Sunday, June 14, 2009

Swashbuckling: The Princess Bride Test

So I'm watching The Princess Bride on cable right now, and I can't help but see it in light of these swashbuckling rules. Even though the emphasis for this conversion is 17th-century French musketeers and the like, if a swashbuckling game can't do this movie, what good is it? Call it The Princess Bride Test. A couple scenes in particular stand out to me in mechanical terms.

First up: Inigo confronts Count Rugen. Neither has Advantage when it comes to Readiness rolls, although Rugen wins the roll and gets to go first. He jockeys for Advantage by running away, and obtains vitesse (a.k.a. spin) against Inigo on his Physique roll. This means that when Inigo rounds the corner after spending his turn dealing with that locked door (a Brawn roll that he gets Fezzik to help him with), Rugen's able to deal a pretty significant physical consequence to him with that thrown dagger (an Arms roll). If you've read the book (and if not, why haven't you read the book?), you'll know that this probably qualifies as a Grievous consequence: "Bleeding Out." Rugen is content to just watch him die, but Inigo refuses to make a concession, instead responding with his classic catchphrase. Rugen still has Advantage, and attacks again, tagging that consequence in the process; Inigo goes full defense, and only takes a Trifling consequence of "Arm Wounds." Determined to win Advantage, Inigo repeats his "Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya!" a few times in succession as part of his use of Presence to intimidate. Success! I'm sure he spends some Fate Points on this one, too. Once he has Advantage, his superior swordsmanship virtually guarantees him the win. Rugen, being an NPC (albeit an important one), can't survive a Grievous consequence, which is what Inigo gives him when he runs him through while politely requesting the return of his dead father, you son of a bitch.

Note that even though Rugen and Inigo spend a lot of time actually fencing after Inigo gets back on his feet, that's mere window dressing for the contest for Advantage. Up until he actually deals an injury, he's isn't using Arms. The idea is that Arms is only used for dealing consequences. Everything else is describing what you're doing, be it fencing or otherwise, in terms of some other skill.

Example the Second: Westley confronts Prince Humperdinck. Westley frames this as a mental conflict, using Presence (again) and maybe even Art, for being creative with that whole "To The Pain" thing. This one's interesting, because even though Humperdinck could escalate things from a mental conflict to a physical one, he doesn't. His response to Westley isn't to shove three feet of steel into his gut -- it's "I think you're bluffing."

Let me back up, though. Westley wins initiative and, in the process, Advantage. And because he wins intiative, he gets to control what kind of conflict it is (or at least what kind it'll start off as). He chooses mental, so he can freak Humperdinck out with a bunch of mind games. It's pretty much his only option, since he's still weak as a kitten from being mostly dead all day. When he calls Humperdinck a "warthog-faced buffoon," Humperdinck's reply of "That may be the first time in my life a man has dared insult me" indicates that he's probably taken a Trifling consequence of "Insulted."

Westley's player then tags this consequence for an unusual effect: Humperdinck won't escalate things to a physical conflict. As easy as it would be to impale Westley and be done with it, the player suggests, the prince's pride and curiosity preclude him from essentially admitting defeat in Westley's little challenge. The GM agrees. Of course, Humperdinck's no match for Westley in this conflict, even going full defense as he does (Humperdinck isn't especially proactive here -- he's all "Yes, yes, let's get on with it," leaving Westley to drive the conflict).

Westley carries on with some disturbing talk of Humperdinck losing his feet, hands, and eyes (but not his ears) as part of this bizarre "duel." (I'm not clear on how "To The Pain" works, anyway -- you lose body parts until you cry "Uncle"? Can't we just fight?) Like Rugen, he can't take a Grievous consequence, so when it comes time for him to defend against Westley's final salvo of words -- ending with his impossible-to-ignore "Drop! Your! Sword!" -- Humperdinck makes a concession rather than get Taken Out. "Fine," the GM says. "He stumbles backwards, horrified by the gruesome picture you've painted. You've intimidated him into submission, but you let him live so he can contemplate what a total coward he is." The player agrees, Westley collapses, and Humperdinck realizes he's been had.

This latter example brings up something I've been thinking about lately, and that's the concept of conflict framing and escalation. More on that as it develops.
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