Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Pictorial History of My Late Campaign Part 4

The last arc of "Le Vin Et La Vie" was a return to occult conspiracy.

To end a magical curse on her homeland of Gallia,
our heroine, Chevalieuse Vivienne de Malbec,
 her fiance, Giralomo di Sangiovese,
and their ally, Philippe de Bordeaux,
had been scouring the land for bits and pieces
of the god Dionysus
who had been made flesh and carved up by his sneaky Roman sorcerors. 

Now Onenharatase, a Huron shaman with shape-changing powers and a thing for booze,
had escaped the clutches of a trio of nefarious occultists.
These three sought to use Dionysus to usher in a new age of magic and monsters.

Vivienne and her allies journeyed to Massilia to confront the evildoers.
There they discovered their foe was the immortal alchemist Dom Perignon,

who had cut out his own heart and hidden it for safety.
His allies were the witch Rousanne,
a seductress and consorter with demons,

and the gleefully sadistic swordsman Riesling
(who was secretly a "patchwork man").

The villains had prepared themselves well for a deadly game of cat and mouse
but Vivienne and her friends had carte blanche from the king
so  they broke into the villains' house,
stabbed the heart,
poisoned Rousanne,
and burned the place down.

Vivienne found herself dueling the inhumanly-strong Riesling,
and she stabbed the hell out of him.

And Vivienne and Sangiovese lived happily ever after.

Many, many thanks to Mike AKA Black Vulmea at Really Bad Eggs for highlighting this goofy nonsense.  His essays on creating a swashbuckling sandbox and the endgame in sword-and-cape games are incredibly inspirational -- and next time I run a swashbuckling game (which might well be set in Waterdeep), I'll actually use them instead of making up every damned thing on the fly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

And Robin Hood is in it too

My first serious attempt at playtesting Regency/Gothic with Robin has gotten really unserious pretty quickly.

I remember ignoring this comic rather pointedly when it came out because I thought the idea was stupid, but when you cast the Duke of Wellington as an amnesiac once and future king and have your Byron stand-in visit Transylvania instead of Greece, it works much better.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Pictorial History of My Late Campaign Part 3

Did I mention "Le Vin Et La Vie" was a fantasy campaign?

Because it was.

The third act of the campaign marked a turn toward something more whimsical and hopeful.

When the Montgolfier brothers took our heroine aloft in their balloon
 they discovered the art of aerial archaeology
 and uncovered a lost Roman ruin wherein they found the head of Dionysus.
 (No, seriously, it was the actual head of the god they worshiped.)

Around 1700 years before, freaky Roman cultists
had bound the god in flesh

and divvied up the parts throughout Gallia to improve their sociopolitical power.

Now Vivienne de Malbec
and her lover, Giralomo di Sangiovese,
had the chance to break the curse on Gallia and restore peace and happiness to the land
 by finding all the pieces and putting Dionysus back together again.

First, though, Vivienne had to be convinced magic wasn't inherently harmful
so there was an interlude where she saved some benevolent fairies
from the walking castle
of a whimsically villainous ogre

who led her on a merry duel all about the castle.

And then they met Onenharatase, a displaced Huron shaman,
and things started getting serious again.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review: All For One Savage Worlds Edition

Even though I just finished a French-ish swashbuckling campaign and I’m trying to playtest Regency/Gothic, I couldn’t help buying the Savage Worlds conversion of Triple Ace Games’ All For One: Regime Diabolique. What can I say? I love swashbuckling.

The short response is that if you’re a lazy bastard like me, this is a godsend I could have used three months ago. If you’re more of an old-school DIY type, you’ve probably got everything you need between your copies of Flashing Blades and D&D. Heck, if you’ve got Honor + Intrigue and Flashing Blades, you could extrapolate everything in this book into the game system of your choice… but I’m lazy and I’m happy Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams did the work.

(Also, Robin hates learning new systems, so she’s happy to stick with Savage Worlds.)

Cardinal Richelieu with his makeup on...
... and with it off.

The high concept of AFO:RD is that it is literally the setting of Dumas’ musketeer novels – Milady deWinter and Rochefort receive game stats and Wiggy constantly name-drops D’Artagnan and references the Richard Lester films ad nauseum -- but Cardinal Richelieu is a prince of Hell in disguise.
This then results in a setting of supernatural adventure, where musketeers are as likely to encounter werewolves and vampires as they are Spanish soldiers or English spies (in fact, based on the cover and interior art, it looks like they’re expected to fight werewolves a lot). Which I like. A lot. I basically just did it, after all. “The Brotherhood of the Wolf” is one of my all-time favorite films (as are the swashbuckling and sorcery of the Pirates of the Caribbean tetralogy) so the setting fluff of AFO:RD is very appealing. It’s like Solomon Kane with a lot more drinking.

The Good

Despite protestations in the introduction that the book does not contain a detailed examination of life in 1636 France, it actually does. There is enough background flavor to let someone with only a passing familiarity with the era flesh out a believable, entertaining world. The secret societies introduced toward the end of the book add a lot of potential plot hooks and generally fit perfectly with the setting (though the radicals and free-thinkers seem a bit more Enlightenment-era to me).

There are relatively few new Edges and most of those are centered around expanded fencing rules. I like this. I hate Edge bloat. One of the things that makes me nauseous about D&D 3.+ and 4E is the infinitely-expanding list of feats. Savage Worlds has to stay lean and mean to be fast and furious. Introducing dozens of new Edges adds extra pounds the system doesn't need. Trust me; I know what extra pounds feel like.

There's some nice, simple setting rules that enhance genre emulation. Every Wild Card gets a lackey Extra, fencing schools are handled in a way that adds some nuances missing from the earlier Wiggy-headed Pirates of the Spanish Main rules, and PCs are allowed to gamble for additional starting funds. The Social Dueling rules are simple and elegant.

The art is pretty nifty, too.

The Bad

It is, frankly, badly organized. The stitches really show where this version was quilted together from the Ubiquity core rules and the various Richelieu's Guides. A substantial section on the traditions and tools of alchemy is included 21 pages after the in-game rules for it, for example, while a picture of a preening musketeer dandy is repeated at least once. Honestly, I don't really mind, but it may be a sticking point for some (and definitely undercuts the quality professional work in the rest of the book).

The Ugly

Unfortunately, the book also contains some of my pet peeves. From the GM section on defining swashbuckling:

The morality is swashbuckling is usually clear-cut -- the heroes are the good guys and the villains are the bad guys.
I’ve never made it all the way through every line of The Three Musketeers (I tend to gloss over the tennis), but I have read most of it. Do you know how the novel ends?
D'Artagnan fought three times with Rochefort, and wounded him three times.
"I shall probably kill you the fourth," said he to him, holding out his hand to assist him to rise.
"It is much better both for you and for me to stop where we are," answered the wounded man. "CORBLEU--I am more your friend than you think--for after our very first encounter, I could by saying a word to the cardinal have had your throat cut!"
They this time embraced heartily, and without retaining any malice.

D’Artagnan and Rochefort become buddies! I was shocked when I read that the first time, but this moral ambiguity, to me, is a feature, not a flaw of literary swashbucklers. But the pernicious influence of "The Princess Bride" has kind of wrecked that approach, and Wade-Williams falls into the same trap with a GM advice section that emphasizes the same black and white morality as 7th Sea.

(Kudos to Honor + Intrigue for not doing that.)

There’s also some… problematic… choices in how he chooses to handle gender equality. Since 99.99% of my games are run as duets with my wife, empowered roles for female players concern me. That’s why Robin and I have chosen to run most of our “historical” campaigns as deliberately pseudo-historical campaigns and ignore thousands of years of gender inequality. Wade-Williams chooses to circumvent this by inventing an ahistorical cadre of female Queen’s Musketeers – which is obviously intended as a way to integrate female players and PCs into the game – but he kind of fumbles the whole thing by having this mark of progress be part of Richelieu’s evil plan to upset society. Ouch. And the only female player character archetype is a spy working for Richelieu. Ouch! I know there were more female archetypes in the Richelieu's Guide that introduced the Queen's Musketeers. Why weren't they included?

In Conclusion

This was an important product for me to buy because of how it can inform Regency/Gothic. They're both supernatural settings using Christian mythology and emphasizing social conflict, so seeing how one of the guiding lights of Savage Worlds handles his version is very helpful.  Despite my complaints, this is a fun setting with excellent detail.  Wade-Williams has a masterful handle of the game system and exploits the use of setting rules brilliantly.  This is a model for Regency/Gothic to aspire towards and a setting I hope to run soon.

I'll just ignore the explanation for female musketeers.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Pictorial History of My Late Campaign Part 1

Robin and I recently (unexpectedly) wrapped up our most recent duet campaign, "Le Vin Et La Vie," an alternate history/fantasy swashbuckler set more or less in the mid-1700s. It was a tumultuous campaign with a few do-overs and surprising twists, but I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, when your heroine finds Mr. Right, sometimes you just have to let the story fade out on "They Lived Happily Ever After..."

Because of our fixation on this,
it was set in a world where everyone worshiped this guy

instead of this guy
except for the pseudo-Ottoman Empire that worshiped this guy
in the form of this:

Our heroine, tomboyish yet forthright Vivienne de Malbec,

daughter of Hungarian-born Blaise de Malbec,
comte du Quercy,
and her foolish sister Marguerite
found themselves drawn into a plot by Rothschild, duc du Burgundy,
his cruel and vicious mistress, Blanchot de Chardonnay, marquise du Chablis,
and his henchman, Armand Rousseau de Pinot Noir,
to overthrow Rothschild's half-brother, the King of Gallia (who looks like this guy --
-- but secretly has the brain of this guy).

Vivienne was aided in her quest to stop Rothschild by rakish alchemist and Hermeticist Giralomo di Sangiovese,
and aristocratic highwayman Philippe de Bordeaux,
and eventually Vivienne dueled Rothschild to the death.

But that was only the beginning...

Wine and Savages Team Now Co-Lead Developers for Savage Rifts®

While most interested parties already know this, Robin English-Bircher and I have combined forces with Sean Roberson as Lead Developers...