Monday, August 30, 2010

[Solo GPC] 510: ...and Of Boy Kings (Part I)

Here we are at last; if you're familiar with the contents of the Great Pendragon Campaign, you know what's coming this year. The trick in running it is to weave the events in the PCs' lives into the grander narrative. In effect, one of the most oft-told stories in the Western lexicon becomes background scenery for the exploits of the campaign's main characters. This could be said of the GPC in general, but it's especially true for this year.

Even a campaign limiting itself purely to the events scripted in the book would find 510 to be an extraordinarily action-packed year. As this year also marked several important watershed moments for Herringdale personally, it's turned into a truly epic year - one we're still making our way through, actually. Obviously, then, this will be the first of another several-part installment.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

[Solo GPC] 509: Of Countesses and Earls...

[Partly by design, partly by accident, this turned to be a real action-packed year. It actually spanned two full sessions, so be warned that it's even lengthier than usual...]

This year witnessed Sir Herringdale come into his own as a political mover and shaker in Salisbury and beyond. Some of his attempts at power brokerage met with wild success; others proved much more vexing... The year started off, however, with strange portents of things to come.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thoughts on Pendragon's Battle System

So as I mentioned in my last campaign update, I've reached some conclusions about how I'm going to handle mass combat in Pendragon. At least for the duration of this particular campaign.

First, a little history for those unfamiliar with the system. To the best of my knowledge, Pendragon has always had a mass battle system for handling conflicts for anything on a scale larger than a skirmish of a couple dozen combatants or so. Up to and including the latest edition, the mass battle system has comprised a chapter in the back of the rulebook constituting a little system-within-a-system that, although it builds upon the core mechanics, is kind of its own thing.

That "thing," unfortunately, was somewhat clunky and unwieldy and fairly deprotagonizing for PCs. My first extended Pendragon campaign started shortly before the advent of the Conquest Period, so we ended up playing through the entirety of the Roman War; trust me whe I say we all got our fill of the old battle system and its faults.

Last year, in what would prove to be the last home-published Pendragon supplement before the line's purchase/resuscitation by Nocturnal, Greg Stafford produced the twin volumes entitled Book of Battle and Book of Armies. The BoB presented a new battle system that was both streamlined and richer in detail than the old, one that attempted to (and succeeded in) making the battle system more engaging for players and adding tactical elements to the process of participating in battle, as well as defining many of the subsidiary battle events that were hand-waved or left up to GM fiat in the older system.

Needless to say, I was pretty jazzed about this release. Finally, Pendragon would have a decent battle system! And you know what? Having run nearly a dozen battles with the new system, I stand by that assessment. However, I've also come to the conclusion that the new system is not working in this particular campaign. Sometime in the future I intend to run the GPC for a group, and I will trot out the Book of Battles again and see how it goes over, but for now I'm retiring the system.

The first reason is that one of the BoB's greatest strengths, its increased focus on tactical decision-making, is so not Des's style. To use Robin Laws's terminology, she is simply not a Tactician-type player in the least, and not much of a Power Gamer either. I've addressed Des's attitudes towards tactical play and number crunching as it applies to D&D in a previous post, and the same hang-ups apply to Pendragon gameplay. In fact, as Sir Herringdale has risen in power and come into command of his own body of troops, she's become increasingly disconnected from the battle system and the decision-making it requires of unit commanders.

The other factor in my decision was that in a single-player game the new system actually puts extra work in the GM's hands. This is because the BoB, in its admirable attempt to make the battle system more player-focused, is designed with the assumption that at least three player-characters will be participating in the battle. This forms a rather critical element of the new system, actually, so in a single-player game I'm obliged to run two GMPCs to obtain a quorum, on top of my usual workload. Which is higher than normal since, as I mentioned, Des is fairly disconnected from the battle process so I've taken up the slack with the paperwork, which the system assumes will be shared among a group of at least four players (three PCs and a GM).

So clearly we need a new approach, and I've settled on a compromise between old and new. The key was remembering that an old 4th edition supplement had a nifty, streamlined version of the old battle system, complete with a handy flowchart. After scratching my chin a bit, I remembered that it was in the back of the excellent Beyond the Wall supplement, and voila:

I really like this tweaked version of the old system. For one thing, it gives the Army Commander a roll every round, and a fairly essential roll at that (figuring overall casualties for the round!), finally giving Arthur some measure of influence over battle outcomes, for example. Yet it retains something I liked about the old system: it focuses on the characters' individual experience and their fortune from round to round. Plus: no paperwork. It's just a series of dice rolls. Also, players can use Battle rolls to affect the Foe Table result (and if they Fumble they might get a worse opponent than originally rolled, heh) regardless of whether they're a unit commander. So there's a lot to like there.

However, I am not abandoning the new system altogether. There's lots to like about it, after all. I'll be taking the Opportunity and Surprise tables, for one thing (I think they can fit in nicely with Step 4; if a player is a unit commander and rolls a crit or fumble, respectively, in that Step, the tables come out). I will also be using the deliciously excellent Foe Tables from the Book of Armies, you'd better believe it. And probably a couple other elements cherry-picked here and there (the rules for being disengaged in the rear area, for example, are great).

As we head into the Boy King period, which kicks off with a regular ol' Battle Fest of Epic Proportions and eventually culminates in the Götterdämmerung of Badon Hill, I'm looking forward to seeing how this new compromise system works out. Hopefully it'll mean less work for me, and more engagement/enjoyment for my player. I'll post an update once we have a couple battles under our belts.

As for the BoB system, as I mentioned above, I've far from written it off entirely. I'd be quite interested to see how it played out with a group of three or more players, particularly if we had a tactician or two in our midst.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

[Solo GPC] 508: The Battle of Netley Marsh

Man, the Anarchy Phase sucks. Just when everything looks to be going along as planned--BOOM! Disaster strikes! I honestly felt bad having to run the events outlined in this year after last year's relative triumphs. Ah well, the element of drama and all that, right?

(Also, after this year's battle, I reached some conclusions on how I'm going to run battles in Pendragon for the foreseeable future, but I'll elucidate on that in a separate post.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

[Solo GPC] 507: Daggers at Broughton

Although the Great Pendragon Campaign and the many Pendragon adventure collections available in PDF form provide reams and reams of material - more than one could ever hope to squeeze into even two or three campaign arcs - I've found in my experience of running the game that the best sessions inevitably arise from the home-crafted scenarios, the ones that play off of character history and development. This year's session was one such as that.

Friday, August 6, 2010

[Solo GPC] Sir Herringdale du Plain, Marshall of Salisbury

Twenty-plus years into the campaign, I thought I'd post Sir Herringdale's updated character sheet as a companion piece to the character sheet I posted around the start of the campaign. Here we have our hero having just surpassed 12,000 Glory, putting him 4,000 points from hitting "Extraordinary" fame. Already known throughout Britain as an exemplar of knighthood on par with Sir Brastias and Duke Ulfius, Herringdale's fame will have spread overseas by the time he hits 16,000...

Sir Herringdale du Plain, Marshall of Salisbury, also called "the Merciful", "Giantslayer", and "Saxon's Scourge"

Personal Data
Age: 43
Son Number: 1
Homeland: Salisbury
Culture: Cymric
Religion: Roman Christian
Liege Lord: King Nanteleod of Escavalon
Current Class: Marshall
Current Home: Du Plain Castle

SIZ 17
DEX 11
STR 15
CON 20
APP 11

Damage 5d6
Healing Rate 5
Move Rate 4
Distinctive Features: piercing gaze; facial scar
Hit Points 38
Unconscious 9

Personality Traits
Chaste/Lustful 10/10*; Energetic/Lazy 14/6; Forgiving/Vengeful 13/7; Generous/Selfish 13/7; Honest/Deceitful 12/8; Just/Arbitrary 8/12; Merciful/Cruel 18/2; Modest/Proud 13/7; Pious/Worldly 10/10; Prudent/Reckless 9/11; Temperate/Indulgent 10/10; Trusting/Suspicious 10/10; Valorous/Cowardly 18/2

*Directed Trait: Lustful (Men) +5

Chivalry Bonus: YES
Religion Bonus: NO

Loyalty (Lord) 16
Love (Family) 15
Hospitality 18
Honor 16
Hate (Picts) 8
Hate (Saxons) 24
Concern (Commoners) 9
Hate (Elaine) 12

Skills: Awareness (18); Courtesy (12); Dancing (2); Falconry (17); First Aid (17); Flirting (8); Folklore (3); Gaming (5); Heraldry (15); Hunting (16); Intrigue (18); Orate (9); Play Harp (3); Recognize (13); Religion: Christian (3); Singing (6); Stewardship (6); Swimming (2)

Combat Skills: Battle (16); Siege (2); Horsemanship (17); Sword (20); Spear Expertise (15); Dagger (5); Mace (5)

Equipment: Chainmail armor (10 points); Shield (6 points); Sword; Spear (2); Charger; Rouncey (2): Sumpter; Palfrey (2); War Pony; Tropies of War (Yale Horn, Saxon Army Banner, Tusk Helmet [split]); Golden Torc


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

[Solo GPC] 506: Through the Marshes of Avalon

Winter passed into spring and life returned to the county of Salisbury. As May got under way, at the realm's far eastern corner, construction on the new, improved Du Plain Castle resumed, with the castle's chief engineer assuring its soon-to-be lord, Sir Herringdale, Marshall of Salisbury, that the castle would be fit to move into by the end of the year. Meanwhile, back at Broughton Hall, Herringdale was entertained by the jongleur troupe he sponsored. As always, they were a source of juicy gossip gathered from all corners of the land. This year, they brought him the welcome news that King Nanteleod was moving behind the scenes, attempting to orchestrate a reconvening of the Supreme Collegium so that he could be officially proclaimed High King.

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