King Arthur Pendragon, by Greg Stafford
This game has a lot of rolls in it. If your idea of a fun role playing game is a dark fantasy version of the Arturian legends with lots of magic and as many rolls as Pathfinder, this game will likely do the trick nicely. The author claims to have created this game because there were elements of a fantasy world that he wanted to explore that he did not see in existing games and this particular game certainly offers a complex experience that involves rolling a lot, acquiring glory through putting oneself at risk in a bloody and violent age and dealing with the struggles of court life and complex religious struggles between heathen ways and two types of Christianity, and in dealing with the complex matters of love and marriage (which may not be united in the same person). If you don’t like rolling dice a lot, you are not going to like this game, but if you do enjoy lots of dice rolls and being a knight in the Dark Ages in a world full of mysterious magic, brutal violence, and courtly love, then this game certainly has something to offer an experienced or dedicated role player.
This book is a large book of about 250 pages or so of material. The book begins with an introduction that discusses the various versions of the Arthurian myth and the Celtic culture the game is based on. After that the author discusses the Pendragon Realm in what is now England (1) along with famous people, knighthood, feudalism, and customs and laws. After that comes a discussion of character generation that includes a discussion of squires and women as potential player characters (2). This leads to a look at family and fatherland and a lot of rolls to deal with the life and career of one’s grandfather and father to provide the inherited glory that one begins with (3) as well as a look at one’s home in the area of Salisbury. After that comes a discussion of stats and skills, including directed traits, and a variety of descriptions of traits, passions, and skills (4). After this comes a look at game mechanics, including resolution, time scale, experience, movement, glory, and what one does in the winter phase (5). There is then a discussion of various aspects of combat (6) as well as ambition and faith (7) and the roleplaying of matters of wealth and being nobles (8). Finally, the book ends with appendices about the future (i), characters and creatures (ii), scenarios (iii), battle (iv), tournaments (v), glory awards (vi), as well as suggested reading, notes, an index, and character sheets.
I must admit that even though I found the game to look a bit exhausting that the gameplay did look compelling. I thought it was very clever how the book set up the character to be a young knight with a (hopefully long) career ahead of him with the idea of playing generations of characters in the same family and dealing with the reality of the death of spouses, the tension of introspection at one’s love life, the danger of death and capture in war, and other hazardous aspects of early medieval life. Likewise, I thought the way that the author viewed traits as existing in parallel with others so that the combination of the two would lead to twenty and that one would have to play to both sides of areas like lust and chastity and the idea of having one’s own standard of living to upkeep that one could increase through marriage to an heiress is also appealing. This is not a game for those who want a casual experience, but if you want a very deep dive into a fascinating world that has a lot of similarities with our own then this particular book and this game have a lot to offer in a very long and melancholy campaign that is centered around the doomed struggle of the Pendragon dynasty against the Saxons and other enemies.