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William Hostman
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The Premise
In Pendragon, one plays a knight in Dark Ages Brittain, ca 500. Rather than being pure historical, it is a blend of Historical and Mythic brittain. The King is either Uther Pendragon or his more noted son, Arthur Pendragon.

You do not play knights of the court of Arthur; you start as newly dubbed knights of one of the lords sword to the crown.

Editions
there are 3 major editions:
- 1st edition (2nd is identical except for printing date)
- 3rd & 4th Edition
- 5th edition

The differences between 3rd and 4th are mostly organizational: what goes where. There is a revision to 4th edition, included in both the expansion book Saxons!, and in the alternate streamlined core rulebook, Book of Knights. It makes a

Mechanics
All editions use essentially the same mechanics.
Skills are rated 1-40, typical starting ranks 1-15. Skill rolls are made on 1d20, rolling high-but-under the adjusted skill level.
Opposed rolls are frequent; higher successful roll wins. There are several dozen discrete skills, a few more in later editions, and each weapon is a discrete skill. All knightly characters will have at least 4 skills at 10+

5 Attributes are used: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Size, and Appearance; they are rolled, or in 4.1 or 5, may be allocated. Rolls are 3d6; bonuses apply, and annual training can raise them. When rolled against, the same process is used as for skills.

13 pairs of personality traits are used; For each pairing, as long as the high stat is under 21, the other is set so the pair totals 20. If one goes above 20, the other remains at 0. These can be called for rolls upon them by the GM to compel or permit some action, and can be marked for acting in accord with them, or reduced if one acts against them.

All characters have at least four Passions, which can be used to oppose

Several figured characteristics are used: Hit Points, Unconsciousness threshold, Healing Rate, Damage, Movement Rate; two additional are exactly set at stats Major Wound is equal to Con, and Knockdown to Size.

Combat runs by use of skills, and Armor absorbs damage. Each round is an opposed roll, winner doing damage to the loser. Damage is rolled, and based upon the character's attributes, adjusted up or down a die for the weapon; typical damage stats are 3d6 to 6d6, tho' I've seen some experienced Wotanic characters hit 9d6 damage, 10d with a great-axe. If damage rolled exceeds the victim's Size, they have to save on Dex reduced by Armor, fail and fall, make and stand; mounted characters roll horsemanship instead of Dex. If damage after armor is greater than Con, the wound is major; major or not, the remaining damage is applied to HP as well. When hit points drop below Unconsciousness Threshold, the victim passes out.

Traits, Passions, and Inspiration
Pendragon is a game where one doesn't always get to have control of one's character; the characters are possessed of strong emotions, and this is represented by the Traits and Passions.

There are several ways this plays out, and all but one are tools of the GM. If a character goes to act counter to a particular trait or passion, the GM may require a roll on it; on a success, the act is not done. The Player may override the roll, but in so doing, automatically loses a point in that trait or passion.

The GM might see some action as called for by a particular trait or passion, such as a character with Hate (Saxons) 14 trying to take a Saxon as prisoner... Make your hate, and you Coup-de-Grace him.

In other cases, certain traits are rolled to resolve moral dilemmas. The character whose player is unclear how to proceed and hesitates when confronted with a temptress, the GM might call for a roll of Chaste vs Lustful... If Chaste wins, you turn her down (or lose a point of chaste and thus gain one of lustful for sneaking off with her); if Lustful wins, off you go, or lose a point for resisting. If neither succeeds, the character is free to pick without penalty either way.

So, why would anyone want high passions, or unbalanced traits? three things...
1) Glory: having high traits and passions earns you glory. Any trait or passion over 15 is worth its score in glory.
2) Religious and Chivalry Bonuses: Each provides a mechanical benefit AND 100 glory per year that they are maintained. Chivalry counts as armor, and the religious bonus varies by faith.
3) Inspiration: One can attempt to invoke one's passions to gain a huge bonus (+10, +10 or double on a critical success) to one skill for the duration of a battle or scene. But if one tries to inspire and fails, one takes a -5, if one fails with a natural 20, one instead has a breakdown.

So, despite the drawbacks, high passions are of great value, especially since skills, traits, passions, and attributes over 20 simply do not fail unless modified down by conditions.

Magic
1st, 3rd, and 5th editions have no overt magic systems. There is some magic, in the form of items, and women can craft some potions, but players have no access to it.

4th edition has a fully realized magic system. It is driven by skills and traits, and is essentially a free-form system with strong guidelines; enough that most of the magic my players have used over the years was taken straight from table entries. The same system is used no matter what religion the character is, and makes no distinction at all between religious magic and non-religious. Greg Stafford has stated that he felt its inclusion was a mistake; I strongly disagree.

4th edition magic using characters have a limited adventure window: the price of magic is sleep... weeks and weeks of it. Or rapid aging if one opts for staying awake - each week sleep is delayed, one week of sleep owed turns instead into an attribute aging loss roll.

Mode of Campaign
Unlike many games, Pendragon actually has a structure to the campaigns. Ignoring, for the moment, the various campaign sourcebooks....

Basic campaign mode:
- Play an adventure, yes, just one.
- perform winter phase, ending the year.
- Repeat until the character dies.

Landholder Campaign Mode:
- Roll year's landhold events
- play one spring event, if any and desired
- play one summer event, if any and desired
- play one fall event, if any and desired
- play one adventure
- resolve the harvest
- perform winter phase, ending the year.

The various campaigns add events year by year, including major battles, court intrigues at Camelot and London, and more.

Time absolutely flies.

Most adventures are aimed to be one session; I've seldom had any of the excellent published adventures take more than two, save the one that spans 3 years of issues.

Winter Phase
Any skills used in a significant manner get rolled to see if they go up; roll a 20 or roll over the skill level. Same for traits and passions. Then, take some annual training, raising a skill, trait, attribute, or passion by a point, but not size once over age 21.
Check to see if any kids this year, if your horses and children survived, and if you've found a wife. If over 40, or you were major wounded, or if a chirurgery roll on you failed, you might lose some attribute points.

Finally, total your glory for the year, and add it to your total. If you crossed a 1000-point threshold, add one point to anything (if over age 21, anything but Siz).

Yes, wives and children matter.

Remember: One adventure usually means one session, and also means one year on the character. This is, more than any other game I've run, a game where you WILL watch your character grow old. And, eventually, die of old age.

Your character's 1st-born is also your next character. Yes, it's dynastic. I've had 3 campaigns run long enough for sons to come into play.

Subtler Themes of Pendragon
While the overt theme is playing in Arthur's Brittain, there are several subthemes that are handled within the game. Any of these can be ignored by the GM and players, but the tools are there for them.

Religion: Christian, Jewish, Romano-Celtic Paganism, Saxon Wotanic (now called Asatru in the real world); in 5th ed, a distinction is made between the Roman Catholics and the semi-Pelagian Cymric Christians.

Racism: several distinct cultures represented in game (Cymric, Romano-Briton, Saxon, Irish, Pict) and mechanical handling of hatreds.

Loyalty vs Love: The constant pull of the passion system often puts one duty versus another, or versus a love. It creates some drama. Plus the elements of Courtly Romances, and of conflicting duties...

Landholder vs Hero: Holding lands is glorious, but it also brings duties all its own, and the duty to send out others instead of doing it all one's self.

Glory and Ambition:[b] The desire to gain glory pushes characters to take some risks they shouldn't. Likewise, to come to be a member of the Table, or a landholder, or an officer of one's Lord, or even one's Lord's Son-in-law...

[b]Rise and Fall of Camelot:
The classic tale... play it through as a knight at the fringes. Or, if you get powerful enough, as a friend (or even enemy) of Arthur. Or even break the timeline, as my players did. One even married the Dowager Guenevere... after putting young Sir Mordred on the Throne.

My Experiences & Reactions
I've played 4th, the revised 4th, and 5th editions, and have read 1st and 3rd. To be honest, my favorite is 4th edition. But all the non-character-generation supplements are pretty much compatible across all editions.

The differences in 5th are small, but have deep impact. Reduced randomness in character generation, no more playable squires, and returning to the narrow focus of 1st and 3rd editions in the core book... 5th ed, you generate a 21yo knight. Or you buy supplements to play ladies or non-cymru.

3rd and 4th differ only in 4th's magic system, and the integration of Knights Adventurous into the core book. The changes in Book of Knights amount to tripling the per-year gains from age 15 to start of play. You get points for father's class, some skills for same, and a winterphase per year until you hit 24 or are knightable.

1st differs in character generation a bit more from 3/4 than 3/4 does from 5th. But the end results are much the same. Again, starting pools, and winter-phases until qualified. Note also that the Librum was revalued for 3rd, so some prices are lower.

The game, in any edition, is an excellent experience. I've run long, and left out much. My longest continuous campaign ever was Pendragon... over 2 years of weekly 3 hour sessions, covering from 495 to 545 AD.

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Mattias Elfström
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Very nice review of one of the finest RPGs created. Thank you!
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Steve G
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"I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." ~Ettiene De Grellet
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Thank you for the explanations of the various editions. I know this is an old, old thread but there were 2 sentence fragments:
aramis wrote:
It makes a

aramis wrote:
All characters have at least four Passions, which can be used to oppose

Wondering how they were supposed to end.
 
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William Hostman
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I've been Banished to Oregon... Gaming in Corvallis, living in Alsea... Need gamers willing to try new things...
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There is a revision to 4th edition, included in both the expansion book Saxons!, and in the alternate streamlined core rulebook, Book of Knights. It makes characters much more competent at start and may result in qualifying earlier than 18.

&

All characters have at least four Passions, which can be used to oppose trait rolls and/or other passions.

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