The King’s Musketeers is set in a specific historical time and place,
and many of its plots and characters have a historical basis, but it is
not a recreation of history. All of these historical details are merely
a background, a setting for playing out stories of love and swordplay in
the swashbuckling genre. In swashbucklers, Emotion is King, and
everything is done for effect, whether dramatic or humorous. To get in
tune with swashbuckling, forget about careful consideration of your
actions, and just act. Be reckless! Overreact to everything! When you
join a cause (even temporarily), commit yourself wholeheartedly!
Hyperbole should be your watchword. Keep in mind:
• Friends are loyal unto death, and
leap instantly to defend one another.
• Lovers are bound by ties stronger than life itself, and alternate
between blissful passion and direst tragedy.
• Enemies are despicable dogs whose crimes cry out for vengeance!
• Success is a cause for celebration, grand gestures, and loud
• Failure engenders rage, bitter recriminations, and plans for
One of the genre conventions we have
imposed is the “Final Chapter Effect,” whereby (under normal conditions)
no player character may duel another player character to the death until
Sunday. Platoons of guards may be killed, but you know the hero and his
nemesis never square off for a final duel until the climax of the story.
In The King’s Musketeers you make up the story, but it’s best for
everyone if you stay within genre bounds.
But those bounds give you a lot of
latitude, especially if you remember to do everything with gusto!
While Spain declines into stagnation and the Germanies tear themselves
to pieces, France enjoys an economic boom and a burgeoning population.
The ancient city of Paris, swollen with over a quarter-million
inhabitants, has burst it bounds and is spreading over the countryside.
Its streets teem with craftsmen and traders, beggars and lackeys,
soldiers, merchants, and priests. Thousands file into the great
Cathedral of Nôtre Dame for mass, and thousands more throng the Place de
La Grève for the regular public executions. A dozen bridges span the
Seine, each crowded with food-sellers, street merchants, toothdrawers,
pimps, charlatans and quacks, thieves and cutpurses. Occasionally the
throng parts to allow a noble’s carriage to pass, the citizens watching
with admiration, envy, or hatred, according to their natures. The
carriage passes on to the gates of the Louvre, where it is stopped by
the guards. Several beggars shuffle forward and cry plaintively, but the
guards thrust them back. One guard steps up to the carriage; there is a
silvery laugh from within, a slender hand briefly shows the guard a
ring, and the carriage is waved on through.
At base the nobility are a warring class, only a very few generations
from medieval feudalism. Richelieu characterizes the nobility as
“useless and burdensome to the state” — except in time of war, which is
always, in this period. Every man of noble birth can be called upon to
serve in time of war. They are expected to provide their own equipment
and support troops, but only nobles can and must be conscripted in
“No land without a lord”: theoretically,
every piece of real estate in France ultimately belongs to a noble by
right of heredity or royal appointment. Nobles’ income must come from
rents or from the fees associated with holding a royal office. Other
than gambling and wartime loot, those are the only possible sources of
wealth for the nobility. They are forbidden to engage in trade or
professions on pain of losing their noble station. Landed nobles are
exempt from the taille, the royal head-tax.
The privileges of the nobility are
generally upheld by the commons because everyone aspires to join the
nobility! Members of the professional and trading classes can join the
nobility tacitly by receiving appointments to high office, or explicitly
by receiving “Letters Patent” from the King, which ennoble one to the
Rank specified. (Letters Patent can also improve the station of one
already noble, turning a marquis into a duke, for example.)
The problem of the nobles is that they are
trapped in feudal economics in an age of mercantilism. Rents stay the
same, but prices rise, so the nobles quarrel over royal offices, demand
higher fees from the King, and are always conniving to get control of
new tracts of land. The more land a noble controls, the more dependants
he can support, and the more dependants he has, the stronger he is.
[Note that the King, at the peak of the
pyramid of nobility, has all of their problems in spades. He is supposed
to run the entire national government from his rents and taxes, plus pay
fees to all the royal officeholders. In consequence he has no choice but
to sell his appointments to those who can best afford them. In return,
it is perfectly legal for all but the highest office-holders to sell
their offices to others, or pass them on to their heirs.]