When the Developer Plays: Dueling Time!

Last time I told you about the Modern AGE Threefold game I don’t Game Master, but play in as Andrzej, who happens to be one of Threefold’s signature characters. Tonight, as I write this, I’m coming off another session where, as Andrzej, I fought a duel. I want to share some insights about combat using Modern AGE’s system I gleaned from that clash of imaginary swords.

First, the set-up. Why was I in a duel? As I noted last time, our Sodality Mission was on an independent Otherworld (a magic-dominated plane) to support diplomatic efforts toward an alliance with the Vitane, the peaceful democratic government of planes the Sodality supports. This plane had contact with the feudal warriors of the Nighthost in the past; their remnant needed to consent to the alliance. There were intrigue-soaked negotiations which…succeeded! They were ready to ally with us.

Threefold Nighthost

These folks need aggressive diplomacy!

Then the real Nighthost showed up: the army that had long waited on the other side of an unreliable gate between their realm and where our new friends lived. They made it through the normally closed gate…somehow (trouble with playing is I don’t know yet). The Nighthost aren’t just soldiers from Hell–they’re soldiers who rebelled against the Netherworlds, slaying demon lords and freeing the damned. They’re badasses out of a Black Metal album with a classic dueling culture, and they were about to lay siege to our allies’ outpost. So what else could I do except challenge their leader, the thane, to a duel?

I won’t leave you in suspense–I lost. I’m a 5th level character, but as our GM Steve told me, the thane was a Dire threat opponent. I think him being 7 feet tall with a crown of horns was a hint. I yielded with 3 Health left in me. Rather than go blow by blow, I’m going to list what I learned, after the thane and I put on mail, he got his sword and shield, and I brought my two-handed sword to the party.

Being a Protector Rocks: +2 to attack rolls and an extra SP on Stunt Attacks with the Sodality Protector talent rocks, especially if you also double on your roll–and especially if you master Two-Handed Style.* I was lucky to get big stacks of SP a bunch of times, which I spent on Lightning Attack to get a chance to inflict damage in, along with a constellation of other stunts, including Armor Crush, which reminds me…

Armor Crush is Better Than You Think: My second, a fellow Sodality Protector named Chester, couldn’t negotiate the thane out of his armor, so we were both wearing mail (I know this is all pretty fantasy for Modern AGE but that’s life life on a magical Otherworld) and it so happens mastering Two-Handed Style and using a big sword lets you gain 2 SP toward Armor Crush. I hit the thane a few times, dropping his Speed considerably. This combines beautifully with Knock Prone. Soon enough the thane was so slow he had to waste his actions getting up (part of a minor action) and fixing his armor (a major action). The thane eventually used it on me, however, and it was way worse for me because I didn’t have Armored Combat Style, like he did. At one point, the thane hit me with multiple Armor Crush stunts and the Hamstring stunts, and  knocked me prone. I ended up with a Speed of 3, half of which I needed to use to even get up. Oh yeah:

Annoy People with Knock Prone: For 2 SP and high reliability (no opposed roll required), Knock Prone is a very useful stunt when mobility counts. If you do this after attacking their Speed with the previous tactics, there’s not much they can do except stand up and sigh…which I did.

Ready for a Duel?

Being a Protector rocks!

Pick Your Disarms Carefully: The duel featured a number of Disarm stunt attempts. One of mine and two of the thanes were successful. Choosing the direction and distance of a disarmed weapon ends up being rather a big deal, however. I knocked the thane’s sword over my shoulder so he’d have to fight me disarmed to get it. Of course, that’s when he Stunt Attacked me with the Knock Prone/Hamstring combo after I’d been Armor Crushed, so, uh, maybe that decision sucked.

Remember Your Stats: Oh, I screwed up a couple of times here. I forgot to reduce damage by Toughness, which I was allowed to do in our Pulpy Mode game. Fortunately we realized and fixed that midway through, or else I’d be toast. But the other thing I forgot is the free grapple off a missed attack for Self-Defense style, which might have been used to mess up the thane a little more before he beat me.

Boost Your Defense When You Can: Defense-boosting tactics and powers are rare in Modern AGE, so make use of them whenever the opportunity arises. The Parry stunt is useful for chopping down high Defense opponents. The thane had a frickin’ shield, and that advantage wore me down–I had my share of misses. Since Protectors get a +2 to Stunt Attack rolls, I tried stacking that with a +2 Defense Guard up a few times, since my bonus nullified the penalty. This works pretty well–unless your opponent rolls high, which the thane did with annoying regularity. Generally speaking, seeing your bonus as an opportunity to cancel out a penalty linked to some other benefit is a smart move.

Fights Should Be Meaningful: This duel was a political maneuver. I wanted to show the Nighthost thane that the people on this plane were every bit as honorable as he and his army was–they weren’t fit to be brutally conquered, but had to be approached as equals. Game designers often talk about stakes in terms of game systems.. I prefer to think in terms of the fiction–talking about the reason for the duel (to secure negotiations), the emotional components, and negotiating the terms–not to map the outcome, per se, but to write the rationale in the fiction boldly, while maintaining the possibility that anything could happen.

One of us could have cheated, or attempted some other risky move outside the confines of the duel. The rest of the Mission group were in the crowd, after all, ready to help. In the end, though, we all followed the etiquette of the situation, and the great thing is that, since we were never locked into these terms, following the gradually built trust between us and our enemies, and it felt real because of course we could have cheated at any time. So when I yielded and didn’t die, but was allowed to limp back and heal, it felt earned.

* NOTE: In the upcoming Modern AGE Mastery Guide Stunt Attack now provides a base of 2 stunt points, increasing the Sodality Protector benefit to 3 SP in a stunt attack. We use this rule in our game.


Malcolm Sheppard

After writing and designing games as a freelancer from 2000 on, Malcolm Sheppard is pleased to join Green Ronin as developer at large: the one who works on any number of games, from the Adventure Gaming Engine to Ork! Malcolm’s experience before Green Ronin includes Exalted, Mage: The Ascension, Onyx Path’s Chronicles of Darkness and Scion lines, as well as Shadowrun and Eclipse Phase. Outside game design, Malcolm’s worked in community development and education, and as a professional historical re-enactor, where he gave large metal swords to children. (They were blunt!) Malcolm lives in semi-rural Ontario, Canada.