Time for part 2 of going into greater detail about Die By the Sword!
If you haven’t read the first blog, I would recommend looking at that first.
The Setting Basics
You live in the Cursed Lands, what remains of the Central Continent. History is sketchy due to the fact that most of mankind on the continent died out when the continent was ripped to pieces, and most of the cities of the Blessed Empire were destroyed or at least ruined.
But what you do know is there used to a veil of energy out to sea, surrounding the Continent, known as the Curtain. The Blessed Empire believed that beyond it lay the path to their God. When they could not pass the Curtain, they sought a way through.
Again, history is sketchy, but eventually, their path into the Curtain released the Primordials. Ancient beings embodying every single building block of the world: a Primordial representing every idea or concept ever conceived, every possible emotional, the fundamental physical and metaphysical parts of the world and every aspect that makes a living creature, as well as representing each distinct creature.
As history tells it (or what little you have) these beings did not care for Humanity. They ignored you. And they sought out like Primordials, and sort to drain and destroy opposing Primordials, the settlements of the Empire were ruined.
Eventually, something was done to remove them from the world. Unfortunately, you don’t know how.
Unfortunately, you cannot destroy energy, only disperse it.
The Curtain is gone now. And each Primordial dispersed into fragments. But their seeming destruction forever changed the lands.
Volcanoes forever rage to the north, destroying whatever cities once lay there. The bulk of remaining cities south of there were ravaged by earthquakes, most dropped into fissures or plunged into the earth. The rain-forest at the centre of the continent was partially flooded, miles high trees pulled in on top of each other, into what now looks like a giant, dead bird nest from afar. Most of the south of the continent was pulled into the sea, and now only the tiniest islands and tallest mountain peaks remain.
And every fragment of Primordial infected either an area of land, person or animal. These fragments became known as Curses.
Welcome to the Cursed Lands.
Most Curses will never manifest. Curses feed on the very essence of what they are, drawing strength from what embodies them. Some have requirements that will never be met. Others are, perhaps constantly, but it would necessarily be known.
A field may have a Curse of Sadness. Until the day when a young woman spurned by her her lover came to sit in the lonely tree in that field and cry, the Curse was never Fuelled. And the farmer who came to that field the following day and suddenly felt an immense depression fall upon him would never necessarily know a Curse was at play.
Much as the farmer himself will have a Curse. He may have a Curse of Happiness. Every time one of his Decisions makes himself or another happy, he feeds the Curse. He may live out his days, subconsciously Burning his Curse, making others happy. To his neighbours, he is just a happy guy, and his Curse is unknown. Until the day raiders came to burn down his farm. They’d already murdered and done worse to his wife. And yet he tried to plead with them. I mean, if you were terrified, you would. But the farmer would never expect it to work. When all the raiders smile, not only let the farmer go, but give him supplies for the road, perhaps then, he realises he has his Curse.
But a Curse of Happiness must be fed and this doesn’t mean the farmer himself is happy. Now, happiness will be more difficult to achieve. But he knows his Curse and how to use it. He goes to a nearby village, giving them freely his supplies. They’re very happy with this, and his Curse is Fuelled at least partially. He trades the supplies for weapons. He returns to his farm. The raiders see him… and drop their weapons, welcoming him with open arms, ready to give him a hug. The farmer repeatedly stabs the raider in the belly.
This is the day the farmer becomes a Scoundrel.
in Die By the Sword, all player characters are Scoundrels. A mix of good and bad. They aren’t necessarily all consciously aware of their Curses. But they are stronger, and more dominant than those around them, and they are making changes in the world, for good or ill.
You will tell the story of one such Band of Scoundrels.
Framing the Game
Like all of my games, there is a mechanic in place for framing that ensures all players will definitely have the opportunity to do things an equal amount. I like to ensure that the quieter and more thoughtful players, as well as those who just take longer to make decisions, get their chance to shine amongst quicker thinking, more confident players.
In this case, the concept is that you are playing characters in a fantasy novel, series of novels, novella or short story. Therefore, games are presented as Chapters, which split into Scenes. In each Scene, once a player wishes to do something where success or failure are introduced, the first Challenges are introduced. When you wish to do something, you pick from one of three Choice Types: Development, Engage and Second Wind. Once everyone has made a Choice, move onto the next Phase, and continue the Scene either until all Vital Challenges are defeated or the remaining Challenges are no longer Vital (no longer a constant narrative concern for the characters).
Scenes break down into Phases. Once you’ve picked a Choice Type, the GM records this as your Choice for the Phase. You can carry on role-playing, but as soon as you try to do something else Choice-worthy, it’s time for the GM to ensure every player has had their spotlight, before you go to the next Phase, and you get to make another Choice
Here is the optional sheet accompanying the character sheet that breaks the three Choices down in full if we wish to take a look (otherwise I summarise them next).
Interacting With the Game World
Development will either let you regain Points you have lost so you can use them to Engage later or will allow you to gain Advantage Points (which you start with zero of, so can be the extra mileage you need when Engaging later).
Engage will either let you: attempt to reduce or gain benefits against Challenges in the Scene (with the potential risk of Failure), let you make a Choice Total against half of the Challenge’s Target Number (you cannot affect its Total, but you can make preparations, such as making Flaming Arrows as a new Trope or goading an enemy to Engage them as an Opportunity), Engage against 0 (to either make observations about the general scene or make/preparations interactions that do not relate to facing a particular Challenge) or Engage against Trope Penalties or Limits, with their Maximums or current numbers as Target Numbers, in an attempt to reduce them.
Second Wind can only be made when there are no Vital Challenges threatening you (which is going to be rare for most characters at most times). Second Wind allows you to get a large amount of Points of one type back or allows significant Limit Adjustment.
Players working with high Points may be able to give players with low Points and high Limits the chance to recover by Engaging Vital Challenges. Any Vital Challenge that is Unresolved by the end of the Phase will use its Total against at least one Scoundrel. If the GM decides their Choice Total is not a valid defence, they get 0. If they did not Engage, the Choice is at 0. If their Choice Total is a valid descriptive defence against the Challenge, either way the GM can Burn Penalty Points the player has to reduce their Choice Total, and the player cannot Burn any Points in response. However, they still need to Adjust Limits; just by reducing a Choice Total, the GM can inflict some literal damage on a player, so its important to work together and Engage those Vital Challenges.
I am going to get into an in-depth game-play example over several blogs, in order to show you the game in action.