The Green Knight, David Lowery’s fresh cinematic take on an old Arthurian legend, is now out and receiving rave reviews, including here at Polygon. The film, like so many others, was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but along the way the team at A24 ginned up a curious promotional item. It’s called The Green Knight: A Fantasy Roleplaying Game and, as far as one-shot RPGs go, it’s not half bad. But be warned: It contains some thematic spoilers for the mysterious fantasy-horror film.
You can pick up The Green Knight RPG for a modest $35 on the A24 website. Inside, you’ll find a 20-sided die, a lightly illustrated world map, The Game Master’s Guide, and five empty character sheets. There’s one for each of the game’s classes: the damage-dealing hunter, the leadership-focused knight, the powerful and charismatic sorcerer, the wealthy noble, and the bard, whose primary role appears to be buffing the party.
It’s all pretty standard stuff, when it comes down to it, right down to how encounters are handled with a 20-sided die. It’s just that the consequences of your actions in this RPG are very, very different.
Specifically, there are no hit points. That’s because, per The Game Master’s guide, “characters need not fear death — the ultimate punishment is dishonor.”
Each character has a sliding scale at the top of their character sheet. On the left-hand side is honor — symbolized by the golden crown Gawain wears in the film’s trailer. On the right-hand side is dishonor — symbolized by a weathered, jawless skull. Every action that a player takes during a session earns them honor or dishonor. It’s up to the game master — using guidance provided in the Guide and their own best judgement — to make that call every time. Hit 20 dishonor during an encounter, and you’re out until the next encounter rolls around.
The Game Master’s Guide itself is extremely well-written. The flavor text — copy that gets shared with the players — is short and sweet, with plenty of guidance for directing the action in each scene. In the finale, dishonor begins to pile up for every player every round, regardless of their actions. The result is a game that moves forward at a breakneck pace — perfect for a moody one-shot on a stormy night.
If I’ve got any complaints, it’s that there’s very little incentive for the players to work together as a party. It feels like the game has been custom-tailored for people more comfortable playing a board game than a proper RPG. Everyone gets their turn at cracking the code, as it were, of a given encounter before moving down the initiative order. That’s not necessarily a knock against it. All in all, it’s a thematic, fast-paced adventure perfect for a three- to four-hour sitting — including character creation.
So what’s it actually all about?
[Warning: What follows contains mild spoilers for The Green Knight: A Fantasy Roleplaying Game and for the plot of the film itself.]
The Green Knight RPG begins, like any good role-playing adventure, in a tavern. That’s where the players meet each other for the first time. In trading their stories, they realize they have a connection to the same mysterious warrior … whom they all met simultaneously exactly one year ago.
“You all harmed the Green Knight in some way,” reads the flavor text, “with the Knight’s promise that he would return the damage done to him ‘one year hence.’” Each player is on a quest to meet the Knight at his Green Chapel. Only then will their fate be resolved, and the debt they owe to the Knight repaid.
The Game Master’s Guide includes three encounters leading up to a climactic confrontation. Players will come across an ambush in the woods, a talking fox that may or may not be an angelic spirit living in those woods, and a mysterious apparition that invites players to secure a treasure hidden at the bottom of a lake. To resolve each scenario, players need to use their special skills, while managing their honor along the track at the top of the page.
Will they rescue the peasant, or succumb to the lies of a group of bandits? Will they kill the fox to feed a family, or set it free to roam the woods once more? Will they aid the apparition, or give in to greed once they’ve discovered the treasure in the lake? As mentioned above, few of these encounters require any real teamwork, but they are fun opportunities for making dramatic monologues along the way.
The only confusing bit inside the box is that world map. I have no idea what it’s actually for. The setting itself is dreamy and vaguely European, with locations that include a shack in the woods and a well-worn road. Nothing gets a name — certainly not any of the names included on the map. Likely it’s just a prop, intended to give direction to players eager to continue their adventure with one of the three paragraph-long hooks included as an appendix.
The Green Knight: A Fantasy Roleplaying Game is a complete one-shot experience for three to five players. It’s hardly a gameplay system to get invested in, which makes its premium price tag a bit hard to swallow. But, if you’re looking for a fun evening with role-playing newbies or something to use as a change of pace for your existing role-playing group, it’s a good diversion.