Friday, 7 March 2014

Viscounts and Vagabonds - design precepts

Some time ago, on this very blog, I postulated an idea for a RPG about 18th century rakes and raconteurs called Viscounts and Vagabonds. The game takes its inspiration from films like Dangerous Liaisons and Plunkett and Maclean, as well as the plays of Richard Sheridan (1751-1816) and the 1990s play by mail game En Garde. It can be played for high and tragic drama (e.g. The Duchess) or fast and furious laughter (Blackadder the Third). Part social comedy, part caper, typical adventures would involve PCs seeking to advance themselves socially and financially in Georgian London and further afield.

Although I've not started writing this yet, here are some of the key design elements I'd like to include in the game:

  1. PCs start impoverished; wealth and social standing should be quantifiable elements, although reputation should also be important. There has to be a mechanic for controlling reputation, the perception that society has of that character, particularly the viscounts. While the Georgians were probably not as obsessed about reputation as the Victorians, it still counted.
  2. Each player runs two characters - a viscount and a vagabond. The vagabonds are servants of the viscounts, but you don't run your viscount's vagabond - you run another player's!
  3. The vagabonds are there partly as gofers, but also as a means for the viscounts to access the social under-belly of Georgian society without getting their hands dirty. The vagabonds are the henchmen - the question is how reliable are they, and what their own personal goals are. Think of Baldrick in Blackadder.
  4. Characters have to reach specific goals, which could be drawn from a deck at the start of the campaign, or determined by the player in consultation with the umpire. Once a viscount achieves his goal, he is retired as a PC.
  5. I'd like a campaign to be structured a little like King Arthur Pendragon - there should be some kind of ultimate objective, and character activities in downtime should be important. A campaign should have an achievable conclusion within six to eight four hour game sessions - it should not ramble on indefinitely.
  6. Relationships with NPCs and communities should also be important, and measured by dice pools, as with the Circles mechanic in Burning Wheel.
  7. Character passions should be important, and will probably be the way experience and character advancement as generated (e.g. a character with a gambling addiction should have to test against this regularly). The more you go to your passions, the more XP you earn. V and V will not be an XP per session game - the player will be responsible for this. Thus, you can choose to ignore your passions, but you will harvest less XP at the end of the game.
  8. Quotes from Sheridan plays - additional XP can be earned by using quotes from Sheridan plays in your dialogue.
  9. Adventure cards - as an optional extra, Adventure Cards will be dealt each session to throw unexpected events in the paths of characters, which can earn extra XP if resolved. These are like side quests or adventures which PCs can undertake with the aid of their friends, or on their own.
The game is still very much in the early development stage, and keeps getting put on the back burner. One important decision has to be whether to use an established rules system, or go with a stand alone engine. The former might be easier. But combat should take up less of the game than social interaction, ergo expect a game that is more about politics and social intrigue than duelling on Hampstead Heath or privateering against the Spanish.

More on this once it begins to take more shape. Feedback and ideas are always appreciated!

1 comment:

  1. I've not read it myself but would HIllfolk be any good for this? Maybe Ars Magica would be worth a look for ideas on running the two-tier party. Reign may be a bit too high-level for what you're looking at but could be useful.