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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Swords and Dragons

Swords and Dragons is a card game peculiar to the fantasy realm of Arduin, played in taverns, gambling halls and among the snobbish circles of the elite. Games are for both fun and hard coin, and the cause of more than one bar room brawl or duel among the nobility. Presented herein is the commoner version of the game, rules held by all the classes and races of Arduin with little or no dispute. It is played the same whether on the hard wood of wagons along dusty trails or in the carousing vulgar drinking halls of the towns. Popularized shortly after the events of the Black Queen’s regime, it is a game that has seized the hearts of Arduinian’s and foreigners alike.

Played with a fantasy-inspired deck of 108 cards (eight suits of thirteen cards with four Dragon cards), Swords & Dragons is like Poker or Euchre with unusual twists. The game is typically “tabled” with 2-10 players, with each player assuming the guise of a Noble House during the time of turmoil under the Black Queen. The object is to be the player with the most points at the end of her reign. The victor in points overthrows the Black Queen (also called the Mad Queen) and assumes the Throne as King (or Queen) of Arduin. 

Swords and Dragons (S&D) a popular game and often used as a teaching tool to educate people about the events during that dark time in Arduin history.  Not to mention just played for fun!  The Nobility especially enjoy this game, though are more likely to be found playing the poker-styled version. Regardless of the gaming style they choose, Nobles in Arduin play with deadly intensity, involving the myriad tangles of their intrigues and politics in the weave of the cards. It is a tool among them, since most of the houses are still galvanized along lines for those for the Queen, those against and those who stand neutral. 

 Some very fantastic games have been played in battles fought with keen wit and agile use of the cards to humiliate or defeat rivals. Not all of them for political gain either. After all, who doesn’t remember the game Audreil Ethriblad played in the under warrens of Talismond√© to save the soul her son?**

The Cards – The eight suits (Swords, Eagles, Skulls, Sceptres, Coins, Chalices, Shields and Talismans) consist of thirteen cards, ranked in value from highest to lowest as follows: an Ace, three “court” cards (King, Queen, and Knight) and nine “number” cards, 10 on down to 2.  Also, there are four Dragon cards that function as wild cards and take precedence over the values in the other suits. In order of strength, they are the Wrathful Dragon, Guardian Dragon, Sea Dragon, and Sleeping Dragon. The suit of Swords is the “Trump”, the best suit in the game and follows the Dragons in power. As unique cards, the Dragon cards often gain monikers to describe them in different locales. For instance, the miners of the Salt Mud Flats call the Sea Dragon card Ifinbraxus after the dragon of the same name that dwells there in the salt dunes. The Elves of Mistwood call the Wrathful Dragon card Arlin-Mainthiu after a local legend of a yellowed dragon that twined itself around the armored foot of a godling. The full legend is carved in picturesque graphic along the length and breadth of ancient tree in the village of Treehaven.

Special Cards – Certain cards within the deck, such as the Ace of Swords or “The Black Blade” if you will and the Knight of Eagles or “The Eagle Lancer” as it is known, have a special “sobriquet” or nickname in Arduin. Each is indicated on the cards if it holds a particular familiar. These are monikers that have latched on to the particular cards and are used by all. In game play some of these sobriquets have special significance attached to those named cards. In certain hands, some sobriquets hold boons, others bane.

The Noble Houses – All the Noble Houses of Arduin are generally used in play but the Houses of Margalen, Black Hydra, Borthos, Lazirur, Naskillion, Storm Crow, Silver Mountain, and Golden Lion feature quite often. Those of the elite always play their house even if it did not exist during the time period. It is considered very gauche and offensive to assume another’s house, even in jest.

Initial Draw – The owner of the game is always the first dealer or may choose to pass it over to the player who wins by highest draw. This is done by each player drawing one card from anywhere in the deck and revealing it, high card determining the first dealer. After this initial round, the deal moves clockwise to the next player and continues so until the end of play.

Shuffle & Cut – Dealer shuffles the cards and the player on the right cuts them, dividing the deck into two or more groups and regroups them.

The Deal – The dealer deals cards, one at a time working clockwise. Each player receives 10 cards and the remainder is set aside until the end of the round. After each hand of play, the deck is reshuffled and deal commences as outlined.

The Rules – Play covers a 10-year period broken into hands, each divided into 2-year lengths and built of 10 rounds (3 months Arduin time). A round is where the dealer places one card on the table and other players (moving clockwise) must follow suit. If you do not have the same suit the round is started with then you can play any card from your hand. 

You may only lead with a dragon card if you have no suited card to play. Those challenged by a leading Dragon card do not have to play a Dragon card in turn but may play from any suit. 

The player with the highest card wins the round and collects the cards at the end of the round. The only thing that beats the highest card in a suit is a Trump card and the any of the Dragon cards, listed in order of power above. 

Each round takes one card from a player and the round’s base value is 1 point, modified only by the special rules governing each hand of play. There are 5 hands played to a game, each covering 2 years of the turbulent time of the Black Queen’s dominion. After the initial hand, the succeeding hands have special rules as the Black Queen takes steps to consolidate her power against the murmuring distress of the people and the nobles. Each hand's rules are mutually exclusive and do not carry on to succeeding hands. The winner of the game is the Noble House with the most points at the end of the fifth hand.

Second Hand – In the history of this turbulent period, the Mad Queen exercises her power to bring the Nobles and the people in line by outlawing magic. It was a harsh period where she labored to rend the tools of learning and power, even managing to close the doors to the famous Colleges across Arduin before relenting in face of the tide of angry criticism it brought. 

The winner of any round with a Talisman card in play loses 1 point instead of gaining 1 point for the round. Gaining more than 1 Talisman card in a round does not change the penalty, it is –1 point regardless of the number of cards garnered. Also, any player unlucky enough to take the Ace of Sceptres (The Wand of Wizardry) in play loses 2 points. Worse, if the Wand of Wizardry is in with a Talisman card, the total value of the scored points is lost for that round is 2 for the Wand, plus 1 for the Talisman card in play for a total of –3 points lost.

Third Hand – After the failed attempt to abort magic from among her subject, the Mad Queen is forced to stay her hand and gather resources to combat her ever-growing unruly subjects. It was a chaotic time in the land and she was not alone in consolidating power as the Noble houses joined her in gathering unto themselves what financial and magical strength, military stability and political clout that was possible. 

In this hand, any player who wins a round with a Coin card in play gets 2 points for the round instead of 1 point. Additionally, if a player is lucky enough to win a round with the King of Coins (Merchant Prince) in play, he gains 3 points. Also, the same applies to the Ace of Swords (The Black Blade), Ace of Talismans (The Sphynx), Ace of Sceptres (The Wand of Wizardry), and the 7 of Eagles (The Magnificent Seven), which net a player 2 points for each. These latter four bonus cards are on top of any bonus gained from having a coin card in play that round. 

Thus, a winning round with a Coin card and the Ace of Talismans would net a total of 4 points. It is worth noting that you only need to win the round with one of these special cards in play to gain the points as outlined above. Thus, you could trump the Ace of Talismans and King of Coins in a round of play with a Dragon card and gain all points (5 points total).

Fourth Hand – This was a horrible time for Arduin as open rebellion and conflicts flared and the wrath of the Black Queen grew at the reluctance of the Noble Houses and the people to bow to her will. With her army and the powers at her command, the Black Queen works dire harm to those who would stand against her in opposition. By her order, Noble Houses are besieged with troops, people of villages scattered and those of noble blood publicly tried for insurrection. 

If any player wins a round with a Skull card in play during this time, he loses 1 point instead of winning 1 point as their house is considered to have gone against the Queen. If the Ace of Skulls (The Skull Warrior), the Ten of Swords (Curse of Aaos) or the Ace of Shields is in play during a round, a winner of that round loses 5 points for each taken card. Any of these taken in a round of play means the Mad Queen has taken steps to destroy the Noble House and publicly tried them for treason.

Fifth Hand – At long last it is enough and the Noble Houses along with the people of Arduin meet her in open rebellion to end the taint of her rule. A coup is staged against the Queen and armies of the rebels and the Mad Queen lock in battle to determine who will hold future. 

The player who wins a round with a Queen of any suit in play gets 3 extra points per Queen. If you are lucky enough to win the Queen of Eagles (The Empress), your house was the one to actually capture the Black Queen and you get 6 extra points!

Example round of play – Bored on the long bumpy carriage ride, Simeon the scholar gazes grumpily at the lined walls of the interior. Something catches at the corner of his eye and his mood takes a sudden turnaround as another passenger, an exotic trader from somewhere far to the north slowly waves a deck of cards his direction. It does not take long before they are using the padding of the seat as an impromptu table for their game. Out of boredom and infectious enthusiasm, the two other passengers join in the game. 

The trader takes the House of the Black Hydra, Simeon the guise of Lazirur and the later arrivals the houses of Naskillion and Storm Crow. House Black Hydra shuffles the deck and lets Lazirur (Simeon, who sits clockwise from him, followed by Naskillion then Storm Crow) cut it. After this is done he deals out 10 cards to each player and sets aside the remainder. As is his right by being the dealer he begins play, quickly formulating a strategy around his cards. Since he has numerous trumps, a court card or two and a Dragon card, he passes the lead off initially by playing a Sceptre Knight card and allowing House Storm Crow to take the lead. That house returns with a low Coin card, which he snaps up with the Ace of Coins. In the lead again in round three but only possessing strong cards, Black Hydra leads with the King of Eagles but is cut by a low trump card from House Naskillion. In round four, House Naskillion opts to lead with a Sword card, by which Black Hydra is secretly delighted. He manages to offload two low Sword cards in this round and the next. A Talisman Queen card begins round six but Black Hydra is delighted to cut it with a trump and quickly pulls in the cards from rounds seven, eight and nine also by exercising the lode of Swords he was blessed with this deal. The last is his only surprise as he delightedly exposes his Sleeping Dragon card but is confounded by the Wrathful Dragon in House Lazirur’s possession. In the end, House Black Hydra wins five hands, gaining five points and is in the lead. 

For the moment.

** Surely you remember the scandal that rocked Talismonde when the Laughingstar baby was kidnapped from the very palace of the King and held for ransom? The cities underbelly and shadows were given its worst purging in history as the King turned out his own guard to pinch shadows and find the child. The kidnappers were unmasked and seven nobles and lords of the land were put to death. The staggering ransom paid to buy the child back was never found.

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