Saturday, October 13, 2012

Club Life

En Garde! the 'little brown book' of cape-and-sword roleplaying games, began life as a set of tabletop miniature skirmish rules but soon took on roleplaying elements as the players wanted to know more about who their duelists were and why they were fighting, creating a social milieu for the characters.

One rules component of this milieu is gaining and losing status points. Status points represent a sort of social currency; they are essential to maintaining a character's social rank. Because the characters are swashbucklers, status points are gained and lost doing swashbuckler-y things: carousing, seducing mistresses, going to war, and so forth.

One of the means of acquiring status points is membership in a gentlemen's club. Clubs in EG are inspired by the London clubs, first established in the late 17th century and growing in number and popularity through the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as their appearance in cape-and-sword stories, such as Harold Young's The Scarlet Pimpernel. Gentlemen's clubs in En Garde! provide the players' character a place to gamble and seek feminine companionship, both of which offer status points; they also give the opportunity for toadying, which is gaining status points by hobnobbing with those of greater social status.

Like regiments and campaigns, offices and titles, EG's gentlemen's clubs were included in Flashing Blades; though they are arguably an anachronism in FB's default setting of 17th century France compared to EG's pastiche game-world, they are inspired by and emulate the genre, such as Zaton's cabaret in Stanley J. Weyman's Under the Red Robe. Unfortunately, FB's gentlemen's clubs don't really do very much else as presented: they offer a hierarchy of ranks with attendant social levels, a bit of income and the opportunity for graft, and a perq which may be awarded to other player characters or non-player characters. FB's Social Rank is tied closely to one's career and wealth, and it does not require a constant investment in status points, so one of the prime reasons for joining a club in EG is absent in FB. While a number of non-player characters are described as members of gentlemen's clubs, and clubs appear in rumors, none of the fifteen adventures published for Flashing Blades revolve around the activities of one or more of the clubs specifically. Clubs seem to exist primarily as a means for the gamemaster to introduce adventure hooks.

The incentives for joining a gentlemen's club in Flashing Blades seem too weak and poorly defined, lacking the discrete benefits offered to the adventurers in En Garde! So what should FB clubs offer?

As in EG, gentlemen's clubs in my Flashing Blades campaign are a place to carouse, gamble, and seek feminine companionship. Members of gentlemen's clubs may earn check marks in their Carousing skill - one check mark is earned for each year spent as a member of a club, which means if you eventually want to be a Master Superior in Carousing without killing your liver, a club membership is a good idea.

Gambling is another pastime associated with gentlemen's clubs in En Garde! and what little the published Flashing Blades rules and adventures say about clubs suggests this is intended to be the case in FB as well. Each club keeps a table limit, which may be exceeded only at the discretion of a manager or other officer, and gamblers are immediately forfeit membership if caught cheating other members or failing to make good on a bet - a caning from a manager may also be in order. A gambler who wins consistently, at the referee's discretion or on a roll of Luck/2 on 1D20, may be staked by the house, keeping thirty percent of his winnings with the balance going to the club - any gambler staked by the club who loses on two consecutive visits is considered to have gone cold and will no longer be staked until he returns to his winning ways.

Rules for courting a mistress may be found in the short adventure "Scavenger Hunt" in Parisian Adventure and a set of courtship house rules developed by (I think) Matthijs Krijger, owner of the Flashing Blades Yahoo group, used to be available on the intrewebs, but I've been using a kuldged-together house-ruled version of the seduction rules from Victory Games' James Bond 007: Role-Playing In Her Majesty's Secret Service for my campaign to date. Aside from using a certain notorious random encounter table to flesh out the descriptions of the clubs for my campaign, I haven't done anything special as far as locating potential mistresses other than simple random encounters. A full set of courtship rules is on my plate as a future project, however, and the role of gentlemen's clubs in meeting courtesans and the like will be folded into that.

So, on one level, this carries forward the activities of the gentlemen's clubs in En Garde! to Flashing Blades, but it's a very literal translation, devoid of nuance, in that it misses the mark as carousing, gambling, and courting are a means of maintaining one's social status in the game-world, not just entertainments for the adventurers to pursue. The way to make clubs meaningful in FB, then, is to give them a social function.

The rules for Contacts and Favors provide a useful means of integrating gentlemen's clubs into the larger social world of the characters. First, a club acts as a Contact on which a member may call. As an effective Contact of the player character, a member receives "aid" from the club "a reliable source . . . of game-world information, including rumors." Given the broad membership of a gentlemen's club, this should encompass more than a regular Contact, at the referee's discretion. The member may ask club members to exert influence of an "informal" nature on his behalf, at a Social Rank equal to that of the club's minimum requirement for membership.

Members may also request a Favor from the club. A Favor will be granted at the level of the minimum Social Rank required for membership; such a Favor is received once per year. A member may also ask for a Favor from one of the club officers - secretary, treasurer, or club chief - once; to receive a Favor from an officer, at the officer's Social Rank, the member must roll under his own Social Rank on 1D20, with the difference between the officer's SR and the member's SR as a modifier.

A Contact and an anually renewable - albeit relatively low Social Rank - Favor provides a social benefit to being in a club, and it reinforces the idea that club members are mutually supportive of one aother.

1 comment:

  1. I really like this, Mike!

    It gives the clubs a greater potential within the game environment without making them overwhelming. PCs can still opt to not join clubs if they so choose...but there are now opportunity costs.

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