Friday, February 5, 2021

New Year, New Character Day 22: Pendragon

  New Year, New Character 

 Day 22 


Pendragon is a game where players take on the roles of knights in Arthurian Britain. That's it. There's no rogues or wizards or priests. Oh, sure, those folks are around, but they're not the PC's. The game is laser-focused on recreating the stories of knights like Lancelot, Gawain, and Perceval. And it does this spectacularly.

Mechanically, it has a number of things going on which can be slightly overwhelming at first, but almost everything is resolved with a d20 roll. It uses a "Price is Right" style system, where you want to role as high as you can without going over the Trait you are rolling against. So, if Character A has a 14 and Character B has a 12, A would win if they both rolled a 13, while B would win if they both rolled a 12 (as that is exactly the number he needs to roll). A 1, while a success, is always the weakest possible one. 

While it has Attributes and Skills of various sorts, Pendragon also has a couple of unique elements. You have various Personality Traits, which are pairs of opposed traits (such as Merciful and Cruel), with the total value of the pair adding up to 20. So long as the ratings minimal, they are more intended as roleplaying guidelines, but at extreme ratings, they can actually compel the player to take action. Also, if you have the right ones, they can provide you with a variety of bonuses. Which is a great way to get the min/maxing power gamer player to commit to playing a chivalric "lawful good" knight, as it's the best way to become an "OP Badass."

You also have various Passions that further help tie the PC to the world, and those around him. Calling on them can make a PC very skilled and powerful, but also risks driving him mad if he fails. Nothing is more shameful than for a knight to invoke his Lady in a Duel, and than fail miserably in her name. Why, he might just run off into the woods for a year as a mad hermit from the shame!

On top of that, it's a "legacy" game. The PC's adventure for a year, gaining Glory and fame. At the end of the year, they return to their manors to rest and heal and improve themselves, then set out again.  Eventually, by fate, violence, or sheer old age, they will die, and their legacy will pass on to their sons who must pick up the sword left behind and forge their own destiny. This is especially effective combined with the Great Pendragon Campaign, a massive adventure that takes the players through almost 80 years of Arthurian "history," from the age of Uther to the death of Arthur. 

For this post, I'll be using the latest "5.2 edition" of the rules. I've yet to run a game with this particular version, so it will be a slight learning experience for me.


Pendragon has some random elements in Character Creation, but isn't mainly random. It's not quite Point Buy, either, though there are times when you to spend various points to buy elements, such as for determining Attributes. But other things are just Assigned to the character. If I had to give it a label, I would probably call it "Directed Character Creation."  Each step has it's own rules to follow, and I'll hopefully be clarifying those along the way.

While you can make a character from any era of the Arthurian Saga, the game defaults to making a young squire on the cusp of knighthood during the reign of Arthur's father, Uther, so we'll stick with that.

Step 0--Concept

 Since it's not mainly random, Concept plays a role in creating a Player Knight (PK, their term term for "PC") in Pendragon. But, given the games hyper focus on creating a character that would fit in Malory, using a purely random tool doesn't seem appropriate. I decide I want to make a "foppish" Knight--good with a sword, yes, but also charming, attractive, and very comfortable at Court. 

Step 1--Determine Personal Data

First, I need a name. The knights of Arthurian legend have...unusual names, and PK's should have similar ones. The book lists so examples of the names, and I pick the first one to sound "right" to me--Lardans. As a "default" character, his homeland is Salisbury, and he's of "Cymric" culture. Other books bring in a wide variety of options, as knights from around the world come to Arthur's court. But, Lardans is not one of these--he's a local. I also decide at this point that Lardans is a Christian, rather than a Pagan.

I now need a name for his father, so I look back on the list and pick "Perin." As a starting character, his father was a "vassal knight," and Lardans is his fathers first son. My liege lord is Sir Roderick, Earl of Salisbury, and my current class is "squire." Generally, PK's become knights after their first adventure. 

Next, I come to the first random element--my home. As the son of Sir Perin, Lardans stands to inherit a manor of his own when he is knighted. I roll a d20 and get 20, so Lardans home will be the manor of Wylye, though it is currently be held by another, probably Sir Roderick, in our stead. 

Finally, I need to determine age. For later characters, this can be a tad more complicated, but Lardans is 21, the campaign starts in 485 A.D., and he was born in 464. 

Step 2--Personality Traits & Passions

As I mentioned, there are a number of Personality Traits to help define a character. Each has a matching opposite, and the total of the two traits must add up to "20." Most of these will shift and change through the course of play. At creation, these are mainly the ones he's "inherited" from the world around him.  I decide to make Lardans a "British Christian" rather than one that follows Rome. As such, Chaste, Energetic, Generous, Modest, and Temperate are traits that are of particular value. As a knight-in-training, he begins with Valorous at 15 (and this gives him a 5 in its opposite, Cowardly). All the religious traits begin at 13.  Finally, I can pick one "famous" trait and set it to 16. I want to give this guy a little bit of dirt, so I look at the "bad" Traits, and decide to go with Worldly. He care little for his faith, and is more interested in the here and now. 

Everything else is a 10. 

Lardans also begins with various Passions, those deep emotions that can lead him to greatness, or to ruin. As a starting knight, he begins with five of these--Fealty (Lord), Love (Family), Hospitality, Honor, and Hate Saxons.  For the first four, I accept the starting values. For the final one, I wait until the end, as I fully intend to do the optional "Family History" charts. 

Lardans might also gain additional Passions later in character creation, and almost certainly will do so during actual game play. 

Step 3--Primary & Derived Attributes

Now we come to Attributes, and the first point pool. I have 60 points to buy Lardans' attributes--Size (SIZ), Dexterity (DEX), Strength (STR), Constitution (CON), and Appearance (APP). These are rated on a 3-18 scale. As a Cymry, he gets a +3 bonus to his Constitution, allowing that to go up to 21. 

I want him to be attractive and charming, so I put 14 in Appearance. He still needs to be pretty tough, however, so I place only a 10 in DEX.  I go ahead and put 12 in everything else, though that +3 leaves him with a 15 in CON. 

There's also a number of Derived attributes--damage, Hit Points, etc. There are generally done by adding various attributes together and diving them or the like. 

At this point, I also get to figure out Lardans' "distinctive features." With a 14 APP, he has two, both of which are positive ones. Like, if I roll "hair" he might have long, luxurious locks. If I had given him a 5 APP, that hair would be "thin and prematurely balding."  When I do roll, I get "arms" and "facial expression." I decide to give him "Toned Arms" and "striking smile."  

Step 4--Starting & Combat Skills

As a young Cymric knight, Lardans begins with certain base values in various skills--such as Sword at 10 or Stewardship at 2. I make a note of these on his sheet before moving on. Once done, I can start modifying his existing skills.

First, I can make any "Knightly" skill a 15. I go with the classic of Sword.  I then choose any 3 non-combat skills and make them a 10. Based on his Concept, I go with Courtesy, Dancing, and Flirting. I then have 4 "increases." Attributes, Traits, and Passions cost 1 point each to increase, while each spent on skills gives me +5 to that skill. I decide to spend all of these on Skills, increasing Lardans' Intrigue (to 8), Flirting (from 10 to 15). Lance (to 15), and Compose (from 1 to 6). Then I have 10 free skill points to assign wherever I would like, though no skill can be at 19 or greater.  I spend 4 to raise Sword to 19, and spend the remaining 6 to increase his Falconry score from 3 to 9, as it is a classic courtly "hunt," and the ladies often attend as well. 

Step 5--Previous Experience

If I was playing an older character, this is where I would "age him up," but Lardans starts at 21. Its also at this point that I determine his starting Glory. Glory is a unique stat in Pendragon, serving as a combination of experience (gain enough Glory, and you get various free upgrades to spend) and fame (Glory determines how others react to you). But Glory is not yours alone. What Glory you start with you is passed down to you by your father, and his father before him. And what Glory you attain in life will be passed down to your sons. There's a wonderful "Family History" system you can roll through to determine the events of your grandfather and father, which really ties in your backstory with the wider world. I thoughts about doing it for this post, but figured it would just become a long and meaningless table without context, so I'm going to skip it. Instead, I'll assign Larans the default 6d6+150 for in his inherited Glory, for a total of 174. 

Step 6--Other Data

I now need to determine Lardans starting equipment. He's in the awkward phase where he is not yet a knight, but is close, so he has most of a knights gear. He starts with four horses--a charger (warhorse), two rouncy's for riding, and a sumpter for carrying supplies and gear. He also starts with normal gear for a knight. So, he has two spears, a sword, a dagger, chainmail and shield, and various personal effects. As he is still a squire himself, he does not yet have one of his own. to He also has a unique item he inherited from his family. I roll a d20 and get a 10, so Lardans starts with a Blessed Lance, which gives him a +1 to his Lance skill, at least until it breaks. Also, as an inherited trait, there's a Family Characteristic, which is also chart. I roll a d20 and get a 9, so Lardan's family is know for being "Light Footed" which gives him a +10 to Dancing, which increases his Dancing skill to 20. 

Finally, I need to figure out his broader family, how many knights are in it, and how many warriors can come together for the family. These will provide plenty of ties and opportunities later in the game, but for now we're only worried about the raw numbers.  In Lardans family there are (1d6-5; roll of 1) no Old Knights, (1d6-2; roll of 4) 2 Middle-Ages Knights, and (1d6; roll of 1) 1 Young Knights. These are probably two of his Uncles and one of his cousins. If he has any siblings, they would still be to young to qualify for knighthood. There are other men in his family, and these are called Other Lineage Men. They're not as good as a knight in a fight, but can still be of great aid. Lardans has 2d6+5 of these, or 11. Finally, the peasants of Wylye can be called up to fight in a dire situation, giving him a levy of 5d20 men, or 32. 

And with that, Lardans is ready to begin his journey into knighthood.

Final Thoughts

Compared to other games I've done so far in this series, Pendragon character creation is certainly the oddest. Not random, not point buy, there's a lot of "start with X, then do this, then choose this, finally add these." It's not that it doesn't work, and it certainly keeps the player on the path of creating a proper Arthurian Knight, while still allowing them to have enough options to make it THEIR Arthurian Knight. It's not that complicated and it is fairly quick, but there is an oddness to it. Which, honestly fits the rest of Pendragon. It's not exactly like any other RPG I've ever played, but for what it is, it's brilliant. And character creation is part of that.

Here's Lardans final sheet:

1 comment:

  1. Good luck, Lardans! May your sword be true, your manner be chivalrous, and may you NEVER make a deal with the Fey!


New Year, New Character Day 22: Pendragon

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