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So... Playing through the Family History in Book of Sires, rather than just rolling randomly


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Hi all. The Forum has been a bit quiet lately, so I figured I'd go ahead and start a new thread to get some conversations going.

The review of Book of Sires by Dan Wells ( link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vqUTKkqCEk&lc=UgwE008885c5-xMz08h4AaABAg.9IdCgf7aIxz9IfQS3ug49p ) rekindled my enthusiasm to talk about Book of Sires again. (His channel has other KAP reviews as well: KAP 5.2, Great Pendragon Campaign, Book of Uther and Book of Feasts. And also other RPGs. If you are interested in such things, you could do worse than take a look and drop him a Like. Can't hurt to increase the visibility of KAP stuff.) 

As you may already know from my previous posts, I have been saying that one of the possible uses of the Book of Sires is that you could use it as a prequel campaign to GPC. Granted, turning it to a full campaign would take some effort, as well as take a long long time to play through, as it covers about 46 years from 439 to 485 in the case of Logres and Cumbria (+25 years to the end of the Anarchy Period in Logres).

However, another option would be to 'play' an abbreviated campaign, basically using those yearly roll tables as (communal) Solo Scenarios. So rather than just rolling a 1d20 to see how things went for the Grandfather and then the Father, there would be a bit more Player agency in the whole thing.

Now, my thoughts are still a bit unfocused at this point, but something like this...

Simplified character sheet: CON, Loyalty (Tribe), Sword, Courtesy, Intrigue, Flirting. More passions might get gained during the play, most likely Hate (Enemy). Starting values CON 11+3 if Cymric, Loyalty Tribe 12, Sword 10, Courtesy 5, Intrigue 5 and Flirting 5. You get 7 yearly trainings (see point  7. below) to represent squirehood; maximum starting value is 15 (+3 CON if Cymric). I was thinking of adding Loyalty (King) as well, but I think this is better left for the Player to decide, since it can alter rather suddenly due to the events, which KAP Passion System doesn't quite model.

Yearly steps:

1. Roll CON. Critical: Skip next year's CON roll. Success: no effect. Failure: -2 to skills due to being often under the weather. Fumble: Died of Illness (or, since this is a rather ignoble end for a knight, perhaps just seriously ill this year and missed the events).

2. If the Year has a Battle: Roll Loyalty (Tribe). This represents how well your voice is heard in the tribal council. On a success, you can choose you 'deployment', for example do you stay in garrison or do you go fighting in a battle. Failure means that you get stuck with the less glorious garrison duty and get -1 Loyalty if you succeed in a second Loyalty roll (you can't fumble the secondary roll, it is just pass/fail). On a critical, you gain a leadership position and get to choose your deployment in subsequent years even on a failure, unless you fumble. On a fumble, you are demoted (if in a leadership position) or blackballed by the leadership (-5 Loyalty). Note: if another PK holds a leadership position, they may try to intercede for you by rolling their Loyalty (Tribe). On a success, your fumble becomes a failure, but on their failure, they are demoted, too! If your Loyalty (Tribe) falls to 0, you are exiled. Talk it over with the GM.

3. If you fight against raiders or in a Battle: Roll Sword. On a success, you get the normal Glory. On a critical, you get double Glory (raiders) or defeated a champion (in Battle) or you can choose a Glorious Death (in Battle)! On a failure, you get halved Glory. On a fumble, you die (not Gloriously). (Perhaps add an option for another PK in the same event using their critical to save your life.)

4. If the Year has a diplomatic mission or trip to the Court: Roll Courtesy. On a success, you get to go (if you want). On a critical, you are the leader and gain double Glory. On a fumble, you have managed to tarnish your reputation during the mission (you still get the Glory) to a point that you are only considered for subsequent missions on a critical Courtesy roll (normal Glory, but rehabilitates you). Again, if another PK became the leader of the mission, they can try to smooth things over with a successful Courtesy roll, but on a failure, they share in your disgrace.

5. If there is an opportunity for gossip (either during the mission you are on or just general information): Roll Intrigue. On a success, you get these news which might influence your allegiance. (For example, 453 and 454 realizing that the Dissidents are being targeted.) Failure, no effect. Fumble might lead to some bad outcomes, such as if you are a Dissident or a Rebel, you might get targeted by Loyalist Assassins! Roll Sword to survive, dying on a failure. Critical might give you some edge in the following years, etc. Intrigue could possibly do more... Maybe allow a successful Intrigue during boring years to give a Loyalty (Tribe) check to represent tribal politicking?

6. At the end of the year, roll Flirting. On a success, you can marry, or you can hold off to gain a more Glorious bride. Each time you wait, you add +50 to the subsequent bride Glory to a maximum of +250. On a critical Flirting, you get that +250 for this first bride candidate! A fumble wipes out any gains you may have had, and you start from 0 again! Once you are Married, a successful Flirting (with -10 modifier if a baby was born last year) roll means a baby is born (twins on a critical)! Roll 1d6 for the gender: odds a girl, evens a boy. A fumble means that the relationship cools off: -5 to subsequent Flirting rolls until you critical (which wipes away the penalty).

7. Winter Phase: Each successful roll gains an experience check. Roll increases now. Aging if you are 35 or over: roll as in KAP 5.2, but halve (rounding up) the stat loss and they are all from CON. Then decide on Yearly Training: +1 to CON (max 18+3 if Cymric, but only while you are under 35), or +1 to Loyalty (Tribe) (max 19), or +1 to a Skill over 15 (max 20), or +5 skill points to distribute to the skills (max 15). Finally, add Glory and use the Glory Bonus Point if you gained it.

 

I have obviously not tested this yet in any way, but I might see if my regular group would be interested in giving this a go during February, when we are likely to have a break.

Edited by Morien
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Thinking a bit more of the CON roll etc...

1. Roll CON. Critical: Skip next year's CON roll. Success: no effect. Failure: Roll CON again; on another failure, -1 CON due to an illness. Fumble: Died of Illness (or, since this is a rather ignoble end for a knight, perhaps just seriously ill this year, -3 CON and missed the events).

3. Fighting and CON: Roll CON, with +5/-5 if you succeeded/failed Sword. On a failure, you suffered a Major Wound, -1 CON.

That might sound punitive, but I don't think it would happen all that often until the Aging starts to take hold. Most characters would no doubt have CON and Sword at 15 from chargen onwards, meaning that they would suffer those effects quite rarely.

Traits:
I was thinking of including Valorous/Cowardly and Prudent/Reckless in fighting. Something like... Roll Valorous when entering a conflict. On a failure, you get +5 skill but only half the Glory and cannot get a Critical in Sword (count as a success), as you are Prudent (check that too). If you succeed in Valorous, you can roll Reckless: on a success, you get -5 skill but double the Glory, as you are Reckless. However, on a critical Sword, you MUST choose Glorious Death!

However, I worry that this might become a bit too complicated. It might be better to just let the Player choose a famous trait for the ancestor and just have that pop up at times. For instance, choosing Just means that you get upset with Vortigern's tyranny and flip to Dissident and then Rebel all the sooner, whereas Arbitrary would be the opposite (he is the king, what he says, goes). Reckless and Prudent modify the Battle Glory. Lustful might give +5 Flirting for childbirth but if this makes it a success (or a critical), these are bastards. Chaste might give a +5 to Flirting in searching for the wife, as the ladies appreciate a man of virtue. Deceitful would obviously be of use with Intrigue, maybe +5 to Intrigue? Valorous might mean that you can always choose to go to Battles, but you MUST go, too. Lazy might allow you to miss the Battles, and stay in garrisons, although why would you like to play an ancestor who is not after Glory I would not know. :P Energetic might boost the garrison/raiding Glory: you are always up for patrolling, so you end up with double Glory for those. I think that might be a fun way to let some of the personality of the character shine through.

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This looks like fun! Some thoughts:

Item 3: I think some battles are deadlier than others - and in a lot of them, it seems the "died" and "died with great Glory" ranges are about the same. I'm not sure how you model that.

Item 6: Is Flirting appropriate for childbirth? Maybe this should just be a straight d20 roll.

Item 7: Given the lower number of skills, would it be better to reduce the skill points allocated?

There are some unusual results on the tables, like getting lost in a storm with Gorlois, that might bear some thought about how to model.

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3. Not too bothered by the death chance being low. But one way to model that would be to have a death chance alto on a failure. Like if the death is supposed to happen 20% of the time, roll Sword-5 and if it is a failure, roll again and die on a failure. This is details, tweaks to particular battles. :)

6. It gives Flirting a role past the courting. Otherwise it pretty much becomes useless as soon as you marry and pretty weak even before it. Now it is definitely one you want to raise to 10 if not 15 asap.

7. Very valid criticism. I think I would lower the squire trainings to 3 or 4. Another way to combat inflation would be to give a training on every odd or even birthday. That would effectively halve the advancement and make it more reasonable, i.e. match the actual play better. We can claim that the training in other years went to some other skills/stats/traits/passions.

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1 hour ago, SaxBasilisk said:

There are some unusual results on the tables, like getting lost in a storm with Gorlois, that might bear some thought about how to model.

Forgot to address this... Yes, some rare events might take some thinking. Gorlois is actually easy: it is clearly a critical Courtesy roll. 🙂

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2 hours ago, SaxBasilisk said:

Item 3: I think some battles are deadlier than others - and in a lot of them, it seems the "died" and "died with great Glory" ranges are about the same. I'm not sure how you model that.

Actually, I may have misunderstood. If the Glorious Death and the normal Death chances are the same, then it works great for skills 10-19: a critical and a fumble are equally unlikely. Granted, I was summing up the great heroism with glorious death and leaving that choice for the players. But I am fine with that. Limitations of the 1d20 system and all that. There is also a point that if we are 'playing' the ancestors, a generally lower death chance (since many people would choose heroics rather than Glorious death, at least around the beginning of the career, lowering the death chance from 5%+5% to just 5% fumble) is good for the game. Kinda the same argument as allowing them to dodge the miscellaneous death chance for a more heroic story.

Speaking of Fighting and Glorious Death, I am thinking of dropping the Loyalty Tribe altogether. Basically, ditch all passions (except maybe Hate gained 'in-game'), and instead, bring Valorous back in. All knights should be Valorous, and at starting value of 15, it scales much better than the Loyalty. Also, this allows us to bring in a nice use for the Intrigue, too. In short, some battles get only a smaller group of knights attending, so they should give a negative modifier to the 'entry' roll, i.e. Valorous. Not because the knight was not Valorous, but because he didn't hear about it in time or was not connected enough to be selected. Intrigue success would remove those negative modifiers. Similar system might be used for Courtesy rolls, although I am not as convinced about this, since the 'diplomatic missions' are rare enough as it is. Frankly, if the PK wishes to go, it should be easy enough to do that to get some use out of Courtesy. Intrigue could even give a bonus for finding a wife. In other words, Intrigue could be a support skill, which is occasionally useful in almost any situation, but it is more reactive. If there are no penalties and no rumors and secrets that year, Intrigue does nothing.

Anyway, I got sidetracked. Back to Valorous and Glorious Death. I was thinking that a critical Valorous would give +5 in the fight that follows, but if Sword is a critical success, you must select a Glorious Death. You go out in a blaze of glory, your unflinching courage the stuff of legends.

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I think this could be a lot of fun.  I’ve been thinking about offering a Book of Sires (only) game as PbP, and this might be a great way to spice that up.

I think there are a couple of potential pitfalls if you did this as a prequel to a conventional Pendragon game.  One is pretty obvious: you may need final PKs born by a certain date, so giving players/Flirting control over childbirth could be awkward, especially if people start dying before they have children because they’re waiting for that perfect wife.

The other is very dependent on the particular group, but this is giving players a more intimate experience with how the sausage is made.  The whole narrative of the Book of Sires is a bit of a Rube Goldberg contraption, in which counties, vassalage, and generally the whole culture and expectations of the later Middle Ages pop into existence in a really short period of time, but everyone is expected to behave by 479/484 as if those things have been there as long as anyone can remember.  There’s a possibility that some players may find it hard to suspend disbelief if “they” have an experience of playing a character who identified with their tribe and had no concept of homage and fealty and then those elements get imposed by royal fiat at specific moments.  I can see a player going with this history and saying that they want a character who entirely rejects the newfangled innovations.  (Which is doable, obviously, but is going to require a certain amount of surgery on the game.) 

Admittedly, you could just do what I did when using BoS the normal way, which was ignore that and say that the grandfather was a knight who was loyal to the Earl of Salisbury and there never were any tribes etc., and adjust the narrative of events appropriately.  Which works for me and my players, but might not for everyone.

Edited by Voord 99
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2 minutes ago, Voord 99 said:

Admittedly, you could just do what I did when using BoS the normal way, which was ignore that and say that the grandfather was a knight who was loyal to the Earl of Salisbury and there never were any tribes etc., and adjust the narrative of events appropriately.  Which works for me and my players, but might not for everyone.

As it happens, Salisbury is a special case, as the Count of Salisbury has ruled it since at least pre-Constantin times (since Emperor Constantine, if you take Warlord at face value). So any loyalty they feel is to the Count already, making the feudalism thing a very easy adjustment for them.

That being said, I agree with you that it would have worked much easier (and be more believable) if Feudalism were introduced/codified already by Constantin, to reward his trusted men. This would have given us a generation (the Great-Grandfather) who was already feudal, and his son (the Grandfather) would have grown in a feudal society, no problems. But Greg wanted feudalism to be Aurelius' thing. At least we managed to get knights already in Constantin's time, even if the heavy lance cavalry and feudalism itself needed to wait until Aurelius. The whole tribes to counties thing was a pain to manage, too.

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Think of the timing of everything. Tribal, Roman Rule, tribal when they left, Roman rule when they came back, repeat a few times, then Rome saying goodbye. Then Constantin. Then Vortigern, Then Saxons.  Greg had his final say on when things happened.  But, by the time of Uther, one can argue that the feudalism structure works.

But great ideas are coming here. 

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I think it depends what you mean by “works.”  I fairly strongly don’t agree that entire cultures and thought-worlds turn on a dime like this. Pendragon portrays a later-medieval mentality in which all that is accepted as the inevitable and natural order of things.  Frankly, I don’t think that even the half-centuryish from Constantin is enough.  Ideological systems like that are undergirded by a sense that they are traditional and they have an entire apparatus of custom, myths, and so on associated with them.  None of which can pop into existence quickly.  

Basically, I think such developments needs to take place on a timescale that puts them beyond communicative memory to be historically plausible.  Even in modern states, where things like mass media come into play, they don’t happen this quickly — in premodern societies they really didn’t.

And in reality the feudal system wasn’t created by the fiat of powerful central monarchs, not least because if powerful central monarchs had the power to do that, then there never would have been a feudal system (to the extent that it was a “system”).

And in any case, we don’t have a Pendragon world that’s a “feudalized” version of post-Roman Britain.  We have a fairly exact simulation of medieval English law and custom from the 11th-15th centuries, much of which would not work the same way outside England at that time.   (One thing that amuses me is that Romans get “Law” as a cultural skill, when English law, i.e. the law that Pendragon portrays, is distinguished precisely by the fact that it’s not heavily influenced by Roman law.)  You really can’t bring that into existence on a short timescale and regard it as something that could remotely happen in reality.  

It’s unlikely, for instance, that people who expected to inherit jointly with their siblings* would lightly and immediately give up the rights that correspond to the way things always have been in favor of universal primogeniture.  If in reality you tried to bring that in overnight, it would have been contested, probably with violence.

In reality, though — it doesn’t have to matter for the game, any more than it’s worth trying to make the accelerated technological timescale historically plausible.  So it absolutely can “work “ for the game.  But cultural things are a bit trickier than technology, because players will draw on them to inform their sense of who their character is.  Arguably, it’s a minor difference between this being “your” character’s family history and this being, as Morien suggests, something that “your” character plays through, but I think for some players it might affect the way that they looked at it if it wasn’t in “the past.”

*Radically oversimplifying the position in Roman law - inheritance law is hellishly complicated -, but the key point is that there was no concept of primogeniture as a principle.  It’s simply not part of the conceptual vocabulary for Romans, and Pendragon depends on it being a default norm that everyone accepts as morally right.  Things do not easily become unquestionable default norms if people can remember them being otherwise.

Edited by Voord 99
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One thing to recall, as you yourself pointed out, Voord 99, is that the accelerated social and technological change has been part of KAP since pretty much the beginning. You get the fashions and technology changing at about 20 game-years to a historical century, to telescope Arthur's reign from about 1200 to late 1400s or so.

That being said, I did say that Constantin would introduce/codify the feudalism. In short, what I was imagining was what Greg said about the Counts in Book of the Warlord: "Long ago, Emperor Constantine created the office, and appointed individuals to be responsible for local military defense. By the time of Maximus some of the descendants of those ancient counts had permanently earned their father’s office and rank. More recently, Aurelius Ambrosius recognized these remaining counts with their ancient privileges, and established their status within his new standards of law."

Since there can be just one "Count of X" at the time, you get the primogeniture established in that way, and a century or so to make that happen, the lack of strong kings and constant rebellions and usurpations in Britain meaning that the counts are able to consolidate the local power, just like happened in France in the era of the weak Carolingian and early Capetian kings. Then Constantin comes in, and in order to get the local elites on his side and cement his own legitimacy and power base, he codifies the primogeniture of the counts as well as the inheritance of the titles and lands. The reciprocal oaths between the liege and the vassal tie the counts to him and the knights to the counts.

Actually, if you want to have the smaller barons and the more scattered landholdings of the BotW nobility, you wouldn't have to impose primogeniture necessarily just yet. Allowing the larger Count-held territories fragment, with the cadet branches becoming Barons, and estates changing hands as dowries would mix things up nicely. Then Aurelius might issue a new ruling that basically says 'this is far enough' and impose primogeniture in order to keep the vassal knights wealthy enough to support a mounted knight, and the barons strong enough to be able to muster militarily-useful units. Granted, this would have the 'problem' that primogeniture is just a new thing by 480, probably the PK himself will be the first one to benefit from this, which might cause some significant grumbling from the younger brothers... Actually... You could have the fragmentation already in the 4th century, and have Constantin be the one to codify the 'Barons', too. That way you get two-three generations of primogeniture by the time you reach the PK in 480s. That is already at the outskirts of the living memory.

EDIT: Also, just to add to that... If the first landed KNIGHTS are given their lands by the counts and High King Constantin in 415 (or after), then that would happen after the primogeniture becomes a thing, so within the PK family, their lands have always been inherited via primogeniture. It is easier to accept that. The various younger sons of the counts might have been 'bought off' with baronies, too, basically having their land-inheritance 'grandfathered in', to make the transition smoother. By 439, you would have a new generation who never had the expectation of equal shares in land-inheritance.

EDIT2: Another thought... Given that in BotW, both Ulfius and Roderick are inheriting lands from their parents, "since Time Immemorial", and both were born well before Aurelius became High King, this does pose something of a conundrum. I tend to handwave it as it having been private ownership, but that then leads to uncomfortable legal questions of why accept the land as the King's, only granted to you, if your family has owned it since the Roman Conquest or something... "Time Immemorial" = "Since the Roman times", i.e. pre-410, which would fit very nicely what I was saying about Counts and Barons in above.

Edited by Morien
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3 hours ago, Morien said:

One thing to recall, as you yourself pointed out, Voord 99, is that the accelerated social and technological change has been part of KAP since pretty much the beginning. You get the fashions and technology changing at about 20 game-years to a historical century, to telescope Arthur's reign from about 1200 to late 1400s or so.

That being said, I did say that Constantin would introduce/codify the feudalism. In short, what I was imagining was what Greg said about the Counts in Book of the Warlord: "Long ago, Emperor Constantine created the office, and appointed individuals to be responsible for local military defense. By the time of Maximus some of the descendants of those ancient counts had permanently earned their father’s office and rank. More recently, Aurelius Ambrosius recognized these remaining counts with their ancient privileges, and established their status within his new standards of law."

I think if it’s a gradual development over about 170 years, then it’s plausible enough to work with.  

Although I think you probably need to retroject quite a lot of it back to Constantine, or at least to the 4th century.  It’s true that comes and dux are the Latin words that became the titles of “count” and “duke,” but what comes* and dux  meant in the Later Roman Empire doesn’t have much in common with their later use, which derives from medieval rulers appointing people to positions with these names.

I think you need to do what the above narrative fudges, and have aspects of actual feudalism appear way back when.  The above narrative sort of seems to imply without actually saying that when Constantine appointed someone as comes, that was a long-term thing for that person, who could expect to stay in that geographical location for the rest of their life (and so it could evolve into a position where a son could inherit it).

If one rewrites the history of the 4th century Roman Empire like that, you can make it work.  Personally (purely personally), at that point I think you’ve so radically fictionalized something where (unlike 5th century Britain) the historical actuality of it is so well known to us that I think I would prefer not to bother and instead say that the game is set in a past as it was imagined from the later perspective of the High Middle Ages, and so not worry about rationalizing it at all.

One big benefit of that, for me, is that you can say that the Matter of Rome and Matter of Troy are the actual past of the setting, because things have always worked in the normal (=later medieval) way.  One thing I’m hoping to do in my current game is have an adventure where the PKs are listening to a story about Troy, identify strongly with the characters, and we play a game about knights in the Trojan War as it appears in medieval literature. 

This is in the game as it exists, of course, with Brutus being real, and Alexander being a knight, but I personally would prefer to lean into it much harder than the game does.

 *Comes (“companion” [of the emperor]) was used for a lot of different positions, military and civilian, in the provinces and in the imperial court bureaucracy, not just the comites rei militaris to which I think Mr. Stafford was referring. 

 

Edited by Voord 99
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22 hours ago, Voord 99 said:

I think there are a couple of potential pitfalls if you did this as a prequel to a conventional Pendragon game.  One is pretty obvious: you may need final PKs born by a certain date, so giving players/Flirting control over childbirth could be awkward, especially if people start dying before they have children because they’re waiting for that perfect wife.

There are some possible mitigating factors / fixes...

1.) The Father could be born earlier without problems and thus have more time to marry and have the PK. There is also some +-year or so when it comes to the ages of the starting PKs easily enough.

2.) You could simply mandate that if the Grandfather or the Father has not married and/or produced the heir by the cutoff time (at the age of 25, say, to use the default from BoSi), then they will marry a less Glorious wife (half the Glory or something) and/or has a son anyway. This ensures that even the low Flirting characters will eventually marry and engender the next generation, even if that is all that they do. The high Flirting Father would hopefully still produce plenty of other siblings to use as spares, so it is not all wasted skill, and besides, Flirting 15 would be relatively cheap to raise to (Flirting 10 even more so). So I am not overly concerned about this.

3.) If there are any older brothers (as in, too old), well, easy enough for them to die before they inherit, if need be.

4.) Of course, something to make it less likely that the people will drag their feet when it comes to marrying: simply make it so that a success in Flirting = marriage. No extra Glory hoarding. And then you have that potential penalty at 25 of marrying a poorer prospect (option 2), if you didn't bother raising your Flirting. This is still 5 Flirting rolls, so you are quite likely to get it done even with Flirting 5. Granted, this lowers the utility of high Flirting a bit, so I would hesitate pre-empting it so, and trust that option 2 would take care of the feet-dragging.

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Alright, back to the previously scheduled programming...

Leafing through the Book of Sires, it becomes clear that if Sword is allowed to solve both Battles and Raids/Garrisons, then it swiftly becomes the most rolled skill and the one that gains most Glory. Which is kinda how the normal campaign often goes as well, admittedly. However, the other option would be to split the two so that Sword governs Battles, and Horsemanship governs Raids/Garrisons, where you are usually either riding away from the defenders or trying to chase down bandits and raiders. That is my handwavey explanation at least. This will lead Horsemanship being probably one of the most rolled Skills, but I am fine with that, since generally the Glory gain is not huge. So overall, it is more or less balanced.

So this would give:

1. Valorous determining if you get to participate in a Battle (this is not a big deal, since everyone starts at 15 anyway, and the difference between 15 and 16 is not huge). However, Valorous might often be modified. For example, if the BoSi is saying that 11+ participates in a Battle (50% chance), then this is obviously a Valorous-5 roll to participate (50% chance on Valorous 15). I would likely not bother about minor differences in frequencies, such as if the frequency is 14-in-20, I am not going to impose a -1 to Valorous but keep it as a straight Valorous roll, but I would be inclined to round to the nearest +-5 or 10.

2. Sword to determine your success in said battles. Since Battles are the main Glory gain, this still keeps Sword very useful.

3. If you did not participate in the battle, you are likely stuck in a garrison. If there is any fighting/raiding, roll Horsemanship to gain Glory.

4. Larger scale skirmishes (such as against the Saxons) could be rolling all three above, which would give more Glory gain options.

 

Courtesy probably needs some modifiers as well. I am thinking even that Intrigue might act as a gatekeeper to it, like Valorous does for Battles. The problem is that there are possibly limited chances for Courtesy anyway, so alternatively I could see just dropping Courtesy altogether and just using Intrigue by itself. This would make Intrigue stronger, rather than split the rare Glory gain between two skills. I'd have to do some testing, since emissary/court missions are rather rare (outside of the killing spree in 440-443) but often give decent Glory if you manage to go on one. So I could see a simple Intrigue-5 roll if there is such an event. Those who are not interested may leave their Intrigue to 5 and hence never roll, but those who want to focus on it have at least 50/50 chance of getting Coronation witness glory.

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Think of the timing of everything. Tribal, Roman Rule, tribal when they left, Roman rule when they came back, repeat a few times, then Rome saying goodbye. Then Constantin. Then Vortigern, Then Saxons.  Greg had his final say on when things happened.  But, by the time of Uther, one can argue that the feudalism structure works.

But great ideas are coming here. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

So I had three players testing this thing with me yesterday (remotely, of course). I will provide more numbers once I get their character sheets, since I neglected to ask for them yesterday, so I am just writing this from memory. We managed to get to the end of 457, with two grandfathers dead and one cursing Vortigern's name as he fled from the disastrous Battle of Kent.

We had a short debriefing afterwards, getting the feedback from the players was very helpful. Much of the feedback is reflected in the System Tweaks below. We were also talking about when this 'Prequel Game' should be used. As I have stated before, I think frontloading (i.e. doing it first) the campaign with the family history, while it does happen before the character is knighted, is not a good idea. The BoSi rolling gets a bit monotonous after a while and there is a lot of information for the new player to ingest. On the other hand, KAP 5.2 kills the ancestors off so quickly that it hardly matters. Instead, here is what I would do (and the players seemed to feel this was a good approach):

1. Give the Players a basic idea what the world is, something along the lines of (for 480):
"After the Roman legions left Britain, Britons chose a High King to lead them. After the murder of the High King, Tyrant Vortigern seized the throne and imported Saxon mercenaries to support his rule. He married a Saxons princess and gifted lots of Cymric land to the Saxon mercenaries, who brought their families to Britain, too. The Cymri rebelled, and were betrayed and murdered at a peace conference by the Saxons. The true heir, Prince Aurelius, returned from exile with an army and killed Vortigern. He defeated the Saxons but was unable to push them off the island completely. Skirmishing and warfare has continued for a decade, with High King Aurelius' brother and heir, Prince Uther, acting as Aurelius' right-hand man. The King's left-hand man is his best friend, Sir Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. Your Liege Lord is Count Roderick of Salisbury, a great nobleman in his early 30s who has proven himself a valiant and skilled warlord in the fight against the Saxons."
Helped of course if you can point to a map to show where the Saxons, Logres, Cornwall and Salisbury are.
2. Run the Bear Hunt intro. This basically gives the players some idea how the system works and who their characters are. Including of course some stuff about what being a squire and a knight is all about.
3. Run a few more sessions of adventures, etc, with the PKs as household knights. No need to worry about their manors and wider family yet; either the father is alive or there is an older brother who will croak without an heir at an opportune moment.
4. Then run the Family History (or this "Prequel Game"). Basically, once the Players are more familiar with the current state of the world and their place in it, they are better able to grasp how their family got here, and more than that, they are hopefully more eager to learn about this stuff rather than at the beginning. I consider myself a history buff, but even I would be getting antsy about 'when do we actually get to play the game' if there was a full session of family history up front.

As an example, I have been advocating a 'mini-GPC' by taking the GPC Expansion (standalone or Book of Uther) and the Marriage of Count Roderick and running with them to 484 with the PKs as household knights. Then, at the victory feast of the Mt. Damen, roll or 'play' the family history, as the PKs reminisce about their dead family (fathers, but could be those big brothers, too).

 

SYSTEM TWEAKS

One big difference is that I went back to "Fumbled CON = death by illness" (or miscellaneous causes if we had wanted to go there), but at the same time, we used the Ancestor's Glory Bonus Points as Fate Points, turning any roll into a success after the fact at the cost of the Glory Bonus Point. This helped to counter the occasional fumble, but it was still not enough to make the Ancestors immortal, which was good.

I had set up the "Prior 439" gameplay in a slightly simplified way (CON, Flirting, a skill of your choice giving 1d20 Glory on a Success, halved on a failure, doubled on a crit), but it was still too complicated given that I didn't have actual events for it; as one player commented: "I rolled Battle, but what battle was it, where, for what and against who?". So instead, I think I would skip the CON and Skill rolls, save for Flirting which is important for the marriage at the start and children afterwards (more of that later). Just do Flirting, yearly training and then a lump sum of Glory at the end, like 1d20 per year as it is in BoSi. This would make it simpler and save some time at the start, allowing us to get to the meat of the story quicker. We 'wasted' about an hour (might have been a bit more actually) on 'setup': 15 min getting organized, 15min explaining the system and chargen, 15min to run the eldest ancestor through is 6 year gap to get to when everyone was knighted, and then another 15min to get everyone to 439. So making this simpler would have saved roughly half an hour that was almost nothing else than rolling dice and making notes.

Another change that I would probably make is removing Valorous. Sure, it acts as a gatekeeper for the Battles, but it is also a source of great frustration for the players when they fail in it, and it is an extra complication that we could do without, I am thinking. It will also make the family histories more fun, when the PK ancestors are in the thick of it. Adding more Player choice is a good thing, too.

The CON roll at the start was a bit of a killer, if you had a low CON. I worried a bit that it would be double-dipping with the Aging rolls, and in one sense it is. Once you hit 35, you can't raise CON anymore, and you start spiraling down really fast once your CON drops to 10 or so, about -1 CON per year if unlucky. On the other hand, the only ancestor (thus far) who died of low CON was already in his late 40s, with a knighted son, so I am not too worried at the moment. Especially if I remove Valorous and suggest that people pump up their CON to 15+ ASAP prior to their character's 35th birthday.

Speaking of advancement via the halved Yearly Trainings, it was pretty nicely balanced. As the characters seldom get more than one or two skill checks (my advice, roll them at the same time you roll the skill itself; if the skill is not a failure, you have the experience check roll right away to see if it goes up and that cuts down on the back and forth), and Battle checks come only when you participate on Battles, the main source of the increase is really just the Yearly Training. Sure, some characters did end up with 20 in Battle and one even had 21 in Horsemanship (appropriately enough that is his family characteristic skill, although I didn't give him the +5 since that would have been unfair), but that is OK.

As for Battles and Raids/Skirmish, I had four 'risk categories':
Boring Garrison: Just roll Horsemanship and see if it increases on a success.
Normal Raid: Major Wound (-1 CON) on a Fumble. No death chance.
Normal Battle, Severe Raid (ones with a killed by raiders result): Roll CON with +5/-5 on success/fail of Battle or Horsemanship. If this fail, you take a Major Wound (-1 CON). If the original Battle or Horsemanship is a Fumble, you die.
Severe Battle (usually a lost one, the ones with 1-5 death chances like Chalons and Kent): Battle gets a -5 modifier. Then as above, but in addition, on a Failed Battle, roll Battle again (at that -5). On another Fail or Fumble, you die.

Oh, speaking of Battles and Hate, one criticism was that Hate didn't seem to play a role. Which, fair enough, we didn't really get to experience yet as people were just gaining their Hates and I was winging it. Originally, I was thinking Hate would act as an activation roll for the Battle, but as seen from the above Valorous discussion, I would leave that fully for a Player decision. Instead, I think I would ask Hate rolls if the enemy is Hated, and then give +5 to Battle. However, they get additional -5 to the CON roll and if they roll a critical, they HAVE TO choose a Glorious Death. I think that would nicely balance things out and fit the theme of being powered by the Hate but also being brought down by it.

For Intrigue, I figured that if the Players put skillpoints into the skill, they should benefit from it. So I just had them roll Intrigue and on a success, they got to participate in coronations, wedding, or were privy to the rumors, with criticals opening new options. No one Fumbled, yet, but I had my plans there, too. Especially now that the First Rebellion is over, Vortigern's Loyalists might be hunting down some Rebel ringleaders, especially ones vocal about hating the High King...

Finally, I speak more of Flirting below, but the characters did end up with rather large families, around 8 each. Naturally, this is very dependent on dice luck, and all three had Flirting 10 or 15 at the beginning, increasing it over time. One thing to do is to add a modifier to lower the fertility rate as the wife gets older: I am thinking -5 at 35, and stop it altogether at 45. For simplicity, I used just the ancestor's age and stopped childbirth at 45. Actually, easiest way would probably just assume an average 5 year age gap between wife and husband, so that -5 when husband is 40, and stop it altogether when husband is 50. Yeah, simple and easy. Not that the large families are all that bad, since it means there are plenty of spares (two ancestors ended up with 6 boys each) or potential storyhooks (the third one had 6 girls, leading to a lot of teasing about having to find dowries for all of them, from the other players). (This is of course assuming the typical medieval gender roles, which might not be the case, in your Pendragon campaign. Nor ours, either, as we had 3-and-3 split for a while, and while now it has become 5-and-1, there are two daughters of the next generation already as squires.)

 

STORY TWISTS

As for how the thing went... Now, this was obviously more Rollplay than Roleplay (a point made by the players, too), given that we were breezing by years roughly every 10 min or so on average. But there were some funny and interesting things rising out of the random rolls.

For example, one ancestor (who was about 6 years older due to the joining date of the player, to make the generations match better) managed to fumble the Flirting right after the birth of his scripted eldest son (ensuring each one had an heir at the latest when they turned 25), and since he had left his Flirting at a 'low' 10, he proceeded to spend the next decade without children. It was only when he criticalled his Horsemanship roll against some Pictish raiders that his wife, from the warrior people of the Berroc Saxons, thawed and welcomed him back to her bed (critical Flirting, too!). This then resulted in a slew of children in the next half a dozen years, including two sets of twins, with only one missed year without children (he had raised his Flirting to 15 during the 'Ice Age'). Of course, then he started grumbling about Vortigern and the Saxons in 448 or 449, which his Berroc Saxon wife took to be disloyalty (Flirting Fumble). No more nookie for you! As I had stated, for simplicity, that the childbirth rolls would stop when the ancestor hit 45, this only managed to spoil one Flirting roll. Naturally it should be the wife's age that matters, but I was trying to keep it simple rather than tracking yet another number.

Another ancestor had his bumps in the marital bliss, when after that eldest scripted son the wife kept giving him daughters (6 of them in a row), with the player playing up the disappointment of the chauvinistic patriarch of the family who had wanted more sons. He finally got a second son, and then promptly Fumbled the next Flirting roll. We decided that obviously he had told his wife that she was not 'totally useless' after giving him a second son, and would you believe it that she dared to get upset about it! "Women, amirite?"

We also had a stroke of luck when rolling the wife's homeland for an ancestor who started out of Dorset (a Roman, and this Dorset connection had been part of the family history from the start of the actual campaign). I was fully prepared to bring his son (the father of the original PK) in after the March, but the random roll gave him a wife from Salisbury! So I just killed the in-laws off and made her an heiress after the Battle of River Parrett, just to make things easy for myself. Obviously, it is much easier to have everyone in the same county and of the same age, since then everyone fits the same template, but it would be easy enough to have them just from the same region. That way you don't have to flip through the book.

As for the politics, the ancestors sported rather high Intrigue skills (10+ from the start), so they were quite connected with the court events, rarely missing a coronation or a rumor. There was one critical at Constans' murder, and I gave the player a choice of helping to round up the Picts (extra Glory), dying Gloriously to try to save the King (Glorious Death) or actually helping to whisk the Princes off to Brittany (Glory, move to Brittany; you could flip this and use the Cambrian event to try to catch the 'kidnappers' instead)! To make things easy, the player selected the first option, but had this been a 'true' family background, he might have gone for the more interesting options.

Perhaps helped a bit by the player knowledge where the world ended up in, the ancestors started turning anti-Saxon quite early (the one married to the Berroc Saxon taking some extra convincing from his friends to tip the balance). In 450, they even took some pride in being OG, Original Grumblers, who were grumbling against the Saxon influence before it was cool. Of course, they were promptly sent off to Chalons to die against the Huns, with one ancestor loudly proclaiming that this was bullshit, as he discovered that the whole expedition was made of critics of Vortigern's Saxon policies. That player managed to get a critical in the Battle of Chalons, and decided that this was a good place for his character to die Gloriously, cursing Vortigern with his last words. His two friends survived it, and there was a bit of a gallow's humor joke when they were sent against the Irish again and again to get more Major Wounds that Vortigern was digging his own grave by ensuring that his opponents would be veteran warriors. Alas, the eldest ancestor finally succumbed to ill health, his constitution wrecked by the numerous wounds suffered in battles, as well as his advanced age (late 40s). The lone survivor joined up the First Rebellion and survived it, developing a strong (15) Hatred of Vortigern. And is probably identified by the Loyalists as one of the Rebels to keep an eye on. We shall see what happens to him and his family in the future. :)

This is where we ended the Grandfathers' generation. The scripted eldest sons are getting knighted in 459, but I think we have one from 453 (the eldest ancestor, due to the issue of the PK age as mentioned) and another in 457 (the grandfather married early and got a son early). The intent is to continue the next weekend with the Fathers' (of the original 485 characters) generation.

Edited by Morien
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So the fourth player who had to leave like an hour to the yesterday's session finished the Grandfather run today. The results were quite interesting, too. The ancestor criticaled Valorous and came close to criticaling Battle of Lincoln which would have led to a Glorious Death. But no, although he did gain 450 Glory from that, a nice chunk. He survived to fight in the Battle of Chalons, where apparently, he got ill from some disease (malaria? from the Roman troops?), as his health plummeted afterwards: aging rolls in 451 and 452 were brutal, 12 each, 453 was a 5, and the yearly CON rolls saw him ill more often than not. Furthermore, fighting against the Irish left him suffering Major Wounds each year, so by 454, his CON had dropped from like 13 to 5. He barely survived another bout of illness in the early spring of 455, and then suffered another MW whilst fighting the Irish in Cornwall, leaving him with CON 4 and an Aging roll to look forward to. Returning to Salisbury, he was contacted by a man who claimed to be putting together an uprising against the High King. Already high with fever, he figured that he probably wouldn't survive the winter, so he decided to take the risk of trusting this man. It turned out to be a mistake, as he was lured into an ambush and killed by the Vortigern loyalists (Intrigue Fumble). But at least he went down swinging rather than a slow death in his bed*. His son will start his run in 459 with Hate (Vortigern) 17... :)

* Just out of curiosity, we did roll the Aging, and yep, -1 CON, dropping him to CON 3 and bedridden. So he would have missed out on the 456 uprising anyway.

 

Sir Kian the Doomed (413-455) (41 years old, 2940 Glory)
Family: 6 boys (one set of twins), 3 girls
Claim to Fame: Battle of Lincoln (450 Glory), going from CON 13 to CON 4 in four years
Cause of Death: Murdered by Vortigern Loyalists

Sir Magnus, The Harvester of Huns (413-451) (37 years old, 3662 Glory)
Family: 7 boys, 2 girls (one b+g twin set)
Claim to Fame: Battle of Chalons (1360 Glory)
Cause of Death: Glorious Death at the Battle of Chalons

Sir ??? the Horse-tamer (407-454) (46 years old, 2776 Glory)
Family: 6 boys (two sets of twins), 2 girls
Claim to Fame: Battle of Lincoln (360 Glory), Horsemanship 21
Cause of Death: Illness, died in bed

Sir Alder the Valorous (413-?) (43 years old in 457, 2450 Glory)
Family: 2 boys, 6 girls (one set of twins)
Claim to Fame: Battle of Lincoln (450 Glory), Valorous 20
Cause of Death: Still alive at the end of the Battle of Kent 457.

Edited by Morien
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Alright, we finished the 'Father' generation.

I pushed the characters to migrate to Brittany at the end of 457, since they or their fathers had been active in the Dissidents and the Rebels. This also meant that they got introduced to Aurelius a bit earlier, although they then were contacted to participate in the 2nd Vortimer Rebellion (and realized why Aurelius was so lukewarm about helping Vortimer). Given that our campaign game is already in mid-530s and I didn't want to spend too much time on this Prequel, I didn't go into as much detail as I could have. Had this been an actual prep for the game starting in 480 or 485, I definitely would have made a bigger deal of Aurelius' relationships with Gorlois and Uther. As it was, Gorlois and Uther sank a bit to the background. This, on hindsight, was a mistake, especially since I breezed through 470s due to time issues. It basically ended up being an almost monotonous mass of skirmish-skirmish-battle-skirmish-skirmish-skirmish-battle-skirmish-battle. By keeping more detail on how each year differs in actual events (Count Roderick coming to his own, Uther becoming Duke of the Vale, Gorlois fighting his own war in Cornwall and missing the Battle of Windsor because of it), the years would have distinguished themselved more. Adding some additional 'diplomatic missions' to Cornwall (maybe as messengers in 473, so that they can see the situation themselves and even meet Gorlois and Ygraine face to face) and Cumbria (the Wyrm thing and Uther's 'ultimatum' in 478) would have made Intrigue a more useful skill and again broken up the Saxon Raid monotony of 470s.

So, on hindsight, I wish I had planned for two 3h sessions rather than one 4h session. That would have been easier for my vocal chords as well as given more time to expand on the events.

Here are the results:

Sir Carlain the Wrathful, the son of Sir Kian the Doomed (438-479) (38 years old, 3928 Glory)
Family: 3 boys, 3 girls (one set of g+b twins)
Claim to Fame: Battle of Wantsum Channel (360), March Veteran, His Hatred of Vortigern and the Saxons was his downfall
Cause of Death: His health destroyed by the many major wounds that he took by throwing himself ferociously at his hated enemies, the final wound at the Battle of Frisia proved mortal in the end. (Also, very unlucky with Aging rolls, as was Kian.)

Sir Hadrian, the son of Sir Magnus (438-472) (33 years old, 3397 Glory)
Family: 2 boys, 2 girls
Claim to Fame: Battle of Angers (300 Glory), March Veteran
Cause of Death: Died fighting Saxon Raiders

Sir Betlic, The Butcher on the Beach, the 2nd son of Sir Hector the Horse-Tamer (440-479) (39 years old, 5120 Glory)
Family: 3 boys, 1 girl
Claim to Fame: Battle of Frisia (1150 Glory), March Veteran (personal summons to war)
Cause of Death: Glorious Death at the Battle of Frisia (479), turning the surf crimson with Frisian blood.

Sir Alder the Bountiful, the son of Sir Alder the Valorous (436-478) (41 years old, 6160 glory)
Family: 8 boys (one set of twins), 6 girls (one set of twins)
Claim to Fame:  Naval Raids (1060 Glory), Battle of Exeter (540 Glory), March Veteran (personal summons to war), Having LOADS of children
Cause of Death: Glorious Death at Naval Raids, last seen on a burning Saxon ship, hewing down Saxons by the dozen.

 

SYSTEM TWEAKS

Dropping Valorous and simplifying Illness & Major Wound CON rolling into a single roll worked quite nicely. Hate Passion was definitely a bit of a poisoned flagon with a dragon, as it gave +5 to skill but also -5 to CON, making Major Wounds more likely. Also, if you were impassioned by Hate, you had to take the Glorious Death on a critical success, leading to a couple of players spending Glory Bonus Points to downgrade a critical into a normal success, instead.

Another modification I'd do is to tie the Battle/Horsemanship roll results to the Battle/Raid Glory rather than roll that separately. For instance, if the battle is 1d6x30x2 Glory, I'd make it just:
Fumble: Death in battle. Roll again to see how much Glory you got. If a 2nd Fumble, 30 Glory.
Failure: 60 Glory
Success (on roll 1-5): 120 Glory
Success (on roll 6-10): 180 Glory
Success (on roll 11-15): 240 Glory
Success (on roll 16-19): 300 Glory
Critical (20+): 360 Glory +100 (Champion) or +1000 (Glorious Death)

This gets rid of yet another roll, and ties the results to the actual rolls the Players made for their characters. We had a couple of cases where someone rolled 19 (success) and then 1 on the Glory roll, while another player Failed and then rolled a 5, resulting in 2.5 times as much Glory as the high-success PK. This also makes the Hate Passion a bit more useful, especially at skill 15, as it turns 16-19 failures (60 Glory) to 16-19 successes (300 Glory), a gain of 240 Glory Points.

 

Edited by Morien
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