Reflections on High Valor

Six years ago, I had my view on gaming flipped on its head. I was at the end of a two-year 4e D&D campaign; one that saw decks of power cards, miniatures, three different desktop applications, and combat encounters that lasted entire evenings. It was clear that, while we had a blast, that the days of such bloated systems were in need of ending. We needed something lighter, more elegant, and easier to run in the fewer hours we had.

That’s when Tim Kirk sent me a review copy of High Valor. And it blew my mind.

At first I swore it was broken, incomplete, and not a full game. I even tried to “fix” it. And I am thankful for the patience Tim had with me, and that he has shown me a different way. That games don’t need catalog list of weapons with statistics, you don’t need hitpoints or health meters. The GM doesn’t need to roll the dice, and that enemy opposition doesn’t have to be a full stat block (but can, actually, just be a challenge rating.)

The concepts presented weren’t unique in High Valor, but they weren’t near as prevalent as they are in a lot of modern RPGs today. No definitive skill lists, abstracted attribute pools, asymmetrical GM design — these were rare and somewhat troubling concepts to grasp at a time where Pathfinder was the new sexy.

Today, games like Apocalypse World, Numenera, Fate Core and others use similar approaches and concepts. And while these titles do bring some fresh ideas to the table, I have yet to see a system that executes them as elegantly as High Valor.

I always swore that HV and its FEAT system are diamonds in the rough; a highly underappreciated game that is often overlooked. It has no “game line” — this single volume is all that’s needed to play. It wasn’t released by a top-shelf AAA studio. It was written by one man, who has a deep passion for his game and its world, and was released an independent title at a time when Print-On-Demand was still in its fledgling state. Though gaming PDFs were taking off, the technology to access it wasn’t yet as convenient as it is today. Even as mobile devices and tablets have become common place among many gamers, the dated PDF with its lack of  bookmarks and awkward font choices hasn’t helped bring it into more welcoming audiences.

Breathing New Life
The awesome folks at Precis Intermedia have put the spark back into this wonderful title. They have released High Valor Revised. It’s the same rules, the same game and same setting as released before. The revision is in presentation — a nicely bookmarked and optimized PDF, cleaner fonts and editing. Better layout and organization, and a few new touches that makes this game stand well in the modern hobby.

This game deserves another look. Its setting is ripe for adventure, being a dark fantasy world where Beowulf would feel at home. Magic is a thing of wonder and consequence, limited only by player imagination and aided by their creativity. The mechanics are a perfect blend of storytelling, dice rolling, and old-school “Rulings over Rules”. The GM may never roll the dice, but their arbitration is key to the experience.

If you liked the idea of games like Dungeon World, but found their approach to be lacking, you should give High Valor a serious consideration.

Want More Information?
My original posts about High Valor:

Convinced you yet?
You can pick up the Revised Edition PDF at RPGNow.
You can also get it, and the Paperback Print Edition at Precis Intermedia

2 thoughts on “Reflections on High Valor”

  1. “Today, games like … Fate and others use similar approaches and concepts. ”

    You know that FATE predates High Valor by 7 years, right?

    (FATE’s first edition goes back to 2003; High Valor only goes back to 2010-ish)

    1. Fully aware, sir. I’ll update the post to say “Fate Core” since I meant the game in its mainstreamed state today. Apocalypse World also came out the same year as HV, but has a lot more recognition. My main point was that popular gaming trends today implement a lot of similar ideas that made HV polarizing at a time when most titles felt all about the bloat.

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