By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 24 June 2020
When you are surrounded by books and inundated with a backlog, sometimes it’s nice to pick up a smaller indie title to unwind and try something new. Combine this with my workplace reopening amidst the various issues happening in the world, and a bit of escapism was absolutely necessary.
This time around, I checked out the newest title by my friend G. Michael Truran of Bad Quail Games, a little gem that’s been on the docket for a while called Knives at Knightfall.
In Knives at Knightfall, you take the role of a preternaturally skilled warrior in an era after the fall of chivalry, sworn to defend the young heir to the throne, the Dauphin. You have taken a sorcerous oath that you will see the Dauphin take the throne for the good of the people, or your soul will suffer a fate worse than what has happened to the kingdom.
Of course, it won’t be easy. The Dauphin is at a young and tender age, and the various aristocrats vie for both attention and influence. Additionally, the physical threats against the Dauphin are great, and there are many who would be willing to alter the course of history at the edge of a knife…
The Dauphin is nine years old, and cannot take the throne for the next nine years. It is up to you and your fellow Knives to keep them safe, teach them to be a good monarch (if such a thing is possible), and fulfill your oath.
==What You Get==
Knives at Knightfall includes five individual documents spanning 71 pages (including blank pages and covers). The documents include a Player’s Booklet (for creating and playing your hero), the Art Trees (showing the preternatural abilities purchased by your character), a Rules Book (the largest document explaining how the game is played in detail), the Dauphin Book (to create and discuss the charge the heroes are caring for), and a Book of Foes (exactly what it says).
From a mechanics standpoint, we are using a 2d6 system inspired by Blades in the Dark and other Apocalypse World-inspired games: simply roll your 2d6, add your mods, and compare your result to the standard result table or the opponent’s defense (in combat). There are a few tweaks, like adding a third die for specific rolls, as well as some other intriguing elements tied in.
The very premise of this game caught my attention right out of the gate. I’ve always been a fan of swashbuckling-style games, and Knives at Knightfall hit all the right notes for a supernatural-inspired Three Musketeers, which is one of my favorite parts of 7th Sea.
But G. Michael takes this one step further: combine the “respawn” elements from video games (namely Sekiro) with a simple roll mechanic and narrative banter into one package.
Honestly, these two points are well executed in this game and are worth the price of admission.
As part of the oath the heroes have taken, not even death will free them. Should they die, or should their charge, the Dauphin, die, time will be rewound to before catastrophe struck…for a cost. While this cost does include physical money (the ferryman demands payment in coin, of course), there’s another cost known as “Decay” that shows how rewinding time harms and alters the timeline.
By far, one of my favorite mechanics is the ability to “Challenge Their Ideals.” When facing off against higher-up villains that have their own goals and machinations, the Knives are able to throw witty and philosphical banter as part of their clash of steel, causing their foes to question their goals and ideals, which may lead to some benefits for the players. Any time I can pull something like this in a game is a good time in my opinion, so I was elated to see this.
Finally, I am fond of how little it takes to run this game. Printing is done up in booklet format, leaving a collection of half-page zine-sized booklets for the table to use. Players can take their eight-page booklet for their Knives which includes rules, gear, and character sheets, pick a single a half-page Arts Tree sheet, share an eight-page Dauphin booklet (to show the Dauphin’s stats and ways to influence them), share a copy of the thirty six-page rulebook, and the GM has a fifteen-page booklet for their foes. Printing these out as booklets reduces table space and doesn’t take too much paper for printing (especially if you are paying per-sheet from a third party), and with only using d6, it’s easy to get moving!
One of the first issues I noticed with Knives at Knightfall was an incorrectly loaded file that makes it difficulty to “properly” print the document as intended. G. Michael has been made aware of this and is working on a solution.
Like many games, it could use another pass by an editor; some terms used don’t appear again later, and without being able to match the thought, it could throw some players off. This will also hopefully be resolved in the near future.
From there, I have two particular issues with Knives at Knightfall.
The open-ended elements of the game make things too vague at times. For example, when creating the Dauphin, players are able to influence the Dauphin’s scores based on the personality they believe their charge has. Additionally, members of court can also influence the Dauphin to raise or lower their attributes to better suit their needs, but the end goals could use more clarification.
Some setting elements also suffer from this, and I would love to see this expanded on. It works, but it’s a bit shallow. I personally like my shadows to be long and deep.
Finally, Knives at Knightfall currently has one image, which is the cover. While not every indie writer can afford art, I find a $15 price point for a PDF without art to be a bit steep. Still worth it, but seeing those empty spaces does detract a bit.
After dealing with the decay and weighing on the values of my oath, I’ll leave this monarch of an RPG with 3.5 buns.
Knives at Knightfall is a mostly polished game with some wonderful ideas, but it doesn’t quite feel finished yet. It is a solid step up from Plunderlight, and I feel it evolves nicely from the games that inspired it, but it isn’t quite there yet.
That said, Knives at Knightfall is a great game to pick up with some friends and play some supernatural agents in the Renaissance, and would make a great short-term game or convention game with minimal effort. Honestly, I read the game in about an hour or so over lunch and would have been comfortable running the game that evening. Between the video game-like respawn to flexible mechanics, the game has a good bit going for it.
Sadly, the game needs a bit more to really stand out. The setting is a bit too vague, and I’d love to see more about these factions, the Oath of Charon, and the other potentially supernatural elements of the setting. There are a few spots that need some polish and decoration, but these rough edges are more cosmetic and show that Knives at Knightfall needs to be honed a bit more to become a spectacular game.
Knives at Knightfall was written by G. Michael Truran, the brains behind Bad Quail Games. You can find Knives at Knightfall, as well as his other games, on itch.io. As of this writing, Knives at Knightfall can be purchased for $15, and purchases help add community copies to the pool.