En Garde!
“Being the in Main a Game of the Life and Times of a Gentleman Adventurer and his Several Companions”

Game Designer's Workshop, 1975

Designed by Darryl Hany and Frank Chadwick
Developed by John Harshman and Loren Wiseman

Components

6 x 9 inch booklet, 47 pages (29 pages of rules, 18 pages of tables)
4 page errata sheet (two and a half pages of them a single table of regimental organizations)

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This game belongs in the museum because of its rarity, and as an example of an unusual setting in the youth of role playing. En Garde! (the cover includes the exclamation point as part of the title, but this practice is not followed inside the booklet) was a little known game put out by GDW. GDW was beginning to make a name for itself as a wargaming company, and this was its first entry into the RPG market. En Garde! was not a success, but GDW did much better two years later, when it released the successful science-fiction RPG Traveller.

There were no "adventures" in En Garde: players scheduled their activites (visiting their club, romancing a mistress, campaigning with their regiment) and occasionally when their activities overlapped, players would fight duels. Most activities (duels excepted) were resolved by die rolls on a series of tables, and characters gained and lost wealth and status.

 

The Combat System

En Garde's dueling system might be considered the heart of the game, with moderately detailed rules. Players pre-plotted a set of twelve actions, using a series of routines. Each routine took a series of actions to execute (for example, a lunge consists of a rest, then the lunge, then a rest, for 3 actions). Players revealed their actions, and the results were cross-indexed to determine if anybody took any wounds. There are optional maneuvers built into some routines: players could choose to abort an action and substitute an optional one, and so forth. Eventually, one player died or surrendered.

Character Generation

Character generation is fairly simple, with players rolling 3d6 for strength, expertise, and constitution. Endurance (damage capacity) is calculated by multiplying strength and constitution. There are tables for initial social status, based on parent's social status, birth order, and so forth.

As an ostensibly historical game, it's a males only universe. There is no provision for female player characters, and the only female NPCs mentioned are mistresses for the male PCs to court. The players generate exactly as many mistress characters as there are PCs, and PCs compete for the favors of the one who can win them the most status. Mistresses are almost entirely described by their social status, although some may possess exceptional beauty, influence, and/or wealth, each of which increases the status of the man she currently favors. Men must have some form of female companionship each month or lose status. If they don't have a mistress, then they can visit the bawdyhouse to avoid the loss. (Is this status or something else they're missing?)

We played this at a time when roleplaying was still primarily first-person wargaming, and one did not invest one's character with much personality. Our few games consisted of a mad scramble for status points, and duels fought over the favors of the one mistress who was accessible to us (one was too low status to bother with, and the third was too high status to pursue). George perfected a dueling strategy of constant lunging which the rest of us were unable to beat, and that pretty much ended our play. En Garde! has sat in storage ever since. Oddly enough, the designers claimed the role playing game developed as a background to a dueling game, but they felt the non-dueling aspect was more fun. I remember the dueling as the most exciting part.

En Garde's game mechanics appear to have been the basis for the character generation system in the original Traveller game, with characters in the military either going on low-risk maneuvers and gaining little or nothing, or going to battle, with commensurate risks and rewards. Rewards and the risk of death were adjudicated through die rolls on tables, with little or no player input, although En Garde! permitted players to choose to be bold, increasing their risk of reward or death, or to become a poltroon, fleeing the battlefield and running a risk of being seen and humiliated.

This game can still stand as an amusing beer and pretzels game for an evening. It's easy to play, although mostly an exercise in die rolling. However, it can hardly be defined as role-playing. The military campaign tables might be adopted for other RPGs where some characters are enlisted in the military, and the referee needs an abstract way to resolve whether a player character has to serve somewhere for a time, and there is a chance or promotion or death.

Paul Evans, formerly of Small Furry Creatures Press, produced a new edition which may be still available as the Polar Pig house rules. Try http://www.sholing.force9.co.uk/engarde.htm to see if it's still available..

—RAD
January 12, 2004; modified April 3, 2011.

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