Card Ordeals

Posted on Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 at 10:44

In T13 extended character Trials and Tests — such as Combat — are conducted with Card Ordeals rather than simple dice rolls. Card Ordeals come in a few varieties, you can use them to run Combats, Hide and Seek Competitions, even a Debate (if you want) between Characters or you can run extended Tests against things like a Lock or a Door. Card Ordeals are intended to give you a Narrative experience of the Action, rather than just a single pass or fail.

To fully understand Card Ordeals it might help first to read a little about Ordeal Cards although you may want to read these rules and get an overview of Ordeal Procedure before looking at the cards themselves. Either way you will need both pages eventually.

Ordeal Procedure

When a character enters an Ordeal, such as starting a combat or a race we follow this procedure.

  1. Stakes: The Referee determines the Stakes: From High Stakes to Low.
  2. First Round: Starting with the first Stage and First Phase
  3. Other Rounds: Many Ordeals never last more than one Round, but some do, when they do these later Rounds may involve Characters having multiple Wounds


Ordeals come in differing levels of danger (of Injury, Failure chance, and Available levels of success). In a High Stakes Ordeal like Warfare failure and death is always an option, but the same Combatants meeting for a Fencing Competition are unlikely to kill each other, and when training before the competition both competitors would be much more controlled, and the risk of injury would be very low.

Stakes High Medium Low
Wounds Applied As Normal -2 levels -4 levels
Successes Carried over… None Wound Levels over difficulty As Pips over difficulty
To the… Death (Maxed Carnage Wounds) / First Failure First Blood (First Maiming or higher) / No. of Rounds First Touch (First Flesh Wound) / Success
Stage lasts… 1-2 Phases 2-26 Phases As many Phases as required
Example Warfare / Bomb Disposal / Stunt work Competition / Chemistry Experiment / Driving Training / Studying Chemistry / Parking

You can see the idea on the table. A High Stakes stunt like leaping off a roof holding a fire hose may be set by the Ref at a difficulty of 4 Stages (leap off, keep hold as the slack runs out, keep hold as the fire hose breaks free and re-catches on the safety rail and finally break the glass to get back into the building).

Each Stage has a difficulty set by the Ref (often randomly – see Stages). In this High Stakes Ordeal, Stages cannot be skipped and even the slightest failure at any Stage could result in Death (and there’s probably other people shooting at you while you do it).

Without people shooting at you, and with a safety net the same stunt becomes Medium Stakes, so the goal is instead to do it fast. Now Failure will only occur if it takes the character longer than the 4 Stages to get through the Window, at each Stage how many Wound levels you pass by are carried over to help with the next Stage.

In a Low Stakes Test you probably won’t even get injured by failure and you can carry over Pips from Passing a Stage and even if you fail over and over, as long as you eventually complete the stages it still counts as a success (although it may have taken days longer than expected).

It is possible for Stakes to be blended. A car chase involving guns may separate the Chase from the Fight. The Fight taking place at High Stakes, but the actual Chase may take place at Medium Stakes, allowing the Characters to exchange a number of blows/shots in each Stage. They use the same Pool for both, but a single failure in the Chase will not lose the leaders or provoke capture, instead they will be able to fall behind or catch up through the Stages.

It is also possible for the Stakes to change during the Ordeal, a Low Stakes training session can suddenly turn nasty, or a deadly Combat can, with the Click of a Gun turn into a Medium Stakes Combat or even a Low Stakes Insult trading session.

Types of Ordeals

Ordeals are very flexible in what sorts of tests you can perform with them. You can reserve them for just action sequences and combat, but they work well for item creation and even high drama scenes such as rousing or closing speeches. This table governs the sorts of Ordeals you might want to run by Suit.

Spades ♠

Ordeal Types: Confrontation (e.g. Warfare, Lawsuit), Perception (Spot Hidden). Spades act as Trumps for the Following Action Types:

  • Attacking
  • Balance
  • Climbing
  • Contagion
  • Desecration
  • Destruction
  • Feats of Strength
  • Lock-picking
  • Navigation
  • Perception (Search/Spot)
  • Staying power
  • Stoicism

Diamonds ♦

Ordeal Types: Travel (e.g. Chase, Race) / Creativity (e.g. Smithing, Painting). Diamonds act as Trump for the following Action Types:

  • Art
  • Building
  • Charm
  • Crafting
  • Drive
  • Emoting
  • Forgive
  • Keeping Your Cool
  • Listening
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Preparation
  • Research
  • Speed
  • Sprint
  • Working

Clubs ♣

Ordeal Types: Wealth, Politics, Power. Clubs act as Trump for following Actions:

  • Barter
  • Control
  • Corrupt
  • Emotional Intensity
  • Guard
  • Magic
  • Might
  • Politics
  • Power
  • Self-Defence
  • Socializing
  • Trade

Hearts ♥

Ordeal Types: Nurturing, Farming, Relationships, Medical. Hearts act as Trumps for the following Actions:

  • Blending in
  • Cooking
  • Escaping
  • Healing
  • Hiding
  • Hunting
  • Insulting
  • Joke-telling
  • Lying
  • Mimicry
  • Riddling
  • Spinning a tale
  • Surgery
  • Survivalism

Time and Ordeals

Time is a subjective thing in T13. We worry about time in terms of Narrative Events, parts of the tale. We don’t deal with time by the second or minute, but allow time to pass in a more flexible way.

Because time is so subjective we break time up into Rounds, Stages and Phases during an Ordeal.


A Phase is a single Narrative event or ‘moment’. At its fastest, in a High Stakes situation like Combat, a Phase lasts about half a second of subjective time (it feels about as long in a Never-Time bubble or travelling in Time or whatever as it does at normal pace), and is just about long enough for a Character to do a few quick things, an action or half-action (drawing and playing 1 or more cards). During an extended Ordeal a Phase could be a day, a week or even centuries long (more if travelling in time or something like it), with many things happening that aren’t narrated around the Ordeal. Think of a Phase as a Panel in a Comic Book or a Sentence in a story. We see something happen.

The Ordeal proceeds by Phases, in a Phase you might be able to act, drawing and playing cards or you might be stuck waiting for a Power to Cool-down. Normally a Stage has a limited number of Phases (decided by the Stakes and Ref), if the Character fails to play a card that is higher than the Stage difficulty (for that purpose alone – you can’t count that cracking shot you pulled off in phase 4) by the end of the Phases of the Stage then they will have failed that Stage. When it is your turn to act you can perform a full action or a half-action.

Full Actions with Descendants and Annexes

When you use a Descendant or an Annex during a Ordeal you get to draw new cards as well as playing at least one card. It is normal during combat to not roll for these actions, instead taking the average (it should be noted that the average will be halved if you are not Proficient, but otherwise Proficiencies are not rolled or checked during an Action).

  1. You should pay any Umbral costs associated with the Descendant or Annex before drawing any cards (in case they fail).
  2. A Descendant or Annex draws reduced Score cards (double reduced Boon when taking the average). If rolling Score and reducing the number of cards looks like this helpful table
    Rolled Score 0 1 2-4 5-7 8-11 12-15 16-20 21-25 26-31 32-37 38-44
    Number of Cards 0 0.5* 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

    *A half card is one card but the Face Value is halved.

  3. Having drawn your cards then you may play at least one card. The number you can play is on the table below. Additional cards may be used as normal, or to pay the costs of range or multiple targets as appropriate. They can also be used to reduce the Reaction Time of that Annex or Descendant. You could also play one card on the Stage (using it for making that jump for example) while attacking another Competitor.
  4. Having Played cards you should now Discard cards over your Ordeal Pool Limit (number Handicaps + Scale).
  5. Having Discarded you now draw Reaction Time chips, and any Global Reaction Time Chips that are required.

Half Actions

Half-Actions are another way of getting things done during an Ordeal. They don’t incur any Reaction Time penalties and therefore are an excellent way of progressing through an Ordeal – if you have a good enough Pool.

Half-Actions are simple Facet based actions. This allows them to either:

  1. Wait: And draw a card (some Refs may allow a Character to draw equal to their highest Facet Boon double reduced, but usually this will be one anyway)
  2. Act: And play a card.

Reaction Times

When a character takes a Full-action (drawing new cards and then playing them) there is a lag, or cool down, before they can use that Descendant or Annex again. This is called the Reaction Time.

For Annexes, the normal Reaction Time is equal to the Reduced Boon, but this will often be modified by Umbrals or Nimbeds. Descendants are additionally limited by the size of the physical Prop (like a gun or a sword).

Some Umbrals and Nimbeds can completely alter the way that RT (and GRT work) be sure to check with your referee.

It can be useful to keep track of these Reaction Times with poker chips (we use Red Chips for RT). After a Descendant or Annex takes an action take a number of chips equal to its RT – less any paid off with cards of course (we suggest using different colour chips for normal RT and Global RT).

Each phase where you don’t use that Descendant or Annex you can discard a chip from its stack. You may discard RT chips even if you are in GRT. Annexes and Descendants with the Burden A (Echoes) Nimbed may continue to play Echoing cards in these Phases.

You can reduce Reaction Times on individual actions by paying Pips from cards during an action i.e. When playing 3 cards using his ‘Dark Magic’ power Nigel the Necromancer uses one of the cards (a 5 of Diamonds) to reduce the Dark Magic RT by 5.

Once an Annex or Descendants RT has been reduced to zero you can then reduce the GRT of the Full-action. A chip (or point) of GRT costs 5 Pips to pay-off this way though, so a Joker is required to pay off three chips of GRT simultaneously.

Global RT

Global RT uses the other colour chips (we use white) and you cannot take any actions (Full or Half), to draw, or play, any cards while you have Global RT chips. Passive Annexes as well as armour (Rook Incarna) Descendants may still act independently to draw/play cards and soak wounds.

It should be noted that GRT chips affect only the Character or Descendant that has them. If you use a Power based Blaster Rifle’s “Scope” Talent, then the Descendant draws RT chips equal to Scope RT and 1 GRT. The Rifle may not be used again until the GRT is paid off. The character holding the Rifle may still take actions.

Generally the GRT of any Action relates directly to the number of cards that it may play simultaneously (or the type of Annex, see table). Particulary large Reaction Times (on powerful Descendants) and some Umbrals can affect the GRT of an action.

Type Global RT / Extra Cards playable
Skill, Skill-type descendant or light Prop (e.g. Dagger, Pistol or Wand) 0
Talent, Talent-type descendant or Average Prop (e.g. Sword, Submachine Gun or Staff) 1
Power, Power-type descendant or Heavy Prop (e.g. Warhammer, Rifle or Tome) 2
Super-Skill or Very Heavy Prop (e.g. Halberd, Cannon, etc) 3


Stages are either physical locations that may be passed through, or are the steps of the Ordeal that must be overcome in order. You can think of a Stage as a line of panels (or perhaps a Page) in a Comic Book, or a Paragraph of a Story. An analogy can be made between a Stage in a procedural Ordeal and a Scene in a Story, and some larger Plot Daemons do treat Scenes exactly like an Ordeal Stage.

How many Phases you can take in a Stage varies according to the Stakes and the type of Ordeal that is being run. Imagine trying to find a particular building in town, we make this an Ordeal, its three Stages long so the 1st is a busy road, the second a park, and the third narrow alleys.

  • On a nice sunny day early in the morning, there is no real traffic on the road, the park is empty and the Character can take as long as they like wandering about until they find the building in the Narrows. The Characters can try to beat the difficulty as many times as they need to to pass. They may fail, but only by giving up as this is a Low Stakes Ordeal and there is no limit to the number of Phases a Stage may take.
  • A Medium Stakes version would impose a time-limit. Each Stage must now be completed in 2-26 Phases (the Ref can decide how urgent to make it). The road is more dangerous now, the Park filled with dogs, joggers and pick-pockets, and the Narrow streets are bustling which makes them harder to navigate.
  • To make it a High Stakes version we are now carrying a Bomb with a timer and a Mercury switch. If the Bomb is too badly jostled it will go off, and so the Character must now carefully dash to the building, failing in any Stage will mean the Bomb explodes and the Character has only 1 or 2 Phases to complete each Stage. Crossing the Busy road is now a dash across a motorway, the park filled with people and narrows are filled with cars.
  • If a gang war breaks out in the city these Stages might be Locations. In this case, moving through the locations is still low Stakes (as there is no ‘Time Limit’), Characters can potentially move through the Locations in any Order for example, from the park to busy road, back through the park to the narrows, but must beat the Stage difficulty each time to actually cover the distance. However, the Combat would still be High Stakes.
Pips Base Phases Suit Stage
2-10 1 Hearts ♥
  • A busy road
  • a park
  • a social occasion
  • Sneaking
  • Healing
Diamonds ♦
  • A straight path
  • a road
  • preparation
  • research
  • a normal working stage
Clubs ♣
  • Politics
  • power
  • a tricky
  • cluttered
  • narrow
  • a water-filled route.
Spades ♠
  • Strength
  • danger
  • balance
  • a climb
Jack – Jump Stunt (diff 10) 2 (set-up and pay-off) Hearts ♥
  • Jump down
  • Jump into shadows
  • a Joke
  • Quantum Leap
Diamonds ♦
  • Skip / jump
  • along
  • ahead
  • across
Clubs ♣
  • Jump over
  • passed
  • through an Obstacle
Spades ♠
  • Balance
  • jump up
  • over danger
Queen – Quick Stunt (diff 10) Hearts ♥
  • Evade something
  • come up with a story
  • Escape
  • Blending in opportunity
Diamonds ♦
  • A game of chicken
  • remember the facts
  • listen
  • pray
  • race / sprint / speed
Clubs ♣
  • A number of Obstacle
  • A trap/or other Obstacles
  • expense
Spades ♠
  • A chance to attack
  • a cloud of mist
  • a clue
  • holding on for dear life
King – King’s Cross (diff 10) Hearts ♥
  • A shortcut
  • chance to skip ahead
  • Lucky Break
Diamonds ♦
  • creative dilemma
  • a crossroads
  • intersection
Clubs ♣
  • A choice of three directions
  • A negotiation
  • a demonstration of power
Spades ♠
  • A fork in the road (two directions)
  • navigation way-point
  • search
  • spot
Ace – Stunt (diff 10) Hearts ♥
  • A Fire Stunt
  • medical emergency
Diamonds ♦
  • Keep your cool
  • perform a Speed Stunt – like a wheelie
  • a skid
Clubs ♣
  • An Obstacle
  • control stunt
Spades ♠
  • Danger
  • collapsing buildings
  • falling debris

Stunts have a setup phase and a pay-off phase. Referees can add an Obstacle to any Stunt Stage that has to be overcome, some can have two or more Obstacles. Because of this you always get at least two Phases to meet the Stunt difficulty (even during a fight!) and overcome the Obstacle. Kings can offer a choice of following different paths through the remainder of the Stages (at least the next Stage should be a choice between two differing paths or procedures).


Obstacles and Traps consist of a single card, that acts as an extra stage difficulty to be overcome, and (in the case of all traps and some Obstacles) may apply its Wound if that difficulty is not overcome to everyone that fails. Referees may allow Characters to disable the Obstacle/Trap by defeating it twice over, so that those following the Character through the Stage need not defeat the Obstacle.

Obstacles in Stages can be like Yarn card Obstacles or they might be as simple as a pile of rubble, or a parked car. Any Wyrd Snares that have been created will also act as Traps. It is up to the Referee to describe the Stage and any Obstacles to the Players and let them know what is going on.


Rounds are the longest period of time that we deal with during an Ordeal. In comic books a Round is about equal to three pages (I don’t know why, but it is…), in a novel a Round is probably several pages long.

Rounds are not really defined in terms of a number of Stages or Phases (although they can be sometimes), but are more of a consequence of the system itself. For Players the Round is the length of time they hold their cards, or take to play through the whole deck of Ordeal Cards.

Start of the Round

When a new Round begins (or the first Round at the beginning of an Ordeal) each Character (and the Ref for NPCs) does the following.

  1. Roll Initiative/Proficiency: A standard initiative roll is a Proficiency Dice roll (it is possible for an Annex, Descendant or Facet to be also rolled if the Referee agrees, although usually they must have a Quiet Automatic Activation Nimbed). Whatever score is rolled is reduced and that is the number of cards is drawn to form the Ordeal Pool (Which may be beyond the Ordeal Pool Limit at this time). The Ref may draw 1-2 cards for a nuisance, 2-4 cards for Chorus and 3-7 for anything else or use the same rules as players. All these cards create your Ordeal Pool. Extra success levels at this roll draw extra cards. Reduced success levels cost a card.
  2. Determine Order: The largest Ordeal Pool to smallest is the standard order. Although you can play clockwise if you prefer. The order can change as cards are played and drawn, if you play by number of cards, which is why we recommend this order of play, but a simple clockwise rotation of play can simplify for larger groups. Sometimes one side may have an advantage of surprise, in these cases they should act first.
  3. Reveal Stage Card(s): If the Ordeal isn’t just a straight Combat or something similar then the Ref should turn over the first card and reveal the difficulty of this Round’s Stage. The Ref should also describe the area and narrate the ordeal at this time. The Ref may allow characters with knowledge of the area (or the procedure) to see the coming Stages. Perhaps one route is shown, but that shortcut is unknown and kept facedown until it is entered. Stage cards can represent locations with Characters starting in differing Stages with different Stage difficulties. That’s all up to the Referee.
  4. Begin Round Phases: Starting with the characters with the most cards (or those with surprise), each character may act.

During the Round

Rounds proceed by Phases, through Stages (or across/between Stages if they are acting as Proxies for Locations). With each Character in turn taking their turn. The number of Phases per Stage and number of Stages is generally controlled by the Referee (or by the person that played the Yarn Cards that set up the Ordeal in a Solo level game and the Referee).

End of the Round

A Round ends at the end of any Stage when any Character has no cards remaining, or the moment that the Deck is exhausted (the last card is drawn or dealt). A Round breaks the narrative flow as Combatants back off to assess the Situation, those being Chased stop to catch their breath and look behind them and that kind of thing.

  1. All RT and GRT Chips are immediately handed in. They will have no effect on the next Round.
  2. All Ordeal Pools are immediately counted and that number reduced, then you hand back all but the reduced number of cards.
  3. All Wounds are now applied as follows. It is normal to apply all damage before the next Round.
    • Distract Wounds: Any Distract Wounds that have not been dealt with in the Round can be discarded by matching Yarn Equivalents from the remaining Pool. E.g. Dealing with 4 Distracts will causes Frank the Psycho to hand over another 2 cards, a Distract and a Maiming to be rid of them.
    • Flesh Wounds can be discarded for a cost of 1 card each Wound, drawn randomly from the remaining Pool, or they will automatically aggravate a Wound already in place one level and then are discarded.
    • Maiming Wounds cost a Proficiency Slot and this should be deleted at this time.
    • Crippling Wounds cost an Annex slot and were applied during the Round. Nothing more is generally required although note that a Crippled active Personality Annex stops the Character from entering the next Round (as they are unconscious) unless an Alternate takes the Helm.
    • Carnage and Mortal Wounds add Handicaps of Miasma Boon Reduced and these are immediately implemented as “Broken”,”Bleeding”,”Dying” or similar for Mortal and for Carnage “Dead”, “Destroyed” (or similar) Handicaps.
  4. Returned Ordeal Cards are shuffled and then Proficiency Dice may be rolled to draw additional cards for the next Round. Highest number of cards begins the first Phase of the second Round.

Additional Costs

As always in roleplaying games there are a number of additional costs that a Combat Action can accumulate, these are normally paid for with preparation (like aiming to offset range costs) or by using Nimbeds or playing multiple cards (like using a power to attack multiple targets at once).


Range costs Pips from the card(s) of the attack, potentially lowering the size of the wound caused. Pips reduce as the following table and generally costs should reduce the lowest cards played first.

Pip cost Confined / Melee Closed / Normal Open / Wide
Hip firing 1 per metre 1 per metre metres reduced
Braced firing 1 per metre metres reduced metres double reduced
Braced Prone / Tripod metres reduced metres double reduced metres triple reduced

Additional preparation cards can be used to pay range costs (by preparing an aiming action before firing).

Multiple targets.

Characters that wish to attack multiple targets simultaneously can do so, however the wound that each receives will be reduced by spreading the damage over multiple targets. To keep things fairly simple in Ordeals the difficulty used is normally +3 Pips per extra target. When affecting multiple targets with area affects (Dominion Nimbeds) it is normal to hit Extra Targets (who have not been paid for normally) with a Distract Wound (2) rather than no attack at all, so Extra Targets that are paid must be hit with at least a Flesh Wound (5).

Multiple Attacks one defender.

A character that is fighting multiple opponents at once and is engaged in active defence can play cards to defend all attackers as though he were fighting them one on one.

Attack types and double and triple damage

Certain attack types do double or even triple damage under certain circumstances. This multiplies the number of cards of that type that the defender must defend against i.e. For an Orthodox (Lecture) attack, which does triple damage when playing a Distract, the defender must parry or soak as though three Distracts were played, to stop the damage getting through.

Ordeal Card Chi Costs

Mercari and Solos can manipulate reality during combat for the following Chi costs.

Chi Effect
7 Discard an Ordeal card and draw a replacement.
7 Draw and play a combat card (in your action phase)
Pips Play a Wyrd Tarot card as an Ordeal card
Pips +7 Play an Ordeal card as a Wyrd Tarot card
Pips Take a card from the top of any pile and add it to your combat pool.
Pips Duplicate a wound card as you play it.
Pips Reduce the level of the the wound caused by this card one level before you accept it. Distraction wounds cannot be reduced.

Setting a Diff

It is the Ref’s job to set the difficulty of an ordeal. Ordeals are defined by the number of Stages, and the Stakes.

Number of Stages

Ordeals normally have a number of Stages set by the Ordeal card, or the Ref may calculate from the normal difficulty. With the normal method being to halve and then Reduce the difficulty to give a number of Stages (So a difficulty of 168 would give 15 Stages normally). If this gives too many stages (15 is a bit high) then Reduce the number again (in this case to 4).

Diffuiculty per Stage

It is normal to require the pip difficulties to add up to at least the normal difficulty across all Stages (so 168 over 15 Stages gives 11.2 per Stage, across 4 its 42 per Stage).

This means that additional Obstacles are required to make a given Stage hard enough. in the case of a 4 Stage 168 difficulty test you are looking at at least 3 Obstacles in every Stage that must also be overcome.

Characters essentially have to accumulate the Pips over the course of the Ordeal. The Stages can still be drawn randomly, setting the difficulty of each individual stage, but then adding extra Obstacles as required.

The Stakes can be changed if you want, and may alter if the Tone changes, or in response to things the Characters may do. Don’t feel as a Ref that you have to be constrained by the cards you draw. You set difficulties and decide stages, the cards are just a guide. So if you are running a combat inside an active volcano, where every step is potentially a character’s last then you can just decide all difficulties must be at least 10 regardless of the cards you draw.

Ordeals spread over many Scenes

Ordeals don’t have to take place in a single scene, they can be spread out, with Stages of a Volume level Ordeal, actually taking a whole Story to complete. There is nothing wrong or difficult about this. The Stages represents a series of choices and difficulties, perhaps even whole Scenes, Acts or Stories in a larger plot. You can often use the difficulty card of a Stage as an Event card on the Yarn Cards to give you an idea for a specific Scene (but many times you will have to add more cards (usually from the Plot demons hand) to explain what exactly is going on).