Filled to the brim with swashbuckling excitement, heart-squeezing true love, and fantastically witty one-liners, The Princess Bride has been a fan favorite movie for years.
I can’t even remember the first time that I watched the movie. It ranks among ‘essential viewing’ in my family, and I’ve watched it more than a dozen times again since. The novel on which it is based has also long sat on my mother’s and my bookshelves, read over several times.
Much of the uniqueness of this property, and a big reason behind its beloved-ness, is that both the book and the movie embody a certain amused self-awareness. The actual story of The Princess Bride, in which Wesley rescues Buttercup from the evil Prince Humperdink, is non-diegetic, meaning that the story is being told by another character in the story. The audience (or the reader) switches back and forth between the adventure itself, and the presenter of the story. In the novel, this is the author Goldman, interrupting his writing with anecdotes about the text that he is supposedly ‘adapting’ into a new volume. In the movie, this is a grandfather reading the story to his sick grandson. This goes so far as to effect the adventure story itself - skipping and adding and altering the story to the whims of the interrupter.
In both cases, The Princess Bride becomes as much as about the telling and creation of a story, as the actual story itself.
This is an excellent conceit for a roleplaying game (in which the creation of a story is the meat of the gameplay), and The Princess Bride Roleplaying Game takes advantage of this implication to great effect.
Overall, The Princess Bride RPG is a witty and interesting game that will probably keep your group engaged for at least a couple sessions and adventures - more, if they’re particularly attached to The Princess Bride. The set up and play style is fairly loose, and encourages both players and Game Masters to think creatively and roleplay heavily, rather than relying on mechanics and power-gaming.
Here’s a basic timeline:
1973 - WIlliam Goldman publishes The Princess Bride, a swashbuckling adventure which tells both the story of a pirate rescuing a princess and the adaptation of that story into the novel which is being read. While Goldman wrote the entirety of the novel himself, the text presents the actual adventure story as the work of ‘S. Morgenstern’.
1987 - William Goldman writes, and Rob Reiman directs, a movie adaptation of The Princess Bride. This closely follows much of the original story, but replaces the authors ‘notes and asides’ from the original text with interaction between a young boy and his grandfather, who reads him the story.
2014 - Cary Elwes (who plays the lead character Wesley in The Princess Bride movie) publishes As You Wish, a memoir detailing behind the scenes of the movie, now a cult classic and fan favorite.
2017 - Stefan O’Sullivan (author of the Fudge roleplaying system, and several other ttrpg books) crowdsources and publishes The Princess Bride Roleplaying Game, releasing it through Toy Vault. Prices range from $40-$60 online and through storefront retailers.
2020 - A year or so after spotted the book in my local game store, I finally get my hands on this game!
Rules and Gameplay
The Princess Bride RPG runs on the Fudge system, which I think is a good choice for a game which is built in this manner. The Princess Bride does not bury itself in the little details of its story - and neither should the people playing a game based on it. The effort of adding up a dozen modifiers, or the time needed to count so many dice, would easily detract from the atmosphere created by both the movie and the game overall.
For those who are not familiar, the Fudge system is a fairly simple, d6 based system. You roll several d6 (or sometimes special d6 with blanks, pluses, and minuses for easier calculation) and the resulting total tells you how successful your attempted action was. If you have specified through character creation that you are already particularly good or bad at something, you can add or subtract a level from the tiers of success. It's fast, easy, and much less fiddly (although also much less detailed and customizable) than d20 or d100 systems. You can roll for both specific skills/abilities, and general attributes (in this game, Heart, Body, and Wits).
This setup does, however, require the remembering of quite a number of different abilities. I would recommend photocopying the indexes of gifts, inconveniences, and skills that are found in the back of the book, as well as making a table of success tiers for each player and the Game Master, for ease of reference. Personally, I always like to keep a rules book handy whatever I’m playing, but at an average of $50 a book, and given that this was a limited release, that might be a little difficult here.
Grandpa, Wait! Points
The most interesting aspect of gameplay is the inclusion of “Grandpa, Wait!” points. These are a Princess Bride version of Fate points (somewhat similar to 5e D&D’s inspiration points), and they allow a small boost, event, or change to the story to take place, making them extremely useful.
Basically, whenever a player does something particularly cool or encouraging of play, the GM can give them a token or tell them to write down that they have a point. They can then spend this point when things just aren’t going their way - maybe to retroactively give themselves a piece of equipment they forgot to pack, to increase the success tier of one of their actions, or to heal someone slightly. Nothing gamebreaking, but enough to keep everyone having fun and working around unfortunate accidents and crueler dice rolls.
They can also be traded for more gifts and skills if players save them up, and the games “leveling” equivalent is mostly giving your players some extras to store up or spend.
The GM can also occasionally use something similar, but is encouraged to do so sparingly and as quietly as possible, especially if it's to the detriment of the players.
I really like this mechanic. It really encourages interesting play and interaction, and gives the GM a good amount of leverage and authority that they wouldn’t otherwise have (that being the authority that comes from being able to give bonuses and set difficulties). The game has limited “magic” and special boosters, so the small ability to make things work in the players’ favor feels pretty good.
Setting and Character Creation
The basic setting of the Princess Bride RPG is, pretty obviously, the setting of The Princess Bride. That means that it’s centered around Florin and Guilder, the two fictional nations in which the story takes place.
The rules book includes basic information on each of these nations, as well as various locales within them, both in the movie (such as the Fire Swamp, Cliffs of Insanity, and the Thieves' Forest) and the book (such as the Zoo of Death), plus a few more. There are also notes about the surrounding real-world nations and their time periods.
Most of the information here is pretty broad - which means that it's versatile, but not terribly detailed.
Players coming straight from 5e D&D will likely find the character creation process in this game a little looser than they are used to. Fans from other rpgs, or even older editions of D&D, will probably have less trouble with it, though.
When you make your character, you select the various Skills, Gifts, and Inconveniences that will guide your gameplay from the various lists included in the book. Then, you set your Heart, Wits, and Body attributes (these games equivalent to basic stats) accordingly, using up 5 or 6 points to buy them (with higher attribute rankings costing more points). Generally, the more inconveniences that you take, the more points and gifts you can also take. Then, having created the bones of your character, you can fill them out with a name and a backstory.
Or, you could do it the other way around.
This process is streamlined with the inclusion of Professions - this games equivalent of classes.
Each Profession (which include Brutes, Pirates, Miracle Workers, Farmhands, and more) lays out the build you’d need to make a certain type of character. New players are recommended to follow these outlines fairly closely, but most of their actual contents can be exchanged and altered to make a customized character.
While I do like the character creation process laid out here, the Professions feel a little less necessary to the actual process than they could be. Since you can change out almost every aspect of them, listing them as a necessary part of the creation process feels somewhat limiting in terms of character backstory and profession. I’d personally allow players to use them as bases and builds, but also encourage custom Professions, or character builds without them.
Provided Modules and Hooks
After several warnings for readers who do not intend to GM, the sourcebook provides several game scenarios and hooks for you to potentially run with your group.
Personally, I am thrilled with this inclusion. I’ve seen other sourcebooks include similar things, and I'm happy about it every time. Even if you don’t intend to run one of these scenarios, they're still an amazing source of inspiration for GMs.
Many of the provided hooks are simply that - hooks. They set up a vague situation and allow the GM to decide where exactly they want to go with it. It’s a little like reading a writing prompt generator, but not bad. The ideas are fairly simple.
The full modules that are provided are much better, in my opinion. There are options provided for parties of various origins (be they thieves, laymen, spies, etc.), and they have a good balance of wit and genuine adventure.
My personal favorite is the module in which the party hired to smuggle hats to Princess Noreena of Guilder, who collects them (although that may be in part from my enduring affection for the bits of the book that never made it into the movie). It's funny, it's engaging, and I can imagine a group finding lots of different ways to solve the problems that it presents.
Presentation and Supplements
Tone and Presentation
While the overall setup and gameplay is perfectly usable, if a little loose, the presentation of The Princess Bride RPG is fairly decent as well. The book is well-organized, easy to read and understand, and the tone is familiar and engaging.
I personally enjoyed all the little references and jokes that are scattered throughout the narration and explanations in the book, not just in the actual setup and rules. The FAQ at the beginning of the book is particularly funny, and I’d really recommend not skipping it when you crack your copy open.
Unfortunately, the actual execution and professional appearance is let down in a couple of places. Specifically, there are a couple instances of unprompted font changes, and a few typos (that look like an attempt at capitalizing things that went wrong). It’s not enough to make the book cheap or worthless, by any stretch of the imagination, but it would have been nice if the final copy had gone through one more pass with the editor.
You can only buy the sourcebook for The Princess Bride RPG in a physical copy, not a pdf or digital file. I don’t mind - I prefer to have a real book in front of me anyway.
The book, in turn, however, makes semi-frequent reference to online materials and supplements that can be downloaded off ThePrincessBrideRPG.com, or other places. These include character sheets, maps, modules, and other materials. These would be very nice to have access to.
Unfortunately, at some point between its 2017 release date and now, these websites seem to have been removed.
I managed, after some digging, to find another upload of the character sheets here, but the rest seem to have been lost to the depths of the web.
As stated before, The PRincess Bride RPG is an interesting and well laid-out game. The use of the Fudge system feels particularly appropriate for the setting and source material, and the looseness of the rules and gameplay allow for an epic adventure that really feeds into the atmosphere of the movie and book.
Unfortunately, there are some typos and issues to be found within the formatting of the book, and supplemental resources are no longer readily available online. Also, the book is kind of expensive for what it is, and I doubt any group is going to want to buy more than one to share around.
Nevertheless, I can easily see most roleplaying groups getting a good few sessions out of this game. It would work as a great introduction to either the Fate or Fudge systems, too, since there is a setting and world built that players may already be familiar with and connected to.