Prince Valiant RPG - played a session today


A couple of years ago I backed the Prince Valiant kickstarter, which had the goal of getting Greg Stafford's other Arthurian RPG (ie the one that's not Pendragon) back into print. I'd heard of it but never played it.

A year or so ago the PDF was distributed; the hardcopies turned up a week or two ago (Australian time).

For the past year and more my group has rarely been fully quorate, but our "main game" has typically been either Classic Traveller or Cortex+ Heroic Fantasy. Today, though, there were three players and me and I suggsted we try a session of Prince Valiant.

The PC gen was quick and smooth. The sequence is name, then occupation - knight is the default, and we went with this - then description, and only then mechanics: first stat allocation (split 7 points between Brawn and Presence) then skills (split 9 points over 6 skills chosen from a list of 14 - knights have to take at least 1 rank in each of Arms and Riding). This sequence seemed to work - we had character names and concepts first, and then allocations second. The final step is drawing the coat of arms for one's knight, which two of three players did.

Because - despite blind allocation - two players ended up with very similar characters (same B/P split, same skills, differing only that one had more 3 Arms and 1 Fellowship while the other had 2 in each), and one had described his PC as in his early middle age (but having accomplished little!) while the other was in his early 20s, the player of the younger one decided they were father and son. They were country knights, on their way to a tournament. The third player described his PC as the son of a noble family of horse breeders, with a gift for working with horses (Riding 4), and we decided that he was also on his way to the tournament and that they met on the road.

The "XP system" in the game is fame, and the default rule is that the character with the highest fame in a group has precedence. But the starting fame for knights is 800, so there was some jockeying in this respect - the three rode abreast, but Sir Tristraine (the horse breeder) was trying to squeeze Sir Justin (the son) into a rear position, while Sir Gerren (the father) did his best to make room for his son to stay alongside the other two. Opposed riding checks resulted in an all-round draw, so this awkwardness continued until they met a young knight in a clearing looking for jousting competition.

This was the first of three short scenarios I used, from the main rulebook and the "Episodes" book that shipped with it. It worked pretty well, and the PCs got some fame by besting a fairly weak knight in jousts. We got to test out the fighting rules, and also the social rules - the horse breeder had better Presence than Brawn plus some social skills to go with it, and the NPC had Fellowship, and so checks were made on both sides.

In the Episodes book, the scenarios are listed by author, and I had flicked through a few by authors whose names I recognised until I found one by Kenneth Hite that seemed - storywise - a good fit for the situation, namely a Wild Hunt scenario. Because it starts at night, I had dropped in the encounter with the knight to give a rationale for the PCs to still be on the road when darkness had fallen. The PCs encountered a noblewoman being hunted by the Wild Huntsman and his hounds, and they defended her and fought him off - earning more fame, and taking her back to her castle. In their interactions with various NPCs at the castle it came out that her husband had recently died, but the PCs didn't explore this any further.

The PCs then continued onto the tournament - this was a notion of their devising, but the Episodes book had a Tournament scenario and so I used that. Unfortunately it set the difficulties a little high for starting PCs - and also seemed to be deploying the Jousting rules a bit differently from the manner suggested in the main rulebook, which required a little bit of rules extrapolation - but the upshot (exacerbated by my rather good dice rolling) was that all 3 PCs lost their jousts, though two held onto their arms and horses (one because the NPC knight gained further fame through magnanimity; the other because he swore service to the victorious knight in return for being allowed to keep his stuff). But then in the general melee - which Sir Gerren had to enter with no armour and borrowing his son's sword - only Sir Tristaine managed a victory, meaning he got to keep his own gear by paying off the knight he swore to aid with the gear he won; while the other two lost their stuff when they had to yield to NPC knights who bested them in melee.

The trio decided to return to Lady Joan of Kent's castle to take up employment, which they did - father and son as men-at-arms, Sir Justin as a master of horses. They then came up with a plan to try and deceive the Wild Huntsman, but it would have required very good luck to succeed, testing their rather low Hunting abilities against his superlative skill, and so it failed. And so instead of falling for their trap, while they were waiting in the forest on the night of the next full moon they heard the baleful horn blowing back at the castle. They rode back in a hurry, and Sir Tristaine defeated the Huntsman in an opposed Riding check and so got back in time to interpose himself between Huntsman and quarry.

Some parleying then revelaed that the Huntsman was hunting Lady Joan because she had murdered her husband. At first she denied this, but I imposed a rather sever penalty to her Glamourie check to persuade the PCs of her innocence - given the testimony of a fey huntsman - and in combination with a rather poor roll this meant that all three saw through her lies. But when she then admitted her guilt, I applied the advice in the scenario that this weakenend the Wild Hunt slightly, and the player of Sir Tristaine took this as a sign of genuine contrition on her part, and so - whereas he had been getting ready to cast her to the wolves (or rather hounds), he now offered to take her place.

This was a series of opposed rolls which gave him 9 dice - 3 Brawn + 5 Riding + 1 for his righteousness - vs 10 for the huntsman - 2 Brawn + 6 Hunting +2 for his hounds. Interestingly, it was the player who asked for a bonus die for his passionate defence of the noblewoman, but a quick check of the modifier rules confirmed that emotional commitment is noted as a source of bonus dice.

The other two PCs tried to defeat enough hounds to drop the hound bonus to +1, but while Sir Gerren had some success the hounds defeated Sir Justin, and then Sir Gerren when he turned from the ones he'd defeated to try and take on the ones that had bested his son. So the pools stayed 9 vs 10.

At this point the "death spiral" nature of the extended contest mechanics really kicked in - and some good rolls form me meant that Sir Tristaine had no chance to hold out until dawn, and so was captured by the Huntsman and transformed into a hound, while Lady Joan was taken down to Hell. The player was not too disappointed by this result, as at least he had done the knightly thing!

If there is a next session, one imagines that the two other knights, missing from the castle (because unconscious in the forest where the hounds dragged them from their horses), may well be blamed for the disappearance of Lady Joan. But that's as far as I've thought along those lines!

The system itself is a dice pool (well, it is presented as the tossing of coins - heads for success, tails for failure - but we were rolling dice and counting odds and evens), with most rolls being either straight Brawn or Presence, or the stat plus an appropriate skill. I like these systems (not unlike Burning Wheel) because they are less swingy than d20 or d100 rolls, and give a satisfying number of ties.

I don't know what the staying power of this game would be, and as a GM I would certainly want to get a better handle on what is a fair range of difficulties to use, and on how to read a scenario for difficulty in its statting up. But I can't complain about the session, which packed PC gen plus a reasonable amount of knightly action into about 4 hours.

Has anyone else played this game?

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