Saturday, June 30, 2012

DVR Alert

On Tuesday, 3 July, Turner Classic Movies airs The Adventures of Don Juan, starring Errol Flynn.

The past-his-prime Flynn makes a convincingly world-weary Don Juan caught up in the intrigues of the Spanish court. The final duel with the duque de Lorca is a great stage-fight.

As always, check you local listings for times.

Friday, June 29, 2012

All Your Base

Recently I introduced a discussion of the endgame in cape-and-sword roleplaying games, the point in a campaign at which the player characters become authority figures in the game-world, where conflicts transition from the physical to the political and power comes from one's position at least as often as from one's sword arm.

So far the discussion focused on resources the adventurers may bring to bear as they reach the endgame: social standing and influence, wealth, contacts, and clients. Next I want to take a look at that icon of the roleplaying endgame, the stronghold.

Player characters in Flashing Blades may acquire property a couple of ways. First, there is the Land Advantage available to some beginning characters. Taking this Advantage grants the character a townhouse, a villa, a small or large estate, or - on a roll of 20 on 1D20 - a château; the Land advantage also confers additional income as part of the character's annual allowance, which is important as property also requires annual upkeep and is assessed for taxes each year.

Second, a player may also invest with the goal of acquiring a property, as per the investment rules, or purchase an available property. The rules are silent on whether or not properties acquired by investment or purchase come with additional income as with the Land Advantage, so I have a simple house rule which determines if a property also comes with income.

Roll (D6) Income
0-3 No income from property
4-5 Income as one property lower in Land Advantage
6 Income as per Land Advantage
7 Income as per Land Advantage plus Social Rank 8
Modifiers -1 for villa, +1 for château

Note that a character of SR 7 or less must successfully petition the king to purchase a property which confers nobility with it; the details of this will be handled in another post.

So acquiring a 'stronghold' in Flashing Blades is really pretty simple - a lucky starting character may even begin the campaign with a castle, without clearing a monster-filled wilderness first or hiring architects and stoneworkers to build it for him. Of course, that same character doesn't attract followers - other than a small serving staff that he pays for - or rule his land as a sovereign baron.

That's because strongholds in Flashing Blades aren't castles. They're cities. And provinces. And bishoprics. And you don't attract a handful of men-at-arms. You command a company, or a battalion, or a regiment, or an army . . . or the entire army.

Consider this passage from Flashing Blades, titled, "Entering the Bureaucracy from Other Careers."
Characters who reach high positions in other careers may, if they are ambitious, attempt to enter the Bureaucracy at high levels. Any character who holds the Title of Count or above, and has the skill Magistracy may attempt to become a Magistrate (on a roll of 9 or more) at the beginning of each year after the start of the game. Any character who holds the Title of Duke or above, may attempt to become a Royal Official (on a roll of 9 or more) at the beginning of each year after the start of the game.

Any character in the military with the Rank of Brigadier or above who (1) has the skill Magistracy, (2) has been a Martial Magistrate and (3) now has a Staff position (not a Commander) may attempt to become a Magistrate (on a roll of 8 or more) at the beginning of each year. Any character in the military of the of the [sic] Rank of Major General or above (or any retired Lt. General or above) who does not hold a Command position (or a Field Marechal who chooses not to go on Campaign with his Army) may attempt to become a Royal Official (on a roll of 9 or more) at the beginning of each year.

Any character in the Clergy who is a Prince Bishop or a Cardinal may attempt to become a Royal Official (on a roll of 9 or more) at the beginning of each year.

Any character who is a Master or Grandmaster of a Noble or Royal Order may attempt to become a Royal Official (on a roll of 9 or more at the beginning of each year.
[emphasis added - BV]
In other words, when a character reaches the highest levels of the military, Church, knighthood, or nobility, the next step for ambitious characters is the royal bureacracy.

And what exactly is a Royal Official?
A Royal Official may have the position of Provincial Governor (on a roll of 9+; +1 for having been a Lt. Governor, +1 if Social Rank is 12 or more), Ambassador (requires 1 foreign language and Etiquette skills, no roll necessary) or a City Mayor otherwise. Each of these special positions has its own pay and powers as shown below:
  • A Provincial Governor is paid 350 L per year. He may squeeze up to an additional 1000 L per year from the people of his province, at the risk of open revolt. Within his province, a Governor has the powers of a Magistrate. In addition, he has Command of a Battalion (2 companies) of Fusiliers to keep the peace, and as personal guards.
  • An Ambassador is paid 300 L per year, and is sent to another country as an emissary (likely countries are Spain, England, The Holy Roman Empire, an Italian City State, the Vatican, etc.). He may also receive gifts from the ruler of the country he stays in. This position is of particular interest to Player Characters because of many opportunities for adventure it offers (special missions, treaties, political intrigues, etc.). Ambassadors always have an entourage, including several other Bureaucrats, a Priest (especially if going to a Protestant country), and some guards (usually from the Guards or Swiss Guards Rgts.).
  • A City Mayor is paid 300 L per year. He may squeeze up to an additional 500 L per year from the citizens, at the risk of open revolt. Within his city, a Mayor has the powers of a Magistrate. He also commands a company of Fusiliers to keep the peace, and as his personal guards.
A Magistrate is a powerful figure in his own right, of course.
A Magistrate is a kind of 17th Century Judge and Jury. Provincial justice, and the judgement of crimes committed by people of Social Rank 7 and below will be entrusted to a Magistrate. To pass judgement on a criminal (or framed person) of Social Rank 8 to 12, a tribunal of three or five Magistrates will be formed. Those persons of Social Rank 13 or above may only be judged by the Minister of Justice or the King, and only these personages may overrule a Magistrate or Magistrate tribunal. A character who is a Magistrate may arrest an enemy of lower Social Rank once per year (he is imprisoned for 1D6 weeks). If the enemy is four or more Social Ranks below him, the Magistrate may trump up charges against him (see the Appendix for details on Courts and Justice).
So, a Royal Official governs a city or province, metes out justice - or injustice, depending on his inclinations - and commands a company or battalion of soldiers, or receives "gifts" - a subtle way of describing the bribes offered by foreign princes to ambassadors in exchange for influence at the French court - and an entourage to aid in the performance of his duties.

Reflecting the change from the feudalism to the emerging modern state, a character's power comes less from the land he inherits or buys to the land he controls as part of his position with the society and government. Consider a historical example. After Cardinal Richelieu became Louis XIII's minister of state, he began consolidating his personal powerbase, which included a the governorship of a number of cities around France as well as the province of Brittany; when it appeared that he was about to fall from Louis' favor in the events leading up to the Day of the Dupes, Richelieu planned to flee to Le Harve, the La Manche city that was one of his governorships. Le Harve offered him a place of refuge as well as a point of departure should he need to leave France to escape the king's wrath.

So what good is acquiring property, then? Why bother with the Land Advantage at all?

First, property is still a form of wealth, a valuable one that can be liquidated for cash if need be. A Banker, for example, could take the Land Advantage, sell the property, and use the proceeds to invest or lend, earning interest each year - this can actually be more lucrative than taking the Wealth Advantage. By purchasing additional hectares of land for use as pasture, farmland, orchards or vineyards, a property owner may increase the wealth his land provides.

Second, there is a social obligation to owning land. Per the core rules, for example, an Archduke must own a château and a Grand Duke must own two - per the house rules of my campaign, this applies to Peers of France (duc et pair) and foreign princes (prince étranger), respectively - and lesser nobles are likely to find themselves spurned and insulted for failing to live in the style appropriate to their ranks.

Third, in my campaign property may be used as a means of gaining Favors by entertaining. Balls, hunts, and the like are a staple of noble life, as is the ostentatious display of wealth. In order to seek a Favor, first the honored guest from the whom the Favor is solicited must be invited, on a successful Charm check, with a bonus for the Etiquette skill and modified by the difference in Social Rank between the host and the honored guest. A number of additional guests should be invited equal to the Social Rank of the honored guest - this is doubled if the guest is the king! A Wit check, with bonuses for both Etiquette and Heraldry skill, insures that the guest list doesn't contain any inappropriate invitations.

Entertaining is expensive: each invited guest costs the host the equivalent of one month's upkeep at the guest's Social Rank. Frex, a baron is the honored guest, so there must be ten additional guests, each costing three times their respective Social Ranks in livres to entertain. Increasing this to six times Social Rank gets the host a +3 bonus when rolling to see if the favor is earned.

Guests are typically invited to stay for a week, and various activities are organized each day for their pleasure; a clever host will learn as much as he can about his honored guest and plan activities which cater to his interests, as reflected in his skills. Frex, the baron may enjoy hunting (Tracking skill), gambling (Gambling skill), or chess (Strategy skill).

To determine if a Favor is earned, roll a Charm check, with a bonus for Etiquette skill, doubling the amount spent as host, and for each activity in which the honored guest's skills come into play; the difference in Social Rank between the host and the honored guest is also a modifier to the roll. A successful check means the host has earned a Favor from the honored guest.

Note that the various skill checks describe a resolution system, not a substitute for roleplaying. None of these rolls are expected to replace the referee's judgement or stand-in for the players' in-character choices in actual play.

Last, a property owner may also attract retainers. Retainers, a hold-over practice from the Middle Ages, are armed nobles living in the property owner's household. They may serve as members of the household staff, or simply be 'boon companions' to the owner. Retainers are acquired not by offering patronage but rather providing for their upkeep; in return, they protect their master's interests.

There is one more sort of stronghold common to cape-and-sword tales and games: a ship. Ships confer little in the way of advantage with respect to influence, but they can be powerful economic engines - through trade, privateering, or piracy - and are perhaps closer in spirit to the 'fighter's stronghold' of classic D&D. They are also expensive to acquire and maintain, and vulnerable to a variety of man-made and natural hazards.

Bear in mind that through this discussion I'm looking at how the stronghold of cape-and-sword roleplaying influences the endgame of intrigue. A player character's home may figure prominently in their adventures, of course, and shouldn't be discounted as such.

So far, my discussion of the endgame focused on the kinds of resources which the players' characters accumulate as they gain power in the game-world: rank, influence, wealth, contacts, favors, clients, and strongholds. Next week, it's time to start looking at the endgame from the referee's side of the table, of delivering a game-world in which the characters no longer serve Richelieu or Mazarin, but rather are Richelieu or Mazarin.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Honor + Intrigue Coming to Your FLGS?

Chris 'BASHMAN' Rutkowski confirmed at that Honor + Intrigue will be appearing on the shelves of friendly local gaming stores in the future.
"The books are first going out to pre-orders while the bulk print run continues. When all the books are done, they're shipping them to the IPR Warehouse. IPR does distribute books to FLGS in the US, Canada, UK, and a number of other countries, so it ought to be available in stores at that point. However, that shipment has not gone out yet."
With dedicated cape-and-sword roleplaying games like H+I and All for One: Régime Diabolique and tabletop minis games like Gloire actively supported by their publishers, classics like Flashing Blades and En Garde! still in print, and other games like Savage Worlds' Solomon Kane and Pirates of the Spanish Main and 7th Sea plus freebies like PDQ Sharp available in .pdf, it's a great time to pretend to be a swashbuckler.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wednesday Wyeth

Those familiar with my campaign wiki may recognize this illustration of d'Artagnan and 'the man of Meung' by Mead Schaeffer, who is pinch-hitting for N.C. Wyeth this week.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

All I Ever Get Is Ren Faire, Part 2


Yo vivo en el continente equivocado.

Building a Clientele

Recently I introduced a discussion of the endgame in cape-and-sword roleplaying games, the point in a campaign at which the player characters become authority figures in the game-world, where conflicts transition from the physical to the political and power comes from one's position at least as often as from one's sword arm.

First up was social standing and influence, followed by the pursuit of wealth and then networks of relationships. Up to this point, the discussion of relationships between player and non-player characters focused on adventurers in the service of, or otherwise aided by, non-player characters, but one of the first significant transitions to the cape-and-sword endgame occurs when the player characters assume the role of patrons and build their own networks of clients, the clientele.

The clientele in cape-and-sword roleplaying games bears a passing resemblance to the adventurer-henchman relationship in classic D&D. As described in the 1e AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, a henchmen are "useful as a safety measure against the machinations of rival player characters, provide strength to the character and his or her stronghold, and lastly serve as a means of adventuring when the player character is unable to do so." Henchmen are recruited and agree to serve in exchange for compensation including a 'signing bonus,' upkeep, and a share of adventuring rewards, usually treasure. In a cape-and-sword campaign, this relationship between adventurer and henchman is closest to that of a pirate or privateer captain and his crew.

Sharon Kettering is one of my favorite historians of the 17th century, and her book Patrons, Brokers, and Clients in Seventeenth-Centuy France is a frequently referenced source for my Flashing Blades campaign. Dr. Kettering describes patron-client relationships as, "a reciprocal exchange relationship in which patrons provide material benefits and protection, and clients in return provide loyalty and service." This relationship may feature, "a wide range of possible interactions, or services and benefits exchanged," and, "The relationship is continuous, more than a single isolated exchange." With respect to the analogy of the AD&D adventurer and henchman, the swashbuckling patron and client relationship offers rewards of status and social mobility and protection from rivals as well as wealth.

Flashing Blades characters with Advantages and Secrets like Contact, Favor, and Secret Loyalty are effectively part of a non-player character's clientele at the start of the campaign, or may become so during actual play. A couple of patronage opportunities, such as, "The Patron wishes the character to protect him, or someone who is dear to him, in times of danger," and, "The Patron offers the character a permanent position in his service, with some sort of special deal or pay for services rendered," create a npc patron-pc client relationship as well.

As player characters rise through their career hierarchies, they may also find themselves in a position to distribute patronage, in the form of positions. Aside from the obvious benefit of admitting or promoting other player characters, an adventurer may also distribute positions as patronage opportunities to non-player character allies as well.

In the military, top echelon (general) officers may select aides to serve them.
Each [top echelon officer] is also assigned one or two Aides, from the ranks of the Regimental Officers (these may be chosen from Player Characters, if desired).
Aides have the highest bonus to rolls for promotion, so naming a character as an aide is a significant benefit. Regimental commanders may also promote sergeants and subalterns at will.

Bishops exert vast control over their bishoprics and may distribute many positions as patronage.
A Bishop governs his Bishopric almost like a province. He has the right to choose or dismiss members of his Curia (advisory council) and he may appoint or dismiss Curates and Pastors within his Bishopric.
Again, Church careers are both among the most lucrative and the most temporally powerful in the France of Flashing Blades.

The royal bureaucracy also offers opportunities for offering positions as patronage, but perhaps not as many as one might expect.
The Minister of War appoints and controls the Field Maréchal.
The Minister of State is, with the exception of the King, the most powerful man in France. He may appoint or dismiss all Court Ministers, except for the Ministers of Justice and War. He controls the entire Royal Bureaucracy, and his petitons are virtually assured of being granted by the King. In addition, he may, at any time, raise of lower a character's Social Rank by one (no lower than one, or higher than 15) simply be mentioning him, favorably or unfavorably, to the King (only once per character). Once per year, he may have a character of Social Rank 4 or above Knighted and/or admitted to a Royal Order (again by mention to the King). He may deny any character in the Military, Clergy, Bureaucracy, or in an Order their promotion (although he may not prevent them from buying Rank).
The Minister of State is unquestionably the most powerful person in France whose last name isn't Bourbon, but only the Minister of War can also name a character to a position, and then only one. This reflects the pervasive infuence of venality, the sale of offices by the crown, in the bureacracy of the Ancien Régime, but it also suggests another opportunity for distributing patronage, which I'll get to shortly.

The easiest way to distribute patronage is by becoming an officer of a club or a noble or royal order.
A Club Secretary looks after Club records, membership lists, payments of dues, etc. He may admit his friends to his Club as he wishes.
The Club Treasurer looks after Club finances. He may also admit his friends to the Club.
The Club Chief is the head of his Club. He runs the Club, and may manage it in any way he likes. He may admit his friends, and/or promote them in the Club.
The Secretary of an Order manages the bureaucratics of the Order, makes up rosters of members, organizes Order companies and Battalions, etc. He may admit one friend per year to the Order (provided the friend meets the minimum Social Rank requirement).
In addition, a Master of an Order may admit his friends into the Order, provided they meet the minimum Social Rank requirement of the Order.
[The Grandmaster of the Order] may admit his friends into the Order, and promote them automatically when openings appear.
Club membership is an abundant, easily accessible perq to offer; membership in an order, which includes the opportunity to command a company of knights as well as the potential for entry into the peerage, carries with it more significant benefits, however.

Many of the positions, particularly in the military or the bureaucracy, may be purchased; indeed, venality is what the distribution of positions in the bureaucracy to the highest level of royal ministers. In my campaign, I permit open positions to be purchased on behalf of another, if a prospective patron wishes; in this way bureaucratic offices in particular are available as patronage rewards as well.

Player characters may, in lieu of providing a position as patronage, offer their influence to a prospective client instead. The relationship, from the perspective of the non-player character client, becomes similar to that of Contact or Secret Loyalty from Advantages and Secrets. This clientage relationship can be useful when a client lacks the necessary skills or Social Rank to accept a position as patronage, as a prelude to an offer of a position at a later date, or simply to cultivate a mutually benefician relationship without extensive overhead. Though direct compensation, such as wages, isn't required, the pc patron is expected to pick up expenses when the client is called upon to provide a service; failure to do so may lead to the loss of the client and invite betrayal or retribution. A patron is expected to use his influence to protect a client as well, with similar consequences should the patron fail to do so.

The patron-client relationship which is the building block of the clientele shouldn't be confused with obligations owed by dint of duty. For example, a soldier may command anything from a company to all of the field armies of France, but the officers and men who serve under the character are not clients by virtue of this relationship. The same is true of the knights in a knight-captain's company, or of the fusiliers in the service of a provincial governor or city mayor, or of an ambassador's entourage. It also differs from the mercenary contract noted earlier between a pirate captain and his crew; the conditions under which a pirate crew serves are spelled out in Flashing Blades' piracy supplement, High Seas, and with a few tweaks these rules work very well for other forms of enterprise, such as raising a band of highwaymen, a gang of bravos or cutpurses, or even a company of mercenaries.

Unlike AD&D henchmen, clients are not recruited by posting broadsheets or hiring criers. Prospective clients will usually be found among the non-player characters known to the adventurers; a player character bishop may offer to make a friendly npc priest a member of his curia, or a pc major-general may extend an offer to a npc colonel with whom he's served to be his aide. Players should attempt to identify prospective clients - non-player characters who are helpful and trustworthy - as they move up through the ranks of their career hierarchies in preparation for building their own clienteles, which means the referee should be prepared to run a variety of underlings and peers for the adventurers.

Prospective non-player character clients should also seek out patronage from player characters, particularly when the adventurers move into positions where they can fill positions as noted earlier. My house rule is that if domestic commerce is good for the year, then I roll 3D6 and subtract the result from the player character patron's Social Rank and the difference is the number of potential npc clients who come calling; if domestic commerce is average or poor, then I roll 1D20 and subtract the result from the patron pc's Social Rank to determine how many would-be clients tender their loyalty in exchange for patronage.

While Dr. Kettering notes in her book that patrons and clients often engaged in florid correspondence, highlighted by lengthy affirmations of their mutual affection, loyalty, and interests, approaching a prospective client is pretty straightforward; the player character patron asks for the npc client's loyalty and service in exchange for the patron's influence or a position. In my campaign, this also necessitates a Charm versus Wit opposed check, with the half the difference between the patron and client's Social Rank applied as a modifier; if a position is being offered as well, then the difference between the npc client's Social Rank and the Social Rank associated with the position is added as a modifier, too. Success on the check means the offer is accepted and loyalty is determined as per my campaign house rules.

As quoted above, the henchman in AD&D may help to protect a player character not only from the dangers associated with adventuring but also from other adventurers - a positive affirmation of the expectation of player-versus-player conflict in classic D&D. A henchman also acts as a player character's surrogate when the player character is occupied or otherwise unavailable to go adventuring, as does a client in a cape-and-sword game. This allows a patron to act indirectly, and perhaps at a distace, through the client - frex, the provincial governor may dispatch a trusted client to deal with highwaymen threatening the king's roads through the province while the governor remains in Paris to be near the King's court - and a player may run the npc client in lieu of his player character while dealing with the highwaymen's depredations.

I'll get into more about how players may take advantage of their characters' clienteles, including gaining control of a rival's clients, later, but next I want to touch on that icon of the roleplaying endgame, the stronghold.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Rethinking Game-World Delivery

Inspired by a thread, John Bell at The Retired Adventurer has a great idea for streamlining supplement design. One of the problems for referees attempting to use random tables on the fly is that the more extensive and detailed the tables, the more involved they are to use in actual play. John proposes a new way of organizing and delivering information in a supplement which matches the way the referee is likely to need and present it to the players, including using a dice drop map to avoid flipping back and forth between different tables scattered across several pages. It's an elegant, insightful approach.

I make extensive use of random tables - most of the situations faced by the adventurers to date in my Flashing Blades campaign began as random encounters from the game's encounter tables in the back of the book. The adventurers are about to find themselves approached to undertake a mission to Milan on behalf of no less a personage than the Duke of Savoy himself, and this patronage opportunity began its existence as a randomly generated encounter.

But that's also the key to how I - and I think quite a few gamers - use random tables, in advance of actual play. Frex, I roll for a half-dozen random encounters, flesh out all the relevant information for each encounter, then put them in a list to use in actual play. The only thing I'm rolling for at the table is encounter occurrence - everything else is generated outside of actual play. Rather than spending time rolling for the details of the encounter at the table, I can keep up the flow of actual play; there's no pause while I piece together the results to give them coherence. Even the dice drop map approach still takes more time to interpret than I like to spend at the table.

The advantage - and the challenge, and the fun - of using dice drop or other sorts of mini-games is creating the setting in actual play, reducing or even eliminating the need for advance preparation. For someone who loves stochasticity in roleplaying games - running my own campaign with a mix of random tables from Flashing Blades and adapted from other sources as well as other randomizers such as the Mythic Game Master Emulator and Rory's Story Cubes - I can really appreciate the appeal.

I'll be interested to see where John, and others, go with this in the future.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Technical Difficulties

Another frickin' meta post . . .

About a week and a half ago I lost a digest-sized Mead notebook in which I keep gaming-related notes before they're transferred either to my wiki or my blog. In it were detailed outlines for several posts, including the next three posts in the endgame series. If I seem to be slacking off, it's because I'm in the process of reconstructing what was lost.

Needless to say, it's damn frustrating.

Despite embracing technology in my gaming habits, I'm still very much a step behind in personal gadgetry. In a world of smartphones and tablets, I'm just upgraded this spring to a phone with a QWERTY keyboard, the 'C-student' phone which replaced my antique 'short bus' flip-phone. My Posse Box-sized laptop is about six or seven years old; as a friend pointed out recently, her phone has more memory and faster processing than the computer on which I do most of my gaming-related computing.

This isn't a Luddite thing. I'm a late adopter simply because I don't see the point in upgrading something that works well enough until I reach the point where it doesn't work well enough anymore, which means, for example, until my laptop finally goes tits up, a tablet is out of the question. I know there are newer, faster, more robust options out there, and eventually I'll choose one, but when I need it, not simply because it's available.

As far as gaming stuff goes, I do most of my actual composition online, but for practical reasons I still use paper notebooks for brainstorming. Very often I'll sketch out quick diagrams, and that's slower process for me on a computer, so I'm better able to capitalise on moments of inspiration with a pencil in my hand.

But paper notebooks don't auto-backup, and so here we are.

Barring any additional proto-senility mental lapses, I should resume a more substantive posting schedule next week, including the next two in the endgame series, covering building a clientele and establishing a stronghold.

The Neverland Pirates of Catan

Guess what my kids are getting for their birthdays?

Monday, June 18, 2012

More on Rewards

IntWisCha reminds me of Adam Dunn. So far this season, the Chisox slugger has twice as many strikeouts as he does hits, but half his hits are home runs. As far as gaming commentary and content goes, IntWisCha misses more often than it hits with me, but The Abstract Assets Random Generator not only goes yard, it swats a grand salami.

When thinking about the rewards appropriate to swashbucklers in cape-and-sword roleplaying games, you could do far worse than to consult these lists for inspiration.

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.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

"The Albatross about my Neck was Hung"

I'm on Twitter: @BlackVulmea

Anyone in particular I should be following?

Off the Shelf: Mathematics Books

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.

Mathematics texts are used in pedgogy and as reference works for fields such as accounting, engineering, and architecture, and as such may be found in a wide variety of libraries maintined by those working in these fields. Roll 1D6 for the number of texts, 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 Géométrie, René Descartes
2. Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio, John Napier
3. Arithmetica Logarithmica, Henry Briggs
4. Angulares Sectiones, Francisco Vieta
5. De Driehouckhandel, Simon Steven
6. Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità, Luca Pacioli
7. Francisci Vietœi universalium inspectionum ad canonem mathematicum liber singularis, François Viète
8. De resolutione et compositione mathematica, Marinus Ghetaldus
9. Cursus mathematicus, nova, brevi, et clara methodo demonstratus, per notas reales et universales, citra usum cujuscunque idiomatis intellectu faciles, Pierre Hérigone
10. Problèmes plaisants, Claude Gaspard Bachet de Méziriac
11. Clavis Mathematicae, William Oughtred
12. Academia Algebra, Johnann Faulhaber
13. Geometria rotundi, Thomas Fincke
14. Artis Analyticae Praxis, Thomas Harriot
15. De Planis Triangulis, Giovanni Antonio Magini
16. Tuhfat al-a'dad fi-l-hisab, Ibn Hamza al-Maghribi
17. Livro de algebra en arithmetica y geometria, Pedro Nunes
18. Arithmeticorum libri duo, Francesco Maurolico
19. Compendium arithmeticae Vrstisii, Petrus Ryff
20. Van den Circkel, Ludolph van Ceulen

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Social Network

Recently I introduced a discussion of the endgame in cape-and-sword roleplaying games, the point in a campaign at which the player characters become authority figures in the game-world, where conflicts transition from the physical to the political and power comes from one's position at least as often as from one's sword arm.

First up was social standing and influence, followed by the pursuit of wealth. While the discussion centers on Flashing Blades, I hope the concepts are portable to other cape-and-sword roleplaying games.

As part of character creation, FB player characters may select Advantages and Secrets, "designed to allow many typical swashbuckling adventure themes to come into play." I mentioned the Wealth and Title Advantages already; other Advantages and Secrets include Code of Honor, Renaissance Man, Don Juan, Sworn Vengeance, and so on.

Two Advantages - Contact and Favor - and a Secret - Secret Loyalty - create beneficial relationships for a starting character. These particular Advantages and Secret also appear as rewards in a number of the adventures, such as "The Man Behind the Mask" from Flashing Blades Introductory Adventures.
As a reward to the characters, he will offer each money, position, or a favor. A character who chooses money will be given 750 L as his reward. One who chooses position will automatically be promoted one rank within a Club, Regiment, the Clergy, or the Bureaucracy, or given entrance to the lowest rank of one of these hierarchies (for which he is qualified). Finally, a character who chooses a favor will be given one of the Archduke's coins, with his insignia on both sides. This counts as a Social Rank 16 favor, but may be used only once (it is really a better reward than either money or position and should be treated so by the Gamemaster). In addition, the Archduke may become a permanent contact for all of the characters, and any character who wishes to may be accepted into the service (and protection) of DeMainz.
Of note here is that a Favor is associated with a Social Rank. This also appears in another adventure, "The Great Markmanship Tourney," from Parisian Adventures.
Those who save the life of the Cardinal (or rather that of his double) will each receive a Social Rank 19 favor, in a private interview with the Cardinal, and are asked to never speak a word of what they know about the assassination attempt to anyone.
Finally, An Ambassador's Tales notes a distinction that Contact and Secret Loyalty are sufficiently different from one another that both may be vested in a single non-player character.
Finally, those characters who wish to, may remain in the service of the Cardinal. This is equivalent to both the Advantage 'Contact' and the Secret 'Secret Loyalty.' Later missions for the Cardinal may be suggested by, or continued from An Ambassador's' Tales (i.e. weeding out the Geheimebond spies in the French government).
With those examples in mind, let's take a look at how Contacts, Favors, and Secret Loyalties may work in actual play.

Contacts provide assistance to player characters.
Any character may choose to have a contact, a Non-Player Character (NPC) who will aid the character in times of need. Such characters may be of any rank, but will help less often the higher their rank. For example, a character might know King Louis XIV, but it is doubtful that he would be at the character's beck and call! More likely contacts might be: ministers, spies, high nobility, military officers, various officials, magistrates, etc. The Gamemaster and the player should decide on the exact nature of each contact.
In my campaign, a Contact may be a reliable source - subject to the limitation of the Contact's knowledge, of course - of game-world information, including rumors. Contacts may exert influence, as per the rules presented previously in the discussion of social standing, on behalf of the player character. I limit a Contact's use of influence on behalf of the player character to "informal, polite requests," "those which are easy to grant, and which are of minor significance to the person asked . . ." Contacts may also connect player characters to patrons, non-player characters who ask adventurers to perform a service on their behalf, such as carrying a message for the patron to a dangerous location, or protecting the patron from danger; however, in my campaign Contacts are rarely patrons themselves. The amount of risk a Contact will accept in order to aid a player character isn't unlimited, however; their aid is voluntary rather than compulsory, and they are not obligated to do whatever the adventurers may ask. A Contact is a conduit for information and a source of small but meaningful favors.

Favors, on the other hand, carry with them a sense of obligation on the part of the non-player character which Contacts don't possess.
Any character may choose to be owed a favor by an NPC. This advantage is similar to Contact in that the character knows a fairly powerful NPC. It differs in that the NPC has to grant, within his power, a request by the character. Once this request is granted, however, the NPC is free of all obligation - and may even retaliate in some small way if the request were too great. Favor is thus a one-time resource, whereas Contact rnay continue indefinitely.
In my campaign, a Favor may be used for "informal, polite requests" under the influence rules, but it can also be used "to force those of lower Social Ranks to perform services which may be difficult or dangerous." This is why the Social Rank of the non-player character granting the Favor is so important, in order to determine who can be compelled to perform a service. Favors may extend the player character's reach; a Favor may be called in to exert coercive influence beyond the once-per-year permitted by the rules.

But as the description of Favors notes, a using a Favor may invite retaliation. In my campaign, a Favor used for "polite requests" incurs no risk, but a Favor used to compel service may result in retribution; subtract the player character's Social Rank from the Social Rank of the non-player character granting the coercive Favor, and if that number or less is rolled on D20, then retaliation follows.

Finally, there is Secret Loyalty.
Any character may choose to have this secret. Secret Loyalty indicates that the character secretly serves some powerful NPC in some manner. This NPC may give the character orders, send him on adventures, etc. But he will also extend protection for the character in particular situations. Likely NPCs for a Secret Loyalty are: high nobility, court ministers, royal officials, Cardinal Richelieu or Mazarin, members of the royal family, etc.
Secret Loyalty is a powerful relationship. The non-player character to whom the adventurer is loyal acts as a dispenser of patronage and exerts influence, both trivial and coercive, for the protection of the player character in his service. Using influence carries with it some risk that the relationship may be exposed, however; as a general rule, roll D20 and if the result is less than the Social Rank of the secretly loyal character benefitting from the use of influence, then the relationshiip become public knowledge. Should this relationship be exposed, then - provided that the exposure did not occur as a result of disloyalty or negligence on the part of the player character - the relationship changes to that of a Contact who owes the adventurer a single Favor. If the relationship is exposed through perfidy on the part of the player character, on the other hand, the relationship with the non-player character is severed irrevocably and should lead to retaliation against the player character.

As noted earlier, Contacts, Favors, and Secret Loyalties are both character benefits available at creation as well as rewards currency in the campaign; as such it is the referee's responsibility to insure, like monetary and other material wealth, that this social currency flows. A patron may become a Contact, or grant a Favor, or ask the adventurers for their Secret Loyalty, and in this way the players begin to build a network of relationships upon which they can call to protect and advance their interests.

As Matthew Miller observed in comments, '"domain level" play' begins with character generation, when these relationships may be first established by the players for their characters. But where the endgame really begins is when the player characters become Contacts and dispense Favors on behalf of non-player characters, and when they attract secretly loyal followers of their own.

Next up, we'll talk about building a clientele.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Sports Story You Didn't Hear About Today

I try to keep the meta to a minimum 'round here, so please forgive me for breaking my own rule for a small story that you probably would never hear about even if the Los Angeles Kings hadn't won their first Stanley Cup in the forty-five year history of the franchise tonight.

This evening the Kent State University - yeah, that Kent State - men's baseball team beat the University of Oregon to punch their tickets for their first-ever trip to Omaha, winning the super regional-clinching game in the bottom of the ninth on a popup by the Golden Flashes' record-setting hitter Jimmy Rider that got lost in the sun by the Ducks' fielders.

Unfortunately my Cal State Fullerton Titans, after winning the Big West title, never made it out of the regional, and while I'll be pulling for UCLA to win in Omaha, one of the great features of the College World Series each year are the Cinderella teams like Kent State and Stony Brook who overcome the big schools' bigger budgets and recruiting footprints to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the summer sun.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Saturday Night Link Dump

Sharing the love from around the blogosphere . . .

Vintage Wargaming has a novel idea for a randomizer: a roulette wheel.

Lurking Rythmically, by way of How to Succeed in RPGs or Die Trying has a post on Julie D'Aubigny, a real-life woman duelist among her many other talents.

d20 Pirates has a Mediterranean galley with stats and deck plans for your d20 gaming pleasure.

By way of Original Edition Fantasy, CLANG a 'revolutionary' fencing video game Kickstarter by author Neal Stephenson.


Friday, June 8, 2012

"Money flows like water"

Last week I introduced a discussion of the endgame in cape-and-sword roleplaying games, the point in a campaign at which the player characters become authority figures in the game-world, where conflicts transition from the physical to the political and power comes from one's position at least as often as from one's sword arm.

In the first part of the discussion, I went over how Social Rank is measured and achieved. One of the means of increasing a character's social standing is wealth, so I want to delve into this a bit further.

Awhile back I posed a question on the Tabletop Roleplaying Open forum at in order to suss out a bit about player expectations from cape-and-sword roleplaying games. The first reply was so perfectly spot-on it's stayed with me for years now: "Money flows like water."
Money flows like water

The heroes can always rely on their wits and their swords. All other resources are transient. They may win fortunes with some ease, but lose them even more easily. The Musketeers gambling away the horses and saddles Buckingham gave them, Cyrano de Bergerac throwing away his life savings just because it was an impressive gesture, and so forth. This is partly a thing for the players to keep in mind, but as GM there's a responsibility as well: replenish what's freely spent, as appropriate.
With this excellent observation in mind, let's start by looking at sources of income.

In Flashing Blades, characters begin with a yearly allowance, randomly determined based on background, reflecting an inheritance or annuity, or perhaps a remittance of some sort; this may range from as low as fifty livres (silver coins) per year for a character with the Rogue background to up to 500 livres annually for a Nobleman. The Wealth Advantage may increase this by an additional 200 to 1500 livres each year; characters with the Title and Land Advantages also gain an bump to their annual allowances as well.

Most annual allowances don't cover a characters yearly expenses, however. Each month a character pays upkeep equal to three times his Social Rank in livres. A Nobleman with a starting Social Rank of 8 must therefore pay 288 £ per year in upkeep, but two-thirds of the time the starting allowance for Noblemen is just 300 £ or less. That leaves just a dozen silver pieces to pay for rapiers and daggers and pistols and horses and carriage rides and bottles of wine and bribes and mistresses. It also doesn't come close to covering taxes and tithes, which for that same nobleman come to another 135 £ per year, so unless one's running a debtor's prison sandbox, the yearly allowance won't cut it.

Careers provide additional income, but as careers elevate a character's Social Rank, the character's cost of living rises, and - as may be all-too-familiar to many gamers - the character's income struggles to keep pace. Take the career of a bureaucrat, for example. Annual pay doesn't approach cost of living, here defined as monthly upkeep for one year plus taxes and tithes.

Position AnnPay SocRank CoL
Minor Official 70 £ 5 258 £
Official of the Realm 100 £ 7 362 £
Magistrate 300 £ 10 525 £
Royal Official 300 £ 11 576 £
Court Minister 800 £ 13 858 £

This disparity between income and upkeep is no accident, of course. Like Traveller merchants and their starship mortgages, Flashing Blades uses personal finances as a means of motivating players and their characters to seek out adventure. In cape-and-sword stories, this is a familiar trope, which the game seeks to emulate. Alexandre Dumas devotes whole chapters to the exploits of the Musketeers to secure their kit for the campaign to La Rochelle, while Alatriste and Balboa turn to capturing slaves in Pirates of the Levant.

Beyond allowances, careers, and jobs, adventurers may seek to reduce their expenditures or increase their incomes by other means. For example, soldiers pay no taxes and priests pay no tithes, so military and ecclesiatical careers offer an appealing option to reduce a character's cost of living. Titled nobles pay only half-taxes, and bishops pay neither taxes nor tithes - again, a career in the Church can be lucrative.

Soldiers on campaign may come home with booty to add to their wealth (and may I add that any game with a booty table clearly deserves its props), and after mustering out may receive a retirement benefit and, at high ranks, a pension.

Corruption offers an opportunity to increase income as well, with some risk. Squeezing the peasants for additional taxes and pocketing the money, or embezzling from the crown, can pad a bureaucrat's fortune. Club treasurers, parish pastors, or the chancellors of bishops' curias can all borrow money to invest, keeping the interest and returning the principal at the end of the year.

That financial investment features so prominently in a cape-and-sword roleplaying game may seem out-of-place, but in fact it's consistent with the period and the historical romances of the genre, in particular Paul Féval's classic Le Bossu (The Hunchback), second in popularity only to The Three Musketeers in France. The riotous speculation surrounding the Mississippi bubble in the early eighteenth century figures in the plot of the story, and Flashing Blades' rules for bankers and investing are inspired by the novel.

The period of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries is the era of tulip mania and the South Sea bubble. It's also the time of the great trading companies like the VOC and the East India Company, and Flashing Blades opens up this avenue to adventurers as well, with rules to build ships and establish trading companies in the pirate supplement High Seas.

Finally, adventurers may take out a loan from a banker, an important option to consider if, for example, a position is available but the character fails the roll for promotion and has the option to purchase the position instead. Borrowing is ubiquitous and a key to maintaining the lifestyle of the wealthy, and adventurers need not be unduly penalized for carrying debt. Per the rules, loans are for one year, but most bankers should be willing to allow the debt to roll over as long as the interest is paid; to make it variable, roll 3D6 against the character's Social Rank to determine if the lender demands that the loan plus interest must be repaid in full at the end of the year.

A character carrying too much debt, however, may find it difficult to obtain additional loans. A character must be able to pay his total cost of living expenditures plus the interest on the loan out of his established sources of income - allowances and careers - to be considered eligible for a loan. A character may attempt to get around this by seeking out different lenders, or by turning to usurous moneylenders, of course.

However creative the players are in managing their characters' finances, however, the campaign should provide alternative sources of wealth for the adventurers to pursue. The published adventures for Flashing Blades provide numerous examples of rewards. Consider once again the 'adventure path,' An Ambassador's Tales.
Upon returning to Paris, the surviving player-characters will receive their final rewards from the Cardinal. First, all characters will be paid normally, as agreed. As [sic] expenses paid by the characters (such as the fee for the Channel passage) will be reimbursed. A special bonus of 200 to 400 Livres will be paid to each character if the secret list of Geheimebond spies is given to the Cardinal (the Gamemaster should gauge the exact amount of this bonus for each character depending upon his participation in the theft). In addition, any character who performed a particularly heroic deed (in the Gamemaster's estimation) to further one of the five missions, will receive a bonus of up to 500 Livres (the exact amount is to be determined by the Gamemaster).
Again like Traveller, Flashing Blades includes encounters with potential patrons and as noted under the rules on influence, services performed on behalf of someone of higher Social Rank should be accompanied by a gratuity commensurate with the task. Patrons may also be persuaded to provide monies for expenses as well by cagey adventurers, as in the example above. As Brad Ellison wrote in the post quoted above, it's on the referee to keep this tap open for the adventurers.

"The Rumormill," a collection of rumors in the adventure collection Parisian Adventures, provides examples of patronage and rewards.
One of the finest horses owned by the Viscount de Bouvard (an NPC first introduced in The Fencing Master) has been stolen. It is apparently valuable for breeding purposes, and the Viscount is offering 600 Livres to anyone who can find and return it. He is also offering 400 Livres for the head of the thief. (This rumor could lead the party off in search of the stolen horse; remember, the horse could've been taken anywhere - Germany, Italy, England, or even the New World - for breeding).
Chevalier du Vallier has fallen upon hard times, and is offering to sell his prized Small Country Estate in Bordeaux for only 9000 Livres. (Characters who are interested in buying land may wish to grab this offer while they can; other characters who have large property investments may also be interested in the estate; it is possible that the estate may be in bad disrepair).
Don't forget a good ol' fashioned treasure hunt. Indeed, if a referee doesn't want to deal with finances at all, simply give the adventurers a map to the treasure of Spada and let them set themselves up as counts if they like.

Well-heeled mistresses and suitors may also be sources of income for adventurers. Indeed, a character may choose lovers based on their pecuniary possibilities as readily as their other charms for this reason.

Last but not least, there are the wages of sin. Corruption has been addressed already, but don't forget blackmail, kidnapping, smuggling, highway robbery, piracy, gambling, cutting purses, extortion - all manner of criminal enterprises are open to less-principled swashbucklers. (This will get a blogpost all its own at some future date.)

As noted in the earlier post on social standing, characters in Flashing Blades may improve their Social Rank by accumulating fortunes, as measured by the value of the character's cash and property. Increasing Social Rank also means additional expenditures, not just in cost of living as described above, but in the trappings of status as well.

The ostentatious display of wealth is both historically appropriate and frequently featured in cape-and-sword romances. This was touched on earlier in posts on servants and staff for player characters. It also appears in property requirements for high-ranking nobles as well as in Flashing Blades adventures, such as "The Royal Hunt" in The Cardinal's Peril.
The characters must have at least one riding horse per player character,and a carriage (bought, borrowed, or rented) or they will be laughed at. Next, each character must have a tennis racquet and ball (at a cost of 10 Livres). Those who are not acquainted with the game might wish to take some lessons (for 5 Livres) so they won't look too silly on the courts of Fontainebleau. Each character should have a musket or arquebus for shooting and hunting. The party should have at least two falcons (at a cost of 60 Leach) for the falconry event, and a pack of six hunting dogs minumum (at a cost of 70 L each). All of the player-characters should wear fine dress.
Court life is alo expensive in other ways - characters on the hunting trip to Fontainebleau are also expected to pay a pourboire (baksheesh or bribe) "of 5 to 10 Livres daily" to the chief steward of the lodge or risk being left out of events.

As in the cautionary tale of Nicolas Fouquet, a certain amount of discretion in amassing of a fortune is in order. Wealth that vastly exceeds one's income - and in particular the amount of taxes and tithes paid - may attract the notice of royal magistrates and ministers.

The cape-and-sword endgame may feature rich characters accumulating vast wealth, but a more likely situation is a (sometimes uncertain) flow of money passing through the characters' fingers. This will become even more apparent later on with the discussion of building a clientele.

But first, among the rewards mentioned many times in Flashing Blades are Contacts and Favors, and their role in the endgame is up next.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Let Me Tell You About Someone Else's Character

Meet Hercule De La Fouchardier, a Flashing Blades character posted on a blog that looks like it was originally intended to be a compendium of character generation examples for different roleplaying games but petered out after a half-dozen examples.

And check out Josh's FB character, Giancarlo di Venezia, featured in a two-part story at The Signe of the Frothing Mug.

I like seeing how other gamers approach the choices that the rules offer for creating a character.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Class Conscious

Last week I introduced a discussion of the endgame in cape-and-sword roleplaying games, the point in a campaign at which the player characters become authority figures in the game-world, where conflicts transition from the physical to the political and power comes from one's position at least as often as from one's sword arm.

First, let's talk about how that position is measured.

En Garde! - the first cape-and-sword roleplaying game - includes rules for Social Level. An En Garde! character's Social Level is determined by a combination of status points gained or lost each month and positions and titles held by the character.

Drawing from En Garde! as well as Crimson Cutlass, Flashing Blades characters - player and non- - have a Social Rank. The Social Scale in Flashing Blades captures the social stratification of late Renaissance and Early Modern society, reflecting both the traditional position of the warrior nobility and the Church as well as the rise of the new nobility of the professional bureaucracy and military.

Social Rank is determined by a character's starting background and Advantages as well as positions and titles earned through both careers and adventuring. It's possible for a character with the Nobleman background and the Title advantage to begin the campaign as a duke with a Social Rank (SR) of 14, but most characters begin in the range of SR 2 to SR 9. As characters pursue various careers, these ranks increase with promotions. Different careers have different ranges of Social Ranks; frex, a character who starts the game as a sergeant in the Royal Army begins at SR 4 and may rise as high as SR 15, Field Marshal; while a bureaucrat begins at SR 7 and may rise to SR 16, Royal Minister. Interestingly, the career with the potential for the fastest rise - that is, the career with the fewest steps and the largest range between its lowest and highest Social Ranks - is the clergy; a Priest (SR 4) may become a member of a Bishop's Curia (SR 8), then a Bishop (SR 10), then a Prince-Bishop (SR 15), and finally a Cardinal (SR 16). An ambitious character could do far worse than to pursue a career in the Church.

The rules also suggest that characters may pursue more than one career; in fact, in at least one instance, it's expected, as a Soldier may be inducted into a Noble Order for being decorated twice on campaign, giving him the title of chevalier and Social Rank 8. Here's what the rules have to say on multiple careers, and on the impact of wealth on Social Rank.

Social Rank may be higher than indicated on the Social Scale in special circumstances. If the two highest Ranks possessed by a character are equal, count his Social Rank as one higher. A character who is both a Baron and a Magistrate, for example, is Social Rank 11 rather than 10. If four positions are held in one Social Rank, count it as two higher, and so on.

In addition, if a character is excessively wealthy, add one to Social Rank. Excessive wealth is defined as (10,000 L x the character’s normal Social Rank). Thus for a Count to be excessively wealthy, he must have 120,000 L in cash and property.

It is possible, although highly improbable, for a character to reach Social Rank 19 (i.e., by being a Grand Duke, Cardinal, Royal Minister, Royal Order Grandmaster, and Field Marechal, and having excessive wealth amounting to 180,000 L!). If a character reaches this point, however, he might as well be King! In realistic game terms, it should be considered phenomenal (and rare) to reach Social Rank 15 to 16.
The 'campaign turn' in Flashing Blades is one month; the required time commitment of an office, military rank, and so on is measured in months per year. As noted previously, when using the career rules in Flashing Blades, "adventures ought to be mixed in at regular intervals (one or two per game year)," similar to the great Arthurian roleplaying game, Pendragon - indeed, in both Flashing Blades and Pendragon, adventuring can be seen as something that occurs in a player character's downtime from their other responsibilities! Thus it's possible for player character to climb more than one career ladder at a time. Careers in banking or a club are especially suited to this, given the limited time demands placed on a character in these careers. Historically many clergy also held positions in the royal bureaucracy or the law, and a few, like the cardinal de La Valette, served as soldiers.

Balancing careers, both by a single player character and between several player characters in the campaign, requires that the players and the referee are flexible and creative. An adventure may arise out of a player character's career, frex, and other characters may assist, either in their free time or as part of their own careers; the aid rendered by Athos, Porthos, and Aramis to d'Artagnan in his service to the Queen on the matter of her missing jewels is a classic example in cape-and-sword tales. Players may choose to pursue some synchronicity in their careers, to be mutually supportive of one another.

In addition to mesuring the relative position in society of a character, Social Rank also provides a character with influence.
Rank hath privileges. The positions held to gain Social Rank have many powers of their own, but possessing e Social Rank itself grants a character influence. Informal influence cannot be measured in game terms. A person of high Social Rank will be treated with deference and politeness by all. He will be overly praised by his sycophants and overly despised by his enemies.

Sometimes, however, influence may have direct effects on the game, in one of two ways. First, any character may expect informal, polite requests to be granted by those three Social Ranks or more below his own, if he can roll his own Social Rank or below on a D20. Thus a Marquis could ask a small favor of a Baron or a Bishop, and have his request(s) granted on a roll of 13 or less on a D20. Polite requests are defined as those which are easy to grant, and which are of minor significance to the person asked (such as a Magistrate waiving a small fine, a Captain looking after someone in his company, a Baron allowing hunting on his estate, etc.). The possibilities are endless. Polite requests, no matter how polite they may be, will also often be influenced by bribery or reciprocal favors.

In addition, influence of Social Rank may be used, on rare occasions, to force those of lower Social Ranks to perform services which may be difficult or dangerous. Such services may only be requested of one six or more Social Ranks below the character, and may only be asked once per year (unless the character increases his or her Social Rank that year, in which case, he may ask 2 services). Such services may not be outrageous (e.g. asking an NPC to lay down his life for the character, or to give the character large sums of money) and the request must be within the power of the person requested. The person requested has a choice: to grant the request, or to automatically lose one Social Rank himself. A small reward or bribe is almost always offered for such services. Examples of difficult requests might be a Treasurer of a Royal Order bullying a rich merchant to go into an investment with him (perhaps with the lure of possible profits), a Lt. General forcing a townsman to quarter troops in his house, a Grand Duke squeezing a Secretary of a Noble Order to admit him to the Order, etc. Of course, some such requests may be granted through threats or violence, rather than influence.
I like these rules very much, though the degree of deference shown between social levels can be a bit jarring to players raised in our more egalitarian - in principle, if not always in practice - world.

Along similar lines, as an unwritten - so far - house rule for my own campaign, I allow the difference in Social Rank between two characters to modify certain Charm-based skill checks, such as Captaincy and Seduction. I did this using the Social Standing attribute score in Traveller years ago, and Thijs Krijger, moderator of the Flashing Blades Yahoo group, used this in his house rules for mistresses (which are sadly absent from his blog). In some cases, a non-player character in the service of another may use their master's Social Rank, frex, a guard on the gate of the château de Bauchery uses the baron's Social Rank of 12 rather than his own rank of 3 in determining if a Captaincy check will persuade him to stand aside.

The rules for influence are an important part of the endgame. Here we see a glimpse of how characters exert power, as they ask for - or compel - favors from subordinates. A character with a high Social Rank becomes akin to a chess master, identifying where and how to exercise influence to achieve goals. This will become particularly important in discussing how to build and maintain a clientele later on.

Beyond simply increasing in rank as one rises in a career or careers, Social Rank is an expected part of the game's reward system. Here's an example from the Flashing Blades 'adventure path,' An Ambassador's Tale.
Second, each character of Social Rank 4 or above who participated in all five adventures of the campaign, and has successfully completed his mission in each, has performed a great service for the King and realm. If untitled, he will be given the rank of Chevalier. If he is already titled, he will advance by one rank (i.e. from Count to Marquis). Those characters of Social Rank 3 or below will be given a commendation of honor (which will increase their Social Rank by 2 points) and an extra 100 Livres.

Third, each character in the Military or Bureaucracy, or in a Club or Order, may make an immediate roll for opening. If there is an opening, the character will be promoted. Characters in the Cardinal's Guard Company, or in the Clergy will be automatically promoted one rank. Characters who are not associated with any particular branch of government will be allowed to join the Military (in the Cardinal's Guard, as a Sergeant), the Clergy (as a Student of Theology) or the Bureaucracy (as a Bureaucrat) if they wish. A special month must be spent in learning the required skills if the characters are unqualified.

Finally, those characters who wish to, may remain in the service of the Cardinal. This is equivalent to both the Advantage 'Contact' and the Secret 'Secret Loyalty.'
Another unwritten house rule in my game is that a Social Rank bump given as a reward remains until the character reaches that rank as part of the normal progression in his career; frex, a member of a Bishop's Curia who receives a two-rank increase to his Social Standing stays at SR 10 on becoming a Bishop - his position in the Church rose to match his reputation.

Lastly, it's important to remember that a character's Social Rank also determines that character's monthly upkeep. With that in mind, I'm going to pivot to wealth in the next discussion of the cape-and-sword endgame.

Friday, June 1, 2012

DVR Alert

On Sunday, 3 June, Turner Classic Movies will air George Sidney's Scaramouche, starring Stewart Granger, Janet Leigh, and Mel Ferrer.

If you don't mind spoilers, check out a classic clip.

Check local cable listings for times - I don't trust the TCM website.