31 May 2020

Swashbuckling Thought of the Day 2020-05-31

A swashbuckling game ought to resolve combat in a quick and entertaining fashion. If the players can't feel the flurry of action and fly by the seat of their pants as it were, then what is the point of pretending to swashbuckle? If every combat scene is a dull recitation of modifiers and the flipping of pages to find relevant rules, where is the actual swashbuckling? Is it only in the character monologues? If ever there was a genre in which the combat should flow, then surely this is the one!

18 April 2020

How to Create a Swashbuckler in Skull & Crossbones


Skull & Crossbones, published by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1980, is a game of "Role Play on the Spanish Main," which means pirates, privateers, and general swashbuckling from 1680 to 1720. It asks:

Do you remember those old Errol Flynn movies where he was a bold adventurer chasing after a Spanish Galleon, usually captained by the villain. Or, how about the Robert Shaw thriller, 'The Buccaneer'? Wouldn't you like to be able to do that? With this game you can.

This, then, is my first character for Skulls & Crossbones:

Name: Howard Crowe

Strength: 7 (Hit Points -1; Damage -2)
Intelligence: 15
Agility: 13
Constitution: 10
Luck: 16
Leadership: 19 (rolled a 9, but Skills roll raised it to 19)

Hit Points: 16 (Strength + Constitution (- low Strength penalty))
Skills: Captain - includes the skills of a Navigator (roll of 98 on Skills table)
Money: 17 gold pieces (12 + 1d6)
Weapon: Rapier ("For those characters who have rolled an advanced skill, such as an Apprentice Sail Master, Navigator, or Captain, the choice of a Rapier is automatic and no roll is required on this weapons table [Weapons Chart].")

Character creation seems simple, but certain pertinent rules are scattered throughout the rule book. You roll 4d6 for Strength, Intelligence, Agility, Constitution, Luck, and Leadership. The score for each is divided into four categories of competence, each of which has special rules. In all cases, a score of 9-18 is considered Average. Hit Points are determined by adding a character's Strength and Constitution, but it may be modified by the category in which each of those scores fall. In the case of my character, his Strength of 7 is below average, so his Hit Points are reduced by one point.

Next, the character's special skill (or its absence) is determined by rolling percentile dice. A roll of 69 or lower indicates the character has no special skill. A roll of 70 or higher makes the character a Gunner's Mate, Sail Master's Apprentice, Navigator's Apprentice, or Captain ("In addition to his leadership abilities, which automatically rise to at least 19, this character has the skill of a Navigator.."). Furthermore,

It should not be assumed that just because a character has the abilities of one of the more advanced ranks that he also has the experience points and enhanced abilities of that rank. He does not. Each character begins as a sailor and must work his way up the chain of command when first signing on a ship as a pirate or privateer.

Following this, a specialty must be chosen for the character (and it is unclear whether it must match the character's rolled special skill). The choices are Gunnery, Mastery of Sail, and Navigation. This will determine the experience point chart the character uses and the abilities and ranks they gain at certain levels.

Naturally, you can flesh out your character with as much or little detail as you desire, but the character reference sheet relegates this information to "Notes."

At 32 pages, it would not be difficult to familiarize oneself with the rules. The combat rules are inelegant, but not ponderous. Still, they lack the flow of action I prefer in a game that simulates swashbuckling adventure. I would play it to get the feel of it, but probably not longer than one campaign. In many ways, Skull & Crossbones strikes me as more of a simulation board game with optional role-playing than a dedicated role-playing game.

[For more articles in this series, visit How to Create a Swashbuckler.]

11 April 2020

Booty: Skull & Crossbones Classics

The first issue of Bob Brinkman's Skull & Crossbones Classics, a role-playing game in zine form compatible with Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, has arrived, answering my prayers for a piratey DCC RPG. Further writings on the matter will follow...

10 April 2020

How to Create a Swashbuckler in En Garde!


En Garde!, published by Game Designers' Workshop in 1975, "is a semi-historical game/simulation representing many of the situations of an Errol Flynn movie set in the Seventeenth or Eighteenth Centuries." We also learn in the introduction of this quasi-role-playing game that:

The game was originally devised as a fencing system, with background added to provide scenarios for the duels. After a time, it became apparent that the background was more fun than the duels, and En Garde, in its present form, was born.

More precisely, it's obvious from the rules that the game is really a simulation of The Three Musketeers.

This is my first character for En Garde!:

Strength: 12
Expertise: 9
Constitution: 11
Endurance: 132

Class: Nobleman (roll of 6 on Birth Table A)
Sibling Rank: Second Son (roll of 3 on Birth Table B)
Father's Position: Impoverished (roll of 1 on Birth Table C, Subtable: Nobleman)
Title of Father: Baron (roll of 2 on Birth Table D)
Initial Social Level: 7

This is a straighforward process. You roll 3d6 for Strength, Expertise, and Constitution. Endurance is Strength multiplied by Constitution. The rest is determined by rolling 1d6 on a few tables. Everything else is optional.

I'm not really sure how much of a role-playing game En Garde! is. The players have characters. They keep secret written orders of their activities (one activity per week). They duel, drink, gamble, join regiments, fight battles, have dalliances with mistresses, and try to increase their social standing, but it's all an abstraction. According to the section on "Birth," "The most important thing a player must know about his character is his initial social level." Two paragraphs later, the player is advised, "if desired, the character should be given a name." So, that gives you an idea of the amount of role-playing expected. None of the activities, as far as I can tell, are handled in any degree of detail more specific than writing a word or two on a piece of paper and rolling on some tables. I suppose it could be a conversational game, but perhaps not necessarily moreso than most board games or war games. I wonder if could be successfully fused with a storytelling game, such as The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Since I'm not required to give this character a name, I guess I won't.

This is a game I would play as an experiment, preferably with one or more experienced players.

[For more articles in this series, visit How to Create a Swashbuckler.]

09 April 2020

How to Create a Swashbuckler

"How to Create a Swashbuckler" is a series of articles in which I create new characters by the book for different swashbuckling role-playing games. Why? To elucidate the process of character creation, evaluate its verisimilitude, and analyze the actual fun in creating such a character as well as extrapolate the fun to be derived from playing the same? Yes, but also to put some of these games to some kind of use, which I might not ever get a chance to play. And maybe, through this exercise and a rereading of the rules, I might be inspired to run one or more of them instead of watching them collect dust.

Here, then, I will keep a list of the articles as I post them for reference:

31 March 2020

Swashbuckling Thought of the Day 2020-03-31

A swashbuckling game ought to be flavorful. It ought to transport one to another time and place, heighten the drama, quicken the pace. It ought to stir the imagination, inspire herioc action, but also provide for romantic interaction (one of the greatest motivations in swashbuckling fiction). Dare I say that swashbuckling, even as a game, ought to aspire to the poetic and not just the name?

29 February 2020

Swashbuckling Thought of the Day 2020-02-29

If a swashbuckling game doesn't reward you for accomplishing dangerous deeds, or it actively discourages (or prevents) you from attempting them, then I don't think that game is a worthwhile emulator of the genre. Ideally, a swashbuckling game ought to facilitate and encourage derring-do, and not force players to endure a slog of monotonous activities and extended incompetence.

If ye cannot handle a sword, do not bear one.

25 January 2020

Deed Dice and Luck Points on the Horizon

In my search for the perfect role-playing system for swashbuckling, I gravitate toward those of a more freeform nature (Fudge, Sherpa, Risus, Prince Valiant, etc.), but one of the swashbuckliest systems I've seen in terms of specific rules mechanics is Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. From the Heroic Deeds of the Warrior class to the way Luck functions for the Thief class, many a swashbuckling subgenre could be adapted with little fuss, and I'm tempted to give it a go myself. I know there is a pirate-themed DCC RPG game in the works by a third party publisher, but there are plenty of other swashbuckling settings to tap...

Perhaps a new project for 2020?

10 August 2018

The Sea Hawk (1940) Reviewed


Original Review

It is the dawn of the golden age of piracy, when Spain was claiming dominion over the oceans and plundering the wealth of the New World — and England was plundering Spanish treasure ships. The Sea Hawk served a dual purpose in 1940 as both a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure starring the most popular swashbuckler of his time, Errol Flynn (as privateer Geoffrey Thorpe), and as a thoughtful allegory of the most pressing concern of the time, England's resistance to Germany's ambitions of global domination. As a testament to how seriously it was taken, thespian Flora Robson was enlisted to play the part of Queen Elizabeth and reportedly inspired Flynn to unprecedented heights of professional behavior out of his admiration for her (Robson).

The Sea Hawk was a considerable improvement over its nautical forebearer, Captain Blood. The sea battles were more convincing (and made at far greater expense), the plot was more cohesive, the performances had more solidity, and the fight choreography was much more carefully planned. The climactic duel between Errol Flynn's Captain Thorpe and Henry Daniell's Lord Wolfingham (although a stunt double stood in for Daniell) remains a fine example of swordplay in the genre.

It has been claimed that The Sea Hawk was the logical next step in the path that began with Captain Blood and was followed by The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex in terms of what the public wanted and what the studio had readily available in sets and costumes, but it is more than that. There is far greater unity in the quality of the script, acting, and directing than in its predecessors. Whether it is the result of a convergence of talent tempered by experience, or the greater devotion that was dedicated to the project by virtue of its message, The Sea Hawk is one of the best adventure films of its kind.

Writing: Good
Directing: Great
Acting: Great
Cinematography: Great
Stunts: Good
Swordplay: Great
Panache: Great

Overall Rating: Great
Swashbuckling Rank: Great


[Originally posted in Cuparius.com on 14 April 2010.]


Extended Review

The music of The Sea Hawk was composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and it plays as important a part in the film as the cinematography in conveying the scope and spirit of the story. It is bold without being overbearing, heartfelt without being sentimental, and ultimately patriotic without being nationalistic. It is fittingly iconic of the genre, and as I listen to it, I think hear its influence in some of the best adventure films that followed it decades later.


Written by: Howard Koch and Seton I. Miller
Based on the Novel by: Rafael Sabatini
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Performed by: Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Claude Rains, Flora Robson, Alan Hale, Donald Crisp, Henry Daniell, et al.

30 June 2016

All for Me Binary Dice


Inspired by the simple odds-and-evens dice pool system of All for Me Grog (usable with any kind of die or coin), I decided to make the system even quicker by purchasing some six-sided binary dice. Faster than tossing coins or separating dice into evens and odds, all you do with binary dice is count those that show 1 instead of 0. There is no quicker dice pool system in the Seven Seas. Arr!

[All for Me Grog is a piratey role-playing game by Ryan Shelton available in PDF and print.]