Swashbuckling Europe

The rise of the state and the disappearance of the armored knight didn't bring about a decline in the martial arts. In fact, they rang in an era of legendary swordsmen - although the most famous of these lived in later works of fiction! Martial arts suitable for a post-Renaissance campaign vary with the chosen time period, but fencing styles are without a doubt the most important of these.

In a swashbuckling campaign, both arms and armor are light. Rapiers - and later, smallswords - are as much a fashion accessory as a means of personal violence. Armor is rare aside from ornate dress suits; even on the battlefield, only such specialized troops as cuirassiers (heavy cavalry equipped with swords, breastplates, and helmets) wear it.

In warfare, guns dominate but skirmishing with blades continues. Military men favor heavy cut-and-thrust swords over fencing weapons for this purpose. Despite the much-touted "primacy of the point," they still prefer a blade heavy enough to whack through helmets, shakos, and skulls during wartime - and substantial enough to counter bayonets and the exotic weapons of hostile natives. Officers learn to use fencing weapons for duels and heavier swords for battle, and carry the weapon appropriate to the situation. A cavalry saber would be decidedly gauche at court, while a smallsword isn't ideal when facing charging cuirassiers.

Two groups in this period lend themselves especially well to a Martial Arts game: Musketeers and pirates. The Musketeers are an elite force of mounted infantry who serve the king of France. Early on, they use the rapier, cloak, and main-gauche more than their namesake weapon. After 1720 or so they favor the smallsword, but still prefer the blade to the gun for settling affairs of honor. The Italian School (pp. 156-157), Transitional French School (pp. 158-159), and French Smallsword (p. 159) are ideal styles for Musketeers and their rivals. La Verdadera Destreza (p. 158) fits Spanish-centered games - and Spanish-trained rivals of PCs in the King's service! Unarmed combat rarely figures in accounts of the period, but low-born fighters using Bare-Knuckle Boxing (p. 153), Dagger Fighting (p. 155), and possibly Savate (pp. 193-194) can keep the game from becoming too sword-centered.

Some pirates fence, too - especially fictional ones such as Captain Blood (from the books by Rafael Sabatini) and the heroes of Errol Flynn movies. They don't have "chi abilities" but do display aptitude beyond that of normal men. Historical pirates would more likely be of common birth and have little opportunity to learn fencing. Appropriate styles for them include Bare-Knuckle Boxing, Dagger Fighting, and Combat Wrestling (pp. 204-205). Pirates range far and wide, and might encounter slaves adept at Capoeira (pp. 153-154), experts at African Stickfighting (p. 157), dismounted Mamluks using Furusiyya (pp. 159-161) to protect their fleet, Indonesians who practice Pentjak Silat (pp. 189-191), and so on. In a sufficiently cinematic (or well-traveled historical) campaign, practitioners of all of these styles might find their way to the Spanish Main!

Swashbuckling almost demands a low realism level and a highly cinematic treatment; see Borderline Realism (pp. 237238) and Epic (p. 239). However, it's perfectly valid to run an extremely realistic game set in this period, especially one centered on pirates or historical European wars. Almost any theme can work. Wanted! (p. 249) and The Quest (p. 247) suit the freebooting character of pirates. A Musketeer-style campaign works better with War is Hell (p. 248) - or even Vigilante Justice (p. 249), in the spirit of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

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