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Psychic Duels

Source Dark Archive pg. 200
Two challengers flood their minds with a vision of a psychic battlefield. Imagination explodes into psychic attacks. Fireballs bloom into explosions of color, imaginary swords open wounds bleeding iridescent butterflies, unreal monstrosities escape from nightmares to lash out with their thousand fangs. A defender's shield of psychic glass shatters into fractal shrapnel and the combatant faints, overwhelmed. The victor's mind snaps back to the ordinary world as their foe crumples to the ground.

Taking place entirely in a mindscape, psychic duels can occur when foes come into conflict in an area rife with mental magic, through the magic of a bizarre artifact, when two creatures' minds connect within a dream, or when a psychic duelist instigates a duel. Psychic duels play out much like Duels. The main differences are the participants conduct their duel in mental space and their mental state and emotions determine the outcome. (A duel taking place in the physical world with occult spells uses the rules for spellcasting duels, not psychic duels.) While engaged in a psychic duel, the participants are paralyzed in the real world and can mentally act only in the psychic duel mindscape.

Though other kinds of duels have a judge, a psychic duel is governed by the workings of the mind. This means most psychic duels last until a participant yields or is knocked out (or all participants on one side in the case of a group duel). However, the duel can also end if the participants share an event they would consider a satisfying end to the duel. For instance, they might decide the goal of the duel is to demonstrate mastery of illusion spells, with the first to fully fall for an illusion losing the duel. Because the duel takes place on a mental battlefield, a creature that is mindless or immune to mental effects is incapable of joining a psychic duel.

Terms of the Duel

Source Dark Archive pg. 200
Because of the entirely mental nature of a psychic duel, participants can easily establish more ground rules for their duel through simple consensus, such as the following example options.
  • All psychic manifestations are nonlethal.
  • Participants can cast no spells but battle form spells.
  • A participant can escape the duel by attaining a certain goal, ending it early as a draw. This is especially common in a duel between a powerful psychic and someone with weak psychic capabilities.
  • Participants can leave the duel immediately if their physical body is disturbed or harmed.

Initiative and Dueling Actions

Source Dark Archive pg. 201
Each duelist rolls initiative normally and proceeds in that initiative order, like a spellcasting duel rather than a combat duel. Each duelist can roll a Deception, Diplomacy, Intimidation, or Occultism check instead of Perception. If the participant is trained at the skill they rolled for initiative, they gain the psychic center of that skill—a mental state corresponding to the skill. The GM might allow Lore skills for initiative in a psychic duel; these give the Occultism psychic center unless the GM determines otherwise. All participants gain the Psychic Defense reaction, which they can use while psychically centered. Its specific effect depends on the user's psychic center and using it expends the state. Each participant also has the Recenter action, which lets them change or assume a psychic center.

Psychic Defense [reaction]

Concentrate Magical 
Source Dark Archive pg. 201
Trigger Your opponent uses a psychic manifestation against you.
Requirements You're in a psychic duel and are psychically centered.
You gain the benefit matching your psychic center against the triggering manifestation. Then your psychic center is expended.
  • Armor of Insight (Perception) Sensing the incoming attack, you make your mind resist psychic harm. You gain resistance equal to half your level (minimum 1) to mental damage against the triggering effect. This resistance is doubled if you're a master in Perception and tripled if you're legendary.
  • Empathic Orbit (Diplomacy) Displaying empathy, you sow doubt in your attacker to diminish their resolve for psychic combat. The opponent is stupefied 1 until the end of their next turn or stupefied 2 if you're legendary in Diplomacy.
  • Ire's Spear (Intimidation) Blazing anger surges in your mind, causing backlash to anyone who harms you. If the manifestation damages you, the opponent takes damage equal to the counteract level of the manifestation it used against you. This damage is doubled if you're a master of Intimidation or tripled if you're legendary.
  • Rational Labyrinth (Occultism) Analytically breaking down the attack, you realign your mind's defenses into a puzzle designed to confound it. You gain a +2 status bonus to your Will save or Will DC, or a +4 status bonus if the effect has the emotion trait.
  • Sensory Phantasm (Deception) Using your guile, you send psychic illusions through your mental link to your foe, making yourself harder to pinpoint. You're concealed against the opponent until the end of its next turn.

Recenter [one-action]

Source Dark Archive pg. 201
Requirements You're in a psychic duel and are trained in the skill matching the psychic center you are changing to.
You adopt the psychic center matching the emotion of your choice. If you were already psychically centered, you lose your old psychic center when you adopt the new one.

Attacks and Defenses

Source Dark Archive pg. 202
Any action taken in a mindscape is converted into a thoughtform called a psychic manifestation. An attack or spell has essentially the effect one would expect it to, though its form is far more mutable in the mindscape. Though taking place in the mind, a psychic duel still consumes any resources used by its combatants, such as HP and spell slots. A skilled warrior brought into a psychic duel isn't a helpless weakling; their martial arts training carries over into the thoughtforms they use in the duel. Statistics and actions change in a psychic duel as follows.

Always Use Will Defense: Because a psychic duel pits mind against mind, you use Will for all saving throws and your Will DC as your Armor Class. In cases where a different DC (not a save or AC) would be used for defense, the GM determines which statistic to use, typically replacing only ones based on physical ability modifiers.

Any Damage Becomes Mental Damage: Any damage dealt in a psychic duel is converted to mental damage. Any immunities, resistances, and weaknesses a creature would normally have to the psychic manifestation's form still apply, for instance, applying fire resistance to a psychic fireball. Apply the higher of a creature's weakness or resistance to the damage as normal. Weakness or resistance to mental damage applies only once against a given manifestation, no matter how many types of damage it deals.

Change Strike Damage: Though Strikes use their normal ability scores to represent thoughtform versions of the attacker's prowess, any physical ability modifier to damage is replaced with the attacker's highest mental ability modifier. A creature stat block typically doesn't list a breakdown of its Strike damage, but the GM can find the difference between its Strength modifier and highest mental ability modifier to adjust the damage.

Range Doesn't Matter: Spells and attacks with a range can target anyone inside the mindscape without penalty, even if outside their maximum range or range increment. Spells and abilities that affect a specific area or emanate from you must still follow those restrictions. Melee attacks only target foes within your reach.

Natural Psychic Spells

Source Dark Archive pg. 202
Any creature in a psychic duel can cast two spells, both heightened to half the participant's level, rounded up. They can cast the daze cantrip at will and get a second spell that can be cast once during the duel. They choose from the following when they roll initiative: fear, phantom pain, or a common summoning spell (typically summon animal, summon construct, summon fey, or summon lesser servitor for a 1st-level spell). If the creature can't cast spells, they gain these as innate occult spells until the end of the psychic duel. If they can already cast spells, they add these to their other spells and temporarily gain any spell slots necessary to cast them (even if they can't cast spells of that level yet) that can be used only for the additional spell. Natural psychic spells use the higher of the caster's spell DC or class DC for their spell DC, and that number – 10 for spell attack rolls.

Gear and Companions

Source Dark Archive pg. 202
When you enter a psychic duel, psychic echoes of your gear travel with you. An eidolon, familiar, animal companion, or the like typically appears as a psychic echo based on your perception of it. However, the GM might determine a particularly intelligent companion joins its own mind into the psychic duel.

Movement and Location

Source Dark Archive pg. 202
Changing location is usually easy within a psychic duel, as a participant can move at the speed of thought. It typically takes only a single action to move to any location the participant wants and range of attacks and spells rarely matter much. You can usually run a psychic duel without a grid. Functions of positioning and movement still matter, but have a more flexible appearance. For instance, a participant can Hide, but this likely means shaping the imaginary environment around them to create a visual screen, glowing phenomenon, or even psychic static. Likewise, spells that immobilize or grab a creature can prevent the easy movement detailed above.