Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rules Snippet - Tactical Swordplay in the oWoD

Back in the day my buddies and I were big into Highlander. Aside from the movies and TV series there was a collectible card game that, well, had its flaws. However the base of the game was called the Swordmaster system and was used for a few other CCGs that disappeared even faster than Highlander. It was actually a neat system and when we decided to run a Highlander RPG using the Storyteller system I grafted the two together. The result was a good tactical sword fight simulator that had a nice flow to it.

The Swordmaster System in Brief

There were several different types of cards in the game. Most importantly there were Basic Attacks and Basic Blocks. A Basic Attack had a 3x3 grid in the upper corner with one square filled in. That indicated where the attack was going. There were nine Basic Attacks, one to each square. Similarly a Basic Block had a 3x3 grid that had some squares filled in, usually a set of 4 or a row of 3, that indicated the area that was being blocked. There were six basic blocks (1 for each corner group of 4 and 2 rows of 3 along the top and bottom).

The basic mechanic was that the attacker played an attack and if the defender had a block that covered that area they could play it and block the attack. Each player would take turns being the attacker. You could not attack to an area you had just blocked.

There were additional card types. For example Dodges were like blocks except you could attack through the area covered by the Dodge and avoid damage from special attacks that had an effect when blocked. There were many, many other cards, too, but they could all be grouped under "special effects". You generally could only play one of those per turn. Only the ones that also could be considered combat maneuvers of some sort were used (such as "Combination" which allowed you to make two attacks).

The other important aspect of the game was that your life score, called Endurance, was your hand size. So if you had ten endurance left then you could only have ten cards in your hand. This meant that as you took damage you had fewer options available to you for attack and defense.

The Rules

Each player had a "deck" that represented what they were capable of. At minimum it consisted of the fifteen basic attacks and blocks and a Head Shot event card - this was a "set". For each point of Dodge the character had (as in the Storyteller Talent) they could include one Dodge card per set. For each point of Melee they could include one special attack or Event card that acted as a combat maneuver per set. Other skills could be used to add other cards if everyone approved (possessing enough ranks in Subterfuge allowed one of the sneaky Event cards to be added, for example.) Enough sets needed to be combined to create a minimum 40 card deck.

A character had a hand size equal to twice their combined Physical attributes (Strength + Agility + Stamina). A sword fight then followed regular Swordmaster rules. A basic hit did 2 damage (and hence reduced their hand size by 2). A basic attack could be declared a Power Attack that did 4 damage and 2 if blocked but the defender could respond with a hidden attack (hidden attacks were made with the card face down so you had to guess where to block). A successful attack to the upper row that was combined with the Head Shot event card ended the fight immediately.


We only got to use this system a few times but the fights it generated had a nice flow to them, certainly better than the crappy combat mechanics from the old Storyteller system. Since a lot of the defensive maneuvers resulted in limiting attack opportunities there would be a lot of back and forth as one player was forced to sit on the defensive until they got the right opportunity and then they could unleash all the attacks that had been building up in their hands. Wounds mattered - as hand sizes shrank it was easy to envision the opponent limping and stumbling as they tried to defend themselves.

This system had some pretty severe limitations - to begin with it wasn't really suited for more than one on one battles. The nature of the Rules of the Game for Highlander helped with this though ("no interfering with someone else's fight"). 

A deck had to be built for each bad guy which could be a chore, but since the actual duel didn't happen until the end of a story it wasn't like hordes of complicated monsters had to be statted out.

Otherwise I was proud of this little creation. It isn't much use outside of melee weapon duels but in a game where those were dramatic points of interest it was worth the investment.

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