Thursday, 26 May 2011

Viscounts & Vagabonds

I have for some time been ruminating on the possibilitiy of eventually sitting down to write my own RPG. I've had an idea that has been kicking around within the somewhat polluted depths of my brainpan for a few years now, but I've never really got around to sitting down and getting the ball rolling on it.

While I have two books to finish off this year - well, by September - after that I may go back to brainstorming the actual mechanics of an RPG to be called Viscounts & Vagabonds. In essence, V&V is a game about rogues, rascals, highwaymen and pirates, and their largely fruitless efforts to survive in 18th century England. It is slightly tongue in cheek, and inspired by the likes of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Blackadder The Third, and the film Plunkett & Maclean. It would not have any magic or supernatural elements to it, but would allow for more 'social' roleplaying in the England of the Georges.

Characters would have both physical and social characteristics. So, for example, Strength, Speed and Stealth would all be critical attributes, as would Social Status, Wealth, and indeed Charm (combining both physical good looks and the ability to chin wag your way graciously around a ballroom).

The game would also draw on its inspiration from swashbuckling RPGs like En Garde and Lace & Steel, but as it is set towards the end of the classic swashbuckling era, it leans more towards social graces, managing money, and generally trying to get ahead.

I am genuinely thinking of creating a purely random character generation system, letting players roll up a PC in good old 'olde skewl' traditions, and stick with the results. Tables would be slanted towards providing characters fallen on hard times, who would need to connive, steal and lie their way towards the wealth they feel they deserve. Random 'afflictions' might include smallpox scars, a war wound, creditors, vengeful husbands, all the way to leprosy and lechery. It would be great to illustrate the game with some of those wonderful Hogarth drawings of the debauched aristocracy of the time.

PCs would be largely set on the course of wealth acquisition, be it via enterprise (South Sea Bubble anyone?), theft (highwaymen perhaps?), con games, marriage, naval service (although this would be abstracted in downtime between games or to explain a player's absence - 'yes, Viscount Dibblingham has indeed been press-ganged...') or some other money making endeavour.

Most games would use London as their default setting, but obviously GMs would be within their rights to arrange excursions to the country, on the continent, or further afield. However, Bath and Brighton were both emerging as major centres for the polite classes during this period, so there might be scope for supplements on both.

Ideally, players would have sub-plots attached to their characters that they would have to resolve, as well as the main adventures thrust as them by the GM, which might allow them scope to line their pockets. I doubt this is a game that would pave the way for an epic 30 session campaign, with the average campaign being completed in six or seven sessions maximum (i.e. what I'm comfortable running myself).

The other area I wanted to explore was the role of the vagabonds in all this. Initially, I thought the players would be working their way up from being vagabonds themselves towards the dizzy heights of social acceptability, but then I hit on the idea of having vagabonds as the PCs' retainers. Following a game of Land of the Samurai and seeing the way the Leadership feat in Pathfinder can totally transform a game, I thought the vagabond game could, in effect, become a game within a game. Players with sufficient wealth could hire vagabond retainers, and the character sheet would contain space for a vagabond's stats as well. Vagabonds would be the players' 'gofers', able to go places and do things the PCs could not. At some points in the game, they would merely be an extra pair of eyes and ears, while at others the vagabond game would take centrew stage. Think Jeeves and Wooster, in lace and tights.

So that's it in a nut shell. I'm not looking to create anything outrageously complex, but it would be a game where roleplaying would be embedded in the mechanics, and where an hilarious escapade could ensue without the need for pistols to be primed or rapiers drawn.

More on this when I have the time for dream up more madness!


  1. Sounds kewl Stuart - do post more on this!! :D

  2. This sounds brilliant. I'd play this in a shot; get it written up and let's start playtesting!

  3. It will have to wait until the autumn, I'm afraid, as I have my books to write first. Busy summer for me! But after that I may well get to work on a play-test document!