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.]

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