Conflicts, such as combat, arguments and other opposed actions are a staple of RPGs. Her I outline a more detailed conflict resolution process for FU. What follows is heavily inspired by the work of the original FanMadeFU yahoo group, Adrian Price’s FUBAR and Vagrant Workshop‘s Earthdawn: Age of Legends.
Stress defines a character or opponent’s ability to stay in a scene. When a character fails a risky or dangerous action, or is injured in some manner, they lose a point of stress. When a character successfully takes an action to overcome an opponent or threat, it loses a point of stress. As a consequence, stress represents more than just “wounds” or “health”, but more a kind of plot immunity.
When a character, opponent or threat loses its last stress point it is removed from a scene. A player character might be knocked unconscious, captured, terrified or killed! An enemy might be vanquished, a bomb defused, or a competitor beaten.
Most of the time when a character is confronted by something that is stopping their progress they pose a question, roll the dice and see if they succeed at overcoming the obstacle. Any kind of “Yes…” result means the obstacle is defeated and they may move on. In these scenarios the challenge essentially has 1 stress.
An opponent, threat or obstacle with two or more stress cannot be overcome with a single action / roll. A player will have to take several actions, or a number of characters will have to work together. When you attempt to overcome an obstacle with two or more stress, any “yes” result will reduce the total stress by 1 point. Weapons or abilities do not increase the “damage”, but they could be tags that improve a character’s chance of success.
For example, October Jones (Girl Reporter) is attempting to get a scoop from a tight-lipped police detective (stress 2). As the detective’s stress is greater than one, Jones’ player cannot simply ask “Do I get the scoop?” – she has to work a bit for it! Jones uses some witty banter and asks “Can I get the detective to lower his guard?” The player rolls dice and gets a “Yes, but…” result. It’s a success, with some mitigating factor. “Yes, he lowers his guard, but it takes a lot longer than you wanted. It is now getting quite late and the city is a dangerous place at night.” As the roll was a success the detective’s stress is lowered to 1. Now, Jones asks “Do I get the scoop?”
Whether it is physical combat, a debate, battle of wills, or a magical duel, conflicts can be resolved in a similar manner to above. A player describes their action, the narrator describes the target’s response, modifiers are gathered and dice are rolled.
The player asks a question that shows how they are trying to wear down their opponent:
- If the action succeeds (any “yes” result) the target loses a stress point.
- If the action fails (any “no” result) the narrator gets to put pressure on the character. The target probably attempts to “attack” back.
If at any point the player’s actions open them up to be injured themselves, the tables have turned and the narrator will describe how the opponent attempts to cause harm. The player must now describe how they are avoiding injury or insult, gather modifiers and roll. If they get a “yes” result, no harm is done. A failure (a “No” result) means the player’s character loses a point of stress.
It is probably easier to understand with an example:
Harvey Reed (Retired boxer, 3 stress) is accosted by a Mob Enforcer (3 stress) with a grudge. They are in a dark alley filled with garbage and junk. Harvey realises the thug isn’t going to listen to reason, and the two get into a fist fight. Harvey’s player describes the old boxer circling the gangster, taking a few swings to test his opponent’s reflexes.
Player: Can I get in a few jabs and test this guy’s skills? (The dice hit the table and the result is “Yes”.)
Narrator: Yes, you get a couple of good shots in. You see this fella is tough but not particularly skilled. (The thug is down to 2 stress.) You continue to circle each other in the narrow alley. What do you do?
Player: Okay, we circle each other again, then I charge at this guy, slamming him against the brick wall of the alley. Do I knock the wind out of him? (The result is a “No, but…”)
Narrator: No, he isn’t winded, but he is pinned against the wall. That’s a condition tag on the enforcer. He struggles against your hold and brings an elbow down hard on your shoulder. What do you do?
Player: I’m strong, so I just grit my teeth and try to hold him. Can I resist the hit? (Dice are rolled, resulting in a “No, but…”)
Narrator: No, the blow sends a sharp pain right down your back. Lose a point of stress. But, the guy is still pinned against the wall. (Harvey is now down to 2 stress.) He is struggling furiously and flailing with his free hand, but to little effect.
Player: So, I have my arms wrapped around him, right? (The narrator nods, agreeing.) I lift him off his feet and throw him into a pile of junk.
Narrator: Cool. There’s a pile of old wooden pallets nearby. What’s your question? Can I hurl the enforcer into the pallets?
Player: Sounds good. (Modifiers are calculated and dice are rolled. The result is “Yes, and…”)
Narrator: Yes, you hurl the thug into the wooden pallets. They smash under him creating an awful racket. He is on the ground amongst the debris and he is clearly dazed. He’s no longer pinned though. (The enforcer also loses a point of stress as the player’s action was successful.)
Player: The enforcer is down to one stress, right? So I can take him out?
Player: Okay, I lean down, pull him up by the jacket and as I bring him up I punch him hard in the face. Can I knock him out? (Dice are rolled – “Yes, and…”)
Narrator: Yes! And as he falls backward his jacket, which you still have in one hand, tears, spilling the contents of his pockets onto the alley floor. You notice a matchbook with a familiar logo on it… (The enforcer has been reduced to 0 stress and therefore been taken out of the scene.)
What about conditions?
You still apply conditions or details as appropriate. While a “yes” result will see a character harm a target, they might still also apply a condition to either themselves or the target, or change the situation in some way. Likewise, a failed roll could also see additional details applied to the scene.
Here is a chart with some suggestions:
- Character/Target suffers a condition: apply a temporary condition tag to the character/target.
- Detail is added to the scene: a tag is applied to the scene. Anyone can use a tag to modify a roll (if it is relevant to the action being attempted). Positive details will probably provide some bonus to player actions while negative details will be a hindrance.
- Gain some advantage: this is an opening to take an action. Unlike a condition or detail that can modify a roll, an advantage is permission to take an action. If an enemy gains an advantage they will probably attempt to hurt the character(s), escape, or change the situation to their benefit. This usually means the character(s) has to act to stop the enemy. If a character gains an advantage, the scene has changed in some way that opens up new options.
How much stress?
I would recommend giving characters 3 stress points. Most obstacles will still only have 1 stress (so you can overcome them with a single roll). Give capable threats two or three stress. If there are a lot of player characters you will need to either have multiple opponents or increase the amount of stress each threat does in order to make conflicts interesting.
Faster, nastier conflicts
As an alternative to the conflicts described above, when a player takes an action to engage an enemy in a conflict, they could also risk injury. If their roll succeeds the target loses 1 stress, but if the roll fails the character loses 1 stress.
For this to work the action being rolled for must clearly leave both characters open to injury. In the example given above, the initial attempts by Harvey to “test this guy’s skills” would clearly leave both open to being punched. The earlier example with October Jones trying to get information from a police detective could also work, but might require some additional creativity to explain why she is “injured” if the roll fails (perhaps her pride is hurt, or she is threatened with trying to obstruct justice…). I would really like to know your opinion on this.