'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

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Monday, May 4, 2020

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells: The Flourish!

Welcome back! Today we are going to look at my first look at a house rule for Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells. If you have followed the blog for awhile you will know I am more of a fan of narrative results or success by measure vs simple pass/fail mechanics. I am also a fan of keeping math as simple as possible, in a basic D20 system, the simplest way is to have a concept something like what we see in Savage World with raises. In my opinion it works less well in a d20 system since that TN or DC is moving all the time.

Fortunately that is not how Sharp Swords works. As a role under system based on stats we can simply take our attribute and subtract 3 or 4 from them and assign a second threshold. So if your Physique score is 12, we can set a second value at 8. Rolling under 12 gives you a success, rolling under 8 gives you your success, plus some other benefits. If you are familiar with Conan 2d20, Year Zero Engine, Genesys, AGE or others you will know the basic idea I am going for. Below you can see what my character sheet looks like with the addition of the Flourish number.



From experience I know having too many choices can slow a game down, having 5 stunt points in an AGE system has the ability to slow things down as the players try and choose how to spend that currency. It was something I was wanting to avoid here since this is a rules light game. Solution? Rolling under the flourish allows a player to choose a single item from a Flourish list, this choice will still add a little time to a turn but I think the reward of having the player narrate how that flourish works will be worth it.

As the game progresses in level, hitting enemies will probably become easier, they will also probably become better armored and have more hit points. By the RAW your damage output doesn't really increase, the only exception to this might be magic. Either way if you encounter a creature with 6HD, and it ends up having 40+ hitpoints, doing 1d8 damage in a round or less depending is going to make the combat pretty boring IMHO. It will be a lot of players rolling to hit, and the monster rolling to miss. The creatures ability to do massive damage will be scary initially (2d6 in this example), but as the combat drags on I think it will grow dull. Flourish maneuvers like these will also hopefully make these combats quicker and more decisive. Now all of this is just a feeling, I haven't actually played this game at a high level.

Below is my initial list of Flourish options I have worked up for my Sharp Swords game.



My main goal in naming these to have the names be more than just mechanical. I wanted them to spark the imagination about what each one was doing. I didn't want it to be called "extra damage" and have players say ok. I roll an extra d4 damage. At the very least they are choosing "Mighty blow" and rolling that extra damage, which in and of itself is way more narrative.

Well the game is done and after utilizing this system I felt the general idea of it was pretty good, but using a simple subtract 4 from the ability score and making it a strict roll under made the flourish occur too often, which reduced it to a more mechanical effect than the larger narrative effect I had hoped for.

During the game a rule was highlighted that showed that this game isn't really a roll under your attribute mechanic, it is a roll under your attribute but close to it. So if your attribute is 13, 12 is a better roll than 2. The flourish system outlined above works against this.

Going forward, and staying in line with the idea of being close to your attribute, I might take the Flourish number and make it a range band. If your attribute is 14, and the Flourish is 10, activate a flourish on rolls of 10-14. This would reduce the number of times there was a flourish, which would hopefully make them a little more exciting for the players, and hopefully more narrative.

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