Sunday, October 18, 2015

[Pendragon] The Great Pendragon Campaign: Years 563 & 564 - Knight Makes Right

In this, the penultimate session of the campaign, events quickly spiral out of control at a drunken Pentecost feast, setting in motion Fortune's wheel in a tragic trajectory. Blood is spilled, thunder rolls, and great knights fall one after the other. How will the player-knights side in the factional disputes? Who among them will survive?


Dave S.

The campaign's wiki can be found here.


  1. Well, that was sad. Not even the triumphant, death-record-setting return of the Rules Minion can lessen the loss of Leander. He really was the mainstay for the latter half of the campaign, and there is something so fitting about how his death triggers a response from the DeGanis, while both his ghost and Des don't understand why this is such a big deal to everyone else. We loved him for his failures, but even more for his incredible accomplishments leading the army of light to victory over the army of darkness, and preserving the land of the living from the land of the dead. He absolutely left behind children, none of them acknowledged, but will be survived by his Esquire, who probably doesn't know what to do with his life because he's too old to start over with a new knight. Farewell Leander. Hopefully you can avoid your many, many loves past in the afterlife. That'll be an awkward conversation.

    Also you should never simplify damage when giving it to your players, because Leander had soaked almost 50 damage (which I believe is in excess of his HP total) at the time of the killing blow, but I think Des also subtracted her armour from Gawaine's unhorsing blow. Although it is so very Leander that even when he was already beaten, he ignored it in order to keep fighting. A beating from Gawaine is nothing next to his arthritis.

    1. Thanks for these kind words, Jake!

      I am also wondering who Leander will ultimately end up with in the afterlife, too.

      Brad, probably.

    2. 'Tis only fitting as he was Leander's one true love.

  2. First off, let me say that nothing in this comment has anything to do with how this game was run or played -- you guys did an amazing job.


    Although it's dramatic, this session really points up the enormous, glaring, brutal, and unavoidable flaw squatting in the heart of the GPC: the PCs are spectators who cannot under any circumstances be permitted to meaningfully affect the course of the game. It's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern: the RPG.

    In the end, one is better off watching a movie as "playing" the GPC. When watching a movie, one has no expectation of being able to influence events; it's a spectator activity, pure and simple. RPGs are SUPPOSED to be a different beast. RPGs are SUPPOSED to be about the PCs and their actions, but GPC actively renders PCs wholly irrelevant. It's pretty frustrating, actually.

    1. I can definitely sympathize with your viewpoint, Gregg. From a certain perspective, the GPC seems to violate some rather sacred cows of the RPG experience. But to me, playing and enjoying the GPC requires a small shift in perspective.

      Here's how I look at it: imagine if the GPC allowed player-character intervention to "save" Arthur. I think that would be the more boring option. For one thing, it wouldn't be that difficult. Get Arthur to marry someone different and strangle all the Orkney knights in their cribs (with the possible exception of Gawaine and Gareth). What end has then been accomplished? Isn't it much more affecting, knowing the tragedies that lie ahead? It's a question of, "How are you as players going to navigate it?"

      What the GPC is about is allowing the players to take part in a foundational myth cycle. To insert themselves into a 1,500-year-old drama. We've had PCs take over and take on roles filled by other knights in the tales. Now those characters are part of the story instead. (At least our version of it.) When I said that Leander will have tales written about him, I was imagining an alternate universe where medieval troubadours compose songs of Sir Leander, where he gets some mention on various websites and wikis today. Certainly we as a group will be telling tales of Leander (and many others) for years to come.

      In the end, the GPC isn't about giving players the agency to radically change the overarching plot (although, as I think I've mentioned before, only Arthur, Guenever, and Lancelot are given total plot immunity). Rather, it's about giving the players the agency to create a multi-generational saga of their own to stand alongside the other canonical knights' tales.

      Yes, this does mean there are sequences where the PCs are largely spectators to larger events. But these are events everyone has grown up hearing about, and there's a certain thrill in being able to participate in them, even in a Rosencrantz & Guildenstern context. (Or even in the context of being able to say you had a character get a yard of steel shoved through their skull by none other than Lancelot.) I vehemently disagree with your position that watching a movie is better, or that the PC actions are rendered irrelevant. They're very much relevant, perhaps not on a larger stage, but to the stories each player is crafting in relation to his own overall saga.

      FYI, I'm planning on getting the group together for a little "round table" discussion a couple weeks after we wrap up; the post-mortem will be recorded and posted on this feed. I really want to get their feedback on how they felt about this whole journey, and I will absolutely put your points into the discussion, because I think they're quite understandable! (Even if I totally disagree... :P)

    2. There's a Miltonian aspect to this debate: is it better to serve in Heaven or reign in Hell? Caesar said he would rather be the first man in a rude barbarian tribe than second man in Rome. Is it more entertaining and rewarding to be supporting characters without significant impact on the overall course of a mythic story, or to be the main characters of a tale nobody's told yet?

      Part of it is, of course, the same problem any game dealing with an outside canon has: the designer has to declare certain parts of it sacrosanct for it to remain within the canon, but doing so strips the players of the agency that is at the heart of roleplaying as traditionally conceived. It's a perilous line to walk, and the more parts are ruled sacrosanct, the fewer parts are left for player initiative.

      I remember the old TSR Indiana Jones game, which had the rule that no matter what happened to him, Indy couldn't be killed or even seriously hurt, which wouldn't have been so bad except that according to the rules someone *had* to play Indy -- so you had a character that was simply immune to cause and effect, who could lash himself to a Nazi atomic bomb or use a live hand grenade as a suppository with no ill effect (to use two examples from actual sessions of that game -- hey, we were teenagers, that kind of stuff was *hilarious*). He was basically Daffy Duck.

      These feelings are part of why I never play anything with an established canon. It's always a disappointment.

      Pendragon is a game where the mechanics are so sound that they really do respond well to hacks. I know a lot of people play Game of Thrones hacks, which would work if you replaced the "virtue" side of each trait pair with something even worse than the "vice" side: Horrifically Vengeful/Vengeful, Shockingly Selfish/Selfish, Unspeakably Cruel/Cruel...

      I've gotten my own Pendragon hack on my group's schedule for about a year from now -- all the mechanics I know and love, none of the story you're lashed to in GPC or even GoT. We'll even be recording the sessions and posting them somewhere online. All of this was, of course, inspired by you and your group, who kept giving me good times week after week like troupers. I definitely look forward to Horror on the Orient Express!

    3. I disagree with the idea that this game wasn't about the players and their agenda. The players were having adventures and creating stories, and their actions did matter to the people they were involved in, and the rest of the world at large. Wulfram founded an order of Hopsital Knights, and was a critical advisor to King Arthur in his early years. Cynrain liberated an entire county and was only recently eclipsed in widespread fame by Lancelot. Leander led the army of the living against the literal army and force of the dead and triumphed, thereby saving everything forever.

      Like Des said when I was pushing for my Agravaine revenge-murder, it didn't make sense for her because part of playing an Arthurian myth is to accept that you represent a certain standard of virtues, that are indeed idealized by mythology which is what makes their inherent failings as well as inevitable loss all the more tragic.

      I've GMed more than played since being introduced to the hobby, but I've never had a GM who didn't impose some sort of limits on what we could do, or been willing to let my players ever just completely go nuts.By wanting to play Pendragon, and I do, it's realising that you're carving out your own events while being able to witness this amazing, truly epic campaign laid out for you.

      And now, for all their accomplishments and deeds, it's all coming to an end. It is going to end with the age of mythology and magic fading, and Arthur departing these lands until the Ori invade our galaxy and the Holy Grail must be quested for again. Or until Merlin wakes up from his naptime, travels back in time, and selects a new group of PCs in a different campaign to try and get a better outcome.

    4. I can see where Gregg is coming from as I believe I have commented with similar complaints of the GPC. Though being the historian that I am I cannot help but see myself as loving playing through historical events and just having a character be there to witness some of the shenanigans going on is pretty awesome.

      Though I will say if you do a GPC again for this group I would love to hear the Archadian saga where Sir Archade actually killed Arthur. That would pretty sweet if I do say so myself.

    5. An interesting take on the conceits behind the GPC. I like the WW2 analogy!

  3. "Or until Merlin wakes up from his naptime, travels back in time, and selects a new group of PCs in a different campaign to try and get a better outcome."

    I'm already planning on running the GPC again (at some point...), and I love that structure! Totally stealing that.

    Gregg, I like your Miltonian dichotomy analysis. Spot on. Fact is, sometimes I like to serve in heaven and sometimes I like to reign in hell.

    It reminds me of another dichotomy that Greg Stafford has written about: the "genre" versus "generic" campaign. Despite the perhaps-loaded nature of the term "generic," he's not picking sides. He merely points out that a generic game like D&D (or, say, Savage Worlds) are all about giving the GM and players license to forge their own myths and have kitchen sink campaigns and all that, while, with a genre game (like Pendragon or Call of Cthulu or even a licensed IP like Star Trek or what have you), the GM and players need to come to the table willing to play along with the genre's rules. You go down to the basement if you're a CoC investigator rather than calling the cops. You accept the Arthurian myth cycle's dynamics if you're a Pendragon knight.

    I definitely understand that's not for everyone. I'm super-pleased to hear you're doing some hacks with the system (I'm currently working on my own as well), and look forward to listening to the recordings! I know Greg Stafford has talked in the past about putting out a genericized version of the KAP rules--I hope he does.

    1. David, glad to hear you say you're interested in listening! Also, since I think you did a masterful job on this, would you be okay with me touching you up for advice from time to time? I'm particularly keen to hear how you handled the logistics of glory tracking, multiple inactive PCs (admittedly, mostly Dave's), etc. Tracking Cynrain's glory alone must have been a task.

    2. Gregg: Definitely happy to provide advice! dlarkins78 at gmail.

  4. What a thrilling adventure. I was at a supermarket while the Orkneys were pounding on the queens door and grinning like a fool the whole time. I must've gotten some weird looks. Can't wait for next weeks episode.

    Have you ever considered running the Saxon campaign from Saxons!. I haven't read it myself, but supposedly it runs the 70 years from 449 when Vortigern invited them in and ends in 518 at the Battle of Badon.

    1. I feel that you should do this for two reasons:

      1) Every single PC death is caused by a knight bearing a dark green shield bisected by a single yellow line, and a black horse head.
      2) You can tell your players at the end of the campaign that they've now finished Part 1, will start Part 2 next week, and drink deep of their sorrow.

  5. I had a horrible nightmare. Hope it's not a premonition. In it you lost the audio for the last episode and then you tried to recreate the event, but it was lame and just bad. Let it not be so...

    1. Haha, I've had a few dreams like that myself, Miika! I've learned from past failures to always have a back-up recorder going just in case. It's not as good a quality, but it would save us from having to re-enact the session... :P