Season 3, Episode 5: "A Duel to the Death"

Episode 5, "Kissed by Fire," opens with Sandor Clegane dueling Beric Dondarrion under a hollow hill, in a cavern lit by a roaring fire and under the watchful eyes of the Brotherhood Without Banners (and, possibly, the Red God R’hllor). Both men are skilled warriors, and unlike the fight between Bronn and Ser Vardis Egen in Season 1, the outcome is very much in doubt.

What happens under the hood when two fighters in armor decide to have at it? When the fight begins, Sandor is wearing splint mail (a cheap but effective heavy armor) while Dondarrion is wearing what’s equivalent to a breastplate (with some added protection for arms and neck). Let’s take a look at their combat statistics and relevant Qualities:

Sandor Clegane

Agility 3
Athletics 6
     Strength 4B
Awareness 3
     Notice 1B
Endurance 4
     Resilience 2B
Fighting 6
     Long Blades 2B, Spears 2B
Defense 12 (9 w/armor, +2 w/shield, AR 7, AP –3)
Defense 9
Health 14
Destiny Points 1
Benefits: Fury, Long Blade Fighter I, Long Blade Fighter II, Spear Fighter I, Tough
Drawbacks: Fear (Fire)
Longsword 6D+2B 7 damage
Shield 6D     4 damage Defensive +2

Lord Beric Dondarrion

Agility 4
Athletics 5
     Strength 2B
Awareness 4
     Notice 2B
Endurance 4
Fighting 5
     Long Blades 2B, Shields 2B, Spears 1B
Combat Defense 13 (11 w/armor, +4 w/shield, AR 6, AP –2)
Health 12
Destiny Points 1
Benefits: Armor Mastery, Long Blade Fighter I, Long Blade Fighter II, Shield Mastery
Drawbacks: Cursed
Longsword 5D+2B 6 damage
Shield 5D+2B     3 damage Defensive +2

From this, both men appear to be fairly evenly matched. Clegane is a little tougher, hits harder and more often than Ser Beric, and his armor protects him better. Ser Beric, on the other hand, is much harder to hit—he’s more skilled with a shield, and his armor’s lighter, affording more agility. Ser Beric’s got a single significant advantage when the fight begins, as we’ll detail below.

Step 1: Battlefield

The Hollow Hill is cramped and dimly lit, with a large cooking fire and a small personal fire inside the battlefield. The Brotherhood stands all around the combatants, cheering Ser Beric. The two fires are considered Battlefield Qualities, or salient features of the field that the Narrator has decreed to be relevant. These Qualities may offer bonus or penalty dice to certain actions (swimming along the current may grant a small bonus to Athletics tests, while trying to loose an arrow in a hurricane would incur a significant penalty). The Brotherhood and Arya are considered Bystanders. While none of them are injured in this fight, opportunistic fighters might try to use the crowd’s presence to their advantage.

Normally the dimness of the cave would be considered Shadowy Visibility. Everyone within would take –1D on all Agility, Athletics, Awareness, Fighting, and Thievery tests, and –2D on all Marksmanship tests. Fairly significant penalties! However, Ser Beric slices his palm with his sword, which then mysteriously, magically, alights with flame. The flaming sword acts as a torch, so the area of the fight is considered Lit (with no penalties suffered due to visibility). The Narrator also rules that while he can stand the presence of the cooking fires, seeing the flaming sword triggers Sandor’s Fear of fire. He’s at –1D on all tests.

Step 2: Detection

In this step, hidden characters may attack and gain surprise against their opponents. Since both men are completely aware of each other’s presence, however, we’ll be skipping this step.

Step 3: Initiative

Both men test Agility, to see who goes first. Ser Beric rolls 4D and receives a result of 10 (5, 3, 1, 1) while the Hound rolls 2D and receives a lucky 11 (5, 6). The Hound goes first! Normally he’d be rolling 3D, but his Fear stops him from testing at his full Agility.

Step 4: Action!

Both men start the fight in a situation called engaged, or being adjacent to a melee opponent. Since Clegane goes first, he lunges at Ser Beric and attacks. During a combat round you may make one Greater Action or two Lesser Actions, plus any number of Free Actions. Attacking is a Lesser Action, but may only be performed once a round. If the player doesn’t interpret the character’s action, the Narrator should describe the results of the player’s test in relation to the combat.

Sandor Clegane is one of Westeros’ best fighters, but his Fear makes him vulnerable. He roars and slashes at Ser Beric, and rolls 7 dice for his attack, only keeping 5. With a pitiful roll of 5, 4, 2, 2, 1, 1, he fails to beat Ser Beric’s Defense of 15, angrily slicing at empty air. Ser Beric, on the other hand, whips his sword around in a graceful arc and rolls 5, 4, 4, 2, 3, 4, 2, for a total result of 20, easily beating Clegane’s Defense by two degrees. Clegane would take 5 damage (12 minus his armor), but his player’s concerned about losing a chunk of the Hound’s health this early in the fight, so he opts to take an injury instead. His Endurance is 4, so he takes only 1 point of damage (but is at –1 on all his tests for the rest of the fight). The Narrator describes Clegane as taking the brunt of attack on his sword, straining his forearm and jarring him with the impact. Clegane’s player rolls a d6 but doesn’t get a 6, so his Fear stays with him.

Step 5: Rinse and Repeat

During the second round, Ser Beric’s player again tests fairly high against Clegane’s defense, but Clegane’s player spends a Destiny Point to have the damage affect a bystander! The Narrator describes how Ser Beric’s flaming sword kicks up sparks from striking a rock as Clegane nimbly dodges, sending a poor Brother toppling off the rock (the bystander suffers damage, but isn’t dead). Clegane opts to Catch His Breath (a Greater Action), to reduce his damage to zero.

Both men trade blows with one another in the third round, accruing injuries; Clegane takes one more with a few damage, while Ser Beric takes two and accepts no damage to his Health. During the fourth round, the Narrator states that Clegane knocks his shield on the other man’s and then slams his sword down hard, splintering Ser Beric’s shield and sending the knight staggering. Clegane’s hit causes more damage than can be absorbed with two more injuries, so Ser Beric’s player opts to take a Wound.

Ser Beric, however, chooses to sacrifice his bonus dice to activate his Long Blade Fighter II Benefit. Cleverly maneuvering Clegane by locking swords, Ser Beric slips behind the bigger man and bashes him into the small fire described in the Battlefield Qualities. The Narrator rules that the fire is a Campfire causing 1d6 of damage, so Clegane takes his third injury of the battle, the fire searing his legs and sending sparks soaring into his face. Ironically, Clegane rolls a 6 on his Fear test, overcoming his fright and restoring his full dice pool. While he narrowly avoids being set on fire with his Agility test, it’s on, now.

Clegane’s player decides to reduce Ser Beric’s defenses. He chooses to smash his opponent’s Weapon instead of Ser Beric himself. With 8 dice and keeping 6, he easily smashes Ser Beric’s shield into splinters (using the rules under "Smashing Weapons" in Chapter 9: Combat of the A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying: A Game of Thrones Edition rulebook. Ser Beric’s player, seeing his character’s primary defense stripped away, decides to Knockdown. Ser Beric’s player spends a Destiny Point, trying to remove the Wound penalty. Maybe it’s the resurrections, or maybe R’hllor doesn’t like Beric, but Beric rolls a d6 and gets a 1, causing the Cursed Flaw to activate. Beric’s Destiny Point is wasted! He attacks and injures Clegane anyways with a succession of quick blows (causing a fourth and final injury) and then sweeps his leg into the bigger man, sending him crashing to the ground and setting his shield alight with a final blow.

Clegane chooses to Stand and then Attack (forcing Ser Beric to take his second Wound), but the Narrator informs him that unless he rips his shield off next turn, he’ll take fire damage. Clegane chooses to activate his Fury Benefit, hoping to end the encounter quickly. It works; with a lucky roll, Ser Beric takes more damage than his Health can absorb even with injuries, so Ser Beric’s player takes a third Wound (and laments his earlier choice not to take injuries instead of a Wound!). Clegane suffers a Wound in return from Ser Beric, and the fire causes damage to the Hound futilely hacks at the flaming escutcheon, but his player wisely keeps the Defensive bonus. With a final roar, Clegane rolls 6, 6, 4, 2, 2, ending the encounter with a Critical Hit! Between the damage increase from Fury, the damage increase from the Critical and the two degrees of success over Beric’s Defense, Beric must take a fourth Wound (and die) or be defeated—and since this is a duel to the death, the consequences are the same for either option. Clegane’s sword shears through the flaming longsword of Ser Beric, cleaving deep into the elder knight’s chest. Ser Beric dies, but Thoros of Myr rushes over to him…

From this, we can garner a few items of note about SIFRP’s Combat system. First, it’s pretty deadly, and well-trained fighters are going to hit each other most of the time. Therefore, combat becomes a balance between maintaining high Defense (albeit to minimize the degrees of success the opponent achieves on damage, not to avoid the attack altogether) and good armor (to minimize the damage again). Failing that, a combatant must be willing to suffer injury, and nobody escapes unscathed.

Had Ser Beric not been Cursed, his negation of a Wound penalty meant potentially dealing a Wound to Clegane in return, rather than a mere injury. Ser Beric’s player may have done better if Ser Beric fought a bit more defensively, though a character as skilled as Clegane would likely have hit him anyway. Ser Beric was hampered by his armor rating (a single hit would allow Clegane to damage him), while Clegane’s armor could stop a meager blow cold. Ser Beric’s player gambled at Clegane running out of Health, but Clegane was willing to take damage to his Health while Ser Beric’s player took Wounds instead. The combination of Wound penalties and Ser Clegane overcoming his Fear spelled doom for the cursed lord.

Joseph Carriker is developer for A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying and the Chronicle System. He has worked in the gaming industry since 2000, and intends to keep doing that for the foreseeable future. He's an avid proponent of diversity in gaming spaces, and regularly runs LGBT-oriented panels at gaming conventions, including GenCon's "Queer as a Three-Sided Die." He recently sold a novel, Sacred Band, available this winter from Lethe Press.