Category Archives: Guest Post

Guest Post: Combat of the Thirty

Handling chivalry in RPGs is hard. Genre fiction loves chivalry and honor almost as much as it loves jaded pessimism – and it often shoves the two philosophies together in ways that seem to clash. The classic example is the paladin and the rogue. How’s a GM supposed to have both in the same party without one of them (usually the paladin) looking like a moron? A real-life incident from 1351 may help shed some light on how to walk this tightrope.

The Hundred Years’ War between England and France (1337-1453) was a famously awful mess. Millions died, countless towns were burned (sometimes multiple times), and the whole affair settled remarkably little. Yet the leadership of both sides were ostensibly bound by the laws of chivalry, which theoretically ought to have limited the violence. It’s a great example of how honorable combat usually doesn’t hold up in the real world. Yet amid the blood and the grime, there was a bright spot: the Combat of the Thirty, an example of chivalry held up for centuries to come.

In 1351, an English castellan (lord of a castle) in Brittany was riding past a fortress occupied by Breton forces fighting for France. When he saw that no one inside the castle was going to come out and fight, the Englishman called up to the Bretons on the ramparts to ask if there was anyone inside who might want to joust with him “for the love of their ladies”. The joust he was proposing was no tournament game, but a deadly bout with steel-tipped lances!

The Bretons politely declined, but offered a counterproposal. “We will choose twenty or thirty of our companions in the garrison and we will go to an open field, and there we will fight as long as we can endure it; and let God give the victory to the better of us.” The two sides agreed on a date and time, then parted.

The day of the combat, both sides arrived with thirty men-at-arms. The fighters didn’t pair off or anything: it was just a giant scrum of two teams of thirty men trying to kill each other. They fought mounted and afoot, with swords, daggers, spears, and axes. The fighting lasted for hours. Over a dozen people died. The French side ultimately won, but literally all the combatants who survived were badly wounded.

The outcome had no impact on the broader course of the war. Indeed, it wasn’t intended to. This was sixty guys getting together to beat the stuffing out of each other for no other reason than the joy of combat and the glory they would earn for living up to a chivalric ideal.

And glory they did earn! In the context of the era, what these sixty combatants did was the pinnacle of chivalric achievement, made grander still by the backdrop of an incredibly un-chivalric war. More than twenty years later, a French historian recorded that one of the combatants still held a place of unique honor at the court of King Charles V specifically because of the knight’s participation in the Combat of the Thirty. Ironically, though King Charles may have valued chivalry highly, his successes in the Hundred Years’ War were arguably due to his unchivalrous pragmatism.

The central takeaway from the Combat of the Thirty is this: your campaign doesn’t have to be tonally consistent to be believable. Even in the midst of a hideously unchivalrous period in Western history, chivalrous acts still occurred. At your table, you can have your Jedi behave honorably and your bounty hunter be ruthlessly pragmatic and give both a decent shot at success.

The most fun campaigns support a diversity of PC worldviews. If you’re playing Song of Ice and Fire Roleplay, you can have an idealistic Brienne-type PC and a nihilistic Sandor Clegane-type PC in the same party without ever determining which one of them is ‘right’ about how the world works. Indeed, it’s more fun if you don’t. A campaign with a single underlying philosophy strikes only a single note. A campaign that strikes many notes doesn’t get old as quickly – and it has a little more tension too.

The Combat of the Thirty shows us that a campaign with only a single worldview isn’t realistic. And experience shows us it’s less fun.

For more RPG content grounded in real-world history and folklore, head over to the Molten Sulfur Blog, where Tristan publishes adventure hooks, adventure sites, and NPCs every Tuesday.

All quotes are from the Chroniques of the 14th-century historian Jean Froissart.

FrontierSpace Actual Play Report

On September 27th DwD Studios released their space opera RPG FrontierSpace. Stargazer’s World already reviewed it. I had the opportunity to use the playtest rules for a one shot session during ZeltCon 2017, the annual gaming convention of the roleplaying club of Biberach, “Palaver”.

Even better – I was invited to take part in a more or less impromptu session a friend of mine ran the following day. But I will come to that later.

I had prepared a short introductory scenario for “Ferne Sterne” (Far Stars), a new setting I am working on so I was not using DwD’s FrontierSpace setting. It was meant as a test whether it worked and whether it was worth developing further.

For the sake of convenience and quick access I had also prepared four Player Characters from two of the four species present in the region – humans and “Rakhaadi” (which actually are the more or less stereotypical Greys). So I only had to create one new alien species for this occasion. This process is covered only briefly in the Player’s Handbook but is included in the Referee’s Handbook in a concise yet comprehensive way.

Continue reading FrontierSpace Actual Play Report

Hacking WR&M–A Play Report by Malcolm Coull

A while back Malcolm Coull got in touch with me asking me about the source files for the WR&M character sheets. He had created his own homebrew version of “my little game” and wanted to make some changes to the sheets. Luckily I still found the Indesign sources and made them available to him.

A while later, he let me know about the game he ran using his homebrew game and provided me with his work documents. I immediately thought that this might make a very interesting post, so I asked him to write a guest post for Stargazer’s World where he shares his experiences. He agreed and without further ado, I present to you Martin Coull’s guest post:

“I’m one of those annoying people who can’t pick up a game system or an adventure without thinking ‘hmmm, I don’t like that. Why didn’t they do…?’. Doubly so because, other than a few scenarios in an old D&D campaign, I never *actually* follow through with it. And so the search for the perfect game system goes on, my own Questing Beast of sorts.

I don’t know what made me start leafing through Michael Wolf’s Warrior, Rogue and Mage again either. I’ve long since kicked the D&D habit, and there are very few crunchy games that I can stomach any more, but I’m a Savage Worlds convert, and that can handle most anything I can think of. But here was a compact little game, no classes and levels as such, and most importantly, no D20 mechanic. God how I’ve come to despise that particular polyhedron. But of course, great as it is, I just couldn’t leave it alone. ‘What if it was just a little more like D&D?’ I thought. ‘Going to need a Cleric stat for a start…’. But this time, after checking with the man himself that, yes, messing about with his baby was perfectly fine, I actually did something about it. And so WRM became WRMP; which messes up the WyRM system name, but you can’t win ’em all.

Having made some changes – most superficial like carving up the spell list into two, one for Mage and one for Priest, but some a bit more substantial like adding in an alignment/behaviour system – off I went to my local games club where I’d offered an 8 week stint in their rolling GM program. To be fair, I don’t think the organiser sold it very well as someone referred to it rather dismissively as ‘D&D-lite’, but come the first night I only had 2 sign-ups and just about every other game was full. Nevertheless, the 2 quickly became 3, and over the course of the 2 months, random walk-ups tended to find their way to my table, so by the end we were up 6 – and more importantly, the ones that played once kept coming back. Apart from 1 guy, so I sacrificed his character as a plot device…

Our little homebrew setup of randomly generating a hex island using a dice drop method, and populating some encounters with some random combinations of Story Cubes set the scene, so even with that taking a few hours, as WRM character generation is so quick we were up and playing while most of the other games were still passing round rulebooks. That also was a huge boon when new players appeared as they could be off and running virtually as soon as I’d thought on an in-game entry point for them. I tried to give the characters a mix of things to do, with combat actually being the least common occurrence (like many of my games), but they investigated, snuck around, were diplomatic, picked up herbs and generally did about everything that the skill system offered them. When combat did eventually happen, I’d decided to use the ‘armour soaking damage’ variant, which worked well for plot purposes as otherwise the halfling woodsman might have decapitated a dwarven soldier, and then things might have got messy.

It all worked out in the end, so I took the chance as we wrapped up to solicit some feedback. ‘Great!’ from one player, ‘really like the system’ from another. And ‘any chance we could come back and play a bit more next time?’ sent me home with a warm glow of satisfaction.

From my side of the screen, it was so easy to run. Doing stuff on the fly was a piece of cake, minimal need to even stat things out, with a simple target number system that the players grasped straight away. Some of my changes worked, others didn’t, and I did have a momentary worry about how easy it would be actually damage heavily armoured characters with small weapons (other than via an exploding six on damage), but I can honestly say I was as happy as the players with the end result.

Do I want to tweak it more? Of course! I’m already thinking about a revised spell list, and have added in some religions and a few combat moves for the fighters, but the game ran perfectly well without them, and there is much to be said for NOT adding too many bells and whistles as it’s supposed to be a rules light game. But for something with as low a page count, it packs an awful lot in. And perhaps more than any other game in a similar niche, there appears to be plenty of scope for advancement and character growth – I gave the PC several small ‘bumps’ during the game, but having been a bit miserly with starting attribute points, they were still very manageable by the end, and it was easy to tailor the advances to cut down on anyone just ploughing all their ‘XP’ into the same thing. I also like that the default set up means that characters are decent at their ‘specialty’ from the start, but can still be challenged by more difficult tasks, and yet it is perfectly possible to play a generalist and not feel quickly overwhelmed by rising target numbers, which was another issue I found with later iterations of D20 based games.

It might not be quite perfect, but for a D&D type fantasy game I can’t see me running anything else in future, and includes Savage Worlds.”

Thanks again to Malcolm for sharing his thoughts and experiences. If you have any questions regarding his hack, or any ideas of your own to share, feel free to post in the comments below. As always every comment is highly appreciated.