Knave RPG Second Edition: A Deep Dive into Ben Milton’s Tabletop Role-Playing Fantasy Masterpiece

Knave Second Edition by Ben Milton has emerged as a standout in the realm of tabletop RPGs. As a dedicated fan of Ben Milton’s creations, I have found immense value in his previous works like Maze Rats. My initial encounter with Knave was driven by a desire to support Milton’s creative endeavors, not necessarily with the intention to use it extensively. However, my initial skepticism quickly turned into admiration as I delved into the intricacies of this game.

My journey with Knave Second Edition began with the expectation of a straightforward system, but what I found was a game rich in content and versatility. The 88-page PDF may seem modest in size, but it’s packed with an incredible amount of utility and innovation. The extensive highlights and notes I made while reading are a testament to the depth of this game, showcasing how much it offers to both players and game masters.

Knave Second Edition is not just a set of rules; it’s a comprehensive toolkit that allows for the creation of spells, monsters, NPCs, and even entire campaigns without needing pre-made adventures. This flexibility is one of its most remarkable features, enabling game masters to craft unique experiences at the table. The game’s design emphasizes ease of access, with nearly all the rules summarized on the inside covers, making it incredibly user-friendly.

At first, the price tag for the PDF felt a teeny-tiny bit steep, especially given its length. But wait… this foolish notion of mine was quickly dispelled upon realizing the unparalleled value packed into each page. The streamlined rules, combined with the ability to generate content on the fly, make Knave Second Edition an indispensable resource for any tabletop RPG enthusiast.

Knave RPG Overview

Knave Second Edition offers a refreshing approach to tabletop RPGs, blending simplicity with deep customization. At its core, the game is designed to facilitate a seamless and dynamic gameplay experience, whether you’re a player or a game master. The intuitive layout and innovative mechanics ensure that every session is engaging and full of possibilities.

Classless System

One of the standout features of Knave Second Edition is its classless structure. Unlike traditional RPGs that pigeonhole characters into specific roles, Knave allows for a more fluid and personalized character development. Players have the freedom to shape their characters based on their actions, choices, and the items they acquire.

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In Knave, ability scores play a crucial role in defining a character’s strengths and capabilities. There are no dump stats, as each ability has significant importance:

  • Strength: This stat is essential for melee attacks, representing a character’s physical prowess.
  • Dexterity: Used for dodging, sneaking, and other agile actions, Dexterity is vital for those who prefer finesse over brute force.
  • Constitution: Adding to a character’s hit points, Constitution is crucial for endurance and survival.
  • Intelligence: While traditionally linked to magic, Intelligence in Knave also covers cunning tasks like lockpicking and alchemy.
  • Wisdom: Rather than being an overlooked stat, Wisdom is key for ranged attacks, perception, and navigation, making it indispensable.
  • Charisma: This stat influences initiative, the number of blessings a cleric-type character can invoke, and the ability to command companions, elevating its significance.

This system not only promotes balanced character creation but also encourages players to think strategically about their characters’ development and abilities.

Core Mechanics

Knave Second Edition streamlines gameplay with straightforward yet versatile mechanics. The game uses a D20 system for checks, where players roll a twenty-sided die and add relevant modifiers to determine success. The simplicity of this approach ensures quick resolutions while maintaining the excitement of rolling for outcomes.

Advantage and Disadvantage

One of the game’s innovative mechanics is how it handles advantage and disadvantage. Rather than rolling additional dice, Knave assigns a flat +5 or -5 modifier. This encourages players to seek situations that grant them advantage, adding a layer of strategic thinking to their actions.

Knowledge Checks

Knave emphasizes player knowledge and discovery over dice rolls. Characters are assumed to know common and career-related information, while other knowledge must be actively sought out through exploration and interaction. This approach promotes engagement and curiosity, driving players to adventure for the answers they seek.

Combat and Encounters

Combat in Knave Second Edition is designed to be swift and engaging, focusing on tactical decisions rather than lengthy skirmishes. The system incorporates group initiative, where the charisma of the leaders on both sides determines who acts first. This not only speeds up the game but also adds a unique twist to how battles unfold.

Initiative and Actions

During combat, players can move and perform one other action, such as attacking, casting a spell, or moving again. This flexibility allows for dynamic encounters where positioning and strategy are key. Group initiative, based on charisma checks, keeps combat flowing smoothly, with entire parties acting before switching to the opposition.

Damage and Defense

In Knave, damage is abstracted to reflect both physical harm and the wear and tear on a character’s gear. Characters have hit points, but direct damage bypasses these, impacting item slots instead. This system creates a tangible sense of danger, as players must balance their equipment and health.

Armor class (AC) starts at 11, modified by the armor a character wears. A roll of 21 or higher allows the attacker to execute a free maneuver, adding critical effects like disarming or stunning the opponent. This mechanic rewards skilled combatants and adds excitement to every battle.

Morale and Hazard Dice

Morale plays a crucial role in Knave, with NPCs and monsters making charisma checks to determine their willingness to fight. This can lead to unexpected retreats or surrenders, adding realism to encounters. The hazard dice system introduces random elements such as fatigue, depletion of resources, and environmental changes, keeping the game unpredictable and engaging.

Magic System

Knave Second Edition’s magic system is both unique and flexible, allowing spellcasters to carry spell books, each containing a single spell. This design choice makes magic users carefully consider their inventory, as carrying more spells limits their ability to carry other essential items.

Spell Casting

Spellcasting in Knave is limited by the number of spell books a character can carry. Each book takes up an item slot, and spells can only be cast once per day from a book. This naturally restricts the overuse of magic and encourages strategic planning. Chaos books add an element of unpredictability, with their spells changing randomly, making for exciting and varied gameplay.

Relics and Patrons

Clerics and characters seeking divine power interact with patrons through relics. These relics allow characters to receive blessings by completing missions and maintaining favor with their patrons. The dynamic of favor and disfavor adds depth to the game, as characters must balance their actions to stay in their patron’s good graces and earn powerful blessings.

Knave RPG Tabletop
Knave RPG Tabletop

Exploration and Travel

Exploration is at the heart of Knave Second Edition, with mechanics designed to encourage thorough adventuring and resource management. Whether journeying through wilderness or delving into dungeons, players will find themselves constantly engaged with their surroundings.

Hex Crawling and Watches

Knave organizes travel into watches, each representing a significant period during which the party can move, rest, or take other actions. Typically, a party can travel up to three watches per day, with each watch covering about six miles in a standard hex crawl. This system balances the need for progress with the dangers of fatigue and resource depletion.

Foraging and Resource Management

Foraging is a crucial aspect of long journeys, allowing players to gather food and resources to sustain themselves. The game’s rules provide simple yet effective mechanics for determining the success of foraging attempts, adding another layer of survival strategy. Players must also manage their torches and other consumables, which are subject to the hazard dice and can run out unexpectedly.

Discovering Secrets

Knave encourages players to actively search for secrets rather than relying solely on dice rolls. If players spend enough time in a room or area, they are likely to find hidden features or items. This mechanic emphasizes careful exploration and rewards diligent adventurers.

Dungeon Delving

Dungeon exploration in Knave is both exciting and perilous. The game uses a dungeon hazard dice system to introduce dynamic elements into the adventure, such as encounters, environmental shifts, and resource management challenges.

Dungeon Hazard Dice

The dungeon hazard dice system keeps exploration unpredictable. Each turn, a D6 is rolled with potential outcomes including encounters, fatigue, torch depletion, dungeon shifts, signs of impending encounters, and occasionally no effect at all. This mechanic eliminates the need for extensive bookkeeping and ensures that every delve is filled with tension and excitement.

Delve Shifts

Delve shifts are random changes that occur within the dungeon, such as new monsters appearing, environmental changes, or repairs being made by unseen forces. These shifts can drastically alter the party’s situation, forcing them to adapt and rethink their strategies.

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Creating Dungeons

Knave provides comprehensive tools for generating dungeons, from room details to overall themes. With a few rolls on the game’s tables, game masters can create intricate and unique dungeons filled with traps, treasures, and secrets. This feature allows for endless variety and replayability, ensuring that no two adventures are ever the same.

Player and Game Master Roles

In Knave, the responsibilities of both players and the game master are clearly defined, fostering a collaborative and immersive gameplay experience. Understanding these roles is crucial for maximizing the enjoyment and effectiveness of each session.

Player Duties

Players in Knave are encouraged to take an active role in shaping the adventure. At the end of each session, players should inform the game master of their plans, allowing for more focused preparation. Creating characters that mesh well with the group, setting personal goals, and seeking out adventure rather than waiting for it are key aspects of player engagement. Asking questions and working with the group ensures a cohesive and dynamic party dynamic.

Game Master Duties

The game master’s role in Knave is to create a rich and dynamic world filled with opportunities for adventure. This includes designing locations with treasures, traps, friends, foes, and secrets. Rather than planning out a rigid plot, the game master sets up situations and lets the players’ actions drive the narrative forward. NPCs and monsters should be given personalities and goals, adding depth to encounters. The game master should also ensure the game moves forward smoothly, using common sense to resolve actions and rewarding smart plans.

Character Creation and Development

Creating and developing characters in Knave is a straightforward yet deeply customizable process. Players start with basic abilities and gear, then evolve their characters through exploration and adventure.

Starting Characters

Characters in Knave start with zero in all ability scores and distribute three points among them. There are no predefined races, though game masters can add them if desired. Each character begins with basic equipment, including some gold, rations, and armor pieces. Armor pieces are tailored for the character and cannot be sold, emphasizing their personal value. Characters also roll for a career, which provides additional gear and a starting point for their backstory.

Leveling Up

Experience points (XP) in Knave are gained through acquiring treasure, with one XP awarded for each coin. Leveling up occurs at specific XP thresholds. When leveling up, characters roll for additional hit points and may reroll all their hit points, adopting the new total if it is higher. This system balances character progression, ensuring that hit points increase over time without becoming overly inflated.

Tools for Game Masters

Knave Second Edition is a treasure trove of resources for game masters, offering an array of random tables and tools to create a richly detailed game world. These tools are designed to inspire creativity and facilitate quick, dynamic game preparation.

Random Tables

One of the most powerful features of Knave is its extensive collection of random tables. These tables cover a wide range of elements, from spell effects to monster traits, ensuring that no two games are ever the same.

Creating Spells

Knave allows players and game masters to create spells on the fly using random tables. By rolling on these tables, unique spells can be generated, adding endless variety and excitement to the magic system. For example, a spell might combine a wizard’s name, effect, and form to produce something like “Efgan’s Petrifying Bolt,” with each component influencing the spell’s behavior and potency.

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Monster Generation

The game provides detailed tables for generating monsters, allowing game masters to create unique and memorable encounters. Monsters can be customized with various traits, abilities, and weaknesses, ensuring that every battle feels fresh and challenging. Whether combining animal traits or adding unique powers, the possibilities are virtually limitless.

Designer Commentary and Design Choices

The designer commentary in Knave offers valuable insights into the philosophy and design choices behind the game. These notes provide a deeper understanding of the mechanics and their intended use, helping game masters run the game as effectively as possible.

Philosophy of Exploration and Resource Management

Knave emphasizes exploration and resource management, with mechanics designed to encourage players to engage deeply with the game world. The ability to fill item slots with wounds, the use of hazard dice, and the focus on player-driven discovery all contribute to a rich, immersive experience.

Classlessness and Ability Scores

The classless system and the importance of each ability score reflect a desire to create balanced, versatile characters. By ensuring that no ability is a dump stat, Knave encourages players to think strategically about their character’s development and the roles they can play within the party.

Knave RPG Outro

Knave Second Edition stands out as a masterfully crafted RPG, offering unparalleled depth and flexibility. Its classless system, innovative mechanics, and extensive tools for game masters make it a joy to play and run. Whether you’re a seasoned game master or a newcomer to tabletop RPGs, Knave provides everything you need to create unforgettable adventures.

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With its emphasis on exploration, resource management, and player-driven storytelling, Knave fosters a dynamic and engaging game experience. The random tables and customization options ensure that every session is unique, keeping players and game masters alike excited for what comes next.

Knave Second Edition is a testament to Ben Milton’s ingenuity and dedication to the RPG community. For those seeking a versatile and richly detailed game system, Knave is a must-have. As the game becomes more widely available, it’s poised to become a staple in the collections of RPG enthusiasts everywhere.

You can find more details about Knave Second Edition on DriveThruRPG and on Ben Milton’s Questing Beast blog.

Tom Davis

LitRPG Author Tom Davis

Tom Davis, known as the "Monster Maestro" among his peers, has a fascination with the creatures that inhabit the fantastical world of Dungeons & Dragons. With a background in biology and a vivid imagination, Tom studies, categorizes, and invents monstrous beings that both terrify and fascinate. As a Monster Ecologist at LitRPG Reads, Tom's articles explore the ecology, behavior, and anatomy of various D&D creatures. He provides insights into creating believable monsters, understanding their roles in the ecosystem, and designing encounters that thrill and challenge players. When he's not dissecting a dragon, sketching a new beast, or talking about all the great DND classes, Tom enjoys nature hikes, wildlife photography. He also spends time contributing to conservation efforts and the local art scene in Muncie, Indiana.

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