HV Under the Hood: Combat (Wamphyri Part 2)

To re-cap last post:

We’ve decided to mod the FEAT system from High Valor to help my buddy run his feudal “Wamphyri” fantasy campaign he’s been plotting for literally years. He’s wanting a story that is epic and grand scale, with minimal rules to get in the way but still offering plenty of character depth. I showed you guys the first part of the experiment, where using the character creation guidelines loosely we managed to throw together a perfectly playable Wamphyri Warlord.

So far, I had won him over with how easy (yet detailed) character creation was under the HV/FEAT system. The next trick was showing him how to actually run a game using the FEAT mechanics. This part is actually pretty straight forward, but I decided to share the experience just to help explain to newcomers how the system works in a bit more detail than previous reviews.

Prelude: The Setup

The scenario I’m about to demonstrate was just a brief example I ran my buddy through with his character. The back story is relatively simple: Him and a neighboring Wamphyri lord have rivaled for months over who had the claim to a crucial field of land sandwiched between their two landholdings. After an all out spat in the middle of court, the two have agreed to contest for the land by means of battle. The scenario involves both lords meeting with a cadre of their thralls and warbeasts on an open field in a fight to the death.

Base Design Principle: Everything is a Challenge

The core mechanic of the game is tied into just about everything the characters do, whether it’s outwitting guards, crossing a chasm or engaging foes in battle. This means that opponents and combat don’t have their own

separate conflict sub-systems like in other RPG’s….an opponent is merely a challenge rating mechanically. Yes, in essence this mean that a foe is just a single stat rating. But don’t be deceived by the sheer simplicity of “statting out” foes; this means you have to be on your best creative drive to flesh out a battle.

Some other elements that throw newcomers off, and usually requires a paradigm shift in adventure design: The GM never rolls the dice. The players rolls determine the outcomes of the action….a success is a success, but failure is usually more fail than a swing and a miss. Failures lead to setbacks, which are penalties that stack up on the player and raise the stakes of the challenge. It’s sort of a more narrative version of the Saving Throw mechanics like in Mutants & Masterminds….there comes a point where you’re injured, your hopes are crushed, and the odds are stacked against you. You can try to push on, but you’ll most likely get crushed in the process. Another interesting factoid here is that tying with the challenge isn’t a success, it’s a stalemate. Either nothing occurs from the challenge, and the players are free to continue….or they can opt to take setbacks in order to guarantee success. It makes for some good martyrdom and sacrifice in the game, which is always awesome in epic games.

That challenge rating is also the rating to defeat the challenge. Roll high enough, and your character climbs the ledge, kills the foe, charms the lady with the performance etc. But that rating also sets the degree of setback upon failure….falling from great heights, being injured (and possibly flat out killed!) by your foe, and never standing a chance with that gal, ever.  So what is a player to do when his opponent is considered a Legendary threat (a difficulty of 22) and his best traits for the fight are only a Heroic and Greater (for a total of  +6; he’d have to ace his roll on a d10 and then roll again on an 8 just to tie!?!?) Like the PC’s, the foes can be struck with setbacks that lower their difficulty rating. Sure, it would take a Legendary roll to flat out kill that guy….how about just simply strike to harm but not to kill? (Okay, that’s just going to be a Heroic feat to land a hit and not take any major harm yourself.) Did the GM mention a chandelier in the scene? How about we leap over and cut the rope, causing it to fall on our foe and stun him? (Okay, that’s just going to be a Greater feat……)

The strength in this is that as long as you provide a decent description of the environment around the players at the time of fighting, it encourages creative and heroic tactics and descriptions and rewards less for the “I’m going to hit him with my sword” type turns.  It’s not a system for everyone…..folks who are shy or new to role-playing might have trouble jumping in and may prefer games like D&D. Players who want more power for their creativity and role-playing will love this system.

So, back to that fight…..
Our troops have gathered on the field. Mercer’s Wamphyri Warlord looks up to see his rival’s army not only outsizes his own, but that his rival has already ordered his thralls to charge into battle.  I’ve broken this encounter into two challenges:

  • The Thrall Army as a whole (Heroic Challenge, thralls are wimps compared to their masters but still a threat in large numbers)
  • The Nemesis (Legendary Challenge, this guy has been around a while and has seen a few fights in his time.)

Mercer established right away his goal in this fight was to engage his rival head on, but understood that he had a wall of soldiers protecting him. He could attempt to charge in directly, engaging the Heroic Challenge head on in hopes of going straight to the kill. But two things: One, since it is a heroic challenge, he runs the risk of severe injury and even death. The other problem is that he will still have the threat of his troops upon engagement, thus adding to the difficulty of the fight (turning his rival from Legendary to Mythical odds.)

Instead, he rallies his troops and attempts to bark orders at them to out maneuver and surround their foes, putting them on equal ground. He rolls 2 dice (his “Flesh” pool, which we deemed covers charismatic matters) and uses Battlemaster and Commanding Voice as his two traits (granting him a +6). Since he was merely attempting to ready his troops for the incoming fight, I knocked the difficulty down to Greater (12). His highest die roll was 8, giving him a total of 14 and thus succeeding. His troops moved into position, and managed to square themselves into equal footing. He then turned to two of his nearest men, and ordered them to escort him in an attempt to breach the ranks and find his foe.

NPC’ allies in this system are interesting, as they serve as just additional traits that get tacked onto the player. This helps keep the player the focus of the game, and not the NPC picking up the slack. Charging into the front lines, he made use of his Bone pool (4 dice) using his Battlemaster profession and his Ancestor’s Weapon as his traits (granting +8 to his roll.) With the use of his men, he also gained a +2 advantage….he would have to roll a 2 at this point  (on his highest of 4 d10s) just to tie the feat. But, you know, risk is risk. (Yes, he made it.)

He “defeated” the army challenge…..it didn’t mean he single handedly slaughter them, but for purposes of the game they now move to the background as he hunts down his prey. He finds the rival lord riding on a fleshcrafted beast, and decided he wanted to attempt to surprise him by sneaking around him and leaping on the back of his mount to startle him. I took the difficulty back down a notch to Heroic(16), and he called upon his Battlemaster trait and his Wamphyri Nature racial trait (using enhanced senses and strengths) to launch the maneuver. He would still have to roll higher than 8, so when asked I also approved the use of his 2 thralls to provide a distraction and assist him by keeping others at bay.

The attack was a success, and the startled foe is now brought down to a Heroic challenge. I mention that he begins to frenzy almost immediately, twisting around and attempting to grapple Mercer’s Warlord and throw him to the ground. The attempts to parry were stalemated; and both parties fall off the beast together and roll in the muds of the battlefield. Mercer decides to go for it, and declares his intention to attempt to rip out the Wamphyri’s leech and destroy him. Since his enemy is still a Heroic threat, I pointed out to him this could go equally badly for him since his rival is frenzying and clawing at him. Should he fail, his enemy would rip him to shreds.

Using his best feats, he would still need to roll an 8 to tie, and even with 4 dice it’s risky. But the HV/FEAT system allows you to “borrow” a die from another pool as long as you can role-play it in. Taking any help he could get, Mercer decided to borrow from his Blood Pool, stating his character was trying to channel studies and experiments in the physiology of Wamphyri for an understanding of wear the Leech should be ripped from. With luck, he managed to roll a “10” (which rolls again and adds on one time) and managed to get a total of 23. His foe had been slaughtered: his leech ripped from him and devoured.

Post Mortem

That roll of 23 would’ve been enough to defeat the foe in full standing; but the risk carried with it was too great. If he had attempted to just outright attack with the intention to kill, and assuming I was nice enough to not just kill him for it, that would still be a Legendary setback (meaning even the most simple of tasks would be catastrophic and pretty much impossible until he worked those off. Also, he’d probably have permanent Challenges in the form of nasty injuries that would hinder him for quite a while. This combat may have looked easy, but one of the taglines of High Valor is “Heroes Die Well.” And they do.

So there you’ve seen a good sample of the system’s combat, including how you can make either individuals challenges or entire groups and hoards a single threat. This doesn’t mean any weak point in the HV system, and when you buy a copy of the book you actually get a decent Beastiary. What it lacks in Stat Blocks, it makes up for with detailed descriptions and guidelines for how to use them.  Using the system on the fly is fast and painless, and modding the sucker for your own homebrew requires hardly any mechanical tinkering…giving more time to just flesh out your world and your story for your players.

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