Honor and Combat

The Honor System

The “Honor System” is intended to promote the ambiance of the swashbuckling genre. In eighteenth century Europe,men’s and women’s honor was as precious as life itself, and one’s word was a bond neither lightly given nor lightly broken. Even the most bloodthirsty pirate captain must labor under the constraints of honor, for how else can he keep men to crew his ship? Beware the dastard with no honor, for such a man is truly beneath contempt.

Honor is closely related with duels for these always impact one’s relation to society, both before and after the deed. As most business contracts involve trust, the honor system will also have a bearing on Trade. Honor is used to seal a deal, back up an oath, or concede a duel. The boundaries of honor may be transgressed when you strike a man without just cause, kill a man that begs for mercy, or fail to uphold the integrity of your word.

Most characters start off possessing one or more “Points of Honor,” represented by a card. Each card bears your name and a brief justification of whatever it is that supports it. (For example, “The Honor of Georges Havelock, Governor of Hidalgo”, or “The word of wise, old Enzilu”.) You may start with one or more of your honor cards held by other players, representing existing obligations that you are obliged (but not necessarily required) to see through. Your “supply” of honor is limited—one can only make so many promises before having to make good on them.

Points of Honor are non-transferable—they represent another’s word or vow to you and to you alone. You may return the card to its owner at any time, discharging its owner from his or her obligation to you. Also, once the terms of an obligation have been fulfilled and you become aware of the fact, you must return the honor point to its owner.

There are three formal uses in Port Hidalgo for the honor system:

Because honor is essentially a social issue, public sentiment is the final arbiter. If one man says he did, the other says he didn’t, and an agreement cannot be reached, then the final judgment of what is right and honorable will depend upon the opinions of any available witnesses. If they can not agree upon the rightness or wrongness of the issue, then no one loses honor. (After all, one’s honor is only as good as the company you keep and the stories they tell about you.) Conversely, when no witnesses are available, rightness or wrongness cannot properly be determined, so no honor is gained or lost. (Dead men tell no tales….)

There is an important difference between having no honor and having no honor available. Having no honor “in hand” is not in itself dishonorable, it just means you’ve stretched your obligations and influence as far as society will permit. However, being overextended is a precarious position, as you may find yourself in a situation where honor is required. If honor must be produced (usually only in an unprovoked attack, or when relying on dirty tricks in a duel) but you have none, all of your outstanding debts of honor become worthless, your word becomes mud, and you become known far and wide as an honorless blackguard. (Note that no one can force a point of honor from you if you lose a duel, so no one can force you to become a blackguard. Live a gentleman, die a gentleman.)

A blackguard is a person without honor, and such people tend to stand out in a crowd. (A sharp look here, a whispered word there, by these means word gets around.) Such characters will have a black spot prominently displayed upon their name badges. Although men and women can increase their personal honor through great deeds and actions, the unfortunate truth is that honor is far more easily lost than gained.

The Duel, or, when Diplomacy Fails

First and foremost, honor is what separates civilized men from savages, as it constrains one and all from simply slashing away at one another at the slightest provocation. Only when polite (or otherwise) words bring no satisfaction may civilized men or women resort to a duel; to simply attack someone without just cause would be to act without Honor. It is of course by no means dishonorable if you are provoked to challenge an unarmed foe—this is why the peasants mind their manners!

In most cases, when you “call out” your opponent for a duel, you are tentatively claiming one of their honor cards. As with all matters of honor, any witnesses present are the final arbiter as to whether your claim is justifiable (and, of course, true ladies and gentleman always act with honor, witnesses or no). If deemed unjustified, you may choose to proceed with the duel despite the opinions of your peers, but you must permanently discard one point of your personal honor. If you do not have a point of honor available to sacrifice, then your unprovoked attack is a despicable, beastly act, you lose all honor, and you will be known forevermore as the blackguard that you are.

It may be necessary to “fight first, talk later”, meaning you initiate a duel without first going through the “proper motions”. If this should happen, you will almost certainly have to justify your uncouth action after the event, or lose a point of honor as described above.

In our first case, Sir Gregory and Sir Jonathan are passing through a courtyard, when they espy a lady fair upon yonder balcony. Sir Gregory makes a rather crude comment concerning how he would like to know the lady better. Sir Jonathan confesses that the lady is his sister, Lady Faith, and admits that he finds Sir Gregory’s comments rude, boorish, uncalled for, and demands an immediate retraction. Sir Gregory, considering himself unbeholden to an inferior swordsman such as Sir Jonathan, declines to do so, and blades are drawn. While there happen to be two men at arms present, Sir Gregory feels no need to protest the rightness of Sir Jonathan’s challenge before them, and indeed if he did they would like as not admit that Sir Jonathan is justified in this matter.

In our second case, Inigo Montoya has tracked the six-fingered man to his lair, and demands justice for the murder of his father these many years past. The six-fingered man, being a cowardly dastard, looks about for allies (or paid stooges) to disprove Montoya’s claims, but finds none and so must face his wrath. (Had there been a loyal sycophant or two present to judge against him, like as not Montoya would defy them, toss aside his “Proud Son of Spain” honor card, and press the attack. Don’t worry, he’d get it back later on—but days later, after the game was over and the truth of the matter is made known.)

How to Fight a Duel

Each round in a duel is divided into four segments : Initiative, Posturing, Card play, and Resolution.

1) Initiative: Each round has an attacker and a defender. The attacker of the first round is always the one that instigated the fight by calling out his opponent. If the duel is the result of an unprovoked attack, then the player who sacrificed his honor is the attacker. If there is some question of who attacked whom, the player with the higher swordsmanship takes the initiative. If even this results in a tie, then flip a coin.

2) Posturing: This part is used to represent the actual combat. For at least ten seconds, the participants should engage in witty repartee consisting of challenges, retorts, insults, and so forth. You could also strike poses or employ slow motions to indicate that you are engaged in a duel—motions only, no physical contact is allowed! The posturing phase is important, as any bystander may attempt to interrupt the combat (perhaps someone wishes to break up the fight, or perhaps one of the participants gets shot in the back-more on guns later). If that happens, the round is immediately canceled, though a new duel or even a general melee may break out immediately.

3) Card Play: After sufficient posturing, the combatants compare their Swordsmanship skills to see who has won the round. The basic skill ranks are 0 (totally untrained), 1 (rank amateur), 2 (capable swordsperson), and 3 (trained professional).

Additional skill or ability cards may then be played. Any number of cards may be played at this time, and the round is only resolved when no further cards are forthcoming (that is, you always get an opportunity to play a card!) Some abilities can only be used once, and others may be used whenever the owner desires; some abilities add only to the attack, and others only to the defense. All pertinent details will be printed on the cards.

It is also possible to add one to your skill by resorting to foul tricks, cheating, or otherwise breaking the “duelists code”. (The idea is, there are accepted norms and practices followed in duels, and you can gain a temporary unfair advantage by breaking those rules.) This trick only works once per combatant in a duel, and only for the round in which it is used, since once performed your opponent knows what to expect of you. (They, of course, may choose to return the favor, but they must pay the same price as well.)

To “cheat”, produce and destroy one of your point of honor cards. Only one card can be used, for a net +1 to your skill. If you have no point of honor readily available, this immediately destroys all your honor and marks you as a blackguard with all the effects as described above. If you already are a blackguard, you cannot perform this maneuver, as everyone expects such foul deeds of you anyway. (Note again that followers don’t think much of leaders who are proven to be faithless!)

4) Resolution: The player with the higher combined skill and ability score wins the round of the duel. If the scores are equal, then there is no clear winner and the duel rages on into another round, with the roles of attacker and defender reversed. If a round ends in a tie, the combatants may “back down”, but only if both agree to call it a draw. If three consecutive rounds all produce ties and a draw is not acceptable to one or both players, at the end of the third round flip a coin to determine who has gained the upper hand and won the round. (If necessary, always go through all three rounds—you never know when someone might decide to interfere.)

The winner may demand a point of honor (by far and away the most satisfactory resolution to a duel) or, if the situation so merits, inflict a wound upon the loser. The loser is not obligated to offer a point of honor and may in fact not be able to do so. Under such circumstances, the winner is by no means obligated to inflict a wound, but otherwise is free to act as they choose.

If a point of honor is offered and accepted, the duel is now over; otherwise, the duel continues only if one or both participants wish to start another round. The terms of a point of honor conceded in a duel should have some bearing on the cause of the duel, even if the agreement is no more than an admission of who is the better swordsperson.

Examples of the Duel

After a rousing display of clever swordplay and witty dialog, Sir Gregory proves his superior swordsmanship over Sir Jonathan. He “requests” that Sir Jonathan introduce him to Lady Faith forthwith; Sir Jonathan, mumbling something about needing more fencing practice, acquiesces, and (upon his insistence) gives Sir Gregory his “Word of a Gentleman” honor card. (All too soon, Sir Gregory will learn that Sir Jonathan’s fencing instructor is in fact Lady Faith….)

Inigo Montoya was wounded in the first round of combat when the six fingered man resorted to foul play and threw his concealed dagger (as represented by a one-use ability card). Drawing upon his unquenchable thirst for revenge (another one-use ability card), Inigo temporarily casts aside the burden of his wound (see the “Wounds” section below) in the second round and wins on the strength of his defense. The six-fingered man offers Montoya money, power, anything if he would just stay his hand. Montoya states: “I want my father back,” wounds the six-fingered man, and presses the attack into another round….


In Port Hidalgo, there are few long-term consequences to non-lethal combat. (After all, Errol Flynn never sat out a movie just because he got in a bar-room brawl!) The one thing to know is that a man with a sword always defeats a man without one. The other thing to know is that there are weak people, strong people, and exceptionally strong people, and stronger people thrash weaker people. If the Stronger one wants to steal an item or tie the Weaker one up and throw them in the ship’s hold, they will probably be able to do so, but if necessary get a GM to help work out the details.

Opponents with equal strength simply thrash each other thoroughly, then woozily step up to the bar for another drink. If you should be thrashed during the course of the game, you should act groggy and listless for five or ten minutes, after which time the effects will have worn off.

So, why bother to have a brawl? Well, while you are engaged in fisticuffs, both you and your opponent are unable to draw a sword, ready a pistol, or participate in that interesting conversation across the room. Then again, perhaps your character just needs to express him or herself in a properly dramatic fashion.


Rule number one: Guns are dangerous.

Rule number two: Guns are easy to shoot. If you want to fire a gun, point it, shoot (we will be using Nerf guns), and yell “Bang!” If you hit your target, they are wounded; if you miss, they are not. All firearms readily available in Port Hidalgo inflict one wound, regardless of where they hit (and please note that you’re much more likely to hit if you aim for the body.)

Rule number three: Guns are awkward, and take some concentration to fire. An active participant in a duel or a brawl cannot draw a gun. If you see someone in the process of drawing or otherwise preparing to use a gun, and you wish to intervene, if you are within striking range you may immediately initiate a combat by shouting the word “Freeze.” (Do not attempt to physically grab the player or the gun!) If your opponent has the gun drawn, ready, and is pretty much ready to fire when you shout freeze, he or she may fire it immediately, right before your attack begins (refer to Rule number 1, above). If you have a sword drawn, you have initiated a duel against a (potentially) unarmed opponent, and if you have no blade ready at hand, you have initiated a brawl. As with all such sudden attacks, the honorableness of the attack may need to be resolved once the dust settles. (Needless to say, a shot from the sidelines is rarely considered to be honorable.)


Should several cowardly individuals choose to gang up against a lone soul, it gets tricky. While any number can yell and wave their swords, no more than three men can effectively attack a single target. (Should it prove necessary, the rule is: first come, first served.)

Each round of combat is divided into two phases. In the first phase, the members of the group each attack the lone defender. The defender applies his normal defense against the highest valued attack, a default defense of 1 (or 0, if their base skill is 1) against the second highest, and a defense of 0 against the third. Each successful attack will inflict one wound upon the defender. (While complex exchanges of honor can be worked out, gang-attacks usually have but one outcome.)

In the second phase, without factoring in the effects of any wounds inflicted in the first phase, the lone defender applies his full attack skill against one opponent of his choice. He may only inflict one wound in his attack round.

Only after both melee rounds are complete do the participants calculate the total effect of wounds done and honor conceded. Ability cards played will be effective for both phases. Due to the hectic nature of melee, honor may not be sacrificed to increase your skill in fighting. (This is always true upon the field of battle or in tavern brawls, when everyone present is engaged in the struggle, and the niceties of formalized combat necessarily fall by the wayside.)

If some form of gang-attack Brawl occurs, the general rule of thumb is that a Strong man can thrash almost any number of Weak men (remember Errol Flynn), but between equal strengths, the side with more men wins.

More and messier combat combinations and permutations are, of course, possible. Should any such occur during the game, our trained GMs will use the renowned BOGSAAT combat system (whose details are too complex to go into here) to resolve the conflict.


While the genteel, the old, and the infirm cannot be expected to vigorously defend themselves, they certainly may appoint a champion to do so, if one can be found. Championing the poor and weak from the unwanted attentions of a churlish oaf is an honorable act indeed! When the duel is finished, remember it is properly the defendant's and not the Champion's honor at stake-though, if it comes to that, it is the Champion's blood.


There are four stages of health in Port Hidalgo: Healthy (3), Wounded (2), Down (1), and Dead (0). If you are damaged in either a duel or by gunplay, you will take one wound.

Everyone starts the game healthy, unless otherwise noted in your character sheet. If you are “Wounded”, your swordsmanship ability goes down by one; in addition, you are in pain, and should act accordingly. If you are “Down”, your are wounded almost to the point of death, and are at your opponent’s mercy. If they spare you, you will survive, though you are greatly debilitated (meaning you are unable to engage in further duels). “Dead” means dead. Don’t worry, no one ever dies in Port Hidalgo without the chance for a dying soliloquy.

Just to mention, there may be healing out there, but given the state of eighteenth century medical science you’re probably better off without it. Do not count on regaining any wounds lost during the course of the game.

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