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?"

1 comment:

  1. Sounds most excellent Stuart!

    How about having a variety of starting themes and thus background tables around the players' pcs being a viscount or vagabond?

    1 campaign option could be that pcs start up as members of the same family down on their luck ....turning to skullduggery to improve their fortunes

    Another could be they are all returning from skullduggery in the Caribbean as either dispossessed nobles seeking to reclaim their lost wealth (captain Flint in Black Sails) / or as could even be masquerading as the noble they murdered / witnessed the killing of and has since stolen their identity (ala The Knights Tale)

    Another could be as highway robbers ala Plunkett and Maclaine.

    Would the setting be mythical Georgian? As in historically accurate with a splash of occult ala Call of Cthulhu? Or more fantastical like Pendragon or Ars Magica?

    Happy to gibber about ideas. Sounds really interesting! :) Enjoy the last few weeks of your holiday! Lucky man!