Posted by: NiTessine | September 1, 2011

Ropecon Reviews – Knights of the Round Table

…or Pyöreän pöydän ritarit, as the Finnish name goes. It’s a 40-page booklet in A5 size, written by Sami Koponen, the writer of the Efemeros, Mythopoeia and Roolipelitiedotus blogs, to be an accessible and easy beginner RPG. I would usually avoid reviewing stuff Sami has written since most online discussions between us tend to end up as trainwrecks in exceptionally short order, for reasons that are very difficult to piece together after the fact. We get along fine in person, but I think that our respective approaches to the hobby are more or less diametrically opposed. This may also be true of our approaches to life. This should all be kept in mind while reading the following. Also bear in mind that he asked me to write this.

So, the game. It’s basically Pendragon meets Dogs in the Vineyard in a rules-lite beginner game. You make up your knights, you go questing around Britain until everything goes pear-shaped and Camelot falls. This is inevitable.

Characters come with two stats, Glory and Might. The first measures the character’s fame and respect, the second his physical ability. The characters’ Glory is determined by their heraldic beast. In the beginning, it’s 1 + every other PC knight’s heraldic beast that their own heraldic beast could eat. Heraldic beasts are chosen, not rolled randomly, and there’s no rule for adjudicating clear ties – such as if two knights have the same heraldic animal, which is also not expressly forbidden. Each character also comes with a Special Feature rolled from a list, though they’re not really expanded upon. They do allow a knight to reroll failed Might dice in a conflict, but any significance beyond that is not expanded upon. A PC’s Might value is 1 at the beginning and may rise after quests.

The quests themselves are intended to present moral quandaries similar to Dogs in the Vineyard. The knights, as representatives of King Arthur himself, have the last word in adjudicating disagreements in the kingdom.

The basic mechanic is pretty simple. You have a conflict. The PC knight rolls their Might’s worth of d6’s and hopes for results 4-6. If the dice pool produces one of these, they succeed. Since a beginning knight’s Might is mighty low, they may opt to take Resource dice to boost their dice pool. The Resources are dice given from Camelot to the knights by the formula [highest Glory value in the party + the number of knights in the party] for each quest. They’re an abstraction of worldly possessions and can be lost or expended in a number of ways, though using Resource dice in a conflict does not automatically burn them. Generally, though, you’d end a quest with fewer resources than you started with, and Camelot has a limited, non-replenishable supply. Once they run out, it’s time to call the hosts to Camlann and perhaps take a large loan of money, ’cause the end is nigh.

After the mechanics we get a couple of pages of campaign rules, a couple of pages on King Arthur’s Britain and the designer’s afterword, where he names a pile of influences. Apparently, the major influences were Dogs in the Vineyard and The Questing Beast, the latter of which I’ve never even heard of.

Now, I have a couple of issues with this game. First of all, it purports to be a game for beginners, an introductory roleplaying game. I think that while the game itself is pretty sound, it fails in this. For a beginner game, especially one aimed at young players as I assume this is (deducing by the cover, but more on that later), it doesn’t spell things out nearly enough. While it’s easy to run for newbie players, I would not give this to a newbie game master and expect anything good to come out of it. There’s too much between the lines, too much built-in assumption. There are many examples for how the rules work in practice, but I feel these should be longer and more numerous.

There’s also one problem with the layout that I consider moderately serious. The explanatory texts for the illustrations are all several lines long, and in the same typeface as the paragraph text, which is slightly confusing.

The illustrations, by the way, are black and white public domain stuff  from photographs to paintings to stained glass, mostly pretty classical stuff. However, the covers are illustrated like a children’s book, which clashes violently in style and tone with the interior art and the text of the game. The back cover map is even worse than the front cover. Also, there’s no name on the cover, which is apparently a Bad Thing, since the brick and mortar game stores won’t touch it.

And then we come to that “diametrically opposed” thing. The game doesn’t come with a character sheet. One is provided on the website, but it’s rather plain. If a character sheet exists, I figure it should be in the book. Last page, ideally, the time-hallowed location of such things. I cannot fathom the design philosophy that has led to this decision.

Overall, I think that we have a pretty decent game somewhere in here, but its presentation fails to inspire me. One aspect of this might be that I already have Pendragon. When you make a game about the Knights of the Round Table, you inevitably invite comparison with Pendragon, even moreso when the game has other similarities (in this case, the winter phase of the campaign rules and the inevitability of Camelot’s fall in the campaign). As a general thing, being compared to Pendragon will make pretty much any game look bad.

In the interests of full disclosure, I paid a discount price for this (an offer extended to all who purchased Sami’s previous works), and the designer himself asked me to write this. Additionally, the two of us have a history of conflict online though we get along quite well in the meatspace, and I’m working on a beginner-friendly game of my own with a couple of gentlemen. Basically, on top of not quite understanding the designer’s approach to gaming, I’m also seven sorts of biased and you can really ignore all of the above.

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Responses

  1. First, I didn’t know we are enemies in the internet. Sure, we have our disagreements concerning organizing game-activity in Ropecon, but I always thought this as purely technical matter. And, well, yeah, we have different approaches to personal gaming, but “live and let live” and all that stuff.

    Second, your review concerns the game alone, and that’s all I care about. You can bash my game (and my other projects, too) as much as you like as long as you’re talking about a product and not the person behind it. Therefore, you have no reason to apologize your review that much.

    Third, I don’t know if it’s necessary for me to defend my game, but since you kind of wondered why it has certain features, I’ll answer.

    The thing with the illustrations was to show how Arthurian fantasy can go all seven ways. Unlike Pendragon, with this game you’re not supposed to make just one kind of fiction. As long as it has questing knights fighting wrongs, it could be anything from children’s literature to feminism. Yeah, I know: I should have spelled this out in the book and selected better illustrations.

    A character has two stats and a couple of details. You really don’t need a character sheet for that; you don’t necessarily need any notes to remember them. Therefore, there’s no real need for a character sheet. Then again, if one wishes to respect old role-playing traditions, you can get a character sheet from the website. (They are also handy in cons, as they serve as kind of business cards.)

    In conclusion, thanks for the review! It’s always good to get some feedback and listen to what other scene-activists think of the game.

  2. […] of demos of Vapauden miekat, I played Sami’s Pöyreän pöydän ritarit, which I recently reviewed. I stand by my verdict on it as a product, though I forgot to note in the review that since it is […]

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this product, NiTessine. If it ever makes it’s way across “the pond,” I’ll have to give it a look.

    Mystic Scholar


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