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.


  1. Interesting. The underlying assumptions and context of the game are of no interest to me. But if there are a couple of rules I can crib for FB, I might check them out.

    1. Stealing stuff for FB is always my ultimate goal . . .

  2. Wow!

    The underlying assumptions and context of the setting are of great interest to me and I'm really, really jealous I didn't think of this setting myself.

    The mechanics seem a little involved...

    1. Yeah, it's hard to explain the mechanics without having dice and a character sheet in front us. :) I'll see what I can do about writing up a better explanation for how it all works.

    2. The setting reminds me of Guy Gavriel Kay and Ellen Kushner a bit, minus the clockpunk.

  3. take out the setting and the combat rules sound like they'd be neat for a historical type game

    1. A good fencing simulator should give the players choices to make, and TQC seems to offer that, which is very appealing.

    2. I'm not convinced it's the best fencing simulator, necessarily, just because we're not trying to be that. We're trying to be a fencing-movie simulator, if that makes sense.

  4. Nice interview Mike. Caoimhe, thanks for taking time to answer his questions and tell us about your game.

    I definitely see the appeal of the clock punk tech. Once I set aside my expectations that the 2011 film would be much like Dumas, I quite enjoyed it. And Ray Stevenson is my favorite Porthos. It was nice to see the big guy both being big and not being a buffoon.

    Caoimhe, could you use an example of combat with a picture of the character sheet to explain the mechanics. That would be both helpful and could be a good selling point for the game. BASHMAN did something like that to explain the Advantage system in Honor+Intrigue and his explanation was a key reason I bought and am now running H+I.

    1. Yeah, I am gonna do that. Note that the game is still in the testing phase -- not even the "writing up the final rules" phase yet -- so having selling points right now isn't as big a deal since nothing to sell for several months. :D

    2. Let me know where you post it, Caoimhe, so I can link it here, or I can host a 'guest post' for you here, if you like.

  5. Interesting interview. The combat sounds intriguing, what with spending success points on effects, and emulating jockeying for a position with the "advantage die."

    Al-Qadim is my all-time favorite D&D settings as well.

  6. I'm really, really not interested in clockpunk technology, although purely because of aesthetics. How easy would it be to cut it out of the setting?
    The system sounds interesting, though, so you definitely can expect a sell as soon as it appears in PDF!

    1. Easy enough to cut out. It's something we like, but you can probably get rid of it pretty easily.

      You might have a harder time getting rid of the magicks, which are mostly tied to the fashions worn by the characters. It occurs to me that I didn't mention that in the interview -- your choice of clothing and colors thereof are important in the game as well.

  7. The kickstarter is up now!


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