En Garde! Being in the Main a Game of the Life and Times
of a Gentleman Adventurer and his Several Companions
En Garde!* was published in 1975 by Game Designers' Workshop, two years prior to the more successful Traveller. (For the record, my copy is the revised edition from 1977.) The game was created by the inestimable Frank Chadwick and the somewhat less prodigious Darryl Hany. To be fair, Hany's name is listed before Chadwick's in the game design credits, so it's reasonable to assume that Hany's contributions outweigh Chadwick's. GDW stalwarts John Harshman and Loren Wiseman are given credit as game developers.
The status of En Garde as a 'genuine' role-playing game is open to interpretation. The introduction states that “En Garde is a semi-historical game/simulation” and no claim is made in the book that it is a role-playing game per se. Of course, in those very early days, the actual term “role-playing game” was not necessarily used in RPG products. (For instance, the term does not appear in the original three D&D 'little brown books.')
In the game, each player controls a character. Characters are defined, in large part, by abilities that have a randomly determined, numerical value. Players make choices as to how their characters interact with (1) the setting environment and (2) one another. The ramifications of said choices are often determined via rolling dice and consulting charts. There is a focus on combat. En Garde shares the preceding features with 'genuine' RPGs but, for other matters, En Garde differs from the usual concept.
En Garde represents a peculiar development from the dawn of role-playing that I (due to the absence of other authority) categorize as 'scheduling games.' (Superhero 2044 is another example of a scheduling game.) These games combine qualities of 'proper' RPGs with play-by-mail games in that players interact with one another face-to-face but the actions of characters are plotted out in advance. In effect, a player composes a schedule of activity for his (or her) character. For En Garde, such a schedule can cover a month of game time or, in the case of fighting a duel, scant moments.
Speaking of fighting duels, in En Garde, each player controls a 'gentleman adventurer' of France in the time of the musketeers. As mentioned above, the game is “semi-historical.” The goal is not realism so much as a representation of the swashbuckling genre. (The game is dedicated to Alexandre Dumas, Danny Kaye, and Sir Harry Flashman.) Evidently, the game was intended originally to be a way to simulate fencing and background 'color' was included to provide rationale for duels. Eventually, the background 'color' became more prominent than the actual duels. The essential objective of the characters is to acquire status; dueling is merely a means to that end.
Each character has four abilities. Strength (ability to inflict damage), Expertise (skill and experience with fencing), and Constitution (general health) are determined by rolling 3d6 for each. Endurance (ability to absorb damage) is determined by multiplying Strength by Constitution.
Next week we shall examine the fencing rules.
* The cover appellation includes the exclamation point, a convention that is not observed in the body of the work. For the sake of convenience, your humble host will forgo said punctuation when referencing the game henceforth.