Let’s Read an RPG: Pendragon by Greg Stafford Part 2 – Character Creation
Until what looks like sometime in the morning of June 9, 2014, Pendragon, the Arthurian RPG from Greg Stafford is part of the Bundle of Holding. If you are reading that after that time, I hope you still enjoy this write up, but – for the time being – you can get Pendragon, 5.1 Edition, the Book of Knights & Ladies and the Book of Records Volume 1 – Knights for $9.95 and you can get The Great Pendragon Campaign, Book of Battle (Second Edition), Book of Armies and the Grey Knight (all supplements for Pendragon) if you pay at least $21.72. Having made such a purchase, I continue my write-up on my read-through (HYPHENS!) on Pendragon by Greg Stafford.
After Part 1 of my Pendragon ‘Let’s Read an RPG’, which primarily covered the Introduction, it’s time to get into the meat of the game. I’m always excited to get into character creation because it is usual your first chance to start to see how the rules work and how they mesh together. It’s one thing to see a list of skills and things on a character sheet, but there is an intrinsic joy to starting to fill those boxes in and see how they mesh together and how they make a unique person that wasn’t there before.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably got a good idea of how character creation in Pendragon goes. It is what I would considre an ‘old school’ RPG, with a fairly lengthy skill list (although not the longest I’ve seen) and some randomness in the character creation process. All of the characters in standard Pendragon are from the same Homeland and Culture, so you immediately get around the problem that you run into in so many RPGs which is: Why do our characters hang out anyway? Well, in Pendragon, you are all sworn to the same Lord, so your opinions of the others don’t really matter, now do they? I roll on the chart and I am assigned the Current Home of Wylyle, a village on the River Wylyle in the southwest portion of Logres (the part of Britain ruled by Pendragon and, later, Arthur, I think). Neat!
Your religion controls what your ‘favored’ personality traits are (i.e., which ones start ranked higher). I decide that my knight, Caulas, is an English Christian (as opposed to a Roman Christian or Pagan) and so I underline the appropriate five Traits. Each Trait has an opposite Trait (for instance, Energetic is opposed by Lazy). These Traits must always add up to 20, so the more Energetic you are, the less Lazy you are. Makes sense, I guess. I also get some ‘Passions’. These are things your character cares about a lot. Everyone starts with the same ones, more or less, although the amount you hate Saxons is determined by a die roll. I end up with a Hate (Saxons) of only 9, so I suppose I don’t really hate them that much, as it could have been as much as 18. I am going to guess that, growing up along the river, Caulas got exposed to a lot of different types of people and so he is less concerned with the Saxons than some of his brethren from more ‘metropolitan’ areas.
You have five ‘Statistics’ as well: Size, Dexterity, Strength, Constitution and Appearance. Caulas ends up very huge (15, nearly famously Size – presumably a near mountain of a man), reasonable average in both Dexterity and Constitution (10 in both), fairly strong (12) and above-average in looks (13) appearance. There is some moderate division involved in the derived statistics (your damage, healing rate, etc.) but there’s not all that much, just four Statistics. My Appearance Statistic gives me two distinctive features which, as near as I can tell at this point, are purely for roleplaying purposes. I roll on the chart and decide that Caulas is barrel-chested and has hairy arms. Certainly his Size of 15 and those Distinctive Features start to give you a good idea of what Caulas looks like.
As for Skills, everyone starts with the same skills with the same ranks and then you go through a four step process of raising various skills. I end up with an Awareness of 10, a Boating of 5 (he was raised on the river after all), a Flirting of 8, a Gaming of 10, an Intrigue of 5, a Recognize of 5, a Swimming of 4, a Sword of 15 and a Tourney of 15. I figure that Caulas is a bit of a glory hog. The sort who is always showing off to impress people, although he started fairly Modest (a Personality Trait). All of my other Skills are left at bog standard. That’s fine, I’ll get a chance to raise them in play, presumably. You can age your character in order to get more skill points, but I like the idea that Caulas is young, a physically gifted young man who takes his massive size and strength for granted, instead spending his time getting better at fake combat (tournaments) and on Flirting and not on pragmatic skills, which have come naturally to him. His coat of arms is a red bear claw on a black and gold field and I draw it in the upper-right of the character sheet. He has a decent starting Glory of 178 (you gain 1,000 once you get knighted). He has not fought in any Jousts yet (although there is a place to keep your record in jousts which is wonderful) and you also start the game with four horses (a bit of a hiccup, you have to look up their stats in an Appendix and, even then, you don’t record most of the stats that are listed, still not a big deal, but it seems like partial blocks could have been included here for ease of use). Also, the males in Caulas’ line are Remarkably Clever, so he gets another +5 to his Intrigue. I have no idea what most of these Skills do, but hopefully Caulas’ reasonably high Sword skill stops him from just getting immediately killed. I also enjoy that the GM can demand a ‘Square’ check where you roll 1d20 versus the age of your knights squire to see if they perform well under pressure (i.e. bring you your lance or suit you up for a tournament). It might not make a huge mechanical difference, but the shame and embarrassment of not being suited up correctly seems like just the sort of thing that a knight should have to deal with.
Everyone starts with standard equipment and Caulas also ends up with a Blessed Lance that is worth 25 d. and adds one to his lance skill until it breaks. You also roll to determine how many knights you are related to and how many fighting men you can levy. It turns out that Caulas? He’s not related to many knights. No old knights, no middle-aged knight and two young knights. That means there are only three knights in his family (including him) and there are 14 other ‘Lineage Men’, who are other related men who are not knights. So I guess they fish a lot? Anyway, after all of that Caulas is more-or-less ready for primetime and the knighting ceremony. There’s a full script for both a traditional knighting ceremony as well as an abbreviated version.
Finally, the chapter deals with women, both in their roles as they are portrayed in Arthurian stories as well as the possibility of allowing female knights. I would certainly be far more inclined to do the latter unless everyone is really, really on board with a game about gender roles in the Middle Ages. I’m sure there is an interesting game to be had there, but – for me – it would certainly take the right group to hit the tone just right. Of course, Pendragon recognizes that this may be your comfort zone and acknowledges that there were female fighters even when such things were far from accepted (Joan d’Arc, etc.). Pendragon also recommends you have a second character ready that is related to your primary character in the case of the incapacity of your main character. That suggestion does not bode well for your health. In any case, the next chapter allows for more in-depth family relationships during character creation, so I will be creating my supporting character next time as I dive in to Pendragon Chapter 3: Family and Fatherland. In the meantime, here is Caulas, my brand new knight ready for play just as soon as I read the next six chapters and six appendices. So it might be a bit. As it is Pendragon is available as part the Bundle of Holding until June 9, 2014. After that time, the PDF is available through DriveThruRPG.You can see all of the columns in this series by checking out this page.