Solo GPC

A Winter Interlude

Photo by Antony Spencer

This is an account of what turned out to be Meleri’s last session as a full-time PC. I had an adventure prepared for this year as usual, but what turned out happening was an all-roleplaying session that took the form of a conversation between Meleri and Morgan over the winter of 525-26. If you recall, we left off with Meleri journeying to the castle of Morgan le Fay as the rest of the country prepared to go to war with the Roman Empire. Morgan had made an intriguing offer, luring Meleri away from Sarum where she was to spend the duration of the war in the company of her rival, Countess Katherine.

“I can offer you all you desire,” said Morgan, a twinkle in her eye. “Lamorak can at last be yours, wholly and unreservedly.”

“How?” Meleri asked, uncertain.

“I shall make you Queen of Norgales,” said Morgan. "Pellinore is dead. His land has no ruler. As Queen you will rule over Lamorak and he will serve you. You cannot rely on your beauty alone to keep him; it will not hold forever. Even now I see lines gather like crow’s feet about your eyes.

“You will never be old in the eyes of those who love you. And if they refuse to love you, I can teach you the subtle arts of persuasion that will make them your slaves. Come with me to my hall; you are better than the provincial dolts who people this court. Spend the winter as my guest and think over the offer.”

And so the pros and cons were weighed. Morgan had dangled Lamorak before Meleri (how Morgan knew of their affair, Meleri did not know – but she was not surprised at the knowledge). Regardless, Meleri was skeptical that her being made queen would bring Lamorak to her. In fact, if she knew the chivalrous knight at all, she felt that he would see her differently once she became his liege lord.

On the other hand, there was the promise of power, and that was considerable. The power of a queen. The power of an enchantress. The power to never age, to never lose her looks or her influence.

What of Ontzlake? What of him? He was down in Portchester, preparing to embark for the Continent, not knowing when he’d return – or if. He had been a good husband to her, but she had never felt any particularly strong ties to him…

And so it was decided. Meleri would take up Morgan’s offer and become Queen of Norgales and learn the sorcerous arts.

And with that, Meleri entered the realm of NPCs. There are no canonical rules for magic in Fifth Edition, and with good reason. I’ve run Pendragon with magician characters before, and it really does change the tone, tenor, and focus of the game before. On top of that, once a character achieves a certain level of temporal power (and ruling a country would certainly qualify in this regard), the rules recommend retirement. Again, I’ve run campaigns with characters at the level of Earls and Duchesses, and I much prefer lower power scales.

So we’re going really low for our next chapter in the unfolding saga. The year 526 just happens to be the year that Meleri’s eldest son Loholt, who has been serving as a page at the court of the Baron of Uffington, becomes a squire. And so we’re shifting back to the world of knights and starting at the earliest possible age. The next full update will be the first installment in the life of Loholt the Squire and his teenage misadventures in a land emptied of knights gone off to war. It should be fun to see how he fares, and as with Meleri’s adventures it gives us an opportunity to explore another of the less-ventured corners of the setting.

As for Meleri, she will make cameo appearances from time to time, I’m sure. There might even be occasion for Des to run her once or twice. The price she owes to Morgan for her boon will also become apparent over time. But for now the focus shifts onto a young squire in the Vale of the White Horse…

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The Goblin Market; or, "Puck you!"
525

Ever since reading a Dragon magazine article (“Organization Is Everything!”) during my formative GM years, my process with running any long-term campaign (GPC included) is to draft a rough outline of where I’d like to see the campaign go over the course of the next half-dozen adventures or so (anything beyond that being almost guaranteed to crumble due to players taking things in unexpected directions). These aren’t hard and fast guidelines; I happily amend my plans on the fly if something comes up in play to justify it. But if I don’t have something “penciled in,” no matter how vague or open-ended, I tend to feel a little lost. Plus knowing what’s in the pipeline allows me to drop a bit of foreshadowing into current adventures.

Prior to my break, my outline for the next few years of the GPC was full of lots of question marks and vague statements. I just wasn’t sure what to do with Meleri’s storyline that would be exciting and different. Coming back from the break, I have a definite plan and can’t wait to see how things will play out. It all hinged on this year and the adventure I had lined up. It’s one of the few full-length adventures in the GPC, found in an Appendix in the back and meant to be dropped in at pretty much any point. And the best part? The adventure intro noted that the scenario was “easily adapted” to running for a lady character!

And so 525 would find Lady Meleri paying a visit to the Goblin Market…


Art by Charles Vess

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The Knight of the Lake
524

My recent break from running the Solo GPC campaign came at a good time. I was starting to feel a little uninspired in terms of running adventures for a lady-centered game and wasn’t sure how I wanted to handle certain emerging themes and story arcs. After re-reading Steinbeck’s Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights during the break, I came back refreshed and full of ideas. Frankly, I can’t wait to see how things play out over the next few years. This year’s adventure would be a brief respite after the high drama of poor Sir Haegirth’s quest and the beginning of new challenges for Meleri. Of course, in Pendragon, respites aren’t exactly free of drama…

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523
Grave Concerns

So as I mentioned in a recent post, the Solo GPC has been on a brief hiatus in order to avoid Pendragon burnout. “Unthinkable!” I hear you cry, but alas it is possible. In fairness, this was owing to the fact that Des is currently running Pendragon for our regular group (a write-up of the first phase of which should be coming along sometime in November) timed with a mild case of generalized GM burnout on my part. Having taken a break from running anything more than short mini-campaigns and painting lots of miniatures over the last two months has cured the latter condition, and being “just” a player has gotten me itching to get back into the Pendragon saddle. So regular Solo GPC sessions should be starting up again soon.

In the meantime, here’s the long-overdue summary from our last session, which we played, uh, a while ago. First week of September, maybe? At any rate, posting it now is rather timely, as the session turned out to be pretty creepy and well worthy of All Hallows goings-on…

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522
Missed Connections

This year Des once again demonstrated her ability to put her characters through the emotional mill by involving them in tricky affairs of the heart. She certainly didn’t make things easy for herself in choosing to pursue a love affair with Sir Lamorak, the prototypical knight errant. This year, dealing with a trickster fairy on her lands would be the least of Lady Meleri’s worries…

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521
Her Father's Daughter

Another one of those years that crop up periodically during the canonical GPC: wherein the PC is given the chance to witness and play a minor role in episode from the stories. This year happened to feature one of my favorite tales and Meleri found herself stuck in the middle, having to mull over where exactly her loyalties lay. In the process, she proved herself to be every bit the daughter of Sir Herringdale, much to the chagrin of one Sir Damas of Levcomagus.

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520
Many Meetings

I’m starting to get a feel for running these Lady-centric adventures. As anticipated, they’re much heavier on the role-playing and personal interaction side of things. This session saw nary a dice rolled in anger, but the dice that were rolled often carried with them heavy implications or repercussions. Again as anticipated, it’s been a nice change of pace, but I’ll be honest: I’m looking forward to getting back to a knight-centric framework. I’m not above admitting this is due in large part to simple creative laziness on my part; it’s much easier to come up with set piece encounters centered around physical challenges than social or emotional challenges. This may be why our two Meleri adventures so far have both run rather quickly; about two hours of game time each. Also, there’s just so much material out there for knightly adventures. I’d love to create or contribute a Book of Ladies’ Adventures to rectify this situation, but I don’t have enough ideas at the moment to do as such. Anyone want to come onboard as contributors?

At any rate, to the year at hand. When we left off last time, Meleri had departed for the Forest Sauvage to stay as a guest in the court of the Sauvage King for the winter…

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519

After far too long of a hiatus, Pendragon is kicking back up into high gear around these parts. This past Sunday Des ran the first session of her Pendragon campaign for the Meetup group. Including myself, we had five players. We’ve got two others who have expressed interest but couldn’t make it that day due to scheduling conflicts and even an eighth(!) player on a waiting list. For a supposedly obscure RPG, Pendragon sure is bringing all the gamers to the yard, as it were.

(And yes, it was awesome to be on the player’s side of the Pendragon experience again.)

During the preceding week prior to the Sunday session, we managed to get the Solo GPC campaign up and running as well. Following the death of Sir Herringdale, this session was to be the beginning of a new chapter tracing the exploits of Des’s next character, Lady Meleri, Herringdale’s black sheep daughter and heir to Broughton Manor. I took the opportunity to reassess and re-calibrate some of the rules I’d been using since we started the campaign in January of 2010. As I wrote way back then, we started with all core and optional rules in effect and more than a few house rules culled from Pendragon websites and message boards. I’ve since learned that in a solo game, simpler rules are often better. We’d already abandoned the excellent system presented in The Book of Battle for a more streamlined system. Now, as I prepared for the next adventure, I also made the decision to switch to the simpler Narrative economic system presented in The Book of the Manor; trying to balance the books in-game wasn’t adding any fun to this particular campaign experience – we get enough of that in our real lives! I also adopted these excellent Yearly Event and Kin Event tables to flesh out the Winter Phase a bit more. Finally, I made lots of notes on the direction of the campaign in years to come, including themes I’d like to explore and ideas for allies and foes to toss at Meleri.

With all that prep done, I somewhat paradoxically prepared a simple adventure for this year. This was both because it had been a while since we’d played and because a lady-centered campaign was going to be such a dramatic switch I wanted to allow both of us to get a feel for it through a simple, rather straightforward adventure. Sort of like the introductory scenario in the core book taking nascent knights through the basics of jousting and opposed combat rolls, this would take us through the basics of how Meleri’s adventures would play out in court and in the wild.

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518

All player knights should be at Badon, for it is one of the greatest events in Arthur’s history. Gamemasters should be prepared to emphasize the desperation and chaos by killing off about half of the player knights; such ruthlessness will make everyone remember the event, and when someone says, “I was at Badon,” then everyone will understand. Gamemasters do not have to make special exceptions to do this: the tables below will ensure desperation.


This entry’s taken me a while to write, and not just because of real life distractions getting in the way. As the quote above (taken from the GPC) indicates, this is a big year. A watershed year. There’s only one other year in the GPC that mandates the presence of every character involved, and that’s the Battle of Camlann, the one that brings down the final curtain on the whole shebang.

I’ve run Badon Hill once before. It was for my 2006-2008 campaign, which started out in 516, a couple years before Badon, so the characters were all newbies. I took pity on them and they all survived through careful pacing and liberal interpretation of the First Aid rules. Des was a player in that campaign too, so she’d been through this before. Neither of us had any illusions about the brutal reality of the battle if run full tilt. Still, from a purely objective standpoint, I was inclined to give Herringdale better than average odds. Despite being in his mid-50s, he’d been extremely lucky on his aging rolls and was boasting top-notch statistics and skills. I had a plan in mind for what to do if he survived, and a plan for if he didn’t. It only remained to be seen how this particular Battle of Badon Hill would play out…

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517
Perish in Flames

Hey, we’re back! I know it’s been a while, so here’s a quick recap: last year, Herringdale found himself in the middle of an ugly love triangle between his lord Earl Robert of Salisbury, the Earl’s intended bride Lady Katherine, and the Saxon Prince Cynric of Wessex. Ordered to retrieve Katherine after she eloped with Cynric, Herringdale instead chose to let her go, much to Earl Robert’s displeasure. The year ended with Herringdale socially and politically isolated, brooding in his hall at Du Plain on the likely approach of renewed war with the Saxons…

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