Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Great Pendragon Campaign: Epic Play-through Year 491

Summary: Our group is attempting a complete run of the Great Pendragon Campaign  using 5th edition rules. Players are Matt, Mark, and Lilith. I am the GM.

Year 491
The seventh year in the Uther Period, with Uther Pendragon as king of Britain.

Our current roster of characters:
  •       Sir Eleanor of Dinton, played by Lilith.
  •      Sir Conmorl of Winterbourne Gunnet, played by Matt.
  •       Sir Aeddan of Pitton, played by Mark.

This year is the conflict between Duke Gorlois and King Uther. After Gorlois returned to his lands, afraid for his wife’s safety near the king, he has declared the insult unbearable and raises his knights. While they have their doubts about the justness of this battle, they go along anyway.

The Battle of Tintagel is fought this year. While the knights, led by Sir Madoc, go up against one of Gorlois’ fortresses, the King assaults Tintagel, a fortress atop a sea spire connected to the land by a causeway, very difficult to storm. The battle is hard fought, and the Cornish attack at night in a daring raid. It is chaotic close-quarter fighting, and Sir Madoc is slain by Duke Gorlois, who is then in turn brought low by the player knights. When news of this reaches Tintagel, the castle surrenders.

King Uther immediately announces that he will wed Ygraine as spoils of war. She reports being visited by Gorlois even as he fought to his death many miles away. The players all know what happened, even if their knights do not. By end of summer it is clear the new Queen is pregnant.

Thoughts: Again, lots of important events that have little to no player involvement. The battle was fun, and the death of Madoc and Gorlois ordained. I decided to let the players have the victory over Gorlois, especially as they seemed to like Madoc a bit. The Uther period is all setup for the Arthurian times so it seems heavily on rails. My players are playing along, but I also am chafing a bit and the highly scripted adventures at this point.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Great Pendragon Campaign: Epic Play-through Year 490

Summary: Our group is attempting a complete run of the Great Pendragon Campaign  using 5th edition rules. Players are Matt, Mark, and Lilith. I am the GM.

Year 490
The sixth year in the Uther Period, with Uther Pendragon as king of Britain.

Our current roster of characters:
  •          Sir Eleanor of Dinton, played by Lilith.
  •          Sir Conmorl of Winterbourne Gunnet, played by Matt.
  •         Sir Aeddan of Pitton, played by Mark.
In this session, Mark brings in a new character. His old character’s son is still far too young to inherit, so he takes on Sir Aeddan, the old character’s younger brother. Matt decides his old character Sir Galmwr has run off back into the woods, seeking out the Lady of Flowers to live at her court again.

This year features the Battle of Lyndsey (by way of Geoffrey of Monmouth, apparently). The Cymric knights go north to fight the Saxons coming down through Northumberland, and fight them back from their march southward. The two fearsome Saxon kings Octa and Eosa lead them. The battle is pretty fierce, and culminates in an opportunity take down King Octa as the Saxons are routing. Sir Aeddan is the one who breaks through, capturing the Saxon King to win a huge sum of Glory and potentially a great ransom. After the battle, there is a great victory feast, and the player knights get their first glance at Ygraine, apparently super hot, since just laying eyes on her makes you make a Lustful roll. Even Sir Eleanor makes the roll, as Lilith informs us that Eleanor is mostly into women. Sure, she’ll marry for heirs, but that’s not where her romantic inclinations lie.

Further intrigue follows in winter court with the King. He has released all his lords back to their own lands, but won’t let Duke Gorlois go and the duke is getting irritated. The king is besotted with Ygraine and keeping the duke around so she has to stay too. Gorlois steals away along with his wife in the middle of the night, witnessed but not stopped by the player knights. The king then claims that Gorlois has abused his hospitality and prepares once again to make war on Cornwall. Meanwhile, Earl Roderick of Salisbury, lord of our player characters, and the king’s bastard son Madoc are far more concerned with a massive landing of Saxons in the lands they already hold. The Earl leaves many of his men behind to guard the county while he is off on the king’s war.

Thoughts: More battle! There’s a lot of that early game in the campaign. This time, a really cool opportunity for the players to shine and capture the enemy king. I took this event as inspiration forward and tried to give players the opportunity to make a difference in a battle, and if they get the result that indicates an enemy general or hero, let them have a shot at someone important.

The Ygraine stuff is super heavy handed. I see what they are going for here, the tragedy of Uther needs to play out. I don’t think being a passive witness and unable to change anything is really involving the player knights, though. There some serious railroading here in this section. The whole Lustful thing is also interesting. Only Queen Guenivere inspires the same sort of rolls in the campaign. It did reveal some interesting information about one of the player knights, so that turned out well. Sir Aedden ended up hopelessly in love with Ygraine, which ends up pretty cool later as he runs into her many times as they slowly age out of the game. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Great Pendragon Campaign: Epic Play-through Year 489

Summary: Our group is attempting a complete run of the Great Pendragon Campaign  using 5th edition rules. Players are Matt, Mark, and Lilith. I am the GM.

Year 489
The fifth year in the Uther Period, with Uther Pendragon as king of Britain.

Our current roster of characters:
  •        Sir Eleanor of Dinton, played by Lilith.
  •        Sir Conmorl of Winterbourne Gunnet, played by Matt.
  •        Sir Aeron of Pitton, played by Mark.

A planned fight with Duke Gorlois of Cornwall ends in a truce, with the Duke pledging himself to King Uther in a scene right out of the 1981 movie Excalibur. Like, literally right out of it. The Campaign text acknowledges the source, and Matt immediately recognized the scene from the movie. No one had a problem with this, in fact it seemed to get my older players more excited about what was happening.

After this supposed battle is cancelled, the player knights decide to go up north and harass the Saxons besieging Eburacum and raiding into Lindsey. This is run like a skirmish, which is different from a battle, instead it’s a straight-up round-by-round combat. The fight goes pretty well until Sir Aeron engages with the leader of the Saxon warband they are fighting, a Saxon berserker. Berserkers have a Hate (Britons) passion at 20, so a guaranteed bonus on their attack, and this guy also has a really good Axe skill. He crits Aeron and kills him in one blow. It’s just as brutal and surprising as our first session. Mark seems a little disheartened, but we’ve decided to engage the system as it comes and let the result stand. He’ll bring in his backup knight next session.

As the year winds down, news comes that more and more Saxons keep landing in the north, led by the very frightening sons of Hengest, the kings Octa and Eosa. They are laying waste to Northumberland and it’s clear that local Britons aren’t going to be able to hold them back. Uther is resolved to go up there next year and drive them back.

At the end of this year, Sir Conmorl gets married to one of the many NPCs of Salisbury I’ve created and been keeping track of. It generates a great list of eligible knights and ladies, and creates a little bit of story outside our featured knight’s progression. As an example, Sir Caramides, lord of Wylye, had a terrible string of rolls this year, losing his wife in childbirth and his only son to illness.

Thoughts: The brutality of the system is really brought home this year. Our player knights are still relatively young, and the players are learning about the efficiency of their builds. Lilith made the mistake of making her lady knights small in stature, and that has a big effect on damage rolls, despite the fact that Sir Eleanor is really strong. Sir Aeron died because of the way passions work in play, his enemy had a passion and thus got a really good chance at criticals. The players are now trying to work their passions in whenever they can for their advantage, and are spending a lot of year-end points and glory points to raise them. The closer you can get to a 20 the better off you are at getting that hit on the passion. They are also all really doubling down on that Hate (Saxons) passion they’ve all got, since we’ve pretty much been fighting Saxons since day one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Great Pendragon Campaign: Epic Play-through Year 488

Summary: Our group is attempting a complete run of the Great Pendragon Campaign  using 5th edition rules. Players are Matt, Mark, and Lilith. I am the GM.

Year 488
The fourth year in the Uther Period, with Uther Pendragon as king of Britain.

Our current roster of characters:
  •        Sir Eleanor of Dinton, played by Lilith.
  •        Sir Conmorl of Winterbourne Gunnet, played by Matt.
  •    Sir Aeron of Pitton, played by Mark.

The Saxon kings Octa and Eosa are pillaging Northumberland, but the Duke of Lindsey has so far kept them out of the south. The Franks take over the remaining Roman territories on the continent, but the player knights are not involved in any of this at all.

Instead, they embark into the forest to see if they can find the missing Sir Galmwr (the player knight who ran off mad in our first session). This was a completely unscripted adventure, I didn’t use anything from the campaign at all. The knights find Sir Galmwr, completely lacking his own memories, armed all in blue and defending a castle from all travelers. The knights defeat him and go inside to see if they can get to the bottom of this. They find the Merry Hall, presided over by the Lady of Flowers, a fairy lady. All of the court here is women, apart from Sir Galmwr, and the Lady of Flowers puts the player knights to a test to see if they are worthy of leaving her hall and taking her knight protector with them. The player knights comport themselves well, and the Lady gives Sir Galmwr his memories back and escorts them to the edge of the woods, flanked by a leopard and a lion.

King Uther has decided to go to war against Duke Gorlois of Cornwall next year and tells everyone to get ready. Matt decides he’ll continue to play Sir Conmorl as his primary character. Sir Galmwr is still enchanted by the Lady of the Flowers and is trying to return to the Merry Hall (he will eventually succeed in a couple of years).

Thoughts: This was my first time straying from the main narrative of the Campaign, and it was a lot of fun. My players definitely enjoyed it. I drew on my own readings of knightly adventures and made up most of it on the spot. There are a number of years in the campaign that are a little sparse on events and doing this sort of unscripted adventure is definitely something I did more as the campaign went on.

The players are also taking a longer view, and Matt is interested in having Sir Galmwr’s son come back into play, a young man raised entirely in fairy, coming to Camelot from the Merry Hall. He wants to bring the character in during the Romance period, which we haven’t quite hit yet, but I am down with players bringing characters in and out as needed. I was expecting to bring Sir Galmwr back sooner, but Matt wanted to take him out of play completely.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Designing Worlds

I revived my old Fantasy Heartbreaker world to play a Burning Wheel game. Ironically, BW does a lot of what I was trying to do in that design, just a lot better. When I break out BW, I go back to this world a lot. I figure why not keep developing this old fantasy world for my own interest.

The world was created for my game The Legend of Yore back in the mid-eighties to nineties, when I was just getting started on this whole game design business, and it’s a pretty derivative fantasy world. It’s got elves and dwarves and wizards, and has great big nation-states that are not particularly Medieval. It’s also super racist and I’m way more aware these days so that’s pretty unacceptable to current me. One of my goals when revisiting the game is to clean this up and be more respectful in the treatment of the non-white nations.

One of the things I’m doing as I dig back into this world is to try to make it more real. How do these magical things interact with culture? In a world where gods are real and manifest, how does worship work and what does that do to society? What about multiple species of sentient beings? How does that adjust and distort the ways people relate to each other? I’m taking a close and practical view of all of this stuff that is normally pretty epic and not deeply thought about, especially in knock-off fantasy game settings.

I’m doing this because it’s fun and entertaining to me to think about. Take a major premise that is sort of standard in fantasy worlds and then figure out what the actual implications of that situation are and how it distorts social order from the ways we do things in the real world, or at least apply real world examples to this big world-changing facts and try to sort out how that would play out in this fantasy world.

When the game hits the table in actual play, all of these details are not dumped on players. Instead, they touch on various things and a deeper history and society are hinted at. That adds depth and richness to a world. You don’t need to explain everything every step of the way, but you do need to let players get a little window into that depth and richness. That’s what all the best story settings do.

There’s a lot to cover on this topic, I’m planning to write a few more of these as time goes on, both to share the stuff I’m coming up with but also as an archive for myself. The details I’ll be hitting are those I’m working on for my Burning Wheel campaign, but also for the game I’m developing that will use a small part of this world, the Art of Power. I did a lot of work on the fantasy gods for the world, so that’s what I’ll talk about next.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Great Pendragon Campaign: Epic Play-through Year 487

Summary: Our group is attempting a complete run of the Great Pendragon Campaign  using 5th edition rules. Players are Matt, Mark, and Lilith. I am the GM.

Year 487
The third year in the Uther Period, with Uther Pendragon as king of Britain.

Our current roster of characters:

  •         Sir Eleanor of Dinton, played by Lilith.
  •         Sir Conmorl of Winterbourne Gunnet, played by Matt.
  •         Sir Aeron of Pitton, played by Mark.

Overall events, King Uther’s bastard son Sir Madoc leads a big naval operation against the Saxons, but our player knights decide to perform a diplomatic mission instead, accompanying the King northward to Lyndsey and Malahaut to visit Duke Corneus and King Heraut respectively. They tell the tale of Excalibur to these rulers, trying solicit alliance with King Uther based on the mantle of the Sword of Victory. This goes well with Duke Corneus, but not so great with King Heraut. More courtly skills get a workout. Our knights are still pretty young and not particularly glorious, so a lot of courtly skills had failed rolls. On a hunt with King Heraut, Sir Conmorl is ambushed and kidnapped by bandits, and Sir Eleanor and Sir Aeron ride out and rescue him.

As the knights begin to look around for likely matches in marriage, this is when I started keeping some more detailed records of the other families in Salisbury, using a shortened year-end procedure to randomly determine what was happening with births, deaths, and marriages in the other peer households. This has over time turned out to be a lot of work and a lot of lonely fun, but I’ve kept it up throughout the campaign and have a pretty robust history of families and relations between the various households in Salisbury.

Sir Aeron and Sir Eleanor both get married this year. At this point, we have the conversation about the childbirth table, which includes a 10% chance of death in childbirth for the mother. Lilith is not interested in having her knight die on a random chance from a once-a-year roll, so we rule that player knights are exempt from the death in childbirth result.

Thoughts: This was an interesting session! The heavy emphasis on diplomacy was interesting, but the reaction of the rulers is pretty heavily scripted in the book. I decided to start to step afield from this and allow the player’s rolls to have a larger effect on the attitude of the non-player characters they are interacting with. This decision gives a lot more agency to the players, but also had some large unexpected results later in the campaign. Also, it really highlights how weak the diplomacy rules are in the game. Sure, there are social skills, traits, and passions, but how that interacts with another character’s attitude or actions is sketchy at best, completely missing at worst. I pretty much just winged it.

Last note: Earl Roderick of Salisbury randomly had a child this year, a girl named Ishild. This was determined by my year-end NPC rolls. No mention of any of Roderick’s kids besides Robert, his heir, is made in the book, and I applied the same rules to his family that I was doing to all the rest. This is super important later in the narrative, as is Ishild, but just a side note for this year.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Great Pendragon Campaign: Epic Play-through Year 486

Summary: Our group is attempting a complete run of the Great Pendragon Campaign  using 5th edition rules. Players are Matt, Mark, and Lilith. I am the GM.

Year 486
The second year in the Uther Period, with Uther Pendragon as king of Britain.

Our current roster of characters:
  • ·        Sir Eleanor of Dinton, played by Lilith.
  • ·        Sir Conmorl of Winterbourne Gunnet, played by Matt.
  • ·        Sir Aeron of Pitton, played by Mark.

Outside threats are the Saxons, wreaking havoc up in Caercolun. The Duke of Lindsey is killed fighting them. These guys are calling themselves the East Saxons at this point, and they’ve seized a lot of territory. There are already some Saxon enclaves in Sussex and Kent. The Kents are actually Jutes, not Saxons, but to our players they are all Saxon invaders.

In this session’s big adventure the player knights all get called upon by Merlin to help him out. This serves as a tutorial on the personal combat system, after last session’s tutorial on the battle system. The knights all fight a three-eyed giant, demonstrating again how dangerous combat can be. They are lucky and don’t get hit by using terrain and ganging up on the thing, and manage to take it down. Following after Merlin, he instructs them to defend him while he busies himself in a boat on a small lake. A strange green knight that appears to be made entirely from plants appears and fights the player knights. Again, with teamwork, they dispatch the creature.

Merlin gets good old Excalibur from the lake, and the knights head back to Uther’s court. We get some cool early medieval flavor here, as the king inspects the spoils from the battles against the Saxons this year, and gives a gift out to every knight in the court from it. Merlin then presents the sword Excalibur to the king, and asks one of the player knights to tell the tale of their adventure. This brings us into the courtly skill part of the game, and Sir Aeron steps up to do the honor. He comports himself well, impressing the king and earning some Glory for himself.

Thoughts: At this point we’ve seen all of the different systems in the game, and I like how the Campaign is walking us through this as a starter, doing battle, personal combat, and courtly activities all within two sessions to get you up to speed. The Excalibur business was interesting, but the player knights seem like a bit of a third wheel in this adventure, getting led around by Merlin and witnessing some epic event but only sort of participating on the fringes. Thanks to the constant threat of lethality, there is a certain amount of emotional remove between you and your character that the system itself seems to encourage.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Great Pendragon Campaign: Epic Play-through Year 485

Our group is attempting a complete run of the GreatPendragon Campaign. We’re using 5th edition Pendragon rules, and we’re trying to play it by the book if possible. A few tweaks and add-ons are being used, some tables that can be found online, specifically for feast and courtactivities.
Players are Matt, Mark, and Lilith. I am the GM. This narrative will go over our experience with the game year by year and I’ll call out areas where we had trouble or made some adjustments for our group comfort (generally with rules).

Year 485

This is the start of the Campaign book. Uther Pendragon is the king of Britain. The campaign focuses on the county of Salisbury, and we did standard startup based on the book. All of our knights are landed knights from Salisbury, in charge of a manor.

We had a bit of discussion regarding gender in the game, since Lilith wanted to play a female knight. The rules discourage this a bit, but there is a section on creating women knights. We decided that succession rules in our fantasy Britain favor male heirs, but a woman can inherit if no male heirs are available. Also, female knights are not unheard of. They are somewhat unusual, but are generally accepted, especially in families with no male issue or a tradition of the practice. Lilith also expressed some concern about her character dying in childbirth on a single winter phase roll, and so we ruled that player characters are exempt from childbirth mortality.

Our final roster of characters:
  •          Sir Florentina of Dinton, played by Lilith.
  •          Sir Galmwr of Burcombe, played by Matt.
  •          Sir Aeron of Pitton, played by Mark.

The big event of 485 is the Battle of Mearcread Creek. King Uther calls up his knights to fight the Saxons of Sussex and the freshly knighted player characters follow their lord, Earl Roderick, to the battle. We were still learning how things work in Pendragon, and the reason the rules advise you to create a backup character along with your first quickly becomes obvious.

The players all tried to invoke their Hatred of Saxons to gain an advantage in this battle. Passions, when successfully rolled, allow a major bonus to skill rolls. There is a danger in failure, however, and Matt fumbled his Hatred: Saxons roll. On a passion fumble, the character goes mad from their lack of conviction, and run off to the woods. Since the roll occurred at the beginning of the battle, we decided to let Matt play through the fight and then run off mad. Once a character succumbs to madness, it is entirely up to the GM when they return.

The battle was joined and we got a taste of Pendragon lethality. Sir Florentina was hit with a critical from a Saxon axeman, and was killed outright. It was kind of shocking to lose a player character literally in the first session, but we all rolled with it. She had a backup character, Sir Eleanor, Sir Florentina’s twin sister.

The Battle of Mearcread Creek ends indecisively, neither a side a clear winner. Big picture politics: Franks have capture Soissons on the continent, a large Saxon expeditionary army has landed in Colchester and defeated the Britons there. More battles against Saxon loom for certain.

Our tally on player characters as winter phase begins is one mad, one dead, and one survivor. Pretty grim for a first session! We run through our first winter maintenance phase. Sir Aeron, our survivor, gets married. Matt decides he’d like to leave Sir Galmwr’s fate mysterious for a bit and brings in his backup character Sir Conmorl.