The Battle of Everway, part 4: It’s All Relative

I love to start things, and I’m terrible at finishing things. I like to send ideas off into the ether and forget them.

Let’s recap on the Everway Combat Posts:

In Part 1 I talked about preference for receiving information, and how detailed combat systems will appeal to a Sensing type and less to an iNtuitive type.

In Part 2 I talked about setting the stage of combat, using elemental axes to provide context for the conflict.

In Part 3 I talked about how conflicts provide milestones in the plot; in particular, they provide a range of consequences to the players. That part is obviously related to the “what’s at stake?” question.

The Elemental Fighter, Revisited

Combat is just a series of tests, with something at stake.  To know what consequences are applied (to either side) we need to know who has the advantage. But advantage is contextual – it depends on how you’ve set the stage.

In the Amber RPG the relative power of combatants is considered on a sliding scale, from complete superiority to complete inferiority.

  • At the extremes of the scale, the PC is either going to win easily, or lose automatically. The only thing that will prevent the losing side from dying right there and then would be a supernatural advantage (e.g. the blood of Amber). Becky suggests letting the player narrate the outcome if they’re on the winning side.

  • In the middle of the scale, where both sides are very close in ability, tactics and peripheral advantages (like endurance) become important.

  • Between the middle and the extremes – as the power gap widens – a point comes where victory is assured, it’s just a matter of time. The things that prevent a victory will be anything that disrupts the events before one side can dominate the other (such as reinforcements, one side becoming completely defensive, or other delays).

A walkover or an unassailable opponent will have narrative value, but we’re mostly interested in matching power levels. The closer to the centre, the more we have to think about what punishment the victor has to take to secure their victory. The GM can still Let Them Win, and force them to make a sacrifice.

Let’s consider relative power levels. For each point of an element in Everway, power doubles, and the speciality in each element adds 1 point to the score. A rating of five is twice as good as a rating of four, and should confer success except in rare circumstances. How far would the inferior fighter have to go to win against a superior opponent?

The Everway book lists a few advantages, including:

  • Having an ally to help against the threat (two people with Fire 4 will roughly match one with Fire 5)
  • Having a strength or endurance advantage (i.e. a high Earth)
  • Having a power that confers an advantage (such as Fireson’s sweat fire power)
  • Having equipment such as armour and weapons

Add to that list specific experience – e.g. if your net Fire score includes some bonus from a weapon skill, you’ll have a slight advantage over someone who is naturally faster, but less experienced (a 4+1 vs a 5).

The elemental score provides a very coarse scale – even a difference of 1 point will change the outcome. The question we have to ask is whether the effect of the other advantages is bigger or smaller than 1 point. That’s entirely down to how the GM likes to run their games and the situation – but since Heroes are defined by their Elements, I prefer to assume these increments will be less than 1. Putting precise numbers will always be tricky, and Everway isn’t supposed to be a crunchy game – the GM should feel their way around task resolution, using the fortune deck for inspiration. But for a rule of thumb, I’ve considered these numbers:

Fire element score (including specialities)

Base combat score

Supporting element

0.5 points per point of advantage over opponent

Power (or spell)

0.5 points for an applicable minor power; 1 or more for a major power (disrupting influence). 

Superior equipment

0.5 points 


0.5 points

Fortune deck

Anything from +1 to -1 points depending on draw. If the card is significant – for example, if it’s associated with a character’s Fate, the bonus or penalty could be greater (even overriding other considerations).

Now consider the relative scores, and assume the likely outcome according to the table:

Less than 1 point difference

Very closely matched. For one side to win, they will have to make some kind of sacrifice.

Between 1 and 2 points

A clear advantage. A draw on the fortune deck could still equalise the battle though, and the victor is unlikely to come out of the fight unscathed.

Between 2 and 3 points

Victory is inevitable, as long as there is no disruptive event to change fortunes. It should be clear to PCs that they are outmatched, but they have an opportunity to act defensively to at least limit their losses.

More than 3 points

A quick and decisive end to the fight. One side is so overwhelmed, they cannot stand against the other, and are at their mercy.

Let’s apply these numbers to the fight between Fireson and a ghoul in the Everway GM’s guide. Fireson has a Fire of 6, and the ghoul has a score of 5. Fireson also has a sword, and is sweating fire – so his adjusted score is 7. However the ghoul has a massive advantage in Earth (+3) making its score 6.5. With that, Fireson has only a small advantage. A good or bad draw on the Fortune Deck could make a difference; otherwise it’ll depend on Fireson’s tactics.

Those modifiers above are entirely down to my taste. If another GM wanted to take this system but felt (for example) equipment should have a bigger effect, just tweak that modifier. Again, we’re talking about a relative advantage here – if both sides are similarly equipped, no real advantage.

Making Our Own Fate

Everway’s combat system allows for single-card resolution, or a blow by blow narration. In the latter case, it’s the time when players act and then react to changing circumstance. Given the option, Fireson’s player will want to try some things to improve his advantage over the ghoul.

Despite being non-crunchy, you can argue that this kind of game is more tactical than “gamist” systems like D&D. Amber gives the players plenty of tactical options despite being diceless – although these are pretty specific to the kind of fighting being done.

In part 2 I deliberately referred to elemental axes when setting the stage. This is because different stages will confer different opportunities, and a PC with a high score in the right element can take advantage.

Fire is the base element for fighting. Whenever there’s conflict, having Fire is an advantage. When a PC uses their Fire in a conflict you can assume they’re doing all manner of attacks, feints, advancing and retreating as the situation demands. However there is a bit of flexibility to allow your players choice. You could apply the “three fronts”from Amber:

Attacking Furiously will put you in harm’s way, but could conclude the fight quickly. It may give the upper hand when the fighters are evenly matched, but at the risk of injury. Knowing that the ghouls will wear him down, Fireson might choose this tactic to end his fight, accepting the loss of some skin to the ghoul’s claws.

Making an Opportunistic Stand is the default option in the absence of other instruction – the PC is looking for openings, making cautious attacks, and maybe looking to the environment for tactical advantage.

You might Go Defensive if you suspect the enemy of being tougher, if you’re protecting someone, or if you’re planning escape. Obviously that limits the damage you get but it will also limit your ability to hurt or capture your opponent.

Now the basics are covered, let’s consider the other elements.

Earth tactics are all to do with using physical advantage – strength, endurance, height. Using Earth involves either wearing the opponent down or closing to grapple – where superior strength becomes more important than martial skill.

When Earth tactics apply:

  • any long, extended fight scene where people may start to tire (e.g. a skirmish or war)
  • whenever there’s an opportunity to grapple
  • in close combat when Attacking Furiously or Going Defensive

When Earth tactics don’t apply:

  • when there’s an attack at long range
  • when the attacker is unseen.

Of course in both these cases, taking damage is easier if you have a high Earth. But it’s only a tactic if you sacrifice (by taking the blow) in order to gain an advantage.

Air tactics involve technical superiority, either with equipment or with technical skills. It can also include awareness of one’s surroundings – improvising weapons, dropping chandeliers on people, and so on.

When Air tactics apply:

  • formalised combat, duels, and any kind of fight where rules are involved (either to work within the rules, or to cheat at them)
  • long range fighting
  • when Going Defensive against a concealed attacker, generally trying to keep distance (i.e. the opposite of Earth)

When Air tactics don’t apply:

  • brawls and skirmishes with no “rules”; being grappled falls into this category too.

Finally Water tactics concern stealth and trickery. It includes all manners of feint, lure and fake-out, ambush and distraction.

When Water tactics apply:

  • any time a character is making an attack by stealth. To do this, their target either has to be unaware of them, or at least not expecting them to attack.
  • using sucker punches, concealed weapons or otherwise appearing less dangerous than they are.

When Water tactics don’t apply:

  • any time the character is out in the open, in plain sight and at range. None of those situations favour sneak attacks.

Do Unto Others

That deals with the when; now how do we apply the numbers?

There are a couple of options. The obvious one is to oppose element with element – pretty much as the rulebook suggests (but extending it to Air and Water as well). This is my preference. If you decide that Air is important for a particular scene then compare Air scores and decide if one character has an advantage.

Alternatively you could oppose one element with a different one. Then you have to rationalise which element can oppose another, and why. I covered this already in part 2 and I don’t intend to re-hash it just yet.

There’s one final consideration. If a character happens to be in a situation – one that favours a high Water, say – and their abilities mean they’re at an advantage, then they have no desire to change the field of battle. But if they find themselves at a disadvantage, they’ll want to try to change their fate. If they’re being stalked by an assassin they’ll try to get away from a crowd and to somewhere that their foe can’t hide. If they’re fighting a giant with overwhelming strength, they might want to keep out of arm’s reach, and throw rocks at the giant.

This means there has to be one more kind of tactic available to fight with – the tactic of changing the field. In this case a model where elements oppose each other could be useful – for example, opposing Earth with Air to dodge the giant, or opposing Water with Air to spot your assassin.

There are 10 combinations of elemental pairs (including same-element pairs). Clearly that’s a lot of options for the GM to adjudicate change, but it requires some decision about what the pairs mean. But this post is a bit long already, so I’ll save that for the next instalment.

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