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Prince Valiant: The Storytelling Game» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Prince Valiant review rss

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Steffan O'Sullivan
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Prince Valiant is a very rare game: a roleplaying game with an emphasis on storytelling aimed at novice GMs (and players, of course - though any RPG can introduce novice players to the hobby if the GM is experienced). Unlike other games which pretend to be aimed at the novice GM, Prince Valiant really works.

Setting

The setting is, of course, taken from the long-running comic strip of the same name. The excellent artwork is by Hal Foster, and adds much to the book. Prince Valiant takes place in a semi-historical world of Arthurian times, so the scenarios are sufficiently familiar enough to be accessible to most modern Western people. It's low magic, to say the least: there are magical events in the setting, but they are rare. Most such manifestations are pseudo-magic: fakery, psychological trickery, whatever. The same with monsters: there are some dragons and trolls, but most creatures are real-world animals. Still, there's enough otherworldliness about the game to appeal to one's yearning for the fantastic, without being drowned in it.

Character Creation

The actual game mechanics are deliberately simple, and work very well. There are only two attributes: Brawn and Presence. These stats range from 1 to 6, and PCs start with seven points to distribute between Brawn and Presence as they see fit. Brawn covers all your physical traits, and Presence your mental and psychic traits.

There are numerous skills in the game, but all are fairly broad skills. These range from Arms (combat weapon skills) to Riding to Healing to Fellowship to Glamourie (manipulative skills), etc. A PC starts with nine points to allot to six beginning skills. As with attributes, skills range from 1 to 6. Sometimes you add your attribute and skills, other times you just use one or the other - the game gives very good guidelines on when to combine them and when not to.

Action Resolution

The book goes into very good detail, using artwork from the comic strip in very clear style, to illustrate just how the new GM should handle action resolution.

And fortunately, it's simple: the GM sets a task difficulty from 1 to 5 with 1 being a very easy task, 3 being a normal difficulty task, and 5 being a very difficult task. The GM then tells the player which attribute/skill to use, and the player throws that many coins. Each head result counts one, each tail result counts zero. (If you find tossing six coins to be awkward, you could roll dice: each odd number equals one, each even number equals zero.) If the player has enough heads showing, his character succeeds at the task.

For example, if your Presence is 4 and your Oratory skill 2, you would throw six coins to stir an audience to your cause. If you were a fighter who had put all his points into Brawn and physical skills, however, you might have a Presence of 1 and probably no Oratory skill at all: throw 1 coin. You'd have a much tougher time swaying even a sympathetic audience to your point of view. The number of heads needed to succeed would be set by the GM, based on how friendly toward your cause the audience is to begin with. A very easy audience to win over would only require 1 head, while a very difficult audience would require 5 heads.

Conflict between two characters is handled by comparing results against each other - who throws more heads - as opposed to a set difficulty level. Hits in combat reduce your coins, so it gets harder and harder to win the more wounded you are.

Fame

There is a big section on experience, which is called Fame in this game. You get to add or raise a skill with a certain amount of Fame, but there are other game effects: crowds gather when you come to town, if you have enough Fame. Brigands run away from an area before you even get to fight them. You get challenged to a joust by up-and-coming young knights, eager to prove themselves, and so on. Very nicely done.

Game Mastering

Storytelling is emphasized, and there's a large section on how to maintain a storytelling atmosphere. This is recommended reading for all GMs no matter what game you run.

The book includes basic rules, advanced rules, optional rules, world background, an extensive section for a new GM on running a game, lots of illustrations including a castle plan, a map, sample characters, blank character sheets, twenty sample adventures, and more.

Summing Up

Although out of print, you can still find Prince Valiant, and I recommend you pick up a copy sometime. Young people are constantly growing into the age to be introduced to the hobby, and this is one of the best games I know for doing it. It allows them to be heroes, avoiding the World of Darkness trap, and is so simple they concentrate on playing the role, seeding good roleplaying habits that should last them the rest of their lives. Recommended.

(Note: it would be a piece of cake to translate the attributes, skills, and setting to Fudge. The only reasons to do this would be if you prefer word descriptions of trait levels to numbers [such as being "Good at Arms" instead having "Arms 4"], and to use the Fudge 4d3 system, which I feel is superior to the binary system of Prince Valiant. But these are minor disputes with the system - it's really fine the way it is, and is one of the few RPGs I have run as is, without converting to Fudge!)

-Review originally published 1997
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Sebastian Sohn
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How is a d3 - Fudge dice better than a d2 - coin?

I don't have a good understanding of stats or RPG design so can you elaborate?
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Steffan O'Sullivan
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Well, it isn't universally better. I happen to like it better, is all.

4dF (which equals 4d3-8) returns a bell-shaped results curve. The binary results returns more of triangular shaped result curve - steeper slopes to and from the middle. This means you're more likely to get middle results than in a bell-shaped curve, which has more gradual slopes.

More results in the middle means that skill levels become plateaus: it's easier for someone who is only one skill level higher to win combat, for example, in a binary distribution than in a 4dF distribution. You may actually prefer that: for example, the d6 version of Grimm does exactly that: if you have a +1 edge in combat, you'll probably win in that system. In fact, the Dec 1993 version of Fudge, before Fudge dice were designed, had such plateaus. After a year of playing it that way, I and other playtesters found we preferred combat to be a little less certain; a little more risky. YMMV.

Edit: And with all that said, this game is still one I would run with the rules as written. Except that I'd now use Ubiquity Dice, which are a way to create the binary results much more easily than using coins or d6s, which is what I used 20 years ago. I just bought two tubes of them and am very pleased - they're very soothing for anyone with a mathematical bent.
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Scott
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sos1 wrote:
the Fudge 4d3 system, which I feel is superior to the binary system of Prince Valiant.

Well, it isn't universally better. I happen to like it better, is all.


Of the presumably hundreds or thousands of peoples who have read this to date I wonder how many people realise quite how unpresuming these comments are.
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