Friday, April 29, 2016

Two New Maneuvers for Honor+Intrigue

Over on the BASH Forum, Chris Rutowsky is soliciting comment on two new maneuvers and the idea of a new academic-focused style. I'd comment there, but for some reason the BASH Forum still refuses to allow me to create an account. I've tried multiple times with different emails and have tried contacting the admins all to no avail. Kind of a funny outcome for someone running a site focused on Honor+Intrigue. I also started a thread about Chris' post over on the RPGsite.

Here's Chris' post.

An enemy who becomes predictable becomes much less dangerous. You anticipate their mode of attack and prepare to defend against it.
Minor Action.
Choose an offensive Melee or Brawl maneuver. Your opponent gains a Penalty Die to use it against you. This lasts until you disengage (either on purpose or by Yielding Advantage), or use Guard again to name a different maneuver.
Mastery: Choose 2 maneuvers when you use Guard.

Study Opponent
Minor Action.
The GM will secretly roll a Savvy + Swordsman (Career) test for you vs. the opponent's Swordsman Career. If you succeed, you learn one fact about their fighting technique. On a Mighty Success you learn 2 facts. On a Calamitous Failure, you learn a false fact. Some examples of facts you can learn (you get to choose what type you want to learn):

  • What dueling style the opponent is using, and their level of mastery.
  • Their best Quality.
  • Their Rank in one Combat ability you've seen them use.
  • Their Rank in Swordsman career
  • What defenses they have against one particular maneuver. This would include if they are using Guard against it, as well as the difficulty to use it on them.
  • Their bonus to up to two maneuvers you've seen them do (includes whether they are a master of that maneuver or not).
Mastery: Bonus Die to use Study Opponent and +1 to resist Study Opponent by others.

As for Study Opponent, any other example "Facts" you should be able to discover?

The reason for creation of these two would be to increase the creativity of people engaged in a duel and prevent "Rinse & Repeat" use of dueling maneuvers (this hasn't been a problem in my own games, but I could see how some people with a particular technique maxed out might just keep using it all the time). If the enemy keeps using Bind, you Guard against Bind, and now they have a penalty die to try to Bind you. So they might just try something else. Since you can also choose to Guard against Bladework, you might make the enemy have to do something more risky like Lunge, or based on a less powerful Quality like Quick-Cut.

I was also considering creating a new Dueling Style that uses both these maneuvers (it is a very academic approach to swordsmanship) and one of the benefits of the style would be if an enemy uses a maneuver you are using Guard against and misses you, you can use Riposte against them.

As for execution at the table, I can see two ways of doing this.
1. Open declaration. When you use Guard, you say "I am guarding against X maneuver". This means the other person is probably less likely to use it on you.
2. Secret "match and show" style. When you use Guard, you write down the maneuver on a slip of paper. If someone uses the maneuver on you, you reveal it, and the penalty die is applied to the roll.

Both methods have their pros and cons. I'm thinking that which style (Open or Secret) be left up to the GM.

Do these maneuvers seem useful? Would you use them in your game? I am seeking questions and comments?

Comments on Guard

Adding a Guard maneuver seems useful because it will incentivize players to vary their maneuvers in combat. This is good for several reasons.
  1. Greater variety of maneuver choices is more true to the exciting swashbuckling genre. Watch Errol Flynn, Zorro, or any of the fights in the Lester Musketeer movies and you will see a lot of maneuvers and some crazy stunts. Combat in H+I should look like that.
  2. Greater variety of maneuvers makes mastering multiple maneuvers more valuable which rewards skilled duelists.
  3. The Guard maneuver rewards observant players and allows them increased scope for tactical choices.
  4. From what I know of actual dueling, repeating the same maneuver is the opposite of a formula for winning. The Guard maneuver better simulates that truth.
One might ask, is there a need to incentivize variation in maneuvers? I have occasionally seen players use the same maneuver over and over. This seems to happen for two reasons.
  1. Optimal Tactics: I have one player who does analyze and choose optimal moves and because of this he does tend to repeat the same (high likelihood of success) maneuvers.
  2. Minimal Rules Knowledge: I have one player who tends to repeat the same maneuvers not based on optimal choices so mauch as just not remembering or thinking of other maneuver choices.
So in my experience there is some need to incentivize varying maneuvers. 

Is there a down side to adding guard?

Personally, when playing I tend not to use the same maneuver over and over because that bores me and because it doesn't seem like the sort of duels I find interesting in to watch. I suspect one of my players makes decisions for similar reasons. If all your players and the GM vary their maneuvers there isn't any need for the Guard maneuver. But adding it doesn't harm anything. It just adds a maneuver that will seldom get used. But that is already true of some of the existing maneuvers. How often do your players use Blade Throw?

For highly skilled duelists, Riposte (following a successful Parry or Dodge) is the most predictably used maneuver, since mastery allows it as a Free Action. And for some duelists, Feint and Beat get used with regularity. It's unclear if reactions and minor actions like these are intended to fall within the scope of Guard, though I think I would allow Guard to work against reactions and other minor actions.. 

I agree that either open declaration or match and show could work. I'd be inclined to use Open Declaration for the players though with a possible addition of having them wait to declare until after I, as the GM, have thought about the NPC's maneuvers. Since I tend to have Pawns use simple maneuvers like Bladework or Brawling this would either give the PCs an advantage since they could reliably guard against Bladework or it would incline the GM to vary the Pawn attacks. As a GM either outcome is acceptable. It would also be possible to create a random tactical choice for Pawns and Retainers. For example one could modify the maneuver line for Pawns like so: Roll D6 (1-3) Bladework+2; (4-5) Quickcut+1, (6) Disarm+1.

The secret match and show method is going to be slower procedurally so I'd save that method for duels between PCs and for climactic duels between PCs and Villains.

Two Thumbs Up for adding Guard as a maneuver. The procedural implementation should be left up to GM option.

Comments on Study Opponent

I'm less convinced on the utility of the Study Opponent maneuver. It seems like it would be procedurally time consuming since the player needs to make decisions from a lengthy list about what they want to try to learn and some questions, when applied against nameless NPCs may require the GM to create an answer - which is also time consuming. I'll take a look at each of the "Facts" one by one.

  • What dueling style the opponent is using, and their level of mastery.
It seems to me that each of the styles has some fairly obvious tells. So I'm not sure we need a maneuver to discern that. Certainly a master of dueling style A, should be able to automatically recognize a practitioner of their style. And a master should recognize another master. And the value of the Duelist/Swordsmen career is already narrow in focus and it seems it should cover an ability to recognize dueling styles without the need for a special maneuver.

  • Their best Quality.
That seems like information that is not covered by Careers or existing knowledge. So OK>

  • Their Rank in one Combat ability you've seen them use.
I am open with my rolls and with the totals, so players can already back calculate the total modifier (which seems more important than the Ranik). Melee and Defense (or Brawl and Defense) could be covered by the Duelist/Swordsman/(Pugilist) Careers.

  • Their Rank in Swordsman career
Again this seems like it could be covered by a Savvy roll modified by the Duelist/Swordsman Career.  
  • What defenses they have against one particular maneuver. This would include if they are using Guard against it, as well as the difficulty to use it on them.
This sounds like a good use for a Study Opponent maneuver.

  • Their bonus to up to two maneuvers you've seen them do (includes whether they are a master of that maneuver or not).
I roll openly and give the players the total for their opponents, so the players can back calculate those net numbers. The Study Opponent would, in effect, do the math for them. So an advantage for some.

I don't see Study Opponent making it easier for one to conceal one's abilities. So I'd change that aspect of Mastery. The ability to conceal one's abilities seems like it would be influenced more by breadth of capability. So a master of multiple styles should be a more difficult opponent to study. 

As an alternate, allow the Master of Study Opponent to do use the maneuver once as free action against a single opponent after observing them for at least 2 rounds of combat.

Considering the Study Opponent maneuver as a whole, I like that it matches Duelist/Swordsman careers against each other as that adds utility to a narrowly focused career. I'm a bit concerned about it slowing down combat, but it seems worth a try.

One Thumb Up for adding Study Opponent as a maneuver.

Comment on creating an "Academic" dueling style

The "Academic" dueling style sounds interesting. It reminds me of something in Glen Cook's Dread Empire series where the scholars from the Rebsamen (I think that was the name) who seemed sort of like Greek philosophers, had that sort of analytical style of fighting. Certainly a master of the Academic style would be likely to have a whole library of fencing manuals - which would give me a good excuse to use my On the Shelf table of books. It also makes the Study Opponent maneuver more appealing as an addition, possibly raising it to Two Thumbs Up.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Magical Writings

The Sign of the Frothing Mug by Josh Perldeiner has an excellent post on fictional magical writings from a variant earth timeline where magic is real. These tomes will make excellent additions to some sorcerer's library. Josh's collection reminds me of the many fictional books in the Cthulhu Mythos. Call of Cthulhu did a nice job creating lists of those with thumbnails of contents, publication history, etc. Most of my players are avid CoC fans so If I get motivated I'll dig through my CoC rules and create an expanded book list adding in Josh's creations.

Josh's post also reminded me of a series of posts called "Off the Shelf" that Black Vulmea posted on his Really Bad Eggs blog. Each list has 20 brief entries based on a topic e.g. Fencing Manuals, Military Manuals, Atlases, Mathematics Texts, Law Books, etc. I've used BV's lists to provide color to NPCs and as a different sort of "treasure" for the PCs. Knowing what's on an important NPCs bookshelf may provide clues to their education, interests, and even their plans. Plus books are cool. 

The picture at the top is an odd, six way book binding from late 16th century Germany. It’s a variation on the dos-à-dos binding format (from the French meaning “back-to-back”). Here however, the book opens in six different directions, each way revealing a different book. The book, which comes from the Rogge Library in Strängnäs, Sweden, features devotional texts printed in Germany during the 1550s and 1570s (including Martin Luther’s Der kleine Catechismus). Each of the books is held closed with its own ornate metal clasp, and was probably far more decorative than useful. You can find more about the book and additional pictures here.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The (overly) Sensitive Artist

In between my other reading, I've been plowing through The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories which is a collection of weird fiction short stories. This got me thinking. In a lot of those stories (Lovecraft Mythos stories would be one example) the protagonist is often an overly sensitive, artistic type of person. In a sense, these characters are the antithesis of the robust and daring hero of swashbuckling fiction. Thinking about this led me to wonder how to model such a character in Honor+Intrigue

Artistic Sensitivity Rating

Artistic Sensitivity Rating (ASR) measures the sort of febrile imagination and sensitivity to the outré embodied by many of the protagonists in weird fiction e.g. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Edgar Allen Poe. Artistic Sensitivity may allow a character to notice the weird and outré and even to sense things imperceptible to more insensitive personalities. The Game Master is encouraged to provide extra details or even feverish details either at their discretion or based on an ASR roll.

A character's ASR is based on their qualities and certain boons and flaws.

  • Might and Daring provide inverse penalties/bonuses. So a positive Might or Daring provides a penalty and a negative Might or Daring provides a bonus.  For example, Might 1 and Daring 2 result in a net penalty to ASR of -3, while Might -1 and Daring -1 result in a net bonus to ASR of +2.
  • Savvy provides a bonus equal to Savvy/2.
  • Flair does not affect ASR, providing neither a penalty nor a bonus.
  • The Artistic Boon: Artistic provides a bonus of +1 to ASR.
  • The Too Sensitive Flaw (see below) provides a bonus of +1 to ASR .

An ASR of 0 or less means the character is not sensitive and has no extra chance to sense anything unusual.


  • Signoret [Might 1, Daring 3, Savvy 2]: ASR = -1-3+1= -3; is not sensitive.
  • Gaston [Might 3, Daring 3, Savvy 2]: ASR = -3-3+1= -5; is not sensitive.
  • Guy [Might 0, Daring 2, Savvy 3]: ASR = +0-2+2= 0; is not sensitive.
  • De Chambre [Might -1, Daring 1, Savvy 1]: ASR = +1-1+1= +1; is sensitive. 

    New Flaw: Too Sensitive

    You have the febrile imagination and sensitivity to the outré embodied by many of the protagonists in weird fiction e.g. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and Edgar Allen Poe. You notice things imperceptible to more ordinary or insensitive personalities. Add +1 to your Artistic Sensitivity Rating (ASR) score. In addition you will always be sensitive to the outré even if your Artistic Sensitivity Rating is zero or negative. If your score is negative, treat it as equal to zero. In addition, you gain a bonus die on any ASR roll. 

    Doubles any ill effects of failed rolls vs. Terror or supernatural challenges.

    You are likely to be afflicted with insomnia, melancholia, migraines, brain fevers or all of the above. Roll a die when you are required to do something important for the rest of your companions. If a ‘1’
    comes up, you are under the effects of one or more afflictions. Roll 1d3 to determine how much Composure you lost. If you’ve lost all Composure, you are incoherently raving or have passed out!
    Such characters tend to be artistic or bookish, solitary or reclusive and will often have the Cowardly, Delicate, Obsession, Phobia, or Vice (Addiction) Flaws and may have the Artistic, Learned, Nose for Magic, or Visions/Voices Boons.

    Friday, April 8, 2016

    What I'm Reading: The Eagle Series by Simon Scarrow

    Sorry for the lack of posts. Real life sometimes intrudes and not in a good way. But fortunately I have had some time to read and I found a new author.

    I've just read the first two books in this series:Under the Eagle (2000) and The Eagle's Conquest (2001). (And I've requested the next several from my library.) Both are quite good. The setting is the Roman Empire in the mid 1st Century (43 AD) in the reign of Claudius. Like many historical series like O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin sea novels and Cornwell's Sharpe series with Sharpe and Sgt. Harper, we have two main characters.

    Lucius Cornelius Macro, a veteran with 16 years service who has recently been appointed to the Centurionate. He is the epitome of a good soldier: dependable in a fight and follows the orders given to him by his senior officers. He is the centurion of the Sixth Century, of the Fourth Cohort, of the Second Augustan Legion under the command of the historical figure Vespasian.

    Quintus Licinius Cato, the son of an Imperial Freedman (former slave) in direct service of Emperor Claudius. Being born a slave himself, and the property of the state, he was given an opportunity by the Emperor as a favour to Cato's late father to enlist in the legions and be given his freedom. Cato has lived a relatively luxurious life as a slave within the Imperial palace, in comparison to the rank and file of the legions, and after accepting the Emperor's offer. he joins the Second Augustan as Macro's Optio (more or less the second in command). Cato is only 17 years old in the first novel, and has a lot to learn about the legion. Which provides an excuse for some handy exposition by the more experienced soldiers.  

    Simon Scarrow, the author, is British and a Roman Historian and the period accuracy shows. He also does a good job with realistic battles using actual period tactics. The first two novels provide a nice mix of small unit action with various detached duties and larger battles that are cohort, multi-cohort, legion, and multi-legion in size. The novels also add good period intrigue that involves historical characters as well as the main characters, Scarrow does a nice job keeping his villains available to bedevil the protagonist without getting too ridiculous or melodramatic. And the mystery of whose side the various other characters are really on - and who is really plotting against the Emperor - is well designed and engaging. 

    So if the Roman Empire is interesting and you want a mix of military historical fiction with plotting, spying, and politicking, this series is for you. It is similar to O'Brien and Cornwell's fiction and has the same sort of realistic military encounters, but I think the intrigue is even better done.

    I give it 4 out of 4 stars.

    30-04-2016 EDIT: I just finished the eighth book in the series, Centurion, and this series continues to be excellent and well worth a read.