Sunday, November 15, 2015

[Pendragon] The Great Pendragon Campaign: Post-Campaign Round Table Analysis and Discussion

The Order reconvenes to discuss its thoughts and impressions regarding their run of the Great Pendragon Campaign: lessons learned, roads not taken, favorite moments and characters, and so on.

As mentioned in the recording, further listener questions are more than welcome! Please leave them in the comment section.


Dave S.

The campaign's wiki can be found here.


  1. Since this might be the last appropriate post to talk about the campaign that's not in a bizarro world, thanks and congratulations again on finishing it, and I'm glad running, ceaseless commentary from fans managed to add a little bit of enjoyment for you.

    I don't really have too much in the way to ask that either wasn't brought up in this session or previously in the comments, so just my thoughts on what you had brought up regarding NPCs. I started out similar to Gregg's point of view on player agency, but I came around to actually like a lot about this story for the reasons that Des and others had brought up is that this is a story and you're being true to your characters rather than meta-gaming.

    Regarding the lack of interaction with NPCs because of the shortened playtime, I do somewhat wish that the winter session rollups had been handled off-camera and players just opened each session with a brief Christmas Letter to everyone, but there were definitely some dramatic moments that we would've missed so it works out as a push. The shortened interactions definitely had their drawbacks (SAVE LOHOLT), but they did keep the story flowing, and helped to add to the narrative that these were just stories being passed down the ages, and other people weren't focused on because this wasn't their story.

    Also, the Time-Travelling Merlin was my theory, which I created so that if I ever run the GPC I'll feel Merlin's silent, everpresent magical stare judging my GMing to your campaign and finding it wanting, driving me mad. Mad I say!

    If you're thinking of another long-form campaign with a rotating playerbase, you could look into the Pathfinder Kingmaker campaign. That's extremely long, and supports players dropping in and out, and having backup. A coworker of mine recently pulled me into his game, and it seems very similar in scope to the GPC. It's still got most (though not all) of the complexity of 3.5, but if you agree on some streamlining it's pretty good.

  2. Wait I've thought of something I wanted to ask!

    You touched on your discovered hatred of Lanceolt, whereas I started out disliking him and grew to like him mostly because of him showing up to school Daig and then recognise his tragic nobility. What did you think of the Guenever/Lancelot affair? I've always been a fan of the Excalibur movie's interpretation that their relationship really was chaste and courtly, yet also wrong at the same time, until after Guenever's trial and then they sleep together exactly once at which point everything falls apart. From playing through the campaign, when do you think their relationship changed from chaste to lustful?

  3. Well, let me offer some assorted commentary:

    First, speaking as someone in favor of more passion-light things, let me defend myself. It's not that I think the game should be grittier. It's more that I feel that when passions are rolled for minor this, it lessens the major occasions. I.e. If you roll Loyalty (Lord) to win a tourney so your lord doesn't look bad, what do you roll in battle when he's been dismounted and you're the only knight who can save him? If you use your Amor frequently, it's less of a big deal when she's in mortal peril. Additionally, I think that increasing passion use can make the game deadlier. That is, a character is likely to survive a bout with another knight barring a crit, and crits are much more likely when there are passions flying about.

    That said, I'll be the first to confess that I don't always practice what I preach.

    Second, you mention running Play-by-Post. I've run (and am running) Pendragon play-by-post. It works pretty well. One thing I've noticed in doing so is that one-on-one fights are much faster than group fights PbP. When it's one PK vs one (or more enemies), you can hand over the statistics and do a bunch of rounds at a time, but when the PKs are grouped up (or in a battle), you have to slow down to more of a round-by-round approach.

    The final thing I'll throw out is a question to players: Way back at the beginning, DES mentioned that playing Pendragon gave her a Hate (Saxons) in real life. Anyone feel the same way? ;)

    1. Well, a lot of Dave-Deaths were due to endless crits. Lancelot certainly, but also the "perfect warrior" did very well on them. I think it's more in line with the game, and while he didn't roll shock very often I think it was there enough and one Hospitality-related incident aside they were all fairly reasonable. If they had done the four-weapon tournaments or tried to throw some wrestling in there Tristram-style that would've made it different, but most one-on-one fights were suitably important enough that it was a matter of one missed crit.

      And I could never be mad at the Saxons. The best accents were broken out whenever they showed up.

    2. I think that's two different things.

      First, yes, I agree that most deaths result from crits. That's kind of what I mean. In any given fight, it's preferable to be impassioned, but over the course of a campaign, I think that more frequent passion use will tend to drive NPCs towards higher skills and more frequent passion use to keep up, with the end result that player knights take more crits.

      Second, I don't have any particular thoughts on passion appropriateness - it's generally fairly straightforward to justify a passion in situation. "I sure would like to look manly and impress Orlande" (roll Amor). (Speaking of which, if Orlande was Gondrins's wife, and Gondrins should have been Jen's PC, does that mean Leander cuckolded two other player knights?)

      To the second part, it's a tough comment to make. I guess, I feel like there should be some level of distinction between "I'm opposing something that could maybe be interpreted as an insult to Arthur" and "I'm fighting to save Arthur's life." Eiher of those is something that could plausibly impassion someone, but I feel that the game does somewhat of a questionable job By default depicting the former guy as a fanatic, so it's bit easier to tend towards restricting passions to the bigger events. If that makes sense.

  4. count me in if you do PBP Pendragon :D

    I adored the game, in fact I may start listening to the beginning again someday soon.

    Can I assume the next big step is Horror on the orient express?

    1. Oh wow, a repeat listen! That's a huge compliment, thank you!

      Yes, the next big one is Orient Express. Planning on kicking that off in mid-February at the earliest, as is our wont for major campaigns. After the recording was turned off, we made a list of all the various one-shots and shorter games we want to do in the meantime. If we get through even half of those, it'll be a real cornucopia of gaming over the ensuing winter!

    2. I'll also be going back to the beginning. About halfway through, I wanted to try going back and listening again to see if I picked up anything else, but I always got sucked into listening to the latest session.

      Congrats on a really fun campaign to listen to. If/when I run the GPC, I'll definitely be modeling my GMing style on yours, David.

    3. Wow, color me flattered indeed! Many thanks.

  5. also, the only way to take on Lancelot is to gang up on him. I believe at one point, it was mentioned he had a sword skill of 40, so 3 people on him'd either reduce him across the board to a 14 or less, OR he'd insta-crit one person, and get two strikes in. You simply have to play the numbers game.

    1. Sword skill of 40 makes sense, as when he went on a Hebes-fuelled rampage (I killed one and stole another!) he had a skill of 85, which would probably be base 40, doubled for crit passion (if your skill is over 20 it doubles if you crit passion), and then +5 since he was unarmoured at the time.

      I'd brought this up before in the context of Agravaine-murdering, and it is a rather un-knightly thing to do. Still you're right that it's possible, and like the makers of Deadlands pointed out once you've statted someone players are going to find a way to overcome their ridiculousness and kill them. Even if it takes them having some sort of preternatural knowledge like they had read sections of a book that details everyone's stats and weaknesses even though they weren't supposed to :p

    2. Yeah, ganging up is pretty much the only way to take out a knight of Lancelot's skill, or any critically-impassioned knight. Too bad the rules of chivalry frown on such a thing... (Your math is correct, Jake--critically-impassioned, unarmored Lancelot is terrifying.) .

      I really wish I'd gotten a chance to run some four-weapon tournament melees. Another casualty of the shorter session times.

    3. So hypothetically, since Lancelot is super rich and undoubtably spends Libra every year to fit in with the latest court fashion, that Chemise was also adding to his APP as well as boosting his Sword Skill?

      That min-maxing monster!

  6. If I have not said it before I will say it now congratulations on finishing this beast of a campaign.

    Now onto my question: Is it possible for one the player knights to draw the sword an become the rightful king of Britain?

    1. well all players did get to roll for that as well as other rarities. But it could've been an illusion

    2. Hello Coovala,

      I am also running the GPC. We're on year 500 A.D. (podcast link below if interested).

      The basic answer to your question is absolutely not. Even if you roll a natural 20 it appears to almost come out but that is it.

      None of us should be surprised, really. ;)

    3. Indeed, but I am always one for screwing with myths and legends. Thanks for the info.

  7. One other question: Was "Post-Campaign Round Table Analysis" a deliberate pun?

  8. I love post-mortems for campaigns. After following a game for so long it's terrific to get a real sense of closure on it. Also, it's great to hear that there are more Pendragon adventures coming, because I personally can't get enough.

    David, gigantic kudos to you for being willing to allow Archade to assume the mantel had he killed Arthur. IME there are very few GMs who would have been able to make that leap, and it says worlds about you and your players.

    I've been giving it a lot of additional thought and I've refined my objection to the "cut scenes" in the game. It's definitely not that I think PCs should be either the most powerful people or the most important people in the game universe. In no way do I believe that -- I prefer my fantasy to be swords & sorcery-flavored, which means the PCs are not the prime movers of the world at large. I really enjoy the idea of heroes (or anti-heroes...come on, they're PCs, everyone wants to be Jack Bauer no matter what the setting) struggling to make their destinies in the face of a world that doesn't give a damn about them.

    It's also not that I believe that the PCs should always win. I've played a ton of Call of Cthulhu and I love it, so I'm fine with PCs failing, even with the most catastrophic of consequences.

    Rather, what I object to is the PCs being spectators to the most important events. I really feel like the game is about the PCs -- it has to be about the PCs, rather. I don't want to read out conversations between NPCs. I don't want to have the PCs sit at the kids' table and watch the adults do the cool stuff. Basically, the world shouldn't be about the PCs, but the focus of the game -- the events we spend time on -- should be. "You guys have been fighting eight battle rounds and you're half-dead and you've done a bunch of cool things. Now take a seat, because Sir X will go and do something cooler and end the battle -- and you get to watch!" When I do something like that as a GM I feel like I've failed my players. It's fine if other people are doing cooler stuff, but to me the PCs need to be the center of what we *see.*

    But mostly, I fucking hate Lancelot. His invincibility, his phony piety, his bullshit faux-humility, and the fact that the players can do nothing to stop him. Not stop him from destroying the kingdom with his invincible penis -- I get it, the kingdom needs to be destroyed for there to be a tragic story, and I'm totally down with that; rather, they can't slap people around and wake them up to the fact that he's a raging douche when really, come on, the guy's a raging douche. I've always hated Lancelot in every telling of the Arthurian legend that I've encountered, but this game really brought that hatred and the reasons for it into laser-like focus.


    1. (continued)

      The other problem is Guinevere. I'm just not sure how to make her a sympathetic character, especially when the focus of the game is knights. The GPC can't crack that nut, IMO. Over and over in the campaign's text we're told she's wonderful and kind and generous and everyone loves her, but it never really gives us any concrete reason for it. It's the problem of telling not showing. In the end, in spite of the fact that everyone who sees her has to make a "fall in love with Guinevere" roll, she's comes off as a raging narcissist who can't resist flaunting her affair with her husband's best friend in public and whose insane jealousy makes the whole thing come crumbling down. I get that she's supposed to be tragic, but the text of the GPC doesn't make her tragic, it just makes her an unpleasant figure.

      Now, Stafford had a hell of a tough time with this one, because the source material does her no favors whatsoever (huge shock that a self-determinating woman comes off poorly in medieval literature and the centuries of patriarchal commentary and expansion that followed!) but with what the GPC itself gives you, Guinevere is a tough sell. It's not impossible, IMO, but the GM really has to make an effort to shine a spotlight on her positive accomplishments (whatever they might be? Again, the GPC isn't a ton of help here).

      The Court of Love isn't much help, because it *is* silly even if the players embrace the silliness, as yours did. Yeah it's part of the canon, the ethos, and honestly a major part of the whole point of the game, but its destructive aspects are so obvious from the outset that everyone entering into it has to go in with the knowledge that this cannot end well for anyone. Seriously, there's just no way "Act like a moron in public to get into the britches of your buddy's spouse" can be considered a good idea. In other words it becomes an exercise in genre emulation rather than something justifiable in its own regard. Necessary for Arthurian storytelling? Sure. Problematic for *storytelling?* Heck yes.

      I'm not sure that this problem has a solution, at least within the rubric of the Court of Love. A less formal, more genuinely emotional system for romances would have more dramatic heft, but that's not what the story calls for. I don't know the fix on this one, just that it's a lot to expect players to buy into without the option of WANTING to do what Agravaine and Mordred did right from the outset. That's certainly something I need to think about more.

      In conclusion, fuck you Lancelot.

    2. Part of the problem with romance to be the constraint of the story and RPGs in general, I think. It's entirely possible that you could spend several sessions on a single year, as was done a few times, where you really focus in on a romance between a lady and a knight that could be less perfunctory. The reason that doesn't happen is that would rob a lot of the existing players of things to do, and it's not the focus of the campaign which is long enough as it is.

      In defense of the Court of Love, a lot of marriages at that time were not the happy Cynrain-affairs that you might think of, but were more like Leander-style affairs. Look at Leander's poor Irish wife, the instant a scandal broke about her, Leander dumped her and moved on to his friend's wife, who he later made available by "accidentally" killing said friend in a tournament. Affairs were happening, and the Court of Love was women not-quite-publicly acknowledging it and saying that it was alright. It, like Knight Makes Right, went too far in the end, but I think the intention behind it was correct.

      And then there's the Lancelot/Guinevere nugget, which I think depends on when you view their affair starting, and how you view it progressing. It is true that Lancelot gets to do things that other players don't, and you don't get to see him doing it which makes it a little frustrating. For example, Jen swore that she would conquer Dolorous Guard, but then Lancelot came along and did it off-screen. Also he's clearly engaged in an affair with the Queen, but despite seeming impossibilities what if it is chaste, or at least non-sexual? Using Leander, or "Lancelot Jr." as I will now call him, he had a lot of very public affairs, but they rarely resulted in as much sex as even people around the table who had near-perfect information as to what was going on seemed to think.

      Arthur and Guinevere certainly loved each other at one point, and probably still cared for each other, but their Love passion had dwindled to low - but not 0 - numbers towards the end. I would be shocked if he didn't know what was going on, but he also seemed not to care and as long as no one brought it up things were fine. The Orkneys were right that it was public and an embarrassment, but again there was no proof until they chose to make it an issue.

      And then for the Kids' table incident, I think this is another thing that this setting does that a lot of RPGs don't: If the players try something and fail someone else is going to come along and do it in many cases. They failed at Dolorous Guard, they failed on the Grail Quest, they failed to save Nanteliod, they failed at the Castle of Bones, they failed at the Kingdom of the Circle of Gold... but they still had adventures that were fun and interesting to hear. While most RPGs would take these failures and either say "Okay, you're all alive so you can try again next year", or "Okay, you're all alive but here's the consequences of failure", this one went "Okay, you're all alive but [LANCELOT/GAWAINE/PERCIVAL/JARRADAN] managed to win the day."

      I've bought a few of the books now from GPC, and it seems like the tools are there to sandbox it if you wanted to kill/replace certain key NPCs, but this didn't feel like their actions were minimized in any way, just that they were not the Greatest Knights in the Land. Top 5 certainly for Cynrain, probably Top 10 for Leander and Top 50 for Wulfram and Archade, and they still accomplished great deeds that got podcasted about, but ultimately at the very end the campaign ended, and all we have left are their stories.

      But remember, if you want to tell another story, Merlin is going to wake up from his nap and travel in time soon, and maybe you can find another group of knights who will change things :D

    3. I'm planning to tell a *completely* different story! LOL I'm hacking the Pendragon rules (which I really like) to fit a more Slavic context, and I'm developing a fictionalized Poland-analogue to play it in.

      Well, first I'm running the Introductory Scenario and a Winter Phase for my group to see if they're willing to play. If they are, I'll continue the development and run my game (and podcast it) in about a year.

      Anyway, I love the rules, I love the idea of telling a gigantic multi-generational tragedy, and I love introducing fantasy elements into some pretty gritty knight-on-knight action. I just don't think I can do it to my own liking with the GPC. That's one reason I need to come up with a less-fraught version of the Court of Love, because romantic relationships are a vital part of that kind of game.

    4. Well remember, the "questions" submitted to the Court of Love seemed to always be thinly-disguised questions by someone in attendance at the time. I interpreted it as gentlewomen saying that if they were expected to stay home and be their husband's stewards for their manors their entire lives, they were going to find romance and live vicariously through these challenges.

      If you want to make it less literal in the legal sense, you could run some adventures like when Sir Sawel petitioned the court regarding his false-nun amour, where a Knight or Lady want to investigate their amour for faithfulness or worth, and then it turns into Medieval Debate Club into a group of Intrigue and Investigators as they try to uncover as many secrets as possible.

      It might be fun, but like the murder investigation towards the end of the campaign, the rules would rely on this to be more roleplay focused than skills based, so you might need to shift into a different system or come up with your own homebrews depending on how complex you wanted it to be.

    5. My intention right now is to really emphasize the cold, loveless nature of marriages so that when the midgame comes around and doings at court begin to come to the forefront, the opportunities for genuine emotional attachment seem like a breath of fresh air. From there I will try to have the whole thing grow more organically -- but in what direction? I'll have to take the lead from my players, I think, and take it along a path they'll enjoy. I'm just not sure I can determine what that will be before I get into it!

    6. Thanks for these in-depth comments, guys!

      Gregg: I totally get where you're coming from in terms of watching scripted events play out. I tried my best to minimize them as much as possible, and talked to the players on a couple occasions in between sessions to make sure everyone was okay with them--everyone seemed fine with it, but I can definitely imagine other groups of players who would hate it.

      Certain battles having pre-scripted endings really bugged me when I first started running KAP. It took a certain adjustment, to think, "Ah, this isn't about the PCs' role in the larger battle but rather what their individual battle experiences would be like." Which, I have to imagine, is pretty close to "reality" for fighting men through history, even if it's not in keeping with the way RPGs usually handle it (i.e. the PCs' progress mirrors the progress of the battle, or giving the PCs a chance to completely alter outcomes).

      Having said that, I would've liked to have seen more open-ended battles being fought. The Anarchy presented a great opportunity for this, and I was nurturing hopes the PCs would raise an army and go off a-conquering, but they went with a defensive strategy instead. So it goes.

      To be perfectly honest, for this outing I really wanted to run the GPC "as written" just for the experience of it. If/when I run the GPC again, I'd LOVE to see the group take up openly-antagonistic attitudes towards certain story elements, just to see how things play out. An Orkney-allied party would be very interesting, from King Lot all the way down to Mordred.

      In terms of alternate Romance systems, there's a KAP-derived game based on the Matter of France forthcoming from Nocturnal. Not sure on release date, but I know it's first in the pipeline of three planned KAP spin-offs. I haven't seen the whole manuscript, but I did have access (for editing and critiquing purposes) to a modified Romance system that will appear in that game.

      And speaking of hacks...

      "I'm hacking the Pendragon rules (which I really like) to fit a more Slavic context, and I'm developing a fictionalized Poland-analogue to play it in."

      Wow! That sounds absolutely fantastic. Medieval Poland-Lithuania-Muscovy is one of my absolute favorite periods. Good luck, and looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

      Jake: "It's entirely possible that you could spend several sessions on a single year, as was done a few times, where you really focus in on a romance between a lady and a knight that could be less perfunctory."

      There's a scenario I didn't run this time called "The Heart Blade" that introduces a multi-year romance arc for a single PC. Most of the group had played it before, back in 2011 when Des ran a 15-year arc of Pendragon and inserted that scenario into it. It's one of the best KAP scenarios ever written, IMO, and really shows the potential for digging deep into PC romances.

      I've talked about the potential for sandboxing KAP with others in the past. There are existing systems (random tables, travel rates) in certain supplements that could be easily adapted to a limited hexcrawl approach. It's definitely something I'd love to try at some point. Basically, I'm thinking the next GPC outing will be much more off the rails...

    7. I will check out "The Heart Blade".

      Thank you.

  9. David L: thanks for sharing. My group is dealing with a Saxon invasion in 500 A.D. so we've got a lot to cover. I'm estimating a minimum of 3.1 years as our group plays twice a month in 4-5 hour installments. I'm going to try and do an extra session every 6-10 weeks to meet that goal but we'll see how it goes.

    Your group has good taste. A good chunk of my KAP group are also playing Horror on the Orient Express. I'm a player in this one. We do it on the other day when we're not playing KAP.

  10. I think if I ever run Pendragon (good luck finding players), I'll make it so you can't use a hate passion to fight defensively. If you have to roll hate saxons on turn 1 when you're fighting saxons, there's no sense to fight defensively, I think.

    1. I think you could use it to fight defensively though. If on your first round you fail your charge or are ambushed, you could be fighting multiple opponents, and get so enraged that they think they're going to get the better of you that you're going to deny them the Glory they're going to get from killing you.

      I got my online group shifted from Pathfinder to Pendragon which I'm running them through, and we're trying to figure out a good sweet spot for Passions as well. It helps that our use of Passion has led to:

      1) Going insane at the death of Aurelius Ambrosius and fleeing the battle
      2) Missing a crit against a random bandit and nearly dying
      3) Becoming melancholic that you couldn't kill a wolf.

    2. hmm I suppose, but I can't quite see it myself.

      Pendragon's an interesting system which leads to interesting situations, but sometimes, I just feel its too random. I like the concepts of the traits, specifically, but to take the decision out of the player's hand is grating. Pretty much, you have to play knowing that you're not going to have as much player agency as in other games

  11. I dunno, I feel like with practice a GM could play it however they want. Just have the Traits be how the knight is recorded in history and in reality they could be however they want. This campaign also showed different ways of handling the system, at least to me.

    Jade set her mind on pugnacious, and through repeated Training and Practices produced a family line that was fairly Recognisable and steadfast.

    Jen built religious knights in spirit but regardless of traits, and focused on adventure.

    Renae seemed to strive for no solid extremes one way or the other and therefore was free to go how she wanted.

    Des, intentionally or not, had characters who kept getting in their own way, but also struggled against their worse nature to try and be better.

    David embraced chaos and randomness and produced great characters who, naturally, flamed out like short candles in a hurricane.

  12. oh yes there is a high record of arbitrary in Des' characters, i think ;)