Monday, March 16, 2015

Re-Write Pendragon? Ridiculous

My original plan for today's post was going to be something like "Young Turks and Old Fools" and discuss the condensed timeline I've been working on since Friday or so. See, in Pendragon (at least, in the 3rd edition...the version I'm using for this Crowns of Blood thang) TIME is very important. Not in the Gygaxian, old school AD&D way (where every second, minute, and game day counts towards your character's eventual collapse), but in way of the saga, of significance of time passing, of continuity.

Okay...that probably doesn't make much sense. Let me scratch it a little bit.

Pendragon is a game set in Arthurian (i.e. King Arthur) fantasy England. It contains a timeline beginning in 495 CE (with Uther's death) and chronicling the major events up through 565 CE (the battle of Camlann when Arthur is mortally wounded by Mordred and removed to Avalon). It is meant to encompass the entirety of Arthur's mortal life, from his birth (presumably from the year Uther is slain, since Arthur is Uther's son) until his own end...and the end of the fantasy time about which som many myths and legends and stories have been written. It may not be explicitly written, but the gist I get from reading the rules is that the game is supposed to be folded upon reaching's a hard end date for the campaign/saga.

Since each game session begins with a new year (the player characters only have one adventure per year), this sets a finite number of game sessions to advance, develop, and play the characters you've created. What's more, it drives home characters' mortality, as they age and (eventually) die, leaving their legacy to be carried on by their children. Building a family and 'passing the torch' are big components of the game.

70 sessions (70 years of adventure) may not seem like a lot (if your group plays weekly or more often) but the finite limit is actually even less than that. While Arthur's timeline extends back to 495, the player characters all begin play in 531, shortly before the Age of Apogee begins, which really only leaves you with one-half of the timeline to explore. By the time your knights come of age, the Round Table has already been established, the King's married Gwen, and Lancelot has established himself as Arthur's greatest knight. Sure, your characters (or their kids) will be witness to the closing tragedies of the story, but mostly you'll be left with roaming around the countryside on knightly adventures, fighting magical beasties and kicking Saxon ass. You don't have to worry about helping unify the kingdom or anything because that all happened while your character was a kid growing up.

Which is fine, because Pendragon's a game about being a knight, not about playing out a company-produced story arc. The set events (Lance and Gwen's adultery, Mordred's betrayal/villainy) aren't anything you can change, but that's not your characters' objective, anyway. Your objective...the objective of all the pursuit of Glory. Gaining glory (becoming famous for your deeds) is the road to power and prestige. It's the method by which your characters measure their accomplishments; it's the method by which they develop their abilities beyond ordinary levels. Glory is how knights rank themselves against each other...and it is what is passed on to their children.

[well, one-tenth of Glory earned is passed on, anyway]

The Pendragon timeline provides a frame in which to pursue the knightly quest of gaining glory, while the setting provides the justification. And it's a neat little system.

A Song of Ice and Fire, the setting basis for Crowns of Blood, is NOT about winning glory.

In the timeline of the Seven Kingdoms, there's nearly three centuries from the time the continent is united by their dragon-riding conquerors and the "current events" portrayed in the books and television series. Lots of neat things happen in those 300 years. There are rebellions and battles. There are religious wars and religious persecution. There's a war of succession between competing claimants fighting each other on dragon-back...and that's all within the first 150 years. The last Targaryen dragon on Westeross died in in 153 (as they count time); the events of the books begin circa 298. If I really wanted to emulate the scope of Pendragon play, there's a lot of "35 year periods" from which to choose, with plenty of interesting events. But game play is not about "interesting events" in play is about giving players a lot of leeway (in a specific fantasy setting), allowing them the freedom to develop interesting characters, distinct from each other even while sharing the same class and (basic) background.

That's what I want to do with Crowns of Blood.

Dragons in medieval warfare = grossly unfair.
The problem...well, ONE of the that the time periods I'm looking at in Martin's setting don't offer the same thing that Pendragon does: namely, a chance to win glory and adventure in a magical land. I want the game to be set in a time period when there ain't no dragons, because I want the play to be about the struggles between rival lords armed and clad in steel. It's still a setting of high passions and extreme personalities and loyalty and family (all themes of Pendragon)...but is that enough to make it compelling? Is it enough to compel players to want to immerse themselves in the game? Because immersion is one of the key objectives of Pendragon. Not exploring dark dungeons or fighting Morgan Le Fay or stopping Mordred from partnering up with the Saxons. It's about living the life of a (romanticized) knight for half-a-year's worth of game sessions.

I'm starting to feel like my initial impressions of Pendragon's suitability for the setting were mistaken. I'm not sure people want to immerse themselves in a world of so much madness and sorrow and death and cynicism. When you're not about winning capital-G Glory, and there's no orcs to pillage for gold, what are you left with? Armored warriors trying to walk a path of honor, but being driven to acts of atrocity and brutality?

So, then, what to do...well, I can't really PLAY anything at the moment anyway (duh) being in Paraguay, but the Game of Thrones marathon continues on the cable, and the project is still interesting. I suppose I have a couple-three options here:

  1. Rewrite Martin's setting material to be more more romantically Arthurian (but, then, why not simply play Pendragon?).
  2. Rewrite Pendragon to provide some "winning criteria" besides acquiring Glory to make it more true to the setting material.
  3. Just "force it." Leave the Pendragon system as is (minor tweaks and setting changes aside), and try to place it in a time period that seems at least "semi-Arthurian."

Of the three, Option 2 would probably be the "best" option...but I'm not going to f'ing rewrite Pendragon. That is a ridiculous idea. You're talking an overhaul, design-wise, and this was something I wanted to do for a one-off campaign...not a book I intend to publish. Even if it WAS something I wanted to publish, I couldn't since the rights to Martin's material are already owned (and being used) by someone else...the best I could do would be to knock-off the setting AND the system. And that's a LOT more work than I want to do.


After not-very-careful consideration, I think I'll just "keep on keeping on" with Option 3, but brainstorm a little on how to tweak the system mechanic. Maybe give myself a week to mull on it? Sure. If I can't come up with something by next Monday, I'll just table the project indefinitely.


  1. You could always keep the Glory mechanic, but redefine what earns a knight glory. But it seems this is a problem one would see coming in applying this system to this setting, since ASoIaF is about debunking medieval chivalry, the bread and butter of Pendragon.

    1. @ K.R.:

      At the same time, there's plenty of the passions and melodrama of Arthurian tales in Martin's books. Whatever it was that compelled Brandon Stark to yell treasonous curses at the gates of the Red Keep (not to mention compelling the guy to strangle himself trying to save his father)...that's not rational stuff. The lordly characters of Martin's books are often chivalrous, even when they don't need to be. Even the Machiavellian ones.

      [certain characters, like the Cleganes, Boltons, and Pikes still take the appearance of wotanic or pagan knight-types, and still exhibit honor at times, if not chivalry]

      But, yeah, I was thinking along the same lines (i.e. re-working Glory awards, possibly tying it more closely to the knightly virtues). Family, loyalty, and honor...not to mention taking down your hates...are at least as important (if not more so) than winning tourneys.

  2. 2 and 3 for sure. Like you say some eras are not very conductive to chivalrous game play but I think certain times definitely could be. Set it during Robert's rebellion. Or make them members of the Kingsguard back when it was awesome (have them take down the Kingswood Brotherhood). I was going to run a game set in the "present" of the series but in a "what if?" timeline where Jamie didn't kill the mad King.

    1. @ Pierce:

      There's a lot of parallels between the Kingsguard and the Round Table, for sure. Membership could probably stand as a "knightly ambition."

      Robert's Rebellion is a little short for the entirety of a Pendragon campaign. My original idea was to take the saga up through 300 AC (the events of the books till the start of Winter), but I've since decided it would be better to END with Robert's Rebellion (the end of the Targaryen line). The time frame would be the same as Pendragon, and there's few major events in the 35 years prior, other than the Battle of Stepstones (the last Blackfyre Rebellion), and the Defiance of Duskendale (which really helped plunge Aerys into madness). I figure that by setting it in that period, it gives players plenty of chances to do knight errantry and get into trouble, and then gives them a chance to pick sides when the Rebellion finally comes. The events following Robert's Rebellion is pretty well-detailed anyway, and I don't want folks to feel like they need to follow Martin's storyline.

      Jaime will still kill the King, as assuredly as Mordred does for Arthur.

  3. To a certain extent, you might find one of the eras of dragons to be appropriate, as it is the dragons that make the magical background stand out more. When that is going on, you'll see (I think) more of the romantic elements that drive Pendragon play.

    1. To be clear, it is the dragons' existences that make magic work in Martin's setting.

    2. @ Faol:

      Yeah, I've read that, but there's a lot of "magical stuff" that was going on even between the death of the last dragon and the birth of the new ones in Essos. You still have that 200 year old albino Targaryen living in a tree, and kids with "green seeing" and "skin shifting" abilities, and there's still giants north of the wall, etc.

      That being said, I would probably throw a forgotten "wild" dragon into the campaign at some point. After all, The Cannibal survived the Dance of Dragons (in 130 AC) and Balerion lived to be at least 230 years old (in captivity)...who's to say The Cannibal isn't still lurking around Dragonstone in 150 years after his last appearance?
      ; )

  4. I'd probably work out some different reward than Glory. Perhaps something like "Power"?
    Or perhaps how effectively they sustain the family's motto.
    Have you looked at RuneQuest 6? It has a "lighter" system of passions, too (far less intruding than Pendragon's) and the other game elements (from cultures to weapons, lethality etc.) match Westeros' ones quite well. Magic is very flexible, and can be easily adapted to the setting, too.

    1. @ Antonio:

      I think "glory" is still valuable in the setting...not every family is concerned with power acquisition.

      In fact, it can probably be argued that while the Targaryens WERE in power, there were a lot fewer folks challenging their dominion. They were akin to gods (or Melniboneans or High Numenoreans or whatever). It was only after Robert's Rebellion (fueled by Passion...I don't think he would have otherwise "wanted" the throne) that Westeros goes "up for grabs."

  5. My biggest issue with the Pendragon campaign as written out is the railroading nature, sure itks a railroad with lot's of tracks and diversions and the game is about the ride so it works for that. Itks okay in that experience to have a campaign that begins in 485 and ends in 566.
    If you however have a camapign that's about being part of scheming power hugry famalies you can certainly start in 485 but thereks no chance anyone is goignt o have a clue what is coming in 566 As the camapign is more open in nature and a half dozen Arthurs could rise and fall.
    I think the system of Pendragon could indeed work well for modeling how nobles are expeted to be and how they actaully behave. The campaign model has to shift and the script has to be looser.

    1. @JD:

      I think the campaign supplements were more heavily "railroaded" than the basic game as written/designed.

  6. In Hackmaster 4e, a character's Honor was defined by his alignment. That is, a CE character gained honor for fighting dirty, a Lawful Good character lost honor for doing the same.

    I've not looking at Pendragon in probably 15 years or more. But, maybe redefine Glory based on what your family's code/sigil is? Acting like a Bolton gains you Glory, like a Stark, like a Lannister, etc.

    Jamie, for instance, had Glory because he is the Kingslayer; people are snide about it, but he's acting like a Lanister, so he's generally respected. Tyrion, on teh oether hand, is a great guy, but he doesn't fit the image of a Lannister, so, when he accused of killing Joffrey, people turn on him.

    Just a few thoughts.

    1. @ Anthony:

      I haven't actually worked up a model of Jaime Lannister (something I intend to do), but my in initial thought is that his Glory is really based on the usual knightly pursuits: he's excellent in combat, having won his first tourney at 13, being knighted at 15, having fought Smiling Jack (same age), and be the youngest knight ever elected to the Kingsguard.

      Knights never "lose Glory" in Pendragon, but I don't think much (or any) Glory was gained for murdering an unarmed man that he'd sworn to defend. In fact, I figure it was worth a hefty loss of his Honor passion. But his past Glory remains, even though he's now derided (he was nearly forced to "take the Black").

  7. Turn on him more easily, I should say.