King Arthur Pendragon RPG (with David Larkins)

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In this episode, we finally draw the sword from the stone and examine a game that had an enormous impact on gaming in the 80s: King Arthur Pendragon.

David Larkins, the Pendragon line editor for Chaosium, joins us to tell us about the history of the game, how it works and the future developments.

Judge Blythy, our resident rules-lawyer, reviews the mechanics and we discuss how the game works conceptually.

We also have some closing time chatter about hot topics on our table top.

Author: Dirk

Host of The GROGNARD RPG Files podcast. Talking bobbins about Runequest, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, T&T, AD&D and others from back in the day and today.

7 thoughts on “King Arthur Pendragon RPG (with David Larkins)”

  1. Love the grognard files and never miss an episode. I think it should be like constipation Street and be on at least twice a week if not more.

  2. My main problem with PENDRAGON came from trying to run the GPC. I think that there is insufficient support in the published game for the Uther and Anarchy periods. (It may be true of the decline of the Round Table too but I never got that far.) Almost all the published scenarios are set in the period of High Chivalry during Arthur’s reign.

    I also found that once a knight’s family starts to go into decline (poor harvests and financial losses, horses dying, spouse dying in childbirth and children dying of childhood disease) once all that starts to happen it’s very difficult to pull your character out of the death spiral. Perhaps there should be some guidance or even a formal system in which the knight can go on desperate missions to get at least some cash and loot.

    The last time I found the battle system both confusing and deadly. I look forward to the new edition if it’s going to revise that particular feature.

    Oh, yes I’ll certainly buy the new version even if I never play it.

  3. Pendragon is fantastic, but I found that players still wanted to be d&d style murderhobos and weren’t really up for being chivalric knights. I think it demands a certain sort of player who’s into the source material. The expansion books for 3rd edition were fantastic, but as the game’s gone on the initial tight focus has been diluted a bit, with the introduction of paganism (which I believe Stafford did without personal enthusiasm) and gender “inclusivity”. Games like Pendragon, which are designed to emulate something specific, are best when they do just that, and suffer when they pander to an audience whose cultural preferences are already well catered for in every other game.

  4. Blythey’s comments on the combat system aren’t wrong, but do remember that peasants with a stick have weapons that don’t generally get through the armour of Norman mail or above. The real danger, I found, was from criticals from other knights. When facing off against a villainous knight I’d strongly recommend a successful passion roll!

    My group and I played Pendragon for several years in the early 2000’s and really enjoyed it. A key to that game’s longevity (and the Player Knights’ survival) was that we toned down the damage on criticals.

    1. Totally agree on the excessive lethality of the combat system – particularly in the early phases where your most likely enemies will be Saxons who on average get an extra +2d6 for damage just from their standard STR+3 and SIZ+3 and for using a Great Axe – and then if they are any good can get even more +d6s for using an axe vs shield, from their Wotanic religious bonus and from going berserk.

      Against which 6d6 to 10d6 or more damage your early period knight has just 10 points of armour and if he is lucky 6 points of shield to save him from a mortal wound.

      One easy fix is to just add the shield automatically to armour rather than only if he makes a successful combat roll and also to add dodge to armour if the character rolls below DEX on the combat roll.

      So your knight has 10 points armour and a 6 point shield and his DEX is 14 and Dodge is 7.

      Under RAW if he fails his sword or whatever roll he gets only 10 APs from his Norman armour.

      Under my fix he always gets the +6 for a shield and also gets +7 APs for making his DEX roll.

      Which may just be enough to save him from being instakilled by the first Saxon berserker that hits him let alone the first crit from an enemy knight.

      As for criticals I’d change the rule from double to additional half damage or perhaps import a critical hit effect table with similar but simpler crit options from Mythras – so you can disarm, break the opponents shield, do extra damage, ignore armour, knock out, knock down, dismount enemy, hit mount etc.

      I’d also like to see some sort of simplified fumble table to allow for more non-lethal outcomes.

      Of course at some point you’ll end up with some mutant hybrid of Pendragon and RQ – which is actually what I wish RQG was.

      1. The 1.5 x damage on a critical was what we used instead of double damage. Great minds thinking alike! Your example of the Saxon berzerk is terrifying, which I suppose is what a GM is looking for when pitting a NPC like that against young knights. I was always wary of using opponents with anything greater than 6d6 damage, especially in the first few years of the campaign.

        I did like David Dunham’s Pendragon Pass rules, which were an attempt to use the Pendragon rules for Glorantha in the early noughties, and agree that the new RuneQuest would be more to my liking if the designers had gone down that route.

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