Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Sword Master

Captains Navarre and and Marquet battling with Zweihänders in the cathedral of Aquila. Rob Roy with his claymore facing Archie Cunningham with his smallsword in a castle armory. D'Artagnan and Rochefort dueling by lantern-light in a wood near Calais. Arthur shattering Excalibur on Lancelot's armor.

You may not know his name, but if you're reading this, you almost surely know his work.

And you may even know his face, too.

The seemingly-drunk assassin who challenges Porthos, the one who fights with two swords, in Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers? That's William Hobbs, one of the greatest fight choreographers in the world.

Mr Hobbs was an actor and fight choreographer - he would coin the term 'fight director' when co-founding the Society of British Fight Directors in 1969 - at the Old Vic as part of Laurence Oilivier's National Theatre, but it's his work arranging duels with lances, pistols, maces, and all manner of swords in dozens of movies and scores of stage productions that makes him a stage fighting icon.

The fight choreography of movies contributes to the combat systems one finds in roleplaying games - for example, how many feats and class abilities are based on the wire-fu of Yuen Woo Ping? - as game designers try to capture the on-screen action and replicate it through rules and probabilities. One of the appeals for me of Flashing Blades is that combat takes on the manic, brawling feel of the Richard Lester Musketeers movies by which Mark Pettigrew was clearly influenced. With rules for throwing sand in an opponent's eyes, punching him in the face - and kicking him in the junk - Flashing Blades recreates Mr Hobb's choreography both in my mind's eye and in the choices I make as a player and referee. I think that's an important feature of great cape-and-sword roleplaying games.

Here's a too-brief sample of Mr Hobb's choreography.

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