Playing Cards Universal – For Conflict


I’ve mentioned this resolution system based on regular old playing cards before. But now I want something a little for substantial for conflict.

Conflict being, as the game RISUS points out, any sort of contest between two sides. Things like:

  • Arguments: Combatants wielding logic, stubbornness and cheap rhetorical tricks to make their point.
  • Horse-Racing: People on horses running around a dirty track, trying to get nowhere first.
  • Dogfights: Pilots in airplanes or spaceships trying to blow each other out of the sky.
  • Astral/Psychic Duels: Mystics/psionics looking bored or sleepy, but trying to rip each other’s ego apart in the Otherworld.
  • Wizard’s Duels: Sorcerers using strange magics, trying to outdo one another.
  • Dueling Banjos: Banjo players using strange melodies, trying to outdo one another.
  • Seduction: One (or more) characters trying to score with one (or more) other character(s) who is(are) trying to resist.
  • Courtroom Antics: Prosecution vs. Defense. The goal is victory. Justice is incidental.
  • Actual Regular Combat: People trying to injure or kill each other.

This post is how to resolve conflict between people in more than one card draw.


Each of the combatants are grouped as units according to common sense. Each player is usually their own unit. A basilisk, a fighter, a swarm of snakes, or a couple of hirelings might each make up their own unit, for example.

When one unit attacks another, their target draws a number of cards equal to the attack’s intensity and places them in front themselves. Each attack against the same target accumulates more cards in front of them.

  • Pathetic attack – 1 card
  • Weak attack – 2 cards
  • Moderate attack – 3 cards
  • Heavy attack – 4 cards
  • Devastating attack – 5 cards

If an attack is Enhanced or Impaired, just increase or decrease the number of cards.

If the target then has a pair (two cards) of matching value, they are Taken Out (in physical combat, this means Critical Damage). If they have two matching pairs in front of them, they are Defeated (in physical combat, this means Death).

If the target has Protection (armor or shield), they may shatter it to discard the last drawn card. This prevents the card that would cause them to be Taken Out.

Weak characters (minions, etc) are Taken Out if they have two cards of matching suit in front of them.

Extra weak characters (vermin, etc) are Taken Out if they have two cards of matching color in front of them.


We’ll use regular combat here for clarity. This is a fight between a fighter and his three hirelings on one side versus a giant basilisk and a swarm of snakes (see the header image if you just can’t picture it).

Fighter: “I throw my sword at the basilisk’s throat!”

The GM draws three cards for the basilisk: 3, 4, and J.

GM: “The sword cuts the side of the basilisk’s neck. It moved too fast to be hit in the jugular. The swarm of snakes hiss and bite your wizard hireling.”

The fighter’s player draws two cards for the hireling squad: 7 and Q.

Fighter: “Ouch. I yell at my wizard to cast their fireball!”

GM: “She casts it! The snakes are weak minions so we’re just looking for the same suit here.”

The GM draws four cards for the fireball. A, K, 7, and 8. A heart, diamond, and two spades.

GM: “The snakes ball up from the heat. They hiss no more! But let’s make a quick test of luck. The fighter and hirelings may have been hit by that. Red is good, black is bad.”

The Fighter’s player flips two cards, a 6 of spades for himself and a 3 of hearts for the hirelings.

GM: “Keep that 6 for yourself as damage. Alright the basilisk swoops in coils around you! It bites with ferocity!”

The Fighter’s player flips another three cards: 4, Q, and… a 6.

Fighter: “Noooooo!”

GM: “You’re Taken Out. Critical damage for the basilisk means one limb turns to stone from the venom. Clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds for right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg.”

The Fighter’s player unfortunately draws a the 10 of clubs.

Fighter: “Well, here’s an underdog story in the making, I can already tell. My hirelings will save me. They charge with their weapons held high and solemn tears in their eyes!”

The GM flips two cards for the basilisk: 8 and… J… Taken Out.

GM: “The basilisk was blind to the hirelings’ approach! They gut the massive beast from behind! It’s all over!”


I like the intermediary step of “Taken Out” before “Death” ala Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland. Monsters get to have some fun abilities then.

Showing up to play an RPG with just a deck of cards, some index cards, some pencils, my phone (for the rules and some music) sounds great. I’m already working more on this, stay tuned… 🙂

2 thoughts on “Playing Cards Universal – For Conflict

  1. So in this case, unlike the quick resolution of “who has the higher card” its “everyone draws cards until someone gets a pair”? I like it! Makes it easy to see at a glance who is in what state. Could be tricky with lots of small hands on the DM side of things, but great for a boss fight

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