August 26, 2012

From Barbarian Prince and Other

While formally considered moreso a boardgame than an role-playing game, and solitaire at that, both the setting and game play of Barbarian Prince follows through with fodder for fantasy RPG goers.

After a thorough read of the game's manual, and a good look-over of its map, I was left almost too inspired to borrow from it. Maybe even lift some of its design. Given its solitaire nature, the player is immediately aware of much meta-information; he has to. And it's a good play of honesty to keep on trudging even when he rolls up something nasty, such as a killer curse or the loss of all his party members, and many other things.

Meta-gaming information was never much of a secret I've murdered to keep off the table. It could be things such as knowing how to kill zombies or vampires. A certain genre savvy nature is often expected and enjoyed by all, whether it's the motives of robotic clowns or the party's non-player. So how does this relate; look no further than the concept of the role-playing game. I wouldn't for the life of me spill a monster's stats and abilities, but things such the powers of a sword are preferably given (to the possessor).

The magic items of Barbarian Prince, by design, follow this. But not only did they know what the item could do, but also what it was worth to certain NPCs. In a way we can begin to see the assumed lore behind objects in a setting, without going through a heap of exposition from the Referee.
Video games from the NES on to early 3-D platforms had it 'all there in the manual'. They needed too, because the game couldn't actively describe or detail items in-game, but still wanted, or needed, to explain an object's purpose in its world. Maybe the influence of these older games comes off too readily for me, but good consideration for why it is sometimes beneficial to let at least a little on for the players.

Meta-game information varies between groups, and often how little or much is allowed can also set the mood of a game, but sometimes even a little will benefit everyone. Especially if they can avoid taking too much advantage of it. Scare them with new stimuli and subvert the old to keep it fresh, if you need to.

Returning to the magical items of the game in question. A mechanic that excited me, and one often excluded in fantasy artifacts (ignoring wand charges), is the chance of burning out. Instead of an arbitrary number assigned, we find each use garnering either a 1 in 6 or 1 in 12 chance of running out of juice (or being destroyed). And just about all magic items use this mechanic (except swords); and can reduce the likelihood of defaulting on the item to snatch success time and again.

By no means an 'item', but certainly an item; the True Love that can be scored by the prince is both an invaluable asset to his adventure, and an under-used, seldom-seen trope of fantasy adventure. Given the NPC-ish nature of the prince's party, this is the one person he can rely upon, even if her activities are randomly determined. Not only this, but a love triangle can form that muddies up the affair, losing the benefits while it persists. She provides a bonus to Wits & Wiles, (woman's good senses, no doubt). Other NPCs offer similar benefits (such as negating the penalties of Reactions with elves, or worsening them with a dwarf). And in all it really expanded the horizon for what Non-players can bring to the party for me, especially if the players available are fewer than wanted. The idea that they aren't just extra hands/swords, but can improve conversations as advisers, among other things. I don't mean as in the Referee talking as them, but as more passive improvements to the players' activities.

The Events booklet provides a great swath of ideas for adventures, encounters and even what sort of event forks could open up between them. The map too is an easy grab.

Hopefully my bestial writing hasn't hidden the values I've intended to place in this document. All the same: Barbarian Prince is interesting mechanically and setting-wise; items and the meta-game; NPCs and the unspoken, but ever present benefits they provide.

For those parties interested: Barbarian Prince is available for free download.

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