21
Apr

Thursday Feature – What’s So Great About King Arthur Pendragon

Editor’s Note:
Hello everyone, and welcome to our first “What’s So Great About” article. This series will highlight the good, the bad and the unique about various roleplaying game systems – and then wrap things up with a recommendation from the author. Got a system you’d like to explore? Drop us a line via PM or the forums and we’ll add it to the queue.

Author: NikMak

Game Concept Synopsis

King Arthur Pendragon (KAP) is a granddaddy of RPGs. Greg Stafford (Chaosium founder) describes it as his masterpiece . The latest version (5.1) maintains the core concept of Arthurian literature, mythology and medieval history merged. Add to that one of the best campaign supplements ever written (The Great Pendragon Campaign) and it’s no surprise the game is still here. The system is loosely similar to the Basic Roleplaying System used in Chaosium games, but is d20 based.

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Unique Selling Points

Knights Only: KAP bucks the trend of multiple character classes; everyone is a knight. Whether a ‘carpet knight’ (exquisite manners and rapier wit), or a min-max monster; both are knights. There are obligations and a social structure that lift you up, and keep you in your place. This means you need other hooks to hang your individuality on.

Character Traits: Opposed attributes, with each pair totaling 20.

e.g. Valorous <=> Cowardly

If you set one value to 11, the other must be 9. These thirteen paired traits are not flavor; they are key to the game. ‘Glory’ points (XP, sort of) are awarded for your highest trait(s). You have to roleplay to keep earning Glory. The GM can call for rolls against a trait (“Want to run away from the dragon? OK, roll Cowardly +10 then!”). It becomes awkward (but not impossible) to suddenly change a PCs personality.

Passions: ‘Skills’ that grant a bonus. If ‘Loyalty’ is activated, you have +10 to a skill for the scene. Just as traits can force your hand, passions can be manipulated by a cunning NPC/GM. Carefully selected insults may trigger an impassioned response from your PC at exactly the wrong time!

Aging PCs: Expect one ‘adventure’ per game year. Your PC is going to age, and those lands he inherited/earned? You need a son sooner rather than later.

Strengths

Role-playing is Rewarded: From the moment you define traits, you’re deciding your characters personality, and the game rewards you accordingly. You have to roleplay traits if you want to keep earning Glory. Reduce them as you like, but your advancement slows.

Player Motivation: You are the establishment. Your Lord expects you to collect taxes and fight bandits, your King expects you to fight wars, your family expects you to maintain the estate and you can still expect all the usual RPG fantasy adventures. Everyone at the table has a list of actions to complete. Near the top of that list is a son. The importance of getting married and having children cements the story in a way that no other RPG has matched.

Weaknesses

Misogyny: The game expects you to play a knight, and a male knight at that. This has led to some accusations of misogyny. It is recommended that you read Greg Stafford’s Sexist Setting page for more information. Ultimately, every group will need to decide how true-to-history they wish to play the game – which has the potential for some “spirited” discussion around the gaming table.

Locked in Archetypes: The game emulates Arthurian myths and legends. Traits and passion lock this in, as do a slew of other rules. If you wanted to adapt the game to another setting, you will have to make major changes.

Old School Rules: The one page you will most often refer to is the ‘table of tables’. The rule system has not had a major overhaul since the mid 80’s and it sometimes shows. And the d20 combat system with crit’s and passions makes combat either dull (“…’tink,’ off your armor… ‘tink’, off your armor’… ”) or deadly (“so, +20 for both passions, and rolled a crit… BOOM! that’s enough damage to cut a house in half!)

Recommendation

If you are interested in system mechanics, the history of RPGs, fantasy, historical games or want a few tips on how to get players attached to their characters: This is a must have purchase. As for encouraging roleplaying and characterization? I am amazed that variations of the traits and passion mechanism have not become the gold standard for all RPGs.

For more information, check out The Stafford Codex.

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