Eclipsing and Swashbuckling on the High Seas

   For today it’s part one of a series on swashbuckling campaigns – setting up the basics in Eclipse: The Codex Persona (available in print HERE and in a shareware .pdf version HERE).

   So you want to run a swashbuckling campaign. Is it piracy on the high seas? Quarrelsome young nobles at a decadent court? Rival families and star-crossed lovers? Swordsmanship, musketeers, and intrigue at the kings court in the style of Alexandre Dumas? Regardless of the details, this kind of thing can be a lot of fun.

   It’s not too hard to set up in Eclipse d20. You’ll probably want to keep the magic level low, but it’s not really required – and most players will cooperate if you explain what you’re going for in advance. You will want to encourage people to move around a lot in combat, and discourage armor though. The players will go with it for awhile anyway, but they’ll start getting annoyed about it if it’s obvious that it would be useful to wear heavy armor and people just aren’t doing it.

   So: to hold down the Armor

  • Vary the situation. Characters don’t wear armor in the bath or the bedchamber. It’s downright dangerous to wear it at sea. Medium or heavy armor makes it awkward to climb ladders, balance on top of crumbling walls, or move quickly. It’s expensive, and it’s difficult to put it on or take it off quickly. Light armor – leathers, hidden chainmail shirts (or equivalent light breastplates), and so on – suits the swashbuckling genre just fine, but heavier stuff will probably lead to a character is a swashbuckling campaign falling down a lot. Go ahead. Require a Balance check at DC 11 each round for that fight on top of a crumbling wall. The Dex 12 swordsman in leathers can “Take 10”. He may have to wave his arms comically every so often, but he’ll stay up. The Dex 12 swordsman in a chain shirt has a 55% chance of falling off every round. Want to guess who’s likely to come off best?
  • Tell the players that combat may well occur in unexpected situations, with little or no time to prepare, and in conditions where mobility is more important than armor – and encourage them to compensate for the lack of armor by purchasing combat abilities “Corrupted/not usable while wearing medium or heavy armor or while carrying a heavy load”. After they buy a few abilities like that, they’ll shun armor anyway; it would keep them from using too many of their talents.
  • Apply area effects. Volleys, grapeshot, chainshot, broadsides, and explosive shells target areas, not individuals. Heavy armor may help against individual hits, but it actively hinders the user’s ability to move quickly and erratically, take advantage of cover, and avoid bunching up with other targets (and thus drawing more fire to the general area you’re occupying), so those wearing it will take more, but weaker, hits. As abstract as d20 combat is, we can reasonably go with the default rules: armor doesn’t help against area effects. Reflex saves do, as does not being there in the first place – so characters will want to avoid slowing their movement with heavy armor. A massed musket volley might reasonably do 3d6 damage or so to everyone in the target area – with a successful reflex save indicating no damage at all.

   To hold down the magic:

  • Explain what kind of magic you’re allowing to start with, and stick whatever limitations you set up for the NPC’s too. The PC’s may be on the upper end of a lot of distribution curves – attributes, luck, affinity for trouble, and money to start with – but the same rules apply to everyone out there.
  • Ensure that there’s some reason not to blatantly display any magics the characters do have. They may be so limited that they’re best held as an ace in the hole, there may be some sort of popular prejudice against their use, or they may have troublesome side effects. In any case, make sure that the players know about these problems in advance.

   To encourage people to move around a lot and take advantage of the environment simply provide an environment with plenty of potentially-useful features to fight in and have the opponents move around and take advantage of them. The players will have their characters start doing so soon enough.

   For flavor:

  • Encourage the characters to buy their Warcraft (BAB) Corrupted/no iterative attacks. This not only makes it cheaper, but it leaves extra points left to buy various attack upgrades – allowing for single good blows to have a major impact on the outcome of a fight.
  • Allow characters to buy their hit dice Corrupted/when struck by a critical hit, or when damage passes the 50% and75% threshold, the character will suffer a graphic wound and take a penalty. Penalties can be assigned or rolled randomly, but things like “Arm Injury, -2 to hit until healed”, “Leg injury, -10′ Movement until bandaged after the battle”, “Blood in eyes, -2 to Spot and to hit for the next three rounds”, “abdominal blow, -2 strength until healed”, and so on are easy enough to manage.
  • Use package deals to represent appropriate schools, prior experience, and backgrounds. They are, after all, a tool to encourage the kind of campaign you want.
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