Crimson Cutlass (1990)

Average Rating: 8.33/10
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RPG Item: Crimson Cutlass
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Crimson Cutlass
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RPG Item: Crimson Cutlass
Boxed Set
Year: 1990
Box Set
345 pages
Size: Letter
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Crimson Cutlass is a role playing game stretching back into the late 1970's. When it was created it was different than other RPG's and continues to innovate and evolve.

The setting is a cross between the 1600's and Captain Blood. You begin as a Gentleman Adventurer in a semi-historical world. There are no orcs or magic (37 years and still no need). Are men terrified of supernatural things? Sure. Do unexplainable things happen? Of course. Is it magic, or witch craft, or demonic? The fire is equally hot to a warlock as a pretender.
While most games start with about 6 "Statistics" generated from 3d6, Cutlass only has 4 Traits. You either are Cunning or you are not. You either are Lordly or you are not. Same for Dashing and Stout. Not being Dashing does not mean you cannot do dashing things, it just means you aren't as good at them.
There are no classes other than, of course, a Dashing man is not the same as a Cunning man. There are 36 skills to further customize your character. It takes less than 5 minutes to generate a character. The player breaths life into the Character. Is he courageous and bold? Or fearful and conniving? a solider, a noble, a peasant, a swordsman for hire, or a cunning merchant. You don't need to buy another book describing what that means, the player need only choose that path ... and earn it.

Rather than hit points, the players have but a single "vicious" wound. On your second vicious wound, the character is dead. The good news is there are "Knocked Unconscious" and "Surrendered" results as well. And, once the player takes his first wound, usually the character can drop out of the mission (to return later). Deciding to continue wounded in a mission is no small decision.

Most task resolution can be handled with two die eight. If you have the skill or trait required, a player would roll three die eight. On occasion, a single die eight is required for number of sailors lost or a few action tables. The game is stream-lined to allow the gaming to focus on the action and story.

Characters don't collect experience points or go up a level when the Referee "determines". Characters advance when they have completed (or checked) all the "ignobles" or events of their level. These include Sea Voyages, Display of Skills, Tale Worthy Experiences, Conflict of Arms, and Personal Duels. Until you have done all nine ignoble deeds, you do not progress in level. As the character goes up in level, it becomes more challenging to "check" that ignoble. (A zero level character would check the ignoble by simply travelling aboard a ship, but a sixth level character would need to explore uncharted waters.)

Combat is not simply roll die twenty and check armor class, it is a combination of the Player's choice ("Shoot bad guy with Pistol"), situation ("Personal Duels"), and the draw of a Tarot Card ("Seven of Coins"). The Referee (or Player) look up that result and it becomes "You drop your pistol, but as your opponent jests at your mishap, you ready another and fire. Dispatch one opponent on a roll of 8. If you have the skill Pistoleer, roll the extra die eight.) Of course, you can just roll a few dice if the Referee chooses, but the uncertainty of the Tarot deck adds drama to any action.

Action comes at the player pretty fast as Book One includes mechanics for Personal Duels, Ship Engagements, Conflict of Arms, and Sieges and Bombardment. All with the Tarot. All with the situation at hand. And, all based on the Player's direction. (Miniatures, maps, ships, cards, sliders, white board, tablets, projectors optional.)

If that was not enough, there is also between mission activities and even a detailed combat system if the players feel a need to test their mettle against each other.

But, what of the Referee you ask? The player has all these neat tools ... what about the Referee?
In Book 2 and 3, the Referee gets the tools to run Missions and Encounters. Of course the Referee can hand make a mission and allow players to hunt and peck their way through. The mission can be a conspiracy at court, a battle at sea, intrigues in the Olde World, a journey to the New World. But, the referee can also use the Tarot to generate detailed missions with historical notes and subtle villains. It's not enough to simply draw the Queen of Coins (The Daughter of a Noble) -- if the card is inverted, it is the Suitor of the Daughter of the Noble.

Mission: Six of Rods -- Perform a Treasonable Act. Each card in turn fleshes out the mission and creates the rivals, twists, and limitations of the mission. The Referee is free to take as much (or little) as preferred. The mission generation can be on the fly or in advance and detailed by the Referee. I have summarized the draw here. The author has provided historical context with most draws.

With the mission and players, the referee can generate Encounters depending on the Settings and again, the flip of the Tarot cards. Did the weather turn? Did the rigging foul? Did you forget your favorite pocket watch? Does the grumbler on the ship call you out? Did the Prince of the realm pass? Did something go missing? Did you learn a new skill? What is that ship on the horizon? Again, with the Tarot, and the player's interaction, the mission is executed. Some fail. Some succeed. Sometimes an old foe returns. Sometimes, there are great riches. Sometimes, humiliation. Heroes live and Cowards die (or the reverse). All in a few flips of the card and the choice of the players.

This is but a taste of what is in the Crimson Cutlass game.

The digest sized books were printed back in the 90's and most are gone. They appear occasionally on eBay. A newer version is now available on the Amazon Kindle including Book 4. One can have the printed book for a few bucks more and purchase a Tarot deck and enjoy the best RPG you aren't playing (yet).

The original books are:
Crimson Cutlass Book One
Crimson Cutlass Book Two
Crimson Cutlass Book Three

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Average Rating: 8.33 Ratings Breakdown
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