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2014-01-18 Pendragon and the Great Pendragon Campaign

I wrote about Pendragon last year. Tomorrow I’ll be running the year 509. As the Great Pendragon Campaign starts in 485 and we usually play once a month, one game year per session we must have played for 25 sessions and about two years of real time.

I’ve written about the cool stuff before. I don’t really like skills in my games, but Pendragon skills still works. It has a weird but satisfying criticial hits system: roll under your skill on a d20 and you succeed, roll your skill exactly and it’s a critical success, if your skill is higher than twenty, you can’t ever fail—add whatever you have above twenty to your roll, making critical successes even more likely. I also like the traits pairs of traits that will sometimes govern how characters reacts, even if players don’t want them to. You can invoke them for a small bonus but if you fail, there’s also a small penalty. Then there are passions which are similar, except they don’t come in opposing pairs. If you manage your passion roll, you get a big bonus. If you fail, you get a big penalty. And if you fumble, you run into the woods, a raving madman. You’re taken out.

I want to talk a bit about the things that do not work as far as I am concerned. We’ve played the King Uther period and we’re finishing the Anarchy period. I don’t think these problems will disappear, however.

One of the first things we noticed while playing the Great Pendragon Campaign was that the Family Events in the Winter Phase are not very exciting. Having seen some great random event tables in the Old School Renaissance for D&D, I was not impressed by the table in the book. We’ve tried to write better stuff (in German), but so far we haven’t managed to strike the right balance between family development, adventure hooks and color. Ideally, these events would help my players discover their family tree, add nephews and nieces, cousins and more. For a while we used the Dramarama tables, but that led to several family members having affairs with tax collectors and the like. It didn’t work for us. The original table also had many women disappearing, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it. We had an adventure involving a saxon witch, but I’d like the table to provide me with more. I’d also like the table to provide players with a small opportunity to showcase their characters. Let us know about their traits, their families, their relationships. Alas, it isn’t working.

I also noticed that the book places a lot of importance on wives and marrying, but other than the first four candidates in the book, no stats are provided. We soon needed to know about their Stewardship and Chirurgery skills and only one of us was brave enough to create complete character sheets for their character’s wives. I would also have liked to know more about the glory prospective wives are worth, the number of manors they provide, what characters they have. I would have liked a table to generate appropriate wives, for example. That would have been a good solution. Quick to use at the table, too.

After a few sessions, players will start earning money with their manors. That, too, isn’t explained too well. We do opposed rolls of Bad Weather vs. Stewardship and figure out the resulting economic level of the knight’s lives, eg. “rich”. Now what? Does the character get £9? £8+1d4? Does the character get no money all but produce that can be spent but not saved? Can this money be used to build fortifications?

This brings me to another problem: Later in the game, people can learn the Siege skill. What happens with people in fortifications when the attacker has no Siege skill: Can they never take these fortifications? There are sadly very few example castles in the book. Do the saxons ever attack fortified manor houses? I guess they don’t. The fortifications also don’t protect against raiding saxons, right? So it just keeps your family safe?

The Winter Phase is too much book keeping.

As for the Campaign itself: Sometimes it feels very much like a railroad. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to do. Sometimes the adventure ideas are great. I’m still undecided. I sort of like it, I just wish more years were as cool as some of them.

In short, I think there is a great game in Pendragon. The campaign is good but could be better; the rules are good but could be better. I have already decided that I won’t be buying any more books. I need less rules, not more. I feel like I’d have to write a little houserules document and use it to run my next campaign. I sometimes find it hard to believe that other people haven’t run into these things and that these issues haven’t been fixed. I hardly read the forums, however.

I’ll keep running it. I just wish somebody would write the house rules I think I need. If you had the same issues, let me know how you handled them.

Update: Excellent comments by Doyle Tavener on Google+.

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