Explore the origins of a modern myth through a series of interconnected one-shot adventures in new tabletop RPG The First Knight: a Superhero Cinematic Universe.
Created by indie designer WH Arthur, The First Knight approaches comic book protagonists as contemporary iterations of stories humanity has shared for centuries, if not longer. For as long as there has been a perceived evil, those who claimed to champion goodness rose up against it. The First Knight lets players step into the shoes of several such tales across time to interrogate what it means to be a superhero.
Three to five players, plus a master of ceremonies, begin the game by deciding on what time period they want to explore as a collaborative storytelling experience. Will they only go as far back as the 20th century or travel among Arthurian legends? They will also decide on a powerful artefact and the villain who has activated it, threatening those nearby. The RPG provides several prompts for each category but is quick to point out they are only suggestions - throughout history, plenty of heroes, villains and artefacts have come into conflict. Which one the group decides to interrogate is completely up to them.
“I am a fan of superhero movies, and I am inspired by the cinematic universes of Marvel and DC,” Arthur said. “The First Knight itself is inspired by Captain America and Wonder Woman, both of which are about a superhero who fought in a past war.”
The game borrows the clocks from Powered by the Apocalypse to set an appropriately tense tone for the action of each session. Two clocks each track the heroes’ efforts to retrieve the artefact from the villain’s clutches and their nemesis’ efforts to unlock the devastating power they hold. Failures and successes will fill sections of the clocks, with milestones introducing information or complications along the way.
Party members fall along very familiar lines - remember, this is a game about ur-stories - and comprise a group of unassuming individuals burdened with the responsibility of power. Along with the First Knight, a super soldier who excels in the martial arts of their era, is the Lancer, a friend and/or rival to the knight; the secretive Agent; the bookish Arcane Scholar; and the Bard (every party needs one, reads the RPG).
Groups begin their game by assembling the party, roleplay how the First Knight encountered each and recruited them under a shared banner. Every player will have access to unique special moves, combat tags and questions to help fill out their background.
After each scenario is completed, whether the group succeeds or fails, the RPG encourages them to choose another spot on the timeline, shift around playbooks, and see how the legend continues. Perhaps ramifications of their last quest echoed forward in imperceptible ways. Or, they could envision a past when the last villain was still a noble hero and find out how their heart was corrupted.
“Fraser Simons' Uncanny Echo is a major inspiration to my game’s mechanics. Uncanny Echo itself is a series of one shot PbtA games that can be strung together to form a bigger narrative,” Arthur said. “I actually started writing my game as a stripped down Lady Blackbird hack, but I kept incorporating more and more PbtA elements into it.”
The First Knight: A Superhero Cinematic Universe is available at a pay-what-you-want price on Arthur’s Itch.io creator page.