What Do I Know About Reviews? Dueling Fops of Vindamere

Back in July of this year (2021, for those keeping track), I saw a Kickstarter that I thought would be up my alley. Unfortunately, I lost track of that Kickstarter, because, as is almost always the case, there were a lot of Kickstarters on my radar.

This particular Kickstarter caught my attention because it was about random nobles dueling and trying to one-up one another, and after my 7th Sea game, I know what it feels like to see a gaming session degenerate into that scenario. Why not explore a game where it happens on purpose?

Alas, I didn’t back it. Very sad.

Disclaimer

My friend Brandes Stoddard was talking to someone, and that someone asked about contacting more someones, so Brandes connected me to that someone, who happened to be Greg Stolze, the author of Dueling Fops of Vindamere. Once said networking happened, Greg asked if I would be interested in looking at the game, at which point I intoned a hearty, “sure.”

Now you know the history of my copy of this game.

The Ethereal Chapbook

This review is based on the provided PDF from Crankshaft Constellation. The PDF is 44 pages long. Is there a cover, table of contents, or an index? No, this is a game of action! We jump right into the game from the very first page.

The book has a few stock images of duelists and is color-coded to facilitate how various scenes are adjudicated. The book is in single-column layout for longer stretches of text, but whenever there are tables or multiple branching options, the format transitions to two-column layout.

How Long Does This Game Last?

This isn’t a long-term, campaign length game. Each time you play, the entire arc of the game, and the story of the characters, is assumed to resolve in a single session. You play through three established scenes that anchor the social season, and in between these points, you randomly roll up events to fill in the transition periods.

How Does All of this Work?

Making a character is a simple affair. Your character is the head of a dueling school in the city of Vindamere. You generate your paired stats of Foppish/Serious and Duelist/Aristocrat. Each pair always adds up to 10, but if you max out one and zero out the other, it indicates a radical life change that removes the character from active participation in the game.

In addition to your stats, you start with two beloved characters, characters that are devoted to you, as family members, mentors, lovers, or close friends. As the game progresses, you can seduce some of the beloveds from other characters, and someone without any beloveds also leaves active gameplay (although characters can always stick around to interact with others).

The game doesn’t have a GM but is resolved by following the steps in the individual scenes. These scenes have several actions that a character can choose from and depending on how successful the characters are with those actions, the scene may end or open new options. The color coding that I mentioned is used to show which actions go first, next, and last in each scene.

Depending on the scene, a player may be playing one of their beloveds, their duelist, or both. For example, you may play out one action in a scene with your beloved, and a second action in the scene with your duelist. When you roll to resolve an action, you roll a d10 against a set difficulty. The stats you add are combinations of statistics. A natural 1 always fails, and a natural 10 always succeeds.

Want an example of what kind of actions you might be taking? Here is a list:

  • Seduce
  • Outshine
  • Humiliate
  • Brag
  • Buy Stuff
  • Cope with Peasants
  • Talk Sense
  • Mortal Strike
  • Train

The options for how actions are resolved vary based on the scene currently being played. For example, in some scenes, your character can die, but in others, death is never on the line. The consequences for actions are usually reassigning statistics, pushing your paired stats towards one extreme or another. This becomes a balancing act, because you may want to be a great duelist, but if you max out your dueling stat, for example, you have neglected your aristocratic responsibilities to the point that you are disowned and can no longer mingle with the aristocracy.

Everything moves towards the Alle-Valley Fencinge Championeshippe, where you find out who is the best of the best and who takes home the Baron’s Clayemore, the symbol of the greatest swordsperson in all the land.

Between the Social Season

You play two scenes between each of the social season’s anchor points. That means that in any given game session, you will probably play out four scenes, in addition to the three major scenes that comprise the progression of the season. There are twelve different scenes, which can be randomly generated from the following list:

  • Erotic Machinations
  • Grog-house Brawl
  • Triangular Romantic Interlude
  • Locked Room Mystery
  • Political Unrest
  • Swords at Dawn!
  • Someone’s Debut into Society
  • Elopement/Kidnap?
  • Faustian Bargain ?!?
  • Angry Breakup
  • A Friendly Match Gets Out of Hand
  • The Harrowing of Gambling Hell

There are some hilarious events that can transpire between major social events. For example, a warlock might show up to offer you power for a simple bargain, and that scene can devolve into characters trying to prove who believes in magic the least. A riot may turn into a full-blown revolution. You could end up at an estate during a murder mystery, where it’s entirely possible that you are the murderer, and just need to come up with a good enough justification.

A Word About Humor

Do you laugh at jokes whose punchline relies on knowledge of Shakespeare? Do you go out of your way to introduced tortured anachronistic jokes from pop culture into a similar scene that plays out in a setting that clearly does not share the assumptions of that pop culture property? Do you like cutting social commentary inserted into footnotes? This may be written just for you.

I can’t speak for anyone else’s sense of humor, but the voice this game is written in spoke to me. If you don’t have a sense of humor where you don’t know if you should laugh or groan, and you like it that way, this may not be your style.

I Have the High Ground

This is exactly the kind of game that I would put on my list for the Saturday gaming afternoons where my group plays one shots that let us go as over the top as we can. The whole concept of managing your beloveds, boasting, seducing, and fighting is well reinforced in the rules, and even more so in the structure of the scenes and the actions available to the characters. Just reading the book is extremely entertaining.

It’s Just a Flesh Wound

While not a criticism, if you don’t have the refined sense of humor that your humble reviewer possesses, you may not fully appreciate the voice of the rules. On a more serious note, while the game is humorous, you are playing people capable of potentially terrible things, and the game is lean enough that there really isn’t any discussion of establishing lines or using safety tools, which are even more important in an over the top game like this, where it’s easy to get into humorous “one ups” that can escalate faster than one can read the table.

Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

The game looks to be a fun one-shot experience. It’s fun to read, and there are even setting details for the city that can easily be strip-mined for comedically corrupt cities in other fantasy settings.

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