What's Pendragon like and what is it suited for?

Yora

Legend
So Pendragon 6th edition has made it into the top most anticipated new games of the year for the third time in a row. And apparently, this year it's actually coming out.

Pendragon has always been one of the games I knew existed and sounded pretty interesting and fun, but which never turned into actual plans to get some kind of campaign going, and I really don't know anything about the rules. With a new edition coming out, this seems as good a time as there will ever be.

Of course the new edition isn't out yet and so I can't just pick up the book and start reading. So what can you tell me about the game's general characteristics and are there any things that are worth looking up now? (Is 6th edition a new game, or just a new printing of existing rules?)

From what I always understood, the game is about the PCs being Knights of the Round Table, managing their own castles and coming together to go on quests to protect the realm. I'm personally a bit overdone with English fantasy, but the idea of reskinning the whole thing by moving the action from England to the Kingdom of the Burgundians during their struggles with the Saxons, Huns, and Romans. Which I think should be easy enough.
 

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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Ive not read it but there is a Pendragon supplement called Paladin set in the Kingdom of the Franks (lands of Charlemagne)

There is also a Pendragon quick start adventure if you want to try it https://www.chaosium.com/content/FreePDFs/Pendragon/6th Ed - QuickStart/Pendragon - The Adventure of the Sword Tournament.pdf

the game is skill based with combat being opposed rolls, roll under, and generally straight forward.

The games complexity comes with rolling dice for Traits and Passions which mechanically define and direct a Knights behaviour. Its how the game enforces the Knightly Conduct aspect of the game and thus imposes limits on players if they want to get the end goal of more Honour and Glory for the Winter phase.

I understand 6th Edition has quite a few refinements to the rules and there is a Design Journal blog Pendragon Design Journal #11: Writing the Starter Set, plus download 'The Adventure of the Sword Tournament' Pendragon Quick-Start
 
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From what I always understood, the game is about the PCs being Knights of the Round Table, managing their own castles and coming together to go on quests to protect the realm. I'm personally a bit overdone with English fantasy, but the idea of reskinning the whole thing by moving the action from England to the Kingdom of the Burgundians during their struggles with the Saxons, Huns, and Romans. Which I think should be easy enough.
Pendragon is a pretty unique beast. I've mostly been involved with D&D4E, PF2, Fate, 13th Age, CoC and Gumshoe campaigns and it feels very different. Part of that is the slow pacing; a game session typically corresponds to a year of time, so a romance subplot can take years to develop. Players manage families of characters, and their castles/manors are a way to keep families safe and prosperous.

Another way if differs is that life is really cheap. If you go fighting a dragon, one bad roll kills you. In ongoing battles and combats, players will regularly drop out, leaving the other characters to fight, because death is too likely. That sort of behavior is very rare in other, especially fantasy systems.

The Pendragon passions system is also a big difference, and you need to make sure your players are on board with it. It allows huge GM control over character motivation. Last night one of my player-knights say Guenever for the first time, rolled a critical success on their Lust passion, and now has a passion Amor(Guenever) at 26. That means that if I as, a GM, have Guenever ask him to do something as a favor, he rolls a d20 and if it is 26 or under, he will do it, no choice. (If he there are other circumstances that 26 might get reduced). This can be very hard for players who are used to absolute emotional agency for their characters to cope with.

It's also a different form of fantasy; it's not really about magic and spells and other fantasy staples. They exist, sure, but knights tend not to use them as much as be threatened by them. And magic is not formulaic magic; it's the GM making up stuff uniquely each time. As examples, here are the magic swords the part has encountered:
  • The Sword in the Stone. Powers: cannot be pulled out except by Arthur.
  • Excalibur: Powers: It improves battle skills by +5
  • Red Blade of Death: +10 to sword skill, cannot critical, always causes a minimum of 6 points of damage on a successful hit
It's soft magic, soft fantasy; not the mechanically rigorous magic other systems features.

If you are happy with these uncommon system features, I think any vaguely medieval world setting should work fine; Burgundian knights would be a relatively easy transfer.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
The Pendragon passions system is also a big difference, and you need to make sure your players are on board with it. It allows huge GM control over character motivation. Last night one of my player-knights say Guenever for the first time, rolled a critical success on their Lust passion, and now has a passion Amor(Guenever) at 26. That means that if I as, a GM, have Guenever ask him to do something as a favor, he rolls a d20 and if it is 26 or under, he will do it, no choice. (If he there are other circumstances that 26 might get reduced). This can be very hard for players who are used to absolute emotional agency for their characters to cope with.
Yeah, I think this is one pretty big departure. The game isn't simply about murder hoboing around as an Arthurian knight - it's about Arthurian romance. It's about passion, honor, loyalty, courtly virtue, and so on, as much as questing after grails and other adventures. And if you want to be famous for something - some trait whether valor or honesty or even recklessness - you may, occasionally, be ruled by the trait even if it's sub-optimal for your survival as a PC. The tail can wag the dog.
 


Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
It is not a general-purpose fantasy RPG. It's specifically for Arthurian Knights - those are the only type of PC. But it makes that kind of story really sing and dance.

Ive seen a homebrew variations for Samurai and another for Klingon Naval Academy cadets, so it can be expanded via the use of different Traits and Passions, but it does cater to a particular type of story focussed on Honour-bound Noble Warriors
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I've been playing in my first Pendragon campaign for about a year now, online, and can confirm Graham and Bill's comments are accurate.

Deadliness is definitely a feature. You're expected to occasionally need a new character, either your squire or a relative being promoted to PC, or (if you're lucky) having the old PC retire once old age decrements their ability scores enough and they've got an heir who's survived to the age of majority and been knighted.

Passions overruling a character's best interests is also a significant feature. Though once you're into the spirit of it, this is amusing and part of the fun more than frustrating.
 

Teo Twawki

Coffee ruminator
Decades back, the husband played in a long-running Pendragon campaign with a motley sort of folk from the SCA.

More recently--few years back--we reskinned the setting to the Slavic lands during the reign of the Ottoman Empire.

An excellent system that perhaps gets overlooked because of how perfectly it fits its own setting. We've lifted the balance of Traits for a number of other games ranging from sword & sandals Babylonia to Nephilim to using it for background character creation in such seemingly incongruous games like Delta Green (marking the Before image of an Agent; and showing how far the Agent fell to their After image).
 



MGibster

Legend
From what I always understood, the game is about the PCs being Knights of the Round Table, managing their own castles and coming together to go on quests to protect the realm. I'm personally a bit overdone with English fantasy, but the idea of reskinning the whole thing by moving the action from England to the Kingdom of the Burgundians during their struggles with the Saxons, Huns, and Romans. Which I think should be easy enough.
Pendragon is one of those games that was designed from the ground floor for one specific purpose. In this case, it was designed to emulate certain Arthurian stories in the vein of Le Morte d'Arthur and other Arthurian romances. I've heard of people adapting the game for other settings, we have a few in this thread, but I don't know if the game will provide you with what you want right out of the box. The Passions and Traits work great if I want to be an an Arthurian game, but I'm not sure if they'd be welcome in another game, especially a more historically accurate one. Never mind what constitutes an historically accurate game....
 


aramis erak

Legend
Ive not read it but there is a Pendragon supplement called Paladin set in the Kingdom of the Franks (lands of Charlemagne)
Paladin is, and I hate to say this, a really piss-poor take. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not at all pro-poltical-correctness... but Paladin is so un-woke it'd need to go back to the 70's to be acceptable.

Pendragon mechanical Basics
The game is, at it's heart, derived from RuneQuest... during the RQ 3e era.
The mechanic is changed from a 1d100 to a 1d20, and from per session/per character-month to per character-year experience rolls.
Damage is somewhat different, too.

Attributes: 5 of them (STR SIZ DEX CON APP), typical Chaosium range 3-18, and 8-18 for SIZ.
Skills: 24 non-combat, a dozen or so combat skills (including Horsemanship).
Personality Traits: 13 pairs 0-40 range; if the higher is below 21, the other is 20 - (opposing trait); if the higher is above 20, the opposing is 0.
Passions: 5 nearly universal, no formal limit. The universals: Loyalty Lord, Amour (n.), Love (n.), Amour (Guenevere), Love (deity). Deity for Christians usually written as Love (God). Landholders also have Loyalty (Vassals).

One's culture modifies attributes, traits, and provides starting skill bases.

Most actions are opposed rolls - highest successful roll. Rolling the adjusted skill exactly is a crit.

One form of unopposed roll is very common, and part of it's evocation of the feel: Inspiration. If you can justify a passion firing you up, and don't mind risking madness, nominate the skill to benenfit, the task to be accomplished to fulfill it, and test 1d20 for passion or less: on a success, treat it as 10 higher! On a fail, treat it as 5 lower. If you fail to accomplish the action, or fumble the check to inspire, You're an NPC for a bit while off ranting.

Traits and Religion
Players are required to pick a religion, but religion is not a huge factor in actual play; living up to the religious virtues, however, is. Each religion has a set of preferred traits, which, if they all are at 16+, then grants a bonus. Christians get 6 extra HP. Wotanics get an extra die of damage.
The place of religion in play is as a background element, and a defining element of the mechanics; it is not normally making anything about attendance.

If a character also has a certain set of traits, the Chivalrous Traits, high enough, summing to 81+, they get the Armor of Chivalry - 3 points of natural armor, and it's good vs falls, too... which means a normal jousting fall won''t injure.

Traits are used in 5 ways:
1: to earn the religious bonus, the chivalry bonus, and the romance bonus. These all carry bonus glory, too.
2: to earn annual glory - any trait at 16+ is worth its score in annual glory. It adds up quick.
3: to determine the response to a situation. Either the GM or the Player can request the roll. If the trait is 16+, the GM is allowed to assume that response unless the player chooses to roll.
4: to resist some condition. Entering Combat requires a Valorous Check, or one hesitates, and might flee. Staying awake for a night after a full day, for example, requires an Energetic check. The evil sorceress tempting one to delights not PG is, of course, Chaste. If the player chooses to give in, or fails the test, the opposed trait might get raised at the end of the year.
5: to see if the character's behavior has them worthy for some supernatural situation.
6: To resist one's own passions.

4th ed also adds:
7: to determine magical power. The religious traits determine just how big a spell one can cast, and how many dice of magical power one can draw on the attempt.

Traits can be awarded checks by the GM for playing to them, or against them, even when no roll was made. If you retreat in my KAP campaigns, and it's not because you were ordered away or major wounded, check that cowardly experience box...


Combat
Melee is almost always opposed rolls. Damage is done based upon the wielder... Str + Siz determines damage. Typical knights are 3-5 d6 damage. two-handed weapons get an extra die, small weapons lose a die. Armor's pretty tough - leather is 6 points! Chain is 10-12 (by era).
Knights generally don't do ranged combat. Bowmen typically do 3d.

Lances use the horse's 4-8 d6 damage, not the wielder's 3-5.

Solo Adventures:
Solos are a significant part of the game; two of them are used by players often, even when present for session, those being Your Own Land & The Lover's Solo. Others are there for players who missed the session, or for players who get injured and recover but not in time for the rest of the adventure. At the Crossroads is just that - joust all knightly comers. A Hunt is just that - ride into the woods and hope to come home with dinner; this also can be used as part of a longer adventure.

Landholding
it's common for knights to acquire lands; if they have just a manor or two, the corebook simple holding rules (Your Own Land solo) can be used. If they get too big, then it's time to grab the landholding rules for whichever edition you're using... Noble's Book for 1E, Lordly Domains for 3e/4e, Book of the Estar and Book of the Manor for 5th ed..

Setting Concerns
The setting is 6th C Brittain. Greg Stafford did his research, and placed Arthur entirely post-roman, building on Mallory, Nennius, TH White, Vulgate Cycle, and even A touch of MZB.
There is little magic; outside 4th edition, there is no PC magic whatsoever.
There are some magic weapons, and some potions, but those are NPC made, and usually heirloom. (in 4th, making a potion costs the lady doing so a year of aging!)

The basic conceit is that PCs start as either about to be knighted or just knighted household knights, usually in Salisbury. They do knightly things, having one adventure per year, and then at end of year, finding out what they learned from the year's adventure.
Once PCs become landholders of note, it often becomes a handful of mini-adventures and one major adventure per year - the mini-adventures being random fief events. (The tables for which differ by edition, but overall, all editions provide for same, but not in core in any)

Pendragon 4e and 5e explicitly include permission for female knights; 4th also includes female non-knights gentlewomen in the core. Both also make note that there is a celtic warrior woman tradition.

A typical session is either a task from the liege, a battle from the timeline, or a proper knights vs the magical weirdness of Arthur's Britain.

The Great Pendragon Campaign & The Boy King
GPC is 5th edition's masterful 80 year long campaign. It has 4-5 actual adventures in schematic per 15 year span, 2-3 adventure hooks per year, and advice for court for each year. If using it, it's easy to weave in one's own adventures and quests, too. Not every knight gets taken on the quest for Rome, for example - PCs might be those their Liege left to guard the wife and the heir.

Boy King is the same timeline, but fewer details; it also provides pre-arthur character options.

Either of them can be used with any edition just fine.

Magic
In the stock play mode, magic is limited to a few magical items, inspiration, and maybe a wife providing a potion.

Pendragon 4e also includes a magic system and magician character gen in the core... the Book of Knights does not include them, despite being a light 4th ed core. Magicians can be stupidly powerful... my last campaign, the wizardess transformed into a dragon at the Battle of Rome... and also added fire breath... but she was asleep for the trip back... and because she was unwilling to risk aging saves by being active, the party wound up lost at sea, and died of starvation. TPK, lost at sea...
But Rome did surrender damned quick! (And Arthur was, rightly, quite peeved at her.) Wizards have never been a problem in my campaigns, because the cost is weeks of downtime...
 

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