More Prince Valiant Actual Play

pemerton

Legend
We continued our Prince Valiant campaign today. We've got one more session before I head off for about 8 weeks travel, and I'd been hoping to do one Prince Valiant, one Classic Traveller, but I have a feeling our last session of the year may be more Prince Valiant - it's proving far more popular than I anticipated when I pulled it out a few months ago to fill an inquorate session.

I'll sblock a session report, and then post some thoughts about system and play.

[sblock]The last session had finished with Sir Justin, "the Gentle", successfully wooing the lovely Lady Violette (of a noble family outside Warwick), and so this session started with the preparation for the wedding. I combined two scenarios from the Episode Book - Marriage, But Only for the Right Reasons and The Defenstration of Prag.

Sir Gerran, Sir Justin's father, successfully negotiated for a suitable dowry from the Count of Warwick who is the liege lord of Violette's mother (her father having died in the second session) - a small manor that would support the couple.

As per the Marriage episode, I established an unpleasant rival knight - Sir Merin - who was vexed at not getting to marry Violette, and was turning his attention instead to her lady-in-waiting Lady Glesig. At the evening's dancing, Sir Justin danced with grace (max successes on the Brawn check, I think) while Sir Merin danced rather poorly. So the least fight-y, most talk-y of the PC knights - Sir Morgath - who had previously also been wooing Violette but was now married to Elizabeth of York, and who had continued to fail in his attempts to mend things between himself and Violette, did succeed in jibing Merin. In the next day's hunt, Sir Merin fell behind (suffering penalties due to his rage, and also because Morgath persuaded the stablehands to feed his horse the wrong fodder, so that it would be poorly behaved); Sir Gerran and Sir Justin rode ahead but lost the trail of the boar for a while; while Sir Morgath on foot, and leading a band of spear carriers, encountered a rough man from the north who was also trying to catch himself a boar - he recruit the northerner (to be his huntsman) and then tackled the boar with his men as the other PC knights arrived on the scene. In the end, after a series of tied rolls - to arrive on the scene, to rush the boar, and maybe one other I'm forgetting - it was Sir Gerran who got the kill.

Walking through the streets of Warwick warming up for the wedding, the PCs came across a NPC knight - the slightly aged Sir Prag - being thrown out the window of an inn. It turned out a group of foreigners (a Viking, a French knight, and a Greek poet/scholars) had had a falling out with Sir Prag over whether or not British knights are the flower of chivalry. It turned out that Sir Jean had returned from crusading, and had picked up some companions on his travels. He had met Sir Lionheart, the self-proclaimed greatest of British knights, in the Holy Land, but had heard that Lionheart was now dead.

When it came out that one of the PCs - Sir Morgath - had killed Sir Lionheart, Sir Jean expressed his excitement at meeting him in the lists (at the tournament that was to be part of the wedding festivities).

Sir Justin, meanwhile, learned from Homer (the scholar/poet) of the wonders of Byzantium, making him keen to travel to the east on a crusade.

The tournament saw, in the first round, Sir Gerran vs Sir Prag ("age-based categories" quipped Sir Gerran's player), which Sir Gerran won handily. Sir Jean faced and easily beat Sir Morgath (in the fiction, Morgath beat Lionheart only by luck, a splinter from a shattered lance having passed through his eyeslit into his eye and brain; mechanically, the player had spent a Storyteller Certificate to secure his win) - a successful Courtesie check allowed Sir Morgath to lose with grace, and Sir Jean and he agreed to toast Sir Lionheart together that evening. Sir Justin faced Sir Merin, and continued his losing streak in jousts even though Merin was still unbalanced by rage. It was Sir Gerran vs Sir Merin next, and again Gerran won without too much trouble. Before the joust Sir Gerrin had suggested that whoever lost would give his steed as a gift to Justin - who until then did not have a quality warhorse - and so Sir Justin was happy with the outcome!

So (per GM fiat) the final joust was Sir Gerran vs Sir Jean. Sir Jean had 12 dice (4 for brawn, 3 for skill, 2 for armour, 1 for lance, 1 for horse, and 1 for success at riding). Sir Gerran had 11 (4 for brawn, no jousting skill - Sir Gerran does not practice fighting with rebated weapons!, 3 for armour, 1 for lance, 1 for horse, 1 for success at riding, and a morale die for having been the one who killed the boar). Sir Gerran won on the opposed check and unhorsed Sir Jean! - but then (as per his description in the scenario) Sir Jean requested that Sir Gerran meet him on foot with sword.

Sir Gerran duly dismounted and the two fought on foot - 13 dice for Sir Gerran (4 for brawn, 4 for arms skill, 3 for armour, 1 for sword, 1 for morale) and 9 for Jean (4 for brawn, 3 for arms, 2 for armour, 1 for sword, -1 for the bruise he suffered when unhorsed). Gerran's player rolled 8 (I think) successes, but I threw 9 dice for 9 successes, which as per the rule for max success counted for 10 - Sir Jean outfought him! Sir Gerran could have fought on, but fighting to the death seemed distateful on the eve of his son's wedding, so he had to concede victory to Sir Jean and French knighthood.

Sir Gerran's player was cursing himself - Why did I do it? - but concluded that he'd kept going not out of a sense of chivalry but because he was enjoying rolling his dice pool! But he also lost with grace, inviting Sir Jean to join the wedding party. So everyone was making friends except Sir Merin - I had Justin's player roll dice for the Greek poet who was himself romancing with Glesig but - recognising that she would not get together with a non-knight - in the end enjoyed baiting Merin by bringing Glesig and Jean together. Indeed, Jean and Glesig announced their own betrothal in due course, but Sir Justin succeeded (successful Courtsie check) in persuading them to delay the wedding until after Justin and Violette's.

Just days before the wedding was to take place, a message came from the woodfolk - in a previous session the PCs had interrupted a forest wedding by rescuing the abbot whom the forest bandits (Robin Hood-types) were trying to kidnap so as to officiate at it. Now the request came - Surely Sir Justin could afford to pay the abbot to officiate at the wedding of Ethan and Bethany so they would not have to live in sin? Sir Morgath wanted that wedding to happen first, so he could go to it and avoid Sir Justin's: he was still quite uncomfortable in Violette's company, and Lady Elizabeth hadn't yet arrived from York despite his messages to her - ie he failed two separte checks to have her arrive and help smooth over his social situation, and she turned up only after the wedding. But in the opposed check Sir Justin's player succeeded and his wedding was to be first. So in the end they were married - Violette was not happy having Morgath as lead groomsman, but a successful speech helped smooth things over, and Sir Gerran followed up also with a fine speech.

After the wedding, life was consolidated - Violette fell pregnant (we consulted the Pendragon tables for this, but they seemed a bit over the top so a simple Brawn check was deemed sufficient!), and Elizabeth gave birth to Morgath's heir - a check on the Pendragon table indicated it to be a boy. With his family line secure, Morgath now felt free to head out on more adventure; and Sir Justin had caught the crusading bug and persuaded the abbot to draw up rules for a new fighting order, the Order of St Sigobert (who members, obviously, need not be chaste). Sir Justin was the master, Sir Gerran the marshall, and an oratory check from Sir Gerran's player allowed him to recruit 16 members. So the PCs plus retinue rode off to the coast to find a ship to take them to Byzantium and the crusades.

In the previous session they had rode off the same way to fight Saxon raiders, but got distracted by the crimson bull, and so when they now arrived at the coast they could hardly complain about Saxon raiders on the coast beseiging a fort! This was the Robin Laws scenario in the Episode Book, Fort Seahawk.

The PCs could sea the seige from a rise above a beach, and also the Saxon ships at anchor in the bay, and so decided to fire the ships. (Which Laws anticipates in his scenario.) They came up with the plan that Justin and Gerran, who both have archery skill, would fire flaming arrows while Sir Morgath would row out in a coracle that was on the beach with a flaming brand. This mostly worked, and Sir Morgath overpowered a Saxon guard, knocking him into the water and torching the nearest vessel while flaming arrows fell into the further ship. But then - for reasons that were a bit unclear to me - Sir Morgath decided to swim back to shore, and the second Saxon guard (whom he knew about) was able to follow him in the coracle and catch him and take him prisoner! (Morgath's fighting stats aren't super-good, and his player didn't roll very well.) This prompted the two other knights to call down their cavalry to attack the Saxon flank to try and rescue Sir Morgath - which required pulling out the mass battle rules.

I used the Saxon Warband scenario from the main rulebook to get Saxon stats, though reduced their numbers from the 100 that's written there to a force double the size of the PC's band. Unfortunately neither Justin nor Gerran had Battle skill at that point (Gerran developed it at the end of the session). At first the knights of St Sigobert fought bravely and were not repelled by the Saxons - but in the second round Sir Gerran was out-generalled by the Saxon leader, and Sir Gerran and Justin themselves retreated (both had Presence reduced to zero in the mass combat process, and also suffered loss to Brawn from fighting). We decided that 5 of their retinue were also lost - a pretty terrible defeat.

But as luck would have it, at that moment a band of soldiers lead by Sir Vroca rode down the slope to rout the Saxons - it turned out that Vroca was younger brother to the lord of the castle, and a better knight and leader, who had turned up in the knick of time. And when this happened Morgath (with a successful presence check from his player) heard the Saxon chieftain complain about "Vroca the treacherous".

The PCs were invited to receive hospitality in the castle by the brother, Ora, although Vroca seemed none to happy about it. Sir Morgath approached Ora in private to ask him the meaning of the Saxon chieftain's words, but a failed check meant that Ora took the matter to Vroca, who insisted on a duel to prove his innocence. Sir Justin agreed to fight him at dawn; and meanwhile Morgath - with the help of the castle chamberlain (successful Fellowship check) tracked down his Saxon slave who had left the hall during the hubbub looking rather suspicious, and in return for a promise of baptism and safety as a soldier of St Sigobert learned that Vroca had had his servant convey a message to the chieftain that this day would be a good one for a raid, as Vroca and most of the castle force would be out hunting. (It was amusing that Sir Justin's player worked out pretty quickly that this must be what had happened - whereas even though it was Sir Morgath who was actually eliciting most of the information, he and his player were somewhat confused by what was going on, and why Vroca was so angry, until the slave spilled the beans.)

When dawn came, Sir Justin jousted with Sir Vroca and continued his losing streak - he avoided being unhorsed but in 3 rides was clearly defeated. They both started with 14 dice each (Sir Justin was down a point of Brawn, but had a bonus dice after praying to St Sigobert), but Justin got much the worse of the death sprial, and his player concluded that there was no point continuing on foot. So he proclaimed Sir Vroca's innocence, and the knights of St Sigobert rode on to find passage. It was some days later that news came to them that Ora had suffered a tragic accident, and Vroca was now the ruler of Fort Seahawk.

This was only the second real loss for the players in this campaign, after being defeated by the Wild Hunt in the first session.[/sblock]

This system is very flexible: though there are default stat-skill pairs (eg Stealth is tested with Brawn) it is easy to mix and match these as appropriate (eg Stealth + Presence for Sir Morgath to find Ora in the castle without drawing attention to himself). Resolution can be single opposed or extended - we mostly use single opposed except for fights to the death. Recovery of penalties is very flexible, but not completely arbitrary as the fiction provides a guide.

There's no need to keep track of time - my sense is that a couple of years have passed over our six sessions, but there's no need to keep careful track of it. And travel, likewise, can be as simple as "You're there" or can be a call for ride checks, hunting checks, etc, as pacing and interest suggest. Indeed there's really no resource management at all to speak of - the PCs gain and spend gps but they're mostly colour, and equipment is something you either have (if you've won it from another knight in a joust) or you don't (if vice versa, which has happened more than once in our six sessions).

The scenarios - both from the core book and the Episode book - are very nicely done. The NPCs are drawn in pretty broad strokes - so there's no real confusion over what role they're playing in the story - but there is scope for nuance to emerge in play, like the arrogant but chivalrous Sir Jean being befriended by the PCs in our session. The backstory is rich enough to provide some options for the players, but it emerges nicely in play so there's not generally a sense of "looking around" for the plot - the players can make choices for their PCs with confidence about what they're choosing to do, and what that will mean in the game.

I'm frankly surprised that Pendragon seems to have a much bigger following than this game. I know (from the author's commentary in the rulebook - I've got the 5.2 edition) that Greg Stafford regarded Pendragon as his masterpiece, but Prince Valiant gives the same Arthurian/chivalric experience with a fraction of the mechanical overhead and a much more lighthearted spirit that seems to fit a game of romantic chivalry.

I would very strongly recommend it to anyone who hasn't tried it, and who enjoys mediaeval-type RPGing driven by character and relatively light-hearted situation rather than resource management and puzzle-solving.
 

darkbard

Explorer
Can you say a little more, [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION], about character archetype choices? From reading these reports, it is clear one can play a knight (duh), and one of your players has chosen a wandering minstrel type. What other archetypes are permissible in the game?
 

pemerton

Legend
[MENTION=1282]darkbard[/MENTION]

Character build is pretty simple - choose an occupation and give your character a name and description. Then assign 7 points across Brawn and Presence (max 6 to any one), then assign 9 points to six skills. You start with a base 500 fame.

The default occuption, as you say, is knight. Knights need at least 1 rank in each of Arms and Riding; start with a coat of arms; and start with a standard set of equipment (arms and armour, horses, fine clothes, some coins). Because being knighted is worth 300 fame, a knight PC starts with 800 fame.

The "advanced" rules add skills to the list, and allow other archetypes. A squire or man-at-arms also must start with Arms and Riding, starts with lighter armour, no fine clothes and less coin. One of the knight PCs in my game started as a squire before being knighted by Sir Lionheart - the player wanted a backstory (being the son of a wealthy town family hoping to get ahead by marrying into the nobility) which didn't suit being a knight.

Other "advanced" archetypes are vikings (similar gear to a squre, must have Arms and Shiphandling), monks (little gear, must have Oratory and Read/Write Latin), merchants (modest gear including some pack animals and their load, must have Bargaining and Money Handling), and hunters (simple gear, must have Hunting and Naturalitie). Further possibilities that are flagged but are said (p 58) to be "not always appropriate" include peasants (very little gear, must have Crafting and Farming, may not have Riding or Arms at start), slaves and thieves (GM left to work out the details).

Because PC build is so straightforward, it's easy to come up with other archetypes. When one player wanted to play an itinerant performer, I could easily indicate Poetry/Song and Dexterity as two require skills, leaving the player to sort out the rest; and come up with some starting equipment (a little bit of money, a suit of colourful clothes and some juggling knives).

Page 58 has the following advice: "Pick an occupation that you think will be amusing to play, but pick something reasonable and appropriate for your Chief Storyteller’s campaign setting." Page 59 goes on to discuss playing "exotic" characters (eg "a Chinese martial artist, an African witch doctor, an Aztec maiden, and a Mohawk warrior") and gives advice on how to handle female characters within the context of a pseudo-historical game (the player of the performer was motivated to play a gender-ambiguous character in part because of irritation at the book's approach to female PCs).

So anyway, as you've probably worked out by now, the system limit on archetype comes out of the skill list (which in turn reflects setting and genre). In particular, there are no sorcerous skills - Alchemie (p 60, "[a]lchemical creations never violate the laws of science as we know them, though the alchemist and the user of the creation may firmly believe that they do"), Lore and Mathematics are as close to a D&D-type sage/wizard as the system gets.

Pages 50 and 52 say the following about magic in the game:

Storytellers must determine how much magic will exist in their campaign. Always reserve the right to use both real and pseudo-supernatural creatures, spells, and charms. Consistency is not necessarily absolute: Fake magicians would certainly exist in a realm where real magicians thrived. . . .

[T]he existence of powerful magic ought to be a rare and unusual event, concentrated in the hands of specialists like Morgan le Fay and Merlin the Magician. Note that there is no magical skill available in the Adventurer creation process. This ensures that only you, the Storyteller, have access to effective magic in the game, should you want it. . . .

The Storyteller should determine how real monsters are in his campaign. As with other supernatural events, the line may be crossed back and forth with different stories. The existence of both real and fake trolls, for instance, will keep Adventurers cautious until they determine whether the monster can be defeated by simple force of arms, as in the case of fake trolls, or whether they must resort to trickery. Trickery is the only solution against magical monsters which are too tough to combat directly.​

I would say that my game has been at the more magic-heavy end - in the first session there was the Wild Hunt, in the third session the somewhat supernatural abilities of the crowmaster, and in the fifth session the evil spirit bound into the crimson bull and then the ghost, and the blessing of St Sigobert that helped in both situations. The only pseudo-magic has been the trial of Lady Violette's young brother for sorcery in the second session, which had the cat being called as a witness (it had been said to speak the boy's name, "Hugh" - as the player of the squire commented, it was lucky for the accusers that the boy's name was not Reginald).

Sir Gerran's player - who plays the archer ranger/cleric demigod in my 4e game - especially enjoyed the crimson bull episode, because of the ambiguity over the supernatural forces at work. He compared it very favourably to his current 5e game (that he plays with a different group)!
 

darkbard

Explorer
Very cool! That sounds more flexible than I was imagining from these write ups, which, because of character focus, default to knightly tropes by and large.
 

pemerton

Legend
That sounds more flexible than I was imagining from these write ups, which, because of character focus, default to knightly tropes by and large.
As you'll have seen from my writeups I'm leaning heavily on the published scenarios ("episodes" of 1 to 3 pages), though obviously merging and tweaking to generate consistency across the campaign. And those scenarios tend to emphasis knightly stuff because that's the game's default.

I think you could probably do quite an amusing urban/thieves game using this system - instead of Riding and Arms as the preeminent physical skills it would be Agility, Dexterity and Stealth; and Courtesie would be less important while Glamourie woud be used less for romancing and seduction and more for gulling fools out of their money.

The game is always going to be pretty light-hearted, I think - if you want grim knights and/or gritty thieves, go with Burning Wheel!

And in defence of knightliness - shaking a pool of 14 dice in your hands provides a satisfying emulation of the thunder of hooves as the horses charge down the lists; and then there's the crash as you drop them on the table! Greg Stafford was onto something there!
 

darkbard

Explorer
And in defence of knightliness - shaking a pool of 14 dice in your hands provides a satisfying emulation of the thunder of hooves as the horses charge down the lists; and then there's the crash as you drop them on the table! Greg Stafford was onto something there!
There is certainly something to be said for mimesis over representation (if I may be so loose with terminology)!
 

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