Flashing Steel works for the setting it was designed for: the Late Renaissance European swashbuckler. It has also been tested for a Star Wars theming (thanks, Paul). But the little realised fact is that the period of the Samurai also occurs in this time signature. Despite the not-uncommon belief that the Japanese were the only people who ever worked out how to fight with a sword, that Western fencing consisted of a ‘fight of attrition’, and that basically everyone in the West were untrained thugs that bashed ignorantly at each other, there is more in common between the two hemispheres than the time.
Perhaps it is another example of that historical synchronicity. On both sides of the world schools of fencing proliferated, notions of honour and the need to fight to the death to maintain face, and experiments with professionalism were occuring. The West no longer has access to these schools. No one thought it important to keep the teachings alive. Those that are taught now come from books, recreated using interpretation and common sense. But modern common sense, divorced from the reality of actually swinging a sword in battle to stay alive may be deceiving. We in the West have forgotten the techniques and so it appears we never had them. The Japanese kept the schools alive. That’s all.
But how does this affect wargaming? What is the best way to reflect Samurai warfare? Too many rules emphasise the technical detail and ignore the flair and dash of the real thing. And this is the connection, because I think the exact same thing is true of Western sword play in rules. Except for Three Musketeers, which is considered a Hollywood invention, no one considers that there is anything worth elaborating from the West.
To cut an already too-long story short, I believe that the approach of Flashing Steel, with the langauge and art theming changed appropriately, would work perfectly for Samurai. And by perfectly I mean that it will ‘feel’ right.
To test this we have set up a mini-campaign using the standard builder. We have changed the names to suit, and built a story that sounds suitable to the Samurai period. Actual playtest to follow, where we treat the rules as if they hold together.
Where: (trenches) Among the lines of a friendly army in the process of besieging an enemy city/castle.
What: (Deliver) A message must be handed to a particular general.
Why: (Necessity) The message contains news that allied clan army cannot attend siege because Daimyo’s son has been taken hostage. This is vital news for the General who will delay his assault or be slaughtered for want of support.
Who (opposes): (Professional swordsmen) Samurai of equal standing have been sent to stop the message being delivered.
Where: (Ruins) The outlying remains of a neglected Buddhist temple.
What: (Rescue) A child, the son of the Daimyo of an allied clan that has been kept out of the current battle because of this hostage situation.
Why: (Revenge) This is not only a rescue mission, but an extermination raid against the monks – additional points awarded for monk casualties.
Who: (Civilians) Warrior monks.
Where: (Smuggler’s Cove) At a secluded sea shore village, the son is reunited with the father, who has come in secret to the contested battle region. If father and son are reunited and can safely exit back to the ship the protagonists have broken the back of the conspiracy to keep their allies out of the contest.
Who: (Hired killers) Ronin, who are of lesser skill/value than protagonists.