Sunday, September 6, 2020

Play Report: Barbarian Prince

Over at DIYanddragons I was introduced to the wonderful hidden gem of Barbarian Prince, a game that's been out of print for nearly 40 years and some A-grade prime solo RPG play. I want to see this take off, I want to see hacks and tributes and improvements.

Naturally, I played it. Here's what happened.

Several times I misinterpreted rules, forgot rules, or cheated by rerolling. Certain elements have been modified for story's sake.

The game map, clumsily edited by me.


The Journey

Your younger brother has murdered your father the king and taken the throne for himself. He commands a sizeable mercenary force and has connections with a powerful overseas empire that will support and reinforce his rule.

You managed to escape through the aid of your servant Ogab, who smuggled you out in a merchant caravan and covered your trail. He is likely dead.

You are heading south, to gather up enough funds and allies to retake the throne.

Day 1
You sneak out of the caravan at dawn, in the shadows of the ruins of Jakor's Keep. In another time you would have wanted to explore them, but your brother's forces are still abroad so you must cross the Tragoth River as soon as possible.

You're able to do so safely, and in the flatlands on the other side you encounter a wizard and his servant (Xeno [pronounced shenno] and Rus), traveling by foot. As it happens, they are your own countrymen, fleeing your brother's coup. They pledge themselves and the resources they have to your cause.

Around the fire that night, Xeno informs you of a treasure supposedly buried nearby, across the Nesser River. As you remain in need of a good deal of funds, you draw up a plan to head south, and then cross the river at Cumry.

Day 2
Travel without incident.

Day 3
Moving into the caves north of Cumry, you stumble across a cave containing a tomb of a scion of an ancient empire. The tomb was looted long ago, but you are keen enough to determine that the sarcophagus can be shifted to reveal a hidden pocket of grave goods. You take the gold - the amulet is so corroded that it disintegrates in your hands.

Day 4
You arrive in Cumry and have the first proper meal and bath since fleeing home.

Day 5
(This was a mistake - you can't make temple offerings in towns!)

You visit the temple in town and make a donation. Your piety plus the omens moves one of the priests there to send along with you an apprentice monk, named Thelonius.

Day 6
You attempt to cross the Nesser River by raft, to disastrous results. Feral crocodiles, driven out of the nearby swamp by poaching of their normal food, attack your party. You are able to escape, but not before Xeno gets his leg mangled by one of the beasts. Making matters worse, you weren't even able to cross the river, and were stuck on the shore some miles north of Cumry

Day 7
Rest and treatment of Xeno's injury

Day 8
River crossed successfully.

Day 9
You reach the hills where the treasure is rumored to be.

Day 10
Searching the hills, you find another cave-tomb of the old empire, but this one is not empty - a pair of warrior wraiths have been bound to it, and they do not care for intruders. You manage to overpower the undead and take the grave goods for yourself.

Days 11, 12 & 13
Rest and recovery of injuries for all party members

Days 14, 15, 16, 17
Travel without incident

Day 18
You get lost while trying to navigate out of the foothills and down into the great basin of the Kabir Desert (once the Kabir Sea)

Day 19
You are still lost in the foothills near the desert.

Day 20
You finally reach the desert basin, and in doing so run across a quartet of amazonian battle-sisters: Atalanta, Astarte, Tabiti, and Tomyris. They are running low on their own funds, and so are willing to join you for equal shares of all gold taken in the future.

Day 21
Exhaustion strikes the party as the desert saps your will to go on and devours your resources.

Day 22
You finally reach the Temple of Donat, which sits at the end of a great pilgrimage road. You make an offering to the temple to have your omens read - they are favorable, and say that it would be good to return again tomorrow.

Day 23
You return to the Temple to pray, and find that the gods have a strange sense of humor. One of the priestesses by the name of Zoe, dissatisfied with a life of displaying fish fossils and sweeping out pilgrim dust, has joined your party. Half of infatuation with you, half out of simple desire to get the hell out of there.

She also stole a whole lot of the temple treasury to do so.

You book it to the hills along the road.

Day 24
Rest, recovery from exhaustion, and replenishment of supplies

Day 25
Travel without incident

Day 26
Arrive in Cawther.

Day 27
Stock up on food in the town market.

Day 28, 29, 30
Travel without incident

Day 31
You arrive in Huldra Castle

Day 32
You attempt to get an audience with the Baron, but your request is ignored.

Day 33
Seeing no other options, Xeno pledges his service to the Baron of Huldra, using that as a way in to an audience. You pay your respects, and the Baron gives you a decently-sized purse.

Day 34
You check the rumor mill of the Castle, and learn a secret about Lady Aeravir of Aeravir Castle far to the south - for the chief priestess of a vestal cult, the Lady has a very long list of paramours. Armed with blackmail, a plan forms.

Day 35
Halfway to the deadline. Travel without incident.

Day 36
Rest, replenish food stores.

Day 37
Travel without incident.

Day 38
You encounter a traveling merchant, who points you towards a local rich farmer, who houses your party for the night.

Day 39
You would have made it to Tulith today, were it not for a torrential downpour driving you to a halt.

Day 40
You are low on money and food, and so move to the flatlands outside Tulith to replenish supplies.

Days 41 & 42

Rest, replenish food stores

Day 43
A day of rest is interrupted by the sighting of a band of swine-things in the distance. The amazons  have been spoiling for a fight, and so your party follows them to their camp. You ambush the swine-things, kill the boar and two others before the rest flee. With the cut that the amazons took, it's hardly worth it.

Day 44 & 45
Rest, heal, replenish food stores

Day 46
You move back to the road, passing by a merchant caravan without stopping to chat.

Day 47
You arrive in Turith.

Day 48
You seek an audience with the mayor, but the Master of the Household bars your way. You refuse to pay his bribe.

Day 49
You manage to fall in line with a gang of local thieves planning a heist on the corrupt mayor. You walk away with a heavy purse, which ends up significantly less heavy very soon. You flee the town in the night, headed south.

Day 50
You see a pack of lesser swine-things, and avoid them.

Day 51
A second pack of lesser swine-things, likely part of the same band as the previous day's group, crosses your path, but you do manage to avoid them.

Day 52, 53, 54, 55, & 56
With no money and no food, you are stuck hunting and gradually increasing your supplies. A band of elves (likely out hunting swine-things) pass you by on Day 54, and a lone halfling on Day 56.

Days 57, 58 & 59
Travel without incident. You pass by a second halfling without speaking to them on Day 57.

Day 60
You arrive in Lullwyn

Day 61
You spend almost all of your remaining gold on food at the market.

Days 62 & 63
Travel without incident.

Day 64
You arrive at a farmstead. The family houses and feeds you without charge, and in the next morning their oldest son, Buck, joins your party. His pa says he's a horrible farmer anyway, best let him do something he's good at.

Day 65
Arrive at Aeravir Castle

Day 66
You attempt, and fail, to get an audience with Lady Aeravir.

You sell your excess food to afford rooms for the last night.

You're dead broke and your haversacks are empty.

That blackmail info better fucking work.

Day 67
You are able to get an audience with Lady Aeravir. The Trousers of Time split, and there are two ways it can go.

Pathway A - You attempt to blackmail Lady Aeravir, and she no-sells you. She gives you a small purse, not even enough to feed your party for another night after the amazons take their cut. With only three days left and not enough money for crumbs, you disband your party. Rus goes back to Huldra Castle to meet back with Xeno, Buck returns to his father's farm. The amazons take their money and depart. Thelonius is reluctant to leave you, but remains in Castle Aeravir.

You and Zoe head south on the road, into kingdoms you do not know.

Your brother rules for a short, brutal time, before he drunkenly falls down stone stairs and dies. His son, an idiot, takes his place, and proves completely incapable of standing up to his imperial "allies", their paper money, and their infectious social mores. The north is stripped bare of resources, culture, and people.

This is the one that happens.

Pathway B - Lady Aeravir is swayed by your story and you are given 900 gold pieces - nearly enough to pay for twice the army you needed, as well as three Aeravir knights as your retainers. The amazons do not like that you reneged on your agreement, and so it is likely there would be a fight, and you might very well die.

But, if you manage to persuade them to leave without a fight, or persuade them to remain, you are able to hire enough soldiers to march north and retake your home from your brother. You marry Zoe and establish yourself as ruler of the north. Lady Aeravir remains a stalwart ally.

This one does not happen. It could have.


Thoughts

I love this game - sat down and churned it out in two sessions over the course of a single day. It's old and janky, certainly, but when you figure out the logic behind it, the pieces fit together smoothly.

Most solo games I see around that have emerged recently are more like journalling affairs - often very open ended and vague. This is the opposite - it is procedural, random, and out of your hands, for the most part. And that excites and interests me much more than the journal prompt. For all the jank, Barbarian Prince gives me something to work with, to go off of. It is able to replicate an RPG experience with all the ups and downs.

But it's still got that jank.

Things to change

  • The description of how hunting worked made me think it was the opposite of what it actually was. Several other entries have slightly confusing wording.
  • Combat is rough, and the flow you settle into can be thrown out of whack when you have to recalculate modifiers when someone gets injured. It's kinda a mess.
  • The fact that you can't take other party members hunting with you unless you rested that day is bullshit. Like you see how many days, especially at the end, I wasted just trying to not starve. Even with the extended hunting party I was barely able to feed my party for that night, let alone actually stock up supplies.
  • Gold and food melts. Soon as you think you're safe, you're fucked. This plays into the sort of roguelike difficulty, but runs afoul of one of the prime roguelike issues - the pain of loss scales directly with the time investment it took to get there. Adding in a DOTA-style "you know you're going to lose but you're going to limp around for another hour" does that no favors.
  • Granted, those amazons did not do me any favors either.
  • Not being able to do a town action when you arrive in a town is also bullshit. You just end up wasting gold on room and board with no benefit.
  • Buying rations should be a free action.
  • New party members should definitely have their own rations when they join.
But you know what? The principle is sound. It is very sound.

Folks need to get in on this.

5 comments:

  1. Probably the most RPG fun I have had in all this damnable year.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is a great play-through and review. I'm sorry your blackmail plot didn't work out. It sounds like the rumor system works pretty well!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Board Game Geek has some terrific maps and re-laid-out rule books.

    I was introduced to this game in like 1984, maybe? And even held an original barbarian prince mini In my hand, once. My first PC after many years when I returned to DnD died in Dave Younce’s Iron Canyons game - alas, Cal Arak, poisoned by spider bite.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I saw the tor.com review and gave it a try recently as well. My first playthrough was an epic quest across the map, with jailbreaks, treasure hunts, and wizard battles that finally ended in my tragic death at the hands of troll. On my second playthrough I got lost in the mountains for a week, caught the flu, nearly starved to death, then seduced the priestess of a mountain temple. We ran off and hid in some nearby ruins, where I fell into a treasure room with enough gold for me to wins instantly. So, yeah, lots of variance, but also a lot of fun.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I gave this a shot and had a crushing defeat. I went to the temple of Zhor after crossing the river in 1801, was promptly assaulted by 8 guards despite negotiation attempts, visited the desert, got surprise-round ambushed by 6 spiders lurking near some 'evil plants' and escaped with 7 poisoned wounds, went back to the temple in the hopes they could cure me of these unhealable wounds, and got attacked by 7 mounted guards and slaughtered in the first round when hiding failed. Barbarian prince, more like barbarian mince.

    Better luck next time...

    ReplyDelete