Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swashbuckling: Some Basics

A recent thread on has me taking a fourteenth look at my swashbuckling FATE stuff, so I figured I'd finally start posting it. There's kind of a lot of it, actually: ideas about fencing schools, maneuvers, non-clunky (I hope) differences between weapon types, a revamped skill list, social class, and more. It's all wildly untested, though, so keep that in mind as we go forward.

Now, like many enthusiasts of the genre, I'm a fencer. Er, at least, I was; it's been years, really, and it's such a physically demanding sport that I've found it tough to get back into after time away. Anyway, the point is that it's easy to get caught up in the details of fencing as a sport and overcomplicate combat mechanics as a result. I know, because I've done it before. So I've tried to stay away from that and stick to the core of what makes FATE so good: narrative elements, cinematic action, and fast-and-loose rules.

So, to that end: Advantage.

At the beginning of combat, roll a skill for initiative. This will usually be Alertness (or the swashbuckling non-union equivalent), but certain fencing schools could let you use something else instead: Empathy, Deceit, Resolve, etc. instead. If one combatant obtains spin in this contest, he gains Advantage. (Use a token of some kind to indicate this to keep it clear.)

As long Advantage is in play, it is required to inflict consequences in combat.

If the combatant with Advantage loses an exchange, he loses Advantage as well.

In the event that neither combatant has Advantage, set the Advantage token aside, out of play.

If a combatant without Advantage obtains spin on an exchange using a non-offensive skill (such as Athletics, Deceit, Intimidation, Art, and so on), he gains Advantage, either by taking it from his opponent or by bringing it back into play. Advantage can't be gained by simply using Weapons or Fists.

Advantage isn't used for combats involving multiple combatants against a single opponent, such as a player character against a bunch of minions. That'd just be a straight Weapons (or whatever) contest.

So what's the point of this? The idea is that it would replicate the back-and-forth of a swashbuckling duel while explicitly encouraging maneuvers and a wide variety of skills in combat. The method by which a combatant gains Advantage is entirely up to the player. He can pull a Cyrano and use Art to infuriate his opponent with his rapier wit. He can use Athletics to grab onto that chandelier (always a classic) and swing into an advantageous position. He can use Might to knock over a statue into the path of his foe. And so on. If you can justify it, go for it! That, if you ask me, is very much in the spirit of FATE and SotC.

A concern here is that it might slow things down. After all, if only one guy at a time even has the ability to inflict stress, lag is a definite possibility. To combat this, and to make supplemental actions more attractive, I'm reducing the threshholds on consequences: Minor is 1-2 stress, Moderate is 3-5, and Severe is 6+. (Actually, for this I'd rename them Trifling, Middling, and Grievous, because I loves me some genre-specific flavor.)

As I said, this is untested, but gosh, it sure feels right to me for the genre.


Darren Brewster said...

This sounds like it would produce some great one on one duels, without overly complicating the mechanics (something a lot of FATE conversions/homebrews do IMO). Would the person without the advantage only be able to hurt the stress boxes or something to show that he is wearing the opponent down, or do you have some other sort of system in mind?

Anonymous said...

Not bad (and thanks for linking to my thread, btw).

How would the different schools work? Something I like to see in a fencing system for an rpg is crunch-- otherwise it becomes rock/paper/scissors with dice if the maneuvers just give bonuses and don't do any special effects.

Mike Olson said...

ExCrusader: Should've mentioned that I don't use stress tracks -- just consequences. So no Advantage, no damage. Cinematic fencing seems to be largely about looking for an opening or getting the upper hand rather than wearing the other guy down. In Scaramouche, for example, those guys are going pretty full-bore even after several minutes (which, if you've fenced, is kind of a long time).

BASHMAN: I have more crunch en route, inspired largely by Flashing Blades and old FUDGE material. I'm ripping something off from Leonard Balsera -- er, that is, I'm also inspired by something Leonard Balsera posted on his blog quite a while ago that, IMO, is pretty perfect for fencing schools.

Hey, y'know what else I think would be great for fencing stuff? Dogs in the Vineyard. With a few tweaks, the see/raise mechanic could model a duel even better than it does now.

Darren Brewster said...

Thanks for the clarification Mike. I didn't realize what system you were using for damage.

DM said...

One thing to consider: Fate uses two opposed rolls each round - each person makes an attack, and a defence.

In Fudge, which Fate was derived from, only one opposed roll is made which is both an attack and defence: the higher roll wins and hurts the other.

It seems to me this would fit better with your advantage idea. Each opponent makes a roll. If the one who has advantage wins, he inflicts a consequence. If the one who does not have advantage wins (or perhaps, wins be enough to gain Spin), he seizes the advantage.

I've used this system and it works well.