Which system for a time when people dueled?
May 11, 2014 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I want to run a story oriented table top RPG that is not Tolkien Fantasy- help me choose an easy to wrangle system that would be conducive to the Georgian/Napoleonic War with Magic as a back drop?

There's so much going on during the late 1700s or early 1800s that is seems like a great place to set an RPG- I'm great at stories and ideas (brandy smuggling, pirates & highway men! nobles doing a 'grand tour' and getting side tracked by ancient ruins! ladies maids spying on great European powers planning war! Abolitionists to support and Americans invading Canada!), but lousy at systems and mechanics. What system would work well for merging light amounts of magic with standard physical hijinks, including musket and swordplay, and is easy to learn to run and play?

My challenge is that I've run plenty of rules free adventures where I basically narrated a story, but have little practice with dice n' load balancing for stats. Now I would like to tell a story which is more combat heavy and plan 'encounters' too, where there is a risk based on randomness and not just the word of god from the GM.

Bonus challenge- No Whitewolf please
posted by Phalene to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Can't help you on the mechanics of your game, but how about setting it within the Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell universe? Napoleonic wars with a side of magic...
posted by killdevil at 1:45 PM on May 11, 2014

Response by poster: I don't have any problem with the setting or universe ideas. I need a table top system that lets my figure out the mechanics of operating a cavalry sabre, etc... :) (Sorry to thread sit)
posted by Phalene at 1:50 PM on May 11, 2014

I didn't play the system a HUGE amount, but I think Flashing Blades might be worth considering. The combat system had some detail that made it great for dueling...parries, ripostes...italian style vs french style...etc...without being super cumbersome. Combat was a blast. It was a bit on the deadly side....or at least serious injury...but it made the stakes feel large.

It also (as I recall) had fun bits of rules for honor and carousing and such. It had no magic, but I'm sure you could graft some on. It is on DriveThruRPG.
posted by Wink Ricketts at 2:04 PM on May 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

magic would have been a game-changer at alexander hamilton versus aaron burr. i've never been in a swordfight, but in the movies, the guy just draws the saber from its scabbard and swings it at folks. maybe with an icosahedral die, 19 and 20 would be a killstrike to his neck?
posted by bruce at 2:05 PM on May 11, 2014

This is the kind of thing where GURPS shines. Every book in the system is compatible, and you can mix and match to your heart's content.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:09 PM on May 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

FATE or FAE could work.

You could also probably adapt 7th Sea, which more rules-y.
posted by wintersweet at 2:15 PM on May 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Iron Kingdoms has magic plus the sort of combat that you're looking for - the only thing is that is has steam-powered things, which doesn't sound like what you're looking for. It has its own setting which it sounds like you'd want to jettison, but I think it would be very amenable to you stripping out the parts that you didn't need. I've never run it as a GM, but I've had a lot of fun playing it.
posted by Vortisaur at 2:34 PM on May 11, 2014

Have not read it, but heard about Honor + Intrigue a month or two ago (it was advertised in a Bundle of Holding).
posted by fings at 3:22 PM on May 11, 2014

I feel you'd be kind of crazy not to consider GURPS for this (or for any non-off-the-shelf game world).
posted by 256 at 6:51 PM on May 11, 2014

My husband says GURPS was exactly designed for this.
posted by anastasiav at 6:57 PM on May 11, 2014

Maybe Burning Wheel?
posted by mon-ma-tron at 8:12 PM on May 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm under the impression that GURPS is a very rules-heavy/simulationist system, and probably wouldn't work well with the "easy to learn and play" goals.

Wushu is a narrative-driven system that you may find fits your needs.
posted by kavasa at 9:17 PM on May 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have played GURPS and you couldn't be more wrong. This is from Steve Jackson, which means that playability always comes first.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:22 PM on May 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could check out GURPS Lite and see what you think.
posted by squinty at 1:37 AM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Check out Duty & Honour (Sharpe the RPG) or Beat to Quarters (Hornblower the RPG). I haven't played either but I've heard good things. There is an episode talking about the later on a podcast series called Game Advocates which is worth a listen for an overview.

I've heard a lot of good things about Lady Blackbird as a fairly rules light narrative focused RPG. It has a pre-made space pirates based setup but everything about it screams out for re-skinning for the Napoleonic era.

Also colour me surprised that "easy to play narrative focused RPG" and "GURPS" are mentioned in the same sentence.

Apologies for the lack of links, posting from mobile and feeling lazy.
posted by Erberus at 3:54 AM on May 12, 2014

Yes, if you were up for skinning something up yourself with rules you already know, Burning Wheel and possibly Lady Blackbird would be high on my list of suggestions.

Your request for easy to learn, run and play, though, makes me lean away from BW, alas. It's got some wonderful bits that'd shine in your setting, such as the Duel of Wits. LB is pretty straightforward, though, so it might suit, especially as it has many wonderful character focused bits.

You might also want to look at Savage Worlds!, which seems to get a lot of hack love. I've played it only a few times and it seems like it could work.

There doesn't seem to be an Apocalypse World hack out there for such a setting, yet.

I'd avoid GURPS, as its big problem is right in its name. Generic.

And if you want to do any searching for material about your desired setting, the term of art is 'mannerpunk'.
posted by ursus_comiter at 11:49 AM on May 12, 2014

PDQ and PDQ# might be worth a look. It's the underlying system to Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, the specifics of which might be portable to your own setting(s) with minimal changes needed.
posted by chaosys at 5:05 PM on May 12, 2014

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