Although I love the Dark Ages, especially the 10th to 11th centuries, after several attempts the Grand Pendragon Campaign just doesn't work for me with new players of Pendragon during the "Dark Ages" Uther era. Everyone is excited about chivalry, jousting, and King Arthur, and they're confused and bored with the long series of wars. There's also just less personality in the early years: everyone's a mailed petty warlord who hates Saxons. I've tried to get intrigue and rivalry with neighbors, raids, etc. going, but it always ended up pretty unfocused. They haven't established enough of a relationship with the world/mythos and moral quandries are rare; it's all feasting and so on. It's probably my fault for not having more creative ideas for adventures. There's so much potential in Pendragon, but finding the sweet spot where players get real choices is hard so far.
So, I think next time we play, it'll be the Boy King era: still chaimail, still lots of battle. But much more variety and the knights get some real Arthuriana: Arthur, Morgan, Merlin, fighting against Lot and Saxons, discussions of chivalry, weird shit like Balin's saga. I also want to have the knights be knights errant, so they may start with different statuses and get to make choices like "how loyal to Arthur," should I raid enemies and get selfish traits, or forgo material advancement and focus on Chivalry. They can follow Arthur on his campaigns to become High King, meet Guinevere. There's also Tournaments. With all this, knights can come from almost any background and work together or become questing friends. It also may allow new/rotating players more easily, since all you need is a connection to Arthur. All that said, we probably won't break from D&D, which I enjoy immensely and has the advantage of having a really casual playstyle compared to Pendragon.
I've also been reading The Norman Conquest, and there's great examples of the kinds of random things followers of conquerors (like Arthur) can get into, and the basic theme that could work for knights is: loot, gain treasure, but mistreat the common folk or try to maintain chivalry despite rebellions, forgoing material gain. Reinforcing that knights need land to get a noble lady with some glory and money in her dowry, so they'll need to get the eye of Arthur or a Duke.
- Start: Grand Pendragon Campaign 510 The Sword and Stone. Start as knights errant going to first Tournament in London (starting adventure to try combat, getting eyes of ladies) immediately after their knighting, witness sword in the stone, can choose whether to pledge to Arthur.
- Pendragon 5.1 for prices, equipment. Remember that all but masterless knights will be able to repair/replace their starting equipment based on the network of obligations they have. Landed knights who lose a horse can have their farrier check stewardship to have a new one ready (+5 bonus for a rouncey) each year, giving bonuses over time, household knights can ask their lord for a replacement charger. Better than starting equipment, in-town luxuries like inn visits or jewelry, etc. must be paid for out of pocket. Goods (like captured armor) and prisoners can be sold/ransomed in appropriate places (London, rich estates, etc.), but roleplay.
- Use Book of the Estate for any landed knights. Increased wealth generally results in larger number of followers, so falls into a military theme I like. Won't start with managing lands, because I may have some of the fathers alive.
- Battles: Use my own 'narrative' system for battles: narrate general goings on in the battle, roll off high commanders based on modifiers listed in GPC to determine whether round of battle is going well, modified by prior rounds general results (battle going well or poorly, someone just died, etc.), unit decides where they want to try to fight based on situation (avoid getting swarmed when going badly, choose where to charge, etc)., unit commanders make opposed roll to accomplish the tactic just chosen, critical successes can results in golden opportunity like attacking famous enemy. Hopefully, this keeps it simple, gives some tactical choices, and makes the Battle skill worthwhile.
- Focus on having lots of random adventures in addition to the battles, because they will be "Arthur's knights," in one way or another, they'll have reason to go to court and meet the famous people. But no one (except maybe Arthur) will have plot immunity, and most plots will be changed to the knights can intervene. Also they'll have their own choices about whether they want to go on adventure. I won't be having them "patrol lands" that much (that was a real drag I thought would lead to things, but never did). More adventures.
- Focus for the first few years will be the fight against Lot, with various random adventures thrown in, with an eye towards Arthur awarding the knights lands in the North. Then later in time, the North will become the focus: dangerous picts and witches, cold mists, Irish raiders, intrigue against other Northern families.