The Battle of Everway, part 2: Setting the Stage

In Part 1 I discussed preference. The intention with Part 2 is to see if Everway can be made into a realistic combat game at the iNtuitive end of the Myers-Briggs information gathering axis, as opposed to the Sensing end where most systems that aspire to “realistic combat” (Riddle of Steel, etc) lie. The first step to doing this will be framing the combat. In Part 3, I’ll talk about actually running the game.

An aside: one thing I avoided was adding extra rules. I considered a couple of options:

  1. Roll the element as a dice pool looking for matches (ORE-like) and turning the matching sets into actions
  2. Introduce more granular skills that pertained specifically to combat
  3. Add fate points.

Rolling dice isn’t in the spirit of Everway, since each level of element is supposed to be twice as powerful as the last. Making a game out of that premise just wouldn’t work. Introducing more granularity in the skills goes against the way characters are drawn with a broad brush, with just four talents – each talent’s significance is diminished if there are simply more talents. And while Fate Points would work, they’re not necessary. In fact they might be a hindrance, since it would upset the GM’s interpretation of the cards. They might be used to force the reading of another card, but they shouldn’t affect the overall balance of power in the conflict.

Everway concentrates on Fire as the primary combat trait, with Earth as a significant secondary trait. When I wrote about Elemental Combat one of the objectives was to show how the other (mental) attributes contribute to a fighter. To summarise:

Fire – represents dynamic flow, vigor, physical action and reflexes. This will always be the most important trait for combat.

Earth – represents natural physical might. Everway uses this trait as endurance, but it could indicate reliance on physical talent/strength rather than trained skill.

Air – represents tactics but also technique. It’s the opposite of Earth – representing the way technique and martial system can overcome pure physicality. It also represents detatchment from the reality of the fight – treating it analytically, or as a sport. It has significance for ranged combat as well. Air is an advantage in certain theatres, like formalised duels.

Water – represents trickery. All fighters need to be aware of dirty fighting. This is an assassin’s trait, and opposes Fire’s reflexes with hidden attacks.

These definitions don’t have to just apply to characters – they can also relate to the environment and scene. Since most of the cards in the Fortune Deck have elemental correspondence, a deck reading could be used to plan out a combat.

Everway Combat Recap

Combat features in both the Everway Player’s Guide and the GM’s Guide. Like everything else in the game, combat resolution comes down to Karma, Drama and Fortune:

  • Karma: success through strongest trait / power
  • Drama: success according to needs of the plot
  • Fortune: success as result of interpreting random element (i.e. the Fortune deck)

For combat the GM takes a number of factors into account when running a fight between two parties. The relative Fire scores will (almost) always be of highest importance. Earth scores are also considered (for fatigue, etc). Whether one or both sides are armed is a consideration, and any other traits (e.g. powers) can be considered too.

The game then suggests three ways of running a fight:

  1. The GM simply adjudicates a result, based on all factors (a Karma/Drama method).
  2. The GM picks a single card and interprets it to give a result.
  3. The GM runs a blow-by-blow combat, effectively adjudicating each “round” with a single card reading.

This is absolutely sufficient to run combat in Everway. In fact I don’t propose to deviate from this approach. However there are a couple of factors that will help set the stage.

1. The Environment

Games are very bad at factoring in the environment. But I can tell you from experience that fencing on marble or wet grass in smooth-soled period boots is not the same as fencing in a sports hall in trainers. I understand some martial arts developed in swampy areas will involve sliding the foot as opposed to stepping. Then there’s movement in the third dimension – what if your hero is fighting something that’s flying or leaping? What if it’s hard to see?

The GM can either decide in advance what element applies, or draw a card. It may be handy to refer to refer to Martin Teply’s Reference Guide To The Fortune Deck (link taken from Rob Barrett’s Everweb). Of course if you’re drawing cards there’s nothing stopping you from just interpreting the card, if that’s what you want. But for elemental correspondences, here are some recommendations:

Fire – represents a dynamically changing landscape. Maybe it’s a fight on a weir, or a broken rope-bridge, or on the backs of horses while in pursuit.

Earth – represents being closed in. Maybe it’s a tavern with low vaulted ceilings, or a crowded street, or maybe the opponents are just very close to one another.

Air – represents a very open landscape. Perhaps it’s a wide plain where the hero is at risk of being shot before she can close, or perhaps it’s a formalised duel in an open space.

Water – represents something hidden. Maybe the arena is littered with sink holes or pit traps, or something else for combatants to trip over. Maybe an attack comes from the third dimension, making it harder to defend. Maybe it represents the enemy itself being hidden, and not being encountered until too late.

Someone with an affinity for that element will be at an advantage compared to an enemy that isn’t. Someone who is strong in Earth and mighty will have an advantage when being very close (e.g. wrestling), and someone who is wise in Water will be on the lookout for tricks and traps.

2. Scene

The scene itself is a kind of environment, but in this case relates to mood of the piece.

Fire – open argument. Tempers flare, combatants posture and taunt.

Earth – no oversight. Something that happens out of the view of others. No external pressure to perform, but at the same time no-one coming to your rescue. Just the hero and her nemesis in a cave.

Air – theory, rules, and bureaucracy. A formalised and observed combat, with a significant outcome that may not be immediately understood by the heroes. It may even be grossly unfair, and yet impossible to dispute. A judicial champion fights against a much weaker man who has been falsely accused and has no way of proving his innocence.

Water – veiled threats. Hidden observers who will take an interest in the outcome – possibly even aiding one side or the other.

3. What’s At Stake?

Dogs In The Vineyard’s conflicts start with this question, and it’s great advice for framing the narrative battle.

Fire – life itself. A fight to the death.

Earth – physical pain and discomfort. It may be a brawl where no-one actually wants to kill each other, just clear the air.

Air – the Rules, Law, a Principle. A precedent will be set upon the outcome.

Water – a Relationship or a Reputation. A person’s Face in front of the community.

4. Antagonist Strategy and Motivation

Finally you might want to consider why the antagonists are behaving the way they are.


Fire – hatred: they bear a grudge against the heroes.

Air – rules: they are acting because a Law tells them to. This Law may be a person in authority, a religious doctrine, or something else.

Water – manipulation: they are working for someone hidden, who had their own motives. If they have been duped into acting, choose one of the other elements as a “cover” motivation.

Earth – basic need: the characters have something the antagonists need to survive.


Fire – outright attack.

Air – reason first and offer terms of surrender.

Water – trickery and kill/capture.

Earth – overwhelm, subdue and capture.

 Of course different characters in the groups will have different motivations, and different strategies.

5. Priority

Just for fun – you might want to randomise what’s most important for your scene by drawing a card and noting the significant elements.

Fire is What’s At Stake?

Air is the Antagonist’s Strategy.

Water is the Scene.

Earth is the Environment.

I’ve included the above just to help randomise, however. Once you start getting into elements-within-elements, it all gets a bit meta.

6. How Each Element Overcomes Another

There are no hard and fast rules to determine how elements can overcome each other. But here are a few suggestions.

You could consider the hierarchy of elements. Fire dominates Air because it crosses open spaces quickly, and moves faster than the eye can track; Air dominates Water as intelligence uncovers duplicity; Water dominates Earth as cunning overcomes brute strength. In turn Earth may dominate Fire as strength holds the body fast and inhibits motion.

Of course those pairs may be interpreted in the opposite direction, but the test is the same – only the outcome is different. Can entry by stealth (Water) overcome a castle defences (Earth) or is the castle impervious to a sneak attack? Perhaps the castle is only impervious because it contains some element of Air in its design – intelligent patrols, wide open spaces with lookouts, and so on.

Next, consider the elemental axes. Fire and Water negate each other as speed and reflexes counter deception. Air and Earth do likewise, where analysis meets obstinacy, or an impervious uniform body is shown to have hidden structure.

Finally there are the elements opposing themselves. This is the simplest – in all cases where the Environment or Scene features an element, possessing that element will be of benefit. Someone who is Fiery will be quick to act and will answer violent argument with the same. 

Set Pieces

Here are a few examples of different scene settings. In all cases Fire is an advantage, but in some of them other scores will be a peripheral benefit. They’re open to challenge of course – in doing so, perhaps you’ll encounter new and interesting combinations.

A. The Duel

I’ve used Duel to mean any combat that’s one-on-one, where both antagonists clearly identify one another. It would also apply to a small skirmish which is really a bunch of one-on-one fights spread over an area.

Priority: most important is “What’s At Stake?” Least important is probably “Antagonist Strategy” since this is a formal combat where both are on even footing. It’s probably beyond one side offering quarter, and since it’s open there’s not a lot of opportunity for duplicity.

Scene: Air or Fire most likely. Air in a formal setting, Fire in a duel to the death.

Environment: any. Maybe Fire for a joust, Earth for a boxing match in a cellar, etc.

Advantage: Earth is necessary for endurance, and will be a deciding factor if both duellists are evenly matched. In a pistol duel, however, endurance isn’t relevant. In that case Air will be beneficial since much of the duel will be based on technique – in that case, Air will edge Earth out. Water likely comes in third, but there may be a few tricks the GM will give to their cunning NPC – perhaps they keep a pocket full of sand to throw in the eyes of their opponent, if the Scene’s mood does not prohibit it.

B. War

This template has a few sub-categories. A Brawl is a non-lethal version of a War, probably in a closed (Earth) environment and probably fought because of a grudge or to save face, but stops short of putting life at stake. A Riot is more dangerous and could be in an open or closed environment. A War is military action. All three are likely to be chaotic.

Where two bodies of warriors come together, each combatant will probably face off against one or two others, but they’ll also have to be wary of their opponents’ companions. In the massed fights I’ve participated in a lot of casualties come from being attacked on a blind side by someone other than whoever is in front of you.

Priority: “What’s At Stake?” together with Antagonist Motivation will determine how far people will go when they are Brawling or Rioting. The Scene is probably lowest priority – it will almost always be Fire as tempers flare.

What’s At Stake: any, depending on the people’s motivation.

Motivation: Most likely either Ideology (Air), or Basic Need (Earth).

Advantage: for the chaos or a massed fight, particularly in a closed space, Earth will be highly important. However Water could be even more significant – not only will it help the heroes evade the worst of the fighting, it also helps with all-round intuition and awareness of danger from unexpected places. Fire is still overwhelmingly important, especially for keeping your companions safe. Air is least useful – there will be no order and no rules.

C. Assassination

This is a case of a sudden surprise attack.

Priority: Environment is key here. “What’s At Stake?” and Motivation are pretty much irrelevant if the heroes don’t know why they are being targeted, and Strategy is likewise not a factor – it will always be Stealth.

Environment: Earth and Water will make good environments for assassination attempts.

Scene: most likely Earth, but could be any.

Advantage: Earth isn’t helpful here. Water is most useful for spotting duplicity, and Air may be useful for uncovering an assassin before it’s too late.

Next Time


p>That’s it for now. In Part 3, I’ll discuss how this all fits together when running the game.