Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Vagaries of War and Fortune

Siege of Stralsund – 1628
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

In the immediately previous En Garde post, your humble host started to provide information about military campaigns. The outcome of any such campaign is predicated by military ability – “the numerical quantification of a character's ability to lead men in battle.” Although not mentioned until page 19, military ability is determined as a part of character generation. Unlike the other ability scores, only one die is used to establish military ability. It is also necessary to determine military ability for many non-player characters. For instance, when a player character belongs to a regiment on campaign, military ability must be established for each commanding officer (and their adjutants) of every unit level under which the player character serves. Page 21 tells us, “Campaign battle results determination begins at the highest level and proceeds to the lowest.” The roll of a die is compared to military ability on the Battle Result chart, first for the highest ranking officer and then down the chain of command with a sort of 'trickle down' effect. In the example on page 22, each of eight non-player characters is provided a military ability so that the outcome of a campaign can be found for a single player character. These military ability scores are recorded so that they will remain consistent when needed for future campaigns. This would seem to be a great deal of bookkeeping. Your humble host understands there are computer programs that calculate and store these values but it is the principle that is distressing.

In any event, the personal outcome for a player character is eventually resolved. The player makes a number of 2d rolls, trying to achieve a certain number or greater in order to (a.) survive, (b.) be 'mentioned in dispatches,' (c.) be promoted, and (d.) acquire plunder. (This method is the direct forebear of the process used for each 'term of service' during Traveller character generation.) Before making a roll for survival, a player can choose to apply a positive modifier to the roll in order to have a greater chance of survival. This is called poltroonery and, if discovered, can cause the character to be disgraced. On the other hand, a player can opt for reckless bravery; this increases the chance of death but also increases the chances of being 'mentioned in dispatches,' being promoted, and acquiring plunder. Being 'mentioned in dispatches' entitles the character to one-to-six points of status for three months and one point of status per month thereafter (cumulative with other 'mentioned in dispatches' awards).

Being promoted is conditional; there must be a vacancy (more bookkeeping) and the character must be of sufficient social level. Of course, with higher rank comes greater privilege in the form of status and pay. Success in military endeavors can lead to a title of nobility with an increase in social level, an award of status points, and a possible pension. Higher ranks and titles are eligible for appointments, such as Quartermaster General or Minister of State. Some appointments can be quite lucrative, either by adopting policies that enhance one's investments or by embezzlement. One interesting appointment is the Commissioner of Public Safety. Not only can the Commissioner “trump up charges against five players per year...he must trump up charges against one player character” within the first two seasons of his appointment.

Characters can use 'influence' to affect rolls that represent the decision of a non-player character. For instance, when attempting to secure an appointment, influence can be expended to increase one's chances. Characters can also use influence to the detriment of their enemies and rivals. Influence is measured in units of favors and each favor is defined by its class. Decision makers of greater prominence can only be influenced with favors of higher class. As an example, a colonel can be influenced with a class 3 favor, but the king can only be influenced with a class 9 favor. Separate favors can be combined to increase their effectiveness. Influence is obtained from one's mistress, from one's position or appointment, and from one's own social level. There is no allowance for it in the rules, but I think that characters should be allowed to 'improve' the class of any given favor by contributing a certain amount of funds, similar to how a courtship roll may be modified – only more money would be required, such as 100 crowns times the next higher class value.  Perhaps there could be a way to 'convert' status to a favor.

In closing, your humble host perceives En Garde as an interconnected set of ‘sub-games.’ First, there is the ‘fencing’ game being, of course, the foundation upon which the other games are situated. Next, we have the ‘social standing’ game characterized by the constant need to acquire status. Closely aligned to the ‘social standing’ game is the ‘money management’ game with the risk-taking elements of gambling and investments. There is also the ‘military’ game, by which I refer to the resolution of campaigns and their attendant effects upon characters. Also, there is the 'influence' game where influence is cultivated and strategically spent. Finally, once the characters has progressed sufficiently, there is the 'appointment' game.  Each 'sub-game' is indispensable but the rules for such need not be ingrained. For example, players could employ a different method to resolve duels without altering the rules for the other 'sub-games.' Also, I would like to think that military campaigns could be handled in a more straightforward manner, yet not disrupt other aspects of the game as a whole.

For those of you who may have missed certain comments on prior posts, Les Petites Bêtes Soyeuses is an active game of En Garde! that currently seems to have about fifty players. Please use the link for additional information.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Alignment Languages

Н.К.Рерих "Победа (Змей Горыныч)".

There is so much to dislike about alignment in AD&D, your humble host cannot contain it all within a single post.  Here then is the first in a projected, irregular series about how bogus alignment really is.  Today's topic is the bizzare concept of 'alignment languages.'  Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from page 24 of the 1E Dungeon Masters Guide.

Gygax claims that alignment languages are “not unjustifiable” by making reference to thieves' cant, coded communications by secret societies, and the use of Latin by the Catholic Church. That's all fine and dandy, but these are examples of organizations. The suggestion that all intelligent beings of sympathetic moral outlook can communicate with one another via a special language is simply bizarre. Oh wait, not all intelligent beings...Although Blink Dogs are intelligent and lawful good (and have their own language), they do not understand “lawful good” language because they are instinctively lawful good – they “do not intellectually embrace the ethos of lawful good.” Huh? On the other hand, an intelligent dragon does understand the tongue of his or her alignment. Why the difference? Are mythological reptiles more linguistically inclined than magic canines? Do they have a better grasp of philosophical nuances?

Alignment languages are not spoken openly. “Any character foolish enough to announce his or her alignment by publicly crying out in that alignment tongue will incur considerable social sanctions” from persons of that same alignment as well as persons of other alignments. This leads to some interesting questions. If alignment languages are kept so secret, how would anyone recognize an alignment tongue not their own? I mean, I don't understand Russian, but I can recognize spoken Russian as Russian. If Russian was an alignment language and therefore kept confidential, I wouldn't be able to recognize it as a language and I certainly wouldn't associate it with 'Slavic Neutral' or whatever ethical paradigm it represented. Also, how are alignment languages taught? Are children assigned an alignment based on the results of a moral aptitude test? Do they go to alignment language summer camp? (“Chaotic good camp is way better than neutral good camp...They don't supervise you at all.” “My parents threatened to send me to lawful evil camp if my grades don't improve...I hear the counselors are real hobgoblins.”) Don't tell me that everyone in a family is the same alignment and that alignment tongues are propagated that way.

According to page 34 of the 1E Players Handbook, “If a character changes alignment, the previously known language is no longer able to be spoken by him or her” and, one supposes, no longer understood. Also, from the same page, “only one alignment dialect can be used by a character.” Are the neural mechanisms for comprehending an alignment language disrupted by an alteration of ethical motive? I could almost buy that but for the alignment language abilities of intelligent, high level assassins. Realistically, how do they learn additional alignment languages?

Alignment languages “are not used as salutations or interrogatives if the speaker is uncertain of the alignment of those addressed”(emphasis in original) and they are “used to establish credentials only after initial communications have been established by other means.” However, “Each alignment language is constructed to allow recognition of like-aligned creatures...” If you have to be certain of someone's alignment before conversing with them in an alignment language, how can you use alignment languages for purposes of recognition?

Lastly, alignment languages consist of a “special set of signs, signals, gestures, and words.” Regardless, certain magic swords can somehow communicate via alignment language. How does that work?

Monday, March 26, 2012

No Friends for the Cardinal's Guard

Image believed to be in the public domain

According to page 16 of En Garde, “Gentlemen will find that a career in the military offers the best opportunities for advancement.” There are seventeen regiments from which to choose (not counting frontier regiments). The ease with which a character is accepted into a given regiment is based upon social level; higher social levels indicate a higher likelihood of acceptance. More desirable regiments require higher social levels. For instance, acceptance into the Royal Foot Guards (the most exclusive regiment) requires a minimum social level of seven; even then there is only a 1-in-3 chance of acceptance (i.e., a roll of at least 5 on a d6). The same social level gives a character a 5-in-6 chance of acceptance to a regiment of lesser renown, such as the 13th Fusiliers. If a character applies to a regiment commanded by another player's character, there is no die roll; the commander's player simply decides. To be accepted, the character must still meet any requirements. For instance, in order join a cavalry regiment, a character must own a horse (which requires a monthly expenditure of crowns for supplies and a groom).

Applying to a regiment requires a week of game time. If the regiment declines to accept the character, he may apply to other regiments in the same week, provided the regiment is of lesser social standing. For every two rejections, a -1 modifier is imposed on future rolls for acceptance.
Once accepted into a regiment, a character may purchase a commission; otherwise, the character will hold the rank of private. This entails spending two weeks of every month performing duties for the regiment. Characters of the next rank, subalterns, “must spend one week of every month on duty...” Characters of higher ranks are not obligated to spend any time on duty. A position in a regiment provides a monthly salary and (in most cases) a monthly amount of status. The amount of salary and status is dependent upon rank and regiment. For instance, a private in the Royal Foot Guards earns 12 crowns and 6 status per month; a private in the 13th Fusiliers earns 4 crowns and no status.
Each regiment has a friendly relationship with another regiment, as well as a regiment with which it has a hostile relationship. Exceptions are the Cardinal's Guard, who have no friends, and the Royal Foot Guards, who have no enemies. Relations among the regiments affect characters for purposes of dueling. A character gains more status when he wins a duel against an opponent from an enemy regiment; however, a character actually loses a status point if he wins a duel against an opponent from a friendly regiment.
Each regiment has a favored weapon (i.e., sabre, rapier, or cutlass). A character can practice with his regiment's favored weapon at no cost. Practice constitutes a week's action and after so many weeks, the character's expertise ability increases by one. A character who chooses to practice with another weapon (or a character who is not in the military) must pay his expertise in crowns for every week of practice. If expertise improvements via practice apply only to one weapon, then it would seem that a character could have as many as three expertise scores – one for each weapon. The rules for practice (p. 15) say that characters can irreversibly convert five points of expertise to one point of strength. Does this apply only to 'comprehensive' expertise or will simple 'cutlass' expertise be sufficient?
According to page 19, “One of the aspects of joining the military is that it is sometimes necessary to go on campaign.” Regular regiments only campaign during the summer season while the frontier regiments campaign every season. While on campaign, a character is exempt from status requirements and need not pay for his usual monthly upkeep. Also, characters can take a leave from their club so as to avoid paying club fees for the duration. A roll on the Force Commitment table indicates which regiments are deployed in a given season.  The type of campaign (i.e., siege, assault, defense, or field operations) is determined by a roll on the Force Deployment table.  To determine the organization of the campaign army, create a two-digit number using the Force Commitment die result as the first digit and the Force Deployment die result as the second.  With this two-digit number, consult the aptly named Force Organization table.  The nature of the 'force organization' helps to determine the eventual outcome of the campaign, a topic about which your humble host shall digress in a post next week.

Note:  Republished due to Blogger errors.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Favorite Magic Items in Atlantasia

John Holland, in his The Realms of Atlantasia, presents a copious number of magic items – presents, but does not necessarily describe in detail. More precisely, Holland lists numerous magical effects (what he calls ‘suffixes’) which can be associated with a variety of items. For example, Johann Nederland – spy mage – owns ‘saddlebags of charity.’ There are also ‘dice of charity,’ ‘belts of charity,’ ‘pouches of charity,’ ‘packs of charity,’ ‘books of charity,’ ‘cards of charity,’ and the ever-convenient ‘crystal balls of charity.’ They each have the same effect which, according to Holland, is “never pays for food or lodging.”*

The existence of a variety of items with the same effect is important in Atlantasia because there are restrictions with regard to the number of magic items that a given character can have ‘active’ at a time. For instance, a character can only wear one cape or cloak at a time. So, if you have a ‘cape of agility’ and a ‘cape of protection,’ you can benefit from one only at the expense of the other. If, however, you have an ‘amulet of agility’ and a ‘cape of protection,’ then you’re in business. (You can have ten amulets or broaches, but only three medallions. Don't worry, you can keep track of it all on page four of the character profile.)

In Atlantasia, potions are brewed by alchemists.  There are twelve potions that only particular alchemists can make.  For instance, the ‘Potion of Shadow Dragon Control’ is made exclusively “by the Shai-elf Dragon-mage Trahl-issyss.”  This makes for some passable adventure seeds -- the king needs a potion, the player characters have to track down the alchemist, maybe they have to negotiate a price, maybe they have to help the alchemist out of a predicament or perform a favor, maybe they need to gather the ingredients, etc. So far, so good.  Yet once again, Holland seems to have a good idea going only to make a sharp left and pass into the inexplicable realm of WTF.

First, the potions are described twice (pp. 42-43 as well as pp. 188-190).  Yeah, sure, it’s only a couple of pages but considering what the 545 page book doesn’t cover, it’s a shame two pages couldn’t have been devoted to character movement or other absent rules.  Second, the pricing is odd -- big surprise.  The potions are rare and powerful, so it’s understandable that they’re expensive; however, for expensive items, the prices are rather precise.  For instance, the ‘Potion of Dimensional Travel’ has a price of 59,950 gold chips as opposed to a nice, round 60,000.  It’s not like there’s competition and you need to advertise $9.95 instead of $10.  Third, some of the effects are peculiar.  The ‘Potion of Mass Illusion’ “infects between 20-50 targets with a terrifying illusion.”  Do the targets drink the potion?  The ‘Potion of Seasonal Change’ “was developed to change the season you are in.”  How does that work?  Does the imbiber travel through time or does the potion somehow change the nature of reality?  Actually, any confusion about effects is rendered moot due to the next fact.  About these potions Holland tells us…

NONE OF THEM WORK!!!!... (they are all frauds)

That’s right, Holland goes through the trouble (not once, but twice) of describing a dozen potions, identifying their respective creators and assigning them a precise cost, only to tell us that they’re fake.  I can only assume that their fraudulent nature is generally unknown, but how well known would the potions be even if they worked?  So, the limited number of people who know of them at all are ignorant of their falsity.  Don’t you think that the first customer who was fooled (and survived) would make life difficult for the alchemist or at least spread the word about the swindle?  Maybe it’s like “The Royal Nonesuch” in Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; people are embarrassed that they fell victim to the ruse and they want others to suffer similarly.

Here are a few other magic items.

Cape of Electric Retard (p. 209):  I would have called it the ‘Cape of Protection from Lightning,’ but whatever.
Bell of Invisibility (p. 204):  This item is ideal if you want to avoid detection by deaf people.
Amulet of Sleep (p. 246):  Any person wearing this amulet “goes to sleep every time they try to attack.”  This is supposed to be a cursed item, but I think it would be beneficial since it prevents people from hurting themselves.

*  I’m not sure how this is supposed to work. Let’s say that Johann has been staying at an inn. The proprietor approaches him with the reckoning. Does Johann tap the saddlebags and then the proprietor just smiles and waves good-bye?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Free Stuff

Last year, your humble host reviewed James Hutchings' The New Death and others.  For those of you who were driven off by the steep price tag (US$ 0.99), this is your lucky week!  For a limited time, you can download this electronic book for free.  Nada.  Bupkis.  Xjen.  Inget.  Zilch.  Nihil.

This offer is available from Amazon.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Clubs and Bawdyhouses

Dirck Hals [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Clubs are a good way for En Garde characters to cultivate a certain number of status points per month. Clubs have membership requirements, usually a minimum social level. They also have monthly dues; the more exclusive a clubs is, the higher the dues are. If a character leaves a club, he may rejoin it only after three months. The rules make it sound as though such departures are voluntary, but what about a character who fails to pay dues? Does he have to wait three months or can he rejoin as soon as he has the money? What about a character who no longer meets the membership criteria? Does he still get to be in the club as long as he pays his dues?  Is he expelled?

So, assuming one is a member in good standing, clubs provide some automatic status points; there is no need to visit the club during any given month. Of course, a character may visit his club; this counts as an action (therefore a week in game time). While doing so, a character may engage in carousing; in other words, spend crowns on 'liquid refreshment' to gain a status point. Characters may also gamble (against the house, not among themselves). Characters get status points for winning and lose status points for losing; however, characters get status points based upon the amount that they bet regardless if they win or lose. Finally, a character may gain status points from toadying – being the guest of another character at a club where the toadying character does not meet the membership requirements.

As discussed in a previous post, each En Garde character has certain monetary costs he must pay monthly in order to maintain a lifestyle appropriate for his social level (e.g.: servants, residence, clothes, et al.). Failure to do so causes a loss of one social level. En Garde characters have another monthly need which, if not met, imposes a loss of two cumulative status points; so, two for the first month, four for the second, six for the third, etc. Obviously, this is a very important need. This need is female companionship.

There are two means by which “characters may fulfill the female companionship requirements.” One way is to use an action to visit a bawdyhouse. Similar to clubs, a character may gamble and purchase liquid refreshment at a bawdyhouse; in fact, the purchase of liquid refreshment is mandatory. Unlike clubs, characters gain or lose status points at gambling only by winning or losing, not based upon the amount of crowns bet. Female companionship costs a number of crowns equal to a character's social level. After visiting a bawdyhouse, there is a chance that a character will be “set upon by footpads and relieved of his money.”

The other way for a character to obtain female companionship is to use an action to visit his mistress. Of course, characters do not begin the game with mistresses; a mistress “belongs” to a character only after the character has successfully courted her. At the commencement of the game, a number of mistresses are created equal to the number of player characters. Thus, mistresses are a finite resource; there may be competition to win the hand of a given mistress and with competition comes the possibility of dueling. Each mistress has a social level of anywhere from three to eighteen. Each attempt to court a mistress takes a week and has a cost in crowns equal to three times the social level of the courted mistress. Courting is never certain; a die roll is made to see if the courting is successful. The difference in social level between the mistress and the character determines the difficulty of the roll. It is more difficult to win the hand of a mistress whose social level exceeds that of the character just as it is less difficult to successfully court a mistress of lesser social level. A character may spend additional funds in order to increase his chances, but there is always a chance of failure. Once a character succeeds at courting a mistress, he can keep her only by spending a number of crowns equal to three times the mistress' social level per month. It is possible to court another character's mistress and 'steal her away' but, as one might expect, such behavior invites a duel.

There are benefits to having a mistress beyond female companionship. Every month a character keeps a mistress, he gets a status point (more if the mistress' social level exceeds his own). Each mistress may have one or more special attributes (there is a one-in-three chance of having any given attribute). Any mistress with a high enough social level has some amount of influence, but a mistress with a special attribute of influence has influence regardless of her social level (or has influence in addition to what she already has). A character gains an additional point of status per month if his mistress has the special attribute of beauty. Characters need not spend crowns to support a mistress with a special attribute of wealth; in fact, if the character's social level is less than hers, she will give him crowns on a monthly basis. When courting a mistress with wealth, a character must spend the usual amount (in order to get her attention) but cannot modify the roll for success by spending additional funds.

Obviously, with a greater number of players, there is a greater selection of mistresses; regardless, the pool is static. One supposes that when a character dies in En Garde (and some characters will certainly perish), the player generates a new character and thus stays in the game. I suggest that, when a character dies, a random mistress is removed from the game and a new mistress is created to take her place. (The removed mistress doesn't necessarily die, we can say that she joins a convent or whatever.) I think it would help to keep things interesting.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker, R.I.P.

If there is such a thing as a Renaissance Man, I am inclined to believe
that Professor Barker amply fills the qualifications on all counts.
                                                                      -- Gary Gygax

It is with sorrow that your humble host has learned of the passing of M.A.R. Barker earlier today.  Barker was gifted with a multitude of talents and he accomplished something that few could achieve. He created a world.

Tékumel is a rich, detailed world for which Barker crafted elaborate histories, cultures, theologies, geographies and more. Being a linguist, Barker also fashioned entire languages for Tékumel's denizens.  Like it says on, “Tékumel is one of the most extensively developed fantasy milieus of all time.” Believe it.

The deep and intricate nature of Tékumel prompts (and perhaps necessitates) a comparison to the legendarium of Middle-earth. Barker started imagining Tékumel when he was a child and his world was well-formed by the time The Lord of the Rings was published. While Middle-earth was strongly influenced by European mythologies, Barker drew upon the cultures and mythologies of the Middle East, Central America, and India.

Unlike Tolkien, Barker devised means of allowing people to interact with his world beyond reading stories. Barker was a wargame enthusiast; supposedly, in high school, he designed rules for representing battles by using toy soldiers. In 1974, when he was a professor at the University of Minnesota, Barker came into contact with Dungeons & Dragons. Then Barker spent six weeks creating a draft of his own rules for role-playing in Tékumel. Arneson enthusiastically played in Barker's campaign, spoke to Gygax about it and, in 1975, TSR published Empire of the Petal Throne. In the decades since, a handful of Tékumel role-playing games have been published.

Given Barker's involvement at the dawn of RPGs, the wonderful depth of his world, and the esteem of such luminaries as Gygax and Arneson, it would seem natural that Tékumel would be a prominent setting among gamers.  Alas, this has not been the case.  The intricate and exotic nature of Tékumel seems to intimidate those who might otherwise venture into a new world.  Regardless, the world is there; if we do not partake in it, at least we can admire it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Happy Birthday Dave Wesely!

This is really weird — I'm going back to being the king of Holland.
                                                                                                   -- Dave Wesely

Many readers of this blog know that role-playing games have their origin in the wargaming hobby.  Specifically, Dave Wesely is responsible for the wargame ‘mutation’ (so to speak) which wbecame the progenitor of all RPGs.  As such, Dave Arneson considered Wesely to be the inventor of the role-playing game.  Today is Wesely’s birthday, so your humble host deems it fitting that we look at Wesely’s contributions to our hobby.

Back in the day, Arneson’s parents’ basement served as a weekly gathering place for grognards in and around St. Paul, Minnesota (although the term ‘grognard’ may not have been in vogue at the time).*  It was there that Wesely orchestrated a ‘Napoleonic’ scenario about the fictional Prussian town of Braunstein.  Wesely served as an impartial referee; while not innovative, this concept would become central to RPGs.  Of course, in wargames, players control military forces; however, in Braunstein (as the game came to be called), each player adopted an individual role, not necessarily that of a combatant.  Each role had its own goal, not necessarily a military goal.  With a multitude of goals came a plethora of ways players attempted to accomplish those goals and Wesely had not anticipated the variety of activity upon which players had their characters engage.  It was necessary for Wesely to improvise rules in order to accommodate the players’ intent.  Wesely saw the result as a mess and did not consider his effort to be successful.  However, the players wanted more, so Wesely crafted further Braunsteins.

With the new scenarios, he thought that restricting the activities of characters would make for a better, more controlled game.  Alas, the players preferred the freedom of action (along with the 1:1 player-character ratio).  The fourth Braunstein used a stereotypical banana republic as the setting.  In this game, Arneson focused on playing his role as opposed to playing merely the game.  As such, he helped develop the rich potential inherent in a role-playing game.  When Wesely went to serve in the military, Arneson continued the Braunstein tradition and established a setting based on fantasy literature, but that's another story.

Legend has it that Wesely introduced his Minnesota cohorts to the concept of using platonic solids as atypical dice.  The notion of polyhedral dice was certainly not new, but if not for Wesely such dice may not have not become associated with RPGs.

With regard to other accomplishments in gaming, Wesely designed 'Valley Forge' and is co-designer of the underrated 'Source of the Nile.'  He is also credited with the development of several video games from the early ’80s.

If your humble host produced documentaries, he would be all over this dude like white on rice.  If you know anyone who makes documentaries, please clue them in to Dave Wesely.  The man had a profound (if unintentional) effect on the hobby and his insight is invaluable.  Oh, and be sure to ask him about the time he nearly killed Arneson.

*  Speaking of Arneson’s parents’ basement, that place ought to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Seriously, just consider the pop culture and sociological impact of role-playing games, even if only computer RPGs.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Importance of Status

Image believed to be in public domain
The En Garde rules consist of two parts; part one being 'Dueling' and part two being 'The Character and His Environment.' Part two sets the stage, so to speak, for duels to occur and...

...breathes life into the character, providing him with a background and an environment through which he may claw his way to success.

Ultimately, 'success' is measured by 'social level.' The typical way for a character to attain (and maintain) social levels is to accumulate status points.* If, at the end of any given month, a character has accumulated a sufficient number of status points, his social level increases by one; however, if he does not have the minimum amount of status points to maintain his current social level, it decreases by one. Status points are exhausted at the end of every month, they do not carry over. Thus, every month every character must obtain status points to avoid the loss of a social level. (A social level can also be lost if a character fails to pay sufficient 'crowns' in a month to support his lifestyle; higher social levels require that more crowns be spent.) 

The tables suggest that a social level of 24 is quite elevated and that few – if any – characters will achieve such a station. Regardless, there is no stated limit and En Garde has no proscribed end point. This is another reason that tends to qualify En Garde as a 'genuine' role-playing game. A characters has a starting social level based upon his father's (randomly determined) class and position; anywhere from 1 (a peasant's bastard son) to 12 (a count's first son). Technically, a character could begin with a higher social level if he starts with a title; however, the chance of starting with a title is slightly less than 1%. A standing of a character's father also determines the character's initial funds and the potential for a monthly allowance. It is possible that a character will begin the game as an orphan, thereby receiving an inheritance instead of an allowance or initial funds. Apparently, if a character is not an orphan at the beginning of the game he will not become one during the game.  

In En Garde, each game week is considered an 'action.' For the sake of convenience: a month consists of four weeks, there are three months in a season, and four seasons make a year. Before deciding their characters' actions for any given game week, players engage in a brief “negotiation period.” Some activities require coordination among the players (such as when one character will be the guest of another character at a club). Much like Diplomacy, each player secretly writes down the character's action for the week; a player need not keep promises made to other players, but must follow through with what he or she wrote on the character's calendar.

For actions, there are several options available for characters, such as visiting a club. Part of the purpose of the negotiation period is “to arrange for duels.” Although not stated in the rules, I suppose that particular duels must be specified as part of a week's action. It does not seem to me that a duel would constitute an entire week's action. Do characters duel before their actions for the week or after? Regardless, characters may only duel if there is sufficient cause. The rules supply examples of “sufficient cause” for a duel, but I don't think that the examples are necessarily exhaustive. One of the examples is, “If a noble meets a non-noble who is four or more social levels above him.”  If there is uncertainty whether cause exists in a particular situation, a vote is taken among all players whose characters “do not belong to the same regiments as the two estranged parties.” The decision that there is no cause must result from a unanimous vote. Therefore, if even one non-involved player deems that there is cause, then cause exists.

Characters lose status if they do not fight when they have cause and opportunity. Characters also lose status if they challenge without cause. Although not expressly stated in the rules, it seems that a challenge must predicate a duel.  Let's take the example referenced above of the noble encountering the socially elevated non-noble. Does the non-noble have cause to challenge the noble or does only the noble have cause in this situation? If the two players are not disposed to having their characters duel and neither character challenges, do both characters lose status?  I am of the opinion that the noble would lose status, but I am not certain about the non-noble.

A character whose endurance is less than half of its normal value may decline a duel without losing status. However, such a character gains status by accepting a duel whether or not he wins said duel. This brings up an interesting point. Duels are not necessarily fatal; surrender is one of the optional (dueling) actions and it must be respected by an opponent.  From what I can tell by the rules, a character who loses a duel (and survives) only loses status if the duel was against a member of an 'enemy' regiment. There's nothing to stop a character from 'accepting' a duel only to surrender as his first action in the sequence. Of course, no gentleman would engage in such a craven tactic, but at what point is surrender an 'honorable' option? After so many sequences? After suffering a wound, no matter how slight? After one's weapon breaks? Is it ever acceptable for the challenger to surrender? I think that surrender would be acceptable for a character who loses more than half of the endurance with which he started the duel. After all, it would be proper to decline the duel initially in such a condition.

Receiving a title (which is an infrequent occurrence) is the only other method by which social level is improved.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Elves and Lingerie

When your humble host started this blog four months ago, he did not realize how many visits the blog would receive by virtue of people searching for information about “elf sex” or “elf rape” or any of a number of phrases that refer to carnal knowledge of elves.  In the spirit of giving people what they want, your humble host hereby provides a retrospective of a low point of our hobby.

On this date five years ago, Robert Boyd, resident of Northern Ireland, was convicted of armed robbery.  The actual incident occurred in 2005; he stole £250 worth of merchandise from a lingerie store.  Boyd offered a host of mitigating factors for his criminal act:  occupational and marital pressures, depression, and sexual abuse as a teenager.  He also said that he “may” have blurred reality and fantasy because of his participation in a role-playing game.  You see, he’s not certain if he blurred reality and fantasy because he (allegedly) does not recall the events.

The ‘events’ at issue include Boyd threatening the store clerk at knifepoint after his attempts at haggling did not prove successful.  (The clerk was not physically harmed.)  Boyd was ‘disguised’ with the following accessories:  a blond wig, a beanie hat, and glasses.  Boyd contends that, at the time of the crime, he “may” have been portraying the role of his Shadowrun1 character, a female criminal elf shaman named Buho.  Despite his (supposed) lack of memory, Boyd professes that he “didn’t mean [for] it to happen.”

Boyd’s lawyer states Boyd was carrying £400 when he went to the lingerie store to purchase a present for his wife and thus he had no financial motivation.  (He may have been carrying £400, but he was also carrying a knife and wearing a disguise; not exactly hallmarks of innocence.)  His lawyer also said:

It's much more likely on the basis of medical evidence2 that his motivation came from some twisted thoughts in the darker recess of his mind, perhaps because of his involvement in the role-playing Shadowrun game.

Granted, the lawyer is trying to help his client any way he can (and, granted, it is Shadowrun), but invoking the bugaboo of insidious role-playing games is so twentieth century.  Why not blame sunspot activity?  Or Twinkies?  Anything to avoid the crushing onus of personal responsibility.  The sad thing is that two of the twelve jurors bought into it (elf-huggers, no doubt).

The judge (who happened to be named Lynch) sentenced Boyd to two years in prison and an additional two years of probation.  In a vain attempt to exhort leniency for his client, Boyd’s lawyer stated that Boyd had become a "figure of ridicule whose life was in tatters."  (Isn’t that usually the case for Shadowrun players?)

1  There is no indication of which edition he was using.

2  The ‘medical evidence’ being the testimony of the defense defence psychiatrist, which was refuted by the testimony of the prosecution psychiatrist. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Fine Art of Pretending to Fence

As recurrent readers may recall, last week, I indicated that En Garde player characters are gentlemen adventurers of a 'semi-fictional' France in the era of the musketeers. Well, this statement is somewhat equivocal. Black Vulmea politely demonstrated this at the Really Bad Eggs blog. A less equivocal statement would be that En Garde player characters are gentlemen adventurers in a fictitious setting having some correlations with France of the musketeer era. Black Vulmea also points out that En Garde is still in print. Please note that the current publisher wholeheartedly endorses the premise that “En Garde! is a game of swashbuckling in a fictional 17th century Paris.” While the creators of the game intentionally instilled subtleties inconsistent with “17th century Paris,” players may easily suspend disbelief. In any event, the publisher freely provides tables that may be of value to readers as I continue my discourse.

What we now recognize as the ‘traditional’ role-playing paradigm consists of a small group of players, acting in concert, under the guidance and regulation of a gamemaster.  En Garde does not follow this paradigm.  It can accommodate a large number of players, they do not necessarily act in concert, and the rules make no mention of a referee. I suspect that with a sizable group of players a moderator would be quite useful and one would be necessary for a play-by-mail campaign; however, in most circumstances, a referee is unnecessary. All of the (reasonable) choices a (gentleman) character can make are addressed in the charts, tables, and rules. Some people may exclude En Garde as an RPG on this account but I do not. Had En Garde remained focused on dueling, it would not be a RPG; however, the game was expanded to supply motivations and rationale for a character's actions. Players wanted their characters to have a reason to duel. This is the very essence of adopting a role and hence my insistence that En Garde is a role-playing game (as opposed to – for instance – Yaquinto's Swashbuckler).  I grant that the range of play is limited, but it is well tailored for the genre.

For purposes of dueling, there are abstract divisions of time called turns. In a turn, each character performs one simultaneous action. The passage of twelve turns is a sequence.* A set group of actions, performed in order, constitutes a routine. You can think of a routine as a 'move' in fencing, like a parry or a lunge. Before each sequence, each player writes down a series of actions that his (or her) character will perform – in order – during the course of that sequence. It is possible for a character to begin a routine at the end of one sequence and complete it at the beginning of the next.

There is an action called a 'rest.' Nearly every attack routine incorporates one or more rest actions. Therefore, rests are the most frequent action. For instance, a lunge routine consists of three actions: a rest followed by a lunge followed by another rest. A character with a lower expertise than his opponent may have to include as many as three additional rests into each sequence to reflect the lack of comparative skill. A character who has lost more than half of his endurance must include an additional rest per sequence.

When a character performs an attack action, his opponent will likely suffer damage that turn. The amount of damage is a multiple of the attacker's strength; that multiple is determined by consulting 'Duelling Table B' and comparing the attacker's attack action against the action performed by the defender. The attacker's weapon also modifies the amount of damage.

On any given turn, players simultaneously reveal their characters' actions for that turn and resolve any consequences (such as damage) before progressing to the next turn. Although players decide (and write down) what actions their characters will take for several turns in advance, each turn is revealed one at a time. In certain circumstances, a player may forgo a routine in order to perform an optional routine (parry, block, or surrender). This would entail changing what the player has written: removing the remainder of the current routine and substituting the optional routine (possibly 'pushing back' the next recorded routine).

As is evident, there is a great deal of writing (and potentially rewriting) going on. I have an idea that may make things easier. My idea is that both participants have a selection of cards; each card represents an action. Before each sequence, each player fashions a stack of twelve cards, face down. The topmost card indicates the action taken for the first turn of the sequence. Each turn, the next card is revealed. Of course, when a player elects to have his (or her) character perform an optional routine, the player will put cards on the stack and – once the routine is complete – adjust the remaining cards as and if necessary.

*  I cannot help but think that the En Garde concept of turn and sequence influenced the creation of the Hero System Speed Chart. (Imagine an En Garde sequence as equivalent to a Hero turn and an En Garde turn equivalent to a Hero segment.)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

NPCs in Atlantasia

Before he turned it into a role-playing game, John Holland intended Atlantasia to be the setting for a series of novels he wanted to write. (With the profits Holland gleans from sales of the game, perhaps he can hire Alexis to ghostwrite the novels. How fantastically awesome would that be? I'd pre-order the first gem right now.) So, it is hardly surprising that some of Holland's literary concepts manifest in certain portions of his The Realms of Atlantasia: The Game Master's Bible. Holland describes several non-player characters who doubtless would have played prominent roles in the Atlantasian epic.

Foremost among the Atlantasian NPCs is the 'enigma' of Par-Traxx. (I believe that the second 'x' is silent, but I am not certain; Holland does not provide a pronunciation guide.) Par-Traxx is believed to be a Moon Elf who became the first Dragon Mage by melding with the Demi-god Chaos Dragon Traxx-ell-rann-brer (p. 229). While this is certainly true, Par-Traxx is much more than that. Page 169 tells us that “he is actually the avatar of the original creator of all the known universes and dimensions.” As such, he “cannot be touched physically, mentally or magically. ” (I think Holland means 'attacked' rather than 'touched', but I could be wrong.) Par-Traxx also owns an artifact called The Staff of the Cosmos; on page 169 it is “6' high” but on page 229 it is “5' tall,” so I guess it's collapsible.

Par-Traxx is a living plot device. Holland tells us on page 170 that “Par-Traxx can be used to insert quests into a group (he is famous for this).” Par-Traxx has a listing on both Special Encounter Charts; this means there is a (slight) chance to encounter him randomly in any environment (except water) and at any time (except plains during the day). Par-Traxx is also useful as a deus ex machina. According to page 170, if one of The Riders of Destiny defeats the player characters, “Par-traxx will appear before any in the group dies and then the rider will disappear.” Thanks Par-Traxx!

I don't know why anyone would want to attack Par-Traxx (he isn't worth any Experience Points), but Holland carefully describes the escalation of force Par-Traxx would use if violently confronted. As a last resort, Par-Traxx...
...will scatter [the offender's] atoms across every known plane of existence and dimension, allow those atoms to retain all the knowledge of the plane of existence/dimension they were in. Then he pulls the atoms back together using the line knowledge is power and all you seek is power so that is what I have given you; ultimate power
There is a 99% chance that this event will kill the offender. “Par-traxx cannot destroy anything or anybody (after all, he is THE creator),” so I guess 'killing' isn't exactly 'destroying.' This seems extravagant to me. Why not just control the offender's mind or teleport translocate the offender to an iceberg? (Oh, did I mention that Par-Traxx “knows and can use ALL forms of magic”? Well, he does and he can.)

Remember the Spies' Guild? My theory is that Par-Traxx is the leader of the entire guild. I mean, someone has to be the leader; it might as well be Par-Traxx. A description of an NPC named Mysh-yll-daenka begins on page 183.* Par-Traxx saved her life, gave her a cloak of invulnerability, and convinced her “to join the spy's guild [sic].” Why would Par-Traxx recruit for the Spies' Guild? See what I'm sayin'?

Before concluding this post, I want to mention that it is possible for player characters to encounter a “soul mate” by virtue of Special Encounter Chart I. Soul mates are not Atlantasian creatures that no one has ever seen before, so I assume Holland uses the term in its traditional sense. You shouldn't get your hopes up, however, because it is thrice as likely you will encounter a “deranged fighter.” Who knows? Maybe your soul mate is a deranged fighter.

*  Mysh-yll-daenka is a mountain elf but she was born to moon elves. I have no idea how that works.