Archive for July, 2019

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En Garde! Avantgarde Retro…Something

16 July, 2019

Via the wonderful Slack community for Paul Beakly’s Indie Game Reading Club my interest was peaked by the mention of an ancient (in roleplaying archeological terms) game by Darryl Hany and Frank Chadwick called En Garde!
Yes, with an exclamation point.
Hard to believe that En Garde! is nearly as old as the original D&D, with the first edition published by GDW in 1975. The game, subtitled “Being in the Main a Game of the Life and Times of a Gentleman Adventurer and his Several Companions”, is a strange mix of roleplaying and strategy game set in the 1600s Paris. Think The Three Musketeers and you’ve got it. But, like D&D, it seems that it’s an oldie that just won’t go away. It’s still being sold these days in its 4th edition by a British publisher—you can read more about the game’s history on the publisher’s site, it’s fascinating stuff.

How…what?

In the game you create a character—by rolling dice on several tables, obviously—which you then try to progress in Parisian social and military life. All characters have a social level and the game is about raising this level over months, and possibly years (in game time), by accumulating status points. You may start out as a piss-poor peasant son with no money, no inheritance and possibly no future. Or you may be lucky to be born into a noble rich family and start the game with a boat load of cash and a social level to match.
In the game I’m playing in, a play-by-post game, which the game is perfectly suited to, I rolled a peasant’s son. The best I can say is that he happens to be the first son in his family, which raises his social level a tiny bit and provides him with an eeny-weeny more funding from the outset. But not much.
You get status points by doing a lot of stuff—basically you describe what your character is doing week by week over a four-week period and at the end of the month the score is calculated, also sometimes based on dice rolls to see how well, for example, the character’s attempt at joining a military regiment or courting a lady goes. At the same time, you are also trying to earn an income so you can pay your monthly expenses—believe me, living in Paris in 1610, even in a shitty room in the worst area, is expensive.
Money does get you a long way. You can join a regiment and immediately pay a lump sum to get an officer’s rank, like Captain, Major or even higher. Being in a regiment earns you a monthly income.
If you are skint, you can try and suck up to one of the wealthier characters, called to “toady”, and perhaps they will invite you to their club and hoopla, your social level is already improving. Or you can visit a money lender and borrow some money, although I would advise against it. The interest payment are killing.
You can visit a brothel or court a lady companion. That also will cost you.

It’s pretty neat.


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Alien RPG: Chariot of the Gods Actual Play

7 July, 2019

I am running the intro scenario Chariot of the Gods for the coming Alien RPG, mostly because I wanted to play it and nobody else was right there to run it. And we are playing it the slowest possible way imaginable, which is asynchronous play-by-forum. Not ideal, granted, but the game’s cinematic rules structure is actually not that bad. I don’t know any other Fria Ligan games with similar rules, but thankfully a couple of the players are well versed in the rules system generally, and we are kind of learning the Alien flavour of the rules together. One of the players is Matt, who runs a very active RPG blog and podcast.
It’s good fun.

No Spoilers

If you intend to play this scenario as a player only, then you don’t have to worry for now. I am not going to spoil any surprises in this post.
The scenario comes ready to play with five player characters—we are four players and one GM, so I am running one of the starting characters as an NPC.
Now, while I cannot say much about what’s going on in the fiction, I can tell you a bit about the game’s structure. It’s a very traditional RPG with attributes and skills—thankfully only 12 broadly defined skills, where fx. HEAVY MACHINERY covers everything mechanical, whether it’s repairing it, rigging it or taking it apart. Each skill is based off its attribute—STRENGTH in this case—and the numbers together are the number of dice you roll to do a task. One six is a succes, extra sixes can be spent as “stunts” to get a mechanical or fictional advantage, such as doing it faster or better.
As long as your character doesn’t have stress, it doesn’t matter what the other dice show—only sixes count.
Oh, yeah. Stress.

Dice, Dice, Baby. Stress Dice.

The cinematic rules are built to emulate your typical Alien film and most of the characters are not expected to live through the scenario—or even be alive that long into the scenario. While the game is a traditional task resolution, mechanics-first system, it comes with a very nice push mechanic to mitigate the toughness of the system. When ever you roll your attribute plus skill to achieve something and you’re not satisfied with your roll, you may “push”, ie. reroll all the dice that didn’t show a six. The price for doing that is called Stress, and a push add one to your Stress. You roll you Stress as dice in another colour—the official dice are a warning yellow—along with your normal dice and they work as normal dice, giving you a success on a six. The big but here is if any of the Stress dice come up as a one. Then your character might be in trouble, based on how many Stress point they have accumulated so far.
So, the more Stress your character has, the more dice they roll for a given task and the better their chances for a succes. But at the same time also increasing the chance for rolling a one on one of those yellow suckers and making the outcome even worse.
If a character rolls a one—or a facehugger symbol on the official dice—on a Stress die, it trigger panic. Which may start a whole avalanche of panic, because panic may trigger panic in other characters as well. Mechanically you roll a die and add your level of Stress and read the result on a table. Anything on 6 and below is not too bad, but roll higher and you may be in deep shit, from dropping whatever you are carrying to all out screaming and fleeing—and worse.
There are other ways to get Stress that pushing your roll—your character gets Stress if they fire full auto fire on a gun, get scared by something in the fiction, get hurts a.o.

Using the system

The stress/panic system is very much at the forefront when playing the game. Already on the first rolls in the scenario, players start pushing their luck—and who wouldn’t, especially with no or few Stress dice? So far, we are only nearly done with Act 1 of the scenario, but player characters have already had plenty of tense situations with stress and panic without even meeting any opposition yet. From here, it can only get worse. In a good way.