So! Sorry for the radio silence. Parents are fine, baby's kicking, everything's good. I've been back and forth between home and my parents' place in the past few weeks, so the ol' blog has kinda fallen by the wayside.
Speaking of this blog-thing, though, last week we had our first actual playtest session using these swashbuckling rules, and it went pretty well. We had three PCs -- the M-Team: Michel the magistrate, Marion the musketeer, and Merlin the... er... ex-priest and 17th-century French equivalent of John Belushi in Animal House -- and two fights: one against some mooks, and the other a proper duel.
The plot, in brief, involves a kidnapping. Wealthy and powerful Michel is approached by the wife of a fellow Parisian magistrate, M. Des Lauriers. He's being held for ransom in Nice, only he's actually in Poitiers with his Huguenot mistress and the kidnappers have his double, but either way she begs Michel to round up, say, two friends and head down there to resolve things as discreetly as possible.
The mook fight was pretty much along the lines of every FATE mook fight in terms of mechanics, although I have to mention one highlight. The PCs had been tricked into thinking a bandit in a "broken-down" carriage was actually a mademoiselle in need. Shortly after her colleagues burst out of the foliage to either side of the road, Merlin knocked her out with a single punch in her face. Bam!
The duel, though, was definitely a focal point of the playtest, since it actually involved new mechanics. I have to say it went well. The opposition, a member of the Cardinal's Guards, wasn't quite the equal of Marion, but it was still a pretty good combat between them. The Advantage mechanic didn't have a perceptible effect on the speed of the combat, but I'd say it definitely added a lot in terms of the narrative. Both the player and I were encouraged to creatively one-up each other with our various attempts to gain Advantage. He used Physique to swing on a chandelier and land behind me, I used Brawn to try to trip him up by yanking on a rug, and so on. Ultimately, Marion got the upper hand, but chose to just knock me out instead of killing me, so... hello, recurring antagonist.
Meanwhile, the other two PCs faced off against the Guard's two companions. I'd anticipated that all four of them might sit on the sidelines and put aspects on the two combatants, but Merlin was so offended that they refused a friendly drink that he went right to throwing blows. So the four of them tussled, managing to get off an insult or two only occasionally but enough to make them feel part of the central conflict. I ran the other two Cardinal's Guards as true antagonists instead of just minions (i.e., they took consequences, not stress), so they were pretty persistent foes despite having a skill pyramid that topped out at Good (+3).
One thing we instituted and that I can really see myself sticking with is limiting aspect invokes/tags to once per scene. It meant that invokes were a little less frequent, and gaining access to more aspects (through story aspects, assessments, declarations, and consequences) became much more important. It made for a more dynamic conflict, since Andy couldn't just fall back on "Sargeant-at-Arms of the Black Musketeers" every time he drew his rapier -- and when he scored his first consequence, it felt like a bit of a bigger deal.
The next session's scheduled for this Thursday, so stay tuned for some more vague observations.