I haven’t written about gaming in a while, but my group’s recent return to King Arthur: Pendragon has inspired me a bit.
This might be the best role playing game I’ve ever played. Our group played it briefly many years ago, then tried again about three years ago and really got into it. Eventually we needed a break, but we all knew we’d be back to continue playing through The Great Pendragon Campaign. After three years of playing a bunch of different games (some of which were great, and some of which just didn’t click for me) we’ve recently picked up where we left off and it’s been a lot of fun getting back into 6th century Logres again.
It’s a complicated game, at least the way we play it, where we spend as much time keeping track of our Manors and the goings on in the extended family of our knights as we do going on adventures as knights. But that complexity, and what it brings in unexpected emergent story is a lot of the appeal for us.
In Pendragon, at least the way we’re playing, your “character” is actually your Manor and family more so than any one knight you might be playing at any given time. It’s a game about in which you play out multiple generations of a family. Whatever knight you’re playing as your main character now has a good chance of dying or becoming maddened and disappearing for a time (or sometimes permanently!). I’ve lost a whole string of characters, but luckily you keep track of your family tree and extended family, and their goings on so you usually have an heir or another relative who can take over. I’ve had a brother-in-law who’s taken over Cholderton Manor several times to keep it running until one of the younger heirs is old enough to be Knighted and take over.
The Great Pendragon Campaign takes place over many years. A given session is likely to cover one or occasionally two years. The game takes place in different phases. Usually with an Adventure or Battle of some kind, and then phases where you manage your Manor and roll for and find out about family events and some other role playing opportunities. You build up improvements to your manor, fix improvements that have been destroyed by various random events, deal with unexpected events and generally just try to keep the whole thing going as well as you can. Family members get sick and die, they get married and have children, they get into trouble in ways you may need to bail them out of (or not!), and generally add a lot of interesting flavor to the game and the story. We’ve had some players who had never ending weird problems with keeping the peace at their manor (fiery Christian priests opposed by Pagan druids, a mine who’s ownership was in dispute between two characters, wyvern attacks, etc.) and others who’s family’s were like something out of a soap opera.
The game has lots of different add-ons and ways you can make the game more complex or simple depending on what your group wants. We’ve tended to go for more complexity, though at times we’ve gone too far and had to reign it back a bit, but it’s a game with lots of different ways to do the same thing (I think we’ve been through at least three different economic and manor systems before going back to the Book of the Manor as our preferred economic system), and it lends itself to a lot of customization and house-ruling without breaking.
This is already getting longer than I planned and I haven’t gotten into half of the stuff I like about this game, so I may have to do a series of posts. But suffice it to say it’s the campaign I’ve played in that has created some of the best memories. There isn’t any campaign that we reference as often when talking about games. The game just creates so many great stories!
I guess I would be remiss if i didn’t end this with a short thank you to the recently departed Greg Stafford who created the game. Thank you for such an amazing game Greg! 🎲
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