Just finished reading today and generally super impressed with. I bought it in Forbidden Planet on my first walk into town (Newcastle) this year, 2 weeks after having covid jag one. The first I actually heard of it was in the same shop last year sometime, I picked it up and put it back; it was sealed so I couldn’t leaf through it and it looked more like an old Comic Book annual than a game. Then I started coming across references to it, hearing that it was the first proper storytelling focused rpg and revolutionary for the time, the first edition being created by Greg Stafford in 1989!
It’s clearly aimed at younger players, or at least people new to the hobby (interesting that it follows his considerably more complex Pendragon which we actually played back in the day), I think its notable even in the way that it approaches that, it reminds me of Ben Milton’s obsession with usable presentation. The first page says ‘try play this’ then presents ‘Encounter in the Perilous Forest’ to run immediately and uses this to explain the key concepts of roleplaying games. A few pages further on it provides a simple sample adventure to provide more depth, before getting into character creation. In that first encounter you are a Knight, and that is really enough information to start playing with. Then the Basic game rules (the first 50 pages or so) explain how to make up a Knight in more detail. You have only 2 stats Brawn & Presence, between which you allocate 7 points, then have 10 points to spend on 6 skills from a list of 14. Once you're ready for the Advanced rules you can choose to be something else; Merchant, Monk, Viking etc.
The game seems really elegant, it is in effect a dice pool system like VtM, except it simply uses coins! The difficulty of a task is how many heads you need to get, then you throw a number of coins equal to the relevant stat + skill. In combat it’s opposed throws with weapons, armour and potentially strategic advantage adding extra coins to the mix. The difference between you and your opponent's throw is subtracted from the loser's coin pool, then their Brawn once the coin pool is consumed, incapacitating them once this is depleted too.
Fame takes the place of XP and is awarded for your achievements, but since it is also actually fame it can potentially provide a bonus in social contests. At every 1000 Fame you get to increase a skill by one point or take a new one.
That pretty much rounds out the Basic game. The Advanced game adds a few more significant elements and prefigures much later games. Player’s can pick Traits for their character; Greedy, Loyal etc. These reward the player with Fame when expressed in action, the amount of Fame depends on the specific trait, so Chivalrous nets much more than Cowardly. I can’t remember who it was that I first heard say attach XP to the thing you want players to do in your game, but here is a perfect example. It also says players should initially keep these secret from each other and have them come out in play proper. You can also choose to make a trait an Obsession for double Fame, and encouraged to specify a target for the trait (so Lancelot has Love of Queen Guenevere (Obsession)).
Perhaps the most radical idea in the Advanced game is that players should take turns at being the GM or ‘Storyteller’ (although I think Ars Magica may suggest this too?) and it provides a mechanic to facilitate this somewhat akin to Apocalypse World’s Moves; Special Effects. These are actions that an NPC can do without requiring a dice roll (albeit with some kind of frequency limit), from Incite Lust to Escape Bonds, Terrify to Find Something Hidden. Special Effects do actually exist in the Basic game, but in the Advanced game a player gets one for having taken a turn at being Storyteller; their character can now perform this as a one off action.
The book also contains loads of great GM advice and although there are no actual random tables - the game doesn’t use dice after all - there are 20 pages of ‘Episodes’, or short adventures at the back of the book, each laid out in a super useful format and containing suggestions for how they might be linked to get you playing with minimal prep in no time.
Print copies of Prince Valiant can be ordered in the UK here.