The Holy Grail War

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Hello, new poster here and even newer DM.
Going for a homebrew probably isn't the best idea for your first DM campaign, but I'm determined.
Determined to shoehorn this setting into 4e if it's the last thing I do (as a DM).

I'm basically a huge fan of the Nasuverse, and I aim to port the Holy Grail War as a campaign setting.
For those unfamiliar, it is a ceremony in which 7 mages (Masters) and their 7 spiritual summons (Servants) fight over the Holy Grail, which will (supposedly) grant them 1 wish.
Knowledge of the canon setting is not required, but is a great help in posting in this thread.

More details for the curious can be found here:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fate/stay_night
typemoon.wikia.com/wiki/Holy_Grail_War

We are playing at level 16, the time where most paragon builds kick into full gear.
Only humans are allowed, with 160,000 gold (liquidated auto-add gold/items).

Anyway, as a setting, this presents two main problems.

1) It is highly PVP-centric.
 

4e isn't balanced around PC characters fighting each other, the numbers just aren't built around that.
I'll take this time to credit the Charop forum for driving this notion into me repeatedly. (And I'm thankful to them for it, I appreciate it guys)

PCs usually deal too much damage and are too fragile to fight each other.
An optimized striker can easily deal anywhere from 30-60+ damage in 1 round depending on the optimization.
This is around half of the HP pool of PCs at level 16.

This problem I solved by simply making it into a coop campaign with the standard 4-man party, rather than a free-for-all deathmatch (as in canon).
That, and optimizing the **** out of my NPC Masters (who are also level 16 and humans), who will be the main bosses.
I made sure to have these NPCs specialize in survivability rather than DPR, letting their Servants do most of the damage.
This ensures that they don't instagib any PCs, and are able to fight toe-to-toe with the players, even if outnumbered.
Here are the builds I've designed for them:
community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...

2) The issue of the summons, the Heroic Spirits (Servants)

This is one of the more flavorful aspects of the setting, and as such I want to preserve as much of the fluff as possible.
Since they'll also be controlled by whoever the Master is, I opted out of having them as standard characters.
Too much shenanigans can ensue from a player controlling two separate PCs (combo-wise).

So I designed a Servant stat system, one that goes like this :
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SERVANTS:
Pseudo characters that don't have true levels, stats, etc.
For the purposes of rare powers that ask for a level, use Master's.
Any powers that require stat modifiers use the score of the Master's highest modifier.

Stats:
Servant AC= [58] - [Master BASE AC] (result: 30-38)
Servant NADs= [55] - [Master BASE NADs] (result: 27-35)
Servant +atk= [37] - [Master BASE +atk] (result: 22-24)
Servant +dmg= [25] - [Master BASE +dmg] (result: 18-20)
Servant [W] damage= 6 flat
Servant crit= x3 (18 total)
Servant +init= N/A (see below)
Servant surges/value= Master's
Servant skill checks= Master's

Base stats are calculated with ONLY base level, relevant ability mods, and class/BG/theme bonuses, before ANY feats, paragon features or item bonuses are applied.

Class and Noble Phantasms:
Choose any paragon class that is compatible with the restrictions of the Servant.
The Servant gains level20 attack of that PP as a Noble Phantasm.

Noble Phantasms function as dailies, but consume all remaining healing surges upon use.

The Servant also gains all class features (that DON'T grant powers) of its paragon class.
Servant attacks qualify for all prerequisites of any features granted by its PP.

Movement and Spirit Form:
Servants act the same turn as their Masters, the sequence of ALL actions is up to the player (Master and Servant actions can intertwine in sequence).
Should a Master be rendered dying and helpless, the Servant is dematerialized after 1 turn.

Servants can assume Spirit Form, in which they are considered out of combat (and game).
Materializing a Servant from Spirit Form takes a standard action, and can only be summoned within an unoccupied square within LoS and 2 squares.
Upon materializing, the Servant cannot act during that turn and are considered dazed.
Dismissing a Servant into Spirit Form is a free action that can be used as an Immediate Interrupt, but a cooldown of 1 round/3 squares (rounded UP) of distance from the Master is applied before rematerialization is allowed.


It seems excessively troublesome, I know.
But what I was going for was for Masters to have a partner who is an inverse reflection of their strength.
A character with an optimized stat allocation will result in a Servant with average stats for that level (30+ AC, 30ish NADs, +22 atk, +23 dmg at level 16)
But a character who opts (or mistakenly goes) for a sub-standard allocation will find themselves with a stronger Servant to compensate.
Keep in mind that those stats are IN ADDITION to these custom class features, which I'm trying like hell to balance out (NOTHING is final):
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Saber
Class restriction: Martial only
HP: Master's HP x 2
Speed: 7
Class Features:

Martial Valor: +3 defenses and saves vs. any power that is not Martial.+3 to atk and dmg rolls vs Martial class enemies.
Blade Instinct: All incoming damage cannot exceed 15% of Saber's max HP per power. This is disabled while Saber is stunned, dazed, dominated, or helpless.
Prana Burst: Various abilities can be boosted by consuming a healing surge as a minor action. Can only be used once per turn.
Choices (til SoNT):
Speed x2
Defenses +3
Atk +3, dmg +5 and defenses -5
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Archer
Class restriction: Martial only
HP: Master's HP x 1.5 (rounded up)
Speed: 6
Class Features:

Artillery: All attacks/powers have +20 range, close bursts and blasts are changed into area bursts. As long as no enemies are within 5 squares, Archer gains +3 to attack rolls.
Independent Action: Archer can act at any point in the initiative order, instead of being limited to its Master's turn. Archer can freely change this point, but is still limited to one turn per round. Can stay materialized for up to 5 turns after Master is incapacitated.
Mind's Eye: Archer and its Master cannot be surprised, grant CA, and ignore any cover and concealment of enemies within Archer's attack range.
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Lancer
Class restriction: Martial only
HP: Master's HP x 1.5 (rounded up)
Speed: 6
Class Features:

Supreme Agility: +3 to speed and+3 defenses vs all non-melee powers.
Weapon Reach: Attacks/powers have +2 range, and Lancer has threatening reach 3. Lancer has +5 atk on OA rolls.
Crippling Wounds: Enemies struck by Lancer's attacks cannot heal or regenerate HP until EoNT. Lancer's OAs disrupt all movement actions, stopping them on hit.
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Berserker
Class restriction: Martial, Primal
HP: Master's HP x 3
Speed: 6
Class Features:

Madness Enhancement: +3 to all defenses and rolls, +2 speed. Bonuses double when either Master or Berserker is bloodied.
Insanity's Toll: As long as Berserker is materialized, Master takes 7.5 damage per round (cannot be reduced) and is slowed. Damage doubles when either Master or Berserker is bloodied, and Master is also dazed. This damage cannot reduce the Master to below 1 HP.
Dreadnought: Cannot be dominated, and all stun/daze/slow/immobilize effects that a save can end are automatically ended at EoT.
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Assassin
Class restriction: Martial, Shadow
HP: Master's HP
Speed: 5
Class Features:
Spirit Strike: Materialization takes a minor action, rather than a standard. Assassin can act the same turn it is materialized, and is not dazed. Cooldown calculation is 1 round/5 squares (rounded UP).
Presence concealment: At the end of each of its turns, Assassin is automatically considered to be hidden from all enemies, regardless of cover or concealment. Assassin's passive stealth skill check is equal to its Master's highest skill check + 10.
Backstab: All attacks vs. targets granting CA deal an extra 10 damage. This bonus doubles vs. bloodied targets.
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Rider
Class restriction: Martial, Primal
HP: Master's HP x 1.5 (rounded up)
Speed: 5
Class Features:

Devastating Charge: Rider can use its Noble Phantasm in place of an MBA during a charge. On a roll of 18-20, attacks during a charge daze the target (save ends) and Rider can include an additional target (can chain).
Trample: Charge attacks can move through occupied squares, and can hit a target mid-charge, resuming charge movement after the attack. Rider can include an additional target as long as it is at least 5sq. away from the last target.
Vanguard: Speed is increased 4x and defenses vs. OAs are increased by +5 during a charge. Rider gains a +3 to attack rolls til end of its turn upon moving at least 10 squares.
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Caster
Class restriction: Arcane, Divine, Psionic
HP: Master's HP
Speed: 4
Class Features:

Class Mastery: Caster gains all the powers of its paragon class. In addition, Caster can use the lvl11 encounter power of its paragon class at-will, and the lvl12 utility power as an encounter power.
Territory Creation: Caster always has a CB 3 zone centered around it. As a move action, Caster can teleport to any square within the area. Enemies within the area suffer a -2 to all defenses, rolls and speed. The zone cannot be dispelled or destroyed by any means.
Arcane Range: All attacks/powers have +10 range, close bursts and blasts are changed into area bursts.
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Avenger
Class restriction: Martial, Primal, Shadow
HP: Master's HP x 0.75 (rounded up)
Speed: 6
Class Features:

Swordbreaker: Attacks by Avenger inflict a stacking -3 penalty to attack rolls (save ends) to enemies hit.
Verg Avesta: All damage taken by Avenger is reflected back to the attacker. The reflected damage is unavoidable and cannot be reduced by any means. This does not reflect any damage that reduces Avenger to 0 HP or below.
Temporal Loop: Avenger can consume a Command Seal (counts as Seal usage), negating all healing, damage, and effects done to both Avenger and its Master on that turn. Does not recover used powers or items. Can only be used if either Avenger or its Master is bloodied.

Which might be a good time to mention the Command Seal system:
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Command Seals:
3 Seals available, which don't regenerate in any way.
Free action to use, but only 1/turn.

Possible commands:
-Instant tele to sq adjacent Master
-Allow use of NP (again)
-Instant rematerialization
-Redirection of an attack to Servant, as long as it is within range of the attack

Servants are basically stuck doing MBAs/RBAs unless they use Noble Phantasms.

Phew. With the mechanics out of the way, I guess I'll mention what little of the plot I've created.
I say little because I've been focusing on trying to make functional mechanics rather than a good story.
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This Holy Grail War takes place a decade after Lord El-Melloi II (or Waver Velvet), together with Tohsaka Rin, dismantle the Greater Grail.
This supposedly ends all such Wars, but for some reason, Masters are called once more.
Alarmed, Waver quickly recruits all four of the "outsider" (not belonging to the Three Great Families) Masters to his cause, suspecting that the Tohsaka, the Einzbern, and the Matou are conspiring to revive the Holy Grail Wars.
These four Masters are the PCs, whose job is to investigate, and defeat the Three Great Families.

That's all I have for now, my players are now being briefed by Waver (we play -slowly- by online post) and are readying to summon their Servants.
They're having great fun out of that part, choosing which fictional or historical legend or hero to summon as a Servant.

Thanks for taking the effort to read this wall of text, and any comments or suggestions (especially about balance) will be greatly appreciated.
Servant Notes:

 I think Saber should include the Paladin, as well as maybe the Avenger (D&D class, not the Fate class of course). Their higher spell resistance seems to be a nod towards the Paladin's grace in older editions. I mean, the most common member of this class outside the video games is a "holy sword wielder" after all. I could see a Swordmage also being a member of the Saber class. Blade Instinct might better be done as simple Resistance instead of having to calcuate percentages.


I think Archer could also include the seeker, mostly because it doesnt make sense for them to be left out. Archer is a pretty vague class considering a guy who's portal shoots swords count as an "archer".     



I'm confused as to why Servants are limited to MBA's outside of NP's. Usually they are the more tacticial fights, while masters tend to sit around and watch. It also greatly favors classes like the Slayer. Perhaps I greatly understand your servant system.
 

I see no reason why a Servant couldn't be a non-human. FSN did have Medusa, why couldn't someone play the minotaur? Dwarves, elves, gnomes, goblins, etc are all native to human mythology. Deva could also represent various hindu stuff.

Party Configuration:
I'd also recommend maybe making 2 players servants, and 2 players masters, for a couple of reasons:

1) Have the two masters allied, and you still have 5/6 (if you include Avenger) other enemies while sticking to 7 servants.


2) Normally i wouldn't force a player to be subserviant to another, but fate's special in that the master really only gets 3 commands, they have to work together. This can be interesting from an RP point of view.   


3) It allows the servants to follow more normal rules (alot of what you wrote sort of confused me), though they should get their own special stuff still of course.


4) It'll make your campaign a bit longer than only 3 enemies.


Other Considerations:
Also to make the campaign longer, you could have the enemy masters bend the rules a bit, and have  some other enemies for the players to fight. Like how Caster had his cthulu stuff, the other caster had her skeletons, and Rider in F/Z had his army. The grail could likewise manifest shadowy entities.

On the flip side:


I do like the Noble Phantasm costing healing surges mechanic.  It emulates well the "You dont want to use this willy nilly" thing. This may want to be scaled depending on the power of the noble phantasm itself though.


As a Fate fan myself I'm curious how the final incarnation of these rules work out.
Hi Janx, great to see another Fate fan.

About the class restrictions, I ended up pretty lax about them, provided you have the fluff to support it.
One of our Masters summoned Jeanne D'Arc as Saber (yes, the Fate/Apocrypha one), and she asked if she could have her be a Tactical Warpriest.
I accepted, because the Lvl20 Attack (Battle Pyres) as NP fit the fluff nicely.

The Servants don't actually have races (since they're not 'real' characters), only the Masters are restricted to humans.
Yes, I'm aware the whole pseudo-character system is excessively complicated, but I guess it was my attempt at damage control.
A player designing and controlling two PCs would make for some evil combos, and I really wanted to use the unique class features.
On regular characters, the extra features would be hellishly hard to balance, since interaction with feats/base features is there.

On the other hand, the player pair system you suggested is interesting, and was actually brought up.
In the end it was just the result of a vote to not go through with it, as the players wanted to play as 'solo' Masters.
The pair configuration is still a good option though.

And yes, this campaign won't entirely be PVP.
Most of the battles will still include standard enemies, such as monsters (refluffed of course).
It's the boss battles that'll be a problem, because as I said, 4e isn't balanced around PVP.
It's not going to be as simple as throwing in an enemy Master-Servant pair as elites with the corresponding monster levels.
I'm still trying to gauge how strong the player party is, right now they're killing a group of 6 lvl16 Brutes easily (as 3 lvl16 PCs + 3 Servants).
Determining the party strength will be key in designing future fights, but we have a lot ahead of us, so no need to rush.

Thanks for reading and making suggestions, I greatly appreciate it.
With Fate/Zero ending so recently I was actually thinking of doing something similar, so I was quite surprised when I saw this thread.


  

About the class restrictions, I ended up pretty lax about them, provided you have the fluff to support it.
One of our Masters summoned Jeanne D'Arc as Saber (yes, the Fate/Apocrypha one), and she asked if she could have her be a Tactical Warpriest.
I accepted, because the Lvl20 Attack (Battle Pyres) as NP fit the fluff nicely.




Yeah, having it simply as "class with weapon powers, must use a sword" is probably the easiest way to go.



On the other hand, the player pair system you suggested is interesting, and was actually brought up.
In the end it was just the result of a vote to not go through with it, as the players wanted to play as 'solo' Masters.
The pair configuration is still a good option though.
 



Cool, was merely suggesting it. Whatever makes the players happy is def the way to go in the end.  


And yes, this campaign won't entirely be PVP.
Most of the battles will still include standard enemies, such as monsters (refluffed of course).
It's the boss battles that'll be a problem, because as I said, 4e isn't balanced around PVP.
It's not going to be as simple as throwing in an enemy Master-Servant pair as elites with the corresponding monster levels.
I'm still trying to gauge how strong the player party is, right now they're killing a group of 6 lvl16 Brutes easily (as 3 lvl16 PCs + 3 Servants).
Determining the party strength will be key in designing future fights, but we have a lot ahead of us, so no need to rush.

Thanks for reading and making suggestions, I greatly appreciate it.



My only suggestion would be to make the first enemy Master fight on the easy side, though not too easy. Maybe he's not expecting 4 masters to team up on him? Or maybe is otherwise caught off guard. If things seem way too easy, have some of his minions (or someone elses' minions) come back to support him. Then you can see how much harder the other two have to be. 

My only suggestion would be to make the first enemy Master fight on the easy side, though not too easy. Maybe he's not expecting 4 masters to team up on him? Or maybe is otherwise caught off guard. If things seem way too easy, have some of his minions (or someone elses' minions) come back to support him. Then you can see how much harder the other two have to be. 



Yeah, this looks like the way to go.
I'll be offering the Tohsaka Master and Lancer as the first sacrifice, because he's the most unoptimized of the bunch.
And because Lancers should always get the short end of the stick, heh.
 

This may be a lot later than you'd expect to get a comment, but my friends and I have a Grail War currently is progress that I'm DMing. It's going fantastic. So far there are alliances going every which way and Rider is dead after getting double-teamed by Saber and Berserker. 

 

I made a few changes to the rules, mostly numbers-tweaking, but the biggest change I made was to the Noble Phantasm system. In addition to a level 20 attack each Servant is also given a level 29 attack from their class. The level 29 attack costs all healing surges, while the level 20 attack costs half of your remaining surges. This allows a Servant to use the level 20 NP 3 or 4 times and end with the level 29 NP. It helps to add some extra power and fits more with the story with some Servants having some variation with their powers.

This sounds very interesting.