Well on Saturday at Patriot Games in Sheffield was independent RPG day, where a selection of independent published RPG’s were demoed. I managed to sit in and play Beat to Quarters, an RPG set in the turmoil of the Napoleonic period, written by Neil Gow, who also GM’d or should I rephrase that as Captained the crew.
Beat to Quarters concentrates on the Naval aspect of the war, where as the first book, Duty and Honor is focused on the land war. As a player you play a member of the ship’s crew, or if playing D&H then a member of the military.
So the game started once Neil had finished his free food (well it was £2 for chips, chicken and a can of pop, and in his words that constituted as free). We were provided with pre-prepared characters, I was playing a veteran Royal Marine Sargent, called John Cobbs.
The system doesn’t use dice, but each player has a pack of normal playing cards with the jokers kept in, though the GM or Captain’s deck of cards doesn’t have the jokers in. When testing a skill or ability the GM will draw a card from his deck (known as the Card of Fate), the players then try to match either the suit or face value of this card with cards from their own deck. An exact match is a perfect success, with same value card being a critical and the same suit being a normal success. This does mean that the PC’s always have a chance of getting a better success than an NPC – as the card of fate comes from the GM’s deck, he can never get a perfect success. Skills, traits and reputation can give a player extra cards to draw while carrying out a task.
We had a number of challenges or missions to complete as the crew of the ship, in our case this meant failing quite a few. Our ship had suffered some damage in a skirmish with a French Privateer, and so we limped in to the bay of a tropical island. We need to repair the ship and gather some fresh supplies. So a work party was sent to the island, we managed to find some wood, yeah, we actually just passed the skill check, whilst stood in the middle of a forest, probably shouldn’t have sent the marines to collect the vital supplies. As we failed to find any food or water, though we did notice some tracks.
So my chap headed off in to the woods, being a former poacher before joining the marines, and ended up getting caught by pygmy cannibals in a pit trap. So as darkness started to descend, a search part was sent out to find me, who were also caught. So now we found ourselves, trussed up on poles waiting to cooked and eaten. Smithers (NPC) was the first to grace the dinner table, at which point we decided to try to escape. We managed to break out from our bonds, but not without being seen. So we ran back to the beach being pursued by some rather hungry pygmies, as they reached the beach a detachment of marines opened fired and ran them off, much to our relief.
From there we pretty much blundered from one disaster to another, the first Lt being drunk and in charge, giving out orders. He also believed everyone was Frenchman or a traitor, then a tropical storm hit us, whilst we were still trying to repair the ship. Finally we had to deal with a French Privateer, which we did quite in a quite spectacular fashoin by killing all the crew with cannon shots, considering the hash of things we made whilst trying to repair the ship, survive the storm and relieve the 1st Lt from duties. So having conquered and captured the French privateer, it was game end.
I have to say that I really enjoyed this game, the mechanics were very simple to grasp, and worked really well. It was more about story telling than dice rolling or in this case card turning, which what made it fun to play. Do you need to have a good grasp of Napoleonic history to play this game I hear you ask? The answer is no not really, it would help, but having watched Hornblower or Master and Commander in the past they were more than enough to get going. I know a reasonable amount regarding the land based shenanigans of the Napoleonic period, but next to nothing in regards to the Naval actions, and I wasn’t hampered in way shape or form.
This system would work with any historical period, though if you decided to play a musket and sword period it would be far easier and quicker to set up, than say using the mechanics to play in a medieval or ancient setting. Though saying that I believe you could run a game in ana ancient backdrop with these mechanics. I have an idea to play late Roman Britain campaign using Duty and Honour mechanics at some point.
The game can be found here; Omnihedron Games