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Played some more Prince Valiant


Three weeks ago my group played a session of Prince Valient. Yesterday we followed up with another one.

At the end of the last session, two PCs were unconscious in the forest, having been taken down by hounds of the Wild Hunt, while the third had failed to evade the Hunt until dawn and hence had been devoured and taken to hell, to serve as a hound of the Hunt. So that player had to write up a new PC, and we had a fourth player who also needed a PC.

I suggested that we might move into the "advanced" rules, which add some further skills to the list and allow non-knight PCs. So the player of the defeated knight wrote up a squire (mechanically, a knight with lesser starting gear and funds, but having a different social background) while the new player wrote up an itinerant performer of ambiguous gender (probably a woman pretending to be a man) - this aspect of the character being a mild protest against the game's default assumption of male protagonists.

I suggested that the two surviving PCs, upon their recovery, would notice that the inhabitants of the castle of Lady Joan of Kent were out looking to see what had happened to her (after all, no one else knew that she had murdered her husband and hence been taken to Hell by the Hunt) and her stable master (a role that was being filled by the PC that was taken by the Hunt). And obviously the two strangers who had recently taken up employment in the castle, and had last been seen riding out to the forest with spears, would be the number one suspects!

So we agreed that they would have travelled north to avoid capture, using their hunting and archery skills to live off the land, and perhaps spearing the occasional boar. I had brought my copy of Pendragon to the session (on the off chance that people wanted to play a mechanically heavier Arthurian game) and looking at the map of England decided that they had made their way to Warwick.

Feeling rather underequipped - knights without armour, and with no weapons but spears and bows - the PCs headed to the market. One of the players had asked about town walls, and I described some old walls in a degree of disrepair - I first characterised them as Roman, but then corrected that to "built by giants" - and in the market place who should these PCs come across but a teller of tales regaling the crowd with his tale of King Wendimyr (sp? as far as I know, this name exists only in the oral culture of our Prince Valiant game!) who in ancient days bargained with the giants to have them construct walls for the town.

I had flipped through the "episodes" (mini-scenarios) in my books and decided that one called "A Family in Despair" seemed suitable for this group of knights and non-knights: the scenario concerns Lady Gwinnith, whose knight husband is about to die of wounds sustained in a battle, and whose son is on trial for sorcery, with the consequence that she is likely to be without a male relative to hold her lands and hence vulnerable to an arranged marriage with the dastardly Sir Eobald (who is the accuser of her son). As written, it assumes that the PCs encounter the Lady and her daughters on the road as they head to the Castle of Count Claremond for the trial, and that she will ask a knight PC to speak on behalf of her son at the trial; but it seemed easy enough to adapt to the context of the town, by having the Count be the town's ruler. (I've just checked Wikipedia and apparently the mediaeval ruler of Warwick was an Earl rather than a Count, but none of my players called me on this!)

As the PC performer told the tale of King Wendimyr, I described a town crier entering the square to announce that, this afternoon, the trial of the young Hugh, son of Sir Hugh, would take place that afternoon. This led to the first dice roll of the session, as the player did not want his tale to be interrupted but rather wanted the crier to wait for him to finish - and with an opposed check succeeded at that, but tried to stay on the crier's good side by finishing his tale with the suggestion that Count Claremond was, in fact, a descendant of the great King Wendimyr.

After the crier then made his announcement, and headed back up the road to the castle, the crowd followed and so did the PCs. The squire PC - a merchant's son, native to Warwick, for whom a squire's title had been purchased but who is hoping to be knighted in due course - had been built with Dexterity skill, and one of the knight players had conjectured that he may well be a light-fingered squire. This conjecture was confirmed when the player asked how many coins he could collect by working the crowd as a pick-pocket as they thronged past him - and one successful Dexterity check later he was 20-odd pennies richer. (The entertainer made a similar amount from telling the tale.)

I then described the crowd parting as a group of women and their accompaying soldiers rode up the street towards the castle - Lady Gwinnith and her entourage. I described tear-streaked faces, and the entertainer was the first to address her - memory fails at to exactly what he said, but I think it was some sort of encouragement to take heart. This was then the trigger for me to declaim her lines from the written scenario: "Oh, that sly devil Eobald! I fear my son is doomed unless some brave man can defy the fiend before the court." And her daughter Violette added, "Is there no man daring enough to contest evil Sir Eobald’s false accusations?"

At this point, while but a moment passed in the fiction, there was much looking to and fro, and hemming and hawing, at the table. The players of the knights were worried that "trial" might mean "trial by combat", and they had no gear; while the player of the squire felt he was not of the right social station - and was also feeling a bit low in Arms skill (Brawn 3 and Arms 1 for a base pool of 1, compared to Brawn 4 and Arms 3 or 4 for the two knights, for base pools of 7 ror 8). The entertainer made a check to try and shame any knights present into coming forward, but rolled poorly despite having a bigger pool than the two knights were able to roll in opposition, and so no shaming took place. (I had told the players that successful shaming would drop their Presence, unless they did as they were being urged to do.)

In the end, though, valour got the better of discretion and the two knights came forward. When they were asked their names by Violette, they were rather shy about answering (being concerned that they might be identified as the refugees from Kent), and so she declared them to be Sir New (the son knight, Sir Justin) and Sir Old (the father knight, Sir Gerren). They mounted the horses they had been leading and road with the entourage up to the castle. There, Sir Eobald asked who these rustics were, pretending to be knights - although the two knight PCs have good Arms skill and passable Riding and Hunting, they have no Courtesie or other refined abilities, and are certainly not of any sort of noble bearing - and wondered whether they would be willing to meet him on the field of battle to prove their station. Sir Justin made a plea to Violette and Lady Gwinnith to provide him with arms and armour, but - the check failing, given the aforementioned lack of social skills - she declared that he had no need of such, for the law of God declares that no knight who is false can defeat one who is true! So Sir Justin mounted his horse unarmoured and tucked his spear under his arm. At this point the squire PC came forth to offer his services - both the general assistance a squire can provide, plus a lend of the shield and sword which he had as part of his starting gear - and this was gratefully accepted. The enterntainer also made a successful roll to whip up the crowd's support, granting a bonus die.

In our previous session the two knights, who have no Jousting skill, had suffered badly at the tournament they fought in, but this was not a sporting joust but rather an attempt by Sir Eobald to humiliate and perhaps kill them, and so the relevant skill was Arms and not Jousting, which served the players well. Sir Eobald and Sir Justin were fairly well matched dice wise, but my rolling was better and in a couple of tilts Sir Eobald was able to unhorse Sir Justin. At that point Sir Justin drew his sword, ready to fight on on foot. The entertainer tried to shame Sir Eobald, suggesting that a valorous knight would not fight on horseback against an unhorsed opponent, but Eobald (with a successful opposed check) dismissed this attempt by suggesting that "Sir New" was not worthy of confrontation as an equal, and then clocked Justin unconscious with his mace before saying more mocking and dismissive things about this so-called knight.

At that point things were looking rather poorly for Lady Gwinnith and her son, as Sir Gerren (as "Sir Old") was not going to step forward, but the other players persuaded him that he shouldn't let the slight to his family stand. Initially, he just rode up to Sir Eobald and asked him not to speak so of his son. Eobald tried to knock him from his horse (opposed Brawling check) but failed, and so another challenge was on! The squire, who had just dragged Justin from the field, quickly took the sword and shield to Sir Gerren. Gerren's player had the dice advantage against me playing Sir Eobald, due to his 4 ranks in Arms, but the first roll was tied - both lances shattered, leaving the two PC knights with just one spear between them - and the second roll went strongly Sir Eobald's way, dropping Gerren from 4 Brawn to 1 - bleeding from a wound to his side. But then with a mighty final roll, Sir Gerren was able to unhorse Sir Eobald and (with his Brawn of only 2) knock him cold.

(Having just reviewed the combat and injury rules I don't think we did this quite right - damage doesn't go to Brawn until other dice that are factored into the resolution, such as from arms and armour, have been lost - but that's what happens when you're new to a system!)

Sir Gerren had now earned the right to speak at court, as the champion of Lady Gwinnith. At this point he retired to rest, making a successful Healing check to bring his son back up to 1 Brawn, and then getting 2 back himself from Justin's successful check. (No self-healing in this system.)

After narrating a short "transition scene" - the PCs were able to wash and dress themselves in a corner of the outer hall - the action then turned to the Count's grand hall, where the young Hugh was in chains awaiting judgement. The scenario didn't give his age, but just described him as "a lad", so I decided he was about 12. It also didn't give him a name, which threw me a bit when I first had to have the crier name him, but it turned out that the decision to give him his father's name (which is given in the scenario) worked out well.

The witnesses who were called over several hours of the trial talked about the boy's reading of fortunes in the entrails of birds, and also about his talking with his cat. (The scenario descibes the evidence of "the boy performing" as including "speaking to a black cat, and telling fortunes.") I didn't spend much time narrating this, but did embellish one of the witnesses talking about the cat adressing the boy by name, going "Heeewww". The player of the entertainer found this especially absurd, and (in character) started a chant in the crowd of "Call the cat!", "Call the cat!" and with a successful check against a fairly high difficulty this persuaded the Count to adjourn proceedings until the cat itself could be collected as a witness. A party of Lady Gwinnith's men-at-arms set out to do just this, accompanied by Violette as the one who could identify the cat. Sir Justin and his squire rode with this group to ensure Violette's safety, although I made the player of the injured Sir Justin to make a Brawn check, which he failed, and so he swooned in the saddle on the way back and had to be strapped into his saddle by his squire - this was the beginning of their rivalry to get the attention of (to quote the scenario) the "lovely" Violette.

The cat having been brought to the trial, one of the churchmen present began to examine it. The relevant skill to coax a sound out of an animal is Naturalitie, which is rolled with Presence, and I though that the best the clerics could do in this respect would be an Abbot with a total of 6 dice (Presence, plus some memories of herding from his youth). I set the difficulty at 4 ("Difficult" in the nomenclature of the system, one above the "Normal" difficulty of 3) and rolled my dice, which came up with 4 successes. So after being poked and prodded and harangued by the Abbot, the cat called out "Heeewww".

(The player of the squire was heard to remark, perhaps in character, "It's a good thing his name's not Reginald.")

Around this point the entertainer tried another stint of rabble-rousing - I think to mock the Abbot as a sorcerer who could speak with cats - but his check failed by two and he was thrown out of the castle on his *rse. But then, when the Count asked "is there anyone who will speak up forthis lad before our verdict is announced?" Sir Gerren got to his feet. He made a barbed remark about his duel with Sir Eobald, and I took that to be a sufficient sign of conviction and sincerity to get a bonus die. This added to his 3 base Presence dice, his +1 Presence for wearing his fine clothes after he scrubbed up in the outer hall, and +2 dice conferred by Lady Gwinnith's special ability to Inspire a Character to Greatness. He rolled his 7 dice against the difficult of 4 set by the scenario, and got the four successes that he needed. So the Count accepted his representation that cats sometimes made that same sound even south of Kent, and that the young Hugh was no more a sorcerer than the Abbot. So the boy was set free.

The PCs were then invited to join Lady Gwinnith at her castle, where they spent a couple of seasons before the wanderlust took hold of them again. Sir Hugh - Gwinnith's husband - died early on in the period of their stay, making the Lady regent for her young son. We worked out a bit more backstory for the father-and-son knights - Sir Gerren was not of noble birth but had been knighted and then married into a local family of minor nobility, but upon his wife's death had lost her estates and hence ended up on the road with his son. Both the scenario and the situation at our table suggested that wooing Lady Gwinnith might be on the cards, but Gerren's player showed no real interest in this, prefering to tutor the young Hugh on how to be a knight and how not to get in trouble for playing with his pets.

Sir Justin and the squire both compted for Violette's attention, but the initial set of rolls was tied; and then when they sat down to discuss the situation man-to-man over some ales the Presence + Fellowship rolls likewise tied. So neither yielded to the other, and she enjoyed the romantic attention of both of them.

When the session started I'd actually identified another scenario - one involving actual sorcery - that I might run if time permitted, but in the end we had no extra time after the resolution of the trial and the sojourn at Lady Gwinnith's castle. So if there's a next session for Prince Valiant I'll use it then.

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