Friday, June 13, 2014

Ideas for New Pendragon Campaign

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.

Campaign setup:

  • 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.

Updated Pendragon Character Creation

First, a rant. It's pretty annoying that King Arthur Pendragon is such an appealing game with so many good ideas, buried under a lot of cruft that makes it hard to play the game. It's got all the excesses of the overlong, overdescriptive, metaplot manuals of 90s games like White Wolf. Pages - pages about aspects of Arthurian chivalry, inheritence, exactly what happened in any given year of Arthur's reign with events the players are specifically excluded from influencing. Now this can be "fixed" by removing plot protection and letting players change events, removing NPCs from taking center stage, but what's frustrating is: Why can't the Pendragon game books make all this medieval and Arthurian lore into random event tables and adventure seeds? Gosh guys, I can buy a book on medieval life or read Mallory without your game- Can I get some non-railroady adventures? Could you set up an area of Britain with adventure sites? The Grand Pendragon Campaign, and several of the supplements like the Book of the Estate, gets soooo close to this, but then just half-asses it. Of course, it's probably because it was so exhausting to get all the metaplot and historical detail "just right."

Then don't even get me started on how the solution to every problem for how something should play out in game is an excessively complex subsystem that mostly consists of random rolls and adding new skills. Ugh.

That said, the whole idea of virtues/traits and compelling passions is such a great core idea (I also like the roll-off but under a skill mechanic, genius!), and there are so many charming parts that emerged from the cruft that I keep imagining a great game. I just get frustrated by how much investment I'd have to have to really get a game going.I also got the Book of the Estate which has a much better system for dealing with being a landowning knight-it's really hands off, but has some simple ways for dealing with interesting plot-centric events like raiding and building improvement with your extra cash. This is a hopeful sign, and removes the problems we had in the past with too much estate paperwork.

An example of the problem is character creation: Pendragon veers between the cookie-cutter knight character who starts with the exact same stats as all other knights with like 2 choices at creation and any type of knight, from Britons to Saxons to Byzantines with a variety of choices with minor stat differences. And not a lot of the differences are meaningful (see complaint above adding complications...). To get players through character creation, I've tried different ways to simplify/streamline this to make interesting characters out the gate, but none have really worked out.

Anyway, here's my current ideas for simply character creation for the next time we play Pendragon (if I can ever convince my players again). This is to go with starting the campaign at the beginning of Arthur's reign so the 'magic' of the game can come out with chivalry, faeries, and fighting other knights (rather than just Saxons):

Pendragon Character Creation [updated]
 (You'll need Book of Knights & Ladies for the details; pages 40, 42, 51-58, 62-65; briton only 40, 42, 51, 58, 62)
1. Roll son number: 1d6-1, with 0 or 1 = first born/heir.

2. Pick Culture & Religion (default Briton Christian, common others: Pagan, Roman, Aquitaine, Saxon); can roll on Boy King region chart if don't have preference.

3. Roll father's class, Feudal 2, BK&L 40 (unless outsider culture)

4. Roll family wealth BK&L 42; receive Boy-King Era equipment

5. Determine traits based on culture/religion, pick 1 notable trait at 16 (unless don't want to).

6. Roll Passions 3d6+4 for Loyalty, Love (Family), Hospitality, Honor; roll 3d6+4 for Hate if have backstory reason (work with GM).

7. Decide whether random attributes (better deal: 3d6+4 SIZ, 3d6+1 others; women 3d6+5 APP instead of size; reroll all 1s) or spread 60 points. Modify by culture (Briton +3 CON). BK&L 51.

8. Skills: (1) pick main weapon, make skill 15; (2) pick 3 noncombat skills, raise each to 10; (3) make 4 increases to either attributes by 1 pt per increase or (combat) skills by 5 pts per increase; (4) add 10 discretionary pts to noncombat skills; (5) any remaining skills start at default values for culture (BK&L 52-57).

9. Roll family characteristic (BK&L 58); roll Luck item (BK&L 62-65)

10. Based on creation rolls and choices, determine whether inherited son, family status, and other background. The knights will be knights errant at the beginning of the adventure, although they will still owe 40 days service to their liege. Important details: whether father alive, connection to family and status, who the knight squired with, whether knight has squire (must be wealthy/important enough).

11. Start knighted before important tourney: 1150 starting Glory. Go forth ye flower of chivalry!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

House Rules for Labyrinth Lord

I've grown alittle of tired of Adventurer Conqueror King and its list of proficiencies, undue complication, over-fiddly (and IMO incorrect and anachronistic) economics. I really like the look of Labyrinth Lord, its class list, and, with the Advanced Edition Companion, evocation of first and second edition D&D with the simplicity and coherence of the retro clones. That said, I'm going to be adding a number of house rules to get the type of play I like. Some of these are stolen from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which I'm not using because I like all classes to increase their fighting abilities over time (and I like giving players the options of Paladins, Rangers, and other traditional classes). So here's the list:

1. Death and Dismemberment table for when characters fall below 0 hp. To increase survivability at low levels, but nevertheless give serious consequences to damage. I also added effects of destroying armor and reducing ability scores, so that the latter can be decreased instead of inevitability increased over time. From BRP games I've played in, I liked the feel of having to replace and repair armor.

Death and Dismemberment Table: When a PC is reduced to 0 hp or below (at -10 hp all characters die), she passes out until above 1 hp unless she wishes to attempt to stay conscious with a Save v. Death and rolls on the following chart:

Instant Death (decapitated or other grievous wound) also, armor and helm 75% chance each destroyed
Fatal wound: (gutted, stabbed through lung, broken back, etc) die in 1d6+1 rounds unless treated. Any armor worn is effectively destroyed. Permanent -2 CON.
Severed or utterly crushed limb: (DM decision or roll randomly) die in 3d6 rounds unless stanched by fire, tourniquet or Cure Serious Wounds. Armor damaged (-2 effective AC) and any shield destroyed. Permanent -1 STR and -1 DEX.
Head injury: (broken skull, smashed face, ear lost) If helmet worn, destroyed and extra save v. death -4 required to stay conscious. Without helm, unconscious 1d4 weeks and permanent -2 INT and -2 CHA.
Broken bone: (DM decision or roll randomly) Limb useless until healed with Cure Serious Wounds or set and then allowed to heal 1d4 weeks. Can use for 1 round if conscious and succeed at save v. death -4.  Armor damaged (-1 AC) and any shield destroyed. If not healed by magic within 1 day, Save v. Death or permanent -1 STR or DEX.
Lost Feature (lost eye, finger, gnarly wound): As bleeding below, and -1 DEX (e.g. hand or limb wounds) or -1 WIS (e.g. eye) or -1 CHA (e.g. ugly scarring), player choice.
Bleeding: (deep laceration, internal bruises, etc.): Character loses 1 hp per round unless healed or stanched from bleeding. Armor damaged (-1 AC)
Concussion: Cannot regain consciousness for 1d4 rounds after healed. If not wearing helmet, -1 INT. Helmet destroyed.

2. Silver piece standard. I'm going to try keeping costs the same but income converted from GP to SP (including starting wealth), since I find portable goods to be far underpriced in D&D from a purchasing power parity inflation standard. I also want the feel of struggling to gain and maintain wealth. SP will give 1 XP, rather than GP (so now worth ten). Generally, I agree with Middenmurk on this topic.

3. Ranged weapons and oil flasks (and lances): All range modifiers decreased by 1 (so now short range is +0 rather than +1); oil flasks only do 1d4 damage, and only catch on fire those hit with a 4 for initial damage (meaning the victim takes 1d4 damage next round, ad infinitum if 4s are rolled). "Point blank" range for medieval ranged weapons makes little sense, given that they were actually poor at piercing armor (maybe I'd retain a +1 modifier to crossbows?). Dedicated lances (i.e. a longer and heavier spear, not just a spear by another name) do 1d8 damage rather than 1d6.

4. 50% discount to all XP requirements. If using races as different than classes, I give humans a 10% discount to XP because, let's face it, level caps never actually come into play and I loathe parties totally filled with demihumans.

5. Encumbrance: Haven't fully decided on this, but I found that reduced movement for encumbrance doesn't really encourage players to forgo loading themselves up with tons of gear. Also, it's not really that you're slower in bursts or sprints when you're carrying gear (in my experience from the Army and hitting people with padded sticks, and what I've heard from others), it's that you get exhausted more easily. So, I would propose limiting the number of continuing rounds of action in combat without taking a 1 round "rest" (no move, no attack, quaff water and talk only). Start at 3+CON bonus at the first encumbrance level as the number of rounds, reduced by 1 each level, until max encumbrance. I also may use the rule about characters wearing armor adding 1 to their encumbrance level. I'll see how harsh this all works out.

6. Fighter weapon specialization: at first level and every 3 levels thereafter (i.e. 4th) a fighter can "specialize" in a weapon giving +1 to attack and +1 damage (I'm fine with this being weapon categorizes like 1-handed swords). This is to make the class a more attractive option and reflects how different weapons are used differently in medieval combat, and more practice with certain weapons gives more skill with those weapons that isn't transferable to all other hand-to-hand weapons. 

7. Creative Criticals on a natural 20 (maybe 19-20 with swords). By default, criticals are 2x damage. But the player can elect to do something creative with criticals if I think it works with the weapon/armor combination between the attack and defender, like breaking a shield or a piece of armor, disarming an opponent, etc. Depending on the choice, may still do regular damage.

8. Cleave: a killing blow allows the character to follow up with an attack on an adjacent enemy. [Edit:] Fighters and subclasses can cleave a number of times per round equal to their level, and other classes once per round. I like that this gives a 'heroic slaying' feel to the game, so I don't mind adding it.

9. Fumbles give attacks of opportunity by adjacent enemies and/or a dropped/broken weapon. This is to balance the cleave rules above, and adds more random chaos-y fun.

10. Magic: Mages get the benefit of bonus spells for high INT as divine casters do for high WIS. Spell research rules as per Lamentations of the Flame Princess, rather than having to wait until 9th level to make a scroll.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Balrog for Basic

HD 13 (65) [1+]
AC 11
Attacks: whip/whip/blade 2d6/2d6/2d10
Saves: F13 +2

Resistances: half damage weapons, requiring magical to damage; full damage from lightning, silvered weapons. Immune to fire damage.

Special defenses: Aura of fear and flame, must make fear save -2 to approach 30', next to heat of balrog causes 1d4 hp fire damage. Weapons shatter after damaging the balrog on a roll of 1-3 on their damage die (magical weapons can be reforged from shards)

Notes from gameplay:

I thought this Balrog would actually be too much for my 5-7 level characters, but they defeated him handily after I fumbled a few attacks and by use of a magic wand. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Hill Troll
(For use in Tolkienish b/x and acks D&d games)
No. 1d6 
HD 6+2
AC 4
Damage: 2d6+2 club or grab below
Special Attacks: once per round rather than attack with its club, the Hill Troll can pick up an medium or smaller enemy in one hand. If it hits, the citing must save v paralysis or will be gripped and unable to move except to talk but may save every round to escape (DM choice on falling damage). The hill troll can attack with its club against other targets with up to 1 held victim, or devote it's round smashing the held target with its damage (no attack roll, just roll damage).
Weakness: exposure to direct daylight will turn hill trolls to stone, they may save v paralysis every round. A light spell can blind them for similar reasons, making them lose a round if they fail a spell save.
Saves: F6
Morale: 0
XP: 600

Olog Hai
No. 1d6 (always found at the direction of the Enemy in his fastnesses and with his lieutenants)
HD 1d6+2
AC 10 (hide + iron plates)
Damage: 2d8, sweep 
Special attacks: sweep- olog hai are trained to smash through enemies with their great iron mallets, they roll one attack and hit up to 3 enemies in an arc in front of them based on the same attack roll.
Weaknesses: olog hai are vulnerable to sunlight and can be stunned 1 round if failing a spell save for any round light is cast on them or every round fighting in sunlight. Bred by magics, they do not turn to stone as their cousins.
Morale: +2
XP: 800

Monday, January 13, 2014

Back to Pendragon!

So I got back together with a face-to-face group and we've regularly been playing D&d for nigh 9 months now. It's great, but I find that I also long for some more dramatic happenings and intrigues. And knightly combat, fealty and thematic events, not just burning oils on monsters. 

So I convinced a rump part of the dnd group to try out Pendragon a few weeks ago (the whole group of dnd players is too big, I have like 7 players to herd like cats). They quite liked it, despite the power gamer almost dying in the second year of the campaign. 

Some things I'm going to try based on what I learned from my past pendragon sessions:

1. No rolling for traits when a character does something unless the trait is 16+ or somehow the trait is being particularly affected (seductress fey v. Lustful). Just give a check or auto increae for any notable trait actions. I hated "checking" to see if non-extraordinarily traited knights did things (and it's slow).

2. Simple holdings. I'm going to use the Book of the Estate for any holdings: extra income goes strait into investment, no need for rolling yearly harvests. Stewardship is for repairs when Saxons raid.

3. More family involvement using the excellent transom tables in the core book. More emphasis on station for wives finding acceptable. More focus on marriages as alliances, not just dowry collection. I also will probably use the random events table from the Book of the Manor cuz it's got great stuff like wyvern attacks and brownie infestations.

4. Simplified battle rules of my own creation (the Book of Battle rules are WAY over complicated): unit leader rolls battle, modified by intuitive conditions (terrain, relative army sizes, morale situation), against enemy commander or just to succeed (open charges). Roll randomly on table of enemies, knights fight, then commander rolls again with modifiers based on success of last rounds fighting. Criticals give opportunities like fighting enemy leaders bodyguard or camp. 

More to come, I'm hoping to do some play reports to keep track of the games progress. 

[pendragon inspiration] knights and warriors

Knights in Uthers time.

A typical Saxon invader.
A noblemen of the time.

A knight's manor.

[pendragon inspiration] ladies

An enchantress or enchanted maiden on a noble horse.