So, a couple of weeks ago, my group generated characters for a brand new Pendragon campaign. We’re going to attempt to get through “The Great Campaign.” (I’m nervous about that possibility, but if I waded through over a year of 4e even though I didn’t particularly like it, I imagine I can make it through at least that long with something I actually like.)
Character creation is quite interesting in Pendragon, with all of the characters coming out pretty similarly in terms of their stats. Purely looking at attributes and skills, we’re all pretty close. One character has a 20 in a skill, but the others of us have at least a 16 in our highest skill, and we’re all at least a 15 in our main fighting skill. And this makes sense. In a game where everyone plays a knight, it’s not like we’re going to play characters who can’t fight. Where Pendragon differentiates its Player Characters is in their virtues. Every character gets certain virtues based on their religion, but everyone can also choose a key virtue to raise. That one virtue has made for some pretty different characters–my vengeful knight, Paul’s reckless knight, Billy’s pious knight.
So, last week, we finally got to play the first game. The basic plot is that we are still in a time before Uther becomes king, and the Saxons are attacking, so our characters need to defend the homeland. The key things about the session that impressed me were the virtues and combat.
The virtues were impressive because they helped guide us to play people instead of characters. The GM can ask that you roll against one of your virtues at any time. If you agree to make the roll, you abide by the results, but you also get experience for doing so. Or you can forego the experience points, and just say, “No, thanks.” So, for example, Paul’s knight was faced with the following dilemma. He and two other knights had ridden away from my knight and a companion to investigate the sounds of battle. Coming over the hill, he saw a village being attacked by about 15 Saxons. He faced the choice of returning to get me and the other knight or charging blindly into a decidedly unfair battle. The GM asked him to roll his Reckless virtue. Paul could have said, “No, thanks. My character is going back to get the other guys before we attack.” But he let the roll happen, and made the check–giving in to his reckless nature and charging into the battle.
Similarly, each character has Passions–things they feel quite strongly about and that can help them succeed against impossible odds. (Imagine the knight remembering the love of his lady before he succumbs to his wounds, and then gets up and re
And finally, I really liked the combat system. It’s an opposed roll system, where the higher successful roll wins. (I roll a 14 against my skill of 15, and you roll a 2 against your skill of 10, so I win.) If you roll your skill number exactly, you critically hit and do double damage. A good critical will kill most unarmored foes, and a few good hits will kill even armored foes. I’ve always loved deadly combat systems, and Pendragon fits that bill. Few one-on-one fights lasted for more than two or three rounds.-enters the battle.) For example, my character has a deeper hatred for Saxons than the other characters. Upon coming across a Saxon warchief, we saluted each other and rushed to battle. I decided to test my Hatred. (If my knight succeeded, he would get a bonus for the rest of the fight; if he failed, he would lose a point from his Passion and have a penalty for the rest of the fight.) I failed the roll, and only barely managed to come out of the fight alive. What I loved about this though was the way it altered my character in terms of the game’s mechanics. It wasn’t just that I could role-play less hatred toward Saxons (which I’ve interpreted as my character starting the realize that they have their own sort of honor), but there’s a change in my game stats that means I literally have less chance for my hatred to mean anything.
I’m loving this game. I like being part of a meta-plot; I like building up my character–not so that he can get into a prestige class, but so that his descendants will benefit from his greatness; I like having to worry about my holdings, and finding a wife, and having children that survive into adulthood (so I have backup characters when Baldulf the Vengeful dies). Exciting stuff, this.