On p. 155 of the core rulebook, under “Adding to Threat,” it says:
Escalation: At times, the gamemaster (or the rules) may state that a specific action or decision risks escalating the situation, making it more dangerous or unpredictable. If a character performs an action that risks escalation, they immediately add one point of Threat to the pool.
The problem is, I can’t find anywhere what “escalation” means. I even tried searching the PDF.
Perhaps this is something related to other 2D20 games, or was dropped from Dune at the last minute?
Escalation is an element in STA at least.
Basically certain weapons and actions (normally the more lethal ones) generate escalation which is added to the GM threat pool for them to then spend on actions or NPCs that make them more dangerous (certain bonus or different weapons for example).
I have always interpreted it as just another name for Threat, though more codified in how the players generate it.
I think in this case you are right in it is something that was probably carried over and they intended to have the same wording as in STA with certain weapons or actions. Though with Dune starting off more lethal in spirit than STA it was dropped as a separate rule as not fitting in.
So, in STA is it used something like this?
Player: I want to pack phasers when we beam down to the planet for our diplomatic away team.
GM: OK, so you want to arm up with phasers during your trip to the diplomatic summit on the totally peaceful planet? Sure thing! That will be +1 threat for me!
Your basic type 1 & 2 phasers are fine (the little pistol type ones), but a Phaser-3 (the big rifles) have Escalation 2 as a trait.
So in normal circumstances they would add 2 threat at the start of the session.
In your example the GM would be well within the system to say that even the basic phasers counted as having escalation.
Players can still take them, but they are just asking the GM to create problems because of it.
Yup, its kind of a catch all option for the GM to decide that things just went up a notch.