Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thoughts on Pendragon after Replay

So I hadn't run Pendragon since about a year ago, and that session was widely derided by my friends and players. They just didn't like so much of the game being about courtly interactions, and the fights against bandits and the battle against Saxons just seemed meaningless. D&D was agreed-to, and a great fun was had in more picaresque and money-grubbing adventures. I kept infecting the game with knights and courtly machinations, but that was already because the D&D players just figured out how to poison and slay those problems.

On this second run I was determined to make Pendragon be more appealing. First, I tried explaining the "purpose" of Pendragon more: get married, worry about your horse, get heirs. Second, I tried to explain the traits and Passions systems more so the players would know to try and use it. Pendragon is alittle bit like what I've heard about from story-games where you end up looking at your character sheet ALOT to try and get checks to increase skills, use passions, etc. I wanted my players to know about this, since in D&D you can pretty much just "come up with stuff." Third, I wanted to keep things moving fast, I didn't want to let the players get to bored because I was being passive - in my mind "open ended" - and letting them dick around trying to get Lustful checks with stableboys for too long.

Finally, and most importantly, I wanted to inject what I love about D&D into Pendragon: lots of freedom for player choice. Pendragon's Grand Campaign starts out heavily "on the rails" if you run it as is, and I wanted some of that because the players have no idea what's going on or even how things will go down. Pendragon's not like D&D in that there's a ton of similar videogame or boardgame experiences, so I'm comfortable with some railroad. I also needed to not the players unintentionally bore themselves by giving them too much choice, because when knowing so little, lots of choice doesn't really help any of the fun. This is what I did then:

Instead of heavy plot choice, I tried to encourage heavy "check" choice. Ok, miss pagan, you want to increase Lustful, here's what you can do. Hey Energetic or Pious wannabe, you can go do this to get a check. Then if the roll succeeded, they'd get a check, and they got a brief description and sometimes, a cool plot thing would happen because they sought the check. Like Sir Renard got Proud, and challenged a Duke to a joust "for love," which he critted. That was unexpected, sets up future events, and just rocks for both me and the players (for me because I hate knowing everything that will happen - that's boring).

Overall, I consider it a success then. I'm looking forward to further adventures, perhaps mixed in with some D&D.


  1. Yup, you're pretty much right where you want to be as a Pendragon GM, it sounds like. I think the GPC can afford to be as linear as it is simply because the player's side of things can be so random.

    If you want to encourage more sandboxy-style exploration, there's a 4th edition supplement worth checking out called Blood and Lust--it includes what are essentially random encounter tables and rules for wilderness travel and exploration. There's also a super-obscure 80s Arthurian RPG called Hidden Kingdom that includes a sandbox hex map of Arthur's Britain. If that was available in PDF form I'd snap it up in a heartbeat. As it is, the copies I've found go for, like, 80 bucks, which is a bit much for me to pay for a map and a game I'll never run.

  2. I grabbed Blood & Lust, I think believe based on your recommendation on your blog (your RPG Corner, right?). I have yet to need to use the table, but it's in my "back pocket" if those events come up. It's still way early in the GPC, so the knights aren't really "traveling" yet. I also want more of an intrigue-heavy game during the "dark ages" of the GPC, so I'm trying to introduce VIP NPKs like rival dukes and dickish knights at the Sarum court, and see how that works.