Saturday, January 2, 2010

[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 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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