Last year a friend of mine ran a short Fate Accelerated campaign about the Three Musketeers. Said friend is half-French, and harbours an enthusiasm for the Musketeers that not even my terrible, exaggerated, possibly racist French accent can dent. So it was a great game, with all minimum standards of derring-do and swashbucklery attained. We all agreed to come back to play in another Musketeers campaign at some point, this time using Fate Core, and also characters of our own invention (instead of the Athos/Porthos/Aramis/D’Artagnan line-up of the first game).
I definitely prefer Fate Core’s skill system to FAE’s approaches, but it’s not the best engine for delivering varied and interesting sword fights. Roll Fight to attack, roll Fight to defend, roll Fight to create an advantage if you’re imaginative… that pretty much covers it. Recently I’ve been thinking about ways to mix things up, and have looked at adopting the Accelerated approaches as a way of mirroring different sword fighting styles. But I want to use these in a way that will be mechanically consequential, as my experience of FAE is that players have few restrictions on using their best approach all the time (other than boredom).
This is what I’ve got so far.
PLAYER CHARACTER CREATION
A Musketeers game uses the same default skill list as Fate Core, except the Drive skill is replaced with the Ride skill (as in horses). You can change the names of other skills to suit whatever tone you’re going for, but their in-game effect is the same.
To be a member of the King’s Musketeers, skill-at-arms is taken as a given. What distinguishes one Musketeers from another is not their fighting ability – which is universally excellent – but the strength of character, insight, faith and virtue that the Corps will depend upon in this dark period of French history.
All PCs have their ranking in the Fight skill capped at one lower than their peak skill.
(The intention here is to preserve a bit of variety between characters – otherwise I suspect that most PCs will all end up with Fight as their peak skill.)
NON PLAYER CHARACTER CREATION
Any NPC swordsmen should, in additional to their usual profile, be assigned one of each of the following: an Attack Bonus, an Attack Penalty, a Defence Bonus and a Defence Penalty. When they use their Fight skill to attack or defend against a PC, and the PC is also using the Fight skill to attack or defend in an opposed roll, the PC will choose one of six Fighting Approaches: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick or Sneaky. The PC’s choice of approach modifies the NPC’s roll accordingly. The options to choose from are listed below:
Unpredictable (+4 to Attack against a Careful defence)
Confounding (+4 to Attack against a Clever defence)
Direct (+4 to Attack against a Flashy defence)
Precise (+4 to Attack against a Forceful defence)
Tireless (+4 to Attack against a Quick defence)
Wary (+4 to Attack against a Sneaky defence)
Impatient (-2 to Attack against a Careful defence)
Elementary (-2 to Attack against a Clever defence)
Distracted (-2 to Attack against a Flashy defence)
Slight (-2 to Attack against a Forceful defence)
Hesitant (-2 to Attack against a Quick defence)
Obvious (-2 to Attack against a Sneaky defence)
Overbearing (+4 to Defend against a Careful attack)
Insightful (+4 to Defend against a Clever attack)
Focussed (+4 to Defend against a Flashy attack)
Flexible (+4 to Defend against a Forceful attack)
Steadfast (+4 to Defend against a Quick attack)
Perceptive (+4 to Defend against a Sneaky attack)
Overconfident (-2 to Defend against a Careful attack)
Unimaginative (-2 to Defend against a Clever attack)
Insecure (-2 to Defend against a Flashy attack)
Fragile (-2 to Defend against a Forceful attack)
Open (-2 to Defend against a Quick attack)
Gullible (-2 to Defend against a Sneaky attack)
For nameless NPC swordsmen, simply roll a normal six sided dice in secret to determine what bonuses or penalties they end up with (re-roll if you end up with both a bonus and penalty on the same approach). For important NPCs, pick bonuses or penalties that match their personality and style. It is encouraged for PCs to challenge notable NPCs to relatively harmless duels in advance of a full confrontation, to scope out their fighting preferences. Note, however, that enemies who escape an encounter with the Musketeers and return to challenge them much later will likely retrain their fighting style in the interim!
PCs do not have bonuses or penalties, and NPCs do not use Fighting Approaches. The Musketeers are famed heroes of folklore, and tales of their adventurers told all over France. Everybody knows which fighting approaches NOT to use against them, and if their swordsmanship possessed an obvious achilles heel, they wouldn’t be Musketeers!
FIGHTING APPROACHES – DEFENCE
As mentioned above, whenever a PC uses the Fight skill for a defend action, they must specify which Fighting Approach they are using. There are no limits on which approach you can use for any given defend action…
FIGHTING APPROACHES – ATTACK
…unless you made an attack action with the Fight skill in your previous turn. When a PC attacks with Fight, they must choose a Fighting Approach as normal. However, whichever Fighting Approach you choose for your attack MUST then be used for any defend actions you make with Fight until your next turn.
(If making an attack with an optimum approach would leave a Musketeer in a vulnerable position, they have several options: use a “safe” approach, defend with Athletics instead, create an advantage instead and wait for your moment, or call on another Musketeer to cover your weakness!)
READING YOUR OPPONENT
When players face off against an NPC swordsman, the GM will keep their bonuses and penalties a secret. There are
three two ways in which these secrets can be discovered.
The first is trial and error. Whenever a PC attacks or defends with Fight, the GM will tell you if any NPCs fighting them have triggered bonuses or penalties. You can then use this information against that NPC for the rest of the fight. This is a risky option, as you as likely to stumble onto an enemy’s bonus (giving them +4 against you) as you are to stumble onto their penalty.
The second is to “read your opponent”. This is an overcome action, usually opposed by the target, using any skill that seems appropriate – perhaps Lore, Empathy or Investigate for reading a style, maybe Deceive, Stealth or Provoke for concealing it. If a PC succeeds in the overcome action, they can choose to discover one of the following: both an opponent’s bonuses, both an opponent’s penalties, both an opponent’s attack modifiers, both an opponent’s defence modifiers (as a minor cost, a PC might only discover one modifier on a tie). If a PC succeeds with style, they discover all an opponent’s bonuses and penalties. PCs do not have to be directly engaged with an opponent to read their style, but they do need to watch that opponent fight, or speak to someone else who has.
The third way to discover an opponent’s bonuses or penalties is attack or defend with Fight and then succeed with style. If you do so, you may sacrifice your free boost to discover both an opponent’s bonuses OR both an opponent’s penalties OR both an opponent’s attack modifiers OR both an opponent’s defence modifiers. If you do this whilst attacking, you still need to reduce the amount of stress inflicted by 1, exactly as you would do normally if claiming a boost.
Many of these rules have dials that can be plugged into new kinds of stunts. Most obviously, you could create stunts that provide Musketeers +2 to attack OR defend when using a specific Fighting Approach. You could also create new stunts for discovering bonuses or penalties in new ways, or taking extra advantage of an enemy’s penalties.
Ideally, I’m envisioning at least six different stunt trees that represent different styles of fighting: “School of Athos” or “School of D’Artagnan” etc. I’ve done some very preliminary work on this, but I’d welcome other people’s ideas.
EDIT: I’ve since written stunt trees for each of six Fighting Approaches, which you can view here. I’ve also removed the option to discover an NPC’s bonuses and penalties, for reasons explained in that post.