Fallen World Campaign [LotFP]–Twenty-Fifth Session

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My Lamentations of the Flame Princess Fallen Worlds campaign is still going… but with long breaks on and off. One of the members of the Monday Night Group is in another city at school. And since the pleasure of the game is built from the weird alchemy of the players at the table, I’m content to wait until we’re all gathered. (We got in a few sessions in December when she was back in town on break.)

We keep playing games. All sorts of games! I’ve Refereed a few games along the way as well. (We just wrapped up several months of 5e which was a lot of fun. A lot of heavy mechanical lifting… which was fun! But I’m looking forward to mechanical simplicity again. More on that in posts to come.)

I started typing this post months and months ago, catching up on the Lamplighters as they began their foray into Qelong Valley.

There was a lot of ground to cover. In particular I want to look back at what worked and did not work as I sat myself behind the screen again. Several session have occurred since this post. But I wanted to get this up on the blog!


The Lamplighters made their way up the Qelong River in a boat they bought. They kept two squads of mercenaries they brought with them from earth (or, rather, their earth) and left the rest of them guard the Das Forscher. They reached a poverty stricken village and sought out information about the fortress further upriver they had heard about. But the village was under the control of cannibals who sprang out from hiding when the group was scattered. The combat ranged across the village as the PCs worked to regroup. They ended up losing some of their mercenaries. The found out that the land seemed poisoned by the aakom that powered the magical weapons lobbed over the mountains by the arch-mages fighting their war beyond the Qelong Valley.

I wasn’t particularly happy with this session. It was the second session I had really prepped out a fight and tried to have a set piece of action. (The first was the fight in the village of Bergenzel (aka Scenic Dunnsmouth) and that one went gangbusters.) I think the key is that in this fight they were fighting only for survival after being ambushed (that is, they were only fighting), whereas in Bergenzel they had an actual agenda (find and destroy the Spider Cult). In the Bergenzel fight they had chosen to go after the danger, could decide to press on with things got crazy (and they got crazy) or choose to abandon their goals, they found themselves in the face of multiple factions and had to sort out what was going on in the middle of combat. All in all there was more going on than the fight itself.

So, pro tip to me: A fight for the sake of a fight in and of itself (in other words, survival) is actually kind of boring in an RPG, but a fight where something beyond fighting for survival will be interesting–or at least have a  better shot at being interesting.


The Lamplighters continued upriver, but setting their boat ashore and working their way up through some marshland in order to avoid being seen by patrols from Fort Hawk. They saw villagers tending to crops a few hundred yards away. And then they saw Naga-kin (though they had never seen such beasts before so I did not name them) rise up from the waters and attack the villagers.

So, in contrast to the previous fight, the Players/PCs now had a choice about what to do. (Several, really.) They could try to sneak past the Naga-kin. They could engage directly to protect the villagers. They could head back to their boat and try to slip past the Naga-kin on the water. They could retreat from the entire situation. All-in-all, more possibilities and choices. 

Also, and I just realized this, the situation was not static as it has been in the village. In the village the the villagers were just going about their business waiting for an opportunity to attack someone. Nothing was in motion, and this cut down on the tactical and strategic elements the PCs could engage with (physically or intellectually) until the trap was sprung. And when it was sprung, the only thing to do was fight for survival. There were no moving part but their own skins.

But in this encounter, the PCs saw first the villagers, then second the Naga-kin attacking them. This meant that right off the bat something was happening that had nothing to do with them. The world was alive with its own energy and motion, and the PCs now had choices to make about getting involved or not.

This is an important lesson I want to carry forward in my own Refereeing: An encounter with a monster (cannibals, for example) is not interesting. An encounter with a situation is interesting.

I’ll point everyone to this post on encounters, particularly the point where Mike Wightman talks about rolling three times on the Classic Traveller Patron table and a final time on the Encounter table. He then lets his imagination cobble together a larger situation using these elements. As he wrote on another website:

Easiest way is with an example (note that this is using the 81 version of LBB3 – Starter Edition and The Traveller Book actually have much more comprehensive tables)

I roll on the patron table and get:

rumour, avenger, army

next I roll on random person encounter

workers, animal encounter (a roll of 6,n I take as animal or alien) and ambushing brigands.

I pick the starting encounter:

Lets say the players encounter some workers who are obviously agitated, discussion with them reveals that the industrial plant they have been operating has been closed due to rumours of some violent native beast, and that some hotheads are thinking of going to hunt the animals down. There is a rumour that the animals in question have highly valuable (insert whatever you want here – anagathic glands, valuable fur, expensive blubber – whatever).

Players may or may not join the hunt, but they have been seen talking to the workers.

Next encounter depends – if they go on the animal hunt then they may encounter the ambushing brigands who are also after the animals, or they may encounter the army patrol guarding the industrial site and containing the animals.

If they don’t go on the hunt they are approached by the avenger who has lost (family member, best friend, whatever will pull players in) and offers to guide the players past the workers/army guards to get to the animals.

If they went along with the workers they may still encounter the avenger being attacked by the brigands/army patrol.

It’s fairly organic – I may decide to change the encounter order in response to player actions, and reaction rolls may make things more tense than they need to be.

And at some point I have to generate the animal stats…

This method reminds me of the terrific work in Hot Springs Island, a rather extraordinary system-neutral OSR setting. (There are no stats in the setting, allowing the Referee to both choose what rules system to use, but to create the difficulty for the party as needed.)

Hot Springs Island is a point crawl of an island of several dozen hexes, as well as several specific sites mapped out in detail (cavern systems, abandoned observatories and so on). The setting has several recursive encounter tables the Referee uses to create encounters either ahead of time or on the fly. But significantly the encounter involve not a single creature or group of creatures, but members of several factions that live on the island in conflict with each other or encountering each other. You don’t just come across an ogre, you come across an ogre battling to take hold a treasure from lizard men.

Note that this makes, again, the environment feel alive. The Players learn about the conflicts between the factions on the island not because the Referee reads them a text box but because they encounter the factions in conflict right before their PCs’ eyes. They can choose to step into the fight on behalf of one side or another in order to gain allies, or to try to wipe everyone out.

Like Wightman’s method quoted above, the setting is not about creatures waiting for the PCs to come along and fight them, but creatures and characters with their own agendas and concerns. By finding them in the middle of their own actions and motivations the world opens up, giving “hand holds” both for information about the world and for the PCs to engage in these lives in motion if they so choose to. This means the game can spin out into unexpected directions.


The fight itself was fun for several reasons:

First, because the Player Characters had chosen to engage the Naga-kin in order to protect the villagers. They want to earn the trust of the villagers to get more information about Fort Hawk, and so they had their own reason to fight. (Instead of fighting only because some random monster wanted to fight.)

Second, the fight was rough. The PCs are now fifth level and had gotten used to their hit points keeping them fairly safe during combat. But the Naga-kin are tough (their high HD gives them bonuses to hit) and they gouged hit points left and right from the party. They were damaging the Naga-kin, but not at a rate fast enough to guarantee they’d survive.

Characters were close to death, some going unconscious, until the magic-user was one of the few characters with full Hit Points. But she had acquired the spell Time Stop back in the village of Bergenzel. She cast it, successfully stopping time in the universe for five rounds just as a Naga-kin was about to pierce here with a trident.

In those five rounds she managed to: Draw and drive her dagger into the neck of the Naga-kin in front of her (killing it), draw a pistol from the Cleric’s brace and fire at another Naga-kin (killing it), and fire Magic Missile at a third (killing it). All in all it was an awesome moment of D&D play.

It also proves my theory that the Referee shouldn’t be too worried about giving out cool candy to the Players Characters. Yes, there will be moments when they are really powerful (Time Stop is powerful!) but the Magic-User can’t cast it all the time and there will be times when pulling out the stops with an extraordinary power not only keeps the party from being wiped out, but allows for a fantastic, cinematic moment to take hold at the table.

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What Do You Need to Play King Arthur Pendragon?

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A while back someone asked in a comment about which edition of King Arthur Pendragon to get and where to start with the game.

Here is my delayed reply:

First, the rules don’t change very much at all between editions, though there are a few changes that have solid impact from edition to edition. You could get third, fourth, or fifth editions and basically be playing the same game.

The 3rdedition core rules start the game in Salisbury in the middle of Arthur’s reign. This puts everyone in the middle of a period of Romance and Chivalry, which is what most people think of when they think of King Arthur. So there is an advantage in that. You are either a Cymric Christian Knight or a Cymric Pagan Knight, both from types from Salisbury. One might not think this is enough to differentiate PC Knights… but in fact the Traits and Passions do that job just fine.

There was a supplement for the 3rdedition called Knights Adventurous. It expands the places knights could come from, as well as much more information about the society and culture of the world. For example, there is information about creating a priest or monk, even though the text makes it clear that KAP is a game about playing Knights. So you can have a Knight from additional religions and different lands.

Magic in both editions is in the hands of the Game Master. There are no rules or mechanics for magic. The Game Master simply makes what he wants to happen happen. From the game’s point of view, magic is magical and is not to be understood by Knights and Players alike. It should be strange and mysterious. The Game Master creates magical effects as needed to create wonder and surprise.

The 4th edition took the 3rd edition core book, added the pages from Knights Adventurous, changed the text of these two books in a few spots, and added a system for Magic, allowing the PCs to be Magicians. In general, the game moves away from KAP as a game about Knights into a more general RPG of “People within an Arthurian Setting.” If you want a game more like this, this is the edition for you.

I have never tried to play the game this way, but I am not sure how the dynastic pressure to have children, a general structure of one adventure per session, and other elements of the core game work with Knights, Magicians, and Friars all traveling together. But many, many people are very fond of this edition.

Finally there is the 5thedition. It is the edition I recommend. (Currently edition 5.2). This book starts the players as Cymric Knights in Salisbury, with the option of being Roman Christian, British Christian, or Pagan Knights. The Magic System from the fourth edition is gone. And the game now begins in the years of Uther Pendragon’s reign, before Arthur is even born.

The KAP 5.2 core rules contain an appendix with the equipment and rules changes needed to advance the game into the decades when Arthur rules. But that said, if you wanted to jump into the middle of Arthur’s reign as knights, the third edition would be an easier way in. But that is no longer available in print. Ultimately, you’d get the 5thedition and then make adjustments to the time period you want to play in as required.

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Significantly, the core rules plug directly into The Great Pendragon Campaign. The GPC contains notes for running a KAP campaign starting in 485 (before Uther dies) into the period of Anarchy after Uther dies, into Arthur’s efforts to become king, the rule of Arthur, the introduction of Romance and Chivalry, the Quest for the Grail, and the fall of the Round Table.

The GPC also expands on the equipment, costs, and cultural changes through each historical “Phased” of the campaign. A group of players could, if they wished, read up on a specific section and start play in any era they wished.

Thus, here is my summation if you are interested in playing one of the best RPGs ever created:

Get yourself King Arthur Pendragon 5.2 and the Great Pendragon Campaign. With these two books you’ll have enough to keep you busy for years of play.

There are also several supplements available for the 5thedition of King Arthur Pendragon. One of them is the Book of Knights & Ladies. Like the 3rd Edition’s Knights Adventurous it is chock full of notes for building Knights and Ladies from different lands of different faiths.

The entire line of King Arthur Pendragon products has now reverted to Chaosium. (The rights were lost during a turbulent period at Chaosium years ago.) You can pick up a print edition of the core rules, as well as PDF editions of the Great Pendragon Campaign and other supplements here. Each description of each product also contains links to DriveThruRPG for print editions of the products.

Why Only Two Religions in my King Arthur Pendragon Character Creation Booklet

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Or… why do I only have one type of Christianity in my King Arthur Pendragon Character Creation Booklet?

There are two broad parts to my answer: one is Setting, and the other is Mechanics.

But first, some historical context:

  • KAP 1st ed. had virtues for Christian, Pagan, and Wotan faiths.
  • There was no 2nd ed.
  • KAP 3rd edition had Christian and Pagan Virtues. The 3rd edition supplement Knights Adventurous added Wotanic and Judaism as faiths with virtues.
  • KAP 4th edition stapled together the pages from the KAP 3rd core rule book and Knights Adventurous, so the religious virtues found in the book are identical to those two books.
  • King Arthur Pendragon 5x is the first edition to introduce British Christianity as a set of Virtues and bonus distinct from Roman Christianity.

The Christianity in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th editions used the virtues that KAP 5.x uses to Roman Christianity.

I bring this up to point out that the introduction of British Christianity is a new notion, and I believe has a mechanical bump as described further down in this post.


SETTING
For a game of King Arthur Pendragon I simply don’t care about tensions in the Church and which Christianity might be right or not right. I understand it may be historically interesting to some people… and in another game I might find it compelling. But for I want to focus on, the nitty-gritty theological tensions of Christianity in a game about Knights is something honestly wouldn’t know what to do with.

Will my game’s Player Knights really care about the distinctions between British Christianity and Roman Christianity? I can’t imagine so. Exactly how is it interesting beyond theological concerns or people very versed in the nitty-gritty details of history? And since I won’t be introducing theological infighting as a theme or concern in the game, and I am working from the literary concerns of Le Morte D’Arthur (not historical research), I can’t see a need to add the extra version of Christianity.

Besides the lack of interest, there is also this: The text of KAP has always been at pains to point out that the split between Christian and Pagan Knights is not there to provide fodder for religious feuding. It can devolve into violence between Knights for the very bland and repetitive reasons.

For me, the fact there were two religions in the core (3rd and 4th) rules were to provide variety for the Player Knights and the Traits. That’s it. I literally have no interest in religious conflict in my game.

Instead, I am very much interested in the Religious Virtues as ideals that provide tension within the Player Knight. How do you live by Christian Virtues (Chaste, Forgiving, Merciful, Modest, Temperate) when your job is fight and kill, to watch your friends die by your enemy’s hands, and have a sword at your side that you can always draw to resolve your anger or jealousy when someone wrongs you?

The text of the game has always made explicit the notion that the game is about how hard it is to live by the ideals of the setting (whether Religious or Chivalrous), and that is the notion I want to mine with the game’s religions.

Having two versions of Christianity muddies the waters and begs the question, “Which one is right?” and removes us from the internal struggles of the knights and puts the focus on theological debates and religious war… which isn’t in Le Morte D’Arthur and has little interest for me in this setting.

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MECHANICS

The British Christianity makes it easy to hit both the British Christian Virtues and get the Chivalrous bonus.

Chivalry requires high values in the following (a sum total of 80):

  • Energetic
  • Generous
  • Just
  • Merciful
  • Modest
  • Valorous

Keep in mind that most Knights are going to have Valorous Traits of 15 or higher, so they really only need 65 or so points. With five more Traits to go to reach 80 points, each remaining Trait only needs an average of 12.5 points for the Knight to get the Chivalry Bonus.

So here is how the three Religious Bonuses break down:

Christian (earlier editions of KAP) / Roman Christian (KAP5.x) Virtues are:

  • Chaste
  • Forgiving
  • Merciful
  • Modest
  • Temperate

Which only lines up with two of the Chivalry ideals (Merciful and Modest)

Pagan Virtues (all editions of KAP) are:

  • Energetic
  • Generous
  • Honest
  • Lustful
  • Proud

Which only lines up with two of the Chivalry ideals (Energetic and Generous)

British Christianity (KAP 5x) Virtues are:

  • Chaste
  • Energetic
  • Generous
  • Modest
  • Temperate

Which lines up with three of the Chivalry ideals. (Energetic, Generous, Modest)

Sustaining both the Religious virtues and the Chivalric ideals should be difficult, in my opinion. Not impossible, but difficult.

While getting 80 points isn’t impossible, those points are going to come at the cost of raising Religious virtues to 16+. Remember that it takes to raise points either through checks or spending Winter Phase experience. Significantly, there are only so many points a Player can distribute each Winter Phase. At some point a Player will have to make decisions about what areas his or her Knight where his Knight is going to really excel.

However, I suggest that the nature of the British Christian virtues cuts down on this tension far too much. By having three of five religious virtues line up with three of six chivalric virtues, the mechanics make it much easier for a British Christian to sustain being a Chivalric Knight.

I understand there are a lot of reasons one might want to have distinct British Christians in the game, and I understand the logic of having some faiths having an easier time of sustaining Chivalry at the same time… but giving my first set of points about Setting above, for me it simply is a no brainer: If the Players, and the Player Knights, and myself as the GM do not care about religious tension between two types of Christianity, then there is no reason not to be a British Christian, and thus Roman Christianity falls by the wayside, so why have two types of Christianity?

Further, I want it to be difficult to sustain religious ideals alongside Chivalric ideals. I think that is very much a part of the structure and purpose of the game. Life is hard, ideals are hard, and mixing them all together is really hard.

I believe the addition of British Christianity might have had something to do with why Greg thought he had to make Chivalry harder in recent years. (He was toying around with raising the number of Trait totals above 80.) But the fact is if you take British Christianity out of the mix, it actually is a lot of work to get all those points high enough for both bonuses.


So, that’s my thinking on the matter.

I’m not dictating it to anyone, or expecting anyone to come along on my ride. But it is thought out, with actual reasons. And that’s why I returned to the Religious Virtues found in the earlier editions of the game.

King Arthur Pendragon Character Creation Booklet

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Here is my first draft of a King Arthur Pendragon Character Creation Booklet.

It assumes that the Players will first generate their Player Knight’s family history, as a group, with the Game Master. The Booklet contains reference information and tables for all the steps after that, allowing each Player to see the options and details of character creation in front of him as the group goes through the steps.

The rules are primarily taken from King Arthur Pendragon 5th edition, with a few variations taken from the Uther Phase alterations found in the Book of Knights & Ladies.

The biggest changes from the Book of Knights & Ladies are slightly different base skills due to the time period, and Spear Expertise for Cymric Knights.

Spear Expertise combines Spear, Great Spear, and  Lance skills all under the name Spear Expertise at a starting skill of 10. This not only makes the spear more flexible as a weapon, but allows them to start with an additional 6 points in Weapon Skills to distribute as they see fit.

Normally a Knight begins with Lance 10 and Spear 6. 10 points are now set for Spear Expertise, and the balance of 6 points is redistributed by the player.

This essentially makes Cymric Knights badasses with Spears. They can charge with them, defend with on foot the as if they are using a Great Spear when a horseman charges them, and use them equally well in melee combat. It also offers them additional combat points out of the gate–which is fitting for the chaotic and turbulent times of Uther’s reign.

(If you want to to play with the Skill Points from the KAP core rules, simply assign Lance 10 and Spear 6, and remove the distribution of the final 6 points for weapons found in the Character Creation Booklet.)

If you have a chance to take a look, let me know how this works for you and if there any typos or suggestions!

Scenery for Warhammer 40K Kill Team…

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Currently in my Monday Night Group everyone wants to GM something… so we’re playing lots of games and lots of mini-campaigns.

We play Lamentations of the Flame Princess in spurts along the way. But mostly I’m playing a lot of RPGs these days. Which is great, since I’m writing several projects right now. It’s nice not to have prepping RPG sessions added to the list!

That said, my brain needs to kick back on occasion. So some I and some friends all picked up the new Warhammer 40K Kill Team skirmish game. I got some paints and supplies… and for that last few months, on and off, I’ve been assembling the scenery and painting.

It’s been slow going. I don’t get to do it as often as I’d like, and I’ve been learning along the way. (I haven’t done anything like this for about 25 years.)

And I do love it. Like… I love it. Sitting down to work on these miniatures is a surprising stress-reducer.  I’m really having a blast with this.

Today I finished the scenery up to putting the finishing coat on–which I’ll be doing this week.

Next up, assembling the Genestealer Cultists that came with the boxed set.

My friends and I have a local convention we’ll be going to in February. The plan is to have scenery and minis painted up by then so we can meet up and have the little guys shoot the hell out of each other.

So, here is how the painting of the scenery went.

I decided to distress several pieces, and add debris to the second floor pieces…

Priming the pieces. I used tacky glue to stick pieces to paint sticks so I could move them around more easily.

For the primer I went with Krylon, which has several flat spray paints that I’d heard bonded really well with plastic. I sprayed a flat white for my first miniature work.

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Base coats…

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I’m using The Army Painter Warpaints and I love them.

I know some people find them are too watery or thin, but that hasn’t been a problem for me. I give each bottle along, solid shake and the paint comes out fine.

That said, because other people have had problems with the paints, I also take the top off each bottle with a pair of pliers, drop in a hematite bead, and then put the top back on. The hematite bead acts as an agitator, and it seems seems to be a good idea!

The Warpaints are also more cost effective than Citadel Paints. Each Warpaint bottle comes with 50% more paint than the Citadel pot (18ml vs. 12ml), and a Warpaint bottle costs about 30% less than a Citadel pot. (Prices vary widely for paints, of course, depending on the retailer. After looking around, I think Miniature Market is going to be my go to source for paints. The paints are always at a good price point.

(I went in whole hog when I found The Army Painter Mega Paint Set on Amazon back in September for $88.99, which was a crazy good deal for 50 bottles of paint.)

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Adding Army Painter Inks…

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I went in pretty deep and picked up The Army Painter Mega Paint Set after doing a lot of research. I haven’t found a clunker in the paint set yet.

As for brushes, I realized pretty quick I’d be ruining them fast since I didn’t know what I was doing yet. So I picked up the Super Value Brush Pack By Artist’s Loft from Michaels, which is essentially a variety pack of brushes for $5. I have also scoured Amazon looking for deals on small brushes for detail work.

Adding second layers and dry brushing…

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And here is the last images from today as I said, “Okay, that’s it! Time to stop and build some Genestealers!”

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King Arthur Pendragon Designer’s Notes

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Each version of the 5th edition of King Arthur Pendragon includes a set of of Designer’s Notes from Greg Stafford about how he built the game.

They give a clear roadmap for how Stafford went about designing the game, using the rules and mechanics to help bring the players and the Game Master into the world of the text and the setting, and guide the gameplay in specific ways.

As I’ve been thinking a great deal about Stafford and his work this past week, I’ve decided to post them here. They show the care and diligence Stafford took with his work, as well as his desire to share his passion for Arthurian tales and mythical spirit with as many people as possible.

I think they are well worth reading not only to get a handle on what Stafford was up to in  King Arthur Pendragon, but as an example of a certain kind of approach to RPG design.


Designer’s Notes

Tabletop gaming is always a bringing together of things: of players, of pleasure and anxiety, of fun and boredom. For me, making King Arthur Pendragon was an exercise in this bringing together. 

Primarily, I was bringing together two things: the feeling of Arthurian legend and lore, and the mechanics of the game. I wanted King Arthur Pendragon to be such a device that the feeling was inseparable from the mechanics, so I endeavored to pour the utmost of my feelings and the perfection of my best mechanical logic into one form. 

I feel that I succeeded, which is why I like the game so much. Here we find the volatile combination of passion and logic, of ideals and practicality, of individual and family, of planning and chance, of life and death — all played out by the combination of player and character. In the past, I have designed or co-designed seven published roleplaying games, (RuneQuest, Adventurer’s Handbook, King Arthur Pendragon, Prince Valiant, Ghostbusters, HeroQuest, Thieves’ World), five published board games (Dragon Pass, Nomad Gods, Elric, King Arthur’s Knights, Merlin), and one computer game (King of Dragon Pass), as well as innumerable supplements, adventures, and scenarios, and without a doubt Pendragon is my favorite. I consider it my masterpiece. 

The short and simple answer as to why I feel this way is that King Arthur Pendragon is a concise, elegant system that presents the desired effects in an entertaining, playable manner that delights both novices and scholars. I take pride in my work, and am very proud of this game. 

The long answer is more complex. 

It begins with my curiosity about the Middle Ages and my love for the King Arthur mythos. My curiosity began when I was about eight or so. I was looking through a big picture book that included photos of castles, and I clearly remember wondering why they had such tall walls and no roofs. Some time later I learned they were ruins, of course, inciting another passion of mine for exploring these lonely remnants. 

I first learned about King Arthur in a copy of Bullfinch’s Mythology when I was very young. I saw some Howard Pyle books shortly thereafter, and began reading every piece of medieval fiction I could get my hands on. I got my first copy of Le Morte D’Arthur when I was 14 and was astonished and delighted to learn there were stories about knights from before he was king, that Lancelot was not the only knight, and that there were many, many more books on the subject. 

I began my first game company, Chaosium, in 1974, and a part of me always wanted to do a King Arthur game. My first was a board game, King Arthur’s Knights, in 1978, but that was unsatisfactory. I was well published in roleplaying games when I finally decided to undertake presenting King Arthur. 

I like Pendragon, too, because the work is all mine. In general, all of the other roleplaying games I have published have been works of committee. For Pendragon, though, I worked alone. I spent approximately 20 hours a week for a year designing and writing the core rules, and about the same time collecting and writing the background information. Ken St. Andre did give me a key to the resolution system to do away with the Resistance Table, but most of the rest was my own work. So, of course, I take pride in it. 

I began with Basic Roleplaying as the basis, thinking we would publish another game in the genera/game system that had already spawned RuneQuest, Elric, and Call of Cthulhu, and that had or would include other less known games (ElfQuest, Nephilim, Superworld, Worlds of Wonder). But after a while I realized that I would have to expand that basic system because of the subject matter, and I wanted the game to be about more than playing a single hero and his goals. So, with its traits and passions, battles and families, the game graduated from the BRP system. 

I decided early, too, that I would narrow the focus to be only about knights. I would not try to mimic the popular conception of fantasy that threw every possible player type into a big messy pool of options. I wanted to stick to the standards of literature, and did not cater to commoners, thieves, scribes, or even magicians. (Later, under pressure from Gamemasters who wanted a portrayal of Arthurian magic, I did publish a magic system for the game, and this naturally led to addressing the issue for player characters who wanted to be magicians. But I always felt this was a dilution of the essential game, and almost everyone who has commented says it is no fun to be a magic user in King Arthur Pendragon. That is fine by me.) 

By focusing on knights, I realized early on that Glory acquisition would be the key to the game. It was a reasonable coin with which to measure the value of a knight’s life, both in the literary and the real worlds. So I made a list of things that knights do, and began fiddling with the relative values. With that “game coin” as the focus, I began working out how to collect it.

But if it was all about knights, then I needed to differentiate them. The system needed to quantify behavior, because I wanted it to be able to include patterns of conduct as different 260 

as William Marshall and Gilles de Rais. Playtesting resolved the system for me. 

This led to a proliferation of types. That is, everyone would have to be a fighting type, since that is the job of all knights. But chivalric behavior, romantic manners, and religious leanings were different. I eventually included character generation for people form every nation that produced original Arthurian stories and different religions as well (not in this 5th edition of the core rules, but available in the Book of Lords & Ladies sourcebook). 

Thus, I had the literary structure and idealistic frame for the game. But that alone is not enough. I love the setting of medieval reality and its brutal, gritty realism, the struggle between life and death. Though many games are tilted towards player-character ease, I feel that making it too easy dilutes the emotional impact of play. I wanted players to feel as worried about their characters as the characters themselves would. Since the perfection of Arthurian ideals is offset by this danger, I wanted to make a game that walked the fine line between lethal reality and the idealism of a visionary life dedicated to the highest ideals and values. This theme is the key to the Arthurian legends. 

I didn’t want to water down the knight’s life of death and danger. I wanted players to know the danger, to have a reason for their knight to turn and run away once in a while. The sweetness and lightness of so many previous fantasy games, which either were not lethal or had a hundred methods of resurrection and healing, is alien to the body of Arthurian lore. The original stories were entertainment for men who knew the realities of combat, and I felt that to water that down betrayed the literature. 

Every Pendragon character is going to die, either from violence or old age. 

But these people also lived in a world of ideals and hope that offered to lift them from the filth and dirt of their lives. Much of this came from spiritual ideals, an unreachable goal. Yet, these ideas of chivalry and noblesse oblige — and of romance and love — were real, and some people strove to obtain them. The legends of idealized knights striving for the unobtainable ideals would not have been so popular had they not moved those grizzled, ignorant old men, and so I felt they were critical to the game. I wanted it to mirror the concerns of that period. I did not want the simple, shallow reality of killing things without repercussions, without a concern for the larger world people live within. 

So that essential tension in Arthurian literature — ideals versus reality — had to be the basis for the game. 

But since literature and medieval life were the sources for the setting, the game required me to address many subjects that had never been dealt with before. As a result, Pendragon was the first roleplaying game that used the game system itself to address personal behavior, relationships, the passage of time and the generation of families, and Christianity. 

Personal behavior was the key to all of this. In my years of gaming, I have always been irritated by characters who acted one way until a certain moment, when they would suddenly change. A key example would be those characters who were absolute lushes until the fairy queen put a flagon of wine before them, when they were suddenly teetotalers. I never denied the chance of a drunk doing this, but the incongruity of such reversals betrayed the essence of roleplaying a consistent character. 

So I invented the personality Traits. I had played with this idea previously, but this time it was a playable system because of the opposed Traits. The mechanic of Directed Traits came later when, during one campaign, a player developed a deep distrust only for Romans. 

And then Passions. Everyone in the literature is passionate. King Arthur weeps for the death of his friends, for the departure of the knights upon the Grail Quest; at other times he falls to the floor because he is laughing so hard. Guenever is enraged upon discovering Lancelot’s inadvertent infidelity, and he goes stark raving mad under her scorn. Gaheris kills his mother because he thinks she is untrue to his father, Isoud dies of sorrow because she thinks Tristram is dead. I wanted the game to mirror these things, so I set it to give Glory for high Passions — and at the same time, for players to risk losing control of their characters with this Passion. 

I had to grapple also with the passage of time. Arthur’s story starts with his birth, or perhaps even before that, and it ends with his death. The literature has the youth of Gawaine and his son’s early adventures. So I determined to make time move forward, and, in a desire to make the entire campaign playable, I insisted on the scheme of one significant adventure per game year. To ensure a desire and willingness to do this, I installed the Winter Phase, to allow characters to do that most amazing and wonderful thing of roleplaying games — to grow and change. 

In my years of gaming, I had noticed the fact of “game inflation.” That is, even a stingy Gamemaster who gives only one magical sword and one magical horse and one magical shield will find that these never disappear. The characters always keep them and get stronger. And, of course, give one person a set of armor that is 2 points better than everyone else’s, and soon everyone is clamoring — or worse, whining — for one. 

I wanted players to build into their characters this natural inclination of increasing strength. It dovetailed perfectly with my desire to make the entire Arthurian saga coincide with the entire Middle Ages. Thus was born escalation, where the horses and the armor and the castles and all kinds of things all get better through the campaign, offering the players the chance to improve along with the story. And, of course, the villains improve as well. 

And families. Families in Arthurian literature are incredibly important, and the creation of heirs critical to the genera. After all, it is that precise failure that brings the Round Table to ruin. And since I had already decided that time would pass, and thus people would (if they were lucky) slowly age, the introduction of families was natural. The function of Romance would take on meaning in the game as well, as knights sought wives, and we could play with the concept of simply marrying for wealth and lands instead of love, if players wished. 

Designer’sNotes261 

Finally, Christianity was pretty much a taboo subject before Pendragon. People were leery of trying to portray the “living religion” of a large part of their customer base. But King Arthur would be impossible or false without it. The virtues worked in there perfectly. I decided, too, to introduce paganism. After all, much Arthurian legend and most British folklore are based on pre-Christian religion and beliefs, so it was natural to use. The invading Saxons were a different flavor of paganism. Thus, I added the alternate religions (not all of which are part of this 5th edition book, but available in supplements such as the Book of Knights and Ladies). 

Mostly, the game mechanics please me. I have devised a heads/tails system, the multiple dice Ghostbusters system (later used in a Star Wars game), and helped develop several games using the Basic Roleplaying d100 system. But this one, the Pendragon system, is my favorite. 

The game covers combat, personal behavior, relationships, the passage of time, and the generation of families, all within one system. I spent countless hours working out the exact values for the people and creatures. I wanted to be sure that the monsters were compatible with the scale of the people. I tested it time and again to make sure that the Troit Boar, for instance, could not be killed by a normal human, that the Saxons would be formidable and scary fighters, and that the game’s early armor did not stop all blows from normal fighting men, but that the later armor nearly did so. I have never been dissatisfied with the final stats. 

Thus, to me, the combination of mechanics and the Arthurian setting came together. 

I enjoyed the challenge of joining the imaginary places of legend into the fabric of British geography, combined with the historical 6th-century facts. I used Phyllis Ann Karr’s book, The Arthurian Companion, as a starting point. But I’d disagreed with a few placements based on my own reading. There were many decisions that were simply arbitrary, but most of them had reasons. I also searched out maps of 6th-Century Britain for the roads and settlements, and even used maps of that old coastline, which do not match those of today. It was a heady and satisfying effort. 

Finally, the background took shape. King Arthur derives, ultimately, from British legend. I scoured my library of folklore and legend for all the places and things that might work with the medieval legend. I never used any ghost story or weird event that occurred beyond medieval history, but put in every place of faeries, every healing well I found, and the sites of ghosts, monsters, and faeries. 

So it was that Pendragon became my most satisfying work. It brought together my professional game design career with my personal delight in the literature, my historical interests with the folklore interests, my pleasure at artistic creativity with its agony. 

And it has brought us together, the players, Gamemasters, and designers. I invite you to enjoy it yourself, and hope the combination gives you pleasure as it has me. 

— Greg Stafford 

 

 

Revised Player Character Pregens for the RuneQuest Glorantha Quickstart

Yanioth Image

You can find the RuneQuest QuickStart Adventure here.

I’ve changed up the list of Rune Magic spells to match the spells found in the RQG Core Book. I’ve also altered the spell notion terms from those found in the Quickstart to those found in the Core Book (so, now a spell might have the notation, [1, Touch, Instant, Nonstackable], as opposed to the notation from the quickstart).

Each booklet contains the information you would find on a character sheet. But also contains brief descriptions of the the character’s cult and god, descriptions of the Runes of Glorantha, and brief descriptions of the character’s Spirit and Rune spells.

I hope this is useful for people. I’m still plowing through the rules. But I’ve found that making tools like this lets me get a grasp on new rules. And I believe it will help my players in a couple of weeks have a quick reference for both rules and some of the texture of Glorantha as they sink into the setting and the game for the first time.

Click on the image of each character to link to the Player Character Booklet:

YANIOTHYanioth Image

 

VOSTORVostor Image

 

VASANAVasana Image

 

SORALASorala Image

 

HARMASTHarmast Image

 

Pregen Player Character Booklets for the RuneQuest Glorantha Quickstart

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In celebration of Runequest Gloranatha: Quickstart Rules and Adventure coming home with ENnie Gold, and because RuneQuest Glorantha is now available in PDF and soon to be available in print, and because I’ll be running the Quickstart at a local convention at the end of the month I decided to take the Pregenerated Player Characters and build little booklets for each PC.

Each booklet contains the relevant Rune Descriptions, Rune Spells, Spirit Magic Spells, and short descriptions of the respective PC’s cult, as well as all the other information contained on each of the PC’s character sheet from the Quickstart.

My design goal was to build a little booklet which would allow a Player to flip through the booklet and find the relevant information for a specific rule or topic on a given page.

I’m a big fan of the A5/8.5×5.5 format at the gaming table. They take up less space, you can hold them in your hands easily when flipping through them. The PDF is in a A5 format. You can print the PDFs using “booklet” formatting and get a 20 page doc on five sheets of paper. (There’s a short table of contents after the coverer page. The whole idea is to make an easy to use, easy to access document for someone sitting down to play RuneQuest Glorantha for the first time.)

The pages were built in A5 format. But you can easily print them in 8.5×5.5 format with only the slightest shrinkage to the text and no real effect on presentation.

These is a format that i came up with for myself, of course. Which reflects my own thinking and design principles. But I hope people might find them helpful for getting new demonstrations of the game up and running.

I haven’t done a final proof on these yet, so if you notice anything askew, please let me know!

Thanks!

RQG Yanioth QuickStart

RQG Vostor QuickStart

RQG Vasana QuickStart

RQG Sorala QuickStart

RQG Harmast QuickStart

The Mountain Witch Kickstarter

The-Mountain-Witch-cover

I’ve been busy working away writing scripts, so the blogging has suffered of late. But I wanted to share this link to The Mountain Witch Kickstarter.

The Mountain Witch is very much in the tradition of “story-games” so it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it is a terrific design with a terrific premise. I want everyone who might be interested in it to be aware of it.

First published in 2004, it became a major influence on indie RPG game design. The author has thought about the game a lot, streamlined some stuff, and is getting ready to publish a new version after it not being in print for a decade.

From the Kickstarter:

It’s “Seven Samurai” meets “Reservoir Dogs” in this tabletop RPG about trust, betrayal, and confronting one’s fate.

The Mountain Witch is a self-contained role-playing adventure in which players take on the role of ronin in mythical medieval Japan. Outcast and unemployed, these samurai accept a job that no one else would take—to assault and kill the dreaded O-Yanma, the Mountain Witch of Mt Fuji. But can these individuals—who are haunted by their pasts and by dark fortune—be trusted? Can they overcome their differences and move together against the Witch? Or will dark fate overwhelm them?