Fables of Camelot is a roleplaying game I wrote with Sami Koponen this last summer; Sami had been thinking of the problem of introducing roleplaying to new people in a convention environment, so when he came to visit me for a week we put our heads together and cooked up a game to fulfill his spec. I’m really happy with the result, although somewhat chargrined as well: I’ve been hitting my head against my own newbie-project Eleanor’s Dream for a while now, and it’s just not cohering, while this particular game was essentially made in five hours of planning with Sami.
As Fables of Camelot (working title, that) was created for convention use, it has already had quite a bit of playtesting from Sami and some other folks who have the time to run an introductory booth at conventions. The overall reports are promising: the game has sufficient depth to engage anybody, but a single cycle of play can be run through in 15 minutes, so the individual victims can choose how long they’ll play. The game handles any numbers of players from 2 + GM up, too.
Sami wrote a Finnish draft of the game text during the convention season, so I have something else aside from memory to base this English-language draft on; this is basically the same game, I just rewrite the text instead of just translating Sami. So far we don’t really have any concrete plans for what to do with the game in the long run – we both like what we made and this has obvious publishing potential, but it’ll have to wait until one of us has the time to run with it. I’m mostly putting this English version up for reference purposes and because Christoph Boeckle asked to see the game’s text after we described the game to him at Spiel last month.
I put the actual game text on a separate page in case it needs any updating after publication; although this is not in active development as such, I’ll be happy to fix and improve any obvious stuff as we mull over what to do with the game. Do ask if there are any vague parts that need more explanation.
Comparing to Sami’s Finnish text, I switched the random tables to use 2d6 instead of d8, d20 etc. that Sami used. I consider this mostly an aesthetic detail, although obviously the bell curve has its implications – I would frankly prefer the more random flat curve that you get by using specialty dice like Sami does, but as the game otherwise runs entirely off the d6 I found this a suitable compromise for now. Details, essentially, as the random tables here are not that crucial affairs; easy to build new ones.
Problem of Virtue
First read the game text to understand this bit, it’s a rule that we’ve been debating with Sami.
The player characters in the game are defined by their Might and Fame, two abilities that have somewhat lateral influences on a character’s identity and effectiveness. They also fluctuate and are used somewhat differently from each other.
What I’ve been thinking is that I should try adding a third ability, Virtue. This would be a sort of magical and social ability that would give the characters a bit more dimension; I especially like the idea that I could differentiate between say Lancelot and Mordred in a striking way by having a third ability score. Sami disagrees; he quite rightly points out that the game runs quite fine without this added complication.
Were I to use Virtue, it would be rolled for each character on a d6 in character creation to get a random angle on the character’s willpower and attitudes; should work as grist for the characterization mill that’s so important to getting the game to go quickly.
Virtue would be improved by Christian discipline; I really like the idea that while a pagan might have a high virtue score out of chargen by chance, improving the score is only really possible by Grace; fits well in the literary parameters of the genre. Perhaps the single most Christian knight per adventure gets a point of virtue or something like that.
The actual use of Virtue is the most divisive: I would basically use it as a Pendragon-like virtue check, to find out whether a character does foolish things when tempted. To me this is a solid feature of the genre – knights in Mallory are constantly doing idiotic things just because a vision of black magic seduces them. It’s basically a theoretical disagreement in many ways: Sami thinks that taking away the player’s chance to choose whether his character goes hunting for the Morgan Le Fay’s fleshpot illusions is deprotagonizing, while I think that the interesting choices lie in what the character chooses to do after his failure of virtue; essentially we disagree on the proper model of advocation in a narrativist roleplaying game, as Sami thinks that a player’s task is to represent both a character’s ego and subconscious, while I think that he should be limited to the ego; it shouldn’t be up to the player to decide whether overwhelming temporary passion makes the character do foolish things.
Adding Virtue would give an easy way of engaging characters in adventures, as the GM could call for Virtue checks to see who falls in love with whom and all that sort of thing, thus giving the players obvious inns through which to relate to situations. The disadvantage is a bit of added complexity in a game that is already performing quite well without this; I don’t even know if I should try to develop this game into the perfect Arthurian game when it can be merely the perfect introductory rpg.