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Duty & Honour
Duty and Honour (hereafter referred to as D&H) is a game set in the Peninsular war of 1810. By default player characters are infantry men in the British Army, under the command of Lord Wellington. The style and substance of the game is based heavily on the action literature that has built up in recent years surrounding this period – the Sharpe novels are obviously the main influence here.
D&H is a diceless game that uses a very elegant standard playing card based system for task resolution and character generation. It is quite “traditional” in some respects, as in combat and skill challenges are very much Player vs GM, and quite “indie” in the fact that there is quite an emphasis on Player and GM collaboration in setting up the scenarios and the world the characters inhabit.
D&H begins with a standard introduction section, detailing what the game is about and a very brief overview of the historical situation circa 1810. What is nice is that some of the history is given “in character” with two fictitious officer’s points of view, one British and one French.
The book then launches straight into character generation. Characters in D&H are generated within seven different parameters, Measures (Guts, Discipline, Influence and Charm), Reputations (the characters standing with individuals or organisations, such as The Lady Barrington-Smythe, Officers Mess, Nasty Naig the Pimp), Skills (speaks for itself really! Stuff like Engineering, Gambling and my personal fave – skulduggery), Experiences (character defining moments that have happened both before and after entering the army), Regiment (the regiment that all the PC’s start in), Traits (advantages that give you bonuses in game) and Wealth (your character’s wealth!).
Character gen is a mixture of points based and random, players draw a number of cards based on their amount of Experiences, this level is set by the GM and 7 or more is listed as giving a charcter who is “iconic”, 4-6 is suggest is being a good level for reasonably experienced characters. There are then several tables for the cards, both for before and after joining the army, depending on what you’ve drawn results in what areas you get to spend points on, some PC’s are going to be more naturally adept than others but will likely have less Reputations to fall back on in times of need, or perhaps be less wealthy etc. As the cards are drawn it’s quite easy to get caught caught up in the backstory of your character and various ideas for Reputations and story ideas freely spring to mind. Designing the Regiment that the Player’s will be part of is lots of fun, the Player’s come up with a selection of npc’s smattered amongst the ranks – they can then decide on whether to define the npc’s good side or their bad side, whichever one they choose, the GM gets the opposite. These npc’s can also be used as the PC’s Reputations if they so desire.
Potential bones for contention in the game arise from the split in character’s ranks – it is advised that there is only 1 officer, a couple of NCO’s and mostly the group should be made up of foot soldiers. However with the way that the games scenario structure is set up there is no need for players to worry, each character is ensured a chance to shine due to each player collaberatively coming up with a Personal Mission – a defined goal that he will want to acheive whilst also having to help out with the company’s Military Mission. Personal Missions can range from anything from stealing bottles of rum from the quartermaster to seducing the wife of the Company’s Major. Missions are split down into individual challenges – certain objectives that have to be completed in order to succeed in the mission. Fail too many challenges and there is no way that the mission can be completed. Completing missions results in a benefit to the character, usually an advancement in a Skill, Measure or a Reputation, although failing results in damage, either to a character’s health or Reputations.
So how do players go about completing their Challenges? First of all the players intent has to be stated – what do they want to acheive by taking part in the challenge, the GM will then discuss what happens if the character fails. If the player decides the consequences are worth the risks then it’s game on!
The GM and player then decide on the relevent card pools – for a player this is his skill level plus any Reputations he can use to add to his pool (if he wants to risk the reputation being damaged that is, he might just decide to go with his skill level alone) and bonuses for any relevant Traits or equipment. The GM decides on his pool if the test is contested. Next the GM draws the Card of Fate from his deck – this is the card that the player will be drawing against from the player’s deck. The player is then looking for matches with his pool of cards against the card of fate. Same suit = Success Same number = Critical Success Same card= Perfect Success Joker = choose it to be any card. If you get no matches of suit or number then you’ve failed. If the GM has a pool then he compares his level of success to the Player’s – highest degree of success wins. Note that as the GM has pulled the Card of Fate from his own deck there is no way that he can gain a perfect success (the GM’s deck does not contain Jokers either).
The GM and Player now look again at the intent that was agreed on and decide on the consequences.
Combat challenges work the same although there are no combat skills to speak of – a characters pool is decided by the type of weapon he’s weilding – a musket gives 5-1 cards depending on range, a sabre gives 4 and brawling gives 2. If you want to play a character who is more adept at fighting than the average soldier then you need to take traits such as Crackshot or Duelist.
There are rules for more involved combats that include the use of the imfantry tactics of the time – such as bonuses for forming squares against cavalry. There are 3 phases to these combats and the orders for each phase are chosen at the beginning of the combat – without knowing what you’re opponent has chosen obviously! Changing tactics mid flow results in penalties. The officer plays an important part in these combats as he can give bonus cards to the other PC’s equal to his Discipline measure each turn. It is also up to the Officer to make the final test at the end of the combat to see who is declared the victor – this test is modified by how well the PC’s have done in the previous rounds.
As can be expected in a game based around life in the Army rules for promotion are included and there is also some good advice on how to successfully run a campaign in the world of D&H. There is also a good selection of sample npc’s. The appendix includes additional rules for cavalry campaigns and a list of Regiments that fought in the Peninsular war, very handy is a large list of suitable names for npc’s of the various different countries that were involved.
Duty and Honour is a very atmospheric game – it’s obvious that the author has great love for the subject matter. The rules are set up very well in my opinion to deliver the experience that you’re after in a heroic Napoleonic game – that he has continued to support the game with free mini supplements since it’s release only bodes well. There is also a sequal of sorts – “Beat to Quarters”, which will focus on naval campaigns in the same era. Illustration throughout the book is sparse but what there is is of very good quality and atmospheric. There is also a nice painting on the background of all the pages as a watermark, depicting some Frenchies getting a good spanking by the good old boys in Red.
There are some niggles however, I noticed several spelling mistakes throughout the text and some of the examples of play contained errors, one of the most glaring errors is the fact that it doesn’t explicitly state that the GM doesn’t get Jokers in his deck (I had to clarify this by emailing the author). However an errata is currently in production and most, if not all, of these points should be identified and didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the book.
Style 3 – Some errors in the text but it’s well laid out with decent production values. If the mistakes were corrected I would give it a 4
Substance 5 – If you’re looking for a game that delivers all of the tropes of the genre with style then this is the game for you. I’m especially enamoured with the resolution system. I don’t usually like diceless systems but this one has me hooked!
Reviewed by Jez Grey