A lot of this Familiar project is indirectly inspired by Ars Magica, and one of those inspirations that has certainly been sitting in the back of my mind is the idea of combat through formalised ritual magic. A ritual pattern is laid out, different centres of magic might have permanently engraved stones or tiles, or they might draw up new patterns with chalk each time a ritual duel has been challenged. There are certainly a variety of these ritual patterns, every centre of magic has a different one, and each have their own rules and regulations.
The common rules state that ritual patterns must be made up of at least three circles. These circles must be interlinked through arcs and lines, they may touch one another tangentially, they may even overlap...but as an additional mandatory rule, the whole shape is made from unbroken lines. Magic energy is contained within the corcles of the pattern and it could prove very dangerous if this energy were to leak out.
Ritual magic duels will naturally be played out using the same mechanisms as the rest of the game. You choose a difficulty die to reflect the complexity of your character's action (this die is modified by situational advantages and disadvantages), then try to beat the result of the difficulty die with your magic die. There are a few possible outcomes, fail, partial success, low success (yes, but...), or high success (yes, and...), and you may temporarily exhaust one of your character's traits to upgrade their outcome.
I'm thinking that a duel will be divided into turns. You start a turn by drawing a difficulty die in a closed fist and declaring the character's current stance (according to the elemental affinities). The difficulty dice are revealed, whoever has the highest die gains "the edge", on the first turn if the difficulty dice are equal, no-one has "the edge"... on a later turn, if the difficulty dice are equal, "the edge" remains with whoever has it.
There are at least three circles in the ritual pattern. In the example drawn above, there are three small circles and a larger one (all marked with the pale swirls). A single duelist may stand in one of the smaller circles, both duelists may stand in the larger circle. On the first turn, both duelists start in the larger circle. In later turns, whoever doesn't have "the edge" must move from their current position in the dueling pattern to a new location, the player with "the edge" may choose whether they move or not in response to their opponent's move. If no-one has the edge, both duelists remain where they are.
Difficulty dice are then modified.
First a modification due to "range". If your action is directed against someone in the same circle, the difficulty die is reduced by a step. If your action is directed against someone in an adjacent (but tangential) circle, the difficulty die is not modified. If your action is directed against someone in a non adjacent circle, the difficulty die is increased by a step. If your action crosses over any "barrier lines" (such as those around the small circles in the example shown above), the difficulty die is increased by one step per line crossed.
Next a modification due to "magical energy". Different circles of the ritual pattern may be infused with elemental energy. If your stance's elemental affinity matches the energy of the circle you're in, the difficulty die is reduced by a step. Conversely, if your stance's elemental energy opposes the energy of your circle, the difficulty is increased by a step.
Any magical energy is tapped before the difficulty die is rolled, then the magic die is rolled.
The duelist has "the edge" applies their result to the conflict first, then their opponent applies their result to the conflict. Results could include mystically damaging the opponent, applying some kind of penalty to them, overcoming a penalty, infusing a circle with elemental power, or regenerating mystical energy to continue the fight.
I'll need to run a few sample conflicts to make sure it works, but it feels like it's heading in the right direction.