Prince Valiant actual play - our most recent sessions

pemerton

Legend
Our last two sessions of Prince Valiant have seen the PCs trying to make their way from France to the Holy Land.

The first of these saw the PCs (and entourage) arriving at Marseille, where they arranged to take ship using the letters of passage that had been gifted them by the King of France as a wedding present. There were three phases to this session:

(1) The PCs gathered some intelligence in Marseilles - about sailing conditions, pirates etc. Unfortunately the key check here (by the travelling minstrel PC) was a bust, and so the PCs inadvertently recruited a spy for Arab pirates sailing from North Africa and Mediterranean islets. In our approach to play this is not secret GM knowledge - the players know but their PCs proceed in ignorance.

(2) Sailing towards Sicily on two galleys, the PCs were indeed attacked by pirates! This was tricky to resolve for a couple of reasons. First, the system has mass combat rules which are highly workable, but no naval rules and so I had to adapt the mass combat rules for the naval situation which was a bit tricky. And second, the PCs were neither captaining nor crewing their vessels, and so their influence over the vessels had to be framed and resolved as social checks (to get the captai to hold his course) which required some additional mechanical ad hocery to make it all fit together. In the end I wasn't entirely satisfied but I think the players found it OK, and they did capture a pirate ship and tow it behind them into the Sicilian harbour.

(3) Having arrived in Sicily as pirate-quelling heroes, the PCs and their band got a good reception. This included an invitation to dinner by a local dignitary, Sir Ainsel - which was in fact the entry into an episode from The Episode Book, the Feast of Sir Ainsel. Except instead of Sir Ainsel being a rogue who serves an enemy of Camelot (as per the published scenario) he was a rogue in league with the pirates who would happily try and stop crusaders reaching the Holy Land. As per the scenario, he tried to get the PCs drunk (which worked for at least one - the drunk Sir Morgath at one point proclaimed Lorette of Lothian, Lady of Toulouse, as his love, rather than his wife Elizabeth (who was sitting with him at the dining table); I can't now remember about the other knights).

However, rhe minstrel Twillany remained sober, and when he saw the treacherous host about to strike he threw a dagger at him, rolled very well (from memory seven successes on seven dice) which killed Sir Ainsel outright. Sir Aninsel's servitors then fled, with the inebriated Sir Morgath giving chase - only to find himself bushwhacked by them when they were able to regroup in an old temple on the outskirst of town, meaning that he woke up in the morning with his jewelled sword gone. Attempts to track it down (ie Presence checks performing a similar function to a Streetwise check in D&D or Traveller) failed.

Meanwhile Twillany assured Elizabeth that Morgath's proclamation of love for Lorette was only a ruse designed to gull Sir Ainsel into thinking that he was drunk and harmless. And the Sir Justin and Sir Gerran took possesion of Ainsel's house and contents in the name of their order.

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

The second of these two sessions - which we played on Sunday - began with the decision to liquidate all assets (incuding the captured pirate ship) on the grounds that the PCs didn't have the resources to maintain a chapter house of their order in Sicily.

They then set sail again.

Exercising GM fiat, I declared that as they were crossing between Italy and the Balkan Peninsula the storms were incredibly fierce, and the captain of their ships decided to cut his losses, and dock and sell his cargo in Dalmatia. The PCs therefore set of on the overland trek to Constantinople.

This was a fairly obvious contrivance to seed some scenarios. The players didn't object.

The core rulebook has three scenarios that involve fighting Huns, and I used the first of them: the PCs and their band (by this point 13 mounted men-at-arms plus the three knight PCs, and 42 footmen) were crossing through fairly rough and mountainous country when they were set upon by a band of 50-odd Huns. I allowed the player of the Grand Master PC - Sir Justin - to make a Battle check to take up an effective formation in the rough terrain and he succeeded, putting the Huns at a -1 die penalty.

The way the scenario is written it assume resolution via single combat, but this was clearly going to be a mass combat, and I improvised stats for the Hun leader (making sure he was weaker than the notorious Hun leader who figures in the third of these Hun-fighting scenarios). I had also decided (via extrapolation from the scenario set-up) that there were 20-odd huns in an ambushing flanking manouevre, but asked the player of the Marshall PC - Sir Gerran - to make a Presence check to notice them,which he did, and so we resolved the massed battle in two parts: the Grand Master leading the main force (around 60%) while the Marshall led the remainder of the forces on the flank, without the benefit of the terrain penalty to the Huns.

I asked the other two players what their PCs were doing - Sir Morgath joined Sir Justin in the main force, while Twillany, wearing a dress, stayed with the camp followers behind the line of battle, but looking for a chance to throw an opportune knife.

I probably should have resolved it flank first, to see whether or not the ambushing force broke through, then the main force, but didn't think of that at the time, and so resolved it in the opposite order. The main force was victorious in every respect - Sir Justin easily bested the Hun leader in opposed Battle checks for command, and both he and Sir Morgath succeeded on their personal checks to avoid any harm in the fighting.

Meanwhile Twillany waited to take a Hun leader by surprise with a dagger. But Twilllany's player failed the Disguise check and so the Hun noticed that this person in a dress was drawing a dagger to throw at him - and so it turned into a melee between the two, which Twillany won. I wa sufficiently amused by the Hun leader being defeated in single combat by the dagger-wielding minstrel masquerading as a camp follower that I gave Twillany's player a Storyteller certificate (which allows a one-off fiat declaration by the player from a fairly wide-ranging list of options).

And the rolls for the flank were also very successful, with the Hun ambuhsers completely routed and Sir Gerran completely successful not only in command (reducing the opposed command pool to zero in a single roll) but also personally.

The mounted soldiers in the main force pursued the main group of fleeing Huns and easily defeated them (I reduced the remaining command dice to reflect the fact that Twillany had killed their leader), capturing a large number as they fled back to their camp, and taking their supplies and yurts. Sir Justin failed in a Healing check to save the lives of injured soldiers on his side, and so the forces were slightly depleted, but Sir Gerran gave a speech to the captured Huns explaining the greatness of St Sigobert and the order's cause and made a very successful Oratory roll, with the result that 32 Huns joined the PCs' forces, giving them a highly useful mounted archery capability.

The PCs and their warband continued their crossing south-east - and (as I narrated it) found themselves on the edge of a heavy forest somewhere in the vicinity of Dacia (=, in our approximaring geography, somewhere in the general area of modern-day Transylvania - I haven't checked yet to see how butchering of the map this is).

I asked the PCs who would be with the four of them if they were scouting ahead to verify whether the band could pass safely through the forest, and they nominated their two NPC hunters - Algol the Bloodthirsty who is in service to Sir Morgath, and Rhan, the woman who had joined them at the end of the last session I posted about.

I was using the Rattling Forest scenario from the Episode Book, and described the "deep and clawing shadows [that[ stretch across the path, and the wind [that] rattles through the trees." The PCs soon found themselves confronted by a knight all in black and wearing a greatsword, with a tattered cape hanging from his shoulders, and six men wielding swords and shields, their clothes equally tattered. The scenario description also mentions that they have "broken trinkets and personal effects" and I described rings and collars that were worn, notched and (in some cases) broken. The description of the collars was taken by the players as a sign that these were Celts (wearing torcs), and I ran with that.

The scenario gives the following account of the Bone Laird and his Bone Knights:

The Rattling Forest is haunted and cursed, as the soldiers who died in the service of a forgotten lord restlessly roam its boughs. All who would travel through the Forest must deal with the Bone Laird and his Bone Knights.

There are two ways to remove the curse from The Bone Laird: by defeating him in a combat to the death; or if the Adventurers can convince him to leave his sword in the forest and travel away with them. In either case, the curse will be broken, laying the Bone Laird and all his Bone Knights to rest, as they forsake their eternal battle. . . .

The Bone Laird demands all who would traverse his forest first free him of the curse. If questioned, he does not know how such can be accomplished. . . .

If the Adventurers can bring the Bone Laird low . . . they will have done a great and good deed. Instead of defeating the Bone Laird in combat, they may convince him to leave his sword and the forest and break the curse. This is not an easy matter as the Bone Laird does not want to be tricked away from the forest. Still, here are the kinds of arguments the Adventurers can make to convince him:

*Convince him the answer to his curse is with Merlin and he should visit the wizard.

* Tell him he just needs to visit the Healing Waters found at the mouth of the river Glein.

* He must visit the seat of his former lord and receive forgiveness from its current occupant.​

Sir Justin was the first to speak, in (Old) English, and asked the black knight to let him pass. But the Bone Laird (being an ancient Celt) could not understand. I then had the Bone Laird address the PCs, telling him that they may not pass him and his men: his geas was to kill all who tried to go thorugh the forest. Because he was speaking an ancient form of Celtish - not the British the PCs are fluent in - a roll was called for on Presence + Lore. Sir Morgath and Twillany succeeded. The ensuing back-and-forth established that the Bone Laird could not recall the origin of his geas; but Twillany tried to persuade him that he should lay down his burdens and let these good Celtic folk pass. I set the difficulty at (I think) 4, with 3 successes getting some of the way there (partial successs is not an official thing in Prince Valiant, but is a device I've been using a bit). Three successes were rolled, and so the Bone Laird agreed to let the women - whom it would be dishnourable to fight and kill - pass. So Twillany (whose gender is indeterminate and whose sex is not known to anyone either in the fiction or at the table except her(?)self and perhaps the player) and Rhan were able to pass.

The players, and at least some of the PCs, had decided that there must be something in the forest that would be the anchor or locus of the curse, and Twillany's player spend the earlier-awarded Storyteller Certificate to Find Something Hidden ("An item which is lost, hidden, or otherwise concealed is discovered almost by accident by a character. The thing
must be relatively close at hand, and the character must be searching for it at the moment.").

The publsihed scenario doesn't say anything about this, so I had to make something up: as Twilland and Rhan were riding along the path deeper into the forest, Twillany's horse almost stumbled on something unexpected underfoot. Inspection revealed it to be a great tree stump that had been cut close to the ground, levelled and smoothed, and engraved with a sigil very like one that Twillany had noticed on the Bone Laird's cloak as the two women had ridden past him. It seemed to be a mysteriously preserved wooden dais of an ancient house or stronghold - and looking about it there were still visible signs of posts and postholes of a steading wall.

There is no player-side magic in Prince Valiant - as per the rulebook, "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." When Twillany's player declared that Twillany was trying to make sense of the dais and its sigil, I called for a Lore + Presence check, which succeeded. I narrated the images Twillany experienced, of a happy place in the forest welcoming and full of life, that had then been overrun by and suffered the depredations of Goth and Roman and Hun, with the upshot being sorrow and desolation.

The resolution here was unfolding fairly quickly, and I can't remember all the details. At one point there was a Poetry/Song check as Twillany recited a piece of appropriate verse (which Twillany's player was making up for the purpose). But the upshot was that Twillany's player decided that the curse couldn't be lifted simply by working on the dais - the Bone Laird would have to be brought back there to confront it (this was therefore our version of "He must visit the seat of his former lord and receive forgiveness from its current occupant").

Twillany and Rhan therefore returned to where they had left the Bone Laird, his warriors and the other PCs. But (as I stipulated) before they could get back matters there had to be resolved.

Sir Justin had the idea of converting these ancient Celtic ghosts to Christianity and the reverence of St Sigobert - "a Celtic saint" as he emphasised several times - and he also thought that their bones could be put in the reliquary that had been made for martyrs of the order a few sessions ago. Sir Morgath dispatched Algol to bring the reliquary back from the main body of the PC's band, while Sir Justin drew his blessed silver dagger of St Sigobert to begin the attempt. Unforunately his roll was a bust, and the Bone Laird interpreted this as a threat and so attacked him. The resuling combat was brutal for Sir Justin, who was started with 13 dice (4 Brawn, 4 Arms, 3 armour, 2 for the magic weapon) vs the Bone Laird's 16 (7 Brawn for his supernatural strength, 4 Arms, 3 armour, 2 for his mystical greatsword). Sir Justin lost every roll until he was reduced to zero dice - and using the GM's fiat allowed by the system, I narrated this as a serious wound (the greatsword having thrust through a gap between breastplate and pauldron to inflict serious bleeding) and not mere stunning and exhaustion.

During this fight Sir Morgath's player made a roll to see if Algol had come back with the reliquary but this also failed (5 Brawn, -1 for no riding skill when trying to ride in haste, so 4 dice vs a difficulty of 3).

Sir Gerren made two Healing checks, one to stabilise Sir Justin and a second to restore 3 of his lost Brawn. I made it clear that I reserved the right to call for further checks if he was to try and fight again, to see if the wound reopened.

Twillany and Rhan then returned. This led to the final stage of the encounter with the Bone Laird, which went surprisingly long due to a long series of poor rolls by the players vs good rolls by me. Twillany persuaded the Bone Laird to come back to the wooden dais, but the Bone Laid's final two dice to resist social persuasion lasted through many many checks - I rolled many double successes, counting as three successes becuse the rules of the system are that if every die succeeds then the roll scores a bonus success, while the PCs repeatedly rolled none or one success getting ties at best. Which meant that Twillany's repeated explanations that the Celtic people had not been fully overrun by Romans and others, and continued to flourish in the west, were not calming him. And he interpreted references to his past in the forest and the old fortress as jibes and tautns. And so during the course of all this the angered Bone Laird beat Sir Gerran down to one die remaining, Sir Morgath down to one die, and sent Twillany - who at one point interposed herself between the Bone Laird and Sir Gerran - flying across the clearing reduced to zero dice. Sir Justin, who had got himself back into the action, also failed his social checks and ended up unconscious and bleeding again sprawled across the wooden dais.

It was only after a second roll for Algol, against a lower target number due to the passage of time, was successful - so that he returned carrying the reliquary - that the PCs triumphed: Sir Gerran persuaded the Bone Laird that he and his men would find rest and release from their geas if they acknowledged God and St Sigobert and their bones placed in the reliquary. The Bone Laird - physically unharmed to the last but with his social resistance pool finally reduced to zero - cut the heads off his companions and went to fall on his sword. Sir Morgath intervened at that point, persuading him that it would be more honourable for another to take his life - and so the Bone Laird handed him his greatsword and Sir Morgath made a successful roll to decapitate him.

The choicest bones were then placed in the reliquary. And Sir Morgath had a new magical but dangerous sword to replace the jewelled one that he had lost in the previous session.

I don't think my account of the Bone Laird episode quite does the actual play justice - in part because I can't remember all the intricacies and twists and turns - but it was really driven byu two things: (i) the ability of the system to seamlessly integrate social and physical action; and (ii) the requirement that the players actually declare their moves, so that we had impassioned speeches, declarations of faith to St Sigobert, Twillany's player reciting verse and setting out her (?) vision of what Celtic honour required, etc. I guess also (iii) at least in my experience, dice pool systems increase the tension (compared to D&D-style roll and add) because even a large pool has a chance to come up with zero successes, and (again as I have experienced them) ties are more likely, which keep the action going while raising the sense of anticipation.

I would expect that in our next session the PCs will arrive at Constantinople.
 

uzirath

Adventurer
I'm intrigued. I have not followed the prior posts, so forgive me if I am asking questions that have already been addressed.

First, is Prince Valiant still being published? My Googling was inconclusive (often leading me to a kickstarter page that doesn't seem to allow for new orders). Would you say that knowledge or interest in the comic is an important prerequisite?

(1) The PCs gathered some intelligence in Marseilles - about sailing conditions, pirates etc. Unfortunately the key check here (by the travelling minstrel PC) was a bust, and so the PCs inadvertently recruited a spy for Arab pirates sailing from North Africa and Mediterranean islets. In our approach to play this is not secret GM knowledge - the players know but their PCs proceed in ignorance.
I like this sort of thing where die rolls can add or subtract complications. Often, at my table, these might be secret GM rolls, but we've done it openly too. Fun either way.

However, the minstrel Twillany remained sober, and when he saw the treacherous host about to strike he threw a dagger at him, rolled very well (from memory seven successes on seven dice) which killed Sir Ainsel outright.
How much leeway do you have as GM in this scene? Do the rules dictate that the character must die, or is it framed as a "major defeat" or something like that?

Sir Aninsel's servitors then fled, with the inebriated Sir Morgath giving chase - only to find himself bushwhacked by them when they were able to regroup in an old temple on the outskirst of town, meaning that he woke up in the morning with his jewelled sword gone.
Similarly, was this outcome suggested by the episode writeup or is it extrapolated out from broader success/failure mechanics?

Exercising GM fiat, I declared that as they were crossing between Italy and the Balkan Peninsula the storms were incredibly fierce, and the captain of their ships decided to cut his losses, and dock and sell his cargo in Dalmatia. The PCs therefore set of on the overland trek to Constantinople.

This was a fairly obvious contrivance to seed some scenarios. The players didn't object.
Is the possibility of player objection baked into the mechanics, or is it like the typical table contract where the GM is paying attention to player reactions?

The core rulebook has three scenarios that involve fighting Huns, and I used the first of them: the PCs and their band (by this point 13 mounted men-at-arms plus the three knight PCs, and 42 footmen) were crossing through fairly rough and mountainous country when they were set upon by a band of 50-odd Huns.
This is what initially intrigued me. I'm so used to D&D-style adventures where most adventuring is done just by the PCs. Sometimes they have a few allied NPCs with them, but rarely a significant force unless we're specifically planning on playing a mass combat scenario. Prince Valiant sounds like it can elegantly move between scales.

The resuling combat was brutal for Sir Justin, who was started with 13 dice (4 Brawn, 4 Arms, 3 armour, 2 for the magic weapon) vs the Bone Laird's 16 (7 Brawn for his supernatural strength, 4 Arms, 3 armour, 2 for his mystical greatsword). Sir Justin lost every roll until he was reduced to zero dice - and using the GM's fiat allowed by the system, I narrated this as a serious wound (the greatsword having thrust through a gap between breastplate and pauldron to inflict serious bleeding) and not mere stunning and exhaustion.
Was death a possibility here? Is the GM's fiat constrained by specific parameters? (I don't really have a preference; I'm just trying to make sure I understand how this fits together.)

During this fight Sir Morgath's player made a roll to see if Algol had come back with the reliquary but this also failed (5 Brawn, -1 for no riding skill when trying to ride in haste, so 4 dice vs a difficulty of 3).

Sir Gerren made two Healing checks, one to stabilise Sir Justin and a second to restore 3 of his lost Brawn. I made it clear that I reserved the right to call for further checks if he was to try and fight again, to see if the wound reopened.

Twillany and Rhan then returned.
Does the timing of things have much mechanical significance? Does one worry about how long it might take to get from point A to point B or what the antagonist is doing while the healing checks are happening?

This led to the final stage of the encounter with the Bone Laird, which went surprisingly long due to a long series of poor rolls by the players vs good rolls by me.
Based on your description further down, it sounds like this encounter was successful and fun for all participants. When I read this first line, however, I wondered if it didn't devolve into a repetitive back-and-forth of rolls. There are occasional moments in RPGs when the fiction gets worn down by disagreeable dice. Skillful GMs and players can mitigate this a lot. System matters too, to some degree. How does Prince Valiant feel on that front?

I would expect that in our next session the PCs will arrive at Constantinople.
I look forward to reading the next chapter.

As you may recall, I typically run GURPS (or DFRPG). Despite the reputation of the system, much of your description feels familiar. Characters bring different skills and aptitudes to bear against a variety of challenges (social, environmental, martial, etc.). There are elements, alluded to in some of my questions above, that do feel substantially different. I'm curious about how long (in RL time) these sessions were? We rarely have time for more than three hours at a game session these days.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm intrigued. I have not followed the prior posts, so forgive me if I am asking questions that have already been addressed.
No worries - thanks for posting in the thread!

First, is Prince Valiant still being published? My Googling was inconclusive (often leading me to a kickstarter page that doesn't seem to allow for new orders). Would you say that knowledge or interest in the comic is an important prerequisite?
I'm not sure about publication status. I had heard of it for a long time as an important game, and for that reason picked it up via the Kickstarter you mentioned. I hadn't necessarily expected to end up playing it, but for the past year os so it has become our most regular game. (Other systems we've been playing in the past little while are Classic Traveller, Cthulhu Dark, a session of Dying Earth, and some Cortex+ Heroic Fantasy Hack.)

I think no knowledge of the comic is required, and from the purely marketing point of view I think the link to the comic is on balance a disadvantage: the plus is that it gives a lot of excellent interior illustrations, but the minus is that people associate the game with the comic more than needs be.

I haven't read Prince Valiant except for the odd Sunday comics supplement 40-odd years ago when I was a child; I don't know if any of my players has ever read it. The game is (in my view) suitable for any sort of ancient/mediaeval/fantasy provided that (i) you're happy to have magic be mosty on the GM-side (as per my OP) and (ii) you're happy with a fairly light game both in rules-terms and thematically. It's certainly not a viable substitute for dungeon-crawling, combined arms D&D. But I think it is much better than 2nd ed AD&D for many of the games that I've seen people trying to play using that system. At our table we think of it as "Burning Wheel lite".

How much leeway do you have as GM in this scene? Do the rules dictate that the character must die, or is it framed as a "major defeat" or something like that?

<snip>

Similarly, was this outcome suggested by the episode writeup or is it extrapolated out from broader success/failure mechanics?

<snip>

Was death a possibility here? Is the GM's fiat constrained by specific parameters? (I don't really have a preference; I'm just trying to make sure I understand how this fits together.)
The rule for archery, which we extrapolate to thrown knives, is that every success over the obstacle is -1 to Brawn. Zero Brawn = hors-de-combat. The rules expressly leave it up to the GM how to interpret this (and I gave an example in the OP which is the one where you ask whether death was a possibility) - exhausted/stunned (which is what happened to Twillany when the Bone Laird knocked her(?) away with a blow from the flat of his greatsword) or bleeding/dying (which is what I ruled for Sir Justin when he was defeated after fighting with the Bone Laird for several exchanges) or even dead. For PCs the rules strongly encourage GM leniency ("Normally death [of PCs] is not an important part of Prince Valiant"), but for NPCs I tend to follow the fiction if there's a logic to it, or ask the player (which, from recollection, is what I did when Twillany took down Sir Ainsel).

The only PC death we have had was actually in our first session, when I was still getting the hang of the play of the game and used a scenario that, numerically, was probably a bit tough for starting PCs - and so one of the PCs ended up getting run down by the Wild Hunt and so going to hell. (That player brought in Sir Morgath in our next session, who at that time was just a squire but since has been knighted and married the daughter of the Duke of York.)

With the chase and then ambush, there were rolls involved - I'm guessing, again with inadequate recollection, Sir Morgath's Brawn + Agility vs something appropriate for the NPCs. The ambush will have been the result of some sort of failure by Sir Morgath's player. The precise framing of the ambush is subject to GM decision, though I will have drawn on information in the scenario about the number of thugs. The game leans heavily here (and the rules are pretty clear about this) on GM judgement - (i) in framing situations that are not utterly hosing for the PCs and therefore players, and (ii) in not being too punitive when failure strikes. The game was written in the late 80s (the Kickstarter is a re-release), so before designers like Luke Crane and Ron Edwards had formally articulated the "fail forward" idea, but because Greg Stafford was a genuis the game clearly anticipates it.

Is the possibility of player objection baked into the mechanics, or is it like the typical table contract where the GM is paying attention to player reactions?
The second.

One thing I like about the rules is that they are very clear where the GM has discretion - framing, setting difficulties, adjudicating consequences, awarding Fame (= XP) and Stortyteller Certificates - and equally clear about what the rules do (eg rolls are what they are, and there is not even any discussion of fudging, secret rolls etc).

This fits well with the way my group has been playing for at least the past 10 years (when my group in its current formation started a long 4e D&D campaign). And the systems we play are well-adpated to it.

This is what initially intrigued me. I'm so used to D&D-style adventures where most adventuring is done just by the PCs. Sometimes they have a few allied NPCs with them, but rarely a significant force unless we're specifically planning on playing a mass combat scenario. Prince Valiant sounds like it can elegantly move between scales.
The mass combat rules are the most complex sub-system in the game. As I try to bring out in the OP, there are opposed command rolls (on Battle + Presence) to determine the overall result of the battle, and then each PC also makes individual rolls per exchange, against a difficult set by the GMs roll of a number of dice determined by number, quality, position etc of the opposing troops - one of these is Battle + Brawn + arms and armour (to survive unscathed) and the other is Battle + Brawn + arms and armour (to stand firm and not break or panic). It took us a few goes to get the hang of them, and it requires some GM judgement and deftness in narration to make everything hang together. For what I think is my most elegant display of this follow the link in my OP to my previous post about our campaign, where I describe the rolls and narration for a tournament melee and try to bring out how I and the players made it all fit together in what was quite a satisfying experience.

With the two mass combats I describe in the OP of this thread - the pirate and the huns - I bumped into new constraints and considerations (the ship stuff I mentioned, and the splitting of forces vs the Huns) and this required a bit more ingenuity in adapting and extrapolating the mechancis. I was not that happy with the pirates, but quite liked how the Huns worked out.

One thing I have felt is a bit ironic is that this game is, mechanically, much further from a wargame than eg Traveller, or most versions of D&D, but perhaps precisely because of that is the only game I can remember playing or GMing where PC control of a growing warband is not just an off-screen thing but a central aspect of play. The only time I remember it coming up in D&D was when, at low epic, one of the PCs briefly had command of a contingent of drow warriors which gave him a minor action AoE attack - in the ficiton, he gave a command to direct the hand-crossbow shots from the drow contingent. And in our Traveller game the PCs have a crew of about a dozen or so NPCs, but they don't normally work as a warband.

Does the timing of things have much mechanical significance? Does one worry about how long it might take to get from point A to point B or what the antagonist is doing while the healing checks are happening?
There is no mechanical correlation at all between checks and resolution (on the one hand) and the passage of time in the fiction (on the other). Even with healing, the rules expressly make this a matter of GM fiat.

For me, this is similar to some of the other games I've mentioned in this reply - eg Burning Wheel, the Dying Earth, even 4e D&D once we're in non-combat resolution - where the GM has responsibility for managing pacing, including the opening and closing of scenes. With the particular event you are repsonding to - ie Algol returning with the reliquary - what is happening at the table is that one of the players is saying something like "Is Algol back yet?" and I respond "Well, it's possible but it will depend on how fast he has ridden - make a check for him against such-and-such a difficulty."

Another pacing decision that I think I mentioned or at least alluded ot in the OP was about when Twliiany (and Rhan, but as a NPC she's less important) could return to the main site of the ction after finding andd exploring the wooden dais. This was decided based on a combination of in-fiction considerations (a fight is generally quicker than riding, exploring etc) and also table considerations - Twillany's player has done some stuff and so now it's Sir Justin's player's turn. The decision was also influenced by the fact that, once Sir Justin was downed, Sir Gerran delibrately held off to see if Twillany would return with help of some sort.

Another consideration in all this is that, similar to Apocalypse Wold and Dungeon World, there is no initiative system. It's GM decisions about pacing and faming that dictate this sort of flow of events.

And another comment that links the mass combat aspect to the pacing aspect - you can see from the OP that I am using GM authority over framing to set up some situation involving the whole band, and other situations as involving the PCs (and perhaps some close NPCs) only. That's deliberate on my part.

Based on your description further down, it sounds like this encounter was successful and fun for all participants. When I read this first line, however, I wondered if it didn't devolve into a repetitive back-and-forth of rolls. There are occasional moments in RPGs when the fiction gets worn down by disagreeable dice. Skillful GMs and players can mitigate this a lot. System matters too, to some degree. How does Prince Valiant feel on that front?
Our combat resolution - opposed checks until one pool is reduced to zero, so a definite death-spiral aspect - is pretty similar in terms of tble techniques to other RPGs we play. The focus is normally on the mechanics, not the narration, unless something significnat in the fiction is changing ("you're downed and bleeding"; "he gets past you to the NPC behind you"; etc). The imaginative element is supplied to a significant extent by the minds of the players.

When it comes to social conflict, the narration becomes much more important because it establishes (i) what exactly the PC is doing, and (ii) what the range of likely "meanings"/options is for the NPC response once the dice are rolled and compared. Because of (i), the player narration helps build up the imaginative element. And because of (ii), the narration on both sides establishes the trajectory of the encounter, in a positive feedback loop (ie the GM narration of the NPC response/consequence provides an important part of the context for the next player action declaration). It's this combination, which produced a dynamically evolving shared imagination, which makes the game fun. I guess in that sense it's a "story game" rather than a wargame, although story game is a term I'm a bit wary of because of the connotations it can bring to a RPG discussion.

As you may recall, I typically run GURPS (or DFRPG). Despite the reputation of the system, much of your description feels familiar. Characters bring different skills and aptitudes to bear against a variety of challenges (social, environmental, martial, etc.).
That doesn't surprise me. Even though Prince Valiant is very different from Rolemaster, which I played and GMed for a long time (decades), it feels closer to RM than it does to (eg) most D&D. And I think that's because of what you mention - the divesity of PCs and diversity of situations, which makes it very different from "combined arms dungeon crawling" which is perhaps the core D&D experience.

I'm curious about how long (in RL time) these sessions were? We rarely have time for more than three hours at a game session these days.
About 3 hours, sometimes 4. Normally we start some time around 1-ish, there's some lunch and catching up and boardgaming as we wait for the stragglers (especially if I'm the straggler, given I'm normally the GM!), and then the RPGing starts between 2 and 3 and finishes between 5.30 and 6.30 depending on who has what sort of curfew constraint.

I'm not sure for the first of the two sessions in the OP, but the second was I think 3 hours almost exactly. I'm quite happy with the amount of "story" we get through in these sessions. I don't feel they're dragging. The players sometimes want to linger on the logistical/equippage aspects more than I think is interesting or really supported by the system, so I tend to push us past that as best I can without just running roughshod over their bean-counting.
 

uzirath

Adventurer
Thanks for your thorough answer. Despite having played RPGs for nearly 40 years (yikes!), I find myself endlessly intrigued by different modes of play. Subtle variations can change the experience quite a bit.

I'm quite happy with the amount of "story" we get through in these sessions. I don't feel they're dragging. The players sometimes want to linger on the logistical/equippage aspects more than I think is interesting or really supported by the system, so I tend to push us past that as best I can without just running roughshod over their bean-counting.
It sounds like you packed a lot into three hours! That's always so satisfying. It's funny that your players are the ones who can get bogged down in the "bean-counting." I, too, can occasionally get lost in the miscellanea, though my larger goal is always to make sure something interesting happens in the story. I get frustrated, as a player, if the GM doesn't help keep us on track—the balance between a "push" and "running roughshod" is key.
 

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