Dan's Top 19 RPGs - #18 - Pendragon

Today's game just barely meets the criteria of being a game I've played, having only played a few sessions - but I loved those sessions. King Arthur Pendragon, originally published by Chaosium (and kinda sorta having found its way back to Chaosium, the long way round).

Pendragon is a game about playing knights in legendary England, as seen through the legends of King Arthur. Its biggest influence is Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. You typically build your character, assumed to be a knight, by first building his grandfather's and then father's history. The game itself is designed to follow your characters for decades - indeed it is expected your character will die in the course of play, either in battle or through old age. Every session is designed to advance your character a year. Finding a wife and getting an heir is therefore of prime importance for your character.

Pendragon uses a variant of the BRP system as seen in RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu, though it uses d20s instead of percentile dice, though maintaining the roll-under mechanic of those games. It has a number of tweaks to support its style - for example characters have various traits and passions which influence the way they behave. For example, a lustful knight might have to make a check to stay faithful to his wife. A knight whose father was killed by Saxons might have to make a check to work with one. Combat in Pendragon is exceedingly brutal and healing is very, very slow - forget about resting over night, your character might take months to recover, months he does not have. And it is possible for a wounded character to get worse, not better.

The game also includes rules for maintaining your character's manor, courtship, childbirth, etc. It is a game fantastically faithful to its source material.

Like most Chaosium games, it has gone through many editions - and it's had a fair number of publishers. The 4th edition broke a little away from the laser focus on playing knights - it introduced rules for magic, non-knight characters, etc. Editions since then have gone back to a focus on knights.

Why haven't I played the game more? It's not quite meant for me. Truthfully, I'm not a huge fan of Arthurian legends. I like the story of King Arthur well enough, but despite multiple attempts, I've never been able to read Le Morte d'Arthur in its entirety. And it can be tough to find a group committed to a game of Pendragon - like I mentioned, I've only played it a little and I've never been able to do a full campaign. I'd love to adapt it some time - I've a hunch it'd make a great engine for A Song of Ice and Fire and I'm curious what the upcoming Paladin: Warriors of Charlemagne will bring, being based on Pendragon. I've also a hunch it'd make a great engine for a Viking RPG.


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