Role-playing reviews

Reviews related to role-playing games, with a focus on Gods & Monsters, and a bit of superhero gaming.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

All for one! Swashbuckling sourcebooks for fantasy role-playing

Jerry Stratton, December 30, 2004

If there is any non-fantasy fiction that serves as inspiration for fantasy role-players, swashbuckling fiction has to be near the top of the list. Among the best such works are Alexandre Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers” and Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac”.

At a used bookstore recently, I found two sourcebooks for swashbuckling in role-playing games: All for One and One for All from Avalanche Press, and GURPS Swashbucklers from Steve Jackson Games.

Of these, the GURPS book by Steffan O’Sullivan is clearly the best. It combines a Musketeer and a pirate sourcebook into one. It is also more generally useful as a sourcebook. The Avalanche Press book (which hides the authors--F.S. Kessler and John R. Phythyon, Jr.--in the back of the book) handles only the Musketeers, and is somewhat more limited even as a sourcebook for that.

All for One, One for All

This is a d20 sourcebook. It is not a bad book. All of the Avalanche d20 books I’ve purchased so far have been good. Like the rest, this one is also marred by large breasts on the cover, though in this case it isn’t entirely out of place. It does, though, look like the woman is dressed to go out while wearing a nightshirt. The man on the cover bears a striking resemblance to my current governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I think it’s the eyes.

The first six pages summarize the true-life history of France in the 1600s. Their historical overview goes from Louis XIII in 1610 to Louis XIV’s seventy-year reign starting in 1643. It succinctly explains the political maneuvering which resulted in the Thirty Years War.

There are several pages of d20 character classes, including the Musketeers, but very little information about the Musketeers themselves. The closest is a short appendix detailing characters from the novels, including their d20 statistics. (For skills, it looks as though four or five points of d20 skill bonuses is one Gods & Monsters skill bonus.)

Nicely, there is also a one-page appendix summarizing the life of Musketeer author Alexandre Dumas.

All in all, this is less of a sourcebook than Avalanche’s other books. It is definitely worth a look if you can find one, and will probably be more useful if you play d20 games.

Swashbucklers: Roleplaying in the World of Pirates and Musketeers

When I opened this book up and recognized the interior illustrations as the work of Donna Barr, there was no question that I’d be buying this one. If you’re also a fan of her work, there are only a few large illustrations in here, but enough to make it worthwhile if you find it used. If you’re both a fan of Donna Barr and a fan of swashbuckling games, well, I’d say this book is worth it even at new prices.

This is the third edition of the work, revised from Steffan O’Sullivan’s original by Russell Godwin and Bryan J. Maloney. It is a GURPS sourcebook, but like many of the GURPS sourcebooks contains a wealth of information usable in any game. It covers a much wider range of topics than “All for One, One for All”.

Its “Paris Campaign” chapter includes a map of Paris circa 1630. The seventeen pages of the Paris section summarizes the Three Musketeers novel, describes who the Musketeers and Cardinal’s Guards are, including their social lives, and the major characters. The sidebars cover taverns, dueling, and comedy troupes. The first sidebar details “How to be French”.

The seventeen pages of the “Pirate Campaign” covers the golden age of piracy in the Caribbean and Africa: 1640 to 1725, thus interacting nicely with the Musketeer era. It details the basics of Letters of Marque and why they often didn’t matter. It describes the origins of pirates, privateers, and buccaneers. It goes into perfect detail about etiquette and social structure of buccaneer society. It then summarizes historical pirate ports and historical pirates.

The pirate section appears to be much more factual than the Paris section. The Paris section is based nearly exclusively on the writings of Dumas, pulling in real-world history where needed to fill out the role-playing requirements.

Finally, there are twenty-two pages of historical background and twenty-two pages on sailing and sailing ship. For them, the historical era is 1559 to 1815. There is a nice sidebar on the interplay between real history and fictional history.

Their historical background summarizes adventuring possibilities in both the European powers and in the “Celtic lands” of Scotland and Ireland. It ends with a very nice two-page chronology of events, rulers, and major personalities.

The sailing section is a great summary that will more than get you up to speed on handling ships in a roleplaying setting.

While written specifically for GURPS, the GURPS-specific rules are dwarfed by the generally-useful source info. This is a great book for anyone planning on integrating swashbuckling into their fantasy campaign. If you do use it with GURPS, you’ll want to read the errata on the GURPS Swashbucklers web site.

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