I Have the High Ground is mechanically light, with a rulebook totaling to only 24 pages. It's GM-less and intended for one-shot play. It can be played in any genre, and even adapted to use characters from an existing campaign—it's a great way to zoom in on a tense, pre-battle scene from a game in another system.
The mechanics in I Have the High Ground are inspired by competitive fencing, and each round, players choose in secret to thrust, feint, or parry. The moves are arranged in a rock-paper-scissors triangle, where thrust beats feint, feint beats parry, and parry beats thrust, scoring one point for the victor. These moves do not, however, translate to the bloody jabs of a sword. Instead, they help structure the narration that follows: thrusts resolve to vicious insults or imperious gestures, feints into provocative bait that incites opponents into emotional vulnerability, while parries resolve as cunning repartees. When one player reaches 9 points, their opponent is defeated, and the loser is forced—in a shameful outburst of emotion—to use their weapon and strike the blow that begins the ensuing battle!
The mechanical victory provides inspiration and structure for the narration that follows, shaping the story players tell about the exchange. The rules establish who gets the narrative "last word" and how players negotiate their actions so that the loser gives the victor a satisfying chance to demonstrate their victory. In the end, I Have the High Ground is a collaborative game. Players are expected to help each other tell the stories they want to tell, treating losses as an opportunity to show their characters weaknesses and demonstrate their opponent's strengths.
Character and Setting Creation
In its unique setting and character creation system, players proceed through a combination of open-ended prompts and pre-written options designed to ensure that each character develops into a dramatic foil of their opponent. Players establish a history between their characters, whether that be “rivals”, “ex-lovers”, or both, and select narrative advantages—like the “the high ground”, “superior fashion” or “to be your opponent’s exact type.” Which player selects first depends directly on the most important mechanic: the cape rubric. The player with the finest cape chooses the section of character creation in which they will receive first pick.