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.
EDIT: That changed. For a short while, I also worked as the project manager and publisher on Pendragon books! However, Pendragon returned home to Chaosium, and I returned to being an avid fan!
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 Campaign: In 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 Feasts: The Book of Feasts fixes one of the weakest parts of Pendragon (that was hard for me to write!) and adds a lot of context, mechanics, and excitements around feasts!
The accompanying Feast Deck really punches up the action, and I consider this book an absolute add to your game.
[Bonus tidbet: This is my first credit as a publisher on a Nocturnal Media product and a Pendragon product.]
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 Manor: The 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 may vary. I’d suggest you buy Book of the Estate before you buy Book of the Manor.
The Book of the Warlord: Written 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 Entourage: Not 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!