[ttrpg] Swords and Songs

I hacked John Harper’s Lasers and Feelings into a game about chivalric romance as a thought exercise in about four hours. If I didn’t do somethin’ productive I was gonna snap.


YOU ARE among the fairest fellowship of knights that ever a holy king held together. Sworn to serve this king, to enforce his justice, to defend his peace, you and your sworn sibling-knights travel the land putting all ill-order to right and all ill-tidings to naught. Divine oaths and royal decree demand that you be a paragon of the land, an image of the hereafter that all those who you have sworn to protect can look to for guidance. But mortals you are, and beneath the flashing swords and rousing songs, there beat imperfect, fallible hearts of merest flesh.
(Historically, knights and chivalry were men’s domains. However, the knights of Swords and Songs can be any gender. So long as the spirit of the divine moves them, and they’ve sworn oaths to the king, they’re a knight.)

These are important questions for defining your setting that should be agreed upon by all players before the rest of the questions are answered.
– What is your king’s name? How long has he been king? Is he a good king, a tyrant, or a weak king? How did he come to be king? Through normal succession, through revolt, through unquestionably divine signs?
– What sort of kingdom do you live in? A rich, civilized kingdom? A poor, mostly unsettled kingdom? A peaceful place, a war-torn place? A gentle land, a harsh land?
– Is the divine a single god, a pantheon, or a different kind of religion? What are the clergy like? Organized like the medieval Catholic church, itinerant, druidic, or multiple types?

1. Choose your Knightly Virtue:
– Just
– Courteous
– Open-handed
– Wise
– Tender-hearted
– Devout
– Skillful

2. Choose your Mortal Vice:
– Wrathful
– Indolent
– Miserly
– Paranoid
– Lustful
– Over-zealous
– Deceitful

3. Choose your number, from 2 to 5.
– a high number means you are better at SWORDS; violence, pragmatism, dominance, wilderness. The knight as a well-equipped killer inflicting their desires upon a weaker world. The knight as an emblem of war.
– a low number means you are better at SONGS; diplomacy, idealism, negotiation, culture. The knight as a noble steward of the people vanquishing the ugliness of the world. The knight as an emblem of civilization.

4. Give your character a knightly name.
Something evocative of fantasy and chivalry. They also need a epithet related to their knightly virtue… or a euphemistic reference to their vice.

5. Create your squire.
Your squire is the child of another noble, who serves you to learn, hands-on, how to be a knight themselves. They’re not quite a servant and not quite an equal, and you are charged not only to teach them, but also protect them.
Pick two advantages your squire brings:
– excellent breeding
– skilled fighter
– absolute devotion
– a way with common people
– guileless wisdom
Also, pick a disadvantage:
– low birth
– divided loyalties
– snobbish
– poor luck
Your squire has a short, simple nickname. How well-equipped they are is ultimately up to you, but they at least have a horse and their own practice sword.

6. Define your Object of Devotion.
Your Object of Devotion is something in this world that inspires you to strive toward the divine… ideally. In practice, the object of one’s devotion very often leads to a tragic end for both knight and devotee. Your devotion for the Object is far greater than what is demanded by your position, and even now stretches the bounds of acceptability. Sooner or later, the Object of Devotion drives one to break social mores… or even the holy oaths that hold your knightly order together.
Decide who or what the Object is. Some examples:
– your liege lord
– another knight
– your ancestral lands
– a fair noble
– a kind commoner
– a location of religious significance
Decide how your Object of Devotion inspires you to live up to your Knightly Virtue.
Decide how your Object of Devotion tempts you to indulge your Mortal Vice.

ALL KNIGHTS HAVE: well-maintained plate of finest steel; a mighty warhorse with its own barding; a signature instrument of war (a weapon such as a sword or mace; a shield; a horn or drum; a tool of reconnaissance such as a spyglass or accurate surveying equipment); a signature instrument of civilization (a musical instrument; a book of manners or advice either secular or theological; a particularly fine raiment; precious stones or metals worked into a beautiful form; a domesticated animal that is of particularly good breeding and quality); a retinue of servants to see to your daily needs.

PLAYER GOALS: to get your knight involved in chivalric adventure and drama.

CHARACTER GOALS: live up to your knightly oaths, and enact your mortal dreams.
All knights have sworn the same oath, making a series of promises. Choose the promise you most wish to live up to:
– to obey without hesitation the commandments of the king
– to fight without fear all threats to the king and the land
– to protect without hesitation the weak, the poor, the innocent, and the good
– to serve without doubt the divine and all its earthly instruments
– to honor without exception all women and little children
At the same time, all knights are mortal, and have mortal dreams. Choose the dream you cannot let go:
– to glorify to your name
– to cleanse your family or other group of a dreadful reputation
– to experience the pleasures of the world
– to ensure you and yours never want again
– to taste blood and sweat and death
– to see novel sights and visit novel places
– to die a legendary death

When you do something risky, roll 1d6 to find out how it goes. Add 1d if you prepared for this beforehand. Add 1d if you have advantage due to your equipment or squire. Add a Virtue die if your Knightly Virtue offers advantage. Add a Devotion die if your Object of Devotion is present, or their name/status is in question. (The GM will tell you how many dice to roll based on your character and situation.)
If you are using SWORDS (violence, wildness), you want to roll UNDER your number.
If you are using SONGS (civility, culture), you want to roll ABOVE your number.

Roll the dice and compare them to your number:
– if ZERO dice succeed, things go wrong. The GM will tell you how the situation turns against your character.
– if ONE die succeeds, things don’t go well. The GM will tell you a complication, harm, or a cost to your success.
– if TWO dice succeed, you did it! Huzzah!
– if THREE or more dice succeed, things went very well! The GM will tell you some extra effect of your success.

If any of the die match your number exactly, these additional things happen:

If the die is neither a Virtue die or a Devotion die, your blood rings with the SONG OF SWORDS. It counts as a success, and, if you so choose, you may ask the GM a single question which they must answer honestly. Some good questions are:
– to whom does this character owe fealty?
– what, outside of their oaths, motivates this character?
– what could I do to get them to _____?
– what hidden danger or risk reveals itself?
– what’s the best way to ______?

If the die is a Virtue die, and the roll was otherwise…
two or more successes, your victory displays the Knightly Virtue for which you are known. All present, even if they hate you personally, see you as an exemplary knight, and, even begrudgingly, admit your virtue. The roll counts as a success. Expect a Boon to come your way.
one other success, you may choose to let your vice carry the day rather than your virtue. If you do so, the roll counts as a success. However, your failure to live up to your Virtue means that a Bane will come your way.
a failure, something went wrong. Rather than exemplify your virtue, your Mortal Vice shines forth, and all present see you for the flawed creature you are. Even those who love you are forced to admit your failings. The roll does not count as a success. Expect a Bane to come your way.
Either way, you may change your number if you wish.

If the die is a Devotion die, and the roll was otherwise…
two or more successes, your victory was handily made in the name of your Object of Devotion, without undue attention called to it. This reflects well on your Object of Devotion. Expect a Reward in your future.
one other success, you may choose to explicitly invoke the name of your Object of Devotion, and your love for that Object, in full view of the public. The roll counts as a success, but your embarrassing declaration reflects poorly on your Object of Devotion. Expect to make Restitution in the future.
a failure, you evoked the name of your Object of Devotion, and everyone saw you fail. This reflects poorly on your Object of Devotion. Expect to make Restitution in the future.
Either way, you may change your number if you wish.

If you want to help someone else who’s rolling, say how you try to help and roll as usual. If you succeed, give them +1d.

Here is a table to help get things started:
A Threat….
1. A dragon
2. Disgruntled nobles
3. Rouge clergy
4. An unclean spirit
5. Other knights
6. A magic schemer
Wants to…
1. Destroy/Corrupt
2. Steal/Capture
3. Marry/Ally With
4. Protect/Empower
5. Construct/Produce
6. Conquer/Occupy
1. Frontier Towers
2. Sacred Woods
3. King’s Peace
4. Rival claimant
5. Livestock stud
6. Village cunning woman
Which will…
1. Lead to open war
2. Spread a plague or curse
3. Bring woe to the peasants
4. Alienate secular powers
5. Question the king’s claim
6. Displease the divine

Play to find out how the knights defeat the threat, if they can live up to their ideals, and how their mortal foibles cause them grief.
Introduce the threat by showing evidence of its recent action. Before a threat directly engages the characters, show signs that it’s about to happen. Then ask them what they do.
Call for a roll when the outcome is uncertain or when failure might be dramatically interesting. Don’t pre-plan outcomes. Let the wheel of fate stop where it will. Use failures to push the story forward. The situation always changes after a roll, for good or for ill; it never stagnates.
Ask leading questions and build on the answers.

These story elements arise from the display of Knightly Virtue or Mortal Vice. The GM makes a note of when a Knight earns one, and will choose when to apply it. Generally, it should be at a dramatically appropriate time, or when it might cause a sense of narrative symmetry.
Possible Boons include:
– A ceremony of blessing
– Shelter from the elements
– The benefit of the doubt
– The love of the people
– Sacrifice by a noble
…or something else.
Boons grant +1d to a relevant roll, then disappear.
Possible Banes include:
– An angry noble
– Loss of respect
– The people’s disdain
– Suspicion and distrust
– Interference by magic
– Denouncement by clergy
…or something else.
Banes take -1d to a relevant roll, then disappear. A Bane can reduce a dice pool to zero, rendering it an automatic failure.

These story elements arise from the relationship between a Knight and their Object of Devotion.
Possible Rewards include:
– a magical object
– a chaste display of affection
– public praise through letter or song
– material wealth
– time and acknowledgment
– a token of favor for all to see
Rewards are generally something that can be used in the future to grant advantage.
Possible Restitution includes:
– a dangerous quest
– material loss
– a request better not granted
– public penance for wrongdoing
– a wedding or other exchange of property
– tearful reproach
Restitution is generally something that drive future story action and shapes the plot.

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