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.