The Cardinal's Men!
The Cardinal’s Men!
Honor & Intrigue
The year is 1626 and France is sick. Like an ancient elm, its core is being devoured from within. Yet from outside it appears strong and vibrant. Louis XIII sits on the throne, but his rule is that of a puppet monarch. While France rots, Louis spends his time throwing extravagant balls (the cost of which places a heavy tax burden on the already burdened peasantry), hunting all manner of beasts (including, some say, Protestants dressed up as animals), sponsoring artists to produce works of art for his private adoration, and ignoring the pleas of the downtrodden citizens who clamour for justice and clemency.
Pulling Louis’ strings is Marie de Medeci, his mother and former regent. Her only goal is to maintain her status as premier woman of the kingdom and to maintain her way of life. Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu, better known simply as Cardinal Richelieu, serves both as Cardinal of Paris and as Louis’ chief adviser, both positions of great power. His grip on the political and military machinery of France is firm and unyielding. His only open adversary is the Queen mother although many in the background would love to see him removed from office or better yet killed.
Religious persecution is rife, and has been for over a century. France’s Catholics have engaged in many cruel massacres of the country’s Protestants, including the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572. The Thirty Years’ War (a name it has yet to acquire in the current age) is raging and yet France, a Catholic country, is supporting the side of the Protestants. Richelieu’s aim is to break the power of Spain and the Hapsburg Empire, against whom the Protestants are fighting, but his views are not shared by all. France’s nobles and ministers are reacting angrily to this policy, many seeing it as treachery against the Papacy, but Louis has ratified the Cardinal’s order, and few dissenters have the stomach to argue with the King.
France’s armies are not faring well. The King and his previous council were able to put down a few revolts but were unable to complete the campaigns due to heavy losses due to sickness and disease. Soldiers from Spain and the Holy Roman Empire are marauding throughout the French countryside. In order to bolster France’s decimated army, Richelieu has raised taxes and introduced conscription, though it is the poorer members of society who suffer the most from these measures. Famine wracks the land, forcing the already overtaxed peasants into increased hardship. Resentment and anger are bubbling beneath the scum of corruption which floats atop French society, threatening to break the surface and drag the country into civil war.
The nobility of France has grown corrupt, though some would hasten to add they are simply more corrupt than their ancestors, who were already a decadent bunch. Richelieu’s taxation policies are a mere inconvenience to the aristocracy, and while they dine and dance, their peasants starve and succumb to disease. Many speak of deviltry among the nobility, of midnight ceremonies honouring their unholy counterparts in Hell, of young girls taken by force never to be seen again, and of terrible bargains sealed with blood and souls. But such talk is commonplace when times are bad.
History has it all Wrong!
First off we are using Honor + Intrique. Written by Chris Rutkowsky and pulished by Basic Action Games [of BASH fame.]. I have to admit I helped playtest these rules so they would have had a soft spot in my heart anyway. However I’m a big fan of Swashbuckling since I was a wee lad. In fact it’s movies like The 3 and 4 Musketeers as well as The Scarlet Pimpernel and Erol Flyn’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood” that got me into gaming in the first place. And these rules hit all the right notes with me when considering this genre. Unlike many gamers I’m not one to tweek a game to fit the genre I like. The few attempts I tried failed miserably. But these rules were written for High Adventure Swashbuckling and they deliver.
The Cardinal’s Men:
I wanted to so something that had not been done before. And when you consider the genre it is rife with cliches. And most of the time they are expected. A mid 17th century game without the 4 Musketeers and without Cardinal Richelieu… WHAT?!?! Impossible! So how do you do something different yet appeal to what people expect and know. Well the idea came to me to turn the whole thing upside down. In my game the PCs are working for Cardinal Richelieu. Evil you say? Well that depends on what side of the story you stand. In my campaign the Musketeers are the King’s men. The are a bunch of bungling, ill manered buffoons at best and street thugs at worst. So why are they so well loved? Because the King backs them up through thick and thin. The papers dare not print anything scandalous or bad about the King for fear of imprisonment in “La Bastille” or worst. And the Musketeers are his men. They benefit from the same protection. Because of this no matter how bad the sittuation the Musketeers always end up looking like the heroes.
So who upholds the law? The Cardinal’s men of course. And the population hates them for it. Why? Well how are our cops treated today? We call them pigs or worst. We dislike being given tickets or stopped for speeding. Unless our life is in danger we don’t want their involement. Well it’s the same for the Cardinal’s Men. However in 1626 there are things that go bump in the night. And no one wants to take a close look at those. Especially not the King for whom his France is perfect. So the Cardinal has gotten himself a special force to deal, discreatly, with these creatures of the night and that’s where the PCs come in. They have started calling themselves “The Black Guard” because they dress all in black (easier to sneak around that way) and they have a special red crest representing the Cardinal on their left breast.
Kethis – A street urchin turned thief, spy and assassin.
Jean-Marie Dieu-Donné – An ex Haitian slave (he’s still Haitian) turned Pirate. He’s immensly strong and a feared pugilist.
Salvo Volant – A French Noble who had/has a gambling problem. Ended up in jail and turned mercenary to get out. The man is incredably lucky!
Francois Sansnom – Born in the country he is an adept hunter, conscripted into the army he was trained as a gunsmith and later perfected his education to an alchemist.
Cardinal Richelieu – Patron, Mentor. Defacto ruler of France. Religious leader in France.
The Cardinal’s Guards – Answer to the Cardinal, Police force, Enforce the law. Not well loved for it.
Cardinal’s Men (The Black Guard) – PCs, Special force to combat magic and esoterics threats to France. Answer to Cardinal
Madame de Winter – Special Agent. More on her but PCs have yet to meet her so I’ll keep quiet for now.
Rochefort – Captain of the Cardinal’s Guard. Humorless, efficient. See PCs as competition.
King Louis XIII – 14 year old King, enamoured with Musketeers. Child King, petulent, dangerous
Queen Mother Marie de Medici – Regent, religious, matron, Idolizes King, affair?
Duc de Bienvenue – Old King’s Advisor, overly cautious, does not trust Richelieu
[[M. de Treville]] – Captain of the Royal Musketeers, Old, ineffective.
Royal Musketeers – Buffoons, peacocks, more style than substance. Parade and party animals. Street thugs. GREAT PR.