Friday, June 12, 2009

Swashbuckling: More Stuff About Fencing

So we sorta kinda playtested these swashbuckling rules for the first time last night. I say "sorta kinda" because all we really did was make characters, talk about new rules tweaks, and play out half of a duel between two Joel's fencing mistress and Sayler's fencing student to see how Advantage worked in play.

Andy had some concerns that the Advantage rules, as written, might draw out a combat unnecessarily, a point well-taken. In practice, I don't think this was the case, but it was also kinda hard to tell just how quickly or slowly things were going because we kept stopping to talk about it. Ultimately, Nat had a good point about the relative importance of "fun" over "fast" -- who cares if it's taking a while as long as it's creating an interesting narrative and people are having fun? This is especially valid in a swashbuckling game, where personal combat has such a focus. Sayler and Joel said it certainly had the back-and-forth feel of a duel, with each of them constantly jockeying for advantage (and Advantage) over the other, and there was a lot of thought-provoking discussion about it all.

BTW, the characters:
Andy's playing a would-have-been priest who dropped out of seminary and took up a sword
Joel's playing a fencing mistress, largely self-taught, with a unique weapon
Nat's playing a "Chamingly British" nobleman (in France!) with a title and not much else
Sayler's playing another former man of the cloth and novice swordsman
Tony's playing a high-ranking social combat monster who spreads rumors better than Twitter

It should be restated that the Advantage rules are only for one-on-one duels with NPCs of relative importance. E.g., if you bothered to name the NPC, Advantage should probably come into play. Fighting minions uses the usual FATE rules for combat. Moreover, nobody should really be ganging up on a Big Bad: Either every PC has his own Big Bad or group of minions to fight, or one fights while the rest contribute from the sidelines. Last night I compared that latter situation to the film version of The Three Musketeers starring Gene Kelly as D'Artagnan (it's no Scaramouche, but it's a lot of fun). There's a bit early on where he duels with a sargeant (or something) of the Cardinal's Guard -- and Athos, Porthos, and Aramis just watch, shouting out insults and les mots justes now and then. Mechanically speaking, they're using skills like Art, Presence, and Perception to create aspects on the sargeant, D'Artagnan, or the scene. So they're contributing to the combat, but they're letting someone else do the fighting. I mean, together, they could easily slaughter the guy, but that just isn't cricket. I don't know how (or if) I'd enforce that mechanically, though.

On a related note, I'm thinking about limiting aspects to one tag or invoke per scene. Invoke it once, and you can't invoke it again. This would encourage more aspect creation through maneuvers and declarations (and maybe assessments, depending on the nature of the conflict), which seems to fit the genre very well. It also makes the Three Musketeers' insult-generated aspects that much more important. I compare it to the Blue Raja throwing forks into the wall so Mr. Furious can climb it. If you think of every fork as an aspect, it's a pretty appropriate analogy. Right?

Anyway, here's some actul crunch.

I had the idea that disarms could happen normally, or by voluntarily taking "Disarmed" as a consequence once per scene. As a Trifling (Minor) consequence, it'd be relatively trivial to pick up your weapon again (a supplementary action, say). As a Moderate (Middling) consequence, it'd require a skill roll, like usual -- say, opposed Physique rolls between the two combatants as one tries to block the other's path. As a Severe (Grievous) consequence, it'd be something appropriately dire. At the very least, you aren't getting that weapon back anytime soon. Maybe it's broken, or drops into the ocean. Unlike the usual rules for consequences of that degree, though, it might not necessarily change your life forever. Or it might. I dunno.

Anyway, if disarms work differently in this game than usual, I got to thinking about what other fencing maneuvers could be simulated.
  • Bind: A defense usable only in Melee -- spend shifts obtained on a Block vs. Brawn.
  • Dodge: Using Physique to defend. Nothing special.
  • Feint: Chicanery vs. Arms (or something); shifts obtained = +dF to next attack, with maximum +dF determined by Arms skill (something like Arms - 1).
  • Fleche: Arms modified by Physique, spend shifts to close distance from Ranged to Extended to Melee to Corps-a-corps (1 shift/pace, +1 shift for R to E, plus any other modifiers for crossing borders or barriers). If you don't have enough shifts to make that happen, you can take stress instead to complete the move (resulting in a consequence).
  • Footwork: Use Physique vs. Physique to increase or decrease pace by one.
  • Lunge: +1dF to your attack, +1dF to opponent's next attack.
  • Parry: Using Arms to defend. If your next action is an attack, +1dF to Arms.
  • Prise de Fer: An attack usable only in Melee -- spend shifts obtained on a Block with Arms (usually) vs. Brawn.
  • Punch: Fisticuffs, only when Corps-a-Corps.
  • Shove: Usable only when Corps-a-Corps. Brawn vs. Brawn (usually); success means pace becomes Melee. With vitesse (spin), it's Extended instead. Can't decrease pace.
Of course, I don't want to overburden gameplay with too much crunch, so I don't know if we'll actually end up using these. However, I invite you to try 'em out if you're so inclined.
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