Sense, Sensibility, & Swordsmanship Review

When I reviewed the regency-era RPG Good Society, I was pretty complementary. One thing I didn’t get into at the time, though, is that Storybrewers have a whole wonderful series of expansions planned for the game that stretch and explore what it can be. Today I’m taking a look at the swashbuckling expansion of flashing blades and masked identities: Sense, Sensibility, & Swordsmanship.

One experience I’ve had with Good Society was using it as a common-ground option for gaming with my wife, Dr. James. She’s not a roleplayer but she loves regency stories and Jane Austen in particular. This seemed like a natural fit and while she loved coming up with stories and characters, she could get frustrated with my lack of knowledge about the source material. I know some Jane Austen but I was (apparently) saying things that Austen’s characters never would have and ignorant of things like inheritance that would have been common knowledge.

Image © Storybrewers Roleplaying

While the game lets you craft your own version of Georgian England (historical, close to, wildly different) the tone of literature can be a selling point and when other players talk like 21st century white cismales (guilty) it can be jarring. Dr. James actually described it as an Austen uncanny valley: something that’s almost like the books and movies but just a bit off in a way that would be worse than being a big departure. To address this, we’re actually going to try S, S, & S for our next game to see if having thoroughly un-Austen scenes will put everyone on the same page.

Masked Identities

In the original Good Society, your character has two parts to their stats: Character Role and Family Background. In S,S, & S you still have two parts but your Family Background is dropped. Now you have a Civilian Identity which is the Character Role from before, things like the New Arrival or the Tutor. This is how you fit into society when you’re pretending to be a normal person with no special mission. That’s only half the story, though, and you also have a Masked Identity which is how you operate when you’re jumping from rooftops and slashing Z’s into stuff. Combined, these make up your Dual Identity but only special people know which civilian nobody is secretly which masked somebody.

The masked identities in the book run the gamut of swashbuckling tropes from a lot of different sources.

  • The Vigilante is a fighter for justice, someone like Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel. A lot of figures on this list fight criminals but a vigilante fights the system and the corruption that threatens their home.
  • The Bounty Hunter is the narrower focus of this, someone fighting criminals and taking them off the streets. This might be a sword-for-hire like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag or one like Batman who selflessly beats up the crooks and dumps them for the authorities to find.
  • On the other hand, the Outlaw is one of those criminals and is into swashbuckling because of what she can buckle to her own swash… as it were. Inspirations include such debonair thieves as Sovay, Lupin III, or Danny Ocean.
  • The Agent is a bit of a grey area since they are working for some bigger organization or faction. This might be a government agent like James Bond or Agent 99, or it could be someone working for a secret society like the Rosicruscians.
  • The Charlatan isn’t grey, they’re just amoral. They’re in it for the fun of leaping from roofs and all this crime and do-goodery is besides the point. The inspirations listed are Cassanova and La Maupin so sexy times are certainly in the running.
Image © Storybrewers Roleplaying

Masked identities include notes on their connections, which can be independent from the civilian identity: I love the idea of being close to someone else’s vigilante persona but not recognizing then in regular life, or vice versa. There’s also attributes for your masked identity, the means by which your dual identity can be found out (which, the book notes, is supposed to happen for drama’s sake!), and the means by which your masked identity gains reputation (since that’s now missing without a family background).

When your masked identity is revealed, you get to move the story along dramatically with a Revealed! option. When your character’s double-life is exposed she can choose to reform her ways and give up the mask, leave her life behind and become the mask full time, or do some favors to the powers that be to keep her secret safe. This isn’t the end of your character unless you like it to be, though, just the next stage of their story.

Evil Plots and the Big Bad

While these game elements are separate from the swashbuckling of S, S, & S, it does provide some great structure to a game of this sort. Being separate, though, you could potentially use it in a game of vanilla Good Society for a regency tale in the style of a soap opera where no one has rapiers but there are dastardly figures who everyone knows is out to ruin Riverdale Georgian London.

Image © Storybrewers Roleplaying

In the classic swashbuckler tale, however, the mastermind is the main foil to the heroes and sometimes the hidden mastermind. For S, S, & S you pick one of the Connections cards (normally your friends and relations) and this serves as the basis for the Big Bad. You scaffold onto this skeleton some information on their position and repuation, as well as the Evil Plot they are pursuing. By default the Plot is known to players (though not necessarily to characters), but you can choose to have the steps of the Plot revealed just before they happen as a dramatic and tense situation.

There’s also the option of using another Connection for a second-in-command to give the Big Bad some options. Seconds are supposed to be enforcers, masterminds, thieves, government officials, bravados, bodyguards, moneybags, or “other” which (by definition) covers all options. Having a second lets you have a six-fingered man for the characters to confront before dealing with the ultimate baddie. Good Society being what it is, of course, the characters might also befriend (or fall in love with) the second-in-command and complicate things.

The Rooftop Phase

While characters in Sense, Sensibility, & Swordsmanship might don their mask at any time for any reason, they definitely appear in the Rooftop Phase, an addition to the game’s cycle. A game of base Good Society has a Novel Phase (where stuff happens), a Reputation Phase (where fallout happens), a Rumor and Scandal Phase (where plot hooks happen), and then an Epistolary Phase (where monologues happen). Once you go through this cycle once you repeat it a second time, and then potentially keep repeating for an extended campaign.

Image © Storybrewers Roleplaying

This new Rooftop Phase is entered into the cycle before the Novel Phase, which actually means that it now starts the game off. Everyone has their own rooftop scene starring their character, although the table can jump in with ideas depending on how your group likes to operate. This might be a scene to pursue your character’s goals, advance the Evil Plot a little bit, show off what sort of masked personality your character has, or create complications for your character civilian identity that will be fun to watch play out later.

For a game that is all about conversations and interactions with no dice or random mechanics to mix it up, it’s a bold choice to start off with solo scenes. However, I think seeing montages of dark figures up on rooftops and breaking into houses is very on-brand for the swashbuckling genre so I’m sold.

Daring Deeds Resolution

Unlike the regency parties and social scheming of base Good Society, characters in Sense, Sensibility, & Swordsmanship may actually get into fights. In fact, you’d be surprised if they didn’t; just based on the name they should spend about a third of their time with swords in their hand. Should your character cross blades, allude the authorities, or break out of jail, you turn to the Daring Deeds chapter of the book.

There’s a (very small) flow chart to help decide but basically you use the Darin Deeds section if there are two main characters with opposing goals or if a major character (or connection) has a stake in what happens and can affect it. If these things aren’t true, you just us the normal resolve tokens. If you’re going with daring deed then each sides states what they want to happen. There’s one more chance to yield and just have someone spend resolve to get their way (like if one option seems boring or if there’s a compromise that both can live with), otherwise it’s time to bid.

Image © Storybrewers Roleplaying

In this clash of wills you start by putting a resolve token up for bid. Players go back and forth (or around in a circle if there’s more than one side in the daring deed) bidding an additional resolve token at a time. Once someone isn’t willing to increase their bid then the person with the highest bid wins and their goal succeeds.

This is a fun time for Facilitators to offer a resolve token for a worse outcome (“I’ll give you a token if you get those secret papers but leave your bracelet behind at the scene”) but resolve tokens are also a limited commodity. Every time I’ve played Good Society I’ve thought long and hard about each resolve token spent so I guess they either have to be gained much more freely in S, S, & S or these will be pretty low bids. It’s also a very game-centered mechanic in the middle of an almost purely narrativist RPG so that feels a little jarring. Still, if this is the worst part of this expansion it’s still very good.

Conclusion

And that says it all, really. Just like Good Society, I love every part of this product. It’s very flavorful, has a ton of advice for running games, and so clearly and simply gets at the heart of the genre. If you are playing Good Society and want to try some new angles, you owe it to yourself to get this. If you like the idea of Good Society but feel that uncanny valley that Dr. James was talking about, then maybe this is the spicy solution for you. Either way, this was a pitch-perfect supplement to a pitch-perfect game to a degree that one might call “shocking.” I heartily recommend it.

2 thoughts on “Sense, Sensibility, & Swordsmanship Review

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