I am definitely not an Arthurian myth expert. I’m not even a huge Prince Valiant comic fan. Don’t have a problem with it, I’ve just never read it, or not since I was a little kid. I heard some good things about this game and Greg Stafford was behind a bunch of great games over his career. So, on Free RPG Day last year, I grabbed a copy and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.
Set in a mythological non-time of a jumbled Middle Ages, it feels a bit like old school Hollywood’s version of King Arthur’s time. Set soon after the Romans retreated from England, with Saxons and Huns invading, jousting being hugely popular, and massive castles filled with pageantry and courtly chivalry. You can easily picture Eroll Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks Jr. wandering around in bright, Technicolor costumes. A thousand years of history chopped up, mixed like a salad, and dished out for maximum entertainment. I was reminded of Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age of Conan fame, which exists in a similar non-time of recognizable ancient cultures jumbled together with the serial numbers filed off.
In somewhat recent years, so called rules-light games have become popular, yet they’re not really new. Prince Valiant was originally published in the late 80s, and to say the least, it has very light game mechanics. It doesn’t even use dice, substituting easily come by coins. There are two stats, Brawn and Presence (essentially body & mind). Anything physical, throw a number of coins equaling your Brawn. If it’s mental in any way, throw your Presence. The more heads the better. Easy. There are skills and if they are appropriate, you add their number of coins. Even contested actions and mass combat are simple. There’s very little in the way of bookkeeping that is common in Fantasy games. You don’t have to have a massive inventory list of possessions and cash, hit points or special actions.
There’s a basic game, where you all play knights. With the advanced game, there are some extra, optional rules and ideas for playing non-knight roles (though it’s recommended to start as a knight). There’s some advice running the game and sample ‘episodes,’ in case you need some ideas for situations to set up.
This game seems like a ton of fun and I think if you’re in the mood for stories that capture the vibe of classic comic strips and old time Hollywood adventure movies, this should be a definite get. I think it would be fairly easy to translate it to other adventure themed settings, too. I was thinking about Flash Gordon in particular.
Unfortunately, this game is currently out of print and I gather the rights are in limbo. Here’s hoping things will be worked out and this can come under the Chaosium umbrella with Pendragon.
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