Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Retrospective: En Garde!

That roleplaying games grew out of miniatures wargaming is well-known, a fact that's quite obvious to anyone who's read the little brown books of OD&D. What's less well-known is that that connection to wargaming wasn't immediately displaced once people started to wrap their heads around the idea of roleplaying. Many RPG designs from the 1970s still show a clear connection to miniatures wargaming, such as Boot Hill. Another such game is GDW's En Garde!

First published in 1975, which makes it a close contemporary of OD&D, En Garde! is an unusual game. Subtitled "Being in the Main a Game of the Life and Times of a Gentleman Adventurer and his Several Companions," it's basically a man-to-man combat simulation of dueling in 17th century Paris but with roleplaying-oriented options for things outside of dueling, such as carousing at the social club, wooing potential mistresses, and going off to war with the military. Dueling is the most complex mechanic in the game, though, and the game's combat system is actually quite cleverly done. Each player chooses a weapon and a series of twelve maneuvers. These pre-plotted moves are then revealed and cross-referenced on a table that adjudicates their relative effectiveness. It's simple, certainly, but it allows for the use of tactics, as players can get a sense of which attacks or defenses work best against others. There were also rules for aborting certain moves in response to those of one's opponent, so dueling was not wholly "mechanized."

At its heart, though, En Garde! is a game of social climbing. Acquiring status in the form of social influence, wealth, and position is the main motivation for character action. Every activity in the game is thus geared toward that end, providing increases or decreases to one's status, depending on one's success or failure. Each activity is the subject of a table and simple mechanic and you can definitely see the beginnings of Traveller in these rules. Military service, for example, involved choosing between safe (or cowardly) assignments to ensure survival and dangerous ones that could reap huge status rewards if your character survived. These rules are simple too, but, like dueling, players must make cost-benefit analyses of their character's actions and, thanks to the use of random tables, even the most conservative choices won't necessarily end well.

Compared even to OD&D, En Garde! is much more of a wargame than what we'd consider an RPG today. That is, its "game-y" aspects weigh heavily upon it and, while I know it's quite possible to squeeze a lot of life out of its rules, it would also be quite possible to treat it all as little more than a game of chance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, En Garde! was well suited to play by mail games, acquiring a kind of afterlife once GDW ceased producing it in 1983. The game also proved very popular at conventions, particularly in the UK. Indeed, the game lives on today through a British company that produces a new edition of it, which can be purchased here. I'm surprised I haven't seen more online examples of En Garde! as I think it'd work well in that context. Heck, I imagine it'd be fairly easy to produce a simple app that ran the game on a website and it'd probably be a lot of fun.

19 comments:

  1. Ya might want to fix that link. Currently it points to your Boot Hill retrospective.

    I think I still have my old copy of En Garde! lying in a box somewhere. I suddenly feel a need to get my toady on. :)

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  2. Wow,never heard of this one.This would be a great game to play if your a fan of movies such as Barry Lyndon.

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  3. I've never heard of this either, I've heard of FGU's Flashing Blades and I still have my copy of Task Force Games' Musketeers. I'll have to check this out!

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  4. The game Flashing Blades by FGU is effectively an expanded set of campaign rules for En Garde with an increased emphasis on role-playing elements. After all, most people (that I knew anyway) enjoyed the campaign elements of En Garde more than the duelling system, which simply was a method of resolving disputes over mistresses and the occasional rivalries between regiments.

    Well worth looking into.

    [As for wargames used for role-playing purposes, my favourite would have to be Once Upon A Time In The West (Tabletop Games) – a minatures Western game so detailed that most people I knew used it exclusively as a set of role-playing rules.]

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  5. Does anyone know if En Garde has any similarities to The Duel (http://geekdo.com/boardgame/6855)? I have The Duel somewhere in the middle of my RPG books, but it's solely a wargame (albeit one that includes status and character advancement) with a elven background.

    Word verification: Calueti (a nice squire name)

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  6. James,

    Do you know of any differences between the original and new edition?

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  7. I am pretty sure that one was on the shelves of Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica when I first started hanging out there as a kid. Like all the games with no fantasy or sci fi elements, I touched it not.

    It does sound a lot like it plays much like the John Carter of Mars game from that time that I did play a bit. Fencing and hitting the social scene, picking up on princesses and the like.

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  8. It seems like Pendragon may have taken some inspiration from this too.

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  9. > After all, most people (that I knew anyway) enjoyed the campaign elements of En Garde more than the duelling system

    Agreed; which is one reason it's still a RPG in my book even if the consensus for such a game released fresh to the market nowadays would probably be that it wasn't. Who reads PBM 'zines nowadays to see the discussion/RPing that can go on around actual event resolution in such games?

    > What's less well-known is that that connection to wargaming wasn't immediately displaced once people started to wrap their heads around the idea of roleplaying.

    The whole attempt to exaggerate any fractures - and perceived fractures - between wargaming and RPGing has been a 35 year exercise in futility IMHO. :)
    That playing D&D by post or in person at multiple scale levels makes it automatically "not a RPG" in some eyes seems rather silly and traditional tabletop wargaming can be a /far/ more "roleplaying" experience than many MMORPGs (and by extension D&D4e, if not careful? ;)

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  10. Rumcove,

    I have no idea if there are any changes to the current rules. I suspect there are probably at least a few, but I don't know for certain, since I don't own the new version.

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  11. All set for Captain Alatriste...

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0395119/

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  12. Thanks for bringing this game some well deserved notice, James. I first played it back in the early 80's at the UBC Wargames club!

    It was described to me as "Grand Tactical Roleplaying" - instead of stated your actions for the 10 second combat round, you decide your characters activities for next month! It was great fun at the time.

    Every few years I pull it out and makes plans to try it out on some 21st century gamers. This has not happened yet.

    It's "gamey" and table driven as 70's games tended to be. The current version is not substantively different from the 80's version but it is better edited.

    BTW I remember seeing a website for a "Barsoom" En Garde Campaign (among many other variants).

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  13. Doing an online version of En Garde is one of my future projects; probably with an alternative setting, using Carcosa-style names.

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  14. completely off-topic, i'd like to see your take on "Beyond the Crystal Cave". it strikes me as one of the more sophisticated location-based adventures, where successful decisions need to be made on the basis of the information available in the background, and not so much on the normal game-mechanical carrots of loot and xp.

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  15. It sounds like Burning Wheel's combat system, but thirty years before. Are there other games like this (other than Burning Wheel) with combat mechanics like this where maneuvers are chosen in advance and then played in sequence and compared with reference to a table?

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  16. The TSR 80's RPG Top Secret had matrix based hand to hand combat. The Yaquinto boardgames Swashbuckler and Adventurer used rules and tables much like En Garde for combat but incorporating movement on a square grid. The Lost Worlds fantasy fighting books also worked on similar principles.

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  17. Huh, thanks. Now that you mention it, I remember the Top Secret martial arts rules.

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  18. I've always wanted to play this. I think I tried it once at a con in the 80s. One of my fellow moderators on Dakkadakka.com is presently trying to get enough players together to do a Play by Email.

    http://www.dakkadakka.com/dakkaforum/posts/list/262887.page

    It hasn’t launched yet. More people are very welcome!

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