Swashbuckling Fight! hack

So, I want to play a swashbuckler campaign, in a 17th century like setting. Think: Three Musketeers (Gene Kelly, Disney and/or BBC versions), Pirates of the Caribbean, Capitan Alatriste.

The deal is, there’s little armor and Fight! Becomes extra deadly. Even though Full Plate Conquistador like Breast plate and helmets exist and are available, you seldom see these in movies of the genre.

My hacks:

  1. Divide your Reflex attribute by 3 (round down) and add it as armor dice for all target areas. This stacks with other types of armor. This would represent the swashbuckler’s luck and ability to parry and avoid damage. It does not degrade as per armor rules, but the bonus dice go away if Reflexes drops below 3.

So, if D’Artagnan is wearing no armor, he’s still got a 1D armor to all hit locations. If he’s fighting Diego Alatriste y Tenorio, who usually wears his buffalo-hide Reinforced leather chest piece, then things are not so different. Sure, Alatriste has 3D armor in his chest, but 1D equivalent everywhere else.

As they incur wounds, those Reflexes go down. As soon as they go below 3, then that bonus armor drops to 0D, and it’s back to regular Fight! Rules. Good luck!

  1. Allow a Cloak to be used as a Parrying Blade, assuming one has Two-Fisted Fighting training.

Any thoughts?

I don’t love it. It has a few issues. Firstly, it makes high VA weapons important. This is the time of the blade; why are you emphasizing the power of the mace? Secondly, non-degrading armor will make fights very long and very whiffy if you don’t have that VA. Thirdly, well, armor just seems inappropriate. Let me offer a couple of alternatives.

  1. Instead of armor, have a Near Miss pool, maybe also Reflexes/3. Each time you would be hit, you aren’t, and you lose a point. Once the pool’s depleted, you suffer injury as usual. You get some “armor” without the VA issues, and it keeps fights from going on forever. The pool refreshes like Forte tax if it matters; it should be effectively before every Fight.

  2. This one is based on a trait I’m planning on testing out, Heroic Resolve. You get X heroic resolve, which allows you to ignore a total of X wound dice. When you suffer those wounds you take no penalties and make no Steel tests. Once you exceed those dice you suffer wounds normally. I’m not sure what X should be. My initial inclination is something like (Will + Forte)/3, rounded up; adjust to your preferred level of heroism. Oh, and you still have to treat and recover from those wounds. (I have not yet tested this. It may be terrible.)

Cloak shields? Sure, but an actual main gauche is thematic as well.

“The deal is, there’s little armor and Fight! Becomes extra deadly.”
This isn’t really the case. Armor prevents hits but doesn’t reduce the harm from the ones that get through, so if you weren’t seeing fatal hits before you won’t see them in a low armor game either. Or to flip the equation, if blows do deadly damage regularly in a game without armor, they will do deadly damage every couple hits in a game with armor. Fights will be no more or less deadly, just shorter (maybe not even that, if you play more defensively). So I don’t see the need for the first rule.
As for cloaks being used as parrying blades, I thought that was the existing rule for cloaks, but I’m probably misremembering something.

Thanks for replying:

  1. Not emphasizing the mace… maces would not really be available. My intent here is to replicate swashbuckling movies/literature, so we’re talking rapiers, cutlasses main gauche, cloaks, pistols and muskets, and the occasional halberd… Usually, combatants wear no armor, or a leather breast piece, no sleeves or leggings… sometimes, guards will wear a helm and a breastplate.
  2. Longer Fights! is kind of my intent. My experience with Fights with little armor, or no armor or even full armor but an unarmored weak point (say, no helm), means that the fight lasts less than 3 volleys. Either incapacitation or death (again, in my experience. YMMV), but the intent is to make the Fight last longer.
  3. Armor may seem wrong, but it seemed like the simplest solution, keeping it closest to the existing mechanics.
    I like your Near Miss pool suggestion too, as it seems simpler than #2

Oh, and the cloak shield is in addition to the main gauche, of course :slight_smile:

Thanks for replying.
I did not express my intent correctly. The deadliness is okay, it’s mostly the length of Fight.
In my experience, all the Fights I’ve run have ended in death within 3 Volleys. 1 good roll with a little persona, and a single location that has no armor = death or -3D penalties… which should end the Fight pretty quickly. A single 1D armor would at that weak point would at least allow you a 50% chance to survive the hit.

I’m okay with the damage rules. If you get run through, or hit on the arm or whatever, you take the appropiate damage. The idea is that, in that genre, the combatants just don’t seem to get hit (mostly 'cause that’s how stage swordfighting works. Makes it look good, but you’re trying to hit the other guy’s sword, rather than him). That’s the idea behind the first rule… Longer Fights, but it’s still a duel, and someone will likely die.

This of course, is keeping in mind that Fight! subsystem is for significant fights only… Rochefort, Barbossa, the Cardinal himself, Malatesta… the guys that matter. You want it to last a bit. :slight_smile:

The only other tweaks to prolong the Fight! that I can think of would involve severely messing with BW rules, and that’s just no good. I don’t want to cause the game to implode. :slight_smile:

Thanks, guys, for your feedback!

I’m a novice at fight rules, but wouldn’t your system negate the advantage of highly skilled swordsmen being able to use success die to place their attack against certain body parts if your “phantom armor” (pardon the phrase) is ubiquitous over all body parts?

Wouldn’t it be easier simply to give every grey shade health or something?

I think that’s it. Messing with PTGS is probably enough. You’re looking for a pacing mechanism, no?

Introduce a new tolerance: Glancing. It starts where Superficial used to be. Glancing wounds have no effect; either two or three of them compound to a Superficial. Then arrange the others according to the original rules. This would mean someone with a MW of 10 & B4 Forte would have in the original system: B3 (Su) - B5 (Li) - B7/B8/B9/B10 (Mo) and in this: B3 (Gl) - B5 (Su) - B6 (Li) - B7/B8/B9/B10 (Mo). Someone who hits hard will still deck people, but usually you’re going to be working that much harder to get them onto the slippery slope.

Ok, gotcha. I agree that armor tends to make fights longer.

I am confused by this, though. With the typical Power and Forte of B4, you’d need a B8-B10 to do that level of damage. With a B4 Power and a 1h weapon that’s not possible unless you get 5+ successes. That level of success should be pretty rare, and when it occurs it makes sense to me that it should be a fight ender. I’m not sure why you are seeing those kinds of hits so frequently, in my experience you see a lot more superficial and light wounds.

Part of this may just be the players needing to adapt their style to armorless fighting. If everyone uses more defensive actions, fewer blows will get through and the ones that do will be less solid, leading to less fight ending wounds.
Maybe the trick is to remove Feint or make it harder? You see a lot of parrying and counterstrikes in the kind of Errol Flynn fiction you are talking about, the counter to that strategy is feint, so maybe make the counter weaker to increase the behavior you want to see? Maybe combine that with making the off-hand weapon give a nice defensive bonus to encourage blocking, so that the defender typically has the advantage.

This might be a function of the type of characters we play and the amount of FORKs we use… perhaps I should open a separate thread to see how people handle FORKs in Fight!

A typical example might be something like a character with B6 Sword skill. Say he is fighting an Orc. Say he has additional skills in Sword Forms-Wise and Brawling. Say the Orc scripts V1A1 Great Strike, and the PC scripts Strike. He realizes he has the upper hand here, so its Sword+wise+Brawling (8 dice), plus maybe a Persona, (9 dice) against Ob1. If he gets 4-5 successes, and 1 is a 6, and he opens that up… say 6 successes. That’s 5 over Ob. With an Add 2 regular sword, that’s a Mortal wound he can move one location. If he only has chest armor, bye-bye orc. He declares chest. You move it anywhere and its Mortal.

If he has no armor on head, but has armor elsewhere, he still has to declare legs (else, moving from arms to head costs 1 success. Even with leg and chest armor, that strike goes to the head. 2 successes to move, 2 to add, for a B7 (usually Midi) to the orcs unprotected head…That’s a -2D to mister orc, and that’s just on V1A1…

If we allow more FORKs, dice pool gets even bigger. Plus, armor 1d everywhere means the PC is less likely to dump 3 persona into that first Strike, on account of 1 success on that armor roll will negate his massive Strike.

Again, I understand this is all highly situational… YMMV, but I find any chink in any of your armor locations, is quite deadly. Maybe we allow too many FORKs into our rolls during Fight!. :slight_smile:

Swashbuckling should be all about Counterstrikes, blocks, strikes. Perhaps if Feint is eliminated from the menu, but then that seems to me like messing with the Fight rules, whereas my hack is just the equivalent of having everybody walk around all the time with gambeson cloth armor from head to toe, but without looking silly :slight_smile:

Upon further reflection, perhaps the 1D bonus from my hack should cease to be in effect whenever you’re hesitating. (can’t react to protect yourself in time).

Messing with PTGS is another way to go about it, but it seems more fixed to me… My hack is variable. Even if you have 1D protection, you can still roll traitors and get hit anyway…

Thanks for replying

It’s not the FoRKs that are highly situational, it’s your 9D of persona. If players are spending points like that for telling blows in melee, it means they aren’t spending them swinging from chandeliers or charming serving girls, so by saving their points for melee, they’re playing more laurel and hardy and less Flynn as there will be a lot more prat falls and less high wire acrobatics.

If their sword skills are B6 but their other social skills that such swashbucklers would have (climb walls, seduction, young lady-wise etc) are low then the players are putting a lot of focus on brute force in a genre not all about brute force and so maybe you’re compensating for their violence by giving them a handicap.

A couple of points about this

  • I’m confused what you are trying to illustrate here. You responded to me saying that fatal blows are pretty uncommon by giving an example where someone with tremendous skill spends persona against a foe who isn’t defending themselves, and still does not score a fatal blow. -2D will probably put you out of a fight but won’t kill you. Are we agreeing that scoring a killing blow is pretty uncommon?
    -9 dice seems very high to me. To start with Sword 6 and two forkable skills you’d need to sink 7 skill points just into combat skills. I just counted, and in the five lifepath game I’m currently running, the average number of points spent was a little below 4. I’m not saying you are doing it wrong, just that you are either playing with more lifepaths or much more combat focused characters than I’m used to, and that may explain why we are having different experiences.
    -Why isn’t the orc defending himself, or attacking and forcing the player to defend himself? If player is a master swordsman who can reliably get killing blows and is fighting an orc who doesn’t pose a threat, then I expect the fight to be over in a blow. Against an equally skilled swordsman he’d probably play more cautiously, resulting in a longer fight.
    -In your example the player spends artha. They can’t do that every fight, let alone every swing, and they probably want to make sure it counts by setting it up a little first.

I’m not a fan of messing with PTGS either. Just as increasing armor makes VA weapons better, this would make big 2h high Power weapons better. Either would have the effect of making fencing swords a really bad weapon in your game which doesn’t seem desirable. As for removing Feint messing with the fight rules, I agree that it would but I thought we were trying to mess with the fight rules to make fights longer. I disagree that your rules is just making everyone have invisible gambeson armor- in your rules the armor doesn’t go away until they are injured, this strikes me as a much bigger hack than removing Feint.

It seems to me that the reason fights last so long in swashbuckler fiction is not because a lot of blows land and are deflected by armor or because they are so tough they don’t feel the injury, but because the swordsmen spend so much energy parrying blows, moving around to avoid their opponent, and in generally fight defensively. I think some of this will happen spontaneously in a swashbuckling game because players will not want their characters to get injured. But if you want to see more of that kind of behavior you need to make actions that reduce the effectiveness of strikes, like blocks and counterstrikes, better than just striking. I can see a couple ways of doing this,

  • Include some really strong “shields” like cloaks and parrying daggers.
  • Everyone starts in defensive stance, make the defensive stance bonus only apply to the defensive part of counterstrike (is that already the rule?).
  • Remove feint or make it harder.
    It probably isn’t necessary to do all three, if you don’t like removing feint I think making an OP version of the main-gauche and having everyone start in defensive stance might do it.

True. It may be that some lucky rolls have come up in the combats I’ve been in. I’ll point out though, that the orc example is a simplified version of an encounter we had, but perhaps just goes to show that a bad/unlucky script (Great Strike, vs. player’s Strike) can make all the difference in Fight! Still, if this situation pops up, then the guy who scripted poorly is going down. Perhaps it’s happened rather frequently due to differences in Player/GM experience in scripting. Also, I think upon reflection that my experience is skewed. See below.

You’re right. It’s probably a function of High LP games (I’ve been involved in 2 games with LPs of 6.) Although, I do have a 4LP character (posted in the crucible) with Sword 5, Brawling 2… that’s 6 dice pool for combat right there, before Artha.
2. The orc in the example was probably a poor script, as I’ve mentioned above. Strike, Great Strike and such involve no defensive component. As soon as the situation comes up of a Strike that goes against a script that gives an Ob 1, that’s when the Persona is poured in. Character skill plays very little into it, if scripting is not favorable. It’s all a gamble, though. Fight! works as advertised. Chaotic, unpredictable and devastating. Just as Luke intended. Awesome, scary and fun, but not very swashbuckly, if you will.
3. True, Artha is being spent, but then again, Fight! is supposed to be used for climactic, belief driven conflict, which is usually the setting of a Fight! scenario… everything else goes by way of Vs. test or Bloody Versus, right? It’s always been the case that the character has a couple of Persona and Fate in reserve. Perhaps they are not being challenged at the correct levels to keep those Artha points down.

I have to disagree with this. True, high VA weapons may become better, but the idea is to circumscribe the hack to a low armor, specific weapon genre. Only 0 armor, or maybe gambeson/reinforced leather breastplate. With maybe a palace guard with a Plate breastplate (sleeveless) and a morion helmet. Think conquistadors. Watch Pirates of the Caribbean, or any version of 3 Musketeers. Not much armor, if any. Likewise for weapons: Rapiers, cutlass, daggers, pistols, muskets. Maybe a guard with a halberd. That’s it. If you layer this hack on top of chain mail armor and add battle axes and stuff… what’s the point? Just go back to normal Burning Wheel and make sure you’re covered in good armor and have a helm on.

Second, the invisible armor DOES degrade when you take damage to drive your reflexes below 3. Gambeson, assuming ROM quality, degrades only on a 1 on the roll. True, this might happen on the first hit to a normal gambeson, but then again, this means that the attack got through to hit the target… there’s a chance that might degrade the invisible armor, if it were used instead of the regular gambeson.

I like the parrying dagger and cloaks… but of the sources I cited above, I’ve only seen them used in the Alatriste books/movie (main gauche) and in the BBC 2014 version of The Musketeers (main gauche/cloak). Nice if a couple of guys have it, and it’ll certainly increase their combat effectiveness if they have access to Block and Strike, but I’d like something a single guy without armor and armed with only a rapier can do.

But perhaps you are right. It might be all in the scripting. More counterstrikes and blocks. Thing is… if both opponents script counterstrike, nothing happens… you need 1 to take the offensive.

Thanks for the conversation. This is giving me a lot to think about.

I know you are more concerned with fight length than deadliness, but if deadliness is also a concern, I’d recommend sticking to the rules in the Burning Rogues section for NPCs and only giving them 3-5 skill. If you don’t go into aggressive stance, this means they will almost never score a killing blow. (I’m assuming you are more concerned with PC fatalities than NPC ones.)

Actually I wonder if unbalanced skill wouldn’t also help lead to the kind of fights you want. If both parties are capable of killing the other easily then you might go for the first big hit, but if you have enough skill to parry your opponent while doing damage, it becomes a better proposition to fight defensively and beat them without taking harm, rather than go for an early kill but be harmed badly yourself.

I think whatever particular solution you go for, I think incentivising defense rather than making big hits less effective due to armor or modified PTGS will give better results. The latter may just result in the combatants wailing on one another harder rather than leading to the kind of parrying heavy fights it sounds like you are after.

Another thought- treat having a good position (like the high ground) as being like being outside optimal range, which will heavily encourage one party to go defensive. This will give you the scenes where one party is on the offensive and the other on the defensive, and switch periodically.

You could consider a die trait that increases the obstacle to be hit in melee, but only when aware of the attack (Fancy Footwork) and a call on to let you force a reroll of any one attack (Bladesmans Luck)

Speaking of Luck, you could just try it as an attribute like faith but let it be taxed when called upon. Use Luck to change obstacles by rolling your luck dice vs obstacle just like armor and but deduct your successes from the total successes generated by the attacker, thus reducing or eliminating the I/M/S damage received. If your luck fails you it is reduced in the same manner as failing a spell tax (loose 1D Luck per point of failure) recovery of luck dice could be a matter of time, Health Tests, or even Artha depending on how important it is in your game.

I have been playing around with the idea of assigning different traits and requirements to different weapons but nothing solid has come of it yet.

If you like the way the system works normally, the easy solution is to mess with existing armor by reskinning.

1D heavy fabric, brocade
2D padded jack
3D boiled leather
+1D for a thick cloak (instead of shield dice)
4-5D actual armor

Now people will walk around respectably armored while wearing genre-appropriate finery. Silly? A little. But simple and right in line with baseline BW

Now what you really need is +1 VA for the perfect cutting quip as you thrust for the heart!

And a Guybrush Threepwood trait.

Couldn’t the answer just to have more swashbuckling defensive FoRK’s? “Pithy-quote about opponents sword skill-wise”, “florentine defense skill”, dirty-tricks wise etc. For no other reason than to color the language and description of combat and differentiate it from the narration of hirsute grunting saxon warriors with heavy swords.

Giving everyone invisible armor just seems like a cop out. If your swashbuckler is a great swordsman without armor, prove it with system mastery, not house rules.

Don’t make me post the Rob Roy fight scene…

For Bloody Versus and simple Vs. tests, sure! But the issue is Fight! There’s nowhere to FoRK those defense wises to, if you script Strike…

Wayfarer’s reskinning of armor is essentially what I tried to do with my hack… Simple clothes become 1D armor.

In fact, if we go by Wayfarer’s suggestion, then any hat (pirate, musketeer, etc) becomes a 1D helm… problem solved. Now everyone has 1D armor, and you can degrade it as per normal rules :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Waddya do with a guy who’s actually wearing a helm though?

I like the clothes as armor idea, but I would still require that the appropriate level of armor protection be purchased in character burning before allowing it to be combined with the clothing purchase, just to keep things by the book.

Regarding Fight! rules for the swashbuckler, I would suggest allowing a Lung/Thrust manuver to be performed as a Great Strike except with only one hand required on the weapon, (which must be a thrusting blade) if you fail this action you give your opponent the advantage (fair trade off for a one handed great strike) as your momentum carries you through.