Saturday, January 22, 2011

The cult of the blade

The best little game I never played is a 1970s vintage role playing effort titled En Garde. It was originally a simple simulation of fencing in the time of the 3 Musketeers, but the rulesmiths at Game Designers Workshop recreated the world of the 3 Musketeers as background to the fencing. Basically, the players each represent a young man trying to make his fortune in the 17th Century world of social status and influence. A very clever design but, sadly, there were never enough people around here interested enough to follow through with a multi evening game like this. It occurs to me that the world of En Garde fits pretty well into 18th Century Europe and so, one thread in the historical tapestry of Ardoberg-Holstein will be the careers of four young men who arrive in the big city determined to make their fame and fortune or die trying. Here, then, are the four young men conjured up by rolling dice on multiple character generation tables.

"Hector". First born son of a very wealthy Markgraf. His initial social status is 9 out of a possible 16. He arrives in the capital city with 825 Thalers in his purse, a monthly allowance from dear old dad of 137 Thalers, and he can expect to inherit a further 5000 Thalers when his father dies. He begins his career by purchasing a Captaincy in the Leib Curraissers, the highest status regiment in the Electoral Army. He also joins the exclusive club Hunters. His deep pockets and high social status have allowed him to make these expensive investments in his future career.

"Nestor". First born son of a recently deceased wealthy gentleman, he arrives in the capital with 4550 Thalers (his inheritance), but will, of course, receive no allowance as he is now the head of his family. He has an initial social level of 5, which, together with his substantial fortune, allows him to purchase a commission in the Saarbrucken Regiment, a respectable unit, although not the height of fashion. He enrolls in a club, The Frog & Peach, which is also respectable if not the cutting edge.

"Phoenix". The second son of an impoverished gentleman, he arrives in the capital with a mere 40 Thalers in his pocket and no monthly allowance. His beginning social status is 3. Some day when his father goes to his reward Phoenix will inherit the family fortune, a paltry 100 Thalers. Upon arrival he enrolls as a Gentleman Ranker (AKA Private) in the Diefenbach Regiment which will, at least, provide him with three hots and a cot plus a modest sum on pay day. Oh why did father risk all on that San Maurician albino rooster farm investment? His path to better things will indeed be a rocky one.

"Hector". The bastard son of a peasant, he arrives in the capital with 9 Thalers in his pocket and no hope of an allowance or inheritance. His social status at the start of his career is a miserable 2. He joins the rather unstylish Isselbach regiment as a private soldier. His only hope of advancement under the circumstances is to win glory on the battlefield or the duelling field by taking risks shunned by most men.

These four young men were travelling companions on the road to the capital of Ardoberg, and formed a friendship which will lead them to assist each other in their careers and adventures in Europe's most contradictory capital. Stodgy and straight laced on the surface, Ardoberg is a seething cauldron of barely suppressed Lutheran naughtiness beneath. Their adventures will occasionally be recorded in these pages as a diversion from the great affairs of state that are the usual stuff of our record.

The reader may be curious about the un teutonic names of our young heroes. It is an inconvenient fact of life in Ardoberg-Holstein that all young men of gentle birth are named either Frederich Wilhelm or Wilhelm Frederich. In fact, several military setbacks in our history are directly attributable to this awkward custom as orders go astray in the heat of battle. Be that as it may, it is a common practice among our young men to adopt nicknames. Some, as with our young bravos described above, are drawn from classical literature. Others are based on perceived physical or social eccentricities and are inflicted on a lad by his fellows. Many a duel has been fought in an attempt to reverse such branding.


  1. Gary,

    There are numerous "En Garde" games played online. In most the original "dueling" aspect is secondary to the "social climbing" aspect of the framework campaign.

    Be warned however that these games come and go . . . the time required by the Game Master eventually results in burnout . . . but they can be marvelous fun in the meantime.

    So if you do want to play "En Garde", you should be able to find a game by googling.

    That being said, I really like your idea of using these four soldiers in your own campaign.

    -- Jeff

  2. So it's Hector, Nestor, Phoenix and Hector? Guess that's better than Larry, Moe, Curly and Shemp.

  3. I resemble that remark, nyuk nyuk.

  4. Or Huey, Dewey, and Louie....

    I remember a RPG of that time in this very setting, but not its name: was 'En Garde' a 'boxed' game along the lines of the original 3 booklets of "D&D"? I gave it to a fellow gamer when I 'retired' from active gaming outside the University, more than 20 years ago. We used it only to 'approportionate' the statistics of gunpowder weapon -for our RPG campaign set in some 'alternate' mid-18th C. France where the Fronde had triumphed we decided to keep using the basic D&D rules we were familiar with- and partly as a sourcebook of scenarios.
    What I remember most was the fanciful but charming names and uniforms ascribed to some units of the French army, and a scenario with a mysterious 'employer' masked and wearing gloves who reminded me of the main character in Cocteau's 'Beauty and the Beast' trying to pass unnoticed: what it 'En Garde' indeed?

  5. I think they must be different games. 'My' En Garde was a single small booklet by Game Designer Workshop. The one you describe sounds like fun and a great source of inspiration. You should get it back from that guy.

    I wish I'd thought of Huey, Dewey and Louie. Too late now.

  6. After some 20 years? Not a chance, I don't even remember the guy's name!

    But a Googling convinced me -from the cover illustration- that it was Flashing Blades, still available (and expanded since) from FGU.