De Condé's Ride playtest

For my current playtest, I wanted to try something a bit more historical. I gathered four players (Rich, Anthony, Garrow and Carol) and pitched them my idea: In the early summer of 1648, the Spanish unleash Archduke Leopold Wilhelm and an army of 16,000 Spanish, German and Walloon soldiers into the low lands north of Paris. Queen Anne, grappling with the Fronde in Paris, sends for the hero of Rocroi, Prince de Condé to come to Paris’s rescue. The trouble is, the prince is on a mission for the crown in Catalonia and must be summoned home to gather his army and confront the archduke before he capitalizes on the chaos in the capital and moves to capture it!

Our protagonists will be part of de Condé’s retinue, racing to get the young prince home.

The players enjoyed the pitch and decided to roll characters and see where they would fit into this historical moment. I offered allow them to pick, but they were keen to roll.

Fortune gave us:
Lieutenant Vauban, noblesse de epee, French, Huguenot, Frondeur, petty noble (L1), officer (L2). (Anthony)

Picard, peasant, French, Catholic, Frondeur, soldat (L3). (Rich)

Isaac, commoner, American, Catholic (convert), Abolitionist, Americain (L1), soldat (L2). (Garrow)

and Fabrice, peasant, American, Huguenot, Apolitical, barber-surgeon (L3). (Carol)

Their motif was that they all served in the battle of Rocroi and were bonded by the blood and victory of that day.

Since they chose such a noteworthy historical motif, I asked them each to answer questions about the battle and their participation: Did they serve with distinction? Were they wounded? Did they admire the Spanish tercios or despise them?

Lt Vauban, a young gentleman at the time, was trampled during the Spanish cavalry charge on the left flank, leaving him slow of mind and weak in the arm. However, his bravery on that day earned him his charge, first as a subaltern and then, soon after, as a lieutenant in Marquis de Guiscard’s regiment.

Picard served as a young rear-ranking pikeman in the center. He saw the carnage close at hand, but stood his ground and did was was required of him. No more, no less.

Isaac served as a young powder boy with the French artillery. His gun exploded during the battle and he was hit in the hip by a piece of shrapnel. The wound left him with a limp he carries to this day. Isaac was awestruck by the bravery of the surrounding Spanish tercios at the end of the day.

Fabrice was part of the army’s train, but moved forward to see if he could help with the wounded. Though he was nearly overrun by the Spanish push, Fabrice didn’t flinch. He pulled Vauban from the pell mell on the left and treated the young man’s wounds. He later treated Isaac, as well. Pulling the piece of burnt, twist metal from his hip.

===

They all rolled terrible stats, but then used the historical moment to describe their infirmities. All except Rich who said, “No, He wasn’t hit in the head. He’s just naturally dumb.” Picard has an Intelligence of 5. :slight_smile:

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We began the adventure proper in the next session. Sadly, I was woefully underprepared! I had dedicated an afternoon to do research and create NPCs, but I lost that afternoon to pre-holiday scheduling anomalies. So I hope I did a credible job in painting this historical moment (if I missed something, let me know).

I kicked off the evening with some scene setting, describing a languid Barcelona in which de Condé was hosting sumptuous parties in an attempt at diplomacy with the Catalan segadores and the local gentry. But it all seemed vastly unhurried.

During one such party on a beautiful night in June, a group of French riders come tumbling onto the doorstep of de Condé’s manner, asking for immediate audience. They bore a letter from the queen herself.

One of their number was injured by a slash to the thigh. Fabrice was summoned to tend the wound while the gentlemen and women gathered around the prince to hear the news.

Fabrice successfully treated the young rider’s injury, but in the process noticed something odd: This young cavalier was a woman in disguise. Was she riding for romance? Was she a spy? Was she simply a hotspur yearning to cross swords with the Spanish?

She swore Fabrice to secrecy and Fabrice readily agreed. At this, I introduced a new system I want to add to 1648: Traits. Potentates, the rich and the influential people of the world are looking for those whom they can trust to carry out their orders without fail.

There are four traits (as of now) which these people seek: Discretion, Loyalty, Puissance and Cleverness.

A character who exhibits these traits consistently will come to be relied upon and given responsibility and position. A character who fails to carry themselves properly when in the service of the powerful can never be trusted.

A player must earn three checks against a trait to earn the confidence of the NPC in that department. However, one transgression crosses off that avenue with that NPC forever.

In Fabrice’s case, she earned checks for Discretion and Cleverness with the young cavalier, de Moret. As the GM, I’ll track these relationships. When these NPCs need something, they’ll approach player characters they can trust to get the job done.

After the brief rules digression, I described some debate among the gentry as to the best way to get to Paris from Barcelona. Eventually, after some discussion, I told them that de Condé had decided to take all three routes at once: mountains, coastal road and ship. Lt Vauban was to lead the advance party into the mountains, clearing out any obstacles, and checking every post house and roadside inn for Spanish ambuscade and spies. Other advance parties were to be dispatched on the other routes. De Condé would choose which party to follow under his own discretion.

For this task Vauban was given a guide, an old segador named Pau—dressed in a rustic sheepskin vest and carrying a wicked looking curved knife—and a young subaltern, Jean de Beaufort, who spoke with a cracked voice, but came kitted out for war with a warhorse, mail shirt, rapier and two pistols.

M. de Guiscard asked if they needed anything else for their journey and all they asked for was wine and some preserved foods. He granted the request and also gave the young lieutenant a purse with 100 gold pistoles to pay for supplies and tolls on the route.

Lastly, de Guiscard fitted Vauban with a wig to give him the appearance of de Condé, so that he might look like the young prince riding wild on the van, desperate to reach Paris and heedless of danger.

And thus they set out!

Just before dawn, Isaac noticed that they were being trailed by a lone rider. Upon further investigation, Jean’s young eyes spied a group of riders moving down the dusty road some distance behind them. Fearing that they would be overwhelmed, Lt Vauban ordered the company to pull off the road near an abandoned stone-walled farm house. He rapidly set them to preparing an ambush.

Isaac and Picard tossed a line of heavy stones in the road, hoping to trip their enemy’s horses. Pau was sent sneak down the road and lie in wait. Fabrice and Jean set up on a hill overlooking the road to the left. Vauban, Isaac and Picard scrambled up a hill to the right just as the riders came galloping around the bend.

We used the ambush rules! Once all modifiers were set, Anthony needed to pass a 1/6 Military Doctrine test. He was on the brink of failure…until he exerted himself. After spending that year, the young lieutenant pulled off a textbook ambush!

The lead rider tumbled from his horse as it barked its shins on the stones in the road. The lieutenant rose to announce himself and Pau let the Spanish caballeros know they were surrounded, so they immediately suffered a hit to their morale. This was key.

After a brief parley, they discovered they were against one Don Reverte who said he rode out all this way from Barcelona for that wig Vauban was wearing. Vauban told him to come and fetch it and they agreed to cross swords!

…except the caballeros all carried a brace of pistols! The pre-dawn shadows jumped and danced as the Spanish released a fusillade on the charge! Jean took a ball, but his mail shirt saved him! (for the successful ambush, the pistol shots were all counted as tough shots).

The odds were not in their favor—10 Spanish cavaliers against their tiny band of six souls—but they fought bravely and, after some close moments, saw the Spanish off as their morale broke. During the skirmish, Picard stalked among his opponents like an executioner with his long sword=: He felled Reverte and two more. Isaac missed his harquebus shot, but finished up the affair with a well-placed grenade, killing a horse and two men (grenade crit!).

Pau took a slash to the chest and survived, but poor Jean was brought down by a thrust from a rider.

Under the rising dawn light, the dying men beneath them moaned and gnashed their teeth.

We ended there. At the start of the session this week we’ll do reputation (there were survivors and they announced themselves!) and Jean and Reverte both get rolls on the Mortal Coil table to see their fates.

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In the aftermath of the skirmish on the road, the group tended to the wounded and looted the dead.

Fabrice went to work and saved two of the dying…at the cost of the leg of one and permanently crippling the other. They decided it would be better to wait to remove the ball and chain mail fragments from Jean’s chest until they reached a more stable environment (they felt the treatment in his weakened condition might kill him).

Fabrice also managed to save one of the horses by removing shrapnel from its head. It lost an eye and an ear, but the poor beast now loves Fabrice and follows him loyally up the trail.

Late the following afternoon, they left Don Reverte—who was permanently crippled as part of the fight—and his wounded survivors in the stone house and continued up the road into the mountains.

Their guide, Pau, told them they were headed to Seu d’Urgell, the bishopric.
“Dioceses.” Picard corrected him.

In their first leg up the mountain, they found themselves traveling with families of drovers, headed to the high pastures for summer. Herds of cattle and flocks of sheep lined the road—and sometimes obscured it. At night the families set camp fires and danced and sang. The whole affair had a festive mood to it. But our company rode silently past, not stopping to share in the gaiety.

They arrived at midnight, nearly drowning in fatigue. Pau went to find them lodging (Catalonian Nationality test) and failed! He came back cursing. All the inns were full and the post-houses were empty. There wasn’t a bed or horse to be had in the whole town.

Jean noted that if there were no post-horses, the stables were empty and they could sleep there. Vauban agreed and they headed for shelter.

The next morning, the Lieutenant and de Beaufort cleaned up and went to see the bishop. He received them readily based on the the lieutenant’s reputation alone (currently 20).

Vauban made pleasantries with the old man and stewed a bit. He wasn’t comfortable being in the presence of this ardent papist. But he realized that this was no ordinary bishop. He was a prince of the Catholic Church but also co-prince of Andorra, with Seu d’Urgell as his capital. Being a Huguenot, Vauban recalled that Henry IV (a former Huguenot himself) ruled Andorra in league with the bishop. The good king instituted that rule as law, essentially creating Andorra as a protectorate of the crown of France (all this from a passed Nationality: France test).

With this realization, Vauban felt he could risk telling the bishop of his mission. The news was well received: He was granted food, lodging, fresh horses and anything else he might need.

He requested a day of rest and a doctor or someone equivalent to help poor, wounded Jean. The bishop sent two nuns. They assisted Fabrice pulling the ball and other metal from the subaltern’s chest. Jean would recover well if he could get some rest.

Meanwhile Isaac and Picard went to a local tavern. There they overheard two young men and a young woman discussing the Spanish. They inserted themselves into the conversation and, based on their stories and gossip, managed to determine that there was likely another party of Spanish above them on the trail to El Pas de Cas—their route through the mountains.

At dinner, the bishop pressed the lieutenant about a small matter. Since he was going through El Pas de Cas regardless, there was something he could help with: a bothersome brigand robbed the drovers along the route. He called himself Junipero. Would the lieutanent help the bishop? Vauban demurred, but ultimately agreed.

The next morning, two fully kitted miquelets (mountain militia) with mules and supplies awaited them in the town plaza. They were the two young men Isaac and Picard had talked to in the tavern the evening before!

Before they could set out, a courier appeared announcing he had a message for Lt Vauban. It was de Moret, whom they had left in Barcelona after Fabrice had treated the slash in his (her!) leg.

De Moret had been dispatched by de Guiscard to get a report from Vauban. He noted that they had found Reverte in the farm house and had seen the other caballeros retreating from the skirmish. “The other party is riding hard behind. You must make haste!” de Moret warned.

After the audience with Vauban, de Moret buttonholed Fabrice to ensure their secret was safe and to get a fuller report. After hearing Vauban’s account confirmed, de Moret asked about their route. Fabrice responded, “I don’t know exactly, but we’re headed to El Pas de Cas.”

“Excellent. Leave word for me in the house, under a flagstone in the fireplace. You’ll know it when you see it.”

Then the group hit the road and headed up to Andorra de Velle and from there up into the more rugged mountain trails. Vauban made inquiries with their miquelets about the whereabouts of the brigand chief.

That night, Pau struck up a conversation with Vauban and implored him not to take up the foolish errand the bishop gave him. He begged Vauban to disguise the group as drovers and move quietly along the trail so as not to attract attention. The bishop would never know.

Isaac jumped in and insisted that instead they should disguise themselves to lure the brigands closer, to trap them.

We had a brief duel of wits (mostly to learn the mechanics). Vauban’s reputation proved too much for Pau and he eventually was forced to relent. But he only agreed to forgive them for calling him a fool (and not forget that Vauban had made this decision that might get him killed).

Early the next morning, they were moving single file up a steep, narrow track when they saw the road blocked ahead by a straggling flock of sheep and a man with a short, ugly musket pacing back and forth.

I called for Intelligence checks (to notice that the trail was lined with travelers and drovers hiding from this man). These people were trying to hiss or whisper warnings to the group but…THEY ALL FAILED THE INT CHECK. IT WAS AMAZING.

So they rolled up to this bandoler and the man waved them off, “Please, senor. Stop. Please wait.” He said casually, distracted, almost annoyed. He was standing in the gap of a small ridge. They could hear shouting echoing off the mountains above them but out of sight.

Vauban refused to stop and rode directly up the brigand. He demanded to know who he was and what he was doing. This truly annoyed the bandoler. He gestured with his mousqueton to move back. Vauban (and the company in general) slowly drew their pistols. Vauban ordered Jean to ready the miquelets (and failed the Leadership test). The miquelets momentarily froze.

“Senor, por favor. Allons-y.”

At this, two heads poked over the ridge on each side of the brigand. They wore ragged barretini. As soon as they saw Vauban’s little company, they heaved matchlocks up onto the stone and pointed them down.

Picard came up to stand at Vauban’s shoulder. They were 10 feet from the mouth of the mousqueton. Jean forcibly readied the miquelets and their muskets. Isaac and Fabrice raced to get behind Jean’s firing line, pistols cocked. They were 30 feet from the ridge.

“Speak French!” shouted Vauban and then he fired.

The mousqueton fired. EVERYONE fired (except Picard who held his powder). A brief, stuttering explosion rolled up and down the ridge. Smoke blanketed the trail, obscuring vision.

When the dust settled, Vauban and Picard each had taken a ball but stood their ground. The bandoler lay bleeding on the trail (shot three times). One of the musketmen was winged and he and his brother both fell back behind the ridge (after losing morale and failing their subsequent SF tests).

Vauban had the momentary advantage but he held Picard back from charging forward over the ridge (and probably saved his soldat’s life in doing so). Instead, he calmly ordered his company to reload.

+++

We ended there! Next session, they’ll meet the Cap de Bandoleres, Junipero!

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Super interesting report, that feels as if it is taken straight out of a novel. You must have much fun at the table.

Your players seem to choose not to burn years of their lifes in order to force rerolls on their enemies’s to-hit dice. Any particular reason for this? Combat encounters seem to be the situations where I would expect my players to frequently force rerolls in order to not get hit.

Thanks for the detailed report of your games so far!

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Years are precious and hit points replenish. Neither hit was critical and both felt like they could withstand the shot.

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De Moret warned me not to get too close with Jean…but I can’t remember why?

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Jean’s family branch was in conflict with Mazarin.

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