Like many tabletop gamers, the film version of The Princess Bride holds a special place in the gaming table of my heart. “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…” What’s not to love? Outside of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it is probably the most quoted film at gaming tables around the world.
It’s no small wonder that many tabletop gamers try to emulate the magic of The Princess Bride film at their table over the last thirty years, and many more lament over an official game not being in existence. Sure, we have games like 7th Sea, Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, and more Three Musketeers and Pirate-themed games than we can shake a stick at, but there’s just something about the magic of The Princess Bride that was elusive to even the best of us.
That “White Hind” that we’ve been hunting for appears to be coming to us, as Toy Vault, creators and purveyors of a number of Princess Bride themed games, announced in 2017 that there would be an officially licensed RPG that would emulate and capture the magic of this wonderful story. Now, over a year after the announcement, the Kickstarter has gone live, the Quickstart available to the masses, and after all of these years, The Princess Bride finally graces my gaming table.
Writer’s Note: This review is of a Quickstart packet for an upcoming RPG rulebook, and therefore is a view of an unfinished product. Commentary made here is based solely on the Quickstart rules and should be viewed as such.
The Princess Bride RPG is meant to be this legendary colossus that captures the essence of the film (and some of the magic of the book) that inspired it. This is, quite frankly the first officially licensed RPG product for this franchise, so that alone makes an epic pitch.
The writing of the game is being done by Stefan O’Sullivan, using Fudge, a game system he created in the 90’s. No lie, this is kind of a big deal, as we haven’t really seen anything from O’Sullivan content-wise since Fudge was handed over to Grey Ghost Games around 2005, and we also haven’t see a new Fudge game in about as long (but we do have Fate, which is really just a Fudge hack).
In addition to the RPG, thanks to the Kickstarter, backers can get the game as well as dice and “Grandpa, Wait” tokens that are customized for this specific game.
For fans of The Princess Bride and the Fudge RPG, there’s plenty to be hyped about in the pitch!
==What You Get==
The Quickstart rule packet weighs in at forty-six pages, with screenshots from the film in lieu of most artwork, with some character art added for the character section.
Within the packet, about one half of it is dedicated to rules, the obligatory “What Is A Roleplaying Game”, and all of the nitty gritty details needed to play the game. The last portion of the book gives a short adventure with a collection of pre-generated characters for players to choose from: an Agent (Vizzini), a Brute (Fezzik), a Fencer (Inigo), a Pirate (Westley), and a Farmhand (also Westley).
Otherwise, it’s a standard Quickstart packet: just enough to get you started in the game but not enough to play without the rulebook.
In all honesty, just having an officially licensed Princess Bride RPG brings this up a few notches.
Outside of the name, the Quickstart is just that: an introduction to the game. If you need a game to run at a convention or for a one-shot, it is easy to approach, prep for, and run with little actual work on your part. I put maybe an hour and change into prepwork and still successfully ran it.
The pre-generated characters and the adventure find ways to link to the movie, making it rather accessible for new players to RPGs. As previously mentioned, each pre-generated character is directly linked to a character from the film, giving the player at least a glimpse into the inspiration and ideas of how to play that particular character.
The adventure also tries to set the same sort of tone; there are nods to the “Lost Circus Performers” comment Vizzini makes in the film, there’s The Impressive Clergyman, a task that must be done for True Love, a Giant, and even a final showdown against oppressive odds.
To be quite frank, the writing of the Quickstart leaves much to be desired, and I don’t mean the collection of typos. While we have some of the magic of the film, I feel it takes some of the worst parts of the book (awkward wordiness, run-on commentary, poor pacing, etc) and puts it into the spotlight.
This is true for both the rules and the adventure. Some of the facts in the adventure were scattered around and hidden in different areas with nothing to easily link back to it, which made it a bit of a challenge to run. There was at least one case a player asked about something, and the answer was two or three pages before that point, hidden in the middle of a paragraph. Less than ideal, in my opinion.
As a ruleset, I also felt it left something to be desired. While it is a Quickstart, we have notes on character sheets (namely for the fencer and pirate) about fighting styles but nothing to do with them. This lead to a frustrating situation when a fight broke out and the “Master Fencer” is no better than a mook with a blade.
I’m also not entirely sold on Fudge being used here for the game, as it just feels…clunky. Specifically, you need to have d6s on hand to determine damage, so you can’t get away with just Fudge/Fate dice (one of the appeals of Fate, honestly), and the very reason for needing the d6s in the first place is awkward; specifically, weapons get a rating of Min, Mid, or Max, and you keep the die that matches.
To make it worse, the game has a number of fiddly bonuses that change in scale and can be difficult to track. For example, some weapons get a +1 attached to their rating (so a sword is Mid+1; roll 3d6, keep middle rating, add +1), but if it is increased because of a good roll, it can move up to the next rank (Mid+1 becomes Max). There are also other modifiers outside of damage, like +/- 1 for lighting, multiple opponents, bad footing, injuries, being disheartened/scared, and other elements that, as written, stack.
The GM also doesn’t make rolls, which isn’t bad on paper, but in combat, it means that a player’s roll is both attack and defense with a Winner-Take-All mentality that makes combat scenes fall flat (doubly so with how combat mechanics work). For a franchise that would have some Player vs Player duels, it leaves something to be desired.
Additionally, at least as currently presented in the Quickstart, the skills are a bit bloated with some overlap, while Attributes have very little purpose but are trumped up to be important. It doesn’t feel like there’s much rhyme or reason here, and it really detracts from the product for me.
==How It Played==
No lie, as soon as I heard this was launching, I pulled together a group and said “Drop everything, we’re playing this.” Not everyone was willing to drop everything, but I still had a group of three players ready to go: two friends and fellow fencers from my college days and a fellow GM that loves the film as much as I do. Everyone was a fan of the film, and one had never played an RPG before. Between the three of them, we had the Agent, Fencer, and Pirate striking out into the adventure presented within the book.
Fudge, as a game mechanic, is a different beast compared to most. All attributes (Physical, Mental, and Heart) and Skills (of which there are many) are given an adjective (like Good, Great, Poor, etc) to quantify the level of capability. You compare this descriptor to The Ladder, a tool that quantifies the bonus assigned to each adjective (while also giving an adjective as to how the task went), to determine what the actual bonus is.
The Ladder. You are rated from Terrible to Suburb in any one thing, add your die roll to the rating, and you get the result. So ended with +4 is a Superb Result, while a 0 is just Mediocre.To perform a task, you roll either 4dF (F being a Fudge die) or 3d6 to determine a number between -4 to +4; Fudge dice are easiest, while the 3d6 requires another table.
You add any bonus from the adjective associated with the skill or attribute linked to the roll, compare it to the assigned difficulty, and as long as there’s a specific Margin of Success (MoS), you succeed. Anyone coming in from Fate should feel somewhat at home here.
The adventure itself was pretty straightforward: the party is a group of traveling companions that wish to see a famous traveling circus and decide to stop for lunch at an inn in Florin. There, they find that things are amiss, with an Impressive Clergyman in distress over a lost relic, a young maid in distress due to her True Love going missing (and him being blamed for that lost relic!), and a too-calm innkeeper.
From there, the expectation is the party should be heroes, jumping into action to investigate this missing relic, find the culprits, and save True Love! Even with some of the commentary with suggestions of things the group can do, being heroic is the plan.
Sadly, the Quickstart didn’t count on the players being rather mercenary about things, only wanting to do work for coin, so it was a bit of a hassle to get the group going (doubly so since we don’t really know much about currency in the world of The Princess Bride and how far money goes).
After some finagling to get the party into action, they performed the investigation, a few dice rolls were made (tied to the investigation, as called for in the book), a social encounter with a giant occurred, and then the final showdown took place. All of the parts leading up to the showdown took very little real-world time, with the Showdown taking up the majority of the game.
This is where many of my players began to check out. Combat in the game is a winner-take-all scenario, in which the player makes a roll that sums up their attack and defense against their foe, whether they be villain or brute. Therefore, if the villain attacks the Fencer, the Fencer makes a roll which determines the outcome for both of them. On a tie, both parties take a “scratch” on their health chart. With a success, the Fencer would deal their damage to the villain (with a modifier based on the MoS, of course). On a failure, the villain would hit the Fencer instead.
As the final showdown is set to occur at night (so either a -1 or a -2 due to lighting, based on time of night), there are penalties already occurring across the board, and if the players take an action outside of combat, they still have to make a combat roll (and the rules as written are not clear if they can still defend/attack if they spend their action doing something else).
I had to wing certain parts of the fight, like the intimidation attempts and other (failed) elaborate schemes, as well as try to not kill the party because the rolls were just bad due to the modifiers.
After an hour and change of combat, the group finally defeated the villain and his cronies, found the relic, returned the relic (but kept everything else of value), got their pay, and ran off to catch the circus.
At this time, I’m not entirely certain how I feel about The Princess Bride RPG. If I had to rate it as it stands and not consider the final product, the game would be leaving with a paltry 2.5 buns, and that is being generous because it is The Princess Bride.
There’s a certain degree of the magic and fun of the film that is captured in this quickstart, that I cannot deny, but the packet is rife with things that made the novel unenjoyable for me while also utilizing a mechanic that I feel fails to truly capture the very essence of such a wonderful tale.
Will the final product be better with full explanations, proper editors, and commentary from backers? It’s a possibility, and I am truly hoping that it is the case. I will still back the game for the PDF version at least and may consider splurging for a print copy (if for no other reason that to have a copy for reference), but my desire to go all-in and get a special edition of the game did slowly die due to upcoming financial situations and the quickstart packet.
The Princess Bride RPG is currently in a Kickstarter campaign by Toy Vault, with a campaign goal of $45,000 and is now available worldwide (due to licensing extensions). Backing to get a copy of the book starts at $25 for the PDF and climbs to $200 for the Deluxe Edition with extras.