Friday, June 15, 2012

Taunts, Feints, and Threats for Flashing Blades

Preface: The following was originally posted at a couple of years ago.
He knew that Saldaña was as placid as an ox in all matters but those concerning his wife. Then passion blinded him. Any jokes about how she had got him the post in exchange for favors granted to third parties – as malicious tongues would have it – quickened his pulse and clouded his reason. “With any luck,” thought Alatriste, “this will help me resolve the matter quickly.” He adjusted his grip, parried a thrust, withdrew a little to draw his opponent in, and, when their blades clashed again, he noticed that Saldaña already seemed less confident. He decided to return to the attack.

“I imagine she’ll be inconsolable,” he said, striking again. “She’ll doubtless wear deepest mourning.”

Saldaña did not reply, but he was breathing hard and muttered a curse when the furious barrage he had just unleashed slashed only thin air, sliding off the captain’s blade.

“Cuckold,” said Alatriste calmly, then waited.

Now he had him. He sensed him coming toward him in the dark, or rather he knew it from the gleam of steel from his sword, the sound of frantic footsteps, and the rancorous roar Saldaña let out as he attacked blindly.

- Arturo Pérez-Reverte,
The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet
Taunts, feints, and threats are as much of part of swashbuckling as thrusts and ripostes for many fans of the genre. Flashing Blades, the roleplaying game of high adventure in 17th century France, includes an excellent system of fencing rules, but while it includes character attributes such as Wit and Charm, it doesn’t bring the two together in terms of the rules for combat.

While it’s perfectly feasible and reasonable to leave the effects of mockery, trickery, and intimidation during a duel to the discretion of the Gamemaster, other games offer a number of rules options for this.
  • d20: The Bluff and Intimidate skills may be used to gain advantages in combat. Bluff is used to feint: on a successful Bluff check opposed by Sense Motive plus the base attack bonus, the opponent loses its Dexterity bonus to armor class against the next melee attack. Intimidate may be used to demoralize an opponent: on a successful check Bluff check opposed by the opponent’s level or hit dice plus Wisdom bonus, the opponent takes a -2 penalty on attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws for one round.
  • Savage Worlds Pirates of the Spanish Main: Characters may institute a “Test of Wills” using the Taunt and Intimidate skills. On successful Taunt and Intimidate skill checks opposed by Smarts and Spirit respectively, the attacker gains a +2 bonus to the attacker’s next action, and a raise on the roll makes the opponent Shaken as well.

  • 7th Sea: The Repartee System allows characters to Charm, Intimidate, and Taunt their opponents. These are opposed checks using the Wits, Resolve, and Panache attributes, respectively. A successful Charm check allows a character to influence another’s point of view. A successful Intimidate check costs the opponent one die from his die pool, plus one additional die for each Raise by the character. A successful Taunt requires the opponent to match the character’s Raises.

With this in mind, I’m looking at adding the following actions to the Flashing Blades combat rules.
  • Taunt: A Taunt is a normal action. A Taunt is an opposed check between the attacker’s Charm and the defender’s Wit; the attacker gains a +2 bonus for possessing the Oratory skill. On a successful check, the defender may not select a defense action in the next turn; the defender may choose either normal or long actions, usually either an attack and counter or a lunge. The defender also suffers an additional -2 penalty to his reaction parry attempt. If the attempt to taunt is unsuccessful, then any subsequent attempt is made using the attacker’s Charm/2 for the duration of the combat or until a success is achieved.
  • Feint: A Feint is a normal action. A Feint is an opposed check between the Expertise of the attacker and defender respectively using the weapons in hand. On a successful check, the attacker may add a +2 bonus to the attacker’s next attack or parry roll (player’s choice). If the check is unsuccessful, the opponent may add +1 to his next attack or parry roll.

  • Threat: A Threat is a normal action. A Threat is an opposed check between the attacker’s Charm and the defender’s Wit; the attacker gains a +2 bonus for possessing the Captaincy skill. On a successful check, the defender either loses his remaining action, if any, or loses one action in the following turn.. If the attempt to intimidate via a Threat is unsuccessful, then any subsequent attempt is made using the attacker’s Charm/2 for the duration of the combat or until a success is achieved.

To summarize, a Taunt provokes an all-out attack while reducing the ability to defend, a Feint improves a character’s chance of a successful attack or parry, and a Threat causes an opponent to hesitate. Each also carries a penalty for failure; if your opponent doesn’t buy your Taunt or Threat, it becomes more difficult to succeed with subsequent attempts, while a failed Feint gives the advantage to your opponent.

Coda: To date these house rules remain more of a thought experiment as I've never actually implemented them in my campaign. Rather than making a formal house rule out of taunts and threats, I continue to make spot rulings, though my resolution remains similar to this. As far as feints go, I think I'd rather that a feint be used to get an defender to waste a parry attempt.

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