Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why Honor+Intrigue?

What is Honor and Intrigue?

Honor+Intrigue is a swashbuckling action game written by Chris Rutkowsky of Basic Action Games.

Honor+Intrigue and Me

I’ve been running Honor+Intrigue for close to three years now. Our group plays once a week and to date we have played 166 sessions most of those with the same group of characters, though we have had a few changes, additions, and subtractions and a few solo adventures.

What drew you to the system?

Oddly enough, what drew me to Honor+Intrigue was WEG’s Star Wars D6 system. Star Wars D6 is a system that I really enjoy and the WEG materials were excellent for Rebels vs. Empire or fringe characters operating in the shadows without strong loyalty to either side. We’ve been playing off and on since the mid-1990s. As the Jedi characters have increased in power, the one failing in the system that I found was in lightsaber combat. The system encourages an Armageddon style of combat where each opponent needs to spend Force Points or Dark Side Points from the very first round because if they don’t do so and their opponent does, the doubling of both attack chance and damage means that the one not using a Force Point will lose and the damage is not survivable. As a game mechanic one round win or die lacked even the minimal interest of a game of nuclear rock-paper-scissors. As a fun way to play it was even more lacking.
In brainstorming ideas for a more interesting way to duel with someone on another forum I heard about H+I which had a mechanic for yielding advantage. H+I also had styles which was something the prequels added to Jedi lightsaber combat. Yielding advantage to avoid a killing blow or to retreat instead of standing and dying sounded like something that might work for Star Wars.
So I bought the H+I rules and found I liked the dueling styles. At the same time, my co-GM for Star Wars was on GMing hiatus and I was ready for a change from GMing Star Wars. My players were pretty enthused about Musketeers and swashbuckling action so I was able to sell learning a new system based on the payoff of getting to play Musketeers and stuff.

What makes it more interesting to use for swashbuckling versus other RPGs?

Honor+Intrigue is based on Barbarians of Lemuria which I had only vaguely heard of and have never played. Based on my experience with H+I I’d imagine BoL would do a good job of simulating Howard’s Conan, Burroughs Martian series, or Lin Carter’s Thongor.

Here’s what I like about H+I combat.

  • Hit point are essentially static which matches my preference for games like Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, and Star Wars D6 all of which have static hit points
  • The combat system is designed predominantly around dueling and sword combat so it has more options that a combat system that is a bit more generic or even in the way it treats different types of dealing out damage. This allows more options for melee weapons without adding the same level of complexity for brawling or ranged combat. For swashbuckling action this is a plus. (There are adventures that include additional options to supplement brawling or ranged combat, but they aren’t part of the core rules.
  • Any character can perform any combat maneuver. To me this is more intuitive and seems more natural that some sort of feat system where certain moves are unavailable to most characters. However characters can master a maneuver to get an advantage when they use that maneuver
  • Different maneuvers use or are defended by different attributes. Therefore Might, Daring, Savvy, and Flair can all be used for different maneuvers in combat. What effect of this is that characters with different stats will naturally prefer to use different maneuvers which gives the strong, brave character a different effective fighting style than the intelligent, charismatic character, etc
  • Characters can master one or more dueling styles which gives them some advantages when using their style and also some color. One thing I really like is that the combination of maneuvers in a given style and the attributes the master possess combine to make nearly every character different in combat while giving no character a guaranteed I WIN button
  • Characters begin play as very competent. The game has 3 levels of characters 
  • Heroes are typically just the PCs 
  • Villains who provide their main antagonist(s) or opponent(s) and are of the same level as the PCs (or higher)
  • Retainers who often provide the Villains lieutenants and who may be a challenge for a single PC, but who will typically not be able to kill a PC though they might be able to defeat one
  • Pawns who form the rank and file of the opposition – think the Cardinal’s Guards in most any Musketeer film or the nameless guards in an Errol Flynn movie. One PC can take on several pawns at once and will usually win and will almost never be killed.

Chris Rutkowsky talks about combat in Honor+Intrigue

Here's what the game designer, Chris Rutkowsky, said about combat in H+I.
[Combat] was designed to emulate swashbuckling duels, where instead of "taking turns hitting each other" the characters try to press their advantage against one another. Feints, Footwork, Parries, and a number of fighting maneuvers all figure into it. There are 9 dueling styles, and guidelines for making your own. The "Advantage" mechanic makes it so that you can have a combat where you have two unarmored characters dueling to the first cut... and the resulting combat can still be dynamic and interesting (as opposed to "I won initiative, so I won the duel"). They chase each other back and forth across the top of the parapet, up and down the staircase, onto the mast, etc. There is a whole thread on it here, but I can give a summary in this post.

To explain better, here's a quick look at the character sheet. Check out the bottom right corner of the character sheet:

At the bottom right, is the Advantage Track. In swashbuckling movies, combatants don't stand next to each other taking turns hitting- they are typically locked in a stalemate- one gaining ground as the other retreats- sometimes reversing this- until one person is ultimately defeated.

That is the sort of action the Advantage track is meant to emulate.

When a melee or brawling attack would hit you, and your Defense or active defenses are not enough to stop it, you can choose to Yield Advantage instead of taking the damage. So this is the part in the movie where the pair dueling on the staircase, one of them starts to stagger backward. He's losing his feet, being overwhelmed and so he begins retreating away from the opponent. The more Advantage you yield, the closer you are to defeat.

Most characters begin each combat scene with 3 Advantage. It can be increased (being the master of a dueling style gives +1 Advantage). People wearing armor likewise might begin each scene with less Advantage (you get tired more easily in heavy armor).

When you have 0 Advantage left, you are "Defeated". This means the winner can narrate whatever fate they want for the loser. This could mean capture, being ran through and left for dead, the enemy slips off a ledge to his death, etc. (Typically PCs who are Defeated are likely to be captured or left for dead rather than actually killled). So if you have 1 Advantage left, you may want to think twice about Yielding Advantage- you may be better off taking the damage.

The Advantage mechanic makes it so that even a fight "to the first cut" can be exciting (much more than just who won initiative).

If you have more Advantage than an opponent, you can also "Press the Advantage" against them. This allows you to get an extra bonus to a roll when you spend a Fortune Point or to get a free action, if you also lose 1 Advantage (you are becoming reckless).

Advantage can be recovered during a scene when you are not attacked for an entire round. You can then spend an action "getting your bearings" to regain a point of Advantage, up to your normal max. Likewise, when you get a Mighty Success with certain actions, you gain Advantage (the tables have turned). However, at the end of scene you get all your Advantage back anyway.

In terms of "Active Defense" you have more options than a Parry. There is Dodge, Cloak Parry, Bare-Hand Parry, Ripostes, and Stop-Thrust. A really good parry can lead to a foe being disarmed (and a gallant hero would gain some Advantage and Fortune Points for tossing it back), or their weapon being broken.

By default, all characters have a "Passive Defense" called... Defense. If an attack hits you, you can then choose to use an Active Defense called a Reaction, such as your parries, etc. Most duelists worth their salt will choose to "Master" the parry maneuver quickly, which gives them a free parry per round. You likewise could master Dodge in this manner, giving you more active defense options every round. Characters can also choose to split actions; so if you are really harried by numerous attackers, you could choose to split your actions to parry 4 times a round (though at a -2 penalty to each; it's likely to be the tactic of someone in a really desperate situation).

Another slightly less used Active Defense involves "Fortune Points" which are used to improve one of your passive defenses to avoid an attack. This gives you a "Close Call" which can be interesting in its own right (the sword trims some of your mustache off, etc).[1]
And because some people cannot have too much information...



[1] From a post by the author.

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