Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Nevers Thrust

"You know my first attack. My second makes you invincible. Attack me. Parry in septime, riposte, envelop in quatre, beat forearm! Take blade as you change arm - disarm. To the forehead!"

"You can't pierce the forehead."

"You can. Right here."
Many cape-and-sword roleplaying games offer players the opportunity to utilize special abilities or combat maneuvers as their characters gain experience. In 7th Sea, for example, Swordsmen characters study different schools of fencing which give access to Skills and Knacks as well as Techniques which are specific to Mastery of a particular school. Honor + Intrigue characters learn Dueling Styles, each of which includes a Final Secret. Combat skills in Swashbuckler - the roleplaying game by Jim Dietz, not the Yaquinto Publishing board game - build on one another, with Slash progressing to Backhand Slash to Two-Handed Slash and Jab to Thrust to Lunge, for example.

The exact benefit of specials and maneuvers in these games varies; for example, Mastery of the Lucani style in 7th Sea allows a character to make a combination attack using both a broadsword and a fist, while the Final Secret of H+I's Spanish Style is allows a free Parry on the expenditure of a Fortune Point. Learning different schools and styles allows access to different abilities with experience, which can then be used in combination during a fight.

Swashbuckler takes a slightly different tack. The rules posit two "very generalized" fighting styles, the jack of all trades and the specialist. The former is built by taking a wide variety of combat skills while the latter is focused on full progression through a few skills instead.

Inspired more by pure fencing simulation rules like Rapier and Dagger, Flashing Blades takes a somewhat different approach. FB includes various martial skills, including five dueling styles; the dueling styles confer skill in the weapons associated with that style and may offer a bonus to a particular type of martial attack or defense; for example, Italian Style dueling allows a character to use the longsword, rapier, and foil and confers a + 1 bonus to hit on a thrust or lunge and a + 1 parry bonus using an off-hand weapons like a dagger, main-gauche, baton, or buckler. FB also contains a variety of special attacks, such as entangling an opponent in a cloak, disarming, striking to subdue, or making an attack or parry while drawing a sword, as well as a variety of "dirty tricks," including tripping a lunging swordsman, throwing sand in his eyes, or kicking him in the junk! With the exception of Entangle, these special attacks or dirty tricks aren't tied to a particular style, however - they are open to any character to attempt.

This is one of the reasons that I opted for Flashing Blades when I decided to run a cape-and-sword campaign. I don't like roleplaying games which require an inordinate investment of character resources to perform fundamental tasks - the aforementioned Jab to Thrust to Lunge skill progression in Swashbuckler is a glaring example of this - and I strongly prefer rules that are intuitive, where the abstractions are couched in common sense language - 7th Sea's Raises make sense in the context of the rules but are too abstract, pulling me out of the action. Flashing Blades offers me both of these.

What it doesn't offer me is the Nevers thrust.

La botte de Nevers comes from Paul Féval's Le Bossu (The Hunchback), perhaps the second-most popular cape-and-sword novel in France after the Musketeers saga. The description of the Nevers thrust above comes from Phillipe de Broca's brilliant 1997 adaptation of the famous story, taught by Vincent Perez's duc de Nevers to Daniel Auteil's Lagardère. Lagardère pursues Nevers for the purpose of learning the attack which bears the duke's family name, and once in possession of it the swordsman declares he is now, "Immortal!"

I can actually get pretty close to replicating the Nevers thrust using the combat rules as written for Flashing Blades. The attack consists of a parry of a thrust, a strike to subdue on the sword arm as a counter, a disarm, and a thrust to the head. But that's only pretty close - per the rules as written, a disarm is a counter, not an attack, and can only be made following a successful parry, so the opponent must thrust not once but twice in succession.

The higher hurdle is the thrust to the head. Hit location in FB is chosen at the time of the attack, and resolved by 1D20 rolled twice on the hit location table - the result closest to the target is the result. As a result, it's possible to aim for the head and hit the left leg instead, though a more likely result is a wound on the right arm or chest if the head is missed.

In order to make the Nevers thrust work as described by monsieur le duc, then, I could allow a disarm as an attack rather than a counter and eliminate the roll for hit location, automatically allowing the thrust to find the head. That's not at all unreasonable, if the steps are executed successfully in sequence: parry a thrust, counter, disarm, thrust.

And voilà! My campaign has the Nevers thrust.

This also opens up an interesting house rule possibility for the players, to develop their own special maneuvers for their characters. As a ground rule, let's say this requires that the character is a Master or Master Superior to develop a special maneuver. The special maneuver is a sequence requiring a minimum of two combat rounds composed of some combination of fencing and brawling attacks, footwork, parries, special attacks, or dirty tricks, which must be performed in order successfully. If the special maneuver is performed successfully, then the character gets an additional die to roll for hit location per round required to complete the sequence; if any action in the sequence is not performed successfully - an attack is parried, for example - then they are simply resolved normally per the rules as written. A special maneuver is 'paid for' with an earned Expertise point, and at least two checkmarks for the Expertise point must come from actual duels, not sparring in the salle d'armes.

Let's see how this might look in practice. Vulmea's Surgical Strike consists of parrying an opponent's slash and countering with a vicious kick in the first round, followed by a handful of sand thrown in the eyes and a slash to the head in the second. (Of course it's not gentlemanly. Pirate, remember?) If the sequence of parry, brawling attack, dirty trick, and fencing attack is executed successfully, I get to roll four dice instead of two for hit location, improving my odds of splattering brains on the deck.

I like this. It engages the rules as written, preserving both the crunch and the flavor that led me to choose Flashing Blades in the first place, and it puts the players in charge of developing special maneuvers as simple or as complex as they want them to be like Swashbuckler, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach like 7th Sea's schools or H+I's styles.

But what about Bonetti's Defense? Can the same thing be done for defensive maneuvers as well? Sure - use a combination of parries, blocks, and footwork, and gain extra dice to roll for parries.

Can a special maneuver be taught? Sure, why not - what's a Master without students, after all? Let's say that a student must have an Expertise of at least 18 - Expert - in order to perform the maneuver and earns one less die than the Master who created the maneuver in the first place, so if anyone else successfully performs my Surgical Strike, they roll three dice for hit location, not four. This provides an additional incentive to develop one's own maneuvers.

I think Lagardère would be pleased.


  1. Nice work! Thanks for sharing.

    (It is also nice to know that I am not the only one to have seen this film and to quote it 'in public.')

    1. Le Bossu is right there with the Richard Lester Musketeer saga at the tip of my pantheon of cape-and-sword movies. It's a shame more Americans haven't seen it.

  2. In Honor + Intrigue, every character can use every maneuver. It is not like 7th Sea where you have to "buy" each maneuver. You can choose to "Master" maneuvers with XP, but you don't have to master them to use them.

    Likewise, you don't need a Dueling Style to be a good swordsman; they just give an extra edge.

    In addition, the rules give you ways to make your own Dueling Styles, which are rather easy to figure out. I managed to convert a bunch of 7th Sea Sword Schools (just about all of them) in a few minutes apiece. Anybody who wants a look can check out my Obsidian Portal:

    1. Here's a direct link to El Vago's game, for the cut-and-paste challenged. I'm looking forward to following your progress.

      That makes two that I know of at OP.

      With respect to maneuvers and dueling styles in H+I, I don't feel like I wrote anything that contadicts the rules. As I read it, each school requires that you master its maneuvers in order to gain its Final Secret, but none of the Final Secrets involves performing a series of maneuvers successfully to gain whatever bonus they provide in the manner of the Nevers thrust.

      H+I does offer you the opportunity to create your own style - and coverting 7th Sea's schools is inspired, El Vago! - including a Final Secret, but again, none of the examples provided in the rules resemble what I laid out here.

      Again, I look forward to your following your campaign.

  3. Oh, Okay, Vulmea; I think I misunderstood; it is more clear to me now.

    I suppose it depends on which secret you are using. The "Old Style" for instance, if you get a Mighty Success with the Buckler you get a free attack with the Broadsword, and vice-versa; The same goes for the "Cross Lunge" final secret of the Italian Style; which lets you attack with the main gauche if you get a Mighty Success with the Rapier or vice-versa; so it is *kind of* a combo maneuver; but I get your point that it is not "always" like that; and some styles give something totally different.

    Thanks for the nice words about the Obsidian Portal. I was always a big fan of 7th Sea as a player, but too intimidated by the sheer VOLUME of stuff to GM it. H+I seemed like the answer; and it seems to be going well so far. We'll play again this week (I hope) and get some more stuff posted. Been working on some NPCs lately.

    1. Looking forward to your updates.

      We also need to bug Jerry/Dread Gazebo about getting H+I added to the list of systems.