My spouse and I decided to play Pendragon. We have the 3rd Edition rules, and a few of the supplements; Knights Adventurous, Savage Mountains and The Boy King (1st Edition). We are playing using The Boy King, an 80 Year Arthurian Campaign and Chronology, as the outline for our game. Note: The Boy King requires Knights Adventurous.
I wanted to GM to see how using a “big campaign book” felt on the referee’s side of things. My partner is extremely excited to play an Athruian Chivalric Knight. So, Adrean (they/them) made a Player Knight “Aeddan, the Sixth Son of Addony” and we played the following weekend.
A Player Knight’s first session involves: Squire training to learn combat, and hunting a wild bear (the adventure “The Hunt”). This is followed by going to Court and being Knighted. We only made it to the conclusion of The Hunt, with Master Aeddan swiftly tracking down the bear and slaying it. After skinning the bear, I rolled for a random encounter (The Boy King has encounter tables), and a Lord’s Hunting party was the result, which is where we stopped.
I decided that the Lord will be the Earl of Wuerensis County, whom Aeddan’s family traditionally serves. The impression Aeddony will make on the Earl is going to influence whom Aeddony will be serving as a Household Knight. Will Aeddony serve Earl directly? A family member? It’ll be cool to find out.
This was a lot of fun! The combat was interesting enough, I am curious to see how the relatively (for me) light combat rules shake out in larger situations like Battles and Sieges. As it stands – I really wanted more maneuvers and detail, but I can see that slowing down larger scale combats too much.
We had one mandatory trait test during the training: Valorous to not yield after receiving a critical hit in a sparring match. No passions were invoked yet.
I’ve been enjoying the structured/mini-game resolution systems more than I thought I would too!
Over the next few sessions, we’ll be digging into the campaign and adventures more properly. It should be roughly 15 or so years of game time before Arthur pulls the Sword from the Stone. My hope is we’ll have an established cast to play with those events by then, and see how our Arthurian story takes shape.
10 responses to “The first steps”
I have some thoughts on campaign packs, especially in light of their varying degrees of length and detailed events. They necessarily include some overly-personal questions, as if I were sitting in play with you. Should I share them here?
I’m not JC, but I’d be interested in your thoughts, if you find it suitable to discuss further. Pendragon is the only game from my teenage/20s that I still have on my shelves (including most of the published material) that didn’t end up getting given away or sold over the intervening decades. Even though I haven’t played it in the last two decades (!) I have kept in touch with its “community”, including one designer that is a personal acquaintance of mine. The rise of the Internet has made this easy.
One thing that may be relevant to your thoughts: Compared with Glorantha-related games, the whole “Your Pendragon May/Will Vary” isn’t just empty words that get repeated like a mantra only to be contradicted literally in the next sentence. This has relevance to how the Boy King, and the GPC in particular, has been used in practice for purposes of play by the Pendragon “community”.
Yes, please do share any questions you have. I am learning about playing in this space myself too.
We’ve done one other session so far as well, which encompassed the rest of the first in-game year of play.
I recognize myself in these Ron’s words:
“He had given up on people reading literature or engaging with any personal or external influences, and also on people playing their own visions, and on settings developing from play. I learned from meeting dozens of people whose work had inspired me to do those exact things that they had originally valued them and wanted them to happen, but now were crushed under their perception that canned content and hyper-structured frameworks were the only thing that role-players wanted or could even understand.”
I am not producing and quote certainly I won’t produce anything in publication terms, but the same scomfort has taken me by time as a mere player at the table.
And maybe that is even worst.
Pale customer imaginery taken from mass media canned products retold in play ever and ever without any original thinking, with rules as brilliant (or not so brilliant) packaging for the can.
The last time I played Blades in the dark for example I felt the very structure of play, I mean the sequence Hit-Downtime-Information, with all the rules associated, as a choking
(new comment stream)
Briefly, what is preparation for? The only sensible answer I can see is to work backwards: given a particular play-activity, it’s the necessary things to have on-hand. It has no intrinsic value except in the context of whatever that exact play-activity is supposed to be like. Therefore there is no common concept nor any useful principles regarding preparation in the abstract. It’s entirely specific to the local concept or practice of how we will play, i.e., always, but not limited to, “this game.”
… and here’s the tough thing to accept: if X is in play, then when X was made up and who made it up, isn’t important in any generalizable sense. However, locally and specifically, those things are very important regarding this particular play-activity. Prior to play: how much is developed, what is developed, who develops which parts; and critically, for all of these, the distinction between what is contextual (affects or could be at or in any scene) and what is known to be perceived and experienced (is in fact to be at or in a scene), in immediate play.
[Insert casual interactive phrase here, like “You see,” or anything similar] as one concept embedded in the above point, what’s fixed, known by someone actually to have to be in play, and not merely potentially so depending on what happens, may be thought of as the negative shape and pressure for those things which may be in play, or done in play, or might happen in play. I repeat: some degree of this “fixing” in all its weird myriad possible configurations is a critical feature of playing at all.
Therein lies a danger, however, not in the activity, but in our understanding: to mistake preparation to set what is not subject to play in place, thus opening up the upcoming activity, vs. preparation in order to fix the upcoming activity in place, to close play down, because you know how play will go. Instead of simply knowing what’s fixed and discovering what happens with whatever isn’t, you control the activity – and that’s not play at all.
What does any of this blither have to do with playing The Boy King? Well, it’s a “campaign pack,” right? A codification of what happen? A set of adventures, an overall uber-adventure, a plan? I don’t think so. I think it’s useful instead to say, what is play like, what do we do, what isn’t locked into place? Therefore, to appreciate and present what is locked into place very much like the sun rising and setting, because that is the bedrock upon which the answers to those questions – i.e. play – rely. Therefore, to think of it not as a codification of super-prepared play outcomes and plot outline (which is not play at all), but as a powerful device for the kind of preparation which active play of this game will require.
I think your contrast with The Great Pendragon Campaign is apt, and so all this think-y talk should be taken as not much more than a “yes” in response to that.
I wrote all of that very carefully and completely missed my promise to ask intrusive things. Here it is:
Why are you, specifically the two of you actual human people, using this publication? It cannot replace, provide, or fill-in anything about playing Pendragon.
This isn’t a rhetorical question aimed at getting you to stop doing it. I think The Boy King can provide something important or, at the very least, good. But it won’t unless you play Pendragon, with the supplement’s features treated as value added rather than doing anything “for” you, or “so you don’t have to,” or “make sure there’s a story,” or “to experience being in this story.”
What do you think of this distinction: “we played through The Boy King and made it all the way through!” vs. “we played Pendragon using the backdrop and ongoing situational elements from The Boy King.” The latter doesn’t mean using the supplement less, by the way – it might even mean using it more – the question is what the usage actually is.
I can not provide a definitive answer yet, but I can talk about where we are currently. The Boy King starts small, just your Knights and their estates during the first phase of the campaign, a 15 year period called *The Anarchy*.
Now, what’s cool is there are only 7 adventures (of varying completeness) provided. That leaves any GM with, at least, 8 adventures to create (one adventure per year is the usual pace of play), though I’m already making my own stuff up. I want to learn what kind of class-oppressor/knight Sir Aeddan is by zooming in on the estate. The land was newly gained, we’ve got some NPCs to establish/flesh out, it borders a faerie wood, and there is even some drama already because of the Winter Phase (get married, have a kid, wife dies but the son survives (so far)). I have half-a-dozen adventures swimming around in my mind already. It is an *energizing* game to play and prepare.
I think it’s flat out – impossible – to play through the Boy King, like it’s some linear script of events to talk around (like a very baroque and expensive game of madlibs) and *experience*.
Yes, there are fixed events with outcomes set in the stone. However, how those events shake up the lives of the Player Knights is key. When those big events start happening a group has already built up their own milieu, and will know exactly what those events mean to their Knights. I feel that is context readers miss without the perspective of *real time* and *real play*. My partner & I have, at least 14, sessions of play before Arthur pulleth The Sword from the stone & anvil and becomes known as the true born King of all Britain. That is months of gaming! We have no idea what our campaign, our Britain, our Artuhrian Legend will look like by then.
I have met far more people intimidated by Pendragon than those who play it. It is sad because Pendragon is a fun game to play. Fun. That is right, FUN! Fuck, important. Fuck, prestige. Fuck, perfection. It is a fun game without The Boy King or The Great Pendragon campaign. HECK! Even, if you’re using The Boy King, you *have to play basic Pendragon 15 sessions* before the Myths and Legends of King Arthur & The Knights of the Round Table begin.
I hope this makes sense to people.
I think it makes a lot of sense. It’s great to consider that the first step of “playing this campaign” is basically “play this game for a while.”
I try to avoid Gregging a discussion, but it does so happen that just about 20 years ago, I did in fact discuss this same issue with Greg Stafford in regard to developing materials for Hero Wars. He was all about the publications walking people step by step through the Hero Wars, “you can ride the star boat with Kallyr,” et cetera. I found the notion appalling, especially in the rigid, read-this-story-and-play-it fashion, as opposed to precisely what you described above. (I found it impossible to convince people that “metaplot,” i.e. literally controlling stories, was not the same thing as large-scale changes in situations. To them, if you were doing the latter, you must be doing the former.)
I now realize that I’m sorry not to have met him a decade earlier than I did, when The Boy King was in production and publication, rather than 2000, when The Great Pendragon Campaign was in that phase. I think the 1990s essentially destroyed his fellowship with role-players in general and specifically with his wider fanbase, and I think this applies to many other seminal contributors to role-playing. He had given up on people reading literature or engaging with any personal or external influences, and also on people playing their own visions, and on settings developing from play. I learned from meeting dozens of people whose work had inspired me to do those exact things that they had originally valued them and wanted them to happen, but now were crushed under their perception that canned content and hyper-structured frameworks were the only thing that role-players wanted or could even understand.
In a previous post in this thread I stated that in Pendragon, compared with Glorantha-related games, the whole “Your Pendragon May/Will Vary” isn’t just empty words that get repeated like a mantra only to be contradicted literally in the next sentence. This has relevance to how the Boy King, and the GPC in particular, has been used in practice for purposes of play by the Pendragon “community”.
What I meant by that is that the BK/GPC is used mostly as a campaign framework, a chassis or scaffold, for the in-fiction yearly play of a Pendragon campaign. In the GPC we have yearly entries that span the entirety of the Pendragon timeline, but these tend to be mostly barebones entries with no fully developed situations, or just entries with some notes for the GM to grab onto and perhaps use as a seed for possible events from which to build a situation for play. It is also very common for people to ignore what’s there in those entries and just insert whatever they want based on previous play events combined with whatever strikes their fancy. This is where some of the published adventure modules are sometimes inserted, with no connection to the entry in GPC except matching an appropriate Period in the timeline.
One common thing is also to alter the stats and/or motivations of several characters from Arthurian legend. So, in my campaign Merlin may be an amiable grandfather figure while in yours you turn him into a dick. Or maybe Mordred started out as a not-so-bad-guy initially when he arrives at court while maybe you make it into a rotten bag right from the start.
Another common thing is for people to play Ladies occasionally, for a few in-game years, without necessarily setting the gameplay in the middle of the main action, geographically speaking, with whatever is going on being weaved into the background but not at the forefront of play. I think that James Nostack gave as an example of that in a previous post here at Adept Play but I’ve seen it elsewhere in other people’s games. It commonly happens when a Player Knight dies, maybe with no heirs, and you play for a while with the wife if it fancies you or until the e.g. male child becomes old enough to be a squire.
There is no real canon to speak of when it comes to Pendragon, just some take on it from Greg that people feel in no obligation to adhere to for the most part. I think that one thing that may help explain this attitude, so different from what I perceive from Glorantha gameplay (maybe unfairly on my part) is that there is no original literary canon to begin with. Multiple versions of Arthurian legends exist, and thus people tend to have their own preferred version of the legends’ events, character personalities, motivations, etc.
Ron asks in another post:
‘What do you think of this distinction: “we played through The Boy King and made it all the way through!” vs. “we played Pendragon using the backdrop and ongoing situational elements from The Boy King.”’
I understand what Ron means here, but I’d suggest that in Pendragon both tend to happen in practice but with a subtle difference. People will play Pendragon using the backdrop and ongoing situational elements from The Boy King / GPC but they will also say that “we played through The Boy King and made it all the way through!”. What they mean by the latter is not that they played it like it was a call of Cthulhu 200 page campaign worth of railroading, but that they played through the circa 80 years of the game’s timeline. However, what you did in, say, year 495 may have been completely different from we did in our year 495.
With that said, Pendragon adventure scenarios are some of the most horrendously railroaded scenarios ever, but that’s a different issue that has no direct bearing on my point here.
I find the comments here very enlightening in light of myself trying to run a prepackaged campaign for my friends: “Raven’s Purge”, the first official campaign for the Forbidden Lands RPG, which is meant to touch some core of the game’s lore (for example, one of the campaign’s prominent NPCs is also depicted in the cover of the game’s core rule book).
As presented, the campaign deals with a magical artifact and various related magical gems which, it turns out, have the power to define how certain major, setting defining events will unfold. The campaign itself is a series of independent “Adventure Sites” for the players to explore in any order, coupled with some major NPC players and their agendas. The idea is that as the PCs explore these adventure sites they will meet the NPCs and be dragged into the larger plot. Then, when enough faction and lore boxes have been ticked, you are ready to run the final mega-adventure site where the major, setting defining events are evented. (Majorly evented, one should hope)
Since I have been reluctant to railroad, I’ve been considering flat out ignoring the plot (or rather, keeping it as a fallback) and instead just using these locations and characters more organically according to what emerges during play. HOWEVER, three sessions in, things have felt a little bit aimless, and reading Ron’s comments I suspect that I’m erring on the other side of metaplot, where in my caution not to railroad I’m also failing to provide the set elements that are crucial to open up play. Gives me a lot to think about.