Another Prince Valiant session report

pemerton

Legend
Our Prince Valiant game continued yesterday. It was an episode of love, lust, longing, and (romantic) loyalty.

As the name of the game suggests, the setting is Arthurian Britain. In our game we've used the map of Britain found on the inside back cover of Pendragon 5.2, and as the action has now moved to southern France we're using our general knowledge and approximations of the area.

Our history is as haphazard as our maps: notionally the era is the 6th century (Arthur's Britain) but the game includes heavy plate armour, high mediaeval kmights, and - in our case - crusades in the Holy Land, which is where the PCs are headed leading their military order The Knights of St Sigobert.

As I mentioned in my post about our last session, the game - as presented by Greg Stafford - follows some of the pulpier aspects of the Prince Valiant comic in its dealings with sex and romance. In that session we played an episode (A Woman in Distress 2, presented in the core rulebook) that introduced Lady Lorette of Lothian, who is described as having "a voluptuous figure and sensual features (thick, pouting lips, dark eyes)" and as being "Arrogant, Foul-Tongued, Selfish, Lustful, [and] Greedy for good living".

The Prince Valiant system is simple dice pool resolution (50/50 on each die) either as an opposed check or against a difficulty set by the referee. But the system also uses what are called "Special Effects" - fiat abilities which the GM has access to as part of NPC building, subject to the advice that "Usually no more than three characters with Special Effects, or one character with three Special Effects, should be used, so as to let the players retain some control"; and which the players have access to when awarded "Storyteller Certificates" for impressive or amusing play of their characters, for special victories, etc. Unsurprisingly Lady Lorette has the Incite Lust special effect. The scenario description sets out a couple of ways in which she might use it:

None of the Adventurers may care about her fate; if so, then she will insult the Adventurers, calling them cowards and threatening them with her powerful family’s revenge. To avoid intimidation, each Adventurer must make a successful
Presence throw. Any Adventurers who are not knights must use a Difficulty Factor of 3.

If this fails, and one of the knights is both brawny and handsome, she will use her Incite Lust effect on him, hopefully gaining at least one protector. . . .

Assuming that all of the Adventurers are handsome men with Brawns of at least 3, she will select one to flirt with based on the forcefulness of his self-description. She then asks him for a proof of his valor: For example, jousting with one of
the other knights, or killing a wild boar single-handedly. If he succeeds, have her say things like “Oh, Sir knight, your courage sweeps me off my feet!” and so forth. If he fails, she picks another knight to test.

If her chosen knight is unmarried, she uses her Incite Lust effect on him (assuming it wasn’t used [earlier]). If he is married, she will simply torment her victim with suggestive behavior and go no further.​

In our session, one of the PCs - Sir Morgath - had rescued Lorette by pulling her from the castle moat and climbing with her up a rope hung down the outside of the castle wall. He had introduced himself to her as (among other things) the son-in-law of the Duke of York, the player intending to pre-empt any shenanigans. But being a cruel and capricious GM, I decided at that point to use the Incite Lust effect, so that Sir Morgath was smitten with Lorette although married to Elizabeth of York.

At the end of that previous session, Morgath had sent to Britain for a token of Elizabeth, so as to try and fortify his resolve. The other principal outstanding event was the pending wedding of Sir Gerran - a PC, Marshall of the Order of St Sigobert, who had started the game as a middle-aged knight travelling in the company of his son (another PC) and who later had been established to be a widower - to the Lady Alia, only surviving heir to the Duke of Bordeaux.

I decided that such a significant wedding would require the consent of the King of France, and the players considered steps they might take to increase the chances of such consent. I also prodded them about the "kraken" that was still occupying an abandoned and half-sunken merchant ship - in the previous session Sir Justin (Sir Gerran's son) had had the smiths of the castle forge a (so-called) kraken spear, on the model of a boar spear but heavier and with more barbs. The PCs decided to bring these two matters together, reasoning that (i) defeating the kraken would increase their fame and hence prestige and hence the willingness of the King to consent to the wedding, and (ii) would increase their standing with the merchant class which would also help their general standing and influence. So they temporarily exchanged their heavy armour (+3 dice and a corresponding Agility penalty) for leather armour (only +1 die but a correspondingly reduced Agility penalty) and took it in turns to try their luck with the kraken spear.

Sir Morgath went first (having lower Brawn and Arms, but training in Agility) - he wanted to balance on a dry part of the deck of the listed ship while striking down into the water, but failed the Agility check, and so lost his footing, taking a 1-die penalty, and (in the opposed check) being grabbed by the kraken which tried to drag him down into the watery depths of the ship's hold. The PCs had taken the precaution of tying a rope around Sir Morgath, and the other two PCs now tried to pull him free. I gave him two bonus dice, and applied the rule for surmounting a wall or other fortification - a success on the opposed check is sufficient for the purpose. So he managed to be pulled out without failing a drowning check.

Sir Justin went next, adopting much the same strategy. He also failed his check to balance on the dry part of the deck above the water, and also got dragged in by the kraken, but then things went less well as even with bonus dice for his companions trying to drag him out he couldn't succeed. So Sir Gerren leapt into the water with only a dagger to fight with and did battle with the kraken (taking a 1-die penalty for being underwater).

The rules for multiple opponenents in this system are fairly punishing - you have to split your dice - and I also forgot to give the kraken its full dice (I had imposed a 1-die penalty on it as it had to reach up with its tentacles to grab the not-fully-submerged knights, but clearly that shouldn't apply when a knight swims down to fight it). I used only a few dice against Sir Justin, and knocked him unconscious and had him failing drowning checks; but Sir Gerran rolled consistently better than my other pool and in the end killed the kraken with nothing but a knife, and in time to rescue Sir Justin who was bruised, and near-drowned, but not dead.

Sir Gerran is the best orator of the PCs, and gave an address to the assembled village-folk and soldiers of the order of St Sigobert expounding on his defeat of the kraken (which had earlier taken several villagers who had gone diving to recover goods from the shipwreck). We decided that this contribution to his reputation gave him an extra die in his appeal to the King to approve his pending wedding, and a further bonus die was acquired by sending a tentacle to the royal court to validate the tales of the tremendous size of the beast that he had defeated. I think a third bonus die was acquired from some other source - perhaps the good reputation of the Knights of St Sigobert? - because my memory is that the final check for royal approval was 6 dice (3 for Gerran's Presence +3 bonus dice) against a difficulty of 4. The check was successful, and so royal assent was received.

A ducal wedding clearly required some pageantry in the lead-up. So Sir Gerran hosted a tournament - initially there was some discussion of whether the prize might be the mere honour of victory, but I poo-pooed that somewhat from my position as referee. But there was no desire to spend money on it, as that was needed to support the order's crusading journey, and so it was decided to offer as the prize the fine warhorse that had been taken, in the previous session, from the Count of Toulouse. Reviewing the Tournament scenario in the Episode Book, I decided that this would be a four-round affair. Sir Gerran took the view that he could not participate in the joust, being the host, but both Sir Morgath and Sir Justin took part.

Sir Morgath was eliminated in the first round, although he did win one of his three jousts: he was rolling 8 dice (3 Brawn +5 for arms, armour and steed) against the 10 suggested by the Episode Book for the generic first round opponent. Sir Justin, on the other hand, had a remarkable streak of luck - he won the first three rounds despite having only 9 or occasionally 10 dice (4 Brawn +5 for arms, armour and steed +1 for the sometime successful riding check and when he spent his Gold Star for its 1x/session bonus die), although the opposition stepped up by 1 die in each round to 12 dice for the 3rd round. Even in the fourth and final round he won one of the three jousts against his 13 dice opponent, thus coming second in the tournament overall.

There was then a general melee, initially slated for 1 day. Sir Gerren decided that he would take part in this, leading the men of St Sigobert - as their martial - against the knights of France. The same scenario suggests 12 dice for the opponents in a melee, which - as per the rulebook - means elite mounted warriors. Sir Gerren in command had 6 dice (Presence 3 + Battle 3) and I decided that the leader of the other side would also roll 6 dice.

In this system, mass combat is resolved first by opposed command checks, to determine which side wins, and then by individual courage (ie Presence-based) and survival (ie Brawn-based) checks (based on bigger pools than commmand, because gear factors in, against - in this case - the 12 dice of opposition). The command rolls were tied - that is, no side prevailed - and I rolled only 5 successes on my 12 dice and and the playes all rolled fairly easy successes for their PCs' courage and survival. (And perhaps inadvertantly making up for my error with the kraken, I did not have them include their steeds in their pools, imagining the melee being on foot, although as per the outline just above I was rolling dice for the opposition as if they were mounted.)

A low roll on the opposition dice means that there is little thread in the battle, and so I narrated this as a day of melee where the French knights did not press hard, and so the PCs were little troubled although the overall matter was inclonclusive.

We therefore decided that another day's melee was called for. Once again the command checks were tied; but this time the 12 dice of opposition had 8 successes. The French knights weren't mucking about on the second day! Sir Morgath was badly harried (failed survival, though no unconsciousness) and left the field (failed courage, although again no unconsciousness). Sir Justin was not hurt (successful survival) but swooned in the fact of the French assault (dropped to zero on his courage check). But Sir Gerran succeeded at both his checks - which undoubtedly helped explain why the Sigobertians were able to resist such a strong assault by the French knights, as they rallied about their Marshall!

At this stage there was no question that a third day of melee was called for, to resolve the matter! The recovery rules in this system are entirely at the referee's discretion, with the suggestion that partial recovery means you get back half your dice, rounded up. I decided in this case that partial recovery was possible overnight, and so Sir Morgath took the field down 1 in Presence and Brawn, and Sir Justin took the field down 1 in Presence. Sir Gerran was at full strength.

This time Gerran's player lost the opposed command check - so the French knights had the better of it. And for individual opposition I rolled 9 successes on my 12 dice. Sir Morgath's player had no chance of beating that and didn't want to roll, but I insisted - with a maximum 6 dice success, which would count as seven (because full successes on a check adds 1 bonus success), he could keep his Presence loss to 2 and hence haev 1 Presence remaining. But his rolls were poor and he was taken down from behind by a French knight as he tried to withdraw from the field! Sir Justin's player also did not roll too well, although I can't remember the outcome now. But Sir Gerran's player was successful for both courage and survival, and so - even as his men were forced to leave the field - he remained there fighting in the name of St Sigobert, unbowed Marshall of his order! I awarded quite a bit of fame for this even though he did not actually win th melee, and it did seem to vindicate the King's decision to allow the wedding.

At some point during these various events I had told Sir Morgath's player that a messenger had returned from Britain with news that a token of Elizabeth was to come; and around now I told him that his huntsman Algol, recruited during the wedding festivities for Sir Justin had arrived accompanied by three women - Lady Elizabeth travelling somewhat incognito with two handmaidens. The messenger had told her of Sir Morgath's adventures and feats of derring-do, and she (being "Gullible about knights and noblemen" as per the NPC description in the scenario where she was introduced) had decided to come and join him in his adventures. I took the opportunity to remind Sir Morgath's player of his longing for Lorette (as the description of the Incite Lust special effect says, "This can be a cruel Special Effect to use, especially if the object of lust is unattainable" or, in this case, illicit) but he held firm. I can't now recall whether I insisted on any checks at this point, but one did come up later.

Meanwhile Lady Alia of Bordeaux, Gerran's bride, explained to him that while she had consented to wed him their marriage would be an unconsumated one. Sir Gerran (as portrayed by his player) accepted this - he saw the marriage as one of political convenience, not involving any sort of affection.

The day before the wedding there was a hunt. Sir Justin excused himself from this - he had had some bones of drowned Sigobertian soldiers recovered from the wreck of the ship that had brought the PCs to France (wrecked in the same context as the kraken-housing ship), and had commissioned a silver reliquary (gold being deemed too pricey) to house those bones as the first relics of the order, and was now going to spend the day praying over the reliquary in the newly-established shrine of St Sigobert, staffed by brothers sent from the home monastery in Britain who would now make up the Bordeaux chapter.

Sir Morgath rode with his huntsman and his wife, while Sir Gerran hunted with his trained falcon that had been a gift given to him by the Duke of York at Sir Morgath's wedding. Lady Lorette - who has Riding and Hunting skill - also joined the hunt, as did Lady Alia. I can't remember all the details of this, but Lady Alia rolled poorly while Sir Gerran rolled OK. And impressed both by his performance in the melee and his hunting prowess, Lady Lorette put the moves on him. I resolved this as his Presence vs her Presence + Glamourie, ruling that if she doubled his total the seduction was total. I can't remember now whether I offered him a bonus die for Alia being also nearby on the hunt; but I don't think Gerran's player took any bonus. Total seduction ensued, and the wedding the next day was a formal rather than exuberant affair.

(Sir Justin's player noted that he had had an inkling as to what the true "hunt" might be, hence his decision to pray instead.)

The King sent, as his wedding gift, a letter of passage good for travel from Marseilles to the east - which Sir Morgath's player, quite reasonably, interpreted as a "please leave my kingdom" request. And the players (and their PCs) were keen to continue on their crusading journey. And I awarded a Storyteller Certificate to Sir Gerran's player for his marriage.

As that player looked over the special effect options printed out on the certificat, he pondered how secure the changes would be that the PCs had made to the Duchy. Lady Alia had taken an oath to St Sigobert (in the previous session), and - as the player put it - Sir Gerran admired what she had achieved in her determination to maintain rule over her patrimony. But she was worried that she might return to her father's cruel ways. Sir Gerran had taken some steps to establish a system for the villagers to have their concerns heard at the ducal court, but these had not had time to become imbedded and enculturated in any way. And while their were brothers of St Sigobert - the Bordeaux chapter - there, they would perhaps face hostility from the established church hierarchy. After discussion with the other players, and reflection, he decided that what was really needed was Alia's personal loyalty to him (ie Sir Gerran) and his cause. So he spent his certificate to Incite Lust in her towards Sir Gerran. And so a few days after the wedding, the Lady Alia came to Sir Gerran to explain that her heart had warmed towards him, and that their marriage might be consumated after all.

She then expressed some desire to travel with Sir Gerran on his quest - she is battle-trained - but he persuaded her to stay and rule. (This was resolved as Sir Gerran's Presence vs difficulty factors that I set, I think using his Oratory at one point - from memory it took two or three attempts to persuade her, calling upon a different consideration each time.)

So when the PCs and their entourage (enlarged, as I rolled some relatively arbitrary dice to see how many new men, impressed by their chivalry and prowess, had joined their crusading mission) set out for Marseilles via Toulouse, they were confident that they had left the Duchy in as good a state as they could, under the rule of Lady Alia. Although Morgath's player was lamenting that if he had a Storyteller Certificate he would use it to Suppress Lust, so that Sir Morgath would be free of his longing for Lorette. When I suggested that my handling of the situation as referee, and the awarding of certificates, was fair, the player disputed that proposition - "But it is fun", he allowed.

At Toulouse, Sir Morgath persuaded Lady Lorette that she should stay there, where she was Countess and vassal to Sir Gerran's Duchy and Lady Alia. I think this involved checks, although I can't remember the details - I don't think it was that hard. But I did think that Lorette might seek a parting embrace, or more, from Sir Morgath her rescuer - and called for the same Presence vs Presence + Glamourie as had been rolled during the hunt. Morgath's player rolled 2 successes, while I rolled 3 - so no seduction in the strictest sense, but I did describe a passionate kiss. When Sir Morgath rejoined his entourage, Elizabeth noted his tousled hair but nothing more.

The group now struck out for Marseilles. We had a bit of time left in the session, and so I decided to use the episode The Oldest Part of the Forest, from the Episode Book.

As the PCs rode at the van of their party, they came across a middle-aged woman trying but failing to lead a cow into a barn. Sir Justin - who likes to remind anyone who will listen that St Sigobert, among other great deeds, brought water to the thirsty - offered her some water. But she retorted that she had plenty of water but needed help with her cow! Sir Gerran - who had been a commoner as a young man before being kninghted and marrying into his first wife's family - dismounted and offered to help. We rolled Brawn vs Brawn, 4 dice each, and Sir Gerran prevailed and the cow was properly housed. The woman then invited Sir Gerran to eat with her, and - as per the scenario description - fed him watery soup and the last of her bread. She explained that the forest adjoining her farm was a place of ill luck and evil spirits, with nothing of value for the local baron, and so a place where farmers could gather firewood. While doing such, a week or so ago, her husband Anwer had not returned from the forest - and without him she didn't think she could manage the farm.

After consulting with his troop, and sending them ahead - more footmen than horsemen and so relatively easy to catch up with - Sir Gerran and the other two PCs rode into the foreset to look for the missing husband. Sir Morgath also brought Algol his huntsman with him.

They found an abandoned (and poorly appointed) camp, and followed some tracks (successful Hunting + Presence) - Sir Justin, with Sir Gerran right behind him, looking out for signs of what large footprints suggested might be a troll.

The system allows a fair bit of referee leeway in framing scenes and using checks as part of that, and so I called for opposed Presence (+Hunting?, and with a bonus for being on the lookout) vs Brawn + Agility to see if the "troll" (as per the NPC write-up for the scenario, "in reality just a tall burly simpleton named Pennar") could succeed in ambushing Sir Justin - which he did, but to little avail as the dice consistently went against him (ie against me!). Sir Justin also succeeded on a Presence check to avoid terror at the sight of such a large and threatening attacker. When Sir Gerran rode up to see if Sir Justin needed help he also succeeded on his check against terror, and so I used the "troll"'s Knock an Opponent Senseless special effect - a blow from the "troll"'s club knocked Gerran unconcious from his horse! But Sir Justin was able to kill the "troll" solo.

Meanwhile Sir Morgath and Algol bypassed the troll fight to ride on and see who else was there. Morgath apprehended a woman, Rhan, who seemed to be some sort of bandit or outlaw. And who was expecting Adwer to be waiting for her in their cave storeroom/hideout (like the camp, also poorly appointed). Except he wasn't there - it turned out Adwer, the missing husband, had gone back to his house (Algol had followed him back there). As the PCs returned, the woman thanked Sir Gerren for rescuing her husband from the bandits!

The PCs could see that Rhan, whom Sir Morgath was escorting, was about to go forward to say something. Sir Morgath tried to get her to hold back with a glare, but the check tied. There was another tied check, I think - and Sir Morgath sought advice from Elizabeth his wife, who (having insight in the story, and the benefit of referee's knowledge at the table) could see better than Morgath's player what was going on. But still no successful check on (what I seem to recall was) a third attempt. I think Sir Gerran's player may have been following matters, but he was playing his PC who had been unconscious for much of the action and so didn't really know what was going on. It was Sir Justin who decided that it was better to let Anwer reconcile with this wife then facilitate eloping with Rhan, and so he swept Rhan up onto his horse and carried her off - Riding vs Brawn, with him having a bonus die because he serves God and God favours the keeping of wedding vows. She asked what had happened to her brother Pennar; Sir Justin answered that he had been beaten in combat. He told Rhan that she should join the Sigobertians on their trip to the Holy Land, and she agreed to do so (I think another check was successful for Justin's player) but not with any hope for happiness or wellbeing, being forced to leave her love Anwer behind, and her brother (Pennar the "troll") having been killed.

This scenario was less supernatural than the the players were anticipating, but seemed to fit with the established themes of the session (which is why I chose it for the last part of our session). The ill-omened character of the woods turned out to be poverty and the dashed hopes of lovers.

This is not the most "social" session I've ever run by any means, but it did have more romance and relationships than is typical for my group's RPGing. It's the system as much as the particular scenarios that brought that out. And it was interesting to see a player spend a fiat power on making a NPC fall in love with him, rather than on a combat outcome!

We got through all the above in a session of a little more than three hours, which I reckon is a pretty good pace of content, with unexpected outcomes, player-driven narrative, and a mix of satisfying resolutions and promises of more to come. So I'll finish this post by reiterating my commendation of this system to anyone who's looking for a "light" and "story"-focused fantasy/mediaeval RPG system.
 

Arilyn

Adventurer
@Arilyn, I think I remember you posting that you had picked up a PDF copy of Prince Valiant. Have you had a chance to play it yet?
I have read the game, and I really like it. Unfortunately, we haven't played it yet, but I'm still hoping to run a game before too long. Your play reports have been getting me back in the mood. I'm just going to have to arrange a game and do it, as there's no need for overly extensive prep.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm just going to have to arrange a game and do it, as there's no need for overly extensive prep.
Provided you've got players who are prepared to buy into the whole knightly/mediaeval/romance thing, then there really is no need for prep. You can just pick up one of the episodes that strikes your fancy and run with it.

In terms of playable structure I've so far found all of Greg Stafford's ones - in the core book - excellent. The ones in the Episode Book aren't universally quite as strong - as I've mentioned, Jeff Grubb's Mare's Lamp is somewhat shaky in story structure, and Rein* Hagen's is pretty railroad-y as presented. Also some of the NPCs in the Episode Book are a bit overdone in their stats and need some judicious trimming. But the Crimson Bull, Bilgewater Brigands, A Wild Hunt (the one with the crowmaster), the Wild Hunt (the one by Kenneth Hite), the Blue Cloak, and others in the Episode Book are all first-rate.

If you do end up playing, make sure you post about it!
 

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