What system for an Italian Renaissance campaign?

edited March 2011 in Story Games
A friend and I have been wanting to do an Italian Renaissance campaign (probably set in Florence under the Medici), very player-driven with lots of intrigue and backstabbery (think The Prince). PCs would be people with positions of importance, not just random freebooters (though one could be a condottieri captain or something).

What system would you recommend for this kind of game? I've seen the beta version of Principia, and I will probably steal a few things from it, but I'm looking for something a bit different, maybe a little crunchier. I'm curious about Reign because of its Company mechanics... it would be cool to have a way of modeling PCs being part of a noble family with various assets and holdings and so forth. Other systems I've thought about stealing from are Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade, TSoY, Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies...

I'm not averse doing some light design work/hacking, not to mention research.

So... thoughts?

This is my first post to Story Games, by the by, so hi, everyone.


  • Not hugely helpful since it's impossible to find, but if you're not averse to downloading out of print games that aren't even available on ebay - Castle Falkenstein.

    The Riddle of Steel is also worth a look, also out of print, but not quite so hard to find as Castle Falkenstein.

    Based on what you're thinking about with Reign and Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies, I'd suggest Legends of Anglerre. It has organisation mechanics, like Reign, and also has a more flexible system for general actions, like PDQ. It's in print and really easy to get your hands on.
  • How many players?
    How much magic?

    Top of my head, if low player count (2-3 players) Sorcerer might work for you. If the players are all very ambitious.
  • While, I'm only somewhat familiar with it, isn't Houses of the Blooded designed specifically for this kind of game?

    Reign sounds about right

    7th Sea, maybe. Certainly the Vodacce book would be a good resource.

    In a Wicked Age has oracles for more intrigue related games, if memory serves.

  • Probably 2-3 players plus GM. Magic would be pretty low, and historical, including a little bit of alchemy, astrology, etc... I'm a little bit familiar with guys like Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno, and John Dee. No matter what system I use, I'd probably get really fussy with magic system and try to base something on my readings in Frances Yates and Ioan Coulianu. Then again, I wouldn't be totally opposed to there being vampires and things like that in the setting, either.

    Legends of Anglerre sounds really interesting, the organization mechanics sound great. It'd be nice to stat up organizations like the Medici and Sforza families, not to mention the Church. I hadn't considered using FATE, since I've only read (not played) SotC. It is an idea though, and I'd only have to adapt the system to the setting, not do any real heavy lifting in terms of game design.

    I really enjoyed In a Wicked Age, as well. Some of the most fun our group has had. I've read through Sorcerer but not played it.

    Now it seems I have a few more systems (Castle Falkenstein, TRoS, HotB, 7th Sea) to look at... :)
  • I suspect that Riddle of Steel is pretty much right on the money. Chronica Feudalis might also be usefully employed. A "companion-centered" Ars Magica variant that perhaps used "hedge magic" as the only magic available might also serve the purpose.
  • This sure sounds like Solar System (TSoY) to me. The system thrives on rich settings that encourage hacking together various subsystems (alchemy, astrology, condottieri warfare, passionate art, etc.). The system is especially good for doing weird, non-rpg-like magic systems. The notion of having the characters in positions of power and with preloaded, character-rooted interests is also basic to SS. A GM willing to put in a bit of work combined with these ingredients seems like a recipe made for success.

    In comparison, I'd only go for a FATE variant if there will be some overall campaign framework that defines the relationships of the characters to each other and clearly outlines a plot arc for what's going to happen in play: basically, does Charlie have a mission for his angels or not? Also, clear character identities: Solar System thrives on diffuse identities and uncertainty, while FATE needs to define and measure identities to express them powerfully. So Solar System for organic drama where nobody knows where it'll end up, and FATE for an action adventure with bad guys and good guys and McGuffins. HBO series vs. traditional adventure TV, basically, and all with Fudge dice.

    Reign would work along the same lines as FATE. Riddle of Steel would also be good, but it's a complete package, and one that might not be ideal for a non-martial game in this setting; I wouldn't play a noblewoman or such in RoS without considering the matter carefully, for example, and this premise seems like it absolutely needs a character mix that's a bit more varied than 3-4 rough-and-ready condottieri (read: adventurers) messing about in Florence would be.
  • Conspiracy of Shadows would work. The rules were up on-line at one point in time. It's a pretty cool game. The new website is a little confusing so I can't point you directly to where the rules are.

    Burning Wheel sort of the catch all and crunchy. Can easily model holdings, etc.. AP posts

    Chronica Feudalis all you have to do is change the mentor lists around. There is a lordship supplement draft written (Noblesse Oblige) but I haven't seen it yet in print (waiting...and wanting)

    Also En Garde En Garde run in the 15th century Holy Roman Empire here
  • I'm going to toss out another vote for The Shadow of Yesterday. It makes for interesting, driven, yet changable characters. And it sounds like it might provide the level of crunch you're looking for.

    Principia started out as a TSOY hack, so you'd be taking it back to its roots. If you don't mind rooting through a bunch of rough source material, I can try to dig up the list of TSOY secrets that Brandon Amancio created for the TSOY version of Principia. There are some real gems in there!

    Also, if you want to take it in a different direction (and don't mind hacking a bit), Apocalypse World might make an interesting Renaissance game. :)
  • Eero: Your comparison of TSoY/Solar System and FATE is very interesting. Thanks for that. I'm curious, though: what is it specifically about TSoY/SS as a system that makes it more suited to organic, HBO-series drama, as opposed to FATE relying on more of a traditional structure? Is it just the fact that FATE characters have all those Aspects, requiring them to be more clearly defined from the beginning, or is there something else that I am missing? I re-read the rules for TSoY last night and it seems like it would indeed work fine for the game I want to run, but then again I haven't actually played it before. Also, in play, how does TSoY encourage shared authorship and player-driven-ness? I can see how Keys give PCs clear motivations to take action, but... I feel like I might be missing something there, too.

    Tony: I would love to see that source material and the list of TSoY secrets. I really enjoyed reading Principia, by the way.

    Also, does anyone have experience modeling organizations, holdings etc using TSoY?
  • Justine Achilli, the Vampire developer, runs an Italian Renaissance game using 4th edition D&D (of all things). He posts about it pretty frequently on his blog: justinachilli.com .

    I've run a Florence based Vampire the Dark Ages game that took place from the 13th century on. Very fun stuff. No mods needed.
  • Posted By: cscordryI'm curious, though: what is it specifically about TSoY/SS as a system that makes it more suited to organic, HBO-series drama, as opposed to FATE relying on more of a traditional structure?
    The basic effect comes from how characters are defined by these games. FATE (in the applications I've seen, anyway) defines characters as thematic declarations: this character is heroic in these ways, which translates into this sort of color in how he seems and what he does, and all this is in perfect harmony with what he is about - it has to be, for the player chose this when designing the character, and he did it with an eye towards emphasizing the character's nature. The character is basically an exclamation mark in Spirit of the Century (the flavour of FATE I know best), with its set of skills and stunts being the sentence its exclaiming.

    In comparison, Solar System characters are question marks: the character is not built of strengths and color like in FATE, but rather of setting-based issues and internal insecurities. The two significant choices in TSoY chargen are the choice of character culture and the choice of character Keys; the former is open-ended and inherently in dramatic tension due to how the setting is built to involve immediately relevant dramatic issues for merely having a national identity, while the Keys are likewise dramatically dynamic due to how they forefront character issues in the form of questions, not statements. Having a "Key of Love" in Solar System is not a declaration of character identity, but a question about the same, waiting for an answer.

    Considering the above, it naturally follows that FATE fits best in games where character nature is not an issue, but rather a topic: you do not explore character nature, for you already have a strong internal vision of what your character is like. The rules provide the tools for expressing that nature via Aspects and such; in practical play this expression happens via an action adventure story that allows the characters to prove their mettle. SS is the opposite in almost every regard: we are uncertain about what these question mark characters want and who they are, and therefore we focus on scenes that help us discover these things. The tools provided by the game, such as Key buyoffs, Pool refreshes and stakes negotiations support this.

    Regarding your TSoY questions, have you read my take on the game? I'm asking because some people have found my Solar System text useful in grogging the facets you mention, player-drivenness and such. The World of Near sourcebook (also available at that same address, although the HTMLzation is not as clean) also discusses some ways of doing organizations and all sorts of other stuff that might be useful for renaissance Italy.
  • The default setting is close to the time period you're looking for, so I'd second Burning Wheel. A small number of players and the level of magic you're desiring should not be a problem.

    The Riddle of Steel would be a good fit, too, but it's hard to find.
  • Thanks for all your input, everyone. I'm leaning toward TSOY/Solar System at this point, though I'm sure there are any number of systems that would work well for a Renaissance game. Eero, I've read through some of your Solar System document now and it was very helpful. Thanks for that.

    I'm starting to play around with the Pools, Abilities, Secrets, and Keys now. Fun stuff.

    Other RPGs will doubtless be looted for cool ideas.
  • Just to add to the list of games that almost get you what you want, you might want to check out Pantheon Press's Fortune's Fool.

    It's Renaissance, it's got intrigue, it uses tarot cards in some fairly neat ways to resolve things. It's chockful of the flavor you're looking for.

    It has magic, but as I recall, the magic isn't over the top and fits the setting like a glove. (It's been a while since I played, but I believe my character new Latin and that gave him the leg up in a sword fight with some sort of undead.)

    It does have fantasy races, which might not be exactly what you're looking for. And by default, I don't believe the characters start off with positions of importance. I could be wrong there. And if you want a robustly player-driven story, you might have to bring some other tools to the table.

    Definitely worth checking out. And if you have more questions about the game, I highly recommend contacting Pantheon Press. They're the friendliest bunch of dudes.
  • Thanks for the shoutout Epi!
    I am one of the writers for Pantheon Press and we are pretty proud of Fortune's Fool.

    cscordy, if you want I could send you a PDF to look over.
    If you like it and think it might be a good tool for you, then you can order a hardcopy.
    Let me know
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