I have loved Arthurian mythology and folklore since I was a child. My bedtime stories were the tales of the Round Table and I’ve devoured the various iterations of the stories over the years – from the classic versions to the “historical” gritty ones.
While Celtic/British mythology is found in many tabletop roleplaying games it isn’t always the focus. There are a few dedicated ones, like the classic Pendragon , more recent Mythic Britain, and Age of Arthur.
Scott Malthouse’s Romance of the Perilous Land is a love-letter to Arthurian legend and British folklore through the lens of old-school fantasy roleplaying. It presents a land inspired by those same myths, peopled by giants, faerie, dragons, and the characters of those stories.
I also get a vibe I can’t quite place from the Perilous Land and could not tell you why, but I want to see it as a 1970s-80s fantasy comic book. It has a bit of an old-school swords and sorcery element to it that I feel would be well-represented in that medium.
It has great production values, with excellent and representative art, and is single-column text, making it much easier to read on a phone and tablet as a PDF.
I am your humble knight…and I swear allegiance to the courage in your veins. – Uriens, Excalibur
Heroes in Romance of the Perilous Land are exactly that – heroes. They are daring and courageous, possessed of a strong sense of justice, and willing to quest for what is right. Character creation is very fast and straightforward. Roll 4d6, drop the lowest die, total the rest, and assign it to an Attribute (inherent character capability). Do this 5 times and you have your character’s Might, Reflex, Constitution, Mind, and Charisma. If you’re familiar with any D&D-related system you’ll be at home here due to the inherent similarities. These Attributes all have skills assigned to them like Athletics, Thievery, Magic Knowledge, etc.
You choose a template, or Class, for your character. Knights are your weapon masters and defenders, Rangers your scouts and ranged fighters, Thieves the stealthy types, Bards provide inspiration to the group and talk you out of tricky situations, and Barbarians combat the foe in berserk rages. The Cunning Folk are the only Class that has access to magic, and are wizards, witches, and sorcerers.
Your class determines your hit points (life points), what weapons and armor you can use, your skills, starting equipment, and grant special abilities as you increase in level (a numeric rating of your respective power level ranging from 1-10). While the basics for a character of each Class are the same (2 Knights are initially very similar), every even level they receive a Talent, which is a choice of a variety of other special abilities. These can enhance their Class powers, increase an Attribute, or provide a unique trait.
Characters are even further distinguished through choosing Backgrounds – professional or social status-based elements that grant more skills and gear. So from only 6 classes you can create a wide variety of diverse characters. It’s simple and elegant!
Merlin: You have a kingdom to rule. Arthur: But how? I don’t know how.
When attempting an action with the outcome in doubt you will typically make an Attribute Check. These are determined by the GM assigning a Difficulty, which is subtracted from the relevant Attribute, then the player must roll equal to or under that number on 1d20. Circumstances (like having a relevant skill) can allow you to roll 2d20 and take the most (or least) advantageous one. Contested checks between two opponents require success over failure, or a lower roll if both succeed.
Combat is equally simple and functions identically to an Attribute Check. Success results in dealing damage, first to armor then to Hit Points. Armor can be fixed of course, so it’s helpful to have that extra buffer before you start taking serious damage.
Serpent’s breath, charm of death and life thy omen of making. – sometimes Merlin, sometimes Morgana, Excalibur
Spellcasters in Romance of the Perilous Land manipulate the energy of the world, known as the Wyrd, to power their magic. Magic doesn’t function the same way as classic D&D, though thematically there are similarities. Spells are prepared ahead of use with various in-world activities and the expenditure of Spell Points. Spells of any level may be cast as an Attribute Check, but the higher the level the more difficult and expensive to cast (however with an appropriately powerful effect). There are risks involved and the caster may suffer if the spell fails.
Spells are very flavorful and evocative from blessings to curses, elemental evocations and alterations, summonings and scryings. Don’t expect a huge spell list, but since the system allows casting the same spell more than once it’s not a huge deal – there are enough options and some very powerful ones.
I must ride with my knights to defend what was, and the dream of what could be. – Arthur, Excalibur
The world of the Perilous Land is inspired by British folklore, making use of creatures and characters of Celtic myth, but positioned in its own land and timeline. It’s an Age of Valour where Arthur rules, Mordred and Morgan’s scheme, and Robin Hood protects the wild. A world where objective good and evil exist and heroes are needed to bring justice to the land and protect its people.
Magic is rare and powerful but its energy pulses ubiquitously throughout the land. Artifacts are unique and drawn from mythology – a number of examples are included ranging from Excalibur to the Seven-League Boots.
The overview of the 11 Kingdoms provides evocative detail about each location – each has its own particular flavor that harmonizes well with the other kingdoms, creating a cohesive whole. They are detailed just enough to get the imagination moving, but still feel like elements are lost in the mists of time. The kingdoms also include numerous sites in which to adventure. Each of these entries have at least one strong story hook, giving the GM plenty to draw on when creating adventures. Some of my favorites include the trap-laden castle of the Fisher King (with good reason behind the obstacles), the Innsmouth-by-way-of-Faerie village of Westerfrost, and the haunted well in the Forest of Liande. Special mention to Sherwood Forest, where Marian is described as a “strong-willed assassin.” Pretty badass.
The Perilous Land is home to many factions which player characters can join. They all have suitable motivations to adventure, as well as benefits to joining and rules to follow. Only a few player factions are given specific detail, like the Knights of the Round Table and Merry Men of Sherwood, but quite a few are mentioned in the overview of the kingdoms, so you have other options built-in for homebrewing.
Remember, there’s always something cleverer than yourself. – Merlin, Excalibur
The bestiary is very expansive and GMs will not be lacking in foes for their players. Statistics blocks are minimal and include only what’s required, along with a description of the creature. Should you not find what you’re looking for, it seems simple enough to create a new beast using the existing ones as guidelines. There are boggarts and brigands, hawks and hags, sluagh and spriggans, among many others. There are also legendary beings like dragons, the Green Knight, and the oldest of the giants: Gogmagog. Major NPCs receive a full write up as characters – Arthur, Guinevere, Mordred, Morgana, and others.
I have walked my way since the beginning of time. Sometimes I give, sometimes I take – it is mine to know which and when. – Merlin, Excalibur
The Gamemaster’s section is concise and written with the voice of experience, emphasizing an old-school style of play. I really appreciated that a distinction was made between telling a story and running an adventure game, and imagine that being useful to someone new to roleplaying games who picks up the book, as the former is still a common, though counterproductive, way of describing the experience.
If you like the old-school RPG aesthetic and a simple and straightforward system you’ll definitely like Romance of the Perilous Land. It combines this design style with enough options to allow diverse characters and a setting steeped in folklore and mythology. It’s easy enough to pick up quickly and seems perfectly suited to running on the fly. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to rewatch Robin of Sherwood and Excalibur.
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