Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Fine Art of Pretending to Fence

As recurrent readers may recall, last week, I indicated that En Garde player characters are gentlemen adventurers of a 'semi-fictional' France in the era of the musketeers. Well, this statement is somewhat equivocal. Black Vulmea politely demonstrated this at the Really Bad Eggs blog. A less equivocal statement would be that En Garde player characters are gentlemen adventurers in a fictitious setting having some correlations with France of the musketeer era. Black Vulmea also points out that En Garde is still in print. Please note that the current publisher wholeheartedly endorses the premise that “En Garde! is a game of swashbuckling in a fictional 17th century Paris.” While the creators of the game intentionally instilled subtleties inconsistent with “17th century Paris,” players may easily suspend disbelief. In any event, the publisher freely provides tables that may be of value to readers as I continue my discourse.

What we now recognize as the ‘traditional’ role-playing paradigm consists of a small group of players, acting in concert, under the guidance and regulation of a gamemaster.  En Garde does not follow this paradigm.  It can accommodate a large number of players, they do not necessarily act in concert, and the rules make no mention of a referee. I suspect that with a sizable group of players a moderator would be quite useful and one would be necessary for a play-by-mail campaign; however, in most circumstances, a referee is unnecessary. All of the (reasonable) choices a (gentleman) character can make are addressed in the charts, tables, and rules. Some people may exclude En Garde as an RPG on this account but I do not. Had En Garde remained focused on dueling, it would not be a RPG; however, the game was expanded to supply motivations and rationale for a character's actions. Players wanted their characters to have a reason to duel. This is the very essence of adopting a role and hence my insistence that En Garde is a role-playing game (as opposed to – for instance – Yaquinto's Swashbuckler).  I grant that the range of play is limited, but it is well tailored for the genre.

For purposes of dueling, there are abstract divisions of time called turns. In a turn, each character performs one simultaneous action. The passage of twelve turns is a sequence.* A set group of actions, performed in order, constitutes a routine. You can think of a routine as a 'move' in fencing, like a parry or a lunge. Before each sequence, each player writes down a series of actions that his (or her) character will perform – in order – during the course of that sequence. It is possible for a character to begin a routine at the end of one sequence and complete it at the beginning of the next.

There is an action called a 'rest.' Nearly every attack routine incorporates one or more rest actions. Therefore, rests are the most frequent action. For instance, a lunge routine consists of three actions: a rest followed by a lunge followed by another rest. A character with a lower expertise than his opponent may have to include as many as three additional rests into each sequence to reflect the lack of comparative skill. A character who has lost more than half of his endurance must include an additional rest per sequence.

When a character performs an attack action, his opponent will likely suffer damage that turn. The amount of damage is a multiple of the attacker's strength; that multiple is determined by consulting 'Duelling Table B' and comparing the attacker's attack action against the action performed by the defender. The attacker's weapon also modifies the amount of damage.

On any given turn, players simultaneously reveal their characters' actions for that turn and resolve any consequences (such as damage) before progressing to the next turn. Although players decide (and write down) what actions their characters will take for several turns in advance, each turn is revealed one at a time. In certain circumstances, a player may forgo a routine in order to perform an optional routine (parry, block, or surrender). This would entail changing what the player has written: removing the remainder of the current routine and substituting the optional routine (possibly 'pushing back' the next recorded routine).

As is evident, there is a great deal of writing (and potentially rewriting) going on. I have an idea that may make things easier. My idea is that both participants have a selection of cards; each card represents an action. Before each sequence, each player fashions a stack of twelve cards, face down. The topmost card indicates the action taken for the first turn of the sequence. Each turn, the next card is revealed. Of course, when a player elects to have his (or her) character perform an optional routine, the player will put cards on the stack and – once the routine is complete – adjust the remaining cards as and if necessary.

*  I cannot help but think that the En Garde concept of turn and sequence influenced the creation of the Hero System Speed Chart. (Imagine an En Garde sequence as equivalent to a Hero turn and an En Garde turn equivalent to a Hero segment.)

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