By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 12 June2019
There’s a shortage of perfect movies in this world. It’d be a pity to ruin this one.
That’s my feeling every time I hear about something coming out with The Princess Bride name and branding. I never say “The movie was better than the book,” but this film has been an exception for me, so any new item with this name is going to be under a lot of scrutiny.
So what am I waiting for? It’s time to storm the castle!
The Princess Bride RPG is pitched as exactly what it sounds like: an RPG set in the universe of The Princess Bride film (not the novel), offering all of the same trappings. “Fencing. Fighting. Torture.Revenge. Giants. Monsters. Chases. Escapes.True love. Miracles.” Using the book, you should be able to run your own version of The Princess Bride, the later adventures of our heroes from the film, or even your own heroes set in the same world.
The game uses Fudge (not Fate), and brings aboard Stefan O’Sullivan, it’s original designer, to be the writer of this game.
==What You Get==
In digital form, The Princess Bride is a 258 page PDF. The first 144 of those pages are dedicated to how the game works for player use, with the last 114 pages dedicated to the GM. This latter half includes a section about the world of The Princess Bride, a pair of adventures, and even the stats for our heroes of the film.
Again, the game is powered by Fudge. For those of you who are not aware, Fudge was created back in 1992 by O’Sullivan, was purchased by Grey Ghost Games in 2004, and very little was said afterward. Fudge is the basis of Fate, but knowing Fate does not help with knowing Fudge; do be sure not to skip the rules as you read!
While an odd situation, I feel as though it’s worth mentioning: the writing in this book is more reminiscent of the novel rather than the film. One of the more frustrating elements of the novel was the obsessive use of asides, as the narrator explains details in an out-of-character voice within parenthesis. Some chapters are just an entire discourse on why something had to be cut, or notes about the timeline (such as “This was after fortunes, but before America”). The writing O’Sullivan uses often replicates this, albeit at a smaller scale.
Which is why I have to put the writing in the “good” category. Unlike the more bothersome parts of Goldman’s book, O’Sullivan interjects this sort of thing in a more comedic, short-burst sort of way to be a nod to the original while not detracting from the pacing. It makes the book a fairly comfortable read.
This comfortable read is aided by the colors used for the page. Unlike the classic “black text on stark white pages”, or the “black text on dark background,” we are given a light green hue with black text. While the book has glossy pages, the color does help with making it more readable overall, which is a great plus in my book.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that a section of the book is dedicated to “The Chatty Duelists” and maps out the entire duel on the Cliffs of Insanity within the confines of a game session…and it actually works! I can’t help but love that little touch.
For a fan of The Princess Bride, there are a number of little gems to notice. For example, there are nods to things that only appear in the novel and not the film, such as the knowledge that Fezzik is Turkish, or that the Zoo of Death is an actual place. There’s more than just the writing style allusion and some suggestions of how to handle the contradictory information within the work, so it’s overall a nice thing to see.
In fact, there’s a section about the world of The Princess Bride that touches on topics such as currency, travel, geography, and more. Considering that it takes all of Goldman’s humorous contradictions in stride (such as being European Renaissance but using Australia as a penal colony), I found it to be a worthwhile read.
Even though I was not a big fan of the earlier versions of Fudge, this version is drastically cleaner and easier to use (and the overall quality is much higher than that of the Quickstart we were given last year). The rules are well explained, the skills are flexible, and like Fate, there are a number of tools and dials that can be factored in to make the game more interesting. The fencing styles are just a simple rule tweak, there are rules to make combat shorter or longer, and even character creation grants an option to play something that’s not a strictly defined profession. Overall, there’s some great stuff here!
Finally, I need to praise the layout of the book. The sections are readily marked, and it’s easy to navigate what you need. In fact, all of the “rules”, such as skill descriptions and the like, are in an appendix in the back, meaning it does not break the flow of reading when going cover-to-cover, and it also makes finding them SO much easier; I’ve lost count the number of hours lost rifling through a rulebook’s character creation chapter to look up the modifiers for a specific skill or ability, for example. Whoever set that up is brilliant and deserves a great deal of praise.
As an early jab that may not impact the future of the game, this has been a long time coming. I heard about this game back in 2017 and was stoked to see it, but it kept getting delayed. Once it was on Kickstarter a year and change later, we got further delays until the books arrived. While not the longest of delays, they were frustrating, and I do hope that any future projects they do for this game don’t suffer the same string of delays.
And with that, it’s time for the actual concerns!
For starters, the usage of Fudge is going to be a turnoff for some, and for me, there’s a few elements of it that are a bit annoying. The game can use Fudge dice, but you will need 3d6 anyway to handle damage; in the end, you’ll either be using Fudge for rolls and 3d6 for damage, or just use your d6s for rolls (using the chart provided to determine result) and damage. I felt the inclusion of dice in the Deluxe edition, and their inclusion as a side note in the rulebook, was more forced (and a money grab) than anything.
From a writing perspective, I have a few gripes. Namely, there are a handful of typos (some are even in headings), there are some layout concerns (like large-type font on a new chapter page that now moves into a new page), and there’s some inconsistencies of style (such as bolding a written out number, such as four, in one profession, but the next profession removes the formatting and just puts in the number, such as 4). It’s not a deal breaker, but with how many delays we’ve had with this, I’m a bit peeved that it wasn’t cleaned up for consistency.
I’m also sincerely worried about the setting. The Princess Bride is a wonderful film to borrow from, but as a setting, I’m wary. Some of the provided adventures revolve around the timeline of the film, while others are just…there. You see some recurring characters and names being dropped, but otherwise it’s just a standard European Renaissance Fantasy with nods to the cult classic. I like how O’Sullivan works to get everything to fit (like the aforementioned contradictory information), but I don’t think it necessarily adds enough. There’s some great information in the book to use as inspiration, and there are mechanics built in to showcase some of these fun parts, but I’m just not certain on if it can be a mainstay game on the premise of the franchise alone.
Finally, the game is a bit pricey for what you get. I’m used to seeing a high price tag for licensed games, but for paying $50 (the Kickstarter price), I expected more than 250 pages. The cost of entry here is probably going to be a turnoff for some, and I honestly wouldn’t blame anyone for the fear. It’s not as bad a value as some of the other games I’ve backed before, but it’s still irksome.
As always, I can’t help but speak about the art…or rather, the lack of art. Beyond the page background and corner art, the maps we have of Florin and Guilder, and the pregen characters from the quickstart, the book is lacking in art. To replace that, it is filled with photos from The Princess Bride, whether they are character portraits and promotional photos for the beginning of each chapter or a photo from favorite scenes scattered throughout the book. While I love the usage of the film stills, I do feel as though we could have seen art for some of the sample characters here and there, or an artist’s rendition of a Princess Bride-esque scene using original characters. I guess I personally just like seeing new art from artists, even with how often I watch this film (and if you must know: at least twice a year, sometimes more).
I’m also on the fence about using Fudge as the primary mechanic here, as you may have noticed with my notes above. With the resounding success that was 7th Sea 2nd Edition, the increase in popularity of the OSR (Old School Revival), and even the growing popularity of Fate, I would have expected any number of options here, but Fudge was a bit of an outlier.
In short, the writing and explanation of rules simultaneously make the game one of strict rules followed by “whatever works.” We get variable uses for the “Grandpa, Wait!” tokens, yet their usage and acquisition is solely based on the GM’s decisions, and skills, progression, and many other elements fall into similar categories. I always felt the three Attributes in Fudge are near-useless, and the balancing act that is plugged in just doesn’t feel right to me, but it does work for the most part. These are not necessarily bad, but they do make things a bit difficult if you are dealing with rules lawyers or aren’t used to open-ended games.
After conversing with some impressive clergymen and wrestling a hippopotamic land mass, I’d refrain from the action of to blave and give The Princess Bride a miracle of four buns.
As a fan of the franchise, there’s no reason to not get the game. You have setting information, a functional game mechanic, plenty of jokes, and many wonderful things to use. You can have your group recreate the film, be a band of R.O.U.S. tamers and salespeople, or even be elsewhere in the world dealing with the ramifications of Rugen’s death and Humperdinck’s downfall. Plus, unlike the novel, it’s a breeze to read!
Sadly, the choice in game mechanic brings a number of flaws, and the book didn’t deliver as well as I would have hoped considering the number of delays we had, I was hoping for fewer layout issues, but this may have taken a miracle. There’s also the concern of how much can a group actively DO with The Princess Bride with regards to campaigns due to information limitations, and with the death of Goldman last year, we’re not going to have much more to go on beyond our own imaginations.
If you are a fan of the novel or the cult classic film and enjoy RPGs, this is well worth the price of admission. Give this a pass if you’re not a fan of the film (I mean, really, how can these people exist?), or dislike Fudge and/or more open-ended RPGs.
The Princess Bride is written by Stefan O’Sullivan and published by Toy Vault. The book is currently being mailed out to backers at this time, and will be available to purchase from their site or game retailers. Backers paid $25 for the PDF, and $50 for the physical book, so buyers should expect prices around $30 and $60, respectively, after launch. If you wish to try the game out while you wait for it to be available, you can get the free Quickstart here.