With the play-test now in progress, I thought I’d revisit some old material. A year later, the game has undergone a few face lifts. I thought it was time to revisit Sorensen’s 3 Questions:
WHAT IS YOUR GAME ABOUT?
Sword & Scoundrel bears the tag: A Game of Passion, Violence, and General Skulduggery.
The game is above all a passion play. It's medieval morality theater presented as an HBO-style character drama. Players tell us what's most important about to their characters, and through play we challenge them on it. It's a game about exploring how far you will go, what lines you are willing to cross, and what — or who — you are willing to sacrifice for what you hold most dear.
The game is a blood-opera. Conviction and conflict are intimate bedfellows. Where the two meet, violence is all but inevitable. Player's passions can lead to quick and brutal violence. It's a western or a john woo film wearing a renaissance skin, where swordplay is quick, flashy, and lethal.
Finally, the game is about intrigue. Where the last two points meet, the third emerges. A fair fight is one half-way to lost. To achieve your ends, you may have to play dirty. Not every obstacle can be met head on. Success and survival demand every advantage.
HOW DOES YOUR GAME DO THIS?
Characters are more than just their attributes and skills. Their passions and convictions are represented by player-nominated phrases in the form of drives and traits. Traits allow you to flesh out aspects of your character's fictional positioning and their personality, granting them a mechanical weight. Drives represent the characters aforementioned ambitions, beliefs, convictions, and passions. Between the two, they give the player a direct way to communicate to the GM what they are interested in exploring. In turn, the GM is told exactly where they want to be challenged.
The game is written in such a way that it is explicitly about conflict. This is not only a guide to running the game, but one of the very first rules introduced in the book. Mundane and meaningless tasks never require a roll. You only roll when there is a conflict in play and there is something at stake. On the other side of that coin, the game embraces concepts like "let it ride" and "fail forward." Once the dice are rolled, the results are binding. Failing a roll means you didn't achieve your objective, but introduced a complication instead. Regardless of the outcome, once you pick up the dice, you're breaking the status quo of the game. The story progresses, one way or another.
The themes are further reinforced by the mechanics for supporting different kinds of conflicts. While for many players the combat systems are a major draw, the rules offer support for a wide variety of tasks. In time, we will be offering a full social combat system, faction and domain rules, magic, intrigue, and other abstract conflicts.
HOW DOES YOUR GAME ENCOURAGE/REWARD THIS?
The primary reward mechanism of the game is a meta-currency called Drama. Drama is the incentive that kicks off a feedback loop in play. Players earn drama primarily by playing their drives and traits to the hilt. When these drives and traits lead to conflict or introduce complications for them, they earn drama.
First, drama means that players are incentivized to make decisions according to who their character is and what that character wants, rather than taking the most optimal approach to a situation. They earn drama by creating conflicts and complications for themselves, which in turn moves the game forward and introduces new conflicts and complications for them to face. Players are rewarded for actively pursuing stories they themselves set in motion.
Second, earning drama gives players a resource that can be spent in order to gain various advantages in play. Drama can make a character perform better, reduce the effects of wounds, and otherwise grant the character advantages in a conflict. Meanwhile, by burning drama they earn marks towards advancing their various abilities. By following their drives, they grow and become more capable, able to better face future conflicts.
The end result is that the game asks players to make characters driven and passionate, yet ultimately flawed. They are then rewarded for role-playing them in a way that naturally creates intimate, personal conflicts that escalate over time. The end result generates the kind of intense and often violent character dramas you would expect from a game called Sword & Scoundrel.