Friday, November 30, 2012

A Very Special DVR Alert

On Sunday, 2 December, TCM is showing King Vidor's long-lost 1926 silent classic, Bardelys the Magnificent.

This is perhaps the best cape-and-sword movie you've never seen, with a scandalous wager, a secret identity, an ill-starred romance, and a great escape worthy of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

Though it's listed as part of the Sunday schedule, the broadcast time on TCM's website is 12:15am Monday morning, so check your local schedule closely.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Serious Business

I wonder if the type of play that happens with experienced players, especially DMs as players, is goofier and more about the impression it leaves on each other than it was back in the day when we were learning the game.
Telecanter at Telecanter's Receding Rules poses an interesting question. He offers the following examples.
The type of play I'm talking about is related to carousing tables. It is a kind of play that says "I want to put my character in a pickle because that will be funny. I will make choices I know to be bad for my character because that will make things interesting." The character that drinks from every pool in a world that has magical pools. The player that releases the demon from the iron bottle when they know it is a demon in the bottle.

I'm wondering if this comes about because the games being played are more one-offs (although Flailsnails allows people on G+ to use the same character again and again) so there is less concern for keeping your character alive to see the next session and also a sense of "We need to pack as much fun into these hours as possible. I may never see these guys again"

I'm wondering if it has to do with playing with folks you don't know as well personally and so the meta-joking is harder. When playing with people you've only known as a name on the internet maybe the easiest joking to do is within the game.

Maybe it is just a matter of jadedness; more experienced players have already survived the hardest dungeons, have achieved name level, have run their own domain. There is little fun left in to trying and eke those earning[s] out yet again.
Unpacking this a bit, I definitely noticed the behavior Telecanter describes at one-shots like the SoCal MiniCons, an attitude of, 'Well, this is a one-shot, so let's play with all the levers and buttons and see what happens,' a willingness to take risks secure in the knowledge that there were no long-term consequences related to, say, an on-going campaign and associated character advancement and involvement with the game-world.

I agree that there's a certain amount of bravado in this as well, a sort of one-upsmanship between the players, though I disagree that it comes from being jaded about the experience of playing the game for a long time. Rather, I think it comes from the same impulse which draws players to swashbuckling games. I recall a post in a thread on Big Purple which described the rivalry between two characters in a cape-and-sword campaign. When a fight broke out in the street outside a tavern, the two characters rushed outside - the first character ran out the door, whereas the second jumped through the window. Not to be outdone, the first character rushed back into the tavern, ran upstairs, and jumped out of a second floor window.

And this is where I think Telecanter hits one of the challenges of roleplaying swashbucklers on the nose.
As I type this I'm also wondering if this is related to one of the trickiest parts of our game; how it tells you to survive on one hand and calls you a coward if you don't try to open doors or chests. It is the whole courage versus caution problem- why even go into this dread place if we know a vampire is there. A kind of nonchalance seems to be a very sophisticated way to handle this problem by sidestepping it and placing on the character's shoulders: "Of course we might die, but Rutherford of the Top Hat is too dumb to realize it."
Nonchalance toward danger is a hallmark of swashbucklers. Doing something with panache can be as important as doing the thing itself, or even moreso. By their nature, swashbucklers are risk-takers.

I've found this important genre conceit can be a real conceptual hurdle for some players, as Telecanter notes. The innate caution bred into many gamers may block or limit the desire to take chances, to show off. This leads to advice like that of Robin Laws, for game writers and referees to blunt the actual hazard to characters as a way to encourage theatrics, but in my experience this risks turning the genre and the game into opera buffa.

Running Flashing Blades as written means that the player characters in my campaign face death and dismemberment by the ill-luck of the die - there are no 'drama points' to rescue them from the fickle finger of Fate, no 'plot immunity' which protects them from an inglorious end, yet the genre conceits remain the same - laughing in the face of danger, the swashbuckler prefers death before dishonor, even when death is just a missed parry or a flubbed Acrobatics check away.

I don't know if I'd go so far as to call it the conventional wisdom, but in discussions of character death among roleplayers, one of the arguments often advanced goes something along the lines of, 'Well, if my character can die on a bad die roll, then why should I take risks? It's a disincentive to roleplay the genre.' It's this line of thought which, in my opinion, leads to Robin Laws' 'swashbuckling with safety rails' approach, but for me, embracing the risk of failure is a big part of what makes cape-and-sword games so much fun.

Telecanter's right - this is one of the "trickiest parts of our game," the desire to succeed with panache against the risk of failing ignominiously, without the benefit of a safety net, particularly in what would be considered a long-term, "serious" campaign in which the players are deeply invested. Cracking wise and taking chances with a pre-gen at an annual game-day one-shot is a lot of fun, but the willingness to do it game-day after game-day, as part of a regular campaign, with a favorite character, may require another mindset altogether. Roleplaying a swashbuckler in a game which holds the player characters in no special regard with respect to failure can be a challenge, but in the immortal words of baseball legend Jimmy Dugan, "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard it what makes it great."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Thing With the Guy In the Place

Look, we all go way back and I owe you, from the thing with the guy in the place, and I'll never forget it. - Reuben, Ocean's Eleven
My approach to creating and running a sandbox means putting lots of balls in the air at once. I've used the traditional dungeon and megadungeon as analogs for the social relationships, factions, and intrigues which provide the focal point for action in my campaign, and like a vast labyrinth of corridors, rooms, tunnels, and caverns, the intricacy of those complex relationships et al. becomes apparent the more the adventurers explore. Keeping it all straight requires some real effort on my side of the screen.

So, what about the players?

In a dungeon crawl, the players and their characters are likely working from an actual map, created as they explore; it is more-or-less - hopefully more! - a representation of what the referee sees on his side of the screen. Virtually every map I recall was covered with annotations, descriptions of monsters and traps and treasure left behind, names of characters, records of battles lost and won. The map which we produced in play was our record not only of the physical space but of events and interactions as well. But our campaign doesn't generate a physical location map of the sort with which dungeon explorers are accustomed, so that's meant looking for other ways to keep them up to speed.

First, our adventure logs provide a record of the events of the game. The wiki format allows me to link to the pages of characters the adventurers meet and locations they visit, immediately cross-referencing 'the guy' and 'the place' with 'the thing.' We've referenced the logs a few times during play, when memories around the table proved hazy. The adventure logs are composed from the notes I keep as we play, and they are checked by the players to make sure I didn't miss anything important to them.

I also use ability checks - roll under Wit on 1D20, usually - as a means of a determining something a character might know about the setting, or to recall a detail that the player is struggling to remember. The characters in my campaign aren't explorers in a post-apocalyptic wasteland - much is known and knowable to their characters without the need for first-hand discovery, so giving the players a roll to determined if their character knows a fact, based on background, skills, or career, is a reasonable way to represent the depth and breadth of their of their characters' experience.

Finally, I tried to build a relationship map for all of the non-player characters of the game-world, but neither writing it out by hand nor using any of the different software programs at my disposal was feasible - there are simply too many relationships for me to manage graphically, and it's not really all that helpful compared to the other options that the wiki provides for managing the many connections between characters. A relationship map is, on the other hand, perfectly feasible to produce specifically for the player characters, to diagram the relationships which they've created in the course of their adventures. I'm using Dia to produce this relationship map. The first draft simply shows the people with whom they've interacted so far, but I'm working on a second draft which includes organisations and places as well, which is proving a bit more of a challenge to create visually than I'd hoped - when it's done, I hope to be able to present them with a 'map' of the 'social dungeon' they've been exploring.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Right But Repulsive

Gonsalvo at Blunders on the Danube trots out - literally - his ECW Parlamentary cavalry to celebrate Thanksgiving with a nod to the Puritans.

I'd love to see these two armies arrayed against one another.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

DVR Alert

And the swashbucklers keep on comin' this week, with TCM airing the 1934 version of Treasure Island, starring Wallace Beery as Long John Silver, on Tuesday, 27 November.

And while not strictly a swashbuckler, TCM is also showing Ivanhoe, starring Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor, the same day. Are you on Team Rebecca, or Team Rowena?

Check you local listing for times, as always.

Cinematic: Swordsman of Siena

Friday, November 23, 2012

DVR Alert

Turner Classic Movies offers three reasons to wake from a food coma this weekend. On Saturday, 24 November, TCM is showing Michael Curtiz's unforgettable The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and Basil Rathbone. On Sunday, 25 November, they follow up with two great Ray Harryhausen movies, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. Golden Voyage, with John Phillip Law and Caroline Munro, is by far the better of the two, in my humble opinion, but Jane Seymour makes Eye of the Tiger worth watching.

Check your local listings for times, as always.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Off the Shelf: Philosophy Texts

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.

Philosophy texts are used in pedgogy and as reference works for fields such as law and natural history, and as such may be found in a wide variety of libraries maintained by those working in education, theology, and law. Roll 1D6+2 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. On a roll of 1 o 1D6, the text is personally signed by the author.

1. Novum Organum, Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Alban
2. Essais, Michel de Montaigne
3. De animae immortalitate, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
4. Horae Subsecivae, Anonymous*
5. Quod nihil scitur, Francisco Sanches
6. Quaestiones celeberrimae in Genesim, Marin Mersenne
7. Apologia compendiaria fraternitatem de Rosea Cruce suspicionis et infamiae maculis aspersam, veritatis quasi Fluctibus abluens et abstergens, Robert Fludd
8. De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum atque artium declamatio invectiva, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
9. Theologia Platonica de immortalitate animae, Marsilio Ficino
10. Civitas Solis, Tommaso Campanella
11. Disquisitionum magicarum libri sex, Martin del Rio
12. De l'Infinito Universo et Mondi, Giordano Bruno
13. De optimo reip. statv, deque noua insula Vtopia, libellus uere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festiuus, Sir Thomas More
14. Les Six livres de la République, Jean Bodin
15. De hominis dignitate, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
16. Il Principe, Niccolò Machiavelli
17. Della ragion di Stato, Giovanni Botero
18. Bewijs van den waren Godsdienst,** Hugo Grotius
19. Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio, Niccolò Machiavelli
20. De Constantia Libri Duo, Qui alloquium praecipue continent in Publicis malis, Justus Lipsius

* Attributed to Thomas Hobbes
** Published in Latin as De veritate religionis Christianae

A final note: most of the books in this list were published prior to 1630, reflecting Renaissance rather than many more famous Early Modern philosophers - I'll add another list or two for later in the 17th century in the future.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Royalists at the Gallop

Gonsalvo at Blunders on the Danube continues to display his ECW army, this time posting pictures of his Royalist cavalry, King Charles' loyal Cavaliers - "Wrong, but Wromantic" - who battled the Roundheads of Parliament - "Right, but Repulsive."

Wednesday Wyeth

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Two-Weapon Fighting for (4e?) D&D

The talented Paul at Blog of Holding has a post on two-weapon fighting that is, judging from the heading, ostensibly for 4e D&D, but looks like it could work for pre-2e versions of The World's Most Popular Roleplaying Game as well.

Compare the passage from 1e AD&D on two-weapon fighting.
Attacks With Two Weapons:

Characters normally using a single weapon may choose to use one in each hand (possibly discarding the option of using a shield). The second weapon must be either a dagger or hand axe. Employment of a second weapon is always at a penalty. The use of a second weapon causes the character to attack with his or her primary weapon at -2 and the secondary weapon at -4. If the user’s dexterity is below 6, the reaction/attacking Adjustment penalties shown in the PLAYERS HANDBOOK are added to EACH weapon attack. If the user’s dexterity is above 15, there is a downward adjustment in the weapon penalties as shown, although this never gives a positive (bonus) rating to such attacks, so that at 16 dexterity the secondary/primary penalty is-3/-1, at 17-2/0, and at 18-l/O.

The secondary weapon does not act as a shield or parrying device in any event.
And just for kicks, here's what 1e AD&D says about parrying as well.
Parrying disallows any return attack that round, but the strength "to hit" bonus is then subtracted from the opponent's "to hit" dice roll(s), so the character is less likely to be hit. - 1e AD&D PHB, "Melee Combat," p. 104
I've been thinking about this a bit in the context of running a 1e AD&D swashbuckling & sorcery campaign. Looking at the original rule on fighting with two weapons, I think Paul's rule could slot in right beside it - either attempt to gain an extra strike at a penalty, or attempt to use both weapons to gain an advantage such that one of them will find its mark. I like this, because it adds to the feel of fencing which cape-and-sword games attempt to capture.

To really capture that feel, perhaps there also needs to be more choices on defense as well. Trollsmyth's shields must be splintered house rule works very well for battles involving bastard swords and maces, but it doesn't feel quite right for combat fought with a buckler and a basket-hilted broadsword. While I don't like the idea of 'lightly armored fighters' gaining an advantage to armor class to compensate for not wearing armor in D&D, perhaps allowing a main-gauche to provide a +1 to armor class, but limiting it to defense against swords and daggers only, might work. Another thought is, rather than raising armor class with experience, the Duelist gets to use Dexterity in place of Strength when parrying.

In any case, I like Paul's rule and I can see it finding a way into my campaign.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hook Hand and Peg Leg

"It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. And a hand." - Vecna's mom
One of the potential consequences of losing a fight in Flashing Blades is the prospect of suffering a debilitating wound. If a character is reduced to exactly zero hit points, the location of the final wound is used as the basis for determining if the character is temporarily or permanently disabled in some way. A character reduced to zero hit points by a wound on the head, frex, may lose a nose or an ear - both of which reduce the character's Charm attribute score - or receive a scar on a cheek - which increases the Charm attribute score! A wound to the chest may cause permanent internal injuries, reducing a character's Endurance attribute score, while a wound to a limb may result in a broken bone, which takes weeks to heal.

Flashing Blades' rules for recuperation also include the possibility of losing an eye, a hand, or a leg - a lost hand or leg can be replaced with a hook or a pegleg, respectively, and per the rules, a hook functions as a dagger, while a wooden leg limits the character to half-movement and proscribes both Lunge and Tackle attacks. A lost eye costs a point of Expertise from all martial skills, but this can be made up by normal experience as the character adjusts to the loss of peripheral vision and depth perception.

The popular image of the swashbuckler, particularly the pirate, with en eye-patch, a wooden leg, or a hook for a hand, is pretty common, but while it has a basis in history, such as Admiral Lord Nelson, it's surprisingly rare in cape-and-sword literature. Prosthetics such as wooden legs, hooks, and false eyes are well-documented in medical literature from the late Renaissance and Early Modern period, though as described in the writings of the famous French surgeon Ambroise Paré, they were often more elaborate than simple peg legs or hooks, shaped to resemble the actual missing limb and fitted with joints to provides some measure of use to the wearer. Paré even mentions a spring-equipped prosthetic hand, though it's unlikely that it was ever actually manufactured. That peg legs and hooks are so prevalent in pirate lore may reflect that the expertise required to create more life-like prosthetics was absent among most ship-board surgeons, resulting in the cruder examples with which most of us are familiar.

While wooden legs are reasonably well-documented in historical sources - the sixteenth century French buccaneer Francois le Clerc was nicknamed "Jambe de Bois" for his - hook hands are less well-known. The English privateer Christopher Newport reportedly received a hook as replacement for a lost hand; it's possible that Newport inspired the character of Captain Hook from J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, one of the few fictional examples of a pirate with a hook-hand. Swashbucklers with peg-legs and eye-patches are just as uncommon, actually - the infamous and iconic "seafaring man with one leg" from RLS' Treasure Island, Long John Silver, doesn't have a peg-leg, relying instead on his crutch. In fact, it appears that the trope of the one-eyed, hook-handed, peg-legged pirate owes more to movies than to the literature on which they're based. Frex, the eye-patch worn by the comte de Rochefort in Richard Lester's Musketeers movies is the invention not of Alexandre Dumas but of Sir Christopher Lee, who wanted Rochefort to appear more menacing. The effect was so profound that both Michael Wincott and Mads Mikkelsen also portrayed Rochefort with an eye-patch in later movies as well.

The inclusion of lost eyes and limbs in Flashing Blades, then, appears to reflect the overt influence of cape-and-sword movies on the game's implied setting; it's an interesting design choice in light of the fact that so much of the game draws its inspiration from swashbuckling novels. While this wasn't unique to Flashing Blades - even 1e AD&D suggested that a character reduced to zero hit points "loses a limb, [or] is blinded in one eye" as an alternative to death - it presents players with the prospect of characters suffering a permanent disability while providing the specific rules for determining if and how that occurs and the effect on the character.

Over the years I've noticed a couple of schools of thought among players about character disability arising during play, as distinct from those players who choose disabilities during character creation as a means of gaining advantages elsewhere. One school asserts that 'death is boring,' that disability is a 'more interesting' alternative to losing one's character altogether. The other school claims that it's better that their characters die than be 'gimped' by the loss of attribute points or abilities. (There is also a school which wants neither, but I'm not going to give them any further consideration than to say, they're among us.)

My feeling is, let's have both. One of the reasons I like Flashing Blades is that both death and disability are on the table. They add the frisson of uncertainty when blades or guns are drawn to the experience of playing the game, and because they exist in the back of the players' minds, I think it adds to the characterisation which arises from actual play. One of the inherent tensions of the cape-and-sword genre comes from balancing the demands of honor with reckless violence - the decision to draw swords is, and in my opinion should be, a perilous one, and the risk of death or disability draws a big fat black line under that for me.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

DVR Alert

On Tuesday, 20 November, TCM airs 1935's The Three Musketeers, directed by Rowland V. Lee, and 1962's adaptation of the Nikolai Gogol story, Taras Bulba, starring Yul Brenner, Tony Curtis, and the lovely Christine Kaufmann, set during the frontier wars between the Poles and the Zaporizhian Cossacks in the late 16th century.

Check your local listings for times.

Cinematic: Zorro

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Endgame Endgame

Author's note: By request, I am re-running my posts on the cape-and-sword endgame. Originally posted over several weeks, I'm re-posting them as a single series, which concludes today.

Over the past month I posted about 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.

Earlier posts focused on resources the adventurers may bring to bear as they reach the endgame: social standing and influence, wealth, contacts and favors, clients, and strongholds. These are the tools the adventurers acquire or build as the campaign progresses toward the endgame.

Later posts approached the endgame from the referee's perspective, incorporating adventurous action, presenting a model of social structure, and describing the nature of political conflict.

Now it's time to tie it all together.

It's November and the king demands a spring offensive against the Spanish. The minister of war, Enfou, must choose a commander to lead the attack. At court, rumors suggest that Enfou will choose between the conte di Grognardo and the baron de Bauchery.

The conte di Grognardo is a veteran general, tough and irascible, but regarded as one of the best tactical thinkers in Europe. Grognardo is well-respected among many of the French officers, though he also raised a more than a few hackles for what some perceive as a lack of appropriate regard for social rank. Grognardo suffers from a lack of support among the courtiers as a result; his clientele is small and not well-placed outside of the royal army. Grognardo recently returned to France from Vienna; indeed, he commanded Imperial troops in Lombardy against the French, and whispered questions about the dévot general's loyalties abound.

It's said that Grognardo returned to France to seek a better marriage for his son than he could obtain at home in Monferrato; in fact, the count spurned the parade of daughters of poor nobles that the Emperor tried to foist upon him in exchange for his continuing service.

The baron de Bauchery governs a frontier province. The spring line of advance will cross the province, and the baron is positioning himself to command the army, reasoning that even if the offensive fails, he stands to gain from the money - and bribes - paid by the passage of the royal forces. De Bauchery is a wealthy libertine, 'mad, bad, and dangerous to know,' but he is well-connected at court nonetheless, particularly among the gallicans; it's well-known that he supplied the king with the monarch's last three mistresses, but only after sampling their wares himself first. The baron commanded a regiment previously, during which he was criticised for failing to press a rout, choosing to attack the enemy's baggage train instead and allowing the enemy troops to reform and withdraw in some semblance of good order. To secure command of the spring attack, de Bauchery pledges to raise a cavalry regiment at his own expense as well as commmit an additional regiment raised from the king's provincial subjects.

The baron holds an additional card; if he doesn't get the command, it's likely that the royal troops will suffer logistical problems - the baron has an extensive clientele in the province, and he could readily make obtaining supplies problematic for anyone else who commands the army.

De Bauchery's Achille's heels are the Jesuit prince-bishop who's bishopric is contiguous with the baron's provincial government - the prince-bishop despises de Bauchery, and his own clientele in the parishes is unassailable to the baron - and one of the province's three city governors, a nominal client who is believed to chafe under the baron's rule - he controls the province's only port, which could prove critical to keeping the royal army supplied, and he is likely to use this leverage to obtain concessions from the baron.

De Bauchery is also interested in marriage to a dowager marquise, the highest-ranking noble in his province; normally the king would never approve such a union, as it would create too powerful a powerbase for one of his nobles, but this may prove to be the leverage the baron seeks to gain the king's blessing on the marriage.

The choice of commanders lies with Enfou, though the king can override his minister's decision. While Enfou favors Grognardo for his tactical acumen, the fact that de Bauchery can raise two regiments of his own takes a considerable burden off the perpetually-depleted royal treasury, and the baron's selection also protects the supply lines as well.

In most of the published adventures of this sort, there would be some sort of contrived solution to the situation - de Bauchery is a Spanish agent and a traitor, and the adventurers must sneak into his castle to find the proof in his personal papers! - but this reduces the political endgame to yet another 'bughunt.' The endgame shouldn't offer easy answers.

In this scenario, there are advantages and risks associated with each choice; in a sandbox setting, do the adventurers help the acerbic but brilliant Grognardo or the connected but avaricious de Bauchery? How do their choices advance the character's own interests? What resources are available to them, and where do they apply them? Frex, what would it take to turn the port-governor on his patron, the baron, in order to protect the army's supply lines, and can they raise enough troops to offset de Bauchery's contributions? Or can they convince the king to allow de Bauchery's marriage to the marquise - and perhaps convince the reluctant marquise as well? Do they need to exert influence to keep the decision with Enfou, or do they need the king to override his minister of war in order to back their choice?

For the referee, this means fleshing out the npcs, giving them goals of their own that the adventurers may be able to help meet through their influence, patronage, or wealth - frex, perhaps one of the port-governor conditions is that his son, a monk, can become a member of the prince-bishop's curia, or the prince-bishop wants his nephew to be made a magistrate. This is perhaps where the analogy of the megadungeon needs to be stressed - no longer is it enough to present the adventurers with a roomful of orcs. The complexity, and the planning it requires, increases commensurate with the adventurers' positions and resources.

In addition to complexity, good political adventures involve ambiguity. Political choices and their consequences are rarely crystal-clear, except in hindsight; the less there is an obvious path for the player characters to follow, the better, and every choice carries risks. The expenditure of resources should never be a guarantee of success, and even if the adventurers succeed in their political goals, it's still possible for their political enterprise to fail; frex, the adventurers may secure the command for their candidate, but there's still the small matter of the spring campaign itself, and the outcome of the battle reflects on them, for better or worse.

And so I reach the end(game) of my endgame discussion. Thanks for reading along, and I hope this (1) makes some kind of sense, and (2) can be used in your campaigns.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Strife of Interests

Author's note: By request, I am re-running my posts on the cape-and-sword endgame. Originally posted over several weeks, I'm re-posting them as a single series over the next several days.

Over the past month I posted about 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.

Earlier posts focused on resources the adventurers may bring to bear as they reach the endgame: social standing and influence, wealth, contacts and favors, clients, and strongholds. These are the tools the adventurers acquire or build as the campaign progresses toward the endgame.

Recently I started posting about the endgame from the referee's perspective, beginning with adventurous action and a model of social structure for the campaign endgame. Now I turn to the nature of political conflict.

Politics, n. Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. - Ambrose Bierce
At the end of the social-network-as-megadungeon post, I suggested that political factions represent a synergy of the personal and the philosophical, of the private and the public. While I'm sure most of us accept the notion that contemporary political figures are motivated by a mix of private gain and public service, it can be hard to grasp just how inseparable these two concepts are to a sixteenth- or seventeenth century mindset. In a cape-and-sword setting which draws from the real-world of the period, a career as a pork-product inspector or a court prosecutor a colonel of a regiment may be something that is not only a family tradition but an actual inheritable asset passed between generations.

There's a brief scene in the movie Vatel that encapsulates this for me. The prince de Condé treats King Louis XIV to a lavish visit to the prince's château de Chantilly. Condé is one of France's greatest generals, victor of the battle of Rocroi, but he is out-of-favor with the king, and the visit to Chantilly is to entice the king to give Condé command of the royal army for the impending war with the Dutch. Condé is deeply in debt and hopes to use the commission to restore his fortune as well as regain the king's favor, which leads to the following exchange.



"What exactly do you need to borrow so much money for?"

"The better to serve France, Your Majesty."
In the cape-and-sword endgame, the distinction between what is good for the actor and what is good for the state may blur to insignificance.

More broadly, there's a spectrum reaching from the most rank opportunist to the most ardent partisan. During times of political upheaval against the established order - the English Civil War, the French Revolution, &c - the influence of the true believers may become more pronounced, but political conflict rarely strays far from the "strife of interests."

So what are those interests?

Patronage and venality - the sale of political offices - has already been covered as part of building a clientele. Factions may be seen as politically-motivated clienteles; patronage is used as a means of extending the faction's influence and as a reward for loyal service. The higher in the hierarchies one goes, the fewer the positions available and the greater their influence, and more important their control to the various factions becomes. Patronage and clienteles may be used to secure control over a geographic area; a provincial governor, for example, may attempt to make city mayors (using the Flashing Blades position titles) clients while an ambitious mayor with his sights set on the governorship may do the same, or a bishop may replace the pastors of the parishes in his bishopric with loyal priests. Grands - the wealthiest and most influential nobles - will be particularly motivated to exercise control of both eccelesiastical and secular offices. Patronage may also be used to manage an important aspect of the economy; Cardinal Richelieu, aware that France was uniquely situated to control the Atlantic, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean, but lacked both adequate tonnage of shipping and ports to service them, devoted himself to naval affairs for much of his tenure as minister of state, making himself master of navigation, buying up the various admiralties and the governorship of Brittany - France's most important maritime province - and putting a trusted client in charge of La Rochelle after the Huguenots' defeat, and establishing a chartered trading company. In addition to power, offices also bring with them revenue, particularly offices with opportunities for graft.

Finance - in particular taxation - is a constant preoccupation of . . . well, just about everyone. The tax exemption of the First and Second Estates - the Church and the nobility, respectively - is a source of constant complaints and petitions for redress from the bourgeoisie of the Third. The crown, on the other hand, needs to feed its ravenous maw a never-ending flow of specie, and devises all sorts of methods to extract more and more taxes from its overburdened populace. Popular figures promise tax relief while royal ministers search for new ways to exsanguinate a tuber. Financiers of the monarchy seek stability above all, to insure that the crown pays its bills on time and in full, guaranteeing their own wealth and standing as well as the possibility of upward social mobility.

Families, from peasants to monarchs, are absorbed by succession. Planning for succession protects a family's wealth - including things like titles and offices owned - and may provide a pathway to increasing social status. Succession involves both marriage and inheritance. Though the virtue of romance is extolled by poets, most marriages have more in common with corporate mergers, right down to contractual obligations and assumed debts. Marriages between social peers maintain the status quo and build important alliances, but the ambitious family will look to nuptials as a means of advancing its position. For every family looking to improve its lot by marrying above its station, there is a family struggling to maintain its tenuous hold on the ladder of rank. The combination of an ambitious and increasingly wealthy bourgeoisie and a nobility scrambling to maintain its pomp leads to mésalliances; this is one of the subplots in Molière - aka Shakespeare in Love en Français - as the bourgeois Jourdain seeks to marry one of his daughters to the impoverished nobleman Dorante. Such mésalliances may also be used to secure political alliances as well; both cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin used their positions as ministers of state to arrange marriages for their nieces to nobles far above their rank - Richelieu even managed to marry one of his neices, Claire-Clémence de Maillé-Brézé, to a prince of the blood, le Grand Condé, which further rankled the grands who saw the country nobleman-turned-prelate as an arriviste.

In a society obsessed with social status, precedence is serious business. Street brawls and lawsuits alike could be prompted by a change in the order in which guilds were allowed to line up for processions on feast days, and King Louis XIII once broke up a fight between the prince de Condé and the comte de Soissons over who got to hold the king's napkin. Precedence is an expression of one's power and authority, a tangible cue of one's dignity, and as such it is the object of a great deal of jockeying for position, from members of a guild or confraternity to the household of the monarch. Petitions to the king to change orders of precedence can be expected to excite a general outcry.

Late Renaissance and Early Modern society is familiarly litigious, and the quest for justice in matters mundane and extraordinary involves layers of courts as well as the extra-judicial influence of the monarch. Lawsuits may involve everything from disputes over property and contracts to orders of precedence and the outcome of duels. Moreover both the crown and the Church maintain separate systems of justice, creating another source of conflict. Lawsuits and countersuits may take years to resolve, with several appeals possible, and expediting justice is a powerful boon.

Confessional allegiance dominates the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, and there are few more bitterly contested political conflicts than those surrounding the profession of faith. Even where tolerance in matters of conscience is the official policy of the realm, living a life free from religious coercion is a challenge.

Finally, there is honor. Honor is a measure of integrity, and to impugn one's honor is to question one's integrity. In a society based on personal connections, like the patron-client relationship, honor is a commodity to be protected at all costs.

From these conflicts the political milieu of the game-world is constucted, which will be the subject of my next post.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Social Megadungeon

Author's note: By request, I am re-running my posts on the cape-and-sword endgame. Originally posted over several weeks, I'm re-posting them as a single series over the next several days.

Over the past month I posted about 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.

Earlier posts focused on resources the adventurers may bring to bear as they reach the endgame: social standing and influence, wealth, contacts and favors, clients, and strongholds. These are the tools the adventurers acquire or build as the campaign progresses toward the endgame.

Recently I started posting about the endgame from the referee's perspective, beginning with the importance of action in the endgame. Now I want to turn to setting the stage for political adventures.

Awhile back, I drew the analogy of a cape-and-sword sandbox to fantasy roleplaying 'dungeons' in which the 'rooms' are people and the relationships between them 'corridors.' Much like a party of adventurers in The World's Most Popular Roleplaying Game™ searching for treasure and encountering monsters, swashbucklers navigate a web of allies, rivals, patrons, lovers, and so forth, gaining rewards and facing hazards in the process. There are secret doors and passages to discover and traps and puzzles to solve - betrayal by friends with divided loyalties, unknown allies working behind the scenes - as well in this human 'dungeon.'

With that in mind, the ambit of planning for a cape-and-sword campaign that will progress toward the endgame as described here is akin to creating a megadungeon or 'campaign dungeon,' those interminable deeps which are designed to sustain months or years of actual play. For the cape-and-sword campaign, the megadungeon is the political milieu of the game-world, composed not of stone-walled rooms and corridors but of factions and alliances.

For some dungeon masters, the prospect of building a megadungeon is daunting in its scope, so I think it's important to take a moment and discuss how megadungeons may be put together. First, megadungeons don't need to be 'finished' before actual play begins. It isn't necessary to draw and stock sixteen or nineteen or twenty-four levels with scores of rooms each, most of which may take the adventurers months or years to reach, at the start of the campaign.

That said, a megadungeon does require some forethought, because an important feature of megadungeons is verticality, the connections between levels. Winding stairways, gaping shafts, and plunging crevasses allow adventurers to descend into the underworld; moreover, traps like chutes and elevators may send the explorers deeper than they plan or are prepared to go.

So - with apologies to recovering Stephen R Covey survivors - whether designing a megadungeon or planning for politics and intrigue, begin with the end in mind. In setting out the political players of the cape-and-sword game-world, plan for verticality, connections between the 'levels' of local, regional, national and international actors in the political sphere. Here's how this looks in my campaign, set in 17th century France; though the names and titles may change elsewhere - the French province is similar to the English shire, frex - the basic princples remain the same.

Local politics focuses on the villages, small towns, and estates of the countryside. The major players here are the local lord, the parish pastor and curate, the churchwarden - the lay leader of the spiritual community - abbots and priors, ministers in Huguenot communities, merchants in the towns, the bailiff of the royal courts, and various inspectors and other officials. In port towns, ship captains - including pirates and smugglers - may be important politically as well. Note that by this time the influence of the local lord is primarily economic rather than juridical; with the exception of the provinces which Louis XIV would add along the frontier with the Empire, serfdom is largely abolished and local magistrates - sénéchaux and viguiers - are primarily ceremonial. Confraternities - lay religious fraternities - in the parish and guilds in the small towns are the most common organizations to which members of the this community belong, and participation may be limited to the local elites. One of the common goals of local elites - and a source of conflict between them - is to rise into positions of regional influence.

Regional actors include the magistrates and their courts, city and fortress governors and their garrisons, regimental commanders and their officers, martial magistrates, tax collectors, titled nobles, knights-commander, the bourgeoisie, municipal burghers - consuls, capitouls, échevins - fleet commanders, canons and their colleges, bishops and their curias, intendants - a special magistrate with a royal commission - and the provincial governors and their lieutenants. In Flashing Blades, gentlemen's clubs - an anachronism adopted from En Garde! - salons, and academies in the larger cities are an important social outlet for forming political connections, as are confraternities and guilds once again. For most this is the highest level of political power to which they can aspire as social rank begins to weed out aspirants, so perogatives are assiduously guarded. Factions organized around community elites may strive for control of city councils, bishoprics and governorships.

National political players are the grands - the wealthiest nobles - and Princes of the Blood - those with a claim to the throne should the king not produce an heir - court ministers, courtiers and councillors, generals and marshals, admirals, cardinals, and the wealthiest bankers. Many national actors have access to the king, and may influence the policies of the realm; those closest to the monarch will jealously endeavour to exclude as many others as possible from the royal presence. Factions tend to coalesce around court figures - the king, the queen, the dowager, the princes, and the minister of state - and along lines of political philosophical divides.

International actors in the political sphere include the monarchs themselves, their ministers of state, and the ambassadors who act in their name, as well as cardinals, the wealthiest investors, and occasionally generals sent abroad to serve under foreign commanders. More problematic international actors are the princes, as involving themselves with foreign crowns threatens the stability of France; when the prince de Condé fled France for the Spanish Netherlands with his new bride, to avoid the amorous attention - and intention - of King Henri IV, the scandal was exacerbated by an heir to the French crown within the grasp of the Habsburgs. Political actors at the international level are most strongly movitated by grand strategy, but even petty disputes over precedence or etiquette between monarchs may become the source of political intrigue and maneuvering.

So, in rough outline, these are the levels of our political megadungeon. As with an actual megadungeon, it's not necessary at first to detail all of the possible political machinations which exists throughout the kingdom, but as non-player characters and their intrigues are developed, at any level, it helps to have a sense of how the actors fit into the larger scheme, and to plan for chutes and elevators to trap the unwary - for example, an adventurer in my campaign challenged a romantic rival to a duel, unaware that the rival was the nephew of a lieutenant of the Cardinal's Guard. As previously discussed with respect to clientage, a political actor's reach may extend across all levels - offers of patronage, for example, typically flow from national actors to regional actors, for example - so verticality should be considered from the beginning.

The other aspect of megadungeon planning applicable to the cape-and-sword political sphere is the idea of theme levels. Some dungeon masters are content with randomly generated funhouses or 'mythic underworlds' in which magic can be used to explain and justify the results, but many others prefer to give their dungeons some history and at least a hint of a nod to ecology. Theme levels are organized around a unifying principle, something like the Fungi Caverns, where myconids and vegepygmies vie for control of the 'Shroom-Womb, a cave deep with compost funneled in from upper levels of the dungeon, where the myconids and vegepygmies worship an otyugh as their goddess and seek her favor.

In the cape-and-sword political sphere, the unifying elements are factions. As mentioned above, factions may be organised around individuals - powerful grands, prelates, members of the royal family - or along philosophical or religious lines. Taking my cues from the history of the period, there are four basic political alignments which may contribute to the development of factions. Devout Catholics, the dévots favor alliances with the Catholic monarchs of Europe in order to combat the Protestant heresy in France and abroad. Dévots encourage close relations with Spain, Austria, and the papacy and reject support for England, the United Provinces, and German and Scandanavian Protestants. In domestic affairs, the dévots support the continuance of the nobility’s traditional priveleges and oppose absolutism and the rise of the bureaucratic robe nobility associated with the centralization of royal power.

Their rivals are the bon Français (literally "good French"), or politicals, who consider themselves patriots of France on equal measure with being good Catholics. The bon Français believe that supporting the king should be the primary concern of his subjects and that the greatest threat to the security of the crown, and by extension France, comes from Habsburg Spain and Austria. The bon Français accept alliances with Protestant powers in the service of protecting the crown against those foreign powers seeking hegemony over France and Europe.

Many of the dévots are ultramontanists as well. Ultramontanism is the Roman Catholic belief or doctrine that Papal authority supercedes that of local temporal and spiritual authorities, such as princes and bishops. "Ultramontane" means "beyond the mountains," specifically the Alps, and the original usage referred to a pope elected from outside Italy, but in 17th century France it refers to those who believe the powers and perogatives of the Pope exceed those of the king or the prelates of the Church in France. Ultramontanists strongly resist the concept of the absolute monarchy and of the civil authority of the state over the persons and institutions of the Church.

Ultramontanism is in turn opposed by gallicanism. Gallicanism is the belief or doctrine that the royal and civil authorities of France hold power over the French Church comparable to that of the Pope in Rome. Unlike the Anglicans in England, Gallicans do not reject the authority of the Church over temporal and ecclesiastical affairs altogether, but rather emphasize the role of the bishops, and the monarch and the civil authorities, in managing the affairs of the Church in France. The role of the Papacy in Gallicanism is one of 'first among equals.'

Factions in my campaign, then, represent a mix of the personal and philosophical. Cardinalists - Cardinal Richelieu's faction - tend to be gallicanist and bon Français in their politics, and pursue an agenda which both enriches their prelate patron and earns them a share in his largesse, and advances their goals of a powerful French monarchy able to resist both the Habsburgs and the Church by turns.

Like first-level dungeoneers taking their first tentative steps into the underworld, swashbucklers early in their careers are unlikely to be more than occasional pawns moved by the political actors of the setting; as such, it's not necessary to detail their intrigues beyond where their interests intersect with the adventurers. But as the swashbucklers become political players in their own right, then the 'lower levels' of the megadungeon should be prepared to receive them, and planning should begin, in broad strokes, from the outset of the campaign. These broad strokes - knowing who the political players are, and how they may organize themselves - also make it easier for the referee to improvise should the need arise.

Next, the source of conflicts which drive the political campaign.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Action Heroes

Author's note: By request, I am re-running my posts on the cape-and-sword endgame. Originally posted over several weeks, I'm re-posting them as a single series over the next several days.

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 favors, clients, and strongholds. These are the tools the adventurers acquire or build as the campaign progresses toward the endgame. Now it's time to look at this from the referee's seat at the end of the table.

In 2003, Atlas Games published Dynasties and Demagogues, "The Sourcebook of Politcial Intrigue," for d20 roleplaying games. Here's what the book has to say about "what political adventures are like."
Political adventures have fewer combats and more attempts to influence other characters than other fantasy adventures. Investigation is often crucial, since it's hard to protect yourself against a rival's plans unless you know what those plans are.

In a political game, most challenges come from rivals and other non-player characters. Personal connections drive political games - the PCs must figure out what the other characters want and how to turn that information to their own advantage. They may be able to launch a counterplot that foils that rival's plans, or turn the rival into an ally by offering a mutually beneficial deal. Words accomplish a lot in political games.
As descriptions of the political milieu in a campaign, so far, so good. Then comes the qualifier.
That doesn't mean there's no action. Player characters often sneak into dangerous situations or fight their way out of them. Assassinations, duels, and other physical challenges settle many political disputes, so the PCs must be ready for anything.
Dynasties and Demagogues next offers a sample adventure, "Deception at Villa Zarios," intended to be read by both players and referees, to introduce some of the concepts which follow. Here's the adventure in outline form.
  • The adventurers are invited to breakfast and asked to take over the stewardship of the villa on behalf of its owner, Dona Carlotta.
  • The adventurers are ambushed by bandits. (Serio.)
  • The adventurers investigate the goings on at the villa, while dealing with a staff hostile to the newcomers, and may discover that the major-domo is cooking the books.
  • Don Miguel, Dona Carlotta's rival, offers to buy the villa at a below-market price, and if the adventurers refuse or can't convince Dona Carlotta, a druid comes and blights the vines.
  • Don Miguel's lackeys drive an owlbear into the vineyard, to create chaos.
  • Don Miguel attempts to burn the place down.
  • Should the adventurers save the vines, the workers, and the villa itself, they may expose the major-domo as working for Don Miguel and receive rewards from Dona Carlotta and the Queen's Investigator.
As Dynasties and Demagogues itself goes on to note, "Deception at Villa Zarios" makes a point of including a lot of "running, jumping and hitting things," to underscore that political adventures need not preclude adventurers from doing adventurous things.

Swashbucklers may be many things, but few would dispute that 'men and women of action' is one of the few truly universal tropes in the genre. Consider the career of Aramis, a guardsman in The Three Musketeers who becomes a priest and abbé who is involved with the Frondeurs and goes to England to rescue King Charles I from his executioners Twenty Years Later, and finally plans a coup d’état against the king in The Man in the Iron Mask before escaping to Spain and becoming its ambassador to France. Aramis and the other Musketeers enjoy vigorous careers even as they grow in stature and rank over the course of the saga.

This is true of the historical figures of the period as well. Consider Cosme de Valbelle, who engineered the elections of consuls in Marseille - twice serving the one year term himself - for a score of years and who died at sea in battle with the Spanish, lashed to the mast of his own galley, defending his city to the last. Cardinal Louis III de Guise commanded royal troops against the Huguenots in 1621, a short time after being arrested for challenging the duc de Nevers - a foreign prince and peer to the king, no less - to a duel. Provincial governors and royal magistrates led troops against rebellious subjects, and even town burghers could be expected to deal with lawbreakers and miscreants directly, blade and pistol in hand, backed by their own lackeys.

The cape-and-sword endgame doesn't preclude the adventurers from taking an active hand - and sword - in their affairs even after they enter into the political sphere of the game-world. In fact, the precedent is well established in both the literature and history of the period.

That said, "Deception at Villa Zarios" remains a disappointment as an introduction to political intrigue in roleplaying campaigns, not because of the emphasis on action, but rather because the politics and intrigue are wholly external to the players' characters. The adventurers are put upon by the political machinations of others but have no opportunity to engage in their own maneuvering, outside of some fairly standard mystery investigation. I'd like to say this is because "Deception at Villa Zarios" is intended as an introductory adventure, but this is true of all of the adventures outlined in the book, and of many other adventures and supplements as well - For the Love of Justice for Swashbuckler! shares this same problem - so this shouldn't be taken as a slight against Dynasties and Demagogues at all, but rather a common failing in which political intrigue is reduced to the familiar rescue/capture/steal the MacGuffin scenarios common to most other roleplaying games.

The endgame of the cape-and-sword campaign can - and, considering both genre tropes and historical examples, should - include 'sneaking in and fighting out again,' but the situations and events which motivate the adventurers should feature more subtle, more complex challenges than fight off the owlbear and put out the fire. I'll describe an approach to doing that next, beginning with the web of factions and actors in my campaign.

Unfortunately I probably won't have another installment completed until next week, as my wife and I are heading to Vegas - Vegas, baby! Vegas! - through the end of the week. While I am taking my laptop - yes, I know I'm a nerd, so please, spare me your derision - I don't expect to post much besides a couple of short posts already written, so I beg your pardon and your patience.

Monday, November 12, 2012

All Your Base

Author's note: By request, I am re-running my posts on the cape-and-sword endgame. Originally posted over several weeks, I'm re-posting them as a single series over the next several days.

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.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Building a Clientele

Author's note: By request, I am re-running my posts on the cape-and-sword endgame. Originally posted over several weeks, I'm re-posting them as a single series over the next several days.

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, November 9, 2012

The Social Network

Author's note: By request, I am re-running my posts on the cape-and-sword endgame. Originally posted over several weeks, I'm re-posting them as a single series over the next several days.

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.