Solo GPC

Campaign Beginnings

So in my last post, I laid out my crazy plans for running the Great Pendragon Campaign with a single player, my partner Desiree. One of the reasons I knew I wanted to go ahead with this plan rather than wait around for a group opportunity to present itself (apart from the fact that I’ve always kind of liked the idea of single-player Pendragon; knights errant and all that…) is that I feel I’m at a place where I’m never going to be more ready to run my kind of Pendragon campaign than right now.

What I mean by “my kind of Pendragon campaign” is one with all the switches flipped, so to speak. If you’ve ever played a flight sim, you know what I mean; most (all?) flight sims have an option screen where you can flip a dozen or more switches that determine the realism level of the sim. With all the switches flipped off, you’re basically playing Afterburner. With all the switches on, you’re practically training for the real thing.

In a similar sense, you can run Pendragon on a spectrum running from genre to generic, as Greg Stafford has coined it. Furthermore, there are layers of detail you can lay in with various rules and sub-systems, either from the current edition or the previous ones (available in PDF form through DriveThruRPG, thankfully).

As fun as my first big Pendragon campaign was, it got away from me very early on. Two of the players were hardcore D&Ders and the campaign very quickly slipped down towards the generic side of the scale; nothing wrong with that per se, but not a direction I’d like to go again. Furthermore, I wasn’t familiar with the system or the legendarium, and made a bunch of silly goofs both mechanically and in terms of the setting and NPCs. Nifty little spot rules like the feast tables in Tales of Mystic Tournaments or the wilderness encounter tables in Blood and Lust were uncovered in old supplements and sort of spot-welded in. The prospect of starting off a campaign fresh and “doing it right” as much as possible held tremendous appeal for me as a GM.

(Another thing I wanted to do was play without benefit of a GM screen, making all my rolls out in the open. Funnily enough, when I announced this intention to Des, she met me with a fairly blank expression of indifference. She told me it really didn’t matter to her, since she often isn’t sure of what the significance is of the dice rolls I’m making anyway! This is strikingly similar to a sentiment expressed by Chgowiz’s PrincessWife in their solo D&D campaign. Very interesting, indeed.)

At any rate, I spent an afternoon collating old material from my previous campaign as well as copying all the juicy articles that are posted over at gspendragon.com and putting everything together in a campaign binder. Feast tables (FEAST!), wilderness encounters, alternate jousting rules, an expanded garrison solo, new childbirth tables, lots of good stuff.

Des and I sat down to do character generation earlier this week and this too was to be done “right.” This meant going through the whole process laid out in the 5th edition rulebook, including the rather detailed process of generating a family and family history (random tables to determine what happened to Grandpa and Dad!). For some reason, none of our earlier characters in any earlier Pendragon campaign have adventured in their home regions—quite the opposite, they usually found themselves far from home and their families. This is to be a different campaign for certain; the characters’ family will be a major facet of NPC interactions, as intended.

Did I say characters plural? I did indeed. Setting aside some rather silly old prejudices about players having multiple characters, I told Des about the suggestion in the Pendragon rulebook that players should generate at least two characters at the start of a campaign. In the case of a solo game, this approach made even more sense. The idea is to have a “backup” character you can bring in to replace your primary character in case of sudden death, capture, long-term incapacitation, or other unplanned hiatus.

Since the idea for the one-shot adventure I referred to in my last post (the one that got me thinking of Pendragon again to begin with) would have involved Des playing a Lady character (for a nice change of pace), she decided to create a Knight as her primary character and a Lady as her backup. Her Knight is a male (having already played a female knight, Dame Vivien, in the last campaign), but we talked about the role of female knights in the campaign world in general. As things start out in the Uther period, a very rough and tumble time with much in common with the days before chivalry when knights were little better than armored thugs, we decided that although we’d “generic” it up a bit by allowing for the presence of female knights, their position would be analogous to an ambitious career woman in the mid-20th century; i.e., possible, but with major impediments and prejudices in place. (Any relation to this metaphor and the fact we’ve started watching Mad Men is purely coincidental…)

After going through the full character creation process, Des had two characters, twin siblings. Herringdale (whose future coat of arms is displayed at left) is a 22-year-old squire serving Sir Elad, Marshal of Salisbury, at Vagon Castle. His sister, Lady Obilot, is one of the greatest beauties in the kingdom (Des assigned her an APP of 18, then rolled “Pretty: +10 APP” for her Female Gift!) as well as a pagan (unlike her Roman Christian father). What else could that spell but sorceress? For now she simply has a couple Wondrous Substances, mystical potions that can influence the behavior of those who ingest them. She’s pursuing further arcane studies while secreted away at Amesbury Abbey.

(This brings up an interesting rules conundrum for me. Fifth edition Pendragon explicitly rejects systematizing magic, an approach I support. Yet what to do with a character who is a “sorceress”? The 4th edition Celtic Magic system does what it sets out to do and does it well, but at the cost of a rather inelegant system in my opinion. Fortunately, Obilot is the secondary character, so I have time to think about this. Right now, I’m sort of sniffing around for a simpler magic system from another RPG that I can sort of bolt on to Pendragon. S. John Ross’s Hedge Magic system seems to hold the most promise at the moment, and seems like it would be a sinch to integrate, but I’d also like to find some rules for alchemy and potion brewing. Suggestions are always welcome.)

At any rate, Herringdale is the scion of his family, a Cymric (Celtic) knight with a strong dose of Latin influence in his family heritage most visible in his piercing stare and hair cut in the Roman fashion, as well as his family’s (general) adherence to the Roman church over the British Christian faith. His family manor, Broughton Hall, which he stands to inherit this coming year after the tragic death of his father at the Battle of Eburacum the previous year, stands on the very border of the county of Salisbury and is just down the road from a declining old Roman settlement the locals call Camelot.

All the action’s west of Broughton, however, in the ancient and storied city of Sarum, once seat to Queen Cordelia, daughter of the legendary and tragic figure of Lear, and currently the residence of Earl Roderick of Salisbury, Herringdale’s soon-to-be liege lord. The Earl maintains an active antipathy with Sir Blains, steward of nearby Levcomagus, that goes all the way back to when the Earl won the hand of Countess Ellen out from under Blains. As Broughton manor is less than a day’s ride from Levcomagus, I’m hoping to see some nice cross-border raiding action and maybe a little villainous opposition develop between our erstwhile knight and his lord’s sworn enemy. We shall see.

In the meantime, Herringdale (along with his sister and his whole family, really) holds a burning, passionate hatred for all things Saxon. Salisbury is hard up against lands recently conquered by invading Saxon barbarians, so anti-Saxon feelings are pretty common in these parts, but Herringdale’s hatred is a direct legacy from his Papa, who acquired it after his own father was treacherously slain (along with most of Britain’s nobility at the time) in the infamous Night of Long Knives. Des rolled a jaw-dropping Hate (Saxons) passion of 21, so needless to say our good Herringdale will be seeing red and cleaving skulls whenever and wherever there are Saxons to be found. (Interestingly, this is the second character Des has run who has an almost overwhelming hatred of Saxons; Dame Vivien acquired a similar passion after fighting them at Badon Hill. Herringdale—nativist that he is—spices things up by adding an additional Hate passion directed against Picts, but that’s rated at a mere 8.) But it would be a real shame if he happened to fall in love with a Saxon beauty, wouldn’t it? Again, time will tell.

And so we are set to venture forth into our first year of the Great Pendragon Campaign. The first year kicks off with a bang, a big battle, so we’ll see how young Herringdale fares…

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485
Baptism by Fire

What can I say, the Great Pendragon Campaign does not fool around when it comes to kicking things off.

The first ten years or so of the GPC are rather heavily scripted. This is intentional, of course. The remainder of the campaign is primarily framework upon which the GM and his players can hang their own activities, but that first decade is pretty insistent on following a set path of (rather foundational) events. This is fine by me, as these activities are quite interesting and challenging—downright deadly at times, in fact!

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486
Watery Tarts Distributin' Swords

Today Des and I played our second proper session of the Great Pendragon Campaign.

The year 486 found Sir Herringdale fully recovered from the wounds he suffered at the Battle of Mearcred Creek the previous year. In late April he set out for Sarum Castle to provide the mandatory two months’ service to his lord, Earl Roderick of Salisbury. There had been word of Saxon atrocities in Caercolun to the east, particularly around Colchester, following Duke Lucius’s defeat there the year before. A military expedition was a virtual certainty, and Sir Herringdale was looking forward to a chance for some payback against the hated invaders.

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487
Not Quite Brokeback Castle

[Between this Great Pendragon Campaign series and my D&D recaps, I’ve been posting a lot of session summaries lately, haven’t I? I know some folks don’t care to read these things, but it’s just the direction my blogging muse is leading me these days. Apologies to those who don’t like to wade through accounts of other people’s games.]

I was very much looking forward to running this year. Events laid out in the GPC that on paper were seemingly fairly straightforward had a certain promise of development through role-play. Of course, no plan survives contact with the players (or in this case, player), and this time was no exception…

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488
Sewing the Seeds

It’s that time of year here on the West Coast: rain, rain, and more rain. What I like to call “gaming weather.” In that spirit, Des and I sat down for some more Pendragon yesterday. (And is there any sweeter moment as a GM than when a player asks if you can run another session ahead of schedule?) As I had anticipated, we got through two years in one session; the events laid out for 488 and 489 take up just over three pages in the GPC combined. Of course, as I’ve found to be the case with most RPGs but Pendragon especially, when things are left that sketchy and wide open for the players, that’s when the unexpectedly sublime gaming moments tend to occur. This time was no exception, albeit most of the moments in question will have to wait for the second in this two-part post in which I cover 489. This year was all about sewing seeds of future events, some of which played out the following year.

I’ve been quite pleased so far with the rate of progression in the campaign. By that, I mean that I feel like over the first five years of game time, Des and I have done a good job of firmly establishing the world and the character’s place in it.

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489
Love and Saxons

(This is the second part of a two-part overview of our last Pendragon session.)

This year promised to be a bit more eventful, even though, as with 488, scripted events in the GPC were rather sparse. I knew going in that this year would see a reunion with Sir Jordans, Chamberlain to the Duke of Lindsey and potential love interest for Sir Herringdale and I was curious to see how things would play out. Des had been unsure how to react when the two knights first met, and was still willing to play things by ear, although she’d been playing Herringdale as somewhat intrigued for reasons he didn’t fully understand. As it transpired, Herringdale himself would make it perfectly clear how he felt, much to the collective delight of player and GM; what can I say, the dice don’t lie.

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490 (Session One)
Triumph...and Tragedy

We’re six years into the Great Pendragon Campaign and we’ve arrived at our first “multi-session” year. My 2006-2008 Pendragon campaign had a lot of these because I was still in DnD mode, thinking that every adventure/year had to have something epic to it. With Pendragon in general, but particularly with the GPC, one is allowed to stretch out a bit. Some years will be brief, as when we covered 488-489 in the span of an afternoon. But then again, some years will be epic. It’s the ebb and flow of the game.

This year is proving to be one of those epic ones.

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490 (Session Two)
Watching the Wheels

After the high drama of last week’s session, this week was quite low-key by comparison. We finished off the year 490 with a series of ominously foreshadowing events, events which, with a couple exceptions, Herringdale was largely merely a witness to rather than an active participant.

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491
Siege Terrible


Moving preparations continue apace, but Des and I took a little time out yesterday to get back into some Pendragon. The year 491 would find the now-Notable Sir Herringdale moving in ever higher circles of power, just in time to see the beginning of the end. Timing is everything, as they say.

As I had done before we started playing 490, I had left off last session by telling Des she’d have a choice to mull over for the following year. This time it came down to two options, between being in a battle and winning Glory, or skipping the battle and possibly witnessing an important event that won her none. (This little bit of foreshadowing was actually suggested directly by the GPC, and I rather like it. I don’t mind dropping a couple future details in the name of player anticipation.)

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492
High Treason!

I’d like to start off this session update with a quote from the GPC at the end of its description of the events of this year:

Do the knights feel railroaded? They deserve to, for they were. But Uther is the king, after all, and considering that they could have been executed for their part in this, they also ought to feel fortunate.

Oh yeah, it was that kind of year. Lots of heavily scripted action, which can sometimes be fun, and sometimes—as in this year—it’s there to set up things for later on and you just have to sort of power down, get through it, and see how well the PCs hold up to the beating. At this point, I don’t know about Des, but I’m definitely looking forward to the Anarchy Phase when things bust wide open and the PCs suddenly hold their destiny in their hands, for better or for worse. But that’s neither here nor there at the moment; we’ve got another year to chronicle. Let’s begin back at the beginning.

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