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Tabletop Game / Lace & Steel

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Original boxed set cover
Lace & Steel is an obscure 1989 Tabletop RPG by the Australian author Paul Kidd. Set in the original Constructed World of Mittelmarch inspired by 1640s Europe, the game is designed to recreate wild Swashbuckler adventures Kidd is best known for writing. He also penned the tie-in novel Mus of Kerbridge set in the same world and the Castle Keitel intro adventure.

The original game was released in a boxed set by The Australian Game Group, containing the rule books and a set of special combat and sorcery cards used to resolve conflicts both violent and social. The rules (but sadly, not the intro module) were reprinted as a single book in 1997 by Pharos Press. The game can be viewed as a thematic precursor to 7th Sea.

The game contains examples of following tropes:

  • Actually Four Mooks: Inverted. When multiple characters gang up on one in melee, they pool their card hands together and attack as a single entity.
  • Armor-Piercing Attack: Most firearms automatically ignore armor that isn't proofed against them at short and medium ranges.
  • Blade Lock: Parrying an attack with a special Lock Hilts card allows you to make a Strength contest against the attacker, potentially seizing the initiative and stealing two cards from their deck if you succeed.
  • Character Class: Played with. Instead of classical fantasy classes, you roll for your social class, which determines which skills you get for free and which cost extra for you to take.
  • Combat Clairvoyance: Mechanically, having a much higher combat skill score than your opponent in combat boils down to this, as the opponent must play their attack cards face up against you, instead of normal face down. Also, the special card Intuition lets you examine the opponent's current hand before attacking.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Ranged combat phase always takes place earlier in a turn than Sorcery phase, so the best tactic to deal with an enemy sorcerer is to just shoot them dead before they bring their magic to bear.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Averted, as taking damage gradually reduces your combat hand size, as well as imposes penalties on your rolls.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Averted. The denizens of Mittelmarch practice actual Christianity and worship actual Jesus Christ.
  • Damage Typing: Damage from "brawling" weapons (basically anything without a pointy end or a sharp edge) cannot kill the opponent, like normal damage does.
  • Discard and Draw: Once per combat round, you may discard your current combat card hand and draw a new one in hopes of getting better cards. If you must attack and don't have any attack cards, you must do this, as well.
  • The Dung Ages: Averted, as Mittelmarch is much cleaner than 17th century Europe, thanks to earlier development of the germ theory.
  • The Fair Folk: The Fairies are incredibly powerful in magic and also utterly inscrutable in their drive for personal amusement.
  • Fantastic Racism: Consciously defied in the setting, as all fantastic races are on good terms with humans and each other, and large-scale tensions are mostly political in nature, rather than racial.
  • Fantastic Slurs: Calling a Half-Horse a "centaur" is considered an insult, since "centaur" is a term for the rare feral individuals living in the wilds. A politically correct way to address humans and centaurs is "two-leggers" and "four-leggers", respectively.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The main setting of Mittlemarch bears a clear resemblance to Europe during The Cavalier Years. What with its Absolutist monarchs, courtly intrigue, pike and shot weaponry, and flamboyant Baroque style. Despite their there are some clear differences. For one thing, the traditional narrative of European history is flipped with the Tantic (aka Germanic) nations descending from the powerful empire while the Alamaric (aka Latin) nations spawning from barbarian invaders. In addition, there was no Protestant reformation and the north is warm and the south is cold
    • Duncruigh: This maritime nation, known for its parliamentary monarchy and thriving trade network, is clearly inspired by England. It's noted for featuring a powerful middle class at the nobilities expense, similar to England after the civil war.
    • Scarmis: Grim Up North but in the South. Scarmis is a maritime nation with a history of militarism and freezing weather. While it serves a s stand in for Scandinavia as a whole, it bears a particular resemblance to Sweden. It's war with Forija recalls the Great Northern War.
    • Nantierre: L'√Čtat, c'est moi, Nantierre is led by an Absolute Monarch half horse named Queen Aelis. Nantierre has a powerful army dominated by the nobility, as well as a reputation for cosmopolitanism and high fashion. In a perpetual war with Duncruigh, much like England and Pre-revolutionary France.
    • Aurey: Scotireland, wild highlands filled with tartan wearing barbarians. The local king owes fealty to the king of Dunruigh, but that doesn't mean the other feudal lords do.
    • Forija: A combination of the Tsarist Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Like Russia, Forija is a rising empire in a freezing part of the world, that rose to power by uniting city-states and conquering an East populated by steppe riders. However the cavalry's use of "winged hussars" recalls the Commonwealth, not to mention their tendency for flamboyancy. However the nations in general characteristics, as well as their war with Scarmis, marks it as mostly Russian.
    • Albernia: Spain, in particular based on the villanous reputation they possed in the time period. Situated in the warm north, with ties to Haravy, Albernia is a decadent nation intended to be the games main antagonists.
    • Welfland: The Netherlands, This is a young Republic created after a daring revolt. Armies from all the major nations are currently fighting to determine its future. Noted for having the potential to become a major trading and naval power.
    • Tantic Empire: the Holy Roman Empire. The Tantic Empire retains its influences decentralized nature, medieval traditions, and German naming conventions. Despite this it also fills the role of the original Roman Empire: it's existed since ancient times and Jesus was crucified within its borders.
    • Haraby: "Arabian Nights" Days, with a particular influence from Turks with Troops. It's style is based more on Christian perceptions of the Ottomon Turks rather than how it actually was.
    • The Western Isles; The New World, especially before it was colonized. Differs in that Albernia is not a part of the colonizing process, but Scarmis is, strangely enough.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Downplayed. There are plenty of guns in the setting, but these are all very early designs, so between huge accuracy penalties for range, long reloading times, and chance to misfire, they don't usually offer a significant advantage to player characters.
  • Game-Favored Gender: Male characters have more options by the rules as written, as female characters are automatically forced to slight their Strength (and favor another stat; males can choose their favored/slighted attributes freely) and generally pigeonholed into social gameplay roles. The book's suggested fix for this discrepancy is playing a Harpy. But then again, they use the Tomboy Princess Linette Vulpiniere as the example character, subverting said pigeonholing almost immediately.
  • Guns Akimbo: A character can wield a pistol in each hand, firing twice in a round, but the second shot takes a hefty penalty on accuracy.
  • Honest Rolls Character: The core rules require that you roll for all attributes in a specific order, although you do have some influence with the favoring/slighting Luck Manipulation Mechanic. In particular, you have to be very lucky to roll high enough on your Magical aptitude stat AND draw a major arcana Significator to even play a magic-using character.
  • Interspecies Romance: In terms of cross-species love and sex, pretty much everything goes, with the notable exception of Half-Horses never consummating their emotional attachments to members of other races, "for obvious reasons".
  • Loads and Loads of Rules: The game is firmly a product of its time: having to look up things in two tables just to make a basic ability check may be quite jarring to a post-d20 player.
  • Low Fantasy: The game shows shades of this, between human and half-human dominance of the civilized world, focus on political intrigue, and low magic levels. It is, however, more idealistic that the typical specimen of the genre.
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: Before rolling for stats, you can declare up to three of them as "favored" and just as many as "slighted". For the former you roll twice and take the better result, for the latter, you roll twice and take the worse one.
  • Luck Stat: The game suggests that the Intuition stat is used for tests of blind luck—makes sense, if you think about it.
  • Maximum HP Reduction: Suffering a particularly grievous wound reduces your Strength, which can potentially reduce your max HP, as well, since it depends on Strength.
  • Men Use Violence, Women Use Communication: The rules seem to enforce it, as males and females of any social class receive more free weapon and social skills, respectively (except the Harpies, who invert this).
  • Morale Mechanic: The rules for mass combat have rules for a military unit holding together, affected by its losses, the leader's skill, and even Self Image.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: Harpies are a female-dominated species—quite literally, as female harpies are larger and stronger than males.
  • No Stat Atrophy: Averted. If you don't use a particular skill for a year, you must roll to prevent it from dropping by 1.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Using the Repartee skill in a tense social situation is mechanically identical to physical combat, replacing attacks with "remarks" (e.g. attacks to the head represent intellectual challenges, and attacks to the legs, to "low blows"). Instead of Hit Points, however, the remarks target Self Image.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: There is an entire page worth of rules governing ball gowns for female characters.
  • Point Build System: After the rolling for your initial stats, you can spend 5 XP to raise any stat further by one point.
  • Relationship Values: The Ties and Antipathies mechanic allows characters (both PCs and NPCs) to form ties with not just other characters, but also abstract ideals (such as chivalry or justice) and larger organizations, such as one's country. Role-playing in accordance to these is then both enforced and rewarded by the game mechanics. High Tie scores can also be used to ask for favors from friendly NPCs instead of the Persuasion skill.
  • Rocket-Tag Gameplay: Melee combat is quick and brutal: failing to produce an appropriate defense in the card minigame can easily inflict more damage in a single hit than your HP total!
  • Sanity Meter: Kind of. Each character has a Self Image score, which determines how they feel about themselves: acting in accordance with one's Ties and disposition raises one's confidence, positively affecting most rolls henceforth, while acting against them or failing to live up to one's standards impact it negatively, eventually leading to depression or even suicide.
  • The Savage South: Inverted by Mittelmarch, where it's the southern continent that is most technologically advanced. The "Arabian Nights" Days continent in the north-east is doing pretty well for itself, but lands across the Western seas are quite firmly in the stone age.
  • Stat Grinding: At the end of an adventure, the character rolls once for each skill they used in its course, potentially gaining XP that go towards upgrading that particular skill (and only it).
  • Skill Score: There is a multitude of skills, subdivided into Social, Courtly, Knowledge, Military, Movement/Perception, Craft, and Magical. Each skill gives you an equivalent bonus to ability checks where it applies, and even a 0 level in a specialized skill (e.g. from a social class template, although some skills are free for all characters) will let you roll for it. Higher levels of skill cost more XP to buy, especially ones not associated with your character's social class and gender.
  • Tarot Motifs: The game uses a Rider-Waite deck to spice up character creation with special bonuses, as well as to randomly generate potential adventure hooks.
  • Tomboy Princess: Linette Vulpiniere, the example character used to illustrate the rules throughout the book, is of genteel birth but rejects the in-universe gender roles of her class and instead goes for mostly combat-oriented skills.
  • Turn-Based Combat: The game has a unique melee resolution mechanics, where combatants draw and play special cards in turns (called "passes"), representing attacks and parries, potentially seizing or losing the initiative in combat. Ranged combat, meanwhile, occurs in a more ordered fashion, with one combat turn containing up to 10 melee passes.
  • You Fight Like a Cow: Exchanging witticisms during combat is facilitated by rolling (mutually agreed upon) Repartee contests at the start of combat, as well as whenever a Disengage or Lock Hilts card is played. The winner of the contest gets to steal two cards from the loser's hand.