Prince Valiant actual play
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    Prince Valiant actual play

    My group has played a couple of Prince Valiant sessions since my last actual play report.

    The first of these (fourth session in what has turned out to be a campaign) saw the squire PC progress dramatically.

    The session started with some recap, a mixture of in-character and out-of-character: our fourth player, who had been absent from the previous session, was there, and so there had to be reintegration of the PC - an itenerant performer - into the group, together with filling in the player on the missed session.

    The previous session had finished with the PCs in Castle Hill and in the good graces of its Lord, having provided him with a crowmaster. It made sense that an itinerant performer should have travelled to this major urban centre, and so the three knightly PCs (two knighs and their squire) were able to reconnect with the fourth.

    There was talk of a powerful knight who was blocking the road north, not letting anyone pass who was unable to beat him in battle - and so far unbeaten. (This was Sir Lionheart, of the second Challenge from a Knight scenario in the rulebook.) Naturally the PCs headed off to see if they could do better, with a crowd in tow to see the excitement and the performer working the crowd.

    The PCs had only light or medium armour (+1 or +2 dice), and ordinary horses - not fully-trained warhorses - and with the best brawn + arms total being 8 dice, for overall dice pools (including 1 for lance) of 11 or 12 at best. Whereas Sir Lionheart, with arms 5 and heavy armour (+3) and a fine warhorse (+1) had 14+ dice. (Technically the system calls for coins, but we use dice counting evens as heads.) Conversation with Sir Lionheart revealed that he had returned from the Crusades, and was a knight without match who was waiting to find a fitting lord to serve. (I took this not from the scenario description, but from the excellent 1981 film Excalibur's treatment of Sir Lancelot.)

    The players of the knights were hoping that the performer PC would work up the crowd to support them - like the Geoffrey Chaucer character in the film A Knight's Tale - but the player of the performer worked up the crowd in general, so that both jousting knights got a bonus die.

    The first of the PCs to have a go was Sir Gerran. He lost, soundly beaten (but Storyteller Certificate still in the player's hand).

    Next up was Justin "the Gentle", Sir Gerren's son . He lost too.

    Sir Justin and the squire PC were in competition for the hand of the young and beautiful Lady Violette of Warwick, and hence their players were having a bit of a stand-off over spending their Storyteller Certificates: one use of such a certificate is to "Incite Lust" and another is to "Suppress Lust" - so if one used it to ensure Violette's affections, the other could cancel. But use in the joust with Sir Lionheart would change the balance of power.

    Sir Justin's player decided, in the end, to use his certificate, but somehow let the player of the itinerent performer talk him into spending it not on outright victory ("Knock and Opponent Senseless" or "Kill a Foe in Combat") but rather on a "gold star" - a permanent PC buff allowing a bonus die once per session. The bonus die was not enough for him to defeat Sir Lionheart.

    Sir Justin's player also wanted to bring his skill of arms 4 (rather than joust 0) to bear, so Sir Justin agreed to joust with real lances rather than blunted ones, and (as per the scenario description) with stakes therefore being not a small token but the loser's arms and steed. So for the second time in the campaign, Sir Justin lost his kit by losing a joust!

    The PC asked for a joust, but the proud Sir Lionheart declined to joust with a mere squire. To which the PC responded, "Fine, I'll just continue on my way then!" and tried to pass Sir Lionheart and continue along the road. This called for a Presence vs Presence check, which the PC won - and so Sir Lionheart knighted him so that he could joust and perhaps succeed where the others had failed. I took the words of the knight ceremony from Excalibur - "In the name of God, St Michael and St George I give you the right to bear arms and the power to mete justice".

    The player of the (now) Sir Morgath determined that he would use his certificate for an outright victory. He considered knocking Sir Lionheart senseless, but he suspected (correctly, as it turned out, given the scenario description) that if he unhorsed Sir Lionheart but didn't kill him, Sir Lionheart would insist on fighting with swords to the death. So he decided to Kill a Foe in Combat - when the lances of the two knights connected, the one wielded by Sir Morgath splintered, and a shard flew through a gap in Sir Lionheart's visor and entered his brain through his eye, killing him!

    Sir Morgath was feted by the crowd. He also was able to upgrade his gear, being the first of the PCs to have heavy armour and a warhorse. He also won Sir Lionheart's superbly jewelled sword, which grants a bonus die for social situations where prestige is in issue.

    The other two knight did their best to re-equip themselves using surplus gear the PCs had accumulated (including Sir Morgath's old kit) and then they continued north to see what adventures might be had! On the road, they met a richly-dressed damsel, Lady Elizabeth of York, and her handmaiden, who had barely escaped from bandits while returning home from a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Sigobert. She asked for assistance, and the PCs offered it.

    The introduction to the scenario notes that "An amusing use of this Episode is to get one of the Adventurers married off to the main character" and goes on to say that "Once [she] feels safe she will begin to flirt with the Adventurers, prying for information on marriage status, lands held, family, etc. During this scene she picks a candidate for marriage, if possible, from the Adventurers. Depending on the way you wish to run the Episode, the victim may consider himself lucky, or cursed". Sir Morgath, with his knightly armour, his jewelled sword, and his famous victory over Sir Lionheart, was the object of her pursuit.

    Flirting and courting was interrupted by an attack by the bandits. The players took advantage of the terrain - rolling downs - to get a bonus die for charging down hill. The itinerant performer - whom the players suspect is a woman disguised as a man - disguised as a woman by donning a spare dress from the pack horse, and when one of the robber knights rode around the charging PCs to assault the women, was able to throw knives with the benefit of surprise. Sir Gerran's player used his certificate - the last in the party - to kill the bandit leader, therefore winning for himself a +1 die warhorse and heavy armour. The PCs were victorious and the bandits routed.

    When the group arrived back at the castle of the Duke of York, he was very impressed by the young and obviously valiant Sir Morgath. An attempt by Sir Morgath to persuade the Duke that he might not be the best match for his daughter failed (ie Sir Morgath's player rolled poorly) and so he found himself being wed to Lady Elizabeth rather than the Lady Violette whose handkerchief he had been carrying with him. As per the scenario text, if the Lady and "one of the Adventurers [are] betrothed . . . end the Episode with a grand wedding sequence. [Her] father will give each Adventurer an impressive gift." Sir Gerran was given a trained falcon. And Sir Justin "the Gentle", so named because of his deads at the Abbey of St Sigobert, was gifted a fine silvered dagger that had been blessed at that shrine.

    And Sir Morgath and his wife were gifted with a manor. So he started the session a squire, and ended up a famous knight married to the daughter of the Duke of York!

    *******************************

    Our session today took up from this point, with only the players of the three knights. We determined that some time had passed, and that the Lady Elizabeth was now pregnant. But Sir Justin wanted to head off adventuring, to do deeds worthy of the hand of Lady Violette. Tales were coming to York of Saxon raids on the coast, and so the three PCs headed off to do their bit in homeland defence!

    I decided to use the scenario The Crimson Bull. The PCs met an old man, the last survivor of an assault, holding a crimson bull by a black cord. He asked for help to take the bull to the Valley of Mudde. Through good fortune rather than good planning on my part, the map (we are using the Map of Britain on the inside cover of the Pendragon book) indicated that this would be at the southern end of a large fen on the mid east coast. The PCs (and players) were curious about this, but being noble knights offered to help. Sir Justin introduced himself as Sir Justin and then made a successful Presence check, with the result that the old man knew of him - "You're Sir Justin the Gentle, of the shrine of St Sigobert" - and I was sufficiently impressed and amused to give him a Storyteller Certificate.

    The curiosity of the PCs and their players grew as, first, a tree seemed to fall for no reason and nearly knock the cord out of the old man's hand; then, when Sir Justin inspected the bull more closely and looked it in the eye, he failed his Presence check and was put at a one-die penalty in the perturbing presence of the bull; then, the next day, a pack of wild dogs attacked, and nearly caused the cord to be dropped, but for Sir Justin grabbing it at the old man's urging as the latter swooned from his dog-inflicted wounds; and then, on the third day, a group of wild men from the fens attacked them, once again with an apparent focus on the holder of the cord (still Sir Justin).

    Sir Gerran took one of the wild men prisoner and interrogated him. He said that the bull was possessed by an evil spirit, which had called to him and his fellows in the fen - they were going to let the bull loose in the forest. The old man would not tell the PCs much - only that the bull had to be taken to the Valley of Mudde to be killed by a wise woman there. The PCs kept going, but Sir Morgath started to suggest that the wise woman, who sounded to him like a witch, might also need to be killed (on Christian principle).

    The wild man's club was broken, and he was sent back into the fen.

    The next day - the fourth of this particular quest - the bull whispered to Sir Gerran in the voice of a young boy, protesting its innocence. Sir Gerran was chosen as per the specification in the scenario description - the lowest Presence, and - where this was tied - the lowest fame. Sir Gerren (and his player) weren't sure to what extent this was an attempt at manipulation. The PCs debated, but decided to take the bull into the valley. The bull whispered again - "If I'm evil, then what's to be lost by just killing me here" - but Sir Gerran did not act on this. Efforts were made to learn more from the old man, but the checks were not successful, and so he insisted that he could not tell them anything more due to the agreement made with the wise woman.

    Around this time Sir Justin inspected the cord more closely and realised it was woven from human hair.

    The next night, while camping in the Vallye of Mudde, sparks from the group's camp fire animated and tried to set alight their tent, the tack on Sir Morgath's horse, and the cord! Sir Morgath rushed to help with the cord, which Sir Justin was able to save by extinguishing the fire with some water. (Successful check against the fire spirits, with a bonus die for using water vs fire.) Sir Gerren tried to save the tent by smothering the flames with his body, but ended up being burned (failed opposed check). Sir Justin treated his burns (successful healing check) but the lack of a tent meant that Brawn checks were needed to avoid penalties from poor rest - Sir Morgath's player failed, and Sir Morgath was weakened from swamp fever on the final day of their quest.

    The PCs came to a stone altar in the middle of the valley, and the wise woman appeared. She asked for the bull, but Sir Justin was reluctant to hand it over. She explained that she had bound a demon into the bull, which had been attacking the people and the livestock in the old man's village. Sir Justin asked her point blank whether she would benefit herself from killing the bull, and accepted her answer that she would not, and so handed over the cord. She commanded the bull up onto the altar, at which point it called out in its child's voice so that all could hear it! Sir Gerran started to waver a bit - was the bull innocent after all? The wise woman started to recite a blessing in a strange language (Pictish, in all likelihood) and then drew out her "jagged, stained dagger" (to quote the text of the scenario). At that point Sir Justin changed his mind - it was an unadulterated ritual sacrifice - and he made a successful check to interrupt the ritual by knocking the blade from the old woman's hand. Sir Morgath might have tried to intervene but, with brawn reduced by his swamp fever, felt unable to.

    The scenario description had no comments on what would happen in such an eventuality, so I had to extrapolate. It did indicate two relevant things: (1) placing the demon in the bull turned it "from brown to a dark, crimson red"; (2) if the wise woman completes her ritual, "a red smoke rises from the beast and dissipates into the surrounding air." So I described the bull turning from red to a rich brown colour, while - as it called for help - a red mist came out of its mouth and started to drift off into the vale.

    Sir Morgath was unimpressed, and Sir Gerren finally accepted fully the proposition that there was something evil in the bull. Sir Justin pulled out his dagger blessed by St Sigobert. He had 10 dice - 4 from brawn, 4 from arms, and 2 from a blessed weapon. (His armour would not help him fight a demonic mist.) I told him that 5 successes were required (this is the Very Difficult obstacle). He considered cashing in his certificate for another gold star to get to 11 dice but was worried about failure, and so cashed it in instead for the killing of a foe in combat - and so with his dagger he destroyed the demon!

    He then turned to the wise woman and asked "So what do you think of that!?" The player succeeded at an opposed presence check (with a bonus die on his part, as Sir Justin had just destroyed the demon; and a die forfeited from the wise woman's pool, as she was still in shock at her ritual being interrupted) - and so she answered that St Sigobert was truly great, and asked that she be taken to his shrine to be baptised!

    Sir Justin was mightily pleased by this outcome, as he destroyed the demon while saving the bull; and Sir Morgath was also happy, as his two goals of destroying the demon and putting an end to pagan practices had also been realised. (He didn't care what happened to the bull.)

    The PCs decided that saving even a single soul is an important thing, and so decided to take the wise woman to the Abbey of St Sigobert before going to fight Saxons. As they were getting close to Warwick, and travelling in the dark still looking for a place sheltered enough to camp without a tent, they came across a weary old man in a blue cloak. (The scenario in the Episode Book is called The Blue Cloak.) A merchant, he had been set upon by bandits who had taken his mule and his goods. He knew the game trail they had travelled down, and asked the PCs to help him. Being noble knights, of course they agreed to do so! As they travelled through the woods and down the trail, he asked about their families - learning that one was the son-in-law of the Duke of York ("What an honour to be aided by such a noble knight"), and that the other was returning to Warwick to woo the Lady Violette - and told them of his own daughter and son-in-law living in Warwick. Then, as they could hear the lusty singing of the bandits at their camp, he asked the PCs to go on without him as he was too weary to continue. The PCs were a little suspicious (as were their players) but opposed checks of his fellowship vs their Presences (even with bonus dice for suspicion) confirmed his sincerity.

    The PCs approached the camp, and Sir Gerran drew his sword and called on the bandits to surrender. Their leader - wearing a very similar blue cloak to that of the merchant - was cowed, as was one other, but the third threw a clay bottle at Sir Gerran (to no effect) and then charged him sword drawn (and gaining a bonus die for knowing the lie of the land in the darkness), only to be knocked almost senseless with a single blow, resulting in his surrender also ("When I insulted you, it was the wine talking!").

    The wise woman and old man, who had been waiting up the trail with the merchant, then arrived at the camp to say that the merchant had (literally) disappeared! Which caused some confusion, but they decided to sleep on it. The next morning, in the daylight, they could see that the brooch holding the bandit leader's cloak closed was identical to that which the merchant had worn. Sir Justin suggested he no doubt had multiples of his favourite cloak and fitting, but Sir Morgath had a different idea - "When you left the merchant you robbed, was he dead?" His presence roll was a poor one, and the bandits answers that the merchant fell from his mule and hit his head and died, and that they had buried him and had intended to place a cross on his grave first thing in the morning. Sir Morgath doubted this - "You didn't give him a proper burial - his ghost came to us last night!" - and I allowed a second presence check with a bonus but it still failed, and the bandits simply muttered protestatins of innocence under their breaths.

    Sir Justin received a vision from St Sigobert, and by plunging his dagger into the ground at the head of the grave was able to sanctify the ground. A cross was then placed there, and the group returned to Warwick with their bandit prisoners and returned the merchant's goods to his daughter. Sir Morgath went to tell Violette that he was now married to someone else. He had a big pool - four dice for presence, two dice for courtesie, and two prestige dice for his fine clothes and sword - but couldn't make the three successes I'd stated were necessary, and so Violette did not take the news well! She asked for the return of her handkerchief, and was not all that pleased to learn that Sir Morgath had given it to Sir Justin.

    Sir Justin then met with Violette, but not before wording up the old man to tell her about his glorious deeds, so that she could learn of them without him needing to boast! This plan worked, and he succeeded on his courtesie check - Violette accepted his offer of marriage! And the Abbot of St Sigobert was called for, both to officiate at the wedding and to baptise the wise woman of the fens.

    The session ended at that point: the PCs first met the abbot when some forest bandits were trying to kidnap him to officiate at a wedding of one of their number, and I suggested that - given the same abbot at another wedding - some more hijinks might ensue. If there is nothing appropriate in the various scenarios in the rulebook and Episodes book, then this will be the first Prince Valiant scenario I have to work up from scratch.

    *******************************

    The player of Sir Gerran is particularly enjoying this system, and for the past few sessions has been the one to push for us to keep going with it (other options would be Classic Traveller, Cortex+ Heroic fantasy hack, or some form of Cthulhu). He was very impressed with the Crimson Bull scenario, and the uncertainty he felt right up until the end about the nature of the evil in the bull and the way it was going to resolve.

    I'm finding the system is easy to use, although I'm probably not using extended constests as much as I could in non-combat contexts. There aren't circumstances occurring where it's uncertain what the resolution should look like. And although we've had supernatural elements in three of five sessions - the Wild Hunt, the Crowmaster with supernatural influence over his birds, the Crimson Bull and the ghost of the murdered merchant - the game is maintaing a nice "low fantasy" feel. The players have the same sort of doubt and uncertainty about the supernatural as their PCs do, which - as Sir Gerran's player noted - is producing some nice experiences in play.

    When I backed the kickstart a couple of years ago it was because this was a famous system that I'd never read or played. I wasn't necessarily expecting to get play out of it, let alone what is at least a mini-campaign. Now that we're getting into it, I'm more surprised than ever that it's not a more widely played system.
    Last edited by pemerton; Sunday, 4th November, 2018 at 03:48 PM.
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  2. #2
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    Thank you for reminding me about this game. I'm definitely going to pick up a copy, with the episode book.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Arilyn View Post
    Thank you for reminding me about this game. I'm definitely going to pick up a copy, with the episode book.
    No worries! Like I've said in a couple of posts now, I think it's a bit underappreciated.

    In five sessions I've used six episodes from the main book (three knightly challenges, a family in distress, a woman in distress, and rebellious peasants twice) and six from the episode book (Kenneth Hite's wild hunt, the episode called A Wild Hunt which is the Crowmaster one, the Blue Cloak, the Crimson Bull, the bandit marriage one, and the tournament). I've still got several at least that I would like to use, and some that at first looked unappealing I think I'm now getting a better idea about how they might work, as I'm getting more used to the play of the system.

    It's always hard to be sure how one's game stacks up to others in terms of amount of content generated, but I'm feeling that we're getting through quite a bit in our sessions - certainly more than we typically would in a more tactically-oriented system where tactical decision-making soaks up quite a bit of game play time. It's a nice pace.

  4. #4
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    I have purchased the pdf bundle, which includes the episode book. I have read over the rules, and am looking forward to trying it out. I played Pendragon years ago, and really enjoyed it. Prince Valiant is a looser, lighter, more narrative version, which suits my tastes these days.

    I really like that this game could be played very simply, with few complications, and little in the way of graphic blood shed, or made darker, more violent and morally ambiguous, or anywhere in between, without any real rule changes. It's an advantage of rules light systems.

    Greg Stafford was a great game designer who never disappointed. Also, happy to see Robin D. Laws, Kenneth Hite, Emily Care Boss, Mark Rein-Hagen, and other favourites in the episode book.
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Arilyn View Post
    I played Pendragon years ago, and really enjoyed it. Prince Valiant is a looser, lighter, more narrative version, which suits my tastes these days.
    I've never played serious Pendragon, only one or two one-shots at conventions years ago.

    I got a copy of Pendragon 5.2 with Prince Valiant as part of the Kickstarter. It's an interesting system, and we're using the price lists and the map for our Prince Valiant game, but I don't think I could imagine actually running Pendragon as a serious campaign. Besides it's general "heaviness", I don't think it has a very good action resolution system outside of combat. Whereas Prince Valiant does.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    He also won Sir Lionheart's superbly jewelled sword, which grants a bonus die for social situations where prestige is in issue.
    This, good sir, (inadvertently) solves a problem that has vexed me for ages regarding loot in D&D: of what use is nonmagical gear gear, like golden chalices, sparkling gemstone earrings, and jewelled swords, to PCs that would prevent them from simply converting said items to magic items (particularly in my 4E gaming, where the system assumes such)? The answer: loot is magic items. The princess's tiara is worth 2500 gp (give or take)? Oh, that's because it is a circlet of authority!

    I can't believe such an elegant solution never before occurred to me! (Sometimes one must step out of the box to view its contents, I suppose...)
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  7. #7
    @darkbard, sort-of following on from your post:

    If we assume that magic items are mechanical in some fashion (eg grant bonuses to checks), then once we allow that mechanics can extend beyond combat, we have a framework for making sense of "loot" in the way you describe. In 4e there're are also options for approaching bonuses a bit differently eg the signet of authority allows one reroll in a skill challenge that is about asserting authority; the jewelled prayer beads allow one reroll in a skill challenge where religious truth is in issue, etc.
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  8. #8
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    I like that! Such loot then occupies a liminal space between pure monetary value and a somewhat more limited (but situationally more valuable) version of a magic item.

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