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.

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!


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.

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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 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 may 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!

Monthly One-Off Recap! The One Ring from Cubicle 7!

NEW-TOR-packshotEvery 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).

I’ve been heads down on my Kickstarter for my science fiction RPG: Tiny Frontiers, so it was nice to step away and take a break for an evening.


This month, we played The One Ring from Cubicle 7. No one but me had played or read the books before, so we had 5 players new to the RPG, one of which is not a Tolkien fan, and one of which only really knows Tolkien through the movies.

I’ll explain: the reason I chose TOR was two-fold. First off, Lord of the Rings is my all-time favorite book series (as a series). I love the films, the associated media, the books, and all things.

Secondly, I selfishly just wanted to play it again (having only ever done a one-off).

So we sat down, and I provided everyone with pregenerated characters I pulled from the C7 website.

I ran through the rules, the dice, how Hope, Shadow, Fatigue and Endurance worked, and did my best to explain the combat rules before we did any combat.

We started with a pretty iconic style of adventure, Gandalf giving a hobbit a quest to recover a piece of treasure that was driving an Orc Warlord made due to it’s Dragon-Curse. The Dwarves of the Misty Mountain would have gone in force to recover the lost goblet of King Gamlin the Fat, and Gandalf wanted the land to remain settled after the Battle of Five Armies.

We worked through the Journey mechanics and explained how the Travel Map works. We were able to leverage that to great success, with the party encountering harsh rains, that slowed them by several days, but eventually making the trek to Rhosgobel where we used the social encounter rules to have the party gather information at the Inn of the Leaping Trout.

the_one_ring_iconics_wallpaper_by_jonhodgson-d494jc1We had a lot of fun with the introductions, the use of the Riddle and Song skills (which feel very Tolkienian), and learning how fellowship focuses work.

The company eventually traveled off into the deep dark of the Mirkwood where they encountered giant spiders, and the Orc warband of Gathon the Greedy, an orc who survived the Battle of Five Armies, but was driven mad by Dwarven gold he stole.

There was a ferocious battle, and wounds were taken and shed on both sides, but eventually the foul Orc was slain.

The treasure was returned to Gandalf, and all ended well.

We ran out of time, so we didn’t get to leverage or use the Fellowship phase, but overall it was great.


The mechanics and style of the game feel very Tolkienian, and the strength of the game is clearly apparently, as it’s a master-class in building rules around the form and setting of a game.

I loved it, and all the players were complimentary of the mechanics, agreeing that it fit the idea and feeling of Lord of the Rings.

(Highly Biased) Grade:

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

I think I might be able to run a TOR campaign shortly! Everyone had a good time, and several people were very complimentary regarding the mechanics and feel of the game.

An excellent success and a winning game.

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 Retrospective: Dark Ages: Vampire from White Wolf Publishing

2676This is the first post in a series of post I’m titled (unimaginatively) “RPG Retrospective”. I’m a fairly young guy when you compare my age to the history and length of RPGs (I’m less than 30, where as oD&D was published in 1974), which means I’ve really only been playing RPGs for about 15 of the 41 years they’ve been around.

The goal of these posts is for me to dive into historical RPGs (ie. ones that I never played or missed due to age/etc), and try to understand and study them. I’ve played some of ’em, and I will play more of ’em, but I’m gonna start with the one I’ve ran the most, Dark Ages: Vampire.


 

So, my first true exposure to the World of Darkness was the “new” World of Darkness game Vampire: The Requiem, and I was exposed to it through a friend who wanted to run Mage: The Awakening. I was 18, impressionable, away from home at college for the first time, and V:tR scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had. It was a pretty great time for me. About a year later, a co-worker was offloading a bunch of RPGs they didn’t play anymore, and offered them to me for a great deal.

The copy of Dark Ages was shrink-wrapped, and I didn’t get a chance to play it until my friends Jeremy and Ken convinced me to open it late one night at Dragon’s Keep and run it (having never read any oWoD materials). We made characters and started playing at like 10 pm, and come 4 am, we were still going strong on our first session (with me learning the rules as I went). I fell in love.

That campaign ran for a bit, traversing 1100’s Europe until we invited some new players who wanted in, and the game sorta…fell apart. In a giant flaming cluster of a mess frankly. I wasn’t GM capable for that game.


 

Dark Ages: Vampire deals with the medieval machinations of 11 clans of Vampires in Europe, North Africa, the Holy Land, and Eastern Russia/Europe. It’s dark, and gothic, and a product that stands on it’s own, in the best way.

The ruleset is dated. There are poorly written points, and unbalanced mechanics (screw celerity), and the fiction is dark and deliberate throughout the book.

It’s a White Wolf production through and through, and it shows. However, I love it. I wouldn’t change a damn thing (except Celerity, ugh), and I’d run it again in a heartbeat. Dark Ages: Vampire and by extension games inspired/similar to it were a huge inspiration to me in my design, and I didn’t realize it until almost 8 years later.

8 years. Wow.

I consider Dark Ages: Vampire the pinnacle of White Wolf gaming for me, and I intend to pick up the 20th Anniversary Edition (which somehow I missed?) as soon as possible and get down to gaming with it again.

 

 

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