Thursday, February 28, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure

A couple of weeks ago I took the Cabin Girl and the Cabin Boy to California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort after school. One of the great things about having annual passes is that it makes short trips of a few hours viable - there's no sense of urgency, of 'We gotta get Space Mountain and Indiana Jones in TODAY!' to the exclusion of everything else the parks have to offer. We can spend an afternoon poking around, say, Tomorrowland, and not worry about missing the rest of Disneyland, since we'll likely be back in a week or two.

Perhaps the best thing about buying the passes is that we can spend lots of time on the playgrounds.

One of the earliest attractions in Disneyland, opened in 1956, Tom Sawyer Island is reached by a short raft trip across the 'Rivers of America.' Originally themed around the adventures of Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, and Huck Finn, it was re-imagineered after the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies as Pirates' Lair on Tom Sawyer Island. In either incarnation, the island is a giant playground, one built with the imagination - and budget - of the Walt Disney Corporation. A central ridge is honeycombed with narrow, twisting caves, just wide enough for two kids to pass and just narrow enough for crouching parents to need to find an alcove to let one another scoot by. One cave, Dead Man's Grotto, features the beating heart of Davy Jones in its iron chest, an Audio-Animatronic pirate shackled to a wall with a tale of woe to tell, and a surprise visit by Pintel and Ragetti should a guest try to disturb the pirates' treasure. Other caves feature chests of treasure or locked doors with narrow grates to peek through, and at one end of the ridge the partial remains of a wrecked galleon is haunted by ghostly chains. Atop the ridge, reached through the caves in the interior, is a lookout with telescopes.

Around the island there is a suspension bridge leading to Tom and Becky's treehouse, which the kids can climb and explore, and a pontoon bridge made of barrels for crossing a small cove. Turning a capstan winch pulls a chest of treasure, with a pirate skeleton dangling beneath, from the water, and working a pair of pumps empties out a sunken boat and reveals more treasure, and another pair of skeletons, within. At the far end of the island is Fort Wilderness - the fort was once an actual attraction in which guests could climb the stairs and look out on the island from its log towers, but now it's just a façade - and a huge pile of pirate treasure to climb on.

California Adventure, the theme park built atop the old parking lot of Disneyland, features a playground of its own, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, in the Grizzly Peak 'land.' RCCT, located directly across from the Grizzly River Run flume ride, takes its inspiration not from fiction but from the real Sierra Nevada. Its winding pathways are filled with animal tracks, and lead guests through the stump of a giant sequoia and forested groves. Fallen trunks of the big trees take the place of caves in RCCT, and the suspension and pontoon bridges are replaced by thick rope cargo nets stretched between a smokejumpers' training tower and a combination ranger station and forest fire lookout, complete with a working Osborne Fire Finder.

There's a rock wall with a pair of traverses - climbing the rocks of Tom Sawyer Island is actually prohibited, as I was informed by a polite white-hatted Disneyland security guard years ago - and a twisting slide set in a jumble of boulders - a 'rock slide,' of course. Two more slides are set inside giant logs. There's a tiny stream which can be crossed by hopping on rocks made of playground rubber-mulch or a short bridge which is subject to sudden inundation. Carved statues of figures from California aborigine stories line a segment of trail, and a small cave allows a guest to learn which animal spirit they most resemble. The one attraction sure to have a line on every visit is the combination tire swing and zip line in the smokejumpers' tower.

On this particular visit, the Cabin Girl and the Cabin Boy spent more than an hour roaming Redwood Creek, figuring out which tracks were left by which animal, climbing up and down the rope ramps and bridges, riding the zip lines, scaling the rock walls, racing each other down the log slides, sighting along the fire finder. With an occasional prompt from me, they would try to figure out from its tracks if an animal was running or walking, and in which direction it was travelling, or identify which animal spirits at the cave were also found among the carvings along the trail, and what legends were associated with each.

Tom Sawyer Island and Redwood Creek Challenge Trail are two of my favorite attractions at the Disneyland Resort - in fact, if I had to make a list, they would certainly be in the top four, and depending on my mood when I made the list, they might even be in the top two spots. The Disney theme parks are perhaps best known for their rides, for the way they create an amazing sensory environment and tell a story, whether it's the recounting of a famous tale or something wholly original. But what I love about the island and the trail is that while the same attention to detail is provided in creating the environment, the story - the adventure - is left to the guests to create.

I'll bet you already know where I'm going with this.

Gamers use the term sandbox to describe 'open worlds' in which characters are free to explore. One of the problems with 'sandbox' as a term of art, in my experience, is that it can leave the impression of a featureless plain - lone and level sands stretching far away. This impression is sometimes invoked by gamers who dislike such game-worlds and the associated playstyle, for one reason or another.

But most 'sandbox' game-worlds are more like playgrounds than true sandboxes, and in my experience, the best examples of these game-worlds rise to the level of playgrounds-by-Disney. These playgrounds are not random collections of furnishings. Rather, they are filled with places and people and institutions of interest, which are meant to attract the players and their characters to interact with them without determining when or how those interactions may unfold. They have themes or motifs which add depth - there are patterns to recognize and apply.

On various forums over the years, one of the recurring critiques of sandbox game-worlds offered is that some players, when confronted with too much freedom of choice, have a deer-in-the-headlights moment; in fact, I've come across it enough times that about a month ago, I started a thread at Big Purple asking gamers to help me understand what induces 'sandbox paralysis.' The answers from those posters who actually experience this were enlightening - those who took the thread as a chance to bash sanbox play, far less so.

For awhile now I held the ideas that putting genre-tropes front and center and offering a familiar setting may help with making sandbox - playground - play more readily accessible to gamers who might otherwise be turned off by the prospect. Tom Sawyer Island and Redwood Creek do both in their 'call to adventure.' Reading the responses to the 'sandbox paralysis' thread, I think that addresses some gamers' issues with the playstyle, but by no means all; some players are truly only happy if they feel they can reliably expect certain experiences from playing the game, experiences which require the referee's active participation in developing, experiences which a sandbox game-world is, in their estimation, unlikely to provide.

And that's okay, of course. Playgrounds aren't for everyone. I feel the same way about more linear, more story-oriented gaming; while I understand its appeal, it's not for me. Horses for courses.

But I do think it would helpful for gamers discussing sandbox game-worlds and playstyle to remember that they are much more than boxes of sand for digging holes and making castles. They are playgrounds as well, and in the really clever ones, the jungle gyms and slides and ladders are disguised as a pirate's lair or a Sierra Nevada forest.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wednesday Wyeth

As with the Zorro stories, I have a real weakness for Ramona, because it's a tale of home - same with Island of the Blue Dolphins, which my daughter will be reading in school next year, just as I did. I'm looking forward to taking my kids to the Ramona Pageant when they get a little older.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

DVR Alert

On Wednesday, 27 February, TCM plays the The Thief of Bagdad, starring Sabu as Abu, the eponymous thief. One of my favorite Arabian Nights movies.

Check your local listings for times.

Letters to Isabel, Redux

The title of the post says it all: courtly intrigue.

I'm often left at more than a little bit of a loss when referees complain that all their players want to do is hack-and-slash. I mean, I get it, but it also leaves me a little sad, because this right here is a very big part of what makes roleplaying games fun for me. Manipulating friends and outwitting and outmanoeuvering enemies is something I fall into naturally at the game table, which is why it was no surprise to be at all to find out my Bartle test profile was Socializer.

It's also why one of my favorite skills in a roleplaying game is Bribery.

I know this is one of the reasons the cape-and-sword genre appeals to me so much for gaming. My predilection to turn everything I run into a spy caper and my passion for the endgame are both perfectly at home in swashbucklers.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Graphic Novels Challenge: Belladone

An assassin takes a shot at Louis XIV, but the ball is deflected by the iron fan of a nearby nun, who with a winsome smile leaps over the shoulders of a King's Musketeers to gain the balcony from which the assassin flees.

So opens Belladone, the creation of former Disney animator and comic artist Pierre Alary. Set in 1680 France, the story features a secret cabal of protectors of the Sun King, an Italian assassin, the Cour des Miracles, black maket 'Merchants of Death' dealing in poisons and other nastiness, and flirting between Marie, the disguised nun who is a member of the cabal, and Maxime, the captain of the King's Musketeers, who's been promised Marie's bed if he can defeat her in combat.

Ah, l'amour.

The story is simple, following the attempts of the Italian - no name is given, nor needed - on the life of Louis XIV, ostensibly for an affront to the Pope, and the efforts of Marie and Maxime - and Maxime's mother, who runs the secret cabal of guards of which Marie is a member - to protect the king. The action is beautifully illustrated, the story fast-paced and exciting, the characters engaging.

One of the amazing and wonderful aspects of the comic medium is that the stories transcend language. Belladone is written in French, but when I showed a few pages to my daughter and asked her to describe what was happening, the Cabin Girl could follow the action without recourse to the words. When she's a few years older, I look forward to sitting down with her and sharing the whole book together. Marie is a great example of a woman swashbuckler, as capable as the men without sacrificing her womanhood, and without being rendered as fanservice.

There are two more volumes of the Belladone saga, but because they are hardcover imports, they tend to be rather pricey, so I haven't - yet - picked up the sequels.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: The Sea-Hawk

They were returning home from a trip to Genoa when one evening as they were standing off Minorca in the Balearic Isles they were surprised by a fleet of four Muslim galleys which came skimming round a promontory to surround and engage them.

Aboard the Spanish vessel there broke a terrible cry of "Asad-ed-Din" — the name of the most redoubtable Muslim corsair since the Italian renegade Ochiali — the Ali Pasha who had been killed at Lepanto. Trumpets blared and drums beat on the poop, and the Spaniards in morion and corselet, armed with calivers and pikes, stood to defend their lives and liberty. The gunners sprang to the culverins. But fire had to be kindled and linstocks ignited, and in the confusion much time was lost — so much that not a single cannon shot was fired before the grappling irons of the first galley clanked upon and gripped the Spaniard's bulwarks. The shock of the impact was terrific. The armoured prow of the Muslim galley — Asad-ed-Din's own — smote the Spaniard a slanting blow amidships that smashed fifteen of the oars as if they had been so many withered twigs.

There was a shriek from the slaves, followed by such piteous groans as the damned in hell may emit. Fully two score of them had been struck by the shafts of their oars as these were hurled back against them. Some had been killed outright, others lay limp and crushed, some with broken backs, others with shattered limbs and ribs.

Sir Oliver would assuredly have been of these but for the warning, advice, and example of Yusuf, who was well versed in galley-fighting and who foresaw clearly what must happen. He thrust the oar upward and forward as far as it would go, compelling the others at his bench to accompany his movement. Then he slipped down upon his knees, released his hold of the timber, and crouched down until his shoulders were on a level with the bench. He had shouted to Sir Oliver to follow his example, and Sir Oliver without even knowing what the manoeuvre should portend, but gathering its importance from the other's urgency of tone, promptly obeyed. The oar was struck an instant later and ere it snapped off it was flung back, braining one of the slaves at the bench and mortally injuring the others, but passing clean over the heads of Sir Oliver and Yusuf. A moment later the bodies of the oarsmen of the bench immediately in front were flung back atop of them with yells and curses.

When Sir Oliver staggered to his feet he found the battle joined. The Spaniards had fired a volley from their calivers and a dense cloud of smoke hung above the bulwarks; through this surged now the corsairs, led by a tall, lean, elderly man with a flowing white beard and a swarthy eagle face. A crescent of emeralds flashed from his snowy turban; above it rose the peak of a steel cap, and his body was cased in chain mail. He swung a great scimitar, before which Spaniards went down like wheat to the reaper's sickle. He fought like ten men, and to support him poured a never-ending stream of Muslimeen to the cry of "Din! Din! Allah, Y'Allah!" Back and yet back went the Spaniards before that irresistible onslaught.

Sir Oliver found Yusuf struggling in vain to rid himself of his chain, and went to his assistance. He stooped, seized it in both hands, set his feet against the bench, exerted all his strength, and tore the staple from the wood. Yusuf was free, save, of course, that a length of heavy chain was dangling from his steel anklet. In his turn he did the like service by Sir Oliver, though not quite as speedily, for strong man though he was, either his strength was not equal to the Cornishman's or else the latter's staple had been driven into sounder timber. In the end, however, it yielded, and Sir Oliver too was free. Then he set the foot that was hampered by the chain upon the bench, and with the staple that still hung from the end of it he prised open the link that attached it to his anklet.

That done he took his revenge. Crying "Din!" as loudly as any of the Muslimeen boarders, he flung himself upon the rear of the Spaniards brandishing his chain. In his hands it became a terrific weapon. He used it as a scourge, lashing it to right and left of him, splitting here a head and crushing there a face, until he had hacked a way clean through the Spanish press, which bewildered by this sudden rear attack made but little attempt to retaliate upon the escaped galley-slave. After him, whirling the remaining ten feet of the broken oar, came Yusuf.

Sir Oliver confessed afterwards to knowing very little of what happened in those moments. He came to a full possession of his senses to find the fight at an end, a cloud of turbaned corsairs standing guard over a huddle of Spaniards, others breaking open the cabin and dragging thence the chests that it contained, others again armed with chisels and mallets passing along the benches liberating the surviving slaves, of whom the great majority were children of Islam.

- The Sea-Hawk, Raphael Sabatini

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wednesday Wyeth

Pinch hitting for N.C. Wyeth this week is English illustrator Alice B. Woodward's Peter Pan and Captain Hook.

Note Hook's hook, or more properly, hooks.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Taking the Weekend Off

This week's blog-posts were a bit on the thin skeletal side, as I was slammed with a couple of non-gaming projects. Today I'm running The Cabin Boy's baseball practice, and this weekend his travel ball team has a tournament, so we're gonna be out of Dodge through Monday, which means, rather than scramble for some junk to post, I'm going to take a break and come back tanned, rested, and ready on Tuesday.

The tanned bit is no joke - looks likes it's going to be beautiful this weekend, with temps in the low eighties and clear skies. If you ever wonder why southern Californians put up with sprawl, it's because of mid-winter days like these.

As a teaser, next week will include sample characters from The Queen's Cavaliers - thanks, Caoimhe! - a new event table, a few gaming-related thoughts on my favorite attractions at Disneyland, and a review of the French graphic novel Belladone.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Masque of Faith: A Tale of Giancarlo di Venezia

Josh Graboff of The Signe of the Frothing Mug gives us another installment - the fifth! - in the adventures of Giancarlo of Venice, turning one of my random table results into another entertaining swashbuckler.

I strongly recommend reading this with a glass of Valpolicella at hand.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

DVR Alert

The swashbucklers just keep coming in February as TCM airs The Prisoner of Zenda on Valentine's Day - this is the 1937 version starring Ronald Coleman as Rassendyll and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as Hentzau. I prefer the 1952 version in pretty much every way, but it's still a fun telling of the Anthony Hope romance.

Check your local listings for times, of course.

Wednesday Wyeth

Monday, February 11, 2013

Kickstarter: Tavern Cards - Less Than $800 to Go!

Over $4200.00 pledged, leaving less than $800.00 to go to make Tavern Cards a reality.

That's just sixty gamers pledging for a single deck each to put it over the top. Please help spread the word.

DVR Alert

On Tuesday the 12th, TCM continues its run of outstanding swashbucklers this month with The Spanish Main, starring Paul Henreid, Maureen O'Hara, and a wonderful Walter Slezak as the Spanish grandee, Don Alvarado. As great as they are, however, Binnie Barnes as Anne Bonny steals every scene she's in.

Check your local listings for times, as always.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: Treasure Island

Suddenly, with a loud huzza, a little cloud of pirates leaped from the woods on the north side, and ran straight on the stockade. At the same moment, the fire was once more opened from the woods, and a rifle ball sang through the doorway, and knocked the doctor's musket into bits.

The boarders swarmed over the fence like monkeys. Squire and Gray fired again and yet again; three men fell, one forwards into the enclosure, two back on the outside. But of these, one was evidently more frightened than hurt, for he was on his feet again in a crack, and instantly disappeared among the trees.

Two had bit the dust, one had fled, four had made good their footing inside our defences; while from the shelter of the woods seven or eight men, each evidently supplied with several muskets, kept up a hot though useless fire on the log-house. The four who had boarded made straight before them for the building, shouting as they ran, and the men among the trees shouted back to encourage them. Several shots were fired; but, such was the hurry of the marksmen, not one appears to have taken effect. In a moment, the four pirates had swarmed up the mound and were upon us.

The head of Job Anderson, the boatswain, appeared at the middle loophole.

"At 'em, all hands — all hands!" he roared, in a voice of thunder.

At the same moment, another pirate grasped Hunter's musket by the muzzle, wrenched it from his hands, plucked it through the loophole, and with one stunning blow, laid the poor fellow senseless on the floor. Meanwhile a third, running unharmed all round the house, appeared suddenly in the doorway, and fell with his cutlass on the doctor.

Our position was utterly reversed. A moment since we were firing, under cover, at an exposed enemy; now it was we who lay uncovered, and could not return a blow.

The log-house was full of smoke, to which we owed our comparative safety. Cries and confusion, the flashes and reports of pistol shots, and one loud groan, rang in my ears.

"Out, lads, out, and fight 'em in the open! Cutlasses!" cried the captain.

- Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, February 8, 2013

Kickstarter: Tavern Cards

Only four days left to kickstart Hannah Lipsky's Tavern Cards, a deck of cards used to randomly generate taverns for roleplaying games. The project is about $1500.00 short of its $5000.00 goal.

Given my love of the random, I backed this project as soon as I heard about it. Unfortunately, unless a fair number of other gamers get excited about it, too, this isn't going to beat its deadline.

Check it out, and if the spirit moves, back it.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

DVR Alert

If you missed The Mark of Zorro last week, you have a chance to catch it again, along with another Tyrone Power swashbuckler, Captain from Castile, on TCM Friday night.

Don't forget to check your local listings for times.

Annoying Habits of Duelists

Roll 1D20 -

1. Repeats, "You killed my father! Prepare to die!" even though you've never met his father.

2. Insists on a small glass of claret between every pass.

3. Arrives without a sword; asks to borrow yours.

4. Whistles the same two bars of a song over and over again.

5. Repeatedly calls a halt to adjust her ill-fitting mask.

6. Reeks likes the bilge-water in a fishing boat, bringing tears to your eyes.

7. Throws whatever's at hand at you: seat cushions, sticks, silverware, small rocks, pieces of bread, &c.

8. Refuses to cross blades until a priest is present to provide the sacrament of extreme unction.

9. Shrill incessant laughter.

10. Demands that wine corks be placed on the tips of the blades.

11. Offers to flip a coin instead.

12. Refuses to acknowledge touches, even while bleeding profusely from multiple wounds: "That's a wine stain! Have at you!"

13. Brings a pistol to a sword fight.

14. Sneezes and coughs on you throughout the duel; will refuse any delay, insisting that he's getting better.

15. Attempts witty repartee, manages only schoolyard taunts.

16. Stops every few passes to change swords from a long leather bag and confer with his second on tactics.

17. Insists on a postponement: the ground is too soft, the sun is too low, the air is too damp, &c.

18. Interrupted by a stream of messengers with papers to sign, questions to answer, &c: "Sorry, this will only take a moment . . ."

19. Attempts to slash his initials into your clothing, succeeds only in tearing up your coat and vest.

20. Roll twice - this one's really annoying.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Graphic Novels Challenge: Marvel 1602

Whereas DC Comics has its Elsewhere books, Marvel Comics had its What If? series. Rather than creating an alternate world like the Elseworlds books, most of the What If? stories explored a diverging timeline beginning at a point in the mainstream Marvel continuity, producing such groundbreaking comics as What If Conan Walked the Earth Today? and What If the Original Marvel Bullpen Had Become the Fantastic Four? Most of the What If? titles are one-offs, with a few short arcs, but beyond the point of divergence, there is no lasting or meaningful connection to the Marvel Universe. They are speculative fantasies.

It would be easy to confuse 1602 with a What If? or even an Elseworlds title, but it's neither, really. It's a consequence arising from an event in the future continuity of the Marvel Universe, in which the heroes exist on Earth some four hundred or so years earlier. In the Earth of 1602, Queen Elizabeth charges two of her royal councillors, spymaster Sir Nicholas Fury and court physician Dr. Stephen Strange, to discern the meaning of disturbing (un)natural phenomena plaguing her realm.

Neil Gaiman does a fascinating job bringing these heroic alter-egos to life, far better than Chuck Dixon did in the Captain Leatherwing book; with a few exceptions, the characters feel real in their setting, perhaps because the setting allows the cruft of expectations built up around about these too-familiar heroes to be stripped away. They are reborn, and they are, for the most part, better for it. Nick Fury as the alternate Sir Francis Walsingham is brilliantly written, as is Matthew Murdoch as one of his agents, but my favorite character, both in 1602 and the Marvel Universe generally, is Dr. Strange. This is one of the very best Dr. Strange books I've read; the Sorcerer Supreme is singularly suited to both the period and Mr Gaiman's tale of supernatural intrigue.

And it is a tale of intrigue. There are only a handful of battles between heroes and villains in 1602. This is a story of an existential threat and the ramifications of it, and if the ending doesn't quite live up to the events which preceded it, it is satisfying nonetheless.

Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove's artwork is dark and claustrophobic and lush, and their depiction of the characters and the setting evocative and period-worthy, though I found the digital coloring to have a weird sort of soft-focus feel at times.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Queen's Cavaliers: An Interview with Caoimhe Ora Snow

A Really Bad Eggs Exclusive!

In a recent post on Big Purple, designer of Wandering Monsters High School, proprietor of Bold Pueblo Games, and gaming blogger Caoimhe Ora Snow mentioned that she is writing and playtesting a new swashbuckling roleplaying game, The Queen's Cavaliers. Caoimhe generously agreed to answer a few questions about herself and TQC.

Really Bad Mike: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions, Caoimhe. How did you become a tabletop gamer? What games - roleplaying, board, card - did you play, and what were your favorites?

Caoimhe Ora Snow: I've been gaming since I was in junior high school, over 30 years ago. I started on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and I still play 4th Edition D&D today. I've played a number of other fantasy, superhero, and science fiction RPGs over the years, from early games such as Marvel Super-Heroes, DC Heroes, Gamma World, and Alternity, to current games like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and Apocalypse World/Dungeon World.

Second edition AD&D had the best worlds and concepts, although the rules always needed tweaks and rebalancing. My favorite D&D setting has always been the Al-Qadim Arabian Adventures line.

RBM: As a big fan of The Arabian Nights and the awesome Ray Harryhausen movies, Al-Quadim is right in my wheelhouse, too - my favorite 2e D&D product by far. What lead you into game design? What do you consider to be your most significant design influences?

COS: I've always been the primary gamemaster in most of my groups, so tinkering with the systems came naturally to me. I made conversions of Al-Qadim to 3rd edition and 4th edition D&D, and posted those on the Web. I've also written a number of fan supplements and adventures for D&D Gamma World.

In 2005, I spent a day working on a 24-hour RPG, and Wandering Monsters High School was born. I ran a kickstarter for that in 2011 and published WMHS commercially in 2012. I've written a few other games for Game Chef, such as Bone White, Blood Red, Awesome Women Kicking Ass, and I'm a Pretty Princess! – all of which have a tendency look beyond the routine and come up with unusual ways of creating and tracking characters. For example, BWBR used a cord with threaded beads for a character sheet, while IaPP! was based around coloring books.

RBM: You described The Queen's Cavaliers as "a clockwork Baroque swashbuckling fantasy." What is the setting like? What do the player characters do?

COS: TQC is set in a fictional analogue of 17th century France called Gallinea. Gallinea is a matriarchal monarchy ruled over by a young queen who strives to maintain her late mother's progressive policies in the face of growing discontent. Internal and external enemies abound – from the Speakers of the Desert Mother and their underground cult, to the scheming Guardian of the Faith serving the Empress-Goddess and his own desires. More conservative counts and dukes consolidate their power in the distant provinces, while the foreign-born Prince-Consort finds himself opposed by the Prince-Father.

The setting is deliberately low-magic; you won't find wizards tossing fireballs here, nor dragons. The practice of alchemy and the study of portents are both common in Gallinea, as well as the practice of charmweaving – embedding magical protections and enchantments into apparel.

Our approach to technology is decidedly clockpunk rather than steampunk; think more of Leonardo Da Vinci's designs than of steam engines. Gallinea has gunpowder, experimental airships, clockwork prostheses, and gearswords.

The default scenario for a game or campaign of TQC casts the player characters as the elite members of the royal military – the Queen's Cavaliers. Characters are either directly affiliated with the Cavaliers or work closely with them to further the queen's interests; in one of our playtests, for example, the queen's physician accompanied the Cavaliers.

RBM: How does TQC work? What are your influences rules-wise? What's novel about the game? What are you most excited to share with other gamers?

COS: A TQC character is built from the combination of two character classes – so you could be a Cavalier/Chaplain, a Dragoon/Provincial, a Charmweaver/Mechanician, or a Courtier/Pirate. Your classes determine your starting skill, weapon, and armor prowesses, as well as special maneuvers.

TQC uses a dice pool system – one that evolved out of Wandering Monsters High School's mechanics with influences from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and Dungeon World. Each character has a dice rating for Verve, Affinity, and Guile, and adds extra dice based on skill ranks. Equipment, special maneuvers, and charmwoven apparel can add additional dice to the pool.

Once the dice are rolled, the top two dice are added together for the total, while the number of success points is the smallest of those top two dice. For example, if the pool consists of 3d8+1d6 and you roll 5, 7, 2, 4, the total is 5 + 7 = 12 and the success points are 5. If you beat your opponent – or a standard difficulty roll for unopposed rolls – then you can spend your success points on various effects.

For example, if you successfully Parry your opponent's Lunge, you can spend 1 success point to negate the attack, then 2 points to execute a Riposte. If your Riposte hits (by beating his Dodge), you could move him closer to giving up by inflicting Yield on him (1 success point per Yield point), you could increase your own Advantage die (2 success points per die step), or gain another style point to power your style maneuvers (3 success points for a style point).

One key feature of the combat system is the Advantage die. Instead of the typical model of wearing down your opponent's hit points, swordfights in TQC are about jockeying for a position by building up your Advantage die from nothing, to a d4, a d6, up to a d12. Fights get more deadly the longer they go on, and are much more likely to end in a crescendo than a whimper – simulating the type of fencing battles you see in the best swashbuckling movies.

RBM: Wow, that sounds cool! If you could pick an author to write a novel, or a director to film a movie, based on TQC, who would it be and why?

COS: Oh, no debate, it would have to be Paul W.S. Anderson.

...just kidding! While we do take a little of our inspiration from the clockpunk technology in the 2011 The Three Musketeers movie, of course the ideal would be Richard Lester, plucked from the 1970s by some kind of clockwork time machine.

Since we started on this project, I've seen a bunch of Musketeer-themed movies – some awful, many of them with little tidbits of inspiration for TQC despite the quality of those movies. Lester's 1973 The Three Musketeers is the best of the lot, but I also enjoyed seeing a female Musketeer in La fille de D'artagnon (1994) and At Sword's Point (1952).

RBM: I love Maureen O'Hara in At Sword's Point - one of the best stage fencers in Hollywood in her day.

Thanks again, Caoimhe, for taking the time out to do this; I sincerely appreciate it, and I'm really looking forward to the release of The Queen's Cavaliers.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Pen and the Sword: Swordspoint

Subtly, something changed. At first Michael couldn't figure out what it was. Both men were smiling twin wolfish grins, their lips parted as much for air as for delight. Their moves were a little slower, more deliberate, but not for the careful demonstration of earlier. They didn't flow into each other. There were pauses between each flurry of strokes and returns, pauses heavy with tension. The air grew thick with it; it seemed to weight their movements. The time of testing, and of playing, was over. This was the final duel for one of them. Now they were fighting for their lives - for the one life that would emerge from this elegant battle. For a moment Michael let himself think of it: that whatever happened here, he would emerge unscathed. Of course there would be things to do, people to notify . . . He caught his breath as St. Vier was forced to lunge back into the wall, between two candles. He could see a crazy grin on the man's face as he held Applethorpe off with elaborate wristwork. For the moment, the two evenly matched, arm against arm. Michael prayed that it would never stop, that there would always be this moment o utter mastery, beautiful and rare, and no conclusion ever be reached. St. Vier knocked over a candle; it put itself out rolling on the floor. He kicked aside the table it had been on, extricating himself from the corner, and the action resumed.

Richard knew he was fighting for his life, and he was terribly happy. In most of his fights, even the good ones, he made all the decisions: when to turn serious, whether to fight high or low . . . but already Applethorpe had taken that away from him. He wasn't afriad, but the edge of challenge was sharp under him, and the drop from it irrevocable. The world had narrowed to the strength of his body, the trained agility of his mind in response to him opponent. The universe began and ended within the reach of his senses, the stretch of his four limbs and the gleaming steel. It was too good to lose now, the bright point coming at him always from another angle, the clarity of his mind anticipating and returning it, creating new patterns to play . . .

He saw the opening and went for it, but Applethorpe countered at the last instant, pivoting clumsily so that what should have been a clean death stroke caught him raggedly across the chest.

The Master stood upright, gripping his rapier too tightly, staring straight ahead. "Michael," he said clearly, "that arm is for balance."

- Swordspoint, Ellen Kushner

Friday, February 1, 2013

Off the Shelf: Law Books

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

Law books may be found on the shelves of lawyers, magistrates, bureaucrats, burghers, and members of a bishop's curia as well as some merchants and bankers. Roll 1D6 for the number of books, then roll 1D20 for the individual titles. Duplicate rolls may be treated as additional copies of the same volume or re-rolled at the referee's discretion.

1. Mare Liberum, Hugo Grotius
2. Opera sacra juridica his orica miscellanea collecta, Pierre Pithou
3. Extricatio labyrinthi dividui et individui, Charles Dumoulin
4. Tractatus de legibus ac deo legislatore, Francisco Suárez
5. De iure belli, Hugo Grotius
6. Les Six livres de la République, Jean Bodin
7. De feudis commentatio tripertita: hoc est, Disputatio de jure feudali, Commentarius in usus feudorum, Dictionarium verborum feudalium, François Hotman
8. De la Souveraineté du Roy, Cardin Le Bret
9. The First Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, or, a Commentary upon Littleton, Sir Edward Coke
10. De magistratibus et republica Venetorum, Gasparo Contarini
11. Juris civilis Schola Argentinensis, François Baudouin
12. Corpus Juris Civilis, Justinian (edited by Denis Godefroy)
13. Commentaires sur le Digeste et le Code et des traités particuliers, Hugues Doneau
14. Codex Fabrianus definitionum forensium, Antoine Favre, baron of Pérouge
15. Treatise on Tenures, Sir Thomas de Littleton
16. Institutions au droit des Francois, ou Nouvelle Conférence des Coutumes de France, Guy Coquille
17. Questions et responses sur les Coutumes de France, Guy Coquille
18. De legibus connubialibus, André Tiraqueau
19. Commentarius de pactis, François Douaren
20. Coutumes de ____________, various

Note: Coutumes are collections of customary law, specific to a region of France and often dating back to the Middle Ages. Examples include the Coutume de Paris and Coutumes de Beauvaisis.