Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wednesday Wyeth

Pinch hitting for NC Wyeth this week is Frank Schoonover with his cover for ERB's A Princess of Mars.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


The first roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons, creates an implied setting of a lightless dungeons and trackless wastes in which lurk horrible monsters guarding gleaming treasures. However, the original D&D rules paint another picture as well, that of the adventurers not as explorers and treasure-hunters but as lords of their own domains, building a stronghold, hunting down and killing or driving off monsters, attracting settlers, collecting taxes, and investing in their demesne. This became a feature of 'name level' characters in 1e AD&D, who, on the strength of their prowess, attracted various followers as well, frex, men-at-arms to a fighter lord, thieves to a Master Thief, or all manner of sylvan beasties to a Ranger Lord.

The origins of this playstyle are well documented in The First Fantasy Campaign and reflect a common trope of fantasy literature, such as Conan's rise to the kingship of Aquilonia or the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser establishing themselves as the masters of Rime Isle.

The same is true of a number of cape-and-sword tales. The Musketeers' saga, frex, stretches over decades and sees the rise of d'Artagnan from petty Gascon nobleman to a maréchal of France and Aramis from theology student to prelate and Spanish ambassador. This, too, would find its way into early cape-and-sword roleplaying games, first through the status points of En Garde! and through the careers and Social Rank of Flashing Blades.

But while this transition from adventurers to authority figures in the game-world - the endgame of roleplaying games - was ingrained in early play, it fell out of favor among gamers relatively quickly, for a number of reasons. This is reflected in the description of the endgame in Flashing Blades.

If the idea of each play session is to have a fast adventure in the 17th Century milieu, focusing mainly on combat, personal initiative and quick fun, the Gamemaster may ignore careers altogether. There is no need for light-hearted swashbucklers to get weighted down by the responsibilities of a military rank, political office, etc.

If and when the game becomes a continuous series of inter-related adventures, however, the Gamemaster may find that careers and Social Rank add to the atmosphere and heighten enjoyment of the game. Characters may come to enjoy political power as much as physical strength. This system for ranks and position also allows characters to 'age gracefully.' Even though a character may grow older, and no longer be able to endure strenuous adventures, he will have gained political power, and will be able to enjoy lively court intrigues, assassinations, and power struggles.

In short, at the Gamemaster's desire, none, some or all of this section may be used to make 'Flashing Blades' enjoyable for his or her players. It is really up to the Gamemaster to decide what is most fun. If the full rules are used, adventures ought to be mixed in at regular intervals (one or two per game year), and they ought to have more significance than die rolls for positions. Rewards for a successfully completed adventure may include promotion and increased Social Rank, as well as booty and experience. Characters should be allowed to age, although slowly, and adventures should relate closely to their positions and ages.
I think this text is noteworthy in that it reflects this diverging approach to roleplaying games, of "light-hearted swashbucklers" engaging in traditional, fast-paced cape-and-sword adventures versus a growing emphasis on political machinations and the trappings of power over swashbuckling prowess.

Perhaps reflecting the fact that I'm an old wargamer turned roleplayer, I'm a big fan of this endgame in roleplaying games. One of the reasons I'm most attracted to Flashing Blades is the way the system builds to the endgame beginning with character creation, through the rules for careers, increasing Social Rank, acquiring wealth and property, and building a clientele. What Flashing Blades doesn't do, however, is what many roleplaying games didn't, or don't, do: provide explicit advice of how "lively court intrigues, assassinations, and power struggles" may unfold, of what actual play is like after the transition to the endgame. I'm going to spend some time exploring exactly that in the coming weeks, first looking at the synergy of those endgame elements then discuss planning and running the endgame.

Though my focus is on the rules of Flashing Blades, the discussion should be general enough to apply to not only other cape-and-sword roleplaying games but most other roleplaying games featuring a similar endgame. Moreover, the career rules in Flashing Blades are readily adaptable to other swashbuckling games, so I hope that these posts will be of some more general use as well.

Friday, May 25, 2012

DVR Alert

Turner Classic Movies is playing The Master of Ballantrae on Saturday, 26 May, based on the Robert Louis Stevenson classic set in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rebellion.

Also, BBC America is airing a marathon of The Tudors this weekend. If you want a primer on palace intrigue, it's hard to find a better example than The Tudors.

Check local listings for times.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

Into the Wild

The subject of making wilderness adventuring interesting popped up around the gaming blogs over the last week or so.

I spent the better part of twenty years working as a park ranger and resource manager, and more than thirty years travelling in backcountry for fun. I've hiked, ridden, skied, and paddled through mountains, deserts, and forests, patrolling trails, exploring cross-country routes, bagging peaks, constructing backcountry bridges, and packing stock. As such, my take on wilderness travel is heavily influenced by my own experiences. As such, I tend to think of wilderness travel as a lot of fun but rarely treacherous, unless I do something to make it so. When hazards or complications do arise, an experienced traveller is usually prepared for them, through redundancy and practice.

That said, sometimes situations occur for which one can be prepared but still pose a threat - high country lightning storms stand out in my mind. It's these situations which make wilderness travel 'interesting,' in my experience.

The game Source of the Nile is one of my all-time favorite board games, and in my experience the Event Cards of SotN capture the hazards of wilderness travel very well. Each time an explorer's expedition enters a hex on the game-board, the player draws an Event Card. Each event contains bolded keywords; if the keywords apply to the expedition, than the event occurs. For example, if an expedition is in a veldt hex and the Event Card describes an event in the jungle, then no event occurs; similarly, if an Event Card describes something happening to a camel and the expedition is travelling without camels, then once again the event doesn't occur.

I decided to adapt something like this for my Flashing Blades campaign. The interesting wrinkle for this is that the game-world is focused on 17th century France, and while there are certainly remote, wild areas of the country, they are not necessarily the focus of the adventurers' travels. What I need are events which occur in more settled areas, where the adventurers are more likely to be found, so I used the Flashing Blades encounter tables as my guide, making the different tables - Open Countryside, Woods, and King's Road - keywords for events.

Other keywords were put into events as well: the seasons (Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring), Servant (for body servant or lackey/maid), Coachman (for a driver or footman), Man (generically any person regardless of gender - this follows the convention used in the core rules), and Party (the equivalent of Expedition in SotN). Anytime there is more than one character, player or non-, animal, or carriage which can be affected by an event, the individual or conveyance should be determined randomly.

There are two main resources that the events here tend to deplete, time and hit points, both of which we track already when we play, so my events table doesn't create anything new that we need to account for during the game. To determine if an event occurs, roll d6,d6 and compare the keywords to the adventurers' situation.

Event Table (d6, d6) -

11. A Man falls into a stream in the Open Countryside. His powder is wet and will not discharge for 4D6 hours. 1D6 items carried by the Man are lost in the water.

12. The wheel of a Carriage travelling on a King's Road goes into a drainage ditch and the Carriage rolls over. All of the Men riding in the Carriage must save versus Dexterity or suffer 1D6+2 general damage.

13. A Horse becomes lame. The Horse is reduced to walking speed for the duration of the journey and may not carry a Man. The Horse may recover after one week's rest on a roll of 1-3 on 1D6.

14. Cheated by a crooked sutler, 1D6 days of Traveling Rations per Man are spolied.

15. A Horse bites a Man, causing 1-3 points of damage to a random location.

16. A Horse kicks a Man, causing 1D6 points of damage to a leg.

21. A sudden Spring downpour drenches the Men. Powder in firearms is wet for the next 1D6+3 hours; powder in a horn or other container is wet on a roll of 1-2 on 1D6.

22. A fallen tree blocks the King's Road through the Woods. The tree must be removed before Carriages can pass, resulting in a delay of 1D6+4 hours unless an axe is carried, in which case the delay is one hour. Men on Horses or on foot are unaffected.

23. A Man disturbs a viper resting under a rock in the Open Countryside. The viper strikes the Man on a roll of 1-8 on 1D20, causing 1 point of damage from the bite. Roll 1D6 for hit location: the bite strikes the left leg (1-2), right leg (3-4), left hand/arm (5), or right hand/arm (6). Armor protects from the bite. If the bite causes damage, the viper also injects venom on a roll of 1-4 on 1D6. Venom causes an additional 1-3 points of damage to the injured extremity each hour for 1D6 hours. A character with the Physician skill may prevent venom damage by rolling Wit/2 or less on 1D20.

24. A confraternity's saints' day procession blocks the King's Road. Carriages are delayed 1-3 hours by the procession and Gentlemen and Noblemen will be solicited for a donation of 4D6 livres on behalf of the confraternity.

25. A Coachman is badly bitten by a Horse and cannot drive the Carriage. A Man with the Horsemanship skill may drive the carriage in his stead.

26. The Horses are ill after receiving bad feed at a stable. A Horse dies on a roll of 1-2 on 1D6, otherwise it cannot continue for 1-3 days.

31. A drunk Coachman falls from his seat and breaks his neck, killing himself instantly. A Man with the Horsemanship skill may drive the Carriage in his stead.

32. The Coachmen and Servants are troubled by bad omens and will insist on a delay of 1-3 days so they can attend church or temple. A Priest (or Minister, if they are Huguenots) may convince them to continue on a successful Charm check, with a +1 bonus for the Oratory skill and a +2 bonus for the Theology skill.

33. The Carriage is mired in deep mud on the King's Road. A total of 50 Strength points are required to get the Carriage out of the mud. The clothing of any Man who assists in unsticking the carriage is irreparably damaged.

34. A Man with Tracking skill notices animal spoor in the Woods; roll on the Woods encounter table to determine which animal and how many, and on a roll of 1-3 on 1D6, the next random encounter will be with those animals.

35. A hunting hawk is seen in a field in the Open Countryside, eating a kill, but there is no falconer in sight. A Man may attempt to capture the hawk on a successful Wit check, with a +2 bonus for Falconry skill.

36. A Horse disturbs a wasps' nest, and an angry cloud of stinging insects immediately surrounds the Party. Horses will bolt on a roll of 1-4 on 1D6. Each round a Man must make a Horsemanship check to stay in the saddle, with a -3 penalty if in a Forest. Failing the check results in in the rider falling from the Horse, causing 2D6 general damage; succeeding at Dex/2 or less stops the Horse.

41. A fight breaks out between a Servant and a Coachman, and the latter knifes the former, killing the Servant. There is no chance to save him.

42. A Horse of Poor or Fair quality dies suddenly. The animal cannot be saved.

43. A bridge on the King's Road is in obvious disrepair. A Man on foot may cross safely. A Horse may fall through the bridge, rendering it impassable to any who follow, on a roll of 1-3 on 1D6. A Carriage falls through on a roll of 1-5 on 1D6. Anyone on a Horse or Carriage which falls through the bridge suffers 2D6 general damage. A Horse which falls is killed and a Carriage wrecked beyond repair.

44. A Servant in the Woods becomes separated from the Party. The Party may search for the Servant, finding him on a roll of 1-2 on 1D6 (-2 if one of the characters has Tracking skill) after 1D6 hours. If the Servant is not found during the search, he is never heard from again.

45. A Man on a Horse is struck by a low-hanging branch in the Woods. He must make a successful Horsemanship check to stay in the saddle. Failing the check results in in the rider falling from the Horse, causing 1D6 general damage.

46. The Party follows the wrong path in the Woods and becomes lost for 4D6 hours.

51. An Autumn wildfire is burning in the Woods ahead of the Party. Each Horse will bolt on a roll of 1-4 on 1D6. Each round a Man must make a Horsemanship check to stay in the saddle, with a -3 penalty. Failing the check results in in the rider falling from the Horse, causing 2D6 general damage; succeeding at Dex/2 or less stops the Horse.

52. A bull escapes from a pasture and charges the Party in the Open Countryside. The bull hits on a roll 1-8 on 1D20 and causes 1D6+1 points of general damage on a successful attack and has 15 hit points. The bull will continue to charge until it is killed.

53. A bridge crossing a stream on the King's Road is out. Carriages must backtrack and find a different route, causing a delay of 5D6 hours. Men and Horses may attempt to cross the stream. Men on foot must make Strength and Dexterity checks; making both checks means the character crosses safely, while failing one check means the character must repeat both checks again. If both checks are failed at the same time, the Man falls in the water, his powder is wet and will not discharge for 4D6 hours and from 1-6 items carried by the Man are lost in the stream. A Horse crosses the stream successfully on a successful Horsemanship check; if two Horsemanship checks in a row are failed, however, the Horse falls and the rider suffers the same effects as a Man on foot.

54. Ticks infest the Men while travelling through the Woods. Each Man may contract a fever on a roll of 1 on 1D6 following an incubation of 1D6+2 days. A Man who contracts the fever is sick for 6D6 days and must remain in bed. The fever may be successfully treated by a character with the Physician skill on a roll of Wit/2 or less. If the fever isn't treated successfully, the Man dies on a roll of 1-9 on 1D20.

55. A Servant eats bad berries while travelling through the Woods. A character with the Physician skill may save him on a successful roll of Wit/2 or less, otherwise the servant expires in 1D6 days.

56. A Coachman says that a saint's shrine is nearby, and he won't continue without visiting the shrine to pray for a sick relative. The visit to the shrine consumes a day of travel. A Priest may convince the Coachman to continue on a successful Charm check, with a +1 bonus for the Oratory skill and a +2 bonus for the Theology skill

61. A Horse falls into a pit trap built for wolves in the Woods. On a roll of 1-3, the Horse breaks a leg and must be put down.

62. A Man walking through the Woods steps on a hunter's snap trap. The trap causes 1D6 points of damage to the Man's leg, with damage reduced for wearing boots only.

63. Lightning from a fierce Summer thunderstorm spooks the Horses. Each Horse will bolt on a roll of 1-4 on 1D6. Each round a Man must make a Horsemanship check to stay in the saddle, with a -3 penalty if in a Forest. Failing the check results in in the rider falling from the Horse, causing 2D6 general damage; succeeding at Dex/2 or less stops the Horse.

64. Peasants give poor directions to the Party crossing the Open Countryside. The Party is lost for 2D6 hours.

65. A Carriage wheel breaks. A Coachman can repair the wheel in 1D6 hours on a 1-3 on 1D6, otherwise there is a 1-3 day delay while the carriage is repaired.

66. A freezing Winter snowstorm envelops the Party. The snowstorm lasts 2D6 hours. If the Party stops travelling and rides out the storm, Men and Horses take 1 point of general damage from the cold each hour, 3 points if they are not dressed appropriately for the conditions. A Party in the Woods may attempt to build a fire, succeeding on a roll of 1-3 on 1D6; roll 1D6 each hour a fire is burning, and on a 6 the fire goes out and must be rekindled as before. A Party with a fire takes no damage from the cold. If the Party presses forward to find shelter, Men and Horses take 2 points of general damage each hour from the cold, but they locate shelter from the storm on a roll of 1 (1-3 on King's Roads) on 1D6 each hour.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

I Can Haz Award?

Amanda at Drama, Dice, and Damsons very thoughtfully honored Really Bad Eggs with the Kreativ Blogger award. So, I have seven questions to answer, ten factoids to reveal, and seven more blogs to receive the award.

Seven questions -

1. What's your favorite song?
"Frank Sinatra," by Cake - the mariachi trumpet and the bajo sexto-like guitar remind me of listening to Spanish-language radio stations through the tiny earplug of a transistor radio in bed at night when I was a kid.

2. What's your favorite dessert?
Key lime pie at Poogan's Porch in Charleston, South Carolina.

3. What do you do when you're upset?
I tend to get either very loud or very quiet.

4. Which is your favorite pet?

5. Which do you prefer? Black or White?
White - it breaks down into any color.

6. What is your biggest fear?
Harm to my family.

7. What is your attitude mostly?
Level flight, when I can manage it.

Ten factoids -

1. Last summer I took a solo backpacking trip to a place called Siberian Outpost in the Sierra Nevada, where I sat and read Robert E. Howard stories to the sound of the wind rushing through ancient fox pines.

2. My favorite family vacation to date was our trip last year to Morro Bay, California. Canoeing on the bay with seals and a sea otter was the highlight of the trip - that's me standing in the bay to the right, preparing to lauch the canoe from the dunes.

3. I'm a San Francisco Giants fan, which is considered a sacrilege among southern Californians - my dad gave me a glove with Willy Mays' signature embossed in the leather when I was a boy, so I started following the Giants.

4. My other favorite sport is cycling. I watch more television in the month of July than at any other time of the year, thanks to the Tour de France coverage on OLN . . . uh, Versus . . . I mean, NBC Sports.

5. My favorite book is Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Visiting the Cathedral (now Cathedral Basilica) of St. Francis of Assisi was one of the highlights of a trip to Sante Fe.

6. I speak un petit peu French and un poco Spanish.

7. I celebrate my birthday and Father's Day every year with a jalapeño omelette and a couple of Modelo Negras at a local cafe on the beach, followed by a walk through a botanical garden.

8. My favorite holiday is Halloween.

9. A book called Seas, Maps and Men inspired me to study cartography and geomatics in college.

10. I believe it's better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven't done.

Seven awardees -

1. 19the Level - Daniel finds a way to inject new perspectives into very old, exhuastively rehashed topics, which is a rare gift.

2. The Signe of the Frothing Mug - Josh is a talented writer, and reading his blog is always a pleasure.

3. The Adventuring Archives - Kyle's a great guy and a talented artist, and his haversack posts are a lot of fun.

4. Raven Crowking's Nest - RC is one of my favorite posters from the days I hung out on EN World, with some excellent insights on gaming.

5. Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque - Jack's take on Gothic horror in roleplaying games is unique and compelling.

6. Lapsus Calumni - Matt's maps are nothing short of amazing.

7. Bayuca - My kindred spirit in swashbuckling, a Spanish-language mirror image of Really Bad Eggs.

Thanks again, Amanda.

DVR Alert

Turner Classic Movies is screening Captain from Castile, starring Tyrone Power, Jean Wells, and Cesar Romero on Sunday, 20 May - check your local listings for times. Freely adapted from Samuel Shellabarger's novel - and only covering the first half or so of the book - it's the story of a Spanish nobleman who flees the Inquisition and joins Hernán Cortés' expedition to Mexico.

The film is notable for its location shooting in Mexico, including an active volcanic eruption which can be seen in the background in a number of shots. The movie also features one of my favorite performances by Lee J. Cobb as Juan Garcia, flamboyant adventurer with a tortured soul.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Let Me Tell You About My Character

Roleplaying gamers can be a pretty geeky or nerdy - yes, there is a difference - bunch, but we still have our social taboos, and I am about to break one of those taboos, right here on the intrewebs, for everyone to see, by typing those seven words even gamers dread to hear.

Let me tell you about my character.

My Flashing Blades character for my solo campaign was killed by a rival last month, and since I want to continue with solo campaigning, I decided to generate a new character.

As with many roleplaying games, Flashing Blades character generation begins with determining basic attributes. Characters have a traditional six attributes - Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Wit, Charm, and Luck - generated by an equally traditional 3D6 rolled in order. Using an online roller, the six attribute scores were as follows.

Attribute Score
Strength 9
Dexterity 12
Endurance 14
Wit 14
Charm 12
Luck 7

So, the character's best attributes are Endurance and Wit, followed by Dexterity and Charm. Luck, on the other hand, is a disappointing seven - I'm unlikely to make this character a gambler, like the chevalier.

The next step is determining the character's Background. Background shouldn't be confused with classes in other roleplaying games. With respect to the rules, Background determines starting wealth, Social Rank, the cost of skills, and access to certain starting careers.

Because skills are based on a attributes, a high attribute score may suggest a particular background. Endurance is only associated with one skill, Carousing, but it also increases a character's hit points and capacity for encumbrance, which is important to characters with the Soldier or Marine Background. A high Wit is associated with many skills, particularly those from the Gentleman Background, such as Banking or Bureaucratics. Dexterity is most useful to the skills associated with the Rogue Background, like Cut Purse, Stealth, and Fine Manipulation.

So, first impression is that this character would make a good Gentleman, perhaps a student of theology peparing for a career in the Church or a royal bureaucrat with aspirations to become a court minister. But after the experience of my last character getting owned by a good but not great bravo, I want a swordsman, and that means putting skill points into the rapier.

I don't just want him to be good with the sword, however - brawling skill is also important in Flashing Blades, and I sometimes found myself lamenting that the chevalier was no damn good at a swift kick or a grapple. The easiest way to do this in FB is by way of the Rogue Background.

Wit is also a decent skill for a Rogue - Bribery, Forgery, and Disguise are all available in the Background skill list, and all are determined by Wit. I've run a lot of characters over the years with Bribery skill - greasing palms for the win - and occasionally Forgery, but rarely have I run a character with a talent for Disguise.

The Disguise skill is also a prerequisite for getting a job as an actor, and now a character is taking shape in my mind, of an itinerant player who doubles as a bravo. In order to be an actor, however, my character would also need a Charm of 13+ and the Oratory skill, which expensive for Rogues.

FB allows me trade attribute scores on a two-for-one basis, so in order to work as an actor I must increase his Charm and I probably want to increase his Wit as well. Endurance is the only score I can afford to sacrifice, so I take four points from his Endurance and add one point each to Wit and Charm. The results look like this.

Attribute Score
Strength 9
Dexterity 12
Endurance 10
Wit 15
Charm 13
Luck 7

That loss of Endurance is a bit painful, so he's really going to need to be a good swordsman, to avoid getting hit. Still, the fifteen in Wit gives him an extra skill point, a +1 to his fencing Expertise, and provides the basis for his Disguise skill, so it's a useful, if expensive, trade.

One last roll affects his starting attributes. In FB, each character has a height and build, with effects on the physical attributes. I can choose his height or build, and then must roll for the other. A Stocky build is tempting, as it adds an extra hit point, but under my house rules for jumping, it costs him, and I'm thinking I want him to take the Acrobatics skill. A Thin build adds a point of Dexterity, but if he turns out to be Short, he loses Strength and Endurance. So I decide to play it safe, choose Average for his build and roll for his height, which turns out to be Tall. That's good, 'cause it gives him a reach advantage in combat, and his attribute scores are set.

With his attributes set, I can calculate hit points and encumbrance capacity. Every character starts with a base of ten hit points, modified by Strength, Endurance, Luck, and build. His average scores in the first two yield no benefit, and fortunately his below average Luck isn't so low as to cause him a penalty; with his Average build, then, he start with the bog-standard ten hit points. Encumbrance also begins at ten points and is modified by Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, and build as well, but again, his scores are right near the mean, so there are no modifiers.

Now I can move on to skills. Each character in FB gets ten skill points for non-martial skills, modified by Wit and Luck. A fifteen Wit gets him an extra two skill points, and his seven Luck is fortunately not low enough to result in a penalty, for a total of twelve. Here's where Background first comes into play: each Background offers access to a number of skills, with bonus skills costing one point, regular skills costing two points, and skills not on the Background list costing three points. As an actor he must have both Disguise and Oratory - Disguise is a background skill for Rogues, so that costs two points, but Oratory isn't found in the Rogue Background, so that's gonna cost him three points. As I mentioned, Acrobatics is another skill I want my character to have, covering climbing, tumbling, and so forth; it's in the Rogue background, so that's two more points, for a total of seven out of twelve so far.

One more skill point is spent to speak another language; I decide that he's a native Occitan speaker, so that extra point goes into French. Rogues don't begin with literacy, which means that while he speaks two languages, he can neither read nor write. Clearly he learns his parts by rote or improvises his characters.

That leaves me four points to put into Expertise with a weapon, and I choose the rapier.

Martial skills are handled differently from non-martial skills. In Flashing Blades, all characters have some form of swordsmanship training - the goal of character generation in the game, after all, is to produce swashbucklers. With the Rogue Background, my character can take the School of Hard Knocks, which confers Brawling, and a Fencing School, which confers one style of fencing and a +1 bonus to a particular weapon. I choose French Style dueling, and another +1 with the rapier.

With martial skills selected, I can calculate Expertise. Base Expertise with dueling weapons is 10, to which I can add +1 for his Dexterity and +1 for his Wit, giving him a minimum Expertise of 12 with the longsword, rapier, and foil. He also has a +1 with the rapier from his training, and a + 4 with the rapier from skill points, giving him an Expertise of 17 with the rapier. Base Brawling Expertise is 8, again raised by one each for his Dexterity and Wit, for a base Expertise of 10 with his hands and improvised weapons.

Next comes Advantages and Secrets. FB characters may have one Advantage and one Secret; a player can choose to take an Advantage without a Secret at the cost of two skill points, or a Secret with no Advantage to gain a skill point. For this character, I decide to forego both an Advantage and a Secret, preferring to let these sort themselves out in actual play.

Last, I roll for his initial wealth, a 1 on D6, giving him an annual income of 50 £ - that's livres, not pounds - the lowest amount possible for a beginning character in FB. With a Rogue's background, his Social Rank is 2, giving him monthly living expenses of 6 £, and at the end of the year he owes roughly 22 £ in taxes to the Crown and - since I'll make him a Catholic - 20 £ in tithes to the Church. He'll need to work at least six months out of the year as an actor to cover his expenses, plus whatever he can bring in as a sellsword.

Finally, he needs a name. My son and I were playing the LEGO game Pirate Plank earlier in the day - in French, that's La Planche du Pirate. I like the sound of La Planche. He's a native Occitan speaker, so he was born Peyrot La Planca, and uses Pierre La Planche as his stage name. He's originally from Brignoles, and came to Marseille to make his fortune. I have a vague sense of a Saint-like penchant for disguises and false identities.

This will give me an excuse to repurpose the excellent Job Tables from the Tavern Trawling supplement to Backswords and Bucklers - La Planca/La Planche is very much a Basterd for Hiyer, and the tables are well suited to a solo campaign, particularly with the wrinkles which the Mythic Game Master Emulator introduces in play.

Now all I need is a few hours of free time to play.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Off the Shelf: Plays

From time to time adventurers may find themselves in libraries and other places where books can be found. Some players will want to know exactly what's on those shelves, so with that in mind, Off the Shelf consists of lists of book titles for the referee to use in rolling or choosing exactly what the adventurers find.

Plays may be found on the shelves of many educated persons, or stuffed in the pockets of players. Roll 1D6 for the number of plays, then roll 1D20 for the individual titles. Duplicate rolls may be treated as additional copies of the same volume or re-rolled at the referee's discretion.

1. La Reine d'Ecosse, Antoine de Montchrestien

2. Les Amours tragiques de Pyrame et Thisbé, Théophile de Viau

3. Fuenteovejuna, Lope de Vega

4. Scédase, ou l'hospitalité violée, Alexandre Hardy

5. Tyr et Sidon, ou les funestes amours de Belcar et Méliane, Jean de Schelandre

6. The Revengers Tragædie, Thomas Middleton

7. Amor, honor y poder, Pedro Calderón de la Barca

8. Les Bergeries, Racan

9. Every Man in His Humour, Ben Jonson

10. Lucrèce, ou l'Adultère puni, Alexandre Hardy

11. El caballero de Olmedo, Lope de Vega

12. Orbecche, Cinthio (Giovanni Battista Giraldi)

13. El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra, Tirso de Molina

14. La Sylve, Jean Mairet

15. La viuda valenciana, Lope de Vega

16. The Tragedy of the Dutchesse of Malfy, John Webster

17. La Bague de l'oubli, Jean Rotrou

18. Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, William Shakespeare

19. La Entretenida, Miguel Cervantes

20. Mélite, Pierre Corneille

A final note: for those of you wondering how I could leave out Racine, Corneille, and Molière, this list is up to about 1630 - I'll add another list or two for later in the 17th century in the future.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Cat Out of the Bag

Jedediah at Book Scorpion's Lair has another actual play log from his 7th Sea campaign, in which the intrepid adventurers learn something interesting about El Gato.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cinematic: The Three Musketeers

Unfortunately I can't embed this clip from Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers, but clicking on the picture will take you to it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Upstairs, Downstairs: The Help, Continued

Previously I wrote about servants in a cape-and-sword campaign, as seen in the source literature and the rules of a couple of swashbuckling games.

In addition to loyal lackeys and the wages of servants, Flashing Blades includes one more explicit reference to the help, under the section on property investment: "Upkeep is assumed to pay for servants, gardeners, furniture, etc." Each property type - townhouse, villa, small estate, large estate, and château - includes an amount in livres which must be paid annually, a portion of which is assumed to pay for the serving staff.

So how many servants does the owner of a townhouse or a château have, exactly? And what do they do?

History is a good guide, of course. The following is a reconstruction from payment records of the household of Thomas Manners, 1st Earl of Rutland in 1539, as reported in The Household of a Tudor Nobleman.

Title Number Title Number
Treasorer 1 Stables 7 p/t
Comptroller 1 Yemen Cokes 3
Gentylwomen Wayters 6 + 3 part-time Gromes of the Kichen 4
Chapelyns 4 +1 p/t Lardermen 2
Fyzytyon 1 p/t Aumers 1
Secretores 1 Scullerye 1
Gentylmen Ussers 2 Garyners 2
Gentylemen Waters 9 + 1 p/t Armerers 1 p/t
Scole Masters 1 Huntes 1
Clerks of the Kichen 3 + 3 p/t Tillers 1 p/t
Yeoman Ushers 2 Caters 1
Yeomen Waters of the Chambur 8 Waryners 1
Gromes of the Chamber 5 Kepers of Haye 2
Seller 2 Slaughtermen 1
Pantre 2 Smythe 1
Buttre 3 p/t Cowpers unk
Ewerye 1 Shepherdes 3
Ussers of the Halle 2 Bargemen 1
Warderope 5 Women of the Laundre 5
Mynstrelles 2 Dare Women 1
Porters 2 Pultre Women unk
Bakers 5 p/t Kepers of Hallywell 1
Bruers 3 p/t Kepers of Pastures 3
Myllers 3 Maser Scowrere 2
Joners 2 Waterdrawers 1 p/t
Glaysers 2 p/t Carpentyrs 1 p/t + servant
Carters 2 p/t Surgyons 1 p/t

In Flashing Blades terms, Lord Rutland is a count, a knight, a lieutenant general, and a court minister with the Wealth and Land Advantages - the latter more than once! - so while the example is instructive, it's also perhaps not representative.

A Book of Orders and Rules, written by Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu, for the management of his own household, is perhaps a better guide. Lord Montagu lists thirty-seven positions to be filled for the equivalent of a large estate or château. Assuming average wages of ten livres per person-month for a staff of forty, that works out to 4800 £, which vastly exceeds the total upkeep required for any of the properties in Flashing Blades, however.

So let's hold onto Lord Montagu as our ideal for a large property owner, and take the upkeep required for property as representing the minimum threshold below which, like the baron de Sigognac's château in Capitaine Fracasse, the place begins to crumble around the owner! For normal living conditions with the barest modicum of respectability, the cost of operating and maintaining the various properties may be assumed to pay for a number of servants up to no more than 50% of the annual upkeep. At least one servant and one cook are required for every two residents. At least one coachman or groom keeps up to two horses on their property, with an additional coachmen for every two additional horses. The owner of a country property must also keep a certain number of laborers as groundskeepers: one for a villa, two for a small estate, three for a large estate, and four for a château. Failure to pay for the laborers may result in a decline in property value as necessary repairs aren't made.

So, the owner of a château, living alone or with a spouse and no other dependents and keeping a horse, must provide for one body servant (120 £ annually), one cook (120 £), one coachman (96 £), and four laborers (48 £ each), for a total of 528 £ annually. This come is slightly under half of the château's annual upkeep of 1440 £, allowing him to pay for an additional body servant, or an additional groom if he also has a carriage and the four horses necessary to draw it, without paying additional expenses beyond the annual upkeep assumed in the property. Any difference must be made up by the property owner.

But again, bear in mind that this is the minimum requirement, and far from ideal - indeed, a character who keeps only the minimum number of servants is will likely receive comments from non-player characters, perhaps serving as the butt of jokes.

So how many servants should a character have to avoid calumnies? As a guideline, the owner of a townhome should have a number of servants equal to half his Social Rank; the owner of a villa or small estate servants equal to his Social Rank; and the owner of a large estate or château servants equal to twice his social rank. If that sounds hideously expensive, bear in mind that the ostentatious display of wealth is a hallmark of aristocracy. Its absence should invite notice.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Blast of the (d20) Past

Preface: The following is a critique - okay, it's a rant - I posted on EN World in 2005 of d20 Past, the historical supplement for d20 Modern. I was a big fan of d20 Modern for a long time, and used it to run a number of historical roleplaying campaigns, so I was right in Whizbros' wheelhouse for this one. It's safe to say I was underwhelmed by the final product.

I wouldn’t attempt to speak for anyone else’s expectations, but here’s a rough idea of what I was hoping to see from d20 Past:
  • A discussion for adapting the existing occupations, skills, talents feats, and advanced and prestige class abilities to the pre-Modern era
  • A section on overland travel, something that d20 Modern doesn’t cover
  • A selection of pre-Modern advanced classes
  • New skills appropriate to the pre-Modern era
  • New feats appropriate to the pre-Modern era
  • A series of equipment lists appropriate to different eras, including weapons, transportation, and adventuring gear
  • An expanded section of mostly mundane (non-FX) “monsters” appropriate to the pre-Modern era
I was hoping for a book with an approach similar to that of d20 Future: a modular tool box that covers the broader picture well with a few details for specific campaign modules.

If the authors felt they could cover this ground and still had a bit of space, then an expanded list of generic ordinaries to plug-and-play would be nice, but not essential.

I did not want to see adventures or extensive campaign module summaries. I also didn’t want to see a long historical treatise. What I wanted was a book that handled the crunchy, rule mechanics-intensive bits for me so that I could focus my creativity on creating the campaign-setting and adventures. In this at least I expected to be disappointed – FX sells, so magic and sci-fi and “monsters” were anticipated though not welcomed.

As far as what I was hoping to see, does d20 Past deliver? In my opinion, no, it does not.

The book spends two of its 96 pages on “approaches to history and campaigns,” an esoteric discussion of possible world-views and temporal ramifications of historic campaigns – these two pages are made all the more pointless by presenting three campaign-modules that emphasize fantasy over history.

D20 Past includes advice on using the occupations, feats, and so on from d20 Modern as part of a pre-Modern era historical game. It also includes a few new occupations, which is appropriate given that a number of the existing occupations are excluded. The skill Computer Use is eliminated and other skills curtailed. There are no new skills – personally I would’ve liked to see something along the lines of Long-distance Communication (could cover everything from semaphore and heliographs to drums and smoke signals) and/or Telegraphy (the Internet of the Victorian era) added. Feats receive a similar treatment, and a number of new feats are added, most (or all) of them previous published in the Pulp Heroes d20 mini-game in Polyhedron 161 – I didn’t do a one-to-one comparison with my copy of PH, but if memory serves, it’s pretty darn close. Moreover, these new feats are extremely limited in focus, reflecting their roots in a pulp adventure game, not a historical one.

Then there are the advanced and prestige classes. Only a single ‘universal’ non-FX AdC, the Explorer, is offered to cover the span of 500 years that d20 Past purports to represent – one other, the Gangster, could possibly used as an AdC regardless of period, but the Gangster has its own issues that need to be addressed. The Explorer and the Gangster were ripped straight from Pulp Heroes with only minor changes, as were the new starting occupations.

Some might argue that there isn’t a need for additional AdCs – I disagree.

Some argue that the pre-Modern Past is so similar to the Modern that few or no additional AdCs are warranted. However, according to the Modern SRD, “An advanced class represents a focus and a calling for the experienced adventurer. It provides a specialization and a range of power and ability to give a character that something extra to set him or her apart.” If those who feel that the current AdCs adequately represent the historical period from the late Middle Ages to the early Information Age are correct, then there’s really nothing about the pre-Modern era that represents a specialization that isn’t adequately covered by the AdCs in the core rules. Again, I disagree, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

There are a couple of approaches that can be taken to creating AdCs. One is to create AdCs that represent genre archetypes. In my opinion this is the approach taken in Dog House Rules’ most excellent Sidewinder: Recoiled Wild West game and Adamant Entertainment’s Thrilling Tales pulp adventure game. It’s also the approach I’ve taken in creating AdCs for my homebrew historical campaigns using the Modern SRD. In each case the AdCs offer specialization specific to the genre archetypes.

Another approach is to look for ‘universal’ areas of specialization – this is much closer to the method used in the Modern core rules. D20 Past takes the stance that there is no compelling reason to create additional character ability specializations for the span of five centuries of human history. I believe this is a myopic view of both history and the Modern rules.

The AdCs in d20 Modern are not universal to all periods. The campaign modules in d20 Past specifically exclude the Techie from all three – the Gunslinger and Field Medic are excluded from from “Age of Adventure” and the Field Scientist from “Pulp Heroes” as well. Moreover d20 Past makes only the most minimal of effort at creating universal AdCs appropriate to the pre-Modern age.

Where is the Cavalier, with specialized abilities relating to animal mounts such as horses, elephants, or camels? Where is the Sea Hawk, with specialized abilities relating to sailing ships? Where is the Scholar, with specialized abilities related to non-technological knowledge? Where is the Doctor, to replace the Modern Field Medic? Each of these four AdCs would be universal to the whole of the period ostensibly covered in d20 Past.

Some might argue that the existing rules cover horsemanship or sailing or healing – a character can take Ride as a Strong hero or Soldier, Treat Injury as a Dedicated hero, Drive and Surface Vehicle Operation as a Fast or Tough hero, and so on. However, this does not replace the role that AdCs are intended to play in d20 Modern, that of specialized powers and abilities. Modern is not Grim Tales – AdCs serve a specific purpose in the game, one that appears to have been largely overlooked in d20 Past.

Another problem is that the AdCs offered are overpowered compared to those offered in the core rules. Compare the d20 Past Gangster to the Dead Shot in The Game Mechanics' Modern Player's Companion which requires expending an Action Point to gain an extra +1d6 damage at 5th level, or the Gunslinger in Dog House Rules' Sidewinder: Recoiled which can expend an AP to gain +3d6 damage at 10th level.

In the Pulp Heroes minigame, David Noonan (the author) wrote, "Characters in a Pulp Heroes game tend to make more saving throws than in many other d20 Modern campaigns, however. Accordingly, the advanced classes presented below provide above-average saving throw bonuses" (Polyhedron 161, p. 15, emphasis added). Looking over the class abilities, I think the same could be said of the AdCs generally: compare the Gangster to the Bodyguard, which both begin as Tough heroes and have similar saving throw progressions - however, in addition to having those good saves, the Gangster also has a huge boost to offensive skills which makes the Gangster more effective on both offense and defense whereas the Bodyguard's good saves are linked to his mostly defensive abilities.

It appears that WotC boosted the PH AdCs with little regard for balance: while the AdCs for Pulp Heroes are internally consistent with one another (so that the relative power level remains the same), they are out-of-kilter with the other d20 Modern AdCs. (BTW, if you have Polyhedron 161, you have the Explorer and Gangster already - aside from swapping the Defense and Reputation scores for the Explorer, the classes are identical.)

For me, d20 Past offers little in the way of skills, feats, or AdCs useful to creating non-FX historical games. That leaves equipment, overland travel, and monsters.

First, there are glaring errors and omissions in the equipment section of d20 Past, as well as a couple of questionable choices for inclusion. The omissions are mind-boggling. There are pages of sailing ships and trains and cars and aircraft but not a single animal-drawn vehicle. None. No carriages, no stagecoaches, no hansom cabs, no buckboards, no prairie schooners, no caissons. There’s also no howdah, no dog sled, no ox-cart, and no travois, for that matter. It’s as if everyone prior to the late nineteenth-century walked or sailed everywhere.

Cart or wagon - 2 mph or 16 miles per day.” That's what d20 Past offers with respect to animal-drawn transport. According to the designers, a prairie schooner drawn by two teams of yoked oxen travels the same overland speed as a stagecoach drawn by four teams of horses or a sleigh pulled by a pair of reindeer or a gig drawn by a single horse or a carreta drawn by a pair of mules. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Would you like to run a chase scene involving a pair of carriages and several riders? You have your work cut out for you. How many squares is a buckboard? A Concord coach? How much cover does a landau provide? a brougham? What's the initiative modifier for a Conestoga wagon? a hansom cab? How about the cargo capacity of a dog sled? a travois? What about hardness? maneuverability? purchase DC? I don't think that asking for vehicle stats comparable to those in the d20 Modern core book is reaching for the moon.

Now a GM has a couple of choices here. First, hand-wave it all away - just describe the chase and give the characters a couple of modifiers to combat and skill checks. To me that misses some of the interesting tactical choices that playing it out with vehicle rules provide - this is true if playing with a tactical grid as shown in d20 Modern or a more free-form system like AEG’s Spycraft or Adamant’s Hot Pursuit.

Second, a GM can research and develop sets of stats herself. For me that takes away from the time I spend developing my campaign and removes one of my main reasons for buying a supplement at all - it's not that I can't invent things from scratch, it's that it takes away from my enjoyment of the game and cuts into my time spent writing adventures and campaign background. More fundamentally, how do you write a game supplement called d20 Past without paying at least a little bit of attention to something so basic?

(I suppose there is a third option as well: a GM can make it up “on the fly.” This makes it difficult for a player to make informed choices with respect to buying and using equipment, however. If a player is faced with choosing between a couple of different revolvers for his gunslinger, having the GM say something along the lines of, “Well, I'll make up the relevant stats when you need them,” probably won't sit too well.)

There’s no mundane adventuring gear in d20 Past. None. No snuff boxes, no daguerreotype plates, no plumed hats, no pocket watches, no spyglasses. Nothing. This is inexcusable.

There are a number of errors with the weapons presented. Neither the Spencer rifle nor the Winchester M1873 has box magazines – both have internal magazines. (I believe the first lever-action Winchester to have a box magazine was the M1895.) The range of the M3 grease gun is shown as higher than that of the Thompson submachine gun, the opposite of how the stats should have been presented based on the material I could find on both. The range of the M1 Carbine is not the equal of the M1 Garand, despite the assertion in d20 Past – it’s as if the authors don’t understand the concept of a carbine in the first place. The reloading times are pure silliness: reloading a flintlock takes just two full-round actions? A percussion cap and ball takes the same time to reload as a metallic cartridge? There seems to be no attempt to capture any of the flavor of the period weapons. (Check out Sidewinder: Recoiled to see reloads done well.)

There is some unnecessary duplication of weapons as well, which makes no sense given that d20 Past already suffers from a critically short page count as is: the Colt M1911, fragmentation grenades, and the machete are already covered in the core rules. Then there’s the inclusion of the LeMat revolver and the Ferguson rifle, the “FN FiveseveNs” of d20 Past, the sure-to-be-munchkined guns that don’t reflect their historical insignificance – if they had to include a weapon strictly for its “gee-whiz” factor, why not the Walker Colt instead (perhaps taking the spot wasted on the M1911)?

Second, as mentioned earlier a portion of the overland travel rules are imported directly from D&D without regard to the fact that d20 Modern uses different rules for handling non-lethal damage. No one should have to say this but here it is anyway: the first step in writing a good d20 Modern supplement is to hire authors and editors who know how to play d20 Modern.

Third, the lack of animal powered transport is matched by the lack of appropriate draft animals – no camels for adventuring across the Sahara, no elephants for marching across India, no reindeer for sleighing across Lappland.

Then there are the campaign modules and adventures, which take up roughly two-thirds of the book – that’s a higher proportion of pages than either Urban Arcana or d20 Apocalypse. As far as the adventures go, I can’t really comment on the content – I haven’t read them. There is a design philosophy at work at WotC that says that every book is supposed to come “ready to play,” which means that some portion of every book’s page-count is devoted to something that can be used once, if at all. (In many cases the players have the same book as the GM, which discourages many GMs from running the included adventures.) That is the anti-thesis of the toolbox approach I was hoping for from a core-rules supplement d20 Past.

With respect to the campaign modules, I think at least one non-FX campaign module should have been included, if for no other reason than as an instructional aid to GMs – the book begins with a discussion of historical gaming, so it would stand to reason that an example of a historical game would be a good model to present for novices, highlighting the different approaches described in the first pages of the book. With “Age of Adventure,” for example, a discussion of the real Musketeers compare with how they were portrayed by Dumas could be used to bring the point home on different approaches to history and gaming.

As far as the FX goes, does the “Shadow Stalkers” campaign module really need two new FX classes? Does “Age of Adventure” really need dragons? It suggests that pirates and swashbucklers and tomb raiders and mad scientists so weak and lacking in appeal to the larger gaming population that the only way to sell this book is to make it Past Arcana, an assumption that I find highly suspect. For example, the authors could have stripped out the FX classes and monsters from “Age of Adventure” and focused on a campaign module that recreates The Three Musketeers or The Scarlet Pimpernel, turning the FX pages into suggestions on how to run a swashbuckling combat environment, such as advice on how to combine Jump and Climb checks to recreate a character leaping from a balcony, swinging on a chandelier, and kicking an opponent off a table

I have questions about the utility of much of the information presented in the campaign modules. I started putting together a campaign based on “Age of Adventure,” stripping away the FX trappings for an historical swashbuckling game. I found that the material offered in d20 Past as a whole and the “Age of Adventure” module in particular to be so thin that I ended up starting from scratch and creating it all on my own.

As far as online support for d20 Past, a single web enhancement, a bibliography of historical resources, was offered by WotC. Given that the designers themselves noted that historical period details were kept to a minimum in d20 Past since so much material is readily available in libraries and on the Internet, these seems like a pedestrian choice at best. Personally I think making one of the three campaign modules a web supplement and using the print pages for more gamer tools would have been a more efficient use of both resources.

There’s also the question of designer interaction with the users. When d20 Past was about to hit the shelves, Gwendolyn Kestrel began posting on the WotC Modern bulletin boards talking about the book – she posted the table of contents, which together with the art gallery on the Modern web site gave a pretty good picture of what was to come. Many of the responses (though certainly not all) were negative, my own included – after asking the posters to take a “wait-and-see” approach, Ms. Kestrel did not return to answer any additional questions (as far as I could find on reviewing the two threads on the WotC boards). Compare this to the designers of d20 Apocalypse who stood in and answered questions, some of them pointed, about the mechanics and design choices of their book. It says a lot to me about commitment to both the consumers and the product when the writers are willing to offer themselves up in this way – it also encouraged me to look at and ultimately buy d20 Apocalypse, a book I had no interest in adding to my gaming library when it was announced.

Coda: I did actually attempt to use this, to put together a Zorro campaign, but what d20 Past provided was so thin that I found I was making up a bunch of rules to cover the gaping holes. It proved to be too much work at the time, and I shelved the campaign as a result.

For an actual review, try

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Yet Another Field of Honor

You are challenged to a duel. Roll 1D20 to determine the actual location where the duel takes place.

1. On a rickety wooden bridge over roaring rapids.

2. By the light of a blazing bonfire in a ring of Romani wagons.

3. Inside a sea cave which floods waist-deep with each incoming wave - and fills to the ceiling on the ninth wave of every set - then empties out.

4. While balanced on a pair of chandeliers over a crowded theatre on opening night.

5. Knee-deep in effluent as sewer rats scramble up the duelists' clothing to escape the muck and mire.

6. In the cellar of a decrepit monastery amidst rotting casks of wine, ready to burst.

7. In a palace gallery lined with marble statues and suits of armor, with banners draped from the walls and ceiling.

8. Over the cracked marble benches of a Roman amphitheatre.

9. On the spray-swept decks of a listing galleon aground on a rocky reef.

10. On the loose terra-cotta tiles of an adobe mission roof.

11. In the smoky kiva of a cliff house.

12. In a narrow secret passage between the bedchambers of the king and his mistress.

13. In the hayloft of a thatch-roofed barn, lit by a single lantern perched precariously on the edge of a overturned bucket.

14. Atop the parapet of a ravelin amidst a thunderous cannon barrage.

15. On the steep stone steps of an Aztec pyramid.

16. In a treehouse built high in the jungle canopy by the survivors of a shipwreck.

17. Across the decks of a dozen canal barges moored together.

18. In a jolly boat as it spirals into a swirling whirlpool.

19. Roll on This Field of Honor table

20. Roll on Another Field of Honor table

Monday, May 7, 2012

Pirates of the Middle Sea

Nate at d20 Pirates posted the first in a series on corsairs, the pirates of the Mediterranean.

The story of the corsairs fascinates me, and in fact I started reading a book, Catholic Pirates and Greek Merchants: A Maritime History of the Mediterranean by Princeton professor Molly Greene, this weekend, one of a number of books on the subject on my shelves.

With the inspiration for my Flashing Blades campaign coming from a story about the Ottoman siege of Vienna, and with books like The Sea-Hawk and Pirates of the Levant in my Appendix N, you can be sure corsairs lie in wait just over the horizon should the adventurers set sail across the Mediterranean or visit its ports.

I'm looking forward to the rest of Nate's posts.

R is for Reflections

Time to put the Blogging from A to Z Challenge to bed.

First, I wrote last week that I didn't think I would do this again next year. It felt very limiting, yet looking back I still managed to cover a couple of topics that I planned to write about ever since I started this blog, like the unbuilt trope in cape-and-sword roleplaying games and using 'soft power' to address player character choices in actual play. I liked how the post about interpreting the rules of the game turned out. In the end, the whole thing ended up feeling very contrived; I was writing about topics because they fit the format, not because they were necessarily the topics I wanted to talk about that day, so overall it wasn't a terribly satisfying experience

After a week to let the results sink in, I think I may try this again next year, but with a narrower focus. Really Bad Eggs already has a pretty tight focus as it is, that tiny niche within the niche that is cape-and-sword roleplaying games, and I felt that trying to draw that net even tighter would make it harder to find things to write about - and judging from some of the pure fluff I posted, it was a little hard at times. But I have an idea for a list of A to Z topics for 2013 that both fits the focus of my blog and wouldn't be overly difficult to match to the format. So I'm keeping an option on 2013 after all.

Second, Really Bad Eggs' followers increased by 50% over the course of the month, while page-views dropped by 20%. At the host blog, participants are urged to "spike the blog numbers!" so that every blog in the challenge ends up with at least a hundred followers. While I understand the sentiment, and I appreciate everyone who chooses to follow Really Bad Eggs, for me the payoff of blogging is not counting noses, but rather the exchange of ideas. If I can be said to have a rubric for success, the highest tier is participation through comments. My goal is to inspire and inform, and comments are integral to that process. In any case, I hope that the people who choose to follow this blog do so because Really Bad Eggs has something to say to them, not to run up the score.

Last, I'm slowly playing catch up reading other participants' blogs. April was not the cruelist month, but it certainly was the busiest of the year to date. Camps, carnivals, sports, amusement parks - my already thin leisure time was emaciated last month. I don't anticipate getting through the whole list, but my present goal is to read and comment on at least one hundred blogs.

So that's it until next April.

Badge courtesy of Mark at The DM's Screen

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I Write Like. . .

I stumbled across this on another blog - unfortunately I don't recall which one to give credit where credit's due - and I'm enough of a narcissist that I fed it a few paragraphs from one of my blog posts.

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

I'd never heard of David Foster Wallace before, but looking over some of his books on Amazon, I definitely want to check out his work.

So that was kinda cool.

When I fed it one of my campaign adventure logs, however . . .

I write like
James Joyce

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

James Joyce? I think that's a bit generous . . .

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Help

Servants sharing their masters' adventures are a fixture of many cape-and-sword tales. The Musketeers have their lackeys - Planchet, Grimaud, Bazin, and Mousqueton. Garnache, from Rafael Sabatini's Saint Martin's Summer, has Rabecque. Valmont, from Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons dangereuses, has Azolan, and Bardelys, from Mr Sabatini's Bardelys the Magnificent, has Ganymede. And Íñigo, the narrator of the Alatriste saga, is the captain's mochilero during the campaign in Flanders in 1625.

Some cape-and-sword roleplaying games include the option of having a servant for a player character. Honor + Intrigue's Boons, for example, include the Trusted Companion, while Flashing Blades characters may take a Gentleman's Lackey (or Lady's Maid, for women swashbucklers) as an Advantage. Both games also offer the opportunity for players' characters to be servants - H+I characters may choose the Servant/Housekeeper career; FB characters simply take jobs as such, provided they have the requisite skills or attribute scores.

So while the cape-and-sword trope of the servant sidekick is covered in these games, what about servants who are not an extension of the player character? Servants are ubiquitous in the society of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, and many characters who do not take a Trusted Companion or Gentleman's Lackey should arguably have servants as well, albeit not quite so loyal.

My curent house rule for my Flashing Blades campaign is that a player character has a number of servants equal to his Social Rank - 1D6; the cost of these servants is subsumed as part of the character's monthly expenses. These servants are associated with the character's place of residence and are typically unavailable for adventuring.

But I'm not wildly satisfied with this rule for a couple of reasons. First, various servants and their wages are listed in the aforementioned section on jobs for characters, and they're a poor fit for what the player characters are paying in monthly upkeep.

For example, here's what servants make, in livres (silver coins) per month, in Flashing Blades.

Job Pay
Laborer 4 £
Body Servant 10 £
Coachman 8 £
Cook 10 £
Herald 20 £

A player character with Social Rank 7 - the upper end of commoners in the setting - pays 21 £ each month for upkeep. Under my current house rule, that character could have as many as six servants; assuming two coachmen and four body servants, that's 56 £ worth of servants out of a budget of 21 £, which also covers housing and subsistence!

However, one of my assumptions is that the SR - 1D6 rule doesn't represent the player character's personal servants, but rather servants associated with the character's place of residence. The four body servants and two coachman available to the player character might represent valets, maids, and stablehands at an auberge or hôtel the character calls home, for example - their upkeep is spread among the various guests and residents, rather than borne by the player character alone. It's also why these servants aren't available for adventuring alongside the player character - a stablehand will keep your horse fed and brushed, and he might deliver a message for you across Paris, with a few extra sous for his trouble, but he won't be your equerry on campaign in Spain or drive your coach on a diplomatic mission to Venice.

So, with a little additional consideration, I think the house rule works tolerably well. On the other hand, if a player character wants a servant who will accompany him during his adventures, then the character needs to pay the servant's wages, out of his annual allowance - annuities, inheritance, sinecure, pension, or the like - or wages earned from a career or job, at the rates specified above.

The decision to keep a servant is then shuffled off to the player, but given their prevalence and significance in the historical setting of the campaign, should the game-world also incentivise keeping servants? For example, a servant, or better still a staff of servants, is both a sign, and an expectation, of status in the society of the game-world; remember that one of the first things d'Artagnan is urged to do once he has a little money in his pocket is hire a lackey, for a gentleman without a valet is scarcely a gentleman at all.

Flashing Blades hints at this in a different rule. Player characters with a noble title of baron or greater may visit court, but they must have a carriage and team to do so. Since a nobleman visiting court is unlikely to drive his own carriage, this suggests the character must pay for at least one coachman as a driver, and should probably hire a second as footman as well. That's one or two servants implied right there. It's a reasonable extension from this to say that a character at court must be attended by, at a bare minimum, one body servant as well; in fact, a more appropriate number might be equal to one-half of one's Social Rank, or risk penalties to reactions from other nobles at court.

Incentives in the game-world need not come attached to rules, however. Soft pressure in the form of snide or pitying comments from non-player characters on a player character's 'lack of means' may lead a player to choose to engage servants in order to present an appearance more appropriate to his character's station.

All of this assumes that a character does not own property - a townhouse, a villa, an estate, or a chateau - of his own. With property comes servants, per the rules in Flashing Blades, so the question of how many and what kinds of servants, and how they are supported, becomes more involved. I'll dive into this in part two.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Los Zorros

Those familiar with Zorro only by way of the Antonio Banderas movies may not realize that a long line of swashbucklers wore the black mask of the Fox.

Matthew Baugh gives us a chronology listing the various Zorros and attempting to reconcile often inconsistent or conflicting dates, to build a more-or-less consistent timeline of the Zorro saga.

I like stuff like this, particularly since I often introduce characters from cape-and-sword tales - such as the 17th century ancestors of Don Alejandro de la Vega - into my campaign.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"You are using Bonetti's Defense against me, ah?"

Need to up your character's dueling cred? Try peppering your repartee with a few of these moves.

Roll 1D20.

1. Giganti's Balestra

2. Dancie's Riposte

3. Agrippa's Passata-soto

4. Sevestini's Reprise

5. Sainct-Didier's Trompement

6. Von Gunterrodt's Zornhau

7. Desbourdes' Attaque au Fer

8. Saint-Pierre's Coulé

9. Thibault's Flèche

10. Cavalcabo's Moulinet

11. Di Grassi's Parry

12. Marozzo's Slash

13. Narvaez's Beat-Parry

14. Palladini's Bind

15. Heredia's Coup d'arrêt

16. Docciolini's Lunge

17. Capo Ferro's Insistence

18. Swetnam's Neuvieme

19. Hale's Prise de Fer

20. Silver's Invitation

Inspired by a Jeff Rients post.