to be stealthy is not automatically discovered, but may instead have drawn attention to themselves, making things more difficult or forcing them to make a choice about how to proceed.

    If a scene consists only of attempts to move stealthily, the GM may choose to use the Extended Consequences rules, above. However, if the scene is likely to include a mixture of stealth and other forms of conflict – such as combat – then the method described here may be more appropriate.

    Stealth States

    Stealth is not purely a matter of remaining hidden or being quiet, but of managing the attention of those who are nearby. A skilled infiltrator learns to move unnoticed at will, rather than relying purely on shadows and silence, while an inexperienced sneak assumes that any amount of noise or light can foil them.

    There are three states a character can switch between as they attempt to pass unnoticed, which influence and are influenced by the actions characters take as they move around. These are as follows:

    • A revealed character is one whose presence and location are known to the opposition. This might be because stealth has already failed, or because the character has not even attempted to move unnoticed. A character may even be trying to draw attention to themselves to distract enemies and give an opportunity for allies.
    • A detected character is one whose presence is known to enemies, but whose precise location remains unknown. The enemy may know a detected character’s rough location, or even know where the detected character was last seen, but they don’t know where the character is right now.
    • A hidden character is one who the enemy does not know the location of at all. They may even be unaware of the character’s presence entirely, if the character has not yet been detected.

    At any given moment, a sneaking character will be in one of these three states. Characters who aren’t attempting to sneak will be in the revealed state unless otherwise noted by the GM.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Stealth Tests

    There is no one way to succeed with stealth, and characters seeking to avoid notice should be flexible in how they avoid notice. A character attempting to remain unseen, or to escape from enemy attention when detected, may be called upon to use one of the following combinations:

    • Agility + Move: Use this combination when moving rapidly, or scaling is most important.
    • Coordination + Move: Use this combination when moving precisely and carefully is most important.
    • Insight + Move: Use this combination when the character tries to be observant about enemy movements when timing their movement.
    • Reason + Move: Use this combination when the character’s movement relies on methodical planning and careful timing.

    Where the Stealth rules call for a Stealth Test, any of these combinations may be appropriate, though the GM has the final say as to which is the most fitting.

    [End Sidebar]

    Changing Stealth State

    A character’s stealth state is liable to change periodically during a scene. A stealth state can be reduced, moving to a worse state, or increased, moving to a better one.

    A hidden character whose stealth state is reduced will normally become detected: enemies become aware of the character’s presence and have an idea as to the sneaking character’s location. A hidden character’s stealth state cannot be increased.

    A detected character whose stealth state is reduced will become revealed: enemies discover the character’s actual location. A detected character cannot become revealed if no enemy is able to see the character – no amount of observation can see through a solid wall. A detected character whose stealth state is increased will become hidden, as enemies lose track of the character’s location.

    A revealed character’s stealth state can’t be reduced. A revealed character whose stealth state is increased becomes detected, as enemies know that an enemy is nearby, but can’t accurately determine where.

    A variety of circumstances – described in the sections below – will cause a character’s stealth state to be reduced. A character’s stealth state can be increased in only a few ways, however. A character may, as a Major Action, attempt a Stealth Test when in a zone that fulfills the following criteria: there must not be any enemies in that zone, enemies cannot see clearly into the zone, and it cannot be the zone where the character last entered the detected state (that is, you must move somewhere away from enemies and away from your ‘last known position’). Alternatively, if a character is detected in a scene, and no enemies remain (because they’re dead, unconscious, or have left the area), the character may automatically choose to become either hidden or revealed should new enemies (or returning ones) arrive.

    Stealth States and Actions

    Whenever a sneaking character takes an action, the character’s stealth state needs to be considered in how the action is undertaken, and how the action affects the character’s stealth state.

    Actions come in three rough categories, which determine the way they interact with a character’s stealth state.

    Silent actions don’t particularly generate noise or draw attention; they don’t change the stealth state of a character performing them.

    Sneaky actions can generate noise or draw attention, but skill and cunning can minimize the amount of disturbance they cause. When a character attempts a Sneaky action, they may choose to increase the Difficulty of any associated Skill Test by +1 to try and perform the action silently; this also increases the Complication range by 1. Choosing not to take this Difficulty increase, or taking the Difficulty increase but rolling a Complication, means the character reduces their stealth state at the end of the action.

    Noisy actions always generate noise or draw attention, and no amount of skill or cunning can change that. When a character attempts a Noisy action, their stealth state is reduced at the end of the action. Reactions are always Noisy – such is the cost of such rapid, desperate responses.

    Which actions fall into which categories is detailed on the table below. Instances where the action is marked * have additional considerations, described later in this section. In all cases, the GM may overrule the category provided on the table if the circumstances dictate – for example, while dropping an item is listed as silent, if the item being dropped would make a significant noise (say, it’s a bag of coins being dropped onto a hard floor), the GM is free to change the action to a noisy one.

    Free Actions Stealth Category Major Actions Stealth Category
    Drop Silent Aid Sneaky
    Shift Silent Assist As Action Assisted
    Speak Noisy* Attack Noisy*
    Minor Actions Stealth Category Create Advantage Sneaky
    Aim Silent Pass Silent
    Bolster Silent (self)/Noisy (ally) Protect Sneaky
    Defend Silent (self)/Noisy (ally) Ready Silent
    Disengage Noisy Recover Silent
    Draw Item Silent Rush Sneaky
    Drop Prone/Stand Silent Skill Test GM’s Discretion
    Interact GM’s Discretion    
    Movement Silent    
    Prepare Silent    


    Under normal circumstances, speaking is a noisy action. However, if the character is speaking with someone within Reach, they may choose to whisper instead; this counts the Speak action as Silent instead.


    Attacking from stealth has extra considerations:

    • If the attacker is hidden, the defender may not attempt a reaction against that attack, and is considered exposed and vulnerable.
    • If the attacker is detected, the defender increases the Difficulty of reactions against the attack by two.
    • Melee attacks, and mental attacks made with melee weapons, are Sneaky instead; however, if the target of the attack is not Defeated, then they will automatically become aware of the attacker, and the attacker will become revealed immediately.

    Skill Test

    Individual skill tests not covered by other actions should be categorized as Noisy, Sneaky, or Silent by the GM on a case-by-case basis, though the GM should aim to be consistent in this.


    Note that the Sprint action increases the difficulty of skill tests attempted until the start of the character’s next turn; this includes the Stealth test to avoid reducing the character’s stealth state – sprinting is difficult to do without drawing attention.

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    Hide and Seek

    These rules assume that, most of the time, a scene involving stealth will have one side sneaking and the other observing them. This might be player characters searching for hidden foes, or player characters trying to sneak past sentries or guards, but in either case, the sides have clear roles.

    That doesn’t have to be the case. Two hidden groups, both seeking the other while remaining unseen themselves, can be an interesting way to approach these rules. In such a situation, characters need to consider both sides of the process – spending actions both moving around stealthily, as well as to search for their opponents.

    This creates an extra degree of tension and uncertainty, as the situation calls for as many as twice as many skill tests, and thus far more opportunity for successes, failures, and complications. It can also be more complex for the GM to run, so this possibility should be used sparingly.

    [End Sidebar]


    Stealth isn’t a purely one-sided matter; it’s easy to move unnoticed through an area where nobody else is present. Thus, the opposition in a location makes a variety of Stealth tests necessary in the first place. Further, these observers can also provide more direct opposition to sneaking characters, actively searching for them and turning normal tests into opposed tests.

    Whenever a sneaking character attempts a Stealth test – to increase the character’s stealth state, or to avoid reducing it – a nearby opponent may spend 1 Momentum (or spend 1 Threat) to make this into an opposed test if they are sufficiently alert or wary. Normally, this will be the nearest opponent to the sneaking character, or otherwise the one best positioned to see or hear where the sneaking character is (such as a guard on a watch tower with a good vantage). However, doing this requires spending Momentum (or Threat, for adversaries). If the Threat Pool is large, this means that NPC adversaries may be alert and vigilant, making it harder to sneak around, while a diminished Threat Pool makes for dull-witted and inattentive NPCS.

    During the observing characters’ own turns, they may spend a Major Action searching; the observing character nominates a single zone that they can perceive. If there is a sneaking character in that zone, then the character attempts an Observation test, with a Difficulty of 0, modified as normal by distance and environmental factors. If this is successful, then the sneaking character’s stealth state is immediately reduced. The sneaking character may make a last-ditch attempt to hide themselves by adding 1 to Threat, turning the Observation test into an opposed test, resisted by the sneaking character’s Stealth test.

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    Observation Tests

    Just as there is no one way to succeed with stealth, being observant and watchful is not defined by a single Skill. Characters observe the world, and interpret that information, differently, and those different approaches can all be valuable. A character attempting to locate a hidden enemy may be called upon to use one of the following combinations:

    • Insight + Fight: Use this combination when watching for or searching for ambushers or attackers.
    • Insight + Move: Use this combination when watching or searching by looking for places a person could hide.
    • Insight + Operate: Use this combination to survey an area by technological means.
    • Insight + Survive: Use this combination to rely on instincts and gut feeling to anticipate a threat or hazard.
    • Reason + Survive: Use this combination to study an area thoroughly or search it methodically.

    Where the Stealth rules call for an Observation Test, any of these combinations (or others, at GM’s discretion) may be appropriate, though the GM has the final say as to which is the most fitting.

    [End Sidebar]

    [Begin Sidebar]


    If there isn’t a sneaking character in the target zone when an observing character searches, there is still a chance of noticing the traces they’ve left. This only applies if the observing character is using sight or smell to locate the character – you can’t hear sounds after the fact.

    The Difficulty of the test is one higher than it would normally be, though this can be reduced if the target has left tracks or other traces left behind, such as by suffering a Complication on a previous Skill Test. Success on this test provides proof that the sneaking character was nearby recently, and spending one Momentum can determine the direction the sneaking character went. This doesn’t affect the sneaking character’s stealth state, and it cannot be resisted directly with a Reaction, but it does give the observers a better idea of where to look next.

    This only covers the most basic form of tracking; spotting a sign and getting a direction from it. Gaining any more meaningful information, or tracking over longer distances, is a more involved prospect, normally requiring a Reason + Survive Test, and using the Obtain Information Momentum option to learn more about their target.

    [End Sidebar]

    In either case, an observing character can spend two Momentum from a successful Observation test made to locate a sneaking character to reduce the sneaking character’s stealth state one additional time. Similarly, a sneaking character who wins an opposed test against a search may spend two Momentum to increase their stealth state, evading detection so deftly that their very presence is in doubt.

    Senses and Environmental Factors

    For people, sight and hearing are the predominant ways of perceiving their surroundings, and thus remaining unseen and unheard are the typical ways of avoiding detection. However, they’re not the only senses that matter; dogs and other animals rely as much on scent as they do upon sight and hearing and are quite capable of tracking by smells too faint for a human nose to detect.

    Each sense, naturally, has distinct factors that affect their performance and their use. Skilled sneaks know how to best capitalize on the factors that benefit them, while trackers, hunters, and vigilant guards know what advantages they can capitalize on. These factors will affect the difficulty of Stealth and Observation tests that characters and creatures attempt.

    Whenever a character attempts a Stealth Test or an Observation Test, that character should declare which sense they are primarily relying upon – a sneaking character takes different actions to remain unheard than those undertaken to remain unseen. This choice of sense applies to the character’s test, and any test made to oppose it in an opposed test, and it determines the factors that will determine the difficulty of the test.

    One common factor that applies regardless of the sense is distance. Another common factor that should be considered as well is whether the observer is paying attention; inattentive characters increase the difficulty of Observation tests by one or more depending on how much focus they’re paying to their surroundings. These are summarized on the table below.

    Distance Observation Difficulty
    Target is within Reach -1
    Target is within Close range
    Target is within Medium range +1
    Target is within Long range +2
    Target is beyond Long range +3
    Attention Observation Difficulty
    Observer is focused and attentive -1
    Observer is not distracted
    Observer is slightly distracted or bored +1
    Observer is lazy, distracted, or doesn’t care +2
    Observer is drunk or otherwise paying little attention +3
    Observer is unconscious, asleep, or completely oblivious. +4

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    Stacked Traits

    Many of the factors described in this section can be strengthened or exaggerated by stacking multiple identical traits. This can have a much greater effect on test difficulties, but it also means that the trait is more resilient and more resistant to being canceled out, as each trait in the stack must be canceled separately. This allows a stack of traits to represent a factor that must be eliminated bit-by-bit, and which lessens in intensity with each trait in the stack removed, such as a dense crowd dispersing over time, or light levels rising or lowering.

    [End Sidebar]


    Sight is most dependent upon light and other factors that impact visibility.

    Traits that represent lighting or darkness will most often affect Difficulty of the observers’ tests. A sudden change of lighting – going from darkness to light, or vice versa – has an increased effect, adding +1 Difficulty to the observers’ test as their eyes struggle to adjust. Mist and fog are like darkness, but cannot be countered by light and have little effect over shorter distances.

    Traits that represent the presence of things that will conceal a character, however, will affect the Difficulty of Stealth Tests; objects to hide behind or crowds to move through are good examples of Traits that will make Stealth easier, while an area devoid of objects or people, a distinctive appearance, an area being closely scrutinized, or moving in a disruptive manner (disrupting surroundings, moving against a crowd, drawing attention) can make Stealth more difficult. As with any trait, stacking extra copies of these traits can represent greater effects.


    Awareness of sound is important when moving stealthily, and when keeping watch; a sound can alert you to things outside of your field of vision, and being wary of the sounds around you can be crucial.

    Traits that represent background noise – noises going on around the scene – make observation more difficult. The sounds of a crowded city, a busy restaurant, or calamitous battlefield can all drown out the sounds of intruders; the noisier the environment, the more traits are stacked to represent it.

    Conversely, environments that make a lot of noise when moved through – such as hard floors, dry leaves, shallow water, gravel, breaking glass, and so forth – make stealth more difficult, as each motion creates noises that could draw attention to a sneaking character’s presence. Such effects can make a path impossible to cross silently, or require time or effort to clear out or circumvent.


    While not a significant concern for people, who can typically only detect odors that are very close, particularly pungent, or both, many animals rely on their noses to find prey as much as they do their eyes and ears.

    For player characters and other people, a scent can’t be detected unless it is especially strong or distinctive – and worth representing by a trait – and this can often be masked by other strong smells nearby (scene traits in their own right).

    For animals like dogs, however, scent is a key component of the way they perceive their environment. Their ability to detect smells allows them to detect and track others in the area in ways that people cannot.

    Morale and Psychological Warfare

    Fear has been a significant part of conflict for as long as people have clashed with one another. Threats and intimidation can turn the tide of a conflict bloodlessly, scaring foes away or causing them to back down from a fight.

    In the 2d20 System, this is handled using mental attacks and damage. As discussed in the Attacks and Damage section, mental attacks can be made using physical weaponry – threatening adversaries with a knife or gun, or using suppressing fire or “warning shots” to dissuade an opponent – but these are not the only means of making a mental attack.

    Most non-violent mental attacks use Will + Talk Tests to make the attack. The Difficulty of that attack is normally 1, but may be modified by other factors, discussed in this section.

    [Begin Sidebar]

    Psychological Warfare against Player Characters

    For obvious reasons, player characters may not be especially receptive to NPC intimidation. Players are not their characters, and they may not feel the same sense of urgency or anxiety that their characters feel when threatened, because the players know that it’s all fictional. Further, some players may not like the idea of their character being fearful, panicking, or doubtful, as it takes control of the character away from them. This is all reasonable. However, fear is very much about loss of control, so having things affect a character in ways they can’t control is fitting.

    However, while Trauma from mental attacks imposes a specific penalty, it does not require any specific behavior. A character suffering Trauma may be fearful or panicky, or they could be angry and grow increasingly aggressive. The effects of the Trauma increase the character’s Complication range, so their actions will be less reliable, but this could come as easily from reckless aggression as from frightened hesitation. Encourage players to choose how their character reacts to fear or panic and embrace it as a part of roleplaying.

    Handling being Defeated by Traumas in much the same way: they don’t have to mean that the character has fled, or has curled up into a foetal ball, only that the character is removed from the action in some way.

    Regardless, if players wish to play characters who laugh in the face of fear, they should probably invest some character resources in increasing their Courage.

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    Medium and Range

    There are many ways to deliver a threat, ranging from the most direct face-to-face confrontations, to more indirect means. In theory, so long as the message can reach the target, a threat can be delivered, though it is rarely so straightforward, and as distance increases, the impact may be lessened, or the threat may need to become less specific or more elaborate to have an effect.

    In all cases, the target must be able to understand the threat being issued.

    • Face-to-face threats are specific, immediate, and direct forms of intimidation. They function as normal attacks, with a Range of Close – as distance increases, it becomes harder for the attacker to make themselves understood. They rely on the nuances of speech and body language to be effective.
    • Remote threats are like face-to-face ones, but carried over radio, video, telephone, or some other means of transmitting them live. They circumvent the issue of range, but their immediacy and directness are diminished by the fact that the attacker isn’t in the same place as the target; this makes them easier to dismiss as harassment rather than genuine. Remote threats ignore any modifiers for range, but always add +1 Difficulty.
    • Remote, delayed threats use the same medium as remote threats, but the messages are recorded and then sent. The target does not receive the threat immediately, preventing a Reaction, but the distance and delay make it more difficult to make the threat impactful. Remote, delayed threats ignore modifiers for range, and do not allow a Reaction, but always add +2 Difficulty. The target may, upon receipt of the message, attempt a Difficulty 1 Will + Survive Test to avoid the damage. Each Momentum spent by the attacker upon making the attack adds +1 to the Difficulty of this test.
    • Written threats are text on a page, on a screen, or otherwise written somewhere that the target will see it. The target doesn’t receive the threat immediately, preventing a Reaction, but the distance and delay make it more difficult to make the threat impactful, even more so than a recorded message. Written threats ignore modifiers for range, and do not allow a Reaction, but always add +2 Difficulty and +1 to the Complication range. The target may, upon receipt of the message, attempt a Difficulty 1 Will + Survive Test to avoid the damage. Each Momentum spent by the attacker upon making the attack adds +1 to the Difficulty of this test.
    • Abstract threats do not involve conventional means of communication, but rather “send a message” through some unusual means, such as staging an accident. They can only be performed at GM’s discretion, and the GM will determine the Difficulty and any other factors.


    The content, circumstances, and nature of a mental attack determines the damage it inflicts, and any other effects it may have.

    As a baseline, all mental attacks have a damage rating of 1[CD], plus additional [CD] equal to the attacker’s Talk skill. Other factors may add [CD] to the damage rating, they may add a damage effect, or they may do both. These are described below, though this list is not exhaustive, and the GM is free to alter and adjust these effects to represent unusual circumstances. These factors stack, but the GM may put a limit on how many can apply to a given situation.

    The GM may also use these rules as guidelines for determining the damage of hazards that inflict mental damage as well.

    • Awe-inspiring threats are ones where the attacker demonstrates their prowess or capability. This differs from evidence in that it is a direct demonstration of ability, rather than an item or object that proves it, though this also limits this effect to face-to-face threats. This adds +2[CD] to the attack’s damage rating, though it may add more at the GM’s discretion if the demonstration is particularly impressive.
    • Evidence covers any objects or items which support or confirm the threat. This could range from incriminating materials to grisly trophies taken in battle: regardless, evidence should always demonstrate the attacker’s ability to carry out whatever they are threatening to do. This adds +1[CD] to the attack’s damage rating, and the Vicious 1 damage effect.
    • Horrifying threats are ones where the nature of the threat is gruesome, vile, or unthinkable, and they can linger in the target’s memory for a while after. This adds the Drain damage effect to the attack.
    • Obvious and dramatic threats are grand and flashy, or loud, or otherwise so clear and obvious that they are liable to affect multiple targets, but their lack of subtlety means that they can have unintended consequences. This adds the Area and Perilous damage effects to the attack.
    • Personal threats play upon the specific fears and doubts of the target, making their effect particularly strong. This adds the Intense damage effect to the attack.
    • Revelatory threats reveal or present something that is uncomfortable for the target to think about, often undermining their confidence. This adds the Destructive damage effect to the attack.
    • Shocking threats are sudden, unexpected, especially unpleasant, or otherwise likely to make an enemy stumble or give them pause. This adds the Knockdown and Stun damage effects to the attack.
    • Status or authority, which includes being part of a powerful group known to the target (including being part of a law enforcement agency). This adds +1[CD] to the attack’s damage rating. The GM may increase this further if the character’s status or authority is especially significant.
    • Unnatural threats are ones which seem to have come from an inhuman source, and their nature can often unman even the bravest individuals. This adds the Piercing 2 damage effect to the attack.

    Social Conflict

    Sometimes, a conflict is fought with words, rather than with weapons. Disputes, challenges, and dangers can sometimes be overcome by talking, and knowing how and when to apply this sort of interpersonal skill to a problem can be vital.

    Social conflict is the collective term for Skill Tests, Challenges and problems that are resolved through deception, diplomacy, bargaining, intimidation, and a range of other social skills. Not all personal interactions are social conflict, but all social conflict is driven by these interactions, especially those where each side has different goals or may not wish to yield to the desires of another.

    Social conflict differs from psychological warfare in that psychological warfare is entirely about provoking fear and panic, while social conflict considers fear and panic to be means to an end, possible tools in a toolbox that can allow characters to manipulate or coerce their opponents.

    At the heart of social conflict is a desire or goal, which takes the form of a request: one side wants something, and the other side is either able to grant that request, or they are standing in the way of that goal. At its very simplest, it comes down to one character asking another a question.

    There are a few different responses to that question, and the character being asked may respond in one of two ways:

    • Yield: The character receiving the request agrees to it, and grants that request as far as they are able. A character won’t inconvenience themselves to do this, nor will they do more than is reasonably necessary to help. This is automatic and requires no skill test.
    • Resist: The character receiving the request refuses to grant it. Regardless, the character denies the request outright, but they may face consequences for resisting.

    Regardless of any other consequences, if a character resists a request in a social conflict, then that request cannot be made again without being changed, or without some other change of context.

    As persuasion is driven by context, what is impossible in one situation may be entirely feasible in another. It may be useful, then, to break up a goal into smaller, more reasonable requests, each resolved separately, pursuing a greater objective piece by piece.

    This is also where social tools come in. Social tools allow a character to alter the context or circumstances of persuasion, normally in the form of applying Traits or other factors, and they can be used individually or collectively to shape a social conflict.

    During a social conflict, each side may have different goals, meaning that each side will engage in their own actions to further those goals. Even in something as seemingly one-directional as an interrogation, the interrogator will be trying to get information, while the interrogated party may have a goal of their own, such as trying to prove their own innocence.

    Resisting Persuasion

    If a character resists when faced with a request, this becomes an opposed test. The Difficulties for both the asking and resisting characters are normally 1, but these can be altered by factors such as Traits, and at GM’s discretion based on how reasonable the request is (less reasonable requests increase the asking character’s Difficulty) and how wary, defiant, or suspicious the resisting character is (the more reluctant they are to help, the lower their Difficulty).

    The asking character will normally use Reason + Talk or Will + Talk for this, unless another combination is more suitable. The resisting character will normally use Insight + Talk or Will + Talk, again unless another combination is more suitable.

    • If the resisting character wins, then the request is not granted, and there is no further effect.
    • If the asking character wins, then the resisting character is put under pressure, and suffers damage as per a mental attack. The asking character’s damage roll is 1[CD], plus additional [CD] equal to their Talk skill.

    If this damage would cause Harm, it instead causes the resisting character to suffer a Complication. This Complication should reflect some problem or consequence that comes from resisting the request.

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    Overwhelming Consequences

    If the resisting character would, because of resisting, suffer a third or subsequent Complication, then they are overwhelmed, and no longer able to act within that scene. The character is still alive and well, but they’re stressed out, and probably frustrated or agitated, and they may even have stormed off and left the area entirely.

    A character who is overwhelmed in this manner hasn’t given in to the request, though they may no longer be able to prevent the asking character from getting their way, depending on what the request was.

    Whenever a player character suffers a Complication from resisting, they may choose to become overwhelmed immediately, even if they have fewer then three Complications from resisting. In exchange for making this choice, the character gains one Fortune immediately.

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    Social Skills

    The skill tests used for Social Conflict can vary, typically by determining the intent and the method used. The following combinations should provide a basis for judging this. While any use of the Talk skill is a social skill – that is what Talk covers, after all – there are a few other combinations that can be useful.

    • Insight + Fight is useful mainly in sizing up someone’s ability in a fight, being able to discern training and capability by subtle cues taken from body language, the way they carry themselves, the way they move, the way they talk, or even the way wear their clothes. This can reveal useful information during a social conflict, but it isn’t a particularly broad use.
    • Insight + Know is useful for close observation of others, which can be invaluable in spotting a liar or seeing through a ruse, but also for more active techniques like cold reading.
    • Reason + Know is less a matter of observation and more of logic and deduction, like reaching a conclusion based on previously-known facts. This combination is also crucial for persuasion that relies on facts and evidence.
    • Reason + Survive is often used to find holes or logical flaws in a situation, making it useful for spotting lies, particularly elaborate ones.

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    Falsehood and deceit can be a powerful tool in the hands of the cunning, but they are dangerous if mishandled. Deception can be used by itself to make a request seem more reasonable or palatable, or it can be used in conjunction with other tools to create a more significant impact. Effective deception requires skill, cunning, and an understanding of who is being lied to.

    Deception requires an opposed skill test, with the deceiver’s Difficulty based on how reasonable or believable the lie is to the target, and the target’s Difficulty being determined by their suspicions. Successfully deceiving someone convinces them of some fact or facts which are not true, and subsequent persuasion tests are resolved with those fictions in mind. Deception cannot convince someone of something which is blatantly untrue, or which contradict their worldview, but in turn, deception that plays into the beliefs and preconceptions of the target can be especially effective.

    The deceiving character will normally use Reason + Talk for their test, while the character being lied to will normally use Insight + Talk. Other combinations are possible for different approaches, as normal.

    Usefully, deception can be used to establish lies that are the foundation for other social tools as well. Empty threats can intimidate a foe with a peril they believe is real, and history is full of scams, cons, and tricks where people bargained with things they didn’t own.

    The problem with deception is, of course, that it’s all a lie. If the target discovers that they were deceived, they will hesitate to trust the deceiver in future, and may even seek recompense or retribution. Further, Complications suffered while lying may reveal flaws in a lie, making the target suspicious.

    Successful deception also adds +1[CD] per successful lie to the damage roll after a persuade opposed test. However, it also increases the deceiver’s Complication Range by 1 for each lie as well, as lies can become entangled and complicated.

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    Deception against Player Characters

    For obvious reasons, player characters may not be especially receptive to NPCs lying to them. This can make the deception part of social conflict tricky to use against player characters, particularly as picking up the dice and making a skill test can signal that an adversary is lying, regardless of the result.

    In these situations, there are a couple of possible approaches.

    • Play the rules entirely straight, with the players knowing things that their characters cannot always detect. It may be worth occasionally offering Fortune to players to convince them to play along with an NPC’s lie.
    • Keep NPC lies secret during play, and let the player decide if they think an NPC is lying to them rather than rolling. If they suspect deceit, let them make a skill test to see if their character notices anything. If the players ask to roll too frequently – like asking for a skill test with everything said by every NPC – then treat suspicion as escalation, so each time they make a skill test to find if an NPC is lying, it adds 1 to Threat, as NPCs notice and are insulted by the unfair scrutiny.

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    The counterpoint to deception is evidence – offering something that provides certainty and proof of a character’s claims. In many cases, providing evidence may be a straightforward affair, automatically successful, but convincing someone that the evidence is legitimate may be difficult, particularly if that person expects deception, which may require a skill test to overcome. In some cases, some kinds of evidence may have a contrary effect: a police badge may get cooperation from some people, but cause others to flee rather than stay and talk. Each piece of evidence is a Trait, each of which represents a single piece of evidence and the facts that it proves.

    Proving that evidence is legitimate will normally use Reason + Know or Reason + Talk, though evidence that pertains to other skills may make other combinations useful (for example, Reason + Fight could explain details about weapons, fighting styles, or the aftermath of a battle).

    Evidence can be used in conjunction with any of the other social conflict tools, and their use often drives uses of those tools: providing proof of your ability to carry out a threat can be vital when intimidating someone, while giving evidence of ownership or wealth can smooth along negotiations, and forged documents can serve as fake “proof” to support deception.

    Each relevant piece of evidence that the target is willing to accept also adds +1[CD] to the damage roll after a persuade opposed test. If the character has one or more pieces of evidence that apply especially well to the situation, it also adds the Vicious 1 effect to the damage roll.


    A direct and crude method of coercion is to inspire fear, doubt, and uncertainty. Intimidation is the practice of using threats to compel action or compliance, often by convincing others that non-compliance will be met with force.

    Intimidating someone uses the normal rules for Psychological Warfare and mental attacks (page @@), and each Trauma the target suffers increases the difficulty of that character’s skill test during a persuade opposing test, while failing to intimidate someone increases the difficulty of further attempts to intimidate them, as with any failed mental attacks.

    The drawback of intimidation is that it is inherently hostile, which can cause problems of its own. Employing intimidation creates an antagonistic tension between the two sides that can worsen other interactions, cause lingering resentment, or even provoke a target to aggression.


    Negotiation is a fine art, requiring a keen and perceptive mind and a strong will. Negotiation involves the offering of compensation in exchange for granting a request, and this compensation can take many forms, with different people and different circumstances susceptible to different offers.

    Regardless of circumstance, negotiation means creating an Advantage that represents a favorable position created by the offer, and a Complication that represents the cost of that offer. Each new offer is considered a new change of circumstances for the persuasion test as well. Negotiation doesn’t require a skill test by itself – it is more a process of trial and error.

    Negotiations may involve a lot of position shifting from both sides, as they make and retract offers, or discover that the other party doesn’t have what they want. This may make skill tests valuable to try and discern the price that the other side is willing to pay, or what they’re really looking to gain. In some situations, numerous sessions of negotiation may be needed to obtain what one party wants from someone else to progress.

    The drawback to negotiation is the cost of success – characters may find themselves offering more than they wanted to give up, or they may find what they obtained was worth far less than the price they paid for it. Failing to provide what was offered can produce serious problems of its own, which can be particularly significant if the negotiations are based on a lie.

    In some ways, negotiation is the antithesis of intimidation; achieving a goal through offering something productive rather than threatening something destructive. Certainly, few people will be amenable to trade and negotiation with those they’ve been threatened by, and such trades may have a steeper cost because of previous hostilities.

    Each advantage gained through negotiations reduces the persuading character’s difficulty on the persuasion opposed test or increases the resisting character’s difficulty. In addition, the damage roll gains Piercing X, where X is the number of advantages gained from negotiation.

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    Reading a Target

    A key element of most social conflicts is understanding your target. Everyone has places where they’re strong, and places where they’re weak, and success in social conflict often relies on learning how to discover or spot these details. This normally requires some effort to achieve, but the results can be extremely rewarding.

    Insight + Know and Insight + Talk tests are often a good basis for trying to learn about a target (either in advance, or while encountering them), though more in-depth research or analysis may use Reason + Know instead. The base difficulty for this is 0, with Momentum generated being spent to ask questions with the Obtain Information Momentum option. The difficulty will increase if the target is particularly secretive or inscrutable, and if they know or expect someone to try and read them, they may turn the skill test into an opposed test (using Reason + Know to hide traces of them that can be researched, or Coordination + Talk to control their body language and other signs that could be read).

    Useful questions to ask include “what do they fear?”, “what do they seek to protect?”, “what do they desire?”, and “what do they believe”, but less-direct questions about a person’s background, history, and accomplishments are also potentially useful.

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