Monday, 24 August 2015

More Viscounts, more Vagabonds

"Why is Sir Hadley up yon tree naked?"

For some time now I've been chewing over the idea of a 'lacepunk' setting, using Georgian London as its backdrop. While it has been knocking around in the somewhat dank and clammy recesses of my imagination, I've been avidly consuming The Monster Blood Tattoo series of books by D. M. Cornish, and Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell by Susanna Clarke. This has been helping me to get around to actually making some decisions on the setting and the system, and the sorts of adventures it would be fun to run within it.

To start with, what are the key themes and aspects of a Viscounts & Vagabonds game?

Comedy of manners - The core protagonists should be viscounts and vagabonds, namely either aristocrats fallen on hard times, or those from more prosaic backgrounds seeking to improve themselves. Hence, the onus is on acquiring wealth while at the same time enhancing or defending social standing. Long term campaign goals for each character should be set in advance, and may be inspired by some of the disadvantages bought or assigned in advance. Once achieved, that character is retired as successful and happy. This should happen only rarely.

Random character generation - Some character generation should be random, with players dealt some of their circumstances at the beginning of the campaign. Your character never chose to have a peg leg, gambling debts, or the pox, and neither should you. But these can also help players by providing some additional build points to improve characters' physical attributes, bringing them fine clothes or decent snuff, or perhaps some lacepunk or magical trappings. A table of 100 potential curses will allow players to generate advantages as well: Blind In One Eye will bring a couple of points towards a pool that can be used to buy friends, assets, a decent sword, a corrupt judge, you name it.

Magic and technology - At the time of writing, I'm considering whether to include low level magic and some steampunk technology in the game. The historic waypoint is some time during the mid-18th century, probably in England, probably during the reign of George II (1727-1760). Beyond the technological breakthroughs that actually happened during his reign, and there were many, there is scope for some additional lacepunk or magic-tech devices from certain quarters. Nothing too game-breaking, but just enough to lend V&V some additional spice. No elves will walk the streets of London mind you, but there could be the odd horror lurking in its sewers.

Politics - I'd want this to be a political game. A typical campaign could see characters acquiring considerable financial assets and becoming peers or members of parliament. As they ascend to dizzier heights, they can become embroiled in the intrigues and factionalism of life in the kingdom. Attending the right parties and hunting expeditions should be just as important as completing adventures. Social status and financial assets will be important ratings, as they will dictate whether a player character receives invitations to the ball or not.

"What! Guinea pigs? For breakfast?"

Down time - As with King Arthur Pendragon, downtime will be important in V&V. This will be those periods between adventures when characters are spending and earning money, and going about their daily lives. They may seek to complete tasks, like researching magic or the occult, or pursuing an heiress, but other challenges could be sprung on them out of the blue. I like tables of random events, and intend to have one here for GMs to generate humorous diversions for their players. Some careers, like naval officer on the reserve list, while providing a modicum of income, might also require a character spend some time at sea. Downtime will usually be charted in weeks or months only, but the seasonal calendar of Georgian society will come into play. After all, we'd all want to be in Bath while the Prince of Wales is there...

Vices - Inspired by insanity rules in Call of Cthulhu, and the passions mechanic in Pendragon, PCs may pick up vices. These can be simple, bread and butter vices, like cards or horses, or they could be more exotic. Some will be expensive, others scandalous, and some will just be...odd. PCs can seek to resist their vices, but if temptation comes in their way, vices will be harder to ignore, and they may succumb. Vices like gambling will damage your finance score more than your social score, but pox will have the inverse effect. I will include as many examples of actual, historic vices as possible. Fact, as ever, is stranger than fiction. All characters will have vices by default, but vices can be ramped up in return for more build points at the character generation stage. Succumbing to your vices makes it harder to resist them next time around.

Adventure - But what do adventures look like? These will tend to be slightly more prosaic affairs, usually involving skulduggery of some kind, including kidnapping, larceny, impersonation, seduction and other hijinks, rather than outright murder. V&V is not about adventures on the high seas, tackling the Mohawk in the forests of the Americas, or flying to the moon with Baron Munchausen. V&V characters would prefer to stay dry and in one piece if they can, ideally sitting by the fire with a drink in one hand and a pipe in the other. Combat in V&V will HURT and there will be plenty of scope to be maimed and contract gangrene if the players decide to get violent. Hence, PCs will quickly decide to avoid getting into a fight if there is some other solution at hand. Vagabonds are also on hand to take care of most of the rough stuff, if they can be persuaded to (see below).

Vagabonds - I've not decided yet whether to allow players the choice of having a viscount or a vagabond. After the experience of running a feudal Japanese adventure with a party mixed between noble samurai and other retainers, I want to avoid an 'upstairs downstairs' set up, where the referee has to dance between the two societal levels of the game. Why have the vagabonds twiddling their thumbs in the servants' quarters while the viscounts are off dancing in the ballroom? Hence, one solution is to have a player create a viscount AND a vagabond - BUT, you don't play your vagabond, one of the other players does. Your vagabond is, essentially, a retainer who could be a refined butler, a coachman, a cutpurse or simply a henchman. However, he won't necessarily do everything he's told, as he has his own vices to cope with. There may also be a loyalty mechanic which will be tested now and again, and dictate how the vagabond behaves in certain situations, or whether he lopes off to do his own thing.

System - Rather than re-invent the wheel, I'm considering a number of rules systems to form the core of the game. It may be that I poach elements from Pendragon, Dying Earth, Burning Wheel and Basic Roleplaying. But the rules will, in the end, have to stand on their own two feet. I don't intend V&V to be a setting for another game. It will be its own beast.

More on V&V when I return to British shores, as I'm currently touring the southern provinces of France, and sampling the wine and beer when I can.

"Never say more than is necessary." Richard Sheridan, playwright, 1751-1816.

" much did you say your late father left you?"

Monday, 17 August 2015

Troy Aikus - Covert Labour Organiser in Valusium

Here is my second figure of note for the Kortaq setting (Burning Empires). This is still very much in the development phase, and before PCs are created, some figures of note need to be burned up. These characters are meant to be part of the core cast, just one step back in the limelight stakes from the PCs. Assuming the PCs are in the pro-human faction, these characters may be allies, but they could also be enemies or even hindrances.

Remember that in Burning Empires, unlike, for example, Burning Wheel or Torchbearer, players are more involved in the grand politics and high level events of the campaign. They are not ordinary spacers, they have a political stake and a vested interest in the planet. Ultimately, they should also have links to one or more of the figures of note detailed by the GM.

Troy Aikus


  1. The miners and their families need to be protected from the depredations of the Telfenek Corporation.
  2. I am the saviour of my people - nobody else is worthy of that role, so long as I am around.
  3. The authorities may be co-opted in this struggle, but I will never trust them.

  1. Born to the League (Merchant League)
  2. Student (Merchant League)
  3. Commentariat (Merchant League)
  4. Philosopher (Commune)
  5. Local Official (Commune)
  6. Municipal Official (Commune)
  7. Lawyer (Commune)
Total age: 52


Will 6, Perception 4, Agility 3, Speed 3, Power 3, Forte 3


Capitalist at Heart, Humanist, Agitated, Casuist, Frustrated, Public Servant, City Official, Calculating, Idealist, Glad Hander, Constitutional Activist, Brave, Ideologue


Institutional Drudgery-wise 2, League History 2, Sports-wise 2, Propaganda 4, Composition 3, Journalism 2, Dissent-wise 3, Screed-wise 3, Philosophy 2, Doctrine (Mundas Humanitas) 2, Science 2, Local Politics-wise 3, Neighbourhood-wise 3, Problem-wise 2, Municipal Politics-wise 3, City-wise 3, Administrator 2, Communist Law 3, Imperial Law 2, League Law 2, Oratory 4, Rhetoric 3, Etiquette 2, Bureaucracy 3, Conspicuous 3.

Circles: 7

+1D infamous - Kortaq lawyers; +1D Affiliation - Valusium local government; +2D Affiliation - a small circle of influential reformist political philosophers on Kortaq; +2D Relationship - Lazar, leader of a small gang of criminals in Valusium; +1D Relationship - Major Hakan Tenedos, sympathetic officer in Kortaq Anvil forces; +2D Reputation - .champion of the workers in Valusium

Resources: 7

Technology: Advanced Intruder Countermeasures - 6 tech (-2 RPs), +2D Advantage; HEAT Suit (-3 RPs)

Note - I may tweak this section further - still reading the Technology chapter in Burning Empires...


  1. Always make sure I know where the exits are.
  2. Leave the hard fighting to others.
  3. Talk my way out rather than fight.
Steel: sheltered life (-1), competitive culture (+1), high Will score (+1) = Steel 4.

Notes - Troy Aikus uses very different life paths from Tovol Hesse. He does, however, represent quite an influential and dangerous individual, with extensive contacts at all levels of society in both Valusium and Kortaq more generally. Wises are knowledge-based skills, representing stuff your character knows as opposed to things he can do. Sports-wise means Troy just knows a lot about sports, Propaganda means he can get out there and do something active with it, he doesn't just know about propaganda, he can make it happen.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Constable Tovol Hesse

In this post I will use the character generation rules in Burning Empires to generate Constable Tovol Hesse, head of internal security at the underground mining town Valusium on the planet Kortaq. He is a figure of note, so hence an important lynchpin to the whole campaign.


  1. We need order to survive. I will not allow rogue elements in Valusium to undermine the town's ability to function.
  2. The Telfenek Corporation may own this mine, but the laws here are mine to enforce, and I will not let them get in the way of performing my job.
  3. The people here are poor and badly served by their overlords - I will do what I can to make their lives more comfortable without undermining the rule of law.

  1. Born To Rule (8 years) - Nobility
  2. Coeptir (5 years) -Nobility
  3. Lieutenant (4 years) - Anvil
  4. X-O (3 years) - Anvil
  5. Anvil Captain (7 years) - Anvil
  6. Lord-Pilot Anvil (5 years) - Stewardship & Court
  7. Constable (5 years) - Stewardship & Court
Total age: 45 years (inc two career change; Resources 11; Circles 8

Stats - Perception 4; Will 4; Agility 3; Speed 3; Power 4; Forte 4.

Skills - Close Combat 2, Etiquette 2, Stentor-wise 2, Command 3, Intimidation 2, Sergeant-wise 2, Administration 2, Persuasion 3, Unit-wise 2, Bureaucracy 2, Regulations-wise 2, Strategy 2, Anvil-wise 3, Forged Lord-wise 2, Hammer-wise 2, Terrain-wise 2, Squad Support Weapons 2, Tactics 2, Iron-wise 2, Imperial Law 2, Outlaw-wise 3, Province-wise 2, Spaceport-wise 2, Tax-wise 2, Amercement 2, Driving 2, Infiltration 1

Traits - Mark of Privilege, Corvus and Crucis, Iron Trained, Your Lordship, Nose for Trouble, Clean Cut, Scut Work, Privileged Position

Circles - Base 2 (3); Affiliations: Kortaq Nobility +1D, Telfenek Corporation +1D, Valusium Cops +1D; Reputation: Tough But Fair +1D; Relationships: Sonya Falen +1D (ex-wife), Alix Cogito +1D (complicated, sworn to bring him in).


  1. Always make sure I'm armed
  2. Wherever possible, take armed back up
  3. Take nothing Telfenek tells me at face value
Steel: +1 (military career); +1 (killed someone more than once); Total = 5.

Wounds: Superficial 3, Injured 5, Maimed 8, Mortal 10.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Cowboys to the rescue!

It is nearing the end of the gaming season as our group breaks up for the summer holidays. Consequently, we've dropped roleplaying temporarily to play some board games. We had some last minute arrivals in town last week, however, former members of our group from seven or eight years ago, and before we knew it, we were looking at 10 people around the table for Friday night.

This presented something of a challenge, and there was soon a scramble for games that could accommodate 10 people at once. I was in favour of getting everyone involved in one game, rather than splitting into two groups, particularly given space constraints. I could have made use of my gaming hut, but that would have hived half our populace off to the other side of the estate, which would have been no good at all.

Luckily, an inventory of games that could cope with 10 threw up Once Upon A Time, Saboteur, Wings of War and Cowboys: Way of the Gun. I was quite pleased we had so many options. Although we didn't play Wings of War, I'm considering buying some more miniature planes should such a situation occur again.

Ironically, I had considered selling Cowboys some time ago. I originally bought it to play with my son, but to be honest, it is not as much fun with just two players. The mechanics are very sparse for a skirmish game, but this suits a game with a large number of participants. In our case, we used a scenario with two teams of five players plus some supporting townsfolk, that seemed to go very well.

With each player controlling one cowboy, and team captains controlling the allied townsfolk, there was still enough going on to keep everyone busy. The game is detailed enough to allow players to keep track of ammo, and there is some granular detail around establishing line of sight, cover, et cetera. With only one cowboy each, players were also keen to keep themselves in one piece. Each player was also dealt an action card, that conferred special abilities or circumstances that could aid his own side or hinder the enemy (e.g. Adrenalin Rush, Gun Jammed). This added an additional layer of complexity  and character, which I think the game needs.

Closing stages - three bandits down!
Each cowboy can take four hits before dying, but multiple hits slow them down, making them more vulnerable. It is also very easy to go from full health to dead if a cowboy is exposed to multiple sources of fire. I suppose my earlier poor opinion of the game was formed from a beginner scenario featuring two cowboys duelling on one board, which probably does not do the system justice.

My game ended when my escaping bandit was confronted by two lawmen in an alley as he was trying to elude them on horseback. Heavily penalised by his mounted status, he missed them both and was promptly shot dead.

The scenario had quickly degenerated into an every man for himself skeedaddle as deputies converged on our gang from all sides, and we sought egress from the township. There was very little attempt at teamwork, and we all got shot down apart from Dave, who probably faced the hangman's noose.

All in all, it was great fun and the game worked well in that kind of multi-player setting. I won't, after all, be selling this one on eBay...