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Freebie RPG: Courts & Corsets

Started by Zak Arntson, May 27, 2001, 06:42:00 AM

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Zak Arntson

After watching Amadeus (and being a fan of those effeminate costume dramas in general), I thought about writing an RPG that recreates the intrigue-filled life of those characters.

I thought about it after watching Dangerous Liasons a year or so ago, but wasn't equipped with thoughts like "No dice?"  "Narrative?".

So here's my simple RPG:

Courts & Corsets



Courts & Corsets seeks to reproduce the intrigue involved in such films as Amadeus and Dangerous Liasons.


The rules of Courts & Corsets rely entirely on a bidding process, by which players are able to influence play with an ever-dwindling resource.  In this game, the tokens used for bidding are called Crowns, no matter what physical piece is actually used during play. You may use any type of tokens to bid with, provided all players possess the ability to hide their tokens during a bid.

When a bid is called for, the bidding players must secretly select a number of Crowns from their available cache.  Once all bidding players have done so, all must fairly display their amount.  The highest bidder is considered the winner, and all Crowns bid by winner and losers are discarded (and are unavailable to the players until the rules allow).  Ties are broken by the winning players conducting a second bid, or however many more bids are required to achieve a single winner.

If a situation arises where levels of triumph are needed, the player with the highest bid obtains the best goal, descending bids until the lowest bid achieves the worst result.  Ties during these bids are resolved as aforementioned.

Setting Up Court

Initial Steps

Players must all politely agree to the length of the game, a shorter game yielding less Crowns for bidding during actual play.  A short game offers double the number of players in Crowns; the longest of games may be ten times the players in Crowns.  At the beginning of each Act the players receive this amount in Crowns, in addition to Crowns they have saved from prior stages of play.

This stage of the game offers players ten Crowns apiece.  Any Crowns remaining are retained by the players for actual play.

Dramatic Personae

From their ten Crowns, players must bid for the chance to describe their Court Member.  The highest bidder recieves the first opportunity, the second-highest speaks next, and so on.  Players may opt to retain some
Crowns for a stronger hand in choosing their Tragedy.

The first player is allowed the loftiest description, in terms of charm, wit, power, or any other arena of courtly influence.  Each player thereafter must describe their Court Member in lesser terms than the player preceding them.

Tragedies and Triumphs

Using their Crowns remaining from the above bid, players must bid for the fate that must ultimately befall their Court Member.  Again, the highest bidder speaks first, et cetera, until the last player illuminates their Court
Members finality.

Each player must describe a triumph or tragedy which does not place their Court Member in a better disposition than the players before.  In such an occasion that a Court Members final Tragedy is death, the remaining players must resolve to ever more gruesome and terrible ends for their own Court Members.

Playing the Game

At the beginning of each Act, every player receives a number of Crowns determined upon in Initial Steps, above. An Act involves the introduction (and possible resolution) of a Conflict or Theme.  At the beginning of each Act, the players make a bid to win decision on this Conflict or Theme.  The winner describes the Opening Scene, inserting Court Members as desired, then proceeds to act through her own Court Member as the Central Player.

The rules governing what a player may and may not affect are as follows:

The Central Player may:

  • Announce her Court Member's actions.
  • Provide a voice for her Court Member.
  • Act and speak for any character in the game which is not a Court Member.
  • Begin or resolve a conflict within the game, provided she has the consent of the other players
           or wins a bid.
  • Appoint another player as the Central Player.

A player may not:

  • Cause another Court Member to act or speak.
  • Begin or resolve a conflict without the consent or bid of the other players.

Another player becomes the Central Player when:

  • The player's Court Member speaks or acts towards another Court Member in a manner that demands a reaction.
  • The player announces and appoints a another player to become the current player.
  • The player is Interrupted.

If a player announces events that run contrary to another player's desires, that opposing player must speak up!  This is called an Interruption.  A player may Interrupt another at any time by announcing the fact.  All players who wish to be involved in the Interruption must then make a bid which includes, if desired, the Current Player.  Whoever wins the bid to Interrupt chooses the resolving events and becomes the Current Player, if she wishes.

To end a Scene, the Current Player must declare the Scene over.  If other players do not wish the Scene to end, they may Interrupt, referring to the preceding rules.  All players keep their Crowns at the Scene's end for use in the next scene.  

An Act may be ended upon completion of a Scene at the choice of the Central Player.  The Act must come to an end if all but the Central Player are out of Crowns.  A player's remaining Crowns are saved for addition to those gained upon the beginning of a new Act.

Triumphs and Tragedies

When a player attains their decided Triumph or Tragedy, their Court Member is either removed from the story or, if still alive and functioning within the confines of the game, becomes a non Court Member controllable by all players.

A player without a Court Member is still allowed to bid and provide actions for chracters which are not Court Members, but the rules concerning winning an bid to Interrupt are as follows:

  • You may Interrupt to cause any action or event that does not directly affect a Court Member in body or mind.
  • Your own once-Court Member may be affected by your Interruption as any other non-Court Member.
  • You can never be the Current Player.  Once you have caused an Interruption and the event has transpired,
      the Current Player resumes their role.

Ending the Game

Once all the Court Members have experienced their Triumphs and Tragedies, the game is effectively complete.  Whoever ends the Scene in which the final Triumph or Tragedy has played itself out should end the Scene and thus completes the Final Act.  Unless, of course, other players desire to continue play with Interruptions.  Even so, when all but the Current Player stands with every Crown spent, the curtain must drawn and the Final Act is over.


[ This Message was edited by: Zak Arntson on 2001-05-27 01:52 ]


I like it. The system seems to have interesting consequences. If I understand rightly, less capable characters will be most likely to succeed in the end which seems kind of weird. If I were playing this and got to decide my fate first I would be heavily tempted to make it a grisly death: "I get thrown out of a window, fall on a fence with sharp iron spikes and bleed slowly to death." Then let the others top that....
I'm not sure I quite understand the concept completely though. Maybe you could give some examples of play?

Paul Czege

Clarify for me Zak, an Interruption that goes uncontested by other players costs the Interrupting player 0 crowns and makes him the Central Player?

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans

Zak Arntson

If I were playing this and got to decide my fate first I would be heavily tempted to make it a grisly death:

Yeah, I picture the first player being either really ambitious with a Triumph ("Otto ends his Courtly days as the Emperor's Ambassador on a small Meditteranean island, showered in gold and adoration."), OR challenging the other players ("Stefan dies drunk and penniless following the murder of his fiancee, stabbed through twenty times by highwaymen on the short road between the Winter Palace and Vienna, thus reported to the constabulary by his accompanying Viennese prostitute.").

Which means I have to make a note that you don't have to be historically accurate!  Go ahead and stick Palaces and Emperors and Princes &c. all over the place.  And then include a reference to some fancy towns, like Prague, Vienna, Paris.  (Or even make them up)

I'm not sure I quite understand the concept completely though. Maybe you could give some examples of play?

Yes, I should do this.  Sometime soon!

Paul Czege:
Clarify for me Zak, an Interruption that goes uncontested by other players costs the Interrupting player 0 crowns and makes him the Central Player?

That's right!  The Central Player may be relieved to have someone Interrupt them.  Also, if the Central Player wishes to keep their position, they must keep spending Crowns to win Interrupt bids.  They may wish to save them for later, especially if they want to react to the new Central Player.

Depending on playtest reactions, I may require one Crown to be spent simply to propose a bid for Interruption.  (I don't want to dilute the bidding-only mechanic through concrete expenditure values).

Now I've got to find some players to see how the thing works  (it is a freebie after all :).  If anyone tries it out, let me know.

("concrete expenditure values"?  I've got to write a less frilly-worded game!)


[ This Message was edited by: Zak Arntson on 2001-05-27 11:43 ]