Origins: Prince Valiant, The Storytelling Game

Prince Valiant is a weekly comic strip originally written and drawn by Hal Foster (1892-1982). The strip debuted in 1937 and, through the hands of several generations of writers and artists, continues to this day. It currently appears in over 300 American newspapers, according to its distributor, King Features Syndicate. 

Copyright King Features Syndicate. Click to enlarge.

Foster is credited as the first person to use a realistic drawing style and sophisticated compositions to the comic page. “Foster’s meticulously detailed, painstakingly researched, vividly realistic, and often breathtaking illustration made him one of the most revered artists in the comic field," said the prestigious Library Journal.

Prince Valiant has been one of my favorite Arthurian stories for much of my life. I do not remember when I began to read it — it is as if I was reading it all my life. Heck, I bet I was looking at the pictures in my Sunday paper before I could read!

By the late 80s, I had been wanting to do a nice, simple roleplaying game for quite some time. People would often ask what I did for a living, and when they asked if they could play one of my games with me I’d explain what was required and often they would change their mind. So I wanted a simple game I could play with a casual player. I wanted the simplest roleplaying game in the world. So I did Prince Valiant, the only RPG with just one page of rules. Yeah, the type is small — but it’s still only one page! 

When I was researching the game, I found a guy who had every original Sunday comic page and generously allowed me to sit in his study and go through them, page by plastic-wrapped page. At one point I was overwhelmed by deja vu when I saw one particular page and remembered the moment, many years before, when  I decided, “OK, I like this." 

The comic had a greater impact on King Arthur Pendragon than I had realized when I was making that game. I didn’t recognize it until I did this The Storytelling Game. Prince Valiant is set in 6th century Europe (more or less) but overlaid with Medieval customs for King Arthur and his men. Yow!