Alan’s Unofficial (& Totally Biased) Essential Pendragon RPG Book Guide

A friend asked me to respond to this article with my thoughts. As my thoughts were longer than the communication medium (Twitter) allowed me to respond easily, I decided to collate them into this blog post. I mostly agreed, but I felt my own article on my favorite RPG would be worth it (plus I needed to write a blog post!).

Thus, I present to you, Alan’s Unofficial (& Totally Biased) Essential Pendragon RPG Book Guide!

My love affair with Pendragon as the best RPG I’ve ever played is well documented on this blog, and it doesn’t bear repeating (I love Pendragon so much. It’s the absolute best RPG I’ve played, if not the best you can buy).

I’ve divided these into categories, start with Must Buy, and getting all the way to Don’t Really Need. You can click on the titles or the pictures for links to the purchase site (all of them on DriveThru). I’ll primarily focus on 5.X Edition (the current and my favorite) because it’s both readily available in PDF and Print (thanks to Print on Demand at DriveThru) and because I’m wildly biased (again, my favorite).

And if you don’t know, I do work for Nocturnal Media, but not on Pendragon. I’ve loved Pendragon since long before I worked at Nocturnal Media.


MUST BUY

King Arthur Pendragon 5.2: You have to start with the corebook of course, so you can play the game! King Arthur Pendragon 5.2 is the most up to date (and prettiest) version of Pendragon you can get.

If you have to have it in print, it’s coming out soon, but 5.1 will also suffice (5.2 is mostly cleaned up errata, some clarified rules, full color and with really nice art). 

The Great Pendragon CampaignIn a large aspect, the point of playing the Pendragon RPG is for this campaign. The Great Pendragon Campaign (or GPC) is a massive tome that covers year by year recounting of Uther’s reign through the end of Arthurs, along with adventures and yearly plots for your players to take part in. It’s massive, it’s directed, and it’s fantastically researched, written and very enjoyable. You need to have this book if you want to play Pendragon.

The Book of Knights and Ladies: If Pendragon has one failing, it’s the fact that the core book only allows for characters to be from one very specific region of Arthurian England (Salisbury). This book address that issue, by opening a lot more regions to the players to be from. Everything from France to Viking to Faire(!?) origins are in this book. You’ll want it, and your players will want it.

It also has some excellent expansions to corebook rules such as Family History charts and characteristics, luck tables, and more. A+ expansion.


BEST OPTIONS TO BUY FOR MORE AWESOME

If you want to add more awesome to your already awesome Pendragon RPG these books below will serve you nicely. I use all of them almost every session we play.

The Book of Uther: I reviewed the Book of Uther before, so you can find out my thoughts there. If you’re playing the GPC, this book adds a 5 year expansion to the front of the campaign, and gives you (the GM) a lot of useful information that will help you set the tone of the world and game with a lot of “accuracy” (for a game about romantic myth and magic swords in lakes).

I consider this game an absolute must for my games, and suggest you buy this after you buy the three above. 

The Book of the ManorThe Book of the Manor is in a weird place. It’s sort of (but not really?) superseded by Book of the Estate (we’ll get there soon). The Book of the Manor deals with rules for managing Manors (or the lands your knights individually hold) on a singular level. Rules on upgrading, managing, and maintaining individual manors are here. It doesn’t help you manage huge tracts of land (hah!), and it can become sort of “book-keepy” and lead to some Knights having massive amounts of money, but if the GM is prepared for it, and your players love that level of management, you can’t go wrong.  I’d suggest you buy Book of the Estate before you buy Book of the Manor however (see why below). 

The Book of the Estate: One of the other land management books, the Book of the Estate is written to compliment the Book of the Warlord. The Book of the Estate is designed to replace Book of the Manor in part, and address some of the issues with economic inflation and book-keeping present in Book of the Manor. However, it’s less detailed and can be a bit less interesting then Book of the Manor. I tend to use both, starting with Manor and moving to estate when a Knight has more than 2 Manors to manage. Your mileage my vary. I’d suggest you buy Book of the Estate before you buy Book of the Manor.

The Book of the WarlordWritten to be a companion with Book of the Estate, the Book of the Warlord is designed to be a reference book for managing lesser nobility (Barons and Earls) in the time of Uther and the first era of Arthur’s reign. It’s land management at a larger scale than Book of the Estate, and forms a sort of natural progression (Book of the Manor to Book of the Estate to Book of the Warlord) for how much land one might own. It’s also exceptionally interesting in it’s own right. Buy this after you buy Book of the Estate. It’s less useful in all circumstances.

The Book of Battle: This book expands upon the battle rules in the core rule book. It’s more complicated and requires players and the GM to be familiar with it’s changes to mechanics.  However, it adds a lot of depth, fun and excitement to the game, and if you’re willing to put the time in, it greatly enhances the core value of the game.

Buy this one after the rest on this list.


COOL, BUT HOW OFTEN WILL YOU USE THEM?

Our next section is supplements that add more to the game, but aren’t resources you’ll readily be pulling out on a regular basis.

The Book of Armies: This book is really interesting and very good. It’s basically a collection of rules and stats about various armies through out the GPC. But you won’ use it every session. Every year doesn’t have battles, and every army is not in every battle. It’s nice. I like it. But I wouldn’t call it “essential”. You can get everything you need from the Book of Battle.

But if you want more, this is a really nice add-on and compliment to the Book of Battle.

The Book of the EntourageNot based on the TV series, this book handles rules for servants, squires, more detail about wives (which is a bit of a big deal in Pendragon), and lots of rules about people your Knights might hire to aid them.

It’s good. But I find, it tends to come up a lot less than you’d expect, as the core rules for hirelings are solid, quick and serviceable, and a lot of players don’t care to micro-manage “employees”

If you want it, or love the idea of it, you wont’ regret it. I just find I use it less.


There’s a lot more Pendragon stuff out there on DriveThruRPG. A lot of the old adventures are easily compatible or moved over to the new edition, so if you’re looking for things to jog your inspiration, I’d suggest you just find what fits you there.

I could quadruple the length of this post going over the previous editions material, but I don’t think it’s necessary. After these books, I think anyone would have a good feel for what they need or want later, so you can make your own judgements! Just be forewarned that some conversion work might need to be done.

I hope this helps prospective Pendragon fans or players, and gets you started!

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The Great Pendragon Campaign: Year 480

In which, I, Alan, keep a yearly log of the progress and history of the characters playing through the Great Pendragon Campaign.


During the year 480, we followed the travails and successes of three of the knights of Salisbury, the knights being named as follows:

  • Robert of Newton Tony, a British Christian Knight, famed for his Honesty.
  • Cole of Tisbury, a Pagan Knight, famed for his Just ways.
  • Einion of Baverstock, a British Christian Knight, famed for his Generosity.

Of Battles, Knighting and Marriage

First, the knights began the year as squires, and were sent to Vagon for training under Sir Elad, the Marshal of the Earl of Salisbury. After some training and martial practice, the squires were sent to Imber to remove and slay a man-eating bear that was causing the peasants to fail to work the fields as appropriate.

With much effort, and aid from the local priest, Old Garr, the squires were able to track down the bear. Robert fell upon the beast first, and valiantly held it off, while Cole and Einion raced to aid him. After furious fighting and blows, the bear was felled, though Cole and Robert had been wounded.

The bear was dressed and as the squires transported the carcass of the great beast back to Imber, they fell upon some bandits, who were waylaying one of their Lord’s peasants. Slaying two, and taking one alive, they spent the night in Imber, where unbeknownst to Cole, he fathered a bastard child with a villager.

Arriving back at Vagon, they recounted their tales to Sir Elad, who instructed them to accompany him to Sarum, a few days in advance of Easter Court, so they could inform their liege, the Earl of Salisbury, what had occurred.

After a half-days ride, they arrived in time to speak with the Earl, who was greatly pleased with their progress, and informed them to explore and enjoy the town around them.

Robert spent some time praying, and consulting with the local father about marriage and how to continue his line. The priest instructed him to speak with Lady Ellen, the wife of the Earl about a suitable wife.

Einion sparred with Sir Jaradan, performing well, and inspiring a rivalry fueled by minor jealousy.

Cole wandered the gardens, meeting several ladies of the court and engaging them in conversation.

Before the dinner that night, Cole, Einion and Robert all conversed with three eligible ladies (whom the GM had moved about 5 years earlier in the city, as he needed eligible ladies):

  • Lady Adwen
  • Lady Elaine
  • Lady Gwiona

That evening, each of the squires was put forth by Elad to recieve the honor of being knighted. They stood in vigil that night, praying and attempting to stay awake.

The next morn, they recited their vows and received their titles and lands. As Easter Court was being held in Sarum, their ascension to knighthood was witnessed by none other then the High King himself, Aurelius Ambrosius, and his entourage. There was much glory heaped upon the new knights, and many congratulations given.

As the knights navigated their Easter Court, Robert spoke with Ellen, who agreed to intercede on his behalf for the hand of Lady Adwen if Robert performed well, as he accompanied Rodrick to war this summer.

After the court, the Knights returned home for a time, until Rodrick summoned them to travel with himself and the High King against the Saxons, whose treacherous King had led them against Salisbury. The knights traveled south along the Avon river, until the armies collided and clashed.

Sir Elad, Rodrick’s marshal led the knights into battle, and much blood was shed. The High King fell victim to poison, and Duke Gorlois rallied the knights, who pushed and pursued the Saxons back to their ships.

Robert gave into his hatred (critical success on Passion [Hate Saxons]), and such was his rage and hatred that dozens of Saxons died by his sword that day.

Upon return, Robert was gifted Adwen’s hand in marriage for his valor in battle, and Einion secured the hand of Gwiona.


Winter Phase

  • Robert and Adwen produce a daughter, named Adwen after her mother, as Adwen dies in childbirth
  • Einion and Gwiona produce a son, named Brynmor.
  • Cole produces a bastard son from the villager in Imber.
  • All of them produce new locations, improvements, and defense for their manors, fueled by wealth gained form marriage and/or battle.

Titles Earned

  • Robert earns the title, Sir Robert, the Saxon-Butcher of Salisbury
  • Cole earns the title, Sir Cole the Just (due to his ending the Winter phase with a 19 in Just)
  • Einion earns the title, le Roche (the Rock), due to his defense and valor in combat, and his unyielding nature.

GM wrap-up

  • House Rules I used:
    • 2k glory earns you a title, based on an event during the year (Robert and Einion earned those).
    • A 19 in a trait earns you a title based on that trait (Cole earned that).
  • In one year, we did the knighting, two marriages, and a massive battle, met major NPCs, and had a blast.
  • First off, I love Pendragon, so starting the GPC is always a blast. The group was involved, invested, and we had some great moments. When Robert’s player rolled a critical on Hate (Saxons), the shock and surprise from the other players, as he lost himself to the battle-rage was wonderful.
  • Robert losing his wife, lead to some great RP, and planning for future lives.
  • as a GM, Cole having a bastard son, is exciting because I get to make some longer term plans.

Overall, I think the session was one of the best sessions I’ve ever ran, and I had a great time. Can’t wait for year 481!

Monthly One-Off Recap: Pendragon!

KAP+Pendragon+5.1Every month, I or a guest GM, run a “one-off” for any one who wants to come.

It’s always a pre-determined game, set several months in advance, and we use it to teach, learn or try games, we’d not play normally, either due to interest, trepidation or others. It’s sort of a time we cut loose, just play an RPG, and enjoy company with out the structure or stricture of a full campaign (which we love, but a break is nice).

This month, we played King Arthur Pendragon, the 5.1 edition from Nocturnal Media. Only one of our players had played before, so it was a new experience for the rest of the guests.

I’ll recap: the reason I chose Pendragon was two-fold. First off, Pendragon is my all-time favorite roleplaying game. Bar none. I consider the mechanics, setting, roleplaying, and theme perfectly melded into the perfect game. As an RPG designer, it had more influence on me than any other game. I can’t talk about it enough, or rave about it enough to anyone who will listen (and often those who won’t). kap2

Secondly, due to my constant raving, talking, and musing on Pendragon, several of my players from my various groups who had never tried it, wanted to try it.

So we sat down, and I walked them through the base character creation in the core book. I was using the new Great Pendragon Campaign expansion of 480 – 484 that recently came out with The Book of Uther (review here), and set it in that time frame. KAPBookofUther

Character creation was a blast. The explanation of Traits (internal personality and emotional drivers) and Passions (external attachments and drivers) instantly fired the new players, and made visualizing their knightly character much easier for them. The skills, the family history, and the land ownership instantly invested them in the setting and the game, and made everyone much more involved that I usually see in a one-off.

That took about an hour to get everyone through, we determined their land, and got them started on their quest.

It was a brief adventure, involving brigands who were holding a small ford used for trading, newly knighted characters with something to prove, and a scheming manor lord out for more power and authority.

We did the Winter Phase (despite the one-off nature), because I wanted the players to experience the phase I consider the most fun in the game, and the aspect I enjoy the most, namely manor management. all the players but one successfully had children, and the odd one out lost his wife and child during the winter phase, and there was mourning throughout the land.

There was excellent roleplay all around, some great rolls, some terrible rolls, inflamed passions (in characters, not players), revenge, and honor. The game felt instantly captivating to me, and after the game, we had a recap, and the reviews were unanimously positive regarding the mechanics, setting, and ideas behind Pendragon.

(Highly Biased) Grade:

  • Mechanics: A+
  • Setting: A
  • Accessibility: A+
  • Replayability: A

I think I might be able to reboot my Great Pendragon Campaign shortly if I can keep selling the game like this. Of course, the game makes it easy to sell, due to it’s excellent and awesome nature.

Overall, a resounding success.

RPG Review: The Book of Uther from Nocturnal Media

161509As part of my plans for the new years, I’m going to spend some time revisiting, reviewing, and playing older RPGs that deserve some attention. That means more actual play posts, more reviews, and just overall, more content.

So, here’s the first one of the new year! The Book of Uther from Nocturnal Media. I’m a massive fan of Arthurian lore (my Keltia review reference that), and so, here I am to review the latest book in the “leather book” line of King Arthur Pendragon books.

As a preface, I’ve gushed about Pendragon before, and I hold that KAP is probably the greatest, and most well-researched, written, and delivered roleplaying games of all time. However, that doesn’t mean this review is all cupcakes and roses. There’s some serious talkin’ ’bout to happen here.

 


1.) Size and Production Quality

A full size 160 pages, black and white interior (which…red reminder/rules text on the sidebars? That felt weird).  For 30$ + S&H, softcover, as you can only get it in POD or PDF from DriveThruRPG. The price point feels a little weird, and while the design, layout and interior quality is all great, but the book’s price point and thinness left me a little…cold.

There’s also a few typos, specifically around some of the usage of latin, where the plurals and singular forms get switched around and messed up. Not a major quibble for the average reader I suspect. For a thin, black and white book (essentially), I think it could be cheaper. Many other games (Savage Worlds comes to mind), can sell fullcolor books for less on DriveThru’s POD service.

6/10


2.) Art

All of the art is culled from various medieval sources, and fits the atmosphere of the book exceptionally well. Some of it (as acknowledged by the author) is anachronistic, but even that art, still delivers on the theme and feel of the game. It’s an exceptionally deliberate choice that is expertly executed on.

10/10


3.) Content/Rules

 

Oh, look at that. Rules regarding Uther’s coronation, the politics and courtly states of the times, members of The King’s Progress, and stats for Uther and Excalibur…

That’s right. I don’t think Uther and Excalibur get stated quite this way in any other book (I could be wrong of course, as I’m only familiar with the 5e line, but a quick pass through my 5e books seems to bear me out).

All of the NPCs are well done. The delivery of the discussion around castles, property organization and management, and more is fascination as always, and Stafford (the author) delivers another excellent bout of history and gaming merged into a singular experience.

New mechanics around monks (cloistered religious ones, to be clear), and some new skills really round out the game.

10/10


4.) Game Master Section

The whole book is really a giant game master section mixed with additional rules you can use to enhance your Pendragon campaign. The Content/Rules review up above really serves well to cover what I felt about the book.

10/10


5.) Pre-Made Adventure

Doesn’t exist here, so instead, we’re going to talk about the 5 year expansion to The Great Pendragon Campaign that is contained within The Book of Uther. 

Normally, the GPC covers years 485 to 566, but with the expansion in the BoU, you get an extra few years from 480 to 484. This means, your campaign can now cover the entirety of King Uther Pendragon’s reign. And every bit of it is awesome.

The new NPCs, conflicts, and chances to establish your lineage a little bit earlier are wonderful. They add a lot more depth than I expected, and giving the characters a chance to be allies of Uther from the start really adds a certain, feel to the game, I can’t help but love.

10/10


Total Score: 46/50

Well, The Book of Uther now has the highest score I’ve ever awarded to an RPG review on this blog since doing this format. Congrats!

I gotta be honest, I had to work to keep it as “objective” as possible, but I was ecstatically reading this book and loving every minute of it. I still hold Pendragon as the best RPG ever made (in any context, suck it everything else), and I think the Book of Uther is a must-have addition to the line.

Pendragon and the Importance of Thematic Rulesets

Last night I had the opportunity to play Pendragon, by Nocturnal Media. Pendragon is an RPG that has cropped up on my radar multiple times, but I’ve never had access to a copy or known anyone who does.

I was given a copy of the core book as a gift recently, and as some friends had wanted to learn how to play RPGS, I felt a game based on King Arthur and the commonly known mythos was an excellent choice.

Wow.

I was completely blown away by this game. I don’t believe I’ve been that impressed with an RPG at any point I can recall. We only had a few hours, so we did character creation and a short intro session that ended with all the characters being knighted.

1.) Character Creation

Pendragon is a variation on the well-known Chaosium dice system, and uses a single d20 roll to resolve actions. You have roll under your skill. Pretty simple. The character creation starts with the basics. Age, name, order of your son in the family hierarchy. The game also uses a innovative trait system, to determine your characters virtues, their strengths, their weaknesses, and emotional responses to situations. This was the game changer for me. I was able to help several people who had only either RPG’d once, or never to determine how their characters would react. If they had a question, I’d suggest they look at their highest virtue and respond in that way to the situation.

Is it a perfect system? No. But is it excellent? Yes. It was fantastic. Attribute and skill generation is generic and fairly straightforward. My only complaint was the lack of a skill table to easy pick skills and determine what skills you can have. We had to spend some time hunting through the rule book to find rules for different skills.

After character creation was wrapped up, we ran through the books quick introductory adventure to turn our squires into knights. The adventure was simple, effective, and taught the game the types of roles. Excellent. Pendragon is rapidly becoming my RPG of choice.


 

However, this brings up some thoughts regarding RPGs. The Pendragon RPG works because the entire ruleset is designed around a single concept. You play a knight. There’s no other options. You are either Pagan or Christian. All the options fall in skills, advantages and such.

So when the rules for Pendragon are built around the single framework of delivering the game of being a Knight during Arthur’s reign, they do it well. That’s the only goal they have.

Whereas games like Dungeons and Dragons, World of Darkness and other systems are built to effectively deliver games regardless of setting, have rules that sometimes don’t quite fit. You have to drop and mod the rules to effectively deliver the game you want to.

I suppose this is part of my aging in RPGs, but I find that I prefer single system rulesets that are built to deliver thematic game play over generic systems. Interesting. It’s a new discovery for me.


 

Kickstarters of Note:

A World of Dew – Samurai Noir RPG

East Texas University – College Level Horror RPG