Monday, August 16, 2021

[Obscure Games] Flashing Blades


Fantasy Games Unlimited was notorious for publishing excessively complex games like Chivalry & Sorcery, Aftermath!, or Space Opera, but in fact they just as frequently published games of normal complexity, like Villains & Vigilantes or Psi-World. Some of their games, like Bunnies & Burrows, were on the much less complex side of the hobby. And that is where we find ourselves with the swashbuckling game, Flashing Blades.

Character creation is fairly straightforward, with a few stats each rolled on 3d6, a number of figured stats including a hit point pool, the choice of several character backgrounds that give varying access to skills, giving different skills a cost of one, two, or three points each, and a number of skill points to pick up those skills. In addition, a character can learn how to fight in various ways, from picking up the skill on the mean streets to formal instruction in a fencing salle. Finally, the character can have any of a number of advantages or be burdened with a secret that gives story hooks to the character.

Non-combat skills are easy to use, simply rolling against one of the character's stats if the skill is possessed, half the stat if it isn't, and getting bonuses for a couple of levels of increasing mastery. In addition, mastery of a skill should cause the Referee to call for rolls less often, only for situations of increased difficulty.

Combat isn't much more difficult, being a process of figuring the chance to hit on a d20, rolling for hit location by picking a target, rolling 2d20 and using the result that is closest to the target location, and doing damage that is reduced by armor rating.

But a swashbuckling game would be remiss if it didn't provide a way to rise in society, and in some ways the heart of the game is found in the social status and careers. Characters start with a social status based on their background and possibly their advantages if those provide them with a position at the start of the game. They may use their skills and background to enter into any of various careers, whether in the army, the royal bureaucracy, the Church, the banking system, or a number of other possibilities. Each career starts with a low-level position, such as a minor bureaucrat, law student, or priest, then provides opportunities for advancement as the game progresses, potentially advancing as far as Pope of the Church! Of course, most characters will not make it so far in their careers, but even a Town Mayor or Provincial Tax Collector has significant clout. There are also minor careers that can be pursued, such as rising as an official within a Gentlemen's Club. The most active characters might even pursue careers in several directions. Holding a number of positions can increase the character's social rank, after all.

Most of the supplementary materials for the game simply provided some adventures to undertake, but High Seas in particular expanded the game by providing for life in the Caribbean instead of France, and opened the possibility of playing a pirate, with information on how that sort of a career could be pursued.

Designer Mark Pettigrew was only 19 years old when the game was published in 1984, but its clean design and sophisticated approach to a lifetime career speaks to a solid understanding of how those could work in a gaming environment.

In the end, it's an excellent game. You can still buy it in print or PDF. PDFs are available at DTRPG, while the print game can be ordered from Fantasy Games Unlimited directly. I do not get any kickbacks or anything from those links, I am only providing them for your convenience.


  1. Love this game and the High Seas expansion makes it ripe for New World adventures.