Pendragon Cover Pandragon (1985)
 Orig. Publisher: Chaosium Inc. (www.chaosium.com/index.php)
 Curr. Publisher (5th Ed.): White Wolf/Arthaus (http://www.white-wolf.com/arthaus/index.php)
 Copyright: (c) 1985 Greg Stafford
 Advancement: Two-part: Glory (vaguely xp-like) and Skills, d20-based (vaguely usage-based)
 Features: extensive personalitytraits system, “passions” system, novel gameplay goals

Pendragon was a wonderful title published by Chaosium back in the mid-80s which made the bold attempt to generate gameplay much more attuned to the ethos of the Arthurian romance: knights and ladies, chivalry and jousting, tournaments and courtly amor.  (Hack and slash dungeon crawls need not apply.)

In my opinion, it was quite successful at encouraging this style of play.  As a result, I’ve always found the design, which was also quite simple and concise, to be very inspiring.

Character Sheet

Pendragon Character SheetThe basic character sheet for Pendragon hints at the simple elegance of the rule system.  Lots of white space, and yet with a pretty detailed list of game elements and characteristics to be determined. 

One detail worth special mention: notice how the physical characteristics and personality traits are arranged to give them almost equal importance, with Strength and the like being top of page, but off to the right, and traits being left edge/first column, directly beneath name and personal data.  This mirrors some of the different emphasis in the game play itself, a neat little design trick that helps the player focus on the desired elements of play.

Attributes

There are essentially two sets of attributes, as hinted at above: the typical “physical” stats and personality traits.  The number of physical stats is actually pared back a bit, there being only five in total: Strength, Size, Dexterity, Constitution, and Appearance.  Most characters roll 3d6 or 2d6+6 to determine scores for these stats, with modifiers applied for nationality/race (Pictish, Saxon, Cymric, Irish, or Roman)

The 12 personality traits work a bit differently.  The right hand scores are determined by 3d6 roll, with modifiers applied for traits considered virtues by the character’s chosen religion (Christian, Wotanic, Pagan).  The opposing traits in each pair are then set to 20-that score.  For example, a character with a Modesty trait of 7 has a corresponding Pride trait of (20-7=) 13.

Traits can be tested by various situations: a knight in his travels comes across a fabulous blade, obviously owned by someone but unattended at present.  Does his Selfishness rule him, does he steal the  and he absconds with the sword?  He could seek out the owner and offer to joust for the honor of bearing the blade, instead.  Perhaps his Selfishness wins the initial battle, but he uses his sense of Justice to forbear from the unchivalrous deed…

Passions

In addition to personality traits, characters will have a selection of “passions” to deal with as well.  The basics of Loyalty to one’s liege, and Love for one’s family are constant to all characters in Pendragon, but others can be added at the start, or earned over the course of play.  These can include other Loyalties (to the Round Table, to one’s vassals), Loves (spouse, diety), Amor (chaste love, carnal relations make it a Love instead), Hates, and Fears. 

These get rated on a 1-20 scale, and can be used in play to Inspire the character to exceptional levels of performance (in the right circumstances).  Passions also feed into the Glory system, which is one of the character development systems… anyone looking to advance in the game is going to want a Passion or three to play through and struggle with.

Advancement

Advancement in the Pendragon system is a once-a-year event, occurring in the game fiction during the Winter months of (frost-enforced) isolation and contemplation.

There are essentially two components to the advancement model.  First, any skills, traits, and/or passions that were significantly tested during the previous year can be raised by a point if the player rolls higher than the current score on a d20.  Obviously, the maximum score achievable in this way is 19.

Glory allows the opportunity to exceed that limit.  Every 1000 points of Glory earned allows the addition of 1 point to an attribute, skill, trait, or passion, beyond the normal limits which can have additional benefits beyond simple improved chance of success.

For example, a skill score in excess of 20 (which is an automatic success, skill tests being a matter of rolling less than current skill on 1d20), grants the character complete avoidance of critical failure.  Normally a roll of 20 is a critical failure and a roll of exactly the current skill score is critical success, but with skill of 20+, 20 is critical success and there is no chance of critical failure.

In addition, the difference between the score and 20 is added to the roll, effectively extending the chance of a critical success since any roll of greater than 20 is treated as 20.  Extending a trait beyond 20 indicates a level of virtue/vice that is impenetrable, attributes can be increased to super-human values, and so on.

Glory can be earned by many actions of the character: knightly challenges, tournaments, slaying of monsters, in battles of armies, through completion of quests and earning of honors, etc.  Glory can also accrue annually during the winter based on landholdings, income, significant passion scores (16+), and so on.  The rules are relatively detailed, and a wide selection of possibilities for gaining Glory are mentioned.

Change of pace

Pendragon, done right, offers a very different type of experience to those who play it.  The focus from the beginning is on social interaction and personal motivation, as opposed to XP and gold pieces, and the system successfully creates a reward paradigm that reinforces that difference.  Spending a session on a quest to retrieve a flower to win favor from a knight’s amor would not be unusual.  Hedge witches, fae monsters, blank shield knights, tests of both virtue and courage… what more could a true knight ask for from a midsummer’s jaunt?

Further resources

Pendragon is another Chaosium property that has changed hands a couple of times over the past 20 years.  For some time, it was a product of Green Knight Publishing (http://www.greenknight.com/products/rpg/index.shtml).  In late 2004, White Wolf Publishing appears to have bought up Green Knight, releasing a 5th Edition version shortly thereafter. 

However, there has been some recent activity at the Green Knight website, and with the recent merger of White Wolf and CCP Games, the developers of the MMO Eve, it is anyone’s guess what is going on with the various “acquired” WW properties (the Arthaus subsidiary in particular) at present, Pendragon included.

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