In a world of dazzling magic, airships, and gunpowder, the Empire forged in conquest and slavery stretches sea to sea. But the core of its heart is rotten, and a revolution is brewing in the underbelly of its floating capital. How many rebels does it take to bring the whole House Huffington down? Time to draw some cards, recall some memories, and swash some buckles as we swing into action with Dashing Scoundrels, a “high-heavens, gunpowder and airships world of dazzling magic where players are rebels and pirates undermining a corrupt empire by performing heists and swashbuckling shenanigans,” brought to us by Ilya Bossov and Lagging Dice LLC!
If you’ve got a sharp memory and have been with us for a while, a lot of the names up above might have a hint of familiarity, even the name Dashing Scoundrels, because Lagging Dice also brought us Dust Bowl Galaxy – and Ilya mentioned Dashing Scoundrels being in development when we talked about DBG. A lot of design ideas are shared between the two games – fast-paced play, low prep, easy character/encounter building, cool pixel art, wacky species – but let’s hit the rulebook (aim carefully, it’s small, you might miss) and see how a dashing scoundrel can swing into action.
The Base Mechanics
Characters (whether PC, NPC, or airship) are built using cards (we’ll get into how that happens in a bit), and on those cards are 7 possible Icons: Attention, Bravery, Confidence, Discretion, Empathy, Imagination, and Patience. Each Icon has a symbol, like little swords for Bravery and boots for Discretion. These Icons are cumulative, so if you have three swords across all of your cards you have a Bravery of 3. Whenever you’re doing something important that might fail, the GM will tell you a difficulty number (6 is Easy, 24+ is Insane) and which two Icons apply – you might be using Discretion and Attention to pick a lock, or Empathy and Bravery to swing from a chandelier.
After adding your two Icon scores together, you’re then going to draw three Chances cards, each of which have a number 1-6 on them; you could also roll 3d6 if that’s your bag, although that means giving up the ‘single card box in pocket’ nature of the game. Whether drawing or rolling, you pick which of the results you keep Active, meaning you’re using them for the action you’re attempting, and which you keep Passive, meaning for defense. This mirrors DBG’s ‘Attention’ almost exactly, the only difference is that you were grabbing stacks of dice then instead of a card. You can only assign two cards/dice to each, though, so you’ll always have at least one Passive. Anyway, if your Active result matches the difficulty number exactly, you’ve succeeded with a complication. Exceed it and you succeed, exceed it by 3 or more and you start getting extra effects.
What Icons you use might also have additional effects. Someone using Imagination can add the number of little explosion symbols they have to the range and diameter of blast attacks, or add traps to the board on defense. Patience and its tome symbols can actually let you heal instead of attack, or even heal yourself if they were Passive. If you have an Advantage granted by your species or the circumstances you can draw an additional card, and if they instead convey a Disadvantage draw one less; the two statuses cancel one another out, but they don’t change the max number of 2 cards you can assign to either Active or Passive.
Remember those Chances cards? Deal 8 to each player, because right next to the ‘dice’ are details on the many species of Feyhaven – 54 of them to be exact. Each species lists out moods, places, perks, flaws, names, and goals associated with. Each player is going to pick one of them to keep, or make up a species of their own if desired, and then put the rest back into the deck. You could be anything from a standard human to a lycanthrope to a fairy to a troll to a giant mantis to a jotunn to sentient water to a chivalrous humanoid armadillo to a space polar bear.
Then you deal with the other type of card in the game, Memories cards; deal 8 of them to each player as well. These are the cards which have some combination of two Icons; each player will be keeping 4 of them, and the total number of each type of Icon is their rating for any given ability. Each also grants a special ability of some kind, and also has a memoir question that acts as a prompt for the character. For instance, Grand Master’s Vigilance has an Imagination and an Attention Icon, lets any blasts you create affect either friends or enemies, and asks “Is there anyone who has completely lost my respect?” For another example, Strong, Independent Princess has a Bravery and an Empathy Icon, lets you add your Empathy to distance when you push someone else, and asks “When the chips are down, who do I trust to have my back and why?”
To flesh out the character a bit, each player has to answer a memoir question from one of their Memories cards in character creation. A player can earn a Candy Point (more on those shortly) if their answer involves the scoundrel of another player – a clever if simple way to incentivize players to link their characters’ stories together. Then you name your character and . . . that’s it! You’re ready to play. Since you’re going to want all the various cards back in their respective decks, you ‘save’ your character by taking a picture of your cards, making sure that the species details, Icons, abilities, and memoir questions are visible. The game doesn’t mention this, but since there’s nowhere to record things with the game as is, I think you might also want an index card with things like your character name, Candy Points, and answers to memoir questions in the picture.
Playing the Game
So, we already covered the basic mechanics, but let’s cover a few of the in-game things of interest.
‘Damage’ is represented by ‘Setbacks’. Essentially, whenever a character would take a hit of any kind (physical, social, whatever), they take a Setback. They flip one of their Memories cards over, meaning that they lose access to that card’s ability as well as the Icons the card displays. If all your cards are flipped, you’re out of the fight; healing involves flipping those cards back over and putting their abilities and Icons back into play. This does seem like this could cause a bit of a death spiral, as the more Setbacks you’ve taken the lower your chances of success are getting, There’s some leeway there depending on how you built your character, and since you can pick which of your cards gets flipped you have some control over how steep that spiral is (if what you’re doing doesn’t involve Empathy, flipping a 2 Empathy card won’t cause you trouble right away).
So you had to answer one of the memoir questions from your Memories cards during character creation. When do you answer the other ones? Well, once per session you can answer a memoirs question to create an Advantage (drawing another Chances card, if you’ll recall) retroactively via a flashback or monologue, provided the answer to the memoirs question is relevant to the situation you’re stuck in. Improved chances of success while character building? Cool! But, you might be thinking, wouldn’t you eventually run out of questions to answer?
Remember that Candy point you could get during character creation? Candy points are the XP of Dashing Scoundrels (represented by tokens or even actual candy, consume sugar products responsibly), and aside from the one in character creation the GM can award them for completing daring heists, thwarting villains, and accomplishing goals. They can be awarded to individual characters or to everyone, depending on what warranted the award in the first place. At the end of a session, each player also gets to award a Candy point to another player. When you you have as many Candy points as you have Memories cards, you can spend (or devour) those points to get another Memories card. You could name one you want, pick an Icon type and choose from two cards, or get a completely random card from a draw of three. Simply take a new picture to save your character again! I think the coolest thing about this is that, yeah, sure, you’re getting more Icons and abilities, but you’re also getting more memoirs questions, which means ‘leveling up’ gives you more opportunities to learn more about the characters.
Enough about the players, what about the GM? How do they go about building an encounter? Easy, they draw cards, same as anything else. The GM might want to draw Chances cards to determine things like species, name, and goals, but the Memories cards are where this part of the game is really at. When building an encounter, the GM can start by drawing Memories cards, essentially mimicking PC character creation by gathering up Icons and abilities. For a given creature, you should only draw up to Max, the maximum number of Memories cards that a PC currently has. Encounter wide, keep making creatures that way until you reach the Total, i.e. the total number of Memories cards that the party has. Want to make an encounter easier? Simple, just draw fewer cards, and if you want them to be harder draw more. You can build mobs of minions, true rivals, and even airships this way.
Like I said above, the rulebook (both the player guide and the GM guide) are very small, not just to fit into the card box but also in terms of page count. I do think you’ll want to read both of them cover to cover, though. There are some fiddly little rules that, looking at the Memories cards, won’t be quite clear on a passing glance. How to handle play on a grid vs theatre of the mind, how illusions and traps work, how range and movement is determined, aren’t particularly difficult to grasp, but because the book doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on them you’ll have to read all of what’s there to use some of your abilities properly.
Dashing Scoundrels is for 2-7 players, with a recommended age of 12+ and an expected runtime per session of 120+ minutes. You can get a copy for yourself at The Game Crafter for $25.99, and read up some more on the game at feyhaven.com. Following those links will also get you to a Q&A for more Dashing Scoundrels reading, as well as a link to Lagging Dice’s Discord.
Everything from character creation to encounter building to combat is fast-paced, the characters and abilities are flashy and flavorful, and you’ll have meaningful choices and incentivized character growth. If that grabs your interest then grab a copy and swing into action to topple an empire with Dashing Scoundrels!
Thanks to Ilya for sending us a copy of Dashing Scoundrels to review!
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