Campaign of the Month: August 2011
Le Ballet de l'Acier
Backgrounds in Le Ballet de l'Acier
After generating a character’s attributes, each player selects a background for the character. The different backgrounds represent familiar archetypes found in swashbuckling stories; while it’s tempting to associate backgrounds with the character classes used in other roleplaying games, this is not the case in Flashing Blades. The background provides the cost of skills to the character, the character’s starting Social Rank and wealth, and some general information on the possible circumstances of the character at the beginning of the game.
There are four backgrounds in the Flashing Blades core rules: Rogue, Soldier, Gentleman, and Nobleman. (Note that while the masculine is used here, as in the rule books, characters may be male or female.) The backgrounds Sailor, Pirate, and Marine from the High Seas supplement are available as well; the Colonial Gentleman and Colonial Rogue backgrounds are not available in Le Ballet de l’Acier.
A Rogue is most often a townsman rather than a peasant or seasonal laborer living in the countryside. A Rogue may be an apprentice or journeyman tradesman, a servant in a bourgeois or noble household, an actor in a travelling company, or the like; such characters may hold a minor job (section 5.103 Minor Jobs, p. 39 in the core rules) to provide basic subsistence. However, a close look at the Rogue’s skill list, in particular the Bonus Skills – Cut Purse, Fine Manipulation, and Stealth – suggest an altogether different means of making a living. The skills of the Rogue lends themselves to many possible forms of criminal enterprise, such as pickpocket, burglar, charlatan, swindler, highwayman, or bravo. Dexterity is the attribute represented most often in the Rogue’s skill list.
French society is highly stratified, and a Rogue’s Social Rank may present significant challenges; for example, commoners generally face restrictions on the right to bear arms. The protection of a person of some higher station may help to overcome some of the barriers of the Rogue’s low birth.
A Soldier begins the game as a member of a regiment, holding a rank anywhere between sergeant and captain, subject to the limits of the character’s starting funds. While most soldiers in this period are mercenaries who serve only during campaigns, player character Soldiers in Le Ballet de l’Acier begin as professionals serving in a standing regiment year-round. Traditionally military service is a pathway to advancement in French society, particularly for the noble knights who made up the elite heavy cavalry. The rise of a professional standing army in the last century continues this tradition while extending opportunity to a larger segment of French society than ever before. No one attribute dominates the skills of a Solider, but high scores in Strength and Endurance both increase a character’s hit points, an important attribute for those serving on the battlefield.
A Gentleman occupies a place in society somewhere between the bourgeoisie, the wealthiest commoners, and the nobility. A Gentleman may style himself as noble, inserting “de” between his first and last names, in an attempt to gain access to noble privilege and indeed, it is from among the Gentlemen of France that the largest numbers of new members of the nobility come, typically through the possession of a bureaucratic office or a career in the law. Gentlemen are the most likely characters to possess a university education, as reflected in part by access to the most extensive skill list available to starting characters. Like a Rogue, a Gentleman may engage in a skilled trade, such as a printer, an apothecary, or a fencing master, but most will likely pursue a profession as a banker, a bureaucrat, a lawyer, or a priest. Some may even follow multiple careers; for example, the limited time demands of a moneylender or banker are a good match with the flexible schedule of a lawyer. It’s not uncommon for a member of the clergy to also serve as a lawyer or bureaucrat as well. Wit is the most important attribute for a Gentleman, both for skills and as a source of additional skill points.
A Nobleman is a member of the ruling class of France. Nobleman conjurs images of wealth and power, but many of the French nobility are little more than modest country farmers or minor office holders; only a tiny number of nobles enjoy the glittering lifestyle of the grands, the magnates of France. A professional standing army and a burgeoning royal bureacracy challenge the traditional role of the nobility as France’s military elite, the sword nobility, and foster the ennoblement of royal officeholders, the robe nobility. The skills available reflect the traditional social roles of the nobility, such as Captaincy and Magistracy, but they also represent the ideal of the noble as cultured courtier. Charm is the attribute most frequently represented in the background skills of the Nobleman.
A Sailor may choose serve aboard a merchantman, privateer, or warship, but in the 17th centuryt these divisions are fluid: an armed merchantman may accept a letter of marque as a privateer or be seconded into the royal fleet during a campaign, serve as a mercenary in the fleet of a foreign power, or turn pirate. Changing ships is a fact of life for most sailors, as opportunities for advancement frequently require hiring on with a different crew. Sailors often serve under many different flags, so even a nominally French vessel may have a diverse, polyglot crew.
No one attribute dominates the Sailor’s skill list, but bear in mind that a number of the positions on shipboard require a particular attribute score as well as the relevant skill. Note that Sailors share the same benefits with respect to languages as Gentlemen.
A Marine is a soldier who serves aboard a ship or garrisons a coastal fortress. Marines may be members of the Royal Army of France, serve aboard the galleys and galleons of the military orders, such as the sergeants-at-arms of the Knights of Malta, or be part of the crew of a privateer. Marines lead the way in boarding actions at sea as well as in raids on coastal fortifications and settlements.
Like Soldiers, Marines benefit from high Strength and Endurance scores.
A Pirate is typically a desperate criminal, but while piracy is among the gravest crimes one can commit, it is also tacitly sanctioned by many naval states. Pirates who prey on the enemies of a naval power may find themselves granted clemency by that state, making them de facto if not de jure privateers. Nonetheless, it is a very risky profession with harsh penalties should one find oneself before the law. Pirate crews, like sailors on other vessels, tend to be a mix of nationalities, though one may also find pirate crews organized along confessional lines, like the famous, or infamous, Huguenot ‘privateers’ of La Rochelle.
Pirates are often associated with the Caribbean, but in fact pirates are common to the waters of Europe and the Mediterranean, from the Channel ports of France to the archipelagos of the eastern Mediterranean. The corsairs of the Barbary Coast and the Sallee Rovers of Morrocco can be found raiding the coasts of Europe as far away as England and Ireland.
No one atrribute stands out for Pirate characters, but like Soldiers and Marines, Pirates may benefit from a high Strength or Endurance while like Sailors attribute scores may affect what shipboard positions a Pirate can hold.