A24's Green Knight role-playing game is more than a D&D clone
While you wait for the most arresting fantasy horror movie of the year, a tabletop RPG delivers the same experience without spoilers.
Timm Woods has seen The Green Knight. The anticipated fantasy horror film from studio A24 and director David Lowery was previously scheduled to premiere at the SXSW festival in March. But its premiere was canceled because, well, you know why. As of August 2020, the finished movie does not have a release date.
But Woods, an educator and professional game master, has seen the unreleased movie because A24 enlisted him to adapt it into a tabletop game. The Green Knight: A Fantasy Roleplaying Game will ship from A24's website on August 29.
On the surface, The Green Knight RPG looks like another version of that famous pen-and-paper game, Dungeons & Dragons. But Woods says it's more than that. The Green Knight is an accessible tabletop game for those who've never played anything like it before, as well as something completely different for veterans of the hobby.
“It's one of the more accessible RPGs for new players.”
"The number one person I was thinking when I was designing this game are people who've never sat down with RPGs," Woods tells Inverse. "Taking someone through their first D&D session is something I've honed down to a fine science. It's one of the more accessible RPGs for new players."
Although Dungeons & Dragons is also a simplified game — simple enough for it to be a phenomenon again — Woods boiled down tabletop's often confusing mechanics to a single 20-sided dice. The set comes packaged with just one d20.
"There's not many reasons you couldn't whittle the game down to a single d20 roll," he says. "That was my priority, that it's accessible enough people don't need to figure out extra dice you don't need."
Accessibility is the driving force behind The Green Knight, an original creation not compatible with any existing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. (Woods says there's room for players to homebrew if they wish.) The big difference between Green Knight and D&D is that it utilizes a formalized "Honor" system that is tied to the themes and plot of the movie.
“The danger of defeat is not dying, it is abandoning the quest.”
The Green Knight (both the film and Woods' game) are adaptations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The 14th-century Arthurian poem tells the story of Sir Gawain, the youngest knight in King Arthur's Round Table, whose sense of honor is challenged by the mysterious (and sometimes monstrous) Green Knight. The film stars Dev Patel as Sir Gawain, with Alicia Vikander, Sean Harris, Joel Edgerton, and Ralph Ineson as the Green Knight.
"The core mechanic revolves around Honor," Woods says. "The game doesn't worry about your character living or dying. You don't have hit points. It's all based around decision making. Everything is an attempt to do an honorable act or a dishonorable act."
That's where the twenty-sided die comes in. "As your Dishonor Level goes up, it becomes harder to do honorable actions and easier to do dishonorable things." In place of death, characters run away and abandon the quest — the truest act of dishonor.
"The danger of defeat is not dying, it is abandoning the quest," Woods says. "That is the real challenge of the game. Keep Dishonor from getting too high, but high enough to be strategically useful."
Time is of the essence in The Green Knight. Honorable actions take longer, while dishonorable acts speed up your pace. But at what cost?
"The game pushes you to think how quickly you need to finish the quest. It revolves around strategically negotiating the Dishonor stat."
The game also has its own classes that differ from Dungeons & Dragons. In The Green Knight, players take on any of the five roles: Knight, Noble, Hunter, Sorcerer, and Bard. That's a tad different from D&D's classes of Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, Paladin, etc. "If you're a D&D player, they'll feel familiar," Woods says, "but there are distinctions."
The Knight is not just a Fighter, for example. "The Knight handles honor in a military way. The Knight has a code they need to follow." The Hunter, too, is not just a fusion of D&D's Rangers and Rogues. "The Hunter is less about ranged and sneak attacks, it's the way they handle Honor. They're getting the job done in ways that are not necessarily honorable. All the twists we put on the classes highlight ways Honor plays into the narrative."
Before the pandemic, Woods expected most people to see The Green Knight (a movie he enjoyed and describes as "like Midsommar") and then play the game. But that's not possible in 2020. Still, Woods' RPG is a way to "dive in" the world of Lowery's movie without spoilers. The Arthurian tale is, after all, many centuries old.
"It was a possibility people might play this game without context of the film," Woods says. "We built this so whether you've seen the film or not, or know the Green Knight's story, you'll be able to dive in. It does to a degree follow the film, but is not at all a spoiler. You'll see the connections and DNA without us taking you through the entire adventure."
Despite the sophistication of online gaming, analog games like Dungones & Dragons have never been more popular. Even in a pandemic. "RPGs are more popular than ever," Woods says. "We associate them with the '80s, but we're seeing the biggest hype for RPGs [now]. A24 recognized this film had a lot of relationship to the foundations of RPGs as we know them."
It's not up to Woods when A24 releases the movie. Even he doesn't know when other people will finally see it for themselves. Until then, Woods' RPG is just one way of engaging with a very old story in a new way. "Lord of the Rings led to D&D, but Lord of the Rings exists because of Arthurian myth. It's going back to the very early roots that made RPGs exciting."
The Green Knight: A Fantasy Roleplaying Game is available now for pre-order on A24. It will be released on August 29.