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Saturday 18 February 2023

Quick-Start Saturday: Pendragon

Quick-starts are means of trying out a roleplaying game before you buy. Each should provide a Game Master with sufficient background to introduce and explain the setting to her players, the rules to run the scenario included, and a set of ready-to-play, pre-generated characters that the players can pick up and understand almost as soon as they have sat down to play. The scenario itself should provide an introduction to the setting for the players as well as to the type of adventures that their characters will have and just an idea of some of the things their characters will be doing on said adventures. All of which should be packaged up in an easy-to-understand booklet whose contents, with a minimum of preparation upon the part of the Game Master, can be brought to the table and run for her gaming group in a single evening’s session—or perhaps too. And at the end of it, Game Master and players alike should ideally know whether they want to play the game again, perhaps purchasing another adventure or even the full rules for the roleplaying game.

Alternatively, if the Game Master already has the full rules for the roleplaying game for the quick-start is for, then what it provides is a sample scenario that she still run as an introduction or even as part of her campaign for the roleplaying game. The ideal quick-start should entice and intrigue a playing group, but above all effectively introduce and teach the roleplaying game, as well as showcase both rules and setting.


What is it?
The Adventure of the Sword Tournament is the quick-start for Pendragon, Sixth Edition, designer Greg Stafford’s ultimate vision of his classic roleplaying game of Arthurian legend and adventure.

It includes a basic explanation of the setting, rules for actions and combat, the adventure, ‘The Adventure of the Sword Tournament’, and five ready-to-play, Player Characters.

It is a twenty-eight-page, full colour, booklet.

The quick-start is laid out to look like an illuminated manuscript and done in full colour. The artwork is fully painted and the map of Londinium clear.

How long will it take to play?
The Adventure of the Sword Tournament can be played through in a single session. It should take no longer than three hours to play through.

Who do you play?
The five Player Characters are all landless knights. They include a wise-cracking Roman Cymric Christian knight, a chivalrous Cymric Christian knight, a female Saxon Wodinic knight wielding an axe, a romantic Cymric Pagan knight, and a female Pagan knight from Brittany favouring bow and the mystical.

How is a Player Character defined?
A Knight is defined by Homeland, Culture, and Father’s Name, then Father’s Class, Son Number, Liege Lord, Current Class, Current Home, Age, and Year Born. He has five Attributes—Size, Dexterity, Strength, Constitution, and Appearance—which are rated between three and twenty-one. Skills are roughly divided into combat skills and ordinary skills. They range between one and twenty, but can go higher. Every Knight has Glory, a measure of his renown and his actions, the higher it is, the greater the chance of his being recognised.

A Knight is also defined by his Traits and Passions. Traits represent a Knight’s personality, consisting of thirteen opposite pairs. So Chaste and Lustful, Honest and Deceitful, Valorous and Cowardly, and so on. Each Trait in a pair is assigned a value, the two values together adding up to no more than twenty. So, a Trusting of ten and Suspicious of ten, an Energetic of fourteen and Lazy of six, and so on. During a game, a player can look to the values of his Knight’s Traits to determine how he might act, but if unsure or wanting guidance, the player can roll against one of them, and the Game Master can also direct a player to roll against one to see how his Knight will act in a particular situation.

A Knight’s Passions, like Loyalty (Lord), Love (Family), and Hate (Saxons) are strong emotional and psychological tendencies. When a player rolls against one of his Knight’s Passions, it can grant inspiration and a bonus for a task, but should it fail, it can leave the Knight disheartened and suffering a penalty to a task.

How do the mechanics work?
To have his player undertake an action, a player rolls a twenty-sided die. The aim is roll equal to or lower than the value of the attribute, skill, Trait, or Passion. 
A roll under is a success, a roll equal to the value is a critical, a roll over a fail, and a roll of twenty can be a critical failure. For opposed rolls, used for contests and combat, a roll must not only be equal to or under the value for the knight to succeed, but it must also be higher than the role made by the opponent.

A Trait is rolled against to determine whether a Knight will act in accordance with that Trait or act in accordance with its opposing Trait. A Passion is rolled against to gain a bonus on a skill roll, but failure can trigger a Passion Crisis, which can result in the Passion being partly lost, melancholia, or even madness.

How does combat work?
Combat is handled through opposed rolls. If a player rolls under his Knight’s skill and higher than his opponent, he succeeds in striking him with his weapon. If a player rolls under his Knight’s skill and lower than his opponent, it is a partial success and he does not succeed in striking him with his weapon. However, he gains the benefit of his shield, which together with the armour worn will reduce the damage taken. The rules in the quick-start cover charges, knockdown, broken or dropped weapons, the possibility of suffering major wounds and so on.

How does magic work?
Magic is not the purview of mortal men. Faeries, supernatural creatures, druids, and meddling Wizards such as Merlin know magic and to know this is enough for any man.

What do you play?
The eponymous adventure in 
The Adventure of the Sword Tournament is set in the Year 510, in Londinium, the greatest city in all of Britain. It has been decreed that a grand New Year’s Tournament, the first of its kind will be held to determine who will be the High King of Britain following the fifteen year interregnum without one. The Knights are in the city to participate, perform well in the tournament, and be a witness to the proclamation of the new High King.

There is not actual starting point for the scenario for the Game Master to read out, but it begins with the Knights exploring a city they have never been to before and eventually coming upon a sword, stuck into an anvil, atop a rock. This is an important moment in the history of Britain and the Knights have the opportunity to be witnesses. The scenario is linear, but presents early opportunities for the players to test out the rules, have their Knight engage in a mass combat, and go in search of a little Glory.

Is there anything missing?
There are some element of the pre-generated Knights that the players cannot follow up or explore fully in the ‘The Adventure of the Sword Tournament’. This is primarily because there will be opportunities for this in the adventures in the P
endragon, Sixth Edition Starter Set, of which ‘The Adventure of the Sword Tournament’ is the first part. There is not really very much for the Knights to do, the only opportunity for them to act outside of the events boiling down to a simple die roll.

Is it easy to prepare?
The content of 
The Adventure of the Sword Tournament is easy to prepare. The rules are clearly presented and the adventure is straightforward and uncomplicated.

Is it worth it?
The Adventure of the Sword Tournament presents a clear explanation of the rules in a few pages and provides points in the scenario where the players can put them to work and roleplay too. The scenario is written so as to engage in the first part of a longer scenario and is primarily designed to showcase the mechanics of Pendragon, Sixth Edition and get the Knights involved in a major event in Arthurian legend, and it does both handily enough. However, it does not provide players with enough agency and activities when there is scope for both in the scenario. Although that is not an issue as the first part of a longer scenario, in a quick-start it is a missed opportunity for the players to roleplay and their Knights to do more than be present at the legend.

The Adventure of the Sword Tournament is an enjoyably solid introduction to the rules and setting of Pendragon, Sixth Edition, but just comes up a little short in terms of length and content for a quick-start.

Where can you get it?
The Adventure of the Sword Tournament is available to download here.

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