The Curse of CapistranoNot all swashbucklers are pirates or musketeers. Some come from Los Angeles. The greatest swashbuckler Southern California has ever produced was Don Diego de la Vega, better known as Zorro, decadent caballero by day, defender of the defenseless by night. Though he has been the subject of countless books, films, and so on, this is a take on him as he is depicted in “The Curse of Capistrano,” the 1919 novella in which he originally appeared.
Don Diego de la Vega is the only child and heir of the Vega family, an aristocratic family of Alta California (a province encompassing most of the modern state of California and the American Southwest) in the early 19th century. The Vegas are second only to the governor in wealth and power, or possibly even on an equal footing. The Vegas’ holdings include a sizable plantation in the vicinity of the town of Reina de Los Angeles and a luxurious second home in the town itself.
Diego is 25 years old, of average height and build, notably handsome, well-read, and an elegant dresser. He’s also wealthy in his own right and heir to an even larger fortune. He’d be prime marriage material if he weren’t utterly bloodless. The word “unmanly” is sometimes used, though less in the sense of being effeminate and more in a sense somewhere between cowardly and mechanically dispassionate. He’s protective of his health and hygiene close to the point of hypochondria and avoids physical exertion as much as possible. He seems bored by just about everything, yawning almost constantly. He dislikes hearing about violence and seems entirely happy to avoid it himself at all costs regardless of how his more hot-blooded contemporaries see him. Indeed, if asked if he would fight Zorro if they should meet, he observes that he has a lot of money but only one life, so he would be content to be captured and ransomed. He approaches the prospect of marriage as a tiresome obligation imposed on him by his family. Rather than wooing a proposed wife with the traditional expedients of song and poetry, he proposes to send out servant skilled with the guitar rather than serenading her himself, and he puts the question to her as little more than a business transaction. However, he’s not without skill at social “combat.” He frequently tweaks the region’s frequently brutal soldiers without quite getting to the point of delivering insults which would obligate him to fight a duel.
ZorroZorro is a mysterious figure in the Robin Hood mode. The authorities consider him a bandit and highwayman, while he is a hero to the poor and the church, who suffer the government’s depredations. He started his activities near the town of San Juan Capistrano, earning the nickname “the Curse of Capistrano.” However, he’s been seen throughout southern California. He brutalizes those who swindle and mistreat the poor, the clergy, and even disadvantaged members of the aristocracy. Given the province’s corrupt government, he’s got no shortage of targets.
Zorro’s most visible characteristic is that he wears a mask of black cloth. This mask covers his whole face, with slits cut for his eyes. It is loose at the bottom, allowing him to lift it in order to eat, drink, and kiss pretty girls. That, along with a cloak, constitutes the entirety of his costume beyond conventional street clothes and a sombrero appropriate to his class. He is a master swordsman capable of defeating even skilled opponents, a fine shot with a pistol (of which he usually carries one; oddly, no one in Zorro’s 19th-century California, including soldiers, seems to carry long arms), a good unarmed combatant, and a skilled acrobat, leaping and climbing with great agility. He’s been known to use a whip, though only to chastise wrong-doers rather than as a serious weapon.
Zorro is also a clever tactician, outsmarting and evading large parties of pursuers when he can’t defeat them directly. When he stops to talk, he’s eloquent and follows a certain code of honor. He’ll happily humiliate opponents, but won’t use lethal force if they’re at a significant disadvantage (for example, recovering from injuries, illness, or excessive drink). He usually fights alone, though the constant failure of the authorities to capture him often leads the soldiers who chase him fruitlessly to complain that he commands an army of brigands, and late in “Curse of Capistrano” he convinces a body of caballeros to join him against the corrupt governor.
Don Diego de la Vega/El Zorro
ST 13 ; DX 15 ; IQ 13 ; HT 12 .
Damage 1d /2d-1; BL 34 lbs.; HP 13 ; Will 14 ; Per 14 ; FP 12 .
Basic Speed 6.5 ; Basic Move 6 ; Parry 13; Dodge 9.
Combat Reflexes ; Handsome ; Reputation +4 (the poor and devout of Alta California, only as Zorro) ; Status 4 *; Wealth (Filthy Rich) 
Code of Honor (Defend the poor and the church) [-10]; Secret (Is actually Zorro) [-30].
Unmanly (as Don Diego) [-1].
Acting (A) IQ+2 -15; Acrobatics (H) DX+2 -17; Area Knowledge (Alta California) (E) IQ+3 -16; Brawling (E) DX+2 -17; Climbing (A) DX -15; Cloak (A) DX+2 -16; Connoisseur (Literature) (A) IQ -13; Diplomacy (H) IQ -13; Fast-Draw (Sword) (E) DX+2 -17; Fast-Talk (A) IQ-1 -12; Intimidation (A) Will -14; Pistol (E) DX+3 -18; Rapier (A) DX+5 -20; Riding (Horse) (A) DX+2 -16; Savoir-Faire (A) IQ -13; Stealth (A) DX+3 -15; Tactics (H) IQ+2 -15; Whip (A) DX+2 -17.
* Includes +1 Status from Wealth
Diego, when using his Zorro identity, typically carries these items:
· MAS Pistolet AN IX, 17.1mm Flintlock (GURPS High-Tech, p. B90) [Belt] Acc 1, Range 50/550, 1d+2 pi++. $250, 2.9 lbs.
· Heavy Cloak (p. B287) [Torso] DB 2. $50, 5 lbs.
· Rapier (p. B273) [Belt] thr+1 imp. $500, 2.75 lbs.
· Whip (2 yards) (p. B274) [Belt] sw-2(0.5) cr. $40, 4 lbs.
Diego owns several swords, some of which are remarkably ornate, but wears them rarely and then only as fashion accessories. Zorro’s sword does not have a notable appearance, but could conceivably be of superior quality. Diego can certainly afford the best.
Diego’s secret is in effect up until the final chapter of “Curse of Capistrano.” At the end of the story, a body of rebelling caballeros pressure the governor into granting Zorro, whoever he may be, a pardon, making it safe for Diego to reveal himself. Up until that point, no one know Diego’s secret, and afterwards its revelation earns him the respect of everyone but the governor. A post-Capistrano Diego de la Vega might have the governor as a low-level Enemy (who might work against him in secret, but certainly not openly) and the same positive reputation enjoyed by his Zorro identity.
The text of “Curse of Capistrano” leaves a number of things up to interpretation. For example, Zorro’s (literal) signature move, slashing a Z onto his opponent, appears precisely once in “Curse of Capistrano,” though tales are told by an unreliable narrator that he’s done it before. At any rate, it’s entirely possible that the Zorro of the original story doesn’t have the Initial Carving maneuver, counting on defaults from his very high skill to see him through. However, a more cinematic version probably does.
Zorro frequently fences with one opponent while holding a pistol at the ready in his left hand to keep back his opponent’s comrades. At no point does anyone test Zorro’s ability to pay attention to two things at once, let alone his aim while distracted, but assuming he’s not bluffing (not a safe assumption; Zorro repeatedly fools his opponents), that might justify Peripheral Vision.
He also appears comfortable working in the dark, attacking torch-bearers while lurking in dark rooms and letting his enemies come to him or using a few moments of cloud in front of the moon to duck off of well-trodden paths when being chased at night. A few levels of Night Vision aren’t clearly called for, but would be justifiable.
In the course of “The Curse of Capistrano,” Zorro makes a pact with a group of young caballeros to fight against the corrupt government. They could justify a body of Allies, but since they don’t show up until late in the story, which means they don’t appear until very late in Zorro’s career, he usually wouldn’t have them.
Part of Zorro’s success might be attributed to his enemies not being particularly competent. Most soldiers are clearly mooks, easily outfenced in a few passes and outfoxed in a chase. One character, Sergeant Gonzales, seems typical. Gonzales is passionate and at least moderately competent as a fighter and leader, but he tires easily, possibly on account of his weight, and frequently lets his emotions get the better of him, so he's easily distracted, tricked, or goaded into making mistakes.
Zorro also enjoys the enmity of many of the region’s wealthy land-owning caballeros. But whatever martial abilities the caballeros may have, they have short attention spans, and their hunts for Zorro quickly turn into excuses to stop somewhere on the road for wine and boasts of how they’ll catch the fox, and they're sufficiently fickle that Zorro can turn them from enemies into allies with a good speech.
At the Movies
The first film adaptation of a Zorro story came out just a year after “The Curse of Capistrano.” 1920’s The Mark of Zorro, starring Douglas Fairbanks as Diego, altered several details of the story and added elements which have become a standard part of Zorro lore. For example:
In the movie, Don Diego has recently come to Los Angeles from Spain; in “Curse of Capistrano,” there’s no suggestion he’s ever left California. The Z-shaped slash which Zorro inflicts on his enemies becomes more prominent, with three examples in the first scene alone. The mask, however, is smaller, shrinking from full-face coverage to a superhero-style domino. It joins an all-black outfit and a fake moustache to make a more effective disguise than the abbreviated mask might otherwise provide. Also, the time frame is a bit more clear. Where the story merely post-dates the establishment of missions in California and subsequent colonization, making any date in the first third or so of the 19th century, The Mark of Zorro is clearly set in the 1820s, which would put it just after Mexico’s independence from Spain. Finally, the Diego of the movie is furnished with a trusted servant who knows his secret and an underground hideout beneath his ancestral mansion, with the passageway concealed behind a grandfather clock. Although The Dark Knight Returns sets the portentous deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne after the 1940 Tyrone Power version, it’s clear that Batman was more influenced by the earlier film .
Zorro has appeared in scores of stories, films, comics, and TV series. Most of those are still protected by copyright. However, the original “The Curse of Capistrano,” published as a five-installment serial in 1919, is in the public domain and freely available from a number of sources (for example, http://archive.org/details/TheCurseOfCapistrano_538). The Douglas Fairbanks The Mark of Zorro, which created the enduring visual image of the character, is likewise in the public domain (for example, http://archive.org/details/markofzorro-1920).
1. Another peculiar parallel between Zorro and Batman is that neither had an underground hideout in the original printed material but had one added at the movies.