Game: Knight’s Handbook
Series: Legends of Excalibur: d20
Review Dated: 30th, March 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
“Welcome to an England that never was,” begins RPGObject’s Legends of Excalibur. It’s a good start. It conjures up the myth and magic I always associate with Arthur and his sword Excalibur and it also makes it clear that this game isn’t a reality picky, medieval history, pilgrimage.
This review is a two parter. This is the first part. The core Excalibur rules are a two parter too (hence the review structure) and although looking at Legends of Excalibur: Arthurian Adventures’ components back to back gives a better, stronger, more clear idea of the game I think this first offering is enough to stand on its own. Only with PDF publishing can you buy the working half of a book first, see if you like it and then commit to the rounding off and enhancing elements later. I see it as a strength of the format but some people are likely to bemoan the costs of paying for and downloading two documents.
This is a modified d20 game. What’s modified? Most noticeably is the magic system; spell slots are out and magic points are in. This is a game mechanics element which is easy to say but hard to do. I think the stat-wizards at RPGObjects have done well here. The magic point system /works/ and I even understood it on the first read through. Me. Mr No-Brain-For-Stat-Maths. This adds a whole lot more flexibility into the game. Spell cost is variable – more easily variable than in traditional d20. Hermits are, as you’d expect, in cities. Heroic PCs might just summon up enough energy to cast a spell above their everyday spell usage. So might NPCs…
The trick with the spell system was to successfully integrate the meta magic feats. Feats which normally resulted in a spell being of a higher slot needed to have a fair point cost alternative. That might sound easy enough at first. I certain thought, “Phaw. Easy” but then I read Charles Rice’s (author) warning of the pit trap there – of extremely variable point cost for the same feat depending on the spell it was enhancing – and was glad that there had been a professional RPG writer and production team behind the project.
You don’t have to read down to the magic system to be sure that RPGObjects knows what they’re talking about though. From the outset it is clear that Legends of Excalibur has been carefully researched. That includes the important elements of feel, theme and mood as well as any historic references.
Bloodline is important in this setting. Was your father a criminal? Are you? Perhaps you’re descended from a regal family of landed nobles? It makes a difference. A big difference. In fact it’s easiest to think of Bloodline as the racial equivalent for the setting. Nobles have charisma bonuses, the highest nobles anyway, but a strength penalty whereas the persecuted criminals have oft-sought after dexterity bonus but a charisma penalty. There are bloodlines in between.
If you want then there’s Nationality too – but this is optional. Call this Scot bias but I quite suspect many gamers will quite like playing a Scottish Knight or an Irish one.
Many of the core d20 fantasy classes aren’t appropriate for the game. There’s a quick list of who’s in and who’s out – and, importantly, why. Scots make good barbarians apparently whereas the Oriental flavoured D&D monk is out. Bye bye. There are plenty of new classes though. The Fool, Hedge Mage, Hermit, Knight, Minstrel, Noble, Priest, Robber Baron, Skald and Yeoman are all added. This works by and large. You can have a criminal knight – but that might work best as someone born into the criminal caste but who has become a knight. A criminal knight is more like a Robber Baron. There is some regulation there too – classes do have requirements. The Knight, for example, requires a Nobility score of at least 41. It seems unlikely that you could create a criminal knight as a level one character without bribing the GM with an interesting character background and a small pile of chocolate.
So what’s this Nobility malarkey then? Nobility replacements alignment. Nobility works off the crazy notion that character’s actions (or inactions) can affect it. It’s a sliding scale from zero (the base assassin) to one hundred (the noblest of the noble – someone like Sir Galahad). It’s taken as read that any semi-sensible alternative to the Old Testament, black, white and dull standard D&D alignment system is going to find time with me. I think, though, that the Nobility system really does work. I can just see players reluctant to engage in nefarious things because it’ll affect their Nobility score; not because they can’t bring themselves to be naughty, but because they have to protect their nobility… and that has a ring of truth about it as far as the setting goes. I like.
What am I doing? Imagine going a whole paragraph from the first mention of Classes without saying anything about Prestige Classes. There are Prestige Classes here too – not cheaply relegated to the second book as some might fear. There’s a large collection. The Berserker, Changeling, Crusader, Enchantress, Lady of the Lake, Quest Knight, Saint and Spectral Knight. You don’t need don’t need the Pope’s say-so to be a Saint but you do need to be a follower of the One God. Turning the Lady of the Lake into the Ladies of the Lake is an interesting move. I can see GMs killing that or making it work really well. Ah. I’ve not mentioned the White Knights, Purple Knights, Black Knights, Blue Knights or Green Knights either. No. Shush. If you’re sniggering at the back there then you’ve not read as much Arthurian fiction as you might have. There is a president for this. The Green Knight is an infamous tale. These prestige classes are a quick way to draw up stereotypes and battle lines too, which will work for many or, like me; you might just see that as an excuse to get with the complex politics.
There are actually Knightly Orders too. Knights of the Round Table or the Knights of the Black Table, for example.
These Orders are tucked away in the tail end of Chapter One. This PDF has two chapters and the second PDF picks up at Chapter Three. Along with the Knightly Orders you’ll find your d20 prescribed compliment of new skills, feats and equipment. More interestingly, perhaps, are the rules for Fate and Destiny Points. I think this is an important section. I think Fate and Destiny is important in the setting. Arthur was destined to draw the sword from the stone. Certain knights were destined to have a hard time looking for The Grail. Merlin was destined to be immortality popular – despite what may have become of him at the end.
Notice how I didn’t include “new spells” in the list of standard d20 add-ons for any new rule book. You did? Yup. That’s because they make up chapter two. Given the introduction of the magic point system there is enough here and there should be a new chapter.
I keep on thinking of RPGObject’s Darwin’s Word series when I sit back to try and sum up my feelings on Legends of Excalibur. It’s probably wrong of me to typecast RPGObjects’ efforts in such a away so why do I do it? It’s the settings they pick. If you’re a post apocalypse fan and a d20 player then there’s every reason to love Darwin’s World. If not – then you can probably live without it. Legends of Excalibur is similar. If you’re an Arthur / Merlin / Excalibur fan and a d20 player then you’ll be interested in this RPG. If the genre of the core rule set sends unpleasant shivers down your spine then Legends of Excalibur is unlikely to win you over. In some ways Legends of Excalibur is the strongest offering from RPGObjects to date. They take a familiar and popular setting – one which many people have already formed a mental image of – and they shake it up a little. Not a lot. Just a little. Legends of Excalibur flirts with the tagline “Arthurian Adventures with a Difference” but doesn’t quite go all the way. And at the risk of sounding prudish; the effect is quite good. There’s something to work with here. GMs can take the game in which ever direction they want.