Sunday, March 25, 2018

Fencing Styles in Dungeons & Dragons

Art by Virgil Finlay

In the early 90s, TSR published a series of “Historical Reference” sourcebooks for use with second edition D&D.  The fourth such sourcebook, A Mighty Fortress, presents a setting “drawn from European history comprising the 101 years from 1550 to 1650.”  Although the setting is self-contained, we are assured that “France, Spain, England, and the Holy Roman Empire could easily be transplanted into any setting, including Faerun and Oerth.”

Fortress describes two schools of fencing:  Spanish and Italian.

The Spanish style “can be learned as a weapon proficiency.”  It costs one slot but either rapier or saber proficiency must be purchased as a prerequisite.  “The Spanish school grants an AC benefit of +1...[and every] additional slot devoted to this proficiency increases the AC bonus by one.”  However, slots after the first can only be acquired once every three levels.  The AC bonus only applies when a character is using a rapier, saber, dagger, or is unarmed.  Like the Dexterity AC bonus, “If the character cannot move or see the attack coming, he does not get this benefit.”

The Italian style costs two weapon proficiency slots, and rapier proficiency is a prerequisite.  We learn... Italian style swordsman cannot be attacked with a small- or medium-sized melee weapon if he has the initiative.  His opponent, regardless of his school, must win initiative in order to attack.
The Italian school also allows a character to parry attacks in a manner different from that detailed in the Player's Handbook.  After a character is hit, he may choose to parry by making an attack roll against his opponent; if successful, “the attack is parried and it has no effect.”  Every round, the character is entitled to one free parry.  Normal attacks can be “converted” to parries but such additional parries “must be declared before initiative is rolled.”
In order to parry, the character must have a dagger in his left hand or have some other sort of protection for the hand.  A leather glove, a cloak, or a floppy hat are the most common; a silk handkerchief is sufficient.
In 1986, Mayfair Games published a 'Role Aids' adventure called Beneath Two Suns.  This product is an “authorized and approved module” based on the Dray Prescot series of sword & planet novels.  By sheer coincidence, the Age of Dusk blog today posted a review of this adventure.  The superficial details I discuss here are largely distinct from the cogent Age of Dusk review, so your kind perusal of that review will not be a waste of your time (assuming you do not consider reading a review of a 32 year old RPG product to be a waste of time.  Then again, you wouldn't be here, would you?).

Beneath Two Suns takes place on the Antarean planet Kregen, specifically the city Zenicce (similar to Renaissance Venice).  In Zenicce, “bands of thugs and hoodlums” use Florentine fighting; hence, such rules are necessary.  Also, two of the provided pre-generated characters are trained in Florentine fighting.

Florentine fighting costs two weapon proficiency slots with rapier and dagger proficiencies as prerequisites.  Florentine fighting can only be used when armed with either (i.) a rapier and a dagger or (ii.) two daggers.  A character “using Florentine fighting is allowed twice as many attacks per round.”  However, unless a character using Florentine fighting has a Dexterity of at least 16, the character suffers “a -1 modifier on his to hit roll.”  Additionally, a character “engaged in Florentine fighting has his Armor Class increased by 1 (-1) against all close-in melee attacks,” but this modifier does not apply against attacks from the rear.

It is assumed that player characters participating in the adventure are not native to Kregen.  The adventure is intended for four to six characters of levels 6 - 8.  The “majority should be fighters” (but paladins are not allowed); however, we are advised to include “at least one magic-user of not higher than skill 6 and one cleric of skill 6 - 8 in the party.”  (“Skill” is Mayfair non-trademark-infringing-code for experience level.)  The Player Introduction implies that “smashing orcs” is “normal business” for the player characters prior to seeing the star Antares sparkle and being “mysteriously transported from Earth to [the] strange, wild planet called Kregen.”  This suggests there are orcs on Earth or – on a fantasy campaign world called Earth – the constellation Scorpio is visible.

The eight pre-generated characters are all from different time periods on Earth.  Some of these characters are Dray Prescot himself, a “Centurian” (sic), and a Victorian cutpurse named Careful Dodger.  Other characters have magical abilities; for instance, Lo Khan – a Mongol ranger – has the “Speak with Animals” spell available.  Evidently Greek, Tyresias Homer is a “Skill 8 Cleric” and is described as a “Healer.”  Additionally, Ramseus is a “Skill 6 Mage” who is a “Wise Man” of an unspecified time period and culture.

The Player Introduction also explains that – on Kergen – the player characters “are in slaves' chains and are dimly aware that [their] bodies have been functioning for several weeks without the benefit of [their] full consciousness...[and they] retain a dim memory of the past weeks and have learned something of [their] strange circumstances...”  This explains how the player characters have picked up something of “the universal language of Kregen.”  It does not explain how they can read a message in a bottle they find.  Perhaps the 'Read Languages' ability of the Victorian cutpurse (40%) comes into play here.

The player characters arrive on Kregen with “no items other than the clothes on their backs and the shoes on their feet.”  For the duration of the adventure, the belongings of the characters “are kept in 'limbo.'”  Given that first edition rules are in effect, the absence of material components and his spellbook would be especially problematic for Ramseus.

1 comment:

  1. We played several campaign back in the mid 90s using Mighty Fortress rules for fencing and blackpowder weapons combined with a home brew fantasy setting. It worked well.