Fables of Camelot – Beta

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.

Random Tables

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.

5 Responses to “Fables of Camelot – Beta”

  1. Sami Koponen Says:

    During playtests I’ve actually had the idea that the knights may make a dramatic mistake. Usually this has happened when the knights try to negotiate with someone: If they win, they get their way, and should they lose, they give their word to do (or not to do) something. When I’ve stated the stakes I’ve always made clear that it only means that the knight gave her word: the player doesn’t have to follow through. (Somehow though, it seems that every knight has a huge ego, which doesn’t allow them to apologize their actions.)

    My reasoning behind this is that every die roll (every conflict) should have interesting consequences, no matter the result. Knights losing their cool for a moment is interesting, but I still think the game doesn’t need another ability to cover this.

  2. Sami Koponen Says:

    I’m hoping to get to play Camelot soon with my group, so I’ve been thinking about the rules. Here are some changes or clarifications to the English draft rules:

    Woman knights

    Actually encourage player to select their knights with different backgrounds: pagan, Christian, foreigner, woman, and so on. Other knights of the Round Table will always respect each other because of their knighthood, but the rest of the Arthurian realm sees the difference. A druid will most likely approach the pagan knight and a noble woman in distress will listen a woman knight more closely. This also gives an opportunity to test the solidarity among the knights: can you really trust that somehow different knight?

    Travel scenes

    There usually isn’t any conflict in the travel scene. There’s a mechanical reason behind this. Knight’s fame score is used to see who’s calling the shots. Since commoners’ fame is 0, they cannot take up a conflict with the knights. They just have to do as they are told – but there might be consequences (ingredients for a future mission). Should the knights disagree between themselves about their judgement, the commoners listen to the highest fame.

    Mission scenes

    One key way to keep the number of the scenes down while presenting a good dilemma is to limit the number of people affected. Basically take just two persons or sides, who disagree. Thus the knights can quickly hear everyone involved and then start to make up their own mind. Mission scene’s playtime should be spent with knights talking with themselves what to do, not with the GM introducing the complex situation. Complexity doesn’t make a better dilemma anyway.

    Injuring and dying

    Knights get injured, when they don’t succeed with their might dice in a conflict entailing violence. To see if a wounded knight recovers fully, roll their might dice and, if they so choose, resource dice up to their fame score (or less, if they have less resources at hand) just like in any conflict. A success means that the knight recovers. A failure means that the knight’s might score is lowered by one. Might score 0 means knight’s death. The wounded knight gets to use his might dice in a conflict only after a recovery roll. This means that sometimes it’s better to stay out of conflict and wait until you get back to Camelot to make the recovery roll with Camelot’s resource dice. This also means that if your character’s might score is around 4, you could just as well try to recover without the use of the resource dice and no risk of getting your character killed. (Lowering might score could also mean a some sort of scar or other old injury, which is noted on the character sheet. I like when the character sheet becomes a documentation of the character’s tale.)

    Reporting to Arthur

    I first thought that this would be a chance for the GM to comment the players’ actions. However, it gives a good spin for the knights’ team spirit, when you play it so that Arthur doesn’t automatically know what happened during the mission. Once I played Camelot, one of the knights brutally stabbed a brigand in a tavern – no honourable warning or anything, just like that. It was clear that the character had done wrong. Will the other knights rat him out to Arthur, when they know that it will mean a tremendous blow for the character’s fame score (and, in the end, also to their resource pool)? They didn’t. So Arthur went on to praise their good actions, which clearly made the players feel even worse for covering up their brother-in-arms’ dark deeds.

    Resolution system

    The most important thing is to make sure that every die roll is relevant. “Nothing happens” is not acceptable result in a conflict, because it’s just waste of precious time. When the knights try to solve a situation as outsiders, failure means that nobody listens to the knights and injustice keeps on brewing. When the knights are somehow part of the situation, failure means that the knights are swayed by the opponent. Knights are allowed to regret their actions and try to fix it, if possible. Only players can start a conflict. So if they wish to make sure that their knights are not messed up (socially, mentally or physically), just stay out of conflict (and possibly get quite little done). That is, it’s a player’s choice to risk his character.

  3. Zac Says:

    As for the disagreement over deprotagonization, I think it comes down to where the important choice is. By “important” I mean “it’s not okay for anyone/anything *except the players* to answer this question – no dice or GMs!”
    If the important question is “Does Uther bed Igraine?”, then we’re playing a game that relies on the players actively choosing to escalate and push on the tensions between their knights. The thematic question is put to the players to actively set up and answer.
    If the important question is “How does Uther live with his decision?”, then we’re playing a game that relies a lot on fate to decide how sinless our characters are, and asks us as participants to choose how to deal with our mistakes and flaws.

    To me, the Arthurian cycle hinges on sexual sin – without it, you’re playing Beowulf (a different tale of wronged outsiders seeking revenge!) Without Uther Pendragon’s lust overriding his judgment, there’d be no bastard king Arthur, no incestuous sexual vengeance by Morgan Le Fay (she literally becomes a vessel of revenge when Mordred grows in her womb), and no sexual betrayal by Lancelot and Guinevere. If the dice give it weight, it’s no flippant thing, but a real and hungry lust that must be dealt with, not avoided.

    On a related note, I think Apocalypse World would benefit a bit from “coaching along” the effects of rolling 9 or less on the Act Under Fire move. So I hesitate; why? Someone should answer that question so we don’t feel like the dice are just jamming us up. It’s a basic move that’s very interesting, but only partially explored, in my opinion. Why do our characters struggle with boldness? That’s not a criticism masking as a question, but an honest question to put into play.

  4. Josh W Says:

    I love the structural features of having the adventure go from pentecost to early winter; my gut tells me it should go pentecost to lammasday, but that kind of thing tends towards sort of activating the peasantry/land thematically, and generally in this kind of tale they are sort of a backdrop.

    Or not exactly a backdrop, but they are more like a treasure, an inert but innately valuable thing, rather than a force in the setting.

    I also love the interlude structure! The way that you can add and remove players and just have it seem like knights are falling away en-route. Very appropriate, especially for the grail!

    It’s also interesting the way this creates a story that perhaps only the GM will experience.

  5. RangerEd Says:

    I agree with Sammi on the additional trait of virtue. If the game functions well with two, why add a third without a 33% increase in fun?

    I really enjoyed the way the turns evoke a tie into the agrarian isle culture and traditions. I would look for more opportunities to label game elements according to this cultural period. There is a lot of bang for the buck in using color in this way.

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