Continuing with RPG Impact. For my tenth RPG, I’ve chosen Pendragon. I recall seeing this game at my local games shop when I was still at school. No one I knew played Pendragon, and I thought the idea of King Arthur was boring compared to all the other games, so I didn’t discover this gem for a few years. As I mentioned in my Call of Cthulhu post for RPG Impact 6, I finally played some Chaosium when I was 18, and then was taught a bit about the company and Greg Stafford in particular.
I was impressed when I first read the book, but due to all the other games I was playing, it got put on to a list of games, and for years it was never chosen. When I did return to Pendragon was I surprised at myself, how had I not prioritised this game?
Like many growing up in the UK I’d read and seen lots of Arthurian legends over the years, so I had a basic grasp of variation on the tales. Whilst I still thought as the Knights of Camelot as interesting, but I’d mostly been playing games about super powered entities (Vampires, Changelings, Mages, Supes, Cyborgs, mystic Samurai, etc.), in some cases radically changing society or even reality. I recognise that so many games, such as Middle Earth or Changeling the Dreaming, have Arthurian legends at their core, so to an extent I did get to explore some common themes and character arcs. When we played something more mundane, it was modern day or near future.
I’m one of the many role-players that enjoy research, experimentation, buying new games just to read them. The indie scene is fabulous and rich with new ideas and tweaks. With Chaosium I am reminded of the old games company Looking Glass Studios, makers of many amazing and innovative games, in particular System Shock, which led to the epic Deus Ex and also less impressive but still great Bioshock, as well as the fabulous Thief series. Another quick PC game comparison, Planescape: Torment, which for years was a niche gem, but reviews by the likes of PC Gamer had the score go up every few years. For me Pendragon is like this. An RPG gem that many know about, but sadly most role-players don’t.
Pendragon had a big impact upon me for a few reasons. One being the winter season downtime system, not only is it different from most role-playing games, it is also something that easily fits a Play-by-Email style. The game’s focus on family and lineage is great, plus ties in with the game’s troupe style play. After completing my psychology and writing degree, I also gained a new perspective on the brilliance of Pendragon, specifically in regards to the personality mechanics. It is common for games to build upon the ideas of Freud or Jung, but less common to build upon the more complex science like the Big 5 personality traits, I think Pendragon’s personality traits are sublime. I appreciate that some players hate those sorts of things, feeling they are the tools of punishment by bad GMs, etc., but for any doubters, trust me with Pendragon it works wonderfully, empowering characters, supporting the themes.
There are a few videos about this RPG, such as: