Sunday, 27 December 2009

We are Loathsome in the Eyes of Those Who do not Worship Us

Today I will mostly be talking about Pendragon and Changeling: The Dreaming.

Much as I loathe the obsession with "doing" unspeakable and transgressive things with games which have no earthly business "doing" it (e.g. using Dark Heresy to "do" a Western) it does strike me that the Pendragon rules are rather narrowly defined given how good they are. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want to change the game one bit, but I do think that Mr. Stafford's opus has the potential for a far greater scope of application than just knights in Arthurian Britain. There's this Japanese variant, for one thing, which appears to "do" The Blossoms Are Falling better than The Blossoms Are Falling, and neo-feudalism in space a la Dune for another.

My latest idea is to use it to "do" what Changeling: The Dreaming always should have been about but lacked the wherewithal to focus on - namely fae, living among us in the real world, with a feudal system all of their own. C:tD had the trappings (Sidhe nobles, courts, aristocratic houses, kingdoms, knightly oaths, etc. etc.) suggesting this, but its execution was so incoherent and so burdened by that White Wolf need to dress everything up as a "story" that it never came out and said it outright. Instead, the overwhelming sense reading through its rulebook is that the atmosphere is great but it isn't at all clear what you're supposed to do with it. What the game was crying out for was the sort of robust character generation system and graceful mechanics for things like Traits and Passions and winter phases that Pendragon possesses.

What C:tD also needed was the kind of focus that Pendragon offers in its core rules: as a player character you are taking on the role of a young knight from a minor family and that is it. My C:tD's scope would essentially be the same thing - newly knighted fae of whatever kith, trying to make their way in the world, slaying Chimerae and beating up redcaps. Exercising ghosts. Fighting dragons. Travelling to other realities. Questing for ancient and powerful magical swords.

And I would set it in Liverpool, natch.


  1. From the outside, Pendragon seems really limited. You can only play a certain type of character, from a certain social group, and even your skills are partly dictated. And yet it works wonderfully. I've often thought that it would be perfect for a samurai game, and would also work very well for Traveller, if you could bolt some starship rules on. I had never considered it for the courtly intrigue of the faerie realm, but of course it's just as good a fit there.

  2. On, Stafford said that it's been his intent for over a decade to make a "generic" version of the Pendragon rules, but that so far, nobody's shown any interest in publishing it.

  3. Kelvingreen: Part of me thinks that those restrictions on character generation are what makes it work. Right from the beginning everyone is on the same page.

    Blizack: It's bizarre that nobody would be interested in publishing that.

  4. Oh I agree. I think there's a tendency nowadays to think that being able to play any kind of character you like is an innate good, and anything less is self-evidently wrong. Such a viewpoint tends to ignore the very useful focus you get from "restricted" games like Pendragon; when you sit down at the table, you know what kind of thing you'll be playing. There's no humming and hawing, and party conflict becomes something more interesting than alignment clashes. All on the same page, as you say.

    Regarding the lack of interest in a generic Pendragon, I've noticed that the game as a whole is rather overlooked. We're playing it in my current group, and only myself and the GM have any prior experience of the game. Some of the group had never heard of it before. For such a very good, and old, game, it isn't particularly well known. I'd imagine the lack of interest in a generic ruleset stems from the same anonymity. Bear in mind that the game itself is currently out of print, and that the most recent two editions/printings bounced around a number of publishers. It's just not considered a big name game, much as it should be.

  5. Perhaps the two things are not unrelated. Restricted focus makes for better gaming but doesn't win you many friends in "the marketplace of ideas" or whatever you want to call it.

    I learned this in the D&D 3.5 era. A large majority of people really want the billions of class, feat and skill options offered by all the splatbooks, even though it's probably detrimental to actual play.