This is a follow up to my first impressions review of High Valor, a new fantasy RPG from SilverLion Studios. It’s also an RPG that my late night gaming crew has already played three nights worth of this week.
High Valor is definitely a game focused on role playing and story telling. It has a very, very simple dice mechanic to it. The game itself, however, should not be written off as a simple and easy game. On the contrary; it is a game that relies heavily on thinking in terms of the actual situation and not worrying about the context of your statistics. The player who sits there and says “I hit it with my axe” will not perform as well as the player who says “I attempt to engage my foe, feigning a hit to his side and instead trying to sweep his legs.” This isn’t a cop out for the sake of Narrative game play, the mechanics are honestly set up to favor the more descriptive plays. When you look at a character sheet, and you see the list of character traits, the rank and bonus to them is the secondary. The trait’s description itself — Adept at Wizardry, Fleet of Foot, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son — these are the real meat and potatoes of the system.
It’s not a perfect game. But it is a game that, on its own, stands great and offers many nights of enjoyment. The rules may be simple, but the setting and advice given in this book make up the price. It may not be the highest production value, but it looks good and flows good. For many I would say: If you don’t get a copy to play, you should definitely pick up a copy to idea farm. In our modern era of recycled mechanics, stat blocked encounters and mathematical balancing so everyone feels cool….this game comes off as a breath of fresh air when a break is needed from other “modern” gaming systems.
- Open Combat System: No miniatures here, although they could be used just as a visual. But there’s no distance gauging, no movement steps counted, there isn’t even a time scale or an initiative system. Attacking a horde of monsters is no different mechanically than climbing a tree, negotiating a bargain or crafting a potion. With a little practice, though, it’s just as intense and lethal as any other Fantasy RPG, possibly more. The best part is not being confined to your sheet. The Fate Pools and Traits are broad and flexible, allowing the important decision making to be in your control.
- Setback System: The Setback System makes me never want to play with Hitpoints again. Each setback adds to the difficulty of a challenge where applicable, but they can be wide and varied. A setback can be many things, depending on the challenge that caused it: an injury, a moment of being stunned, a High Magic spell backfiring on the caster, the character being persuaded/convinced/seduced, a question of Faith…..as the challenge becomes more difficult, permanent injury and death are also options. To me, it feels a lot like a more descriptive version of Mutants & Masterminds save system. And the best part is? The players only have themselves to blame because….
- The Teller Never Needs to Rolls Dice: The struggle is always the player’s roll vs. the Teller’s challenge rating. Whether a player is taking a leaping blow against an opponent, dodging a Troll’s rock throw or trying to convince a Noble to aid their cause…it is always on their dice roll. Sounds scary, I know…but the look on their faces when you advise them the setback they can suffer, and seeing them go ahead and risk life and limb anyway only to roll crap….priceless.
- The Scalable Challenge Ratings: No endless pages of stat blocks, no having to whip up attributes for NPC’s on the fly. You can design encounters as complex or as simple as you want. No kidding, my notes from last night for a really intense battle involving a bunch of Myrks ambushing a wagon was simply: “Group of Myrks (Legendary/22)” No kidding, and that fight was brutal. Challenge ratings in HV are essentially the total difficulty to completely defeat a Challenge. When facing a harder challenge, you can either attempt to make the greater feat roll to conquer it (and risk death) OR attempt to weaken it. In this case, the players would fight individual Myrks at a Heroic difficulty, and after some being defeated the overall challenge would drop accordingly. So, do you kill the remainder in one fell swoop (and possibly get your ass beat) or do we continue dwindling their numbers? Remember: The Teller never rolls the dice. The players either succeed in their challenge, or they take a setback, or they can even tie in a stalemate (at which point they can opt to take setbacks in order to gain the upper hand.) That’s a lot of action for just one line of GM notes!
- The Magic System: First off, it’s a free form, cast-on-the-fly type system. Instant win for me there. It’s also a very wild, chaotic power with unpredictable results. Double win. Spell casting in this game is about as close to a more open ended, yet just as costly “Mage: The Awakening” type game. It also offers Low Magic charms that anyone can cast, as long as it’s “coincidental” in its effect. Think folk magic. But my absolute favorite part? Shadowverse. Every spell cast requires the player to speak an incantation. Say it dramatically and serious, easier setback. Say it in rhyming poetic form, easier setback. It’s nice to see spell casting being more than “I cast MAGIC MISSILE” at my table.
- Begs to be Homebrewed: I can’t help it. I’m looking at my other gaming collection, and wondering what would be fun using HV’s FEATS system. I have a lot of D&D modules and world books never played. I can’t even help but wonder what a “Gamma World”-esque setting would feel like, using traits to describe mutations? The inner gamer tinker-gnome in me wants to play….that same giddy feeling M&M or Savage Worlds gives ya? Yeah, I got it here.