Let’s Read an RPG: Pendragon by Greg Stafford – Chapter 4: Stats and Skills
Well, the Bundle of Holding for Pendragon may be over but I’m not through reading it quite yet. Plus, it’s still totally available from DriveThruRPG, among other places I’m sure. So, after leraning about the long, proud lineage of our knights (or short and brutal depending on how you rolled) as well as getting some more information about the world our knight lives in, we move on to Chapter Four of the Pendragon RPG: States and Skills.
So what’s in this Chapter?
Not to be pendantic (although not necessarily succeeding at not being pendantic, either), you will likely not be surprised to learn that Chapter Four of Pendragon is about two things: stats and skills. As I’ve been reading through Pendragon, the skills list was one of the things that gave me a lot of pause. I mean, when you have enough room on your skill list for Flirting, Romance and Faerie Lore you start to have concerns (or at least I do) that the skill list might be just a little too inclusive. However, as I’ve gotten reacquainted with the Arthurian world I have come to realize that these things are essential to trying to capture the essence of Arthurian literature. Also, for the most part, the starting skill list is basically the whole skill list. That’s not entirely accurately, actually, but it does contain all (I think) of the ‘Knightly’ skills. These are the skills that it is socially acceptable for a knight to know. This does not include, for instance, Chirurgery (essentially, surgery). It would, after all, be disgraceful for your knight to stoop below his station. Also included in the list are your various Passions and Traits. Traits are dichotomous sets of traits (say, Piety or Wordliness) that show how your character interacts with the world. Passions are, as you might surmise, things that your character feels passionately about. If your score in one of these surpasses 16 then you might be forced to roll against them to see if you can act contrary to your Trait or Passion. Passions can also be used to try to boost your skills for a particular challenge, although failing to complete a task that your character is impassioned about or failing a roll to become impassioned could have dire consequences for your character (up to and including madness which could remove the character from play for days, years or even forever). Madness seems to be a weird mechanic to me. I’m sure it is part of Arthurian literature but the idea of ‘my knight is trying to fire himself up because this could really affect his Honor. Oh, no, critical failure, he goes mad, feeling that his honor will never be enough to meet his lofty goals and, even if he were to succeed, he would still be utterly inferior. He rips his chest plate off, throws his sword to the ground and takes off into the woods hiding his face’ is so far from any other game I’ve played that I have trouble grokking it. That said, that’s only a critical failure. I could also see people over-using Passions but I suppose the dire risk of becoming melancholy (or – worse – maddened) should be enough to stop people from seeking inspiration around every turn. Further, failing a task you were inspired to do subjects your character to potential attribute loss, so you better mean it.
The Skills explanation section is roughly in line with most skills explanation sections you come across in roleplaying games. It does a good job of explaining what each skill does, what success does in that skill, what failure does with skill and if the skill can be used to gain Glory. The skill descriptions are particularly good insofar as they provide you additional insight into the culture and the time of the Arthurian legends. You learn what musical instruments were common and the superstitions of the time regarding faeries. It is not, however, terribly crunchy. That is coming up in the next chapter: Game Mechanics which I will be reading and then telling you about next time. In the meantime, you can see all of the columns in my ‘Let’s Read Pendragon’ series by checking out this page.