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Not the Great Pendragon Campaign: Sod off, Galahad! :)

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So, sticking with the theme of asking what would happen if you made significant changes to the GPC to adopt things that Mr. Stafford didn’t use, what about the Grail?

This is, honestly, an area of Arthuriana where I’m not all that well-read.  (I’ve never read Perlesvaus, for instance, nor do I know the Post-Vulgate stuff at all.)  So feel free to chime in with other Grail stories that deserve attention.

But looking at the GPC, one thing that it strikes me is that it blends two different strands.  

  • Quite a lot of it is taken from what one can call the Percival strand, that starts with Chrétien’s unfinished poem that sparked various continuations and reworkings, of which the most important is Von Eschenbach’s Parzival (which I’m taking as my main point of reference in what follows, because I like it).  Percival is the only Grail knight, he fails to ask the question, stuff happens, he asks it, story ends with him attaining his rightful position.  From a modern perspective, this all works very well: Percival is an interesting and colorful character, with a very distinctive upbringing.  He has an overall arc of character development.  And, at least in Chrétien and Von Eschenbach (also Peredur) Percival works excellently as a figure against whom you can play off Gawain as the epitome of the great “normal” knight.  
  • Then there is what one can call the Galahad strand, from the Vulgate through Malory, where Galahad is the supreme Grail knight, with Percival and Bors as secondary figures, but inevitably, It’s All Really About Lancelot.  Galahad is a rather colorless and entirely idealized figure, the perfectest virgin who ever virgin-ed, but that’s effective in context, because Galahad serves to illuminate his father.  

In the Galahad strand, Percival is showily downgraded to demonstrate how perfect Galahad is (esp. failing to draw the sword, but also things like almost sleeping with the devil).  

The GPC takes this Moral Worf Effect to extremes due to combining the two strands.  In it, Percival still fails to ask the question, so this is still That Idiot Percival’s Fault.  But he never gets to make good his mistake and emerge triumphant at the end, because the GPC substitutes the Galahad strand as the main basis for the resolution of the Grail story.   (Not for PK’s, but as written it is so improbable that a PK will obtain the Grail that it hardly matters.)

So what if we got rid of Galahad and stuck with Percival as the Grail knight, who has a close family relationship with the Grail king and is destined to be Grail king himself?  After all, in Pendragon we don’t need the story to revolve around Lancelot — it revolves around the PKs in the actual game, even if the background story doesn’t.  

And the Percival of the Percival strand is arguably more interesting for the PKs to intersect with at different points on his journey from naive and clueless youth to Grail king. (And, obviously, the existing Percival material in the GPC can be kept — one just keeps going past where it loses interest.)  Basically, the PKs replace Gawain as the main knights who counterpoint Percival’s story, but from the player perspective, Percival is counterpointing their story.

The following are some quick thoughts:

  • The Grail Castle as envisaged by Von Eschenbach is absurdly suitable for a role-playing game: an elite secret order of knights who have to conceal their identities when they are sent on missions by the king.  Admittedly, in Parzival those missions are mostly becoming the lords of lordless lands, but the knights do other things, too.  If the players do play Grail knights, you give up the generational aspect, as they are all forbidden to marry except for the king while they are still Grail knights — but on the other hand, the Grail prevents or at any rate slows aging, so the same character can play through as much time as one likes.
  • There’s room to exploit the idea that the ladies of the castle can leave it openly, for a ladies’ campaign.  You play ladies of the Grail, engaged in diplomacy and espionage (Von Eschenbach doesn’t say that ladies can’t conceal their identities, just that they don’t have to) for King Anfortas and in due course King Parzival.  
  • (Actually, this whole thing  sounds like a good basis for a superhero or occult-espionage campaign set in the present day, or maybe in the 19th century, but that’d be a different forum.)
  • One advantage of the Galahad strand is that multiple knights achieve the Grail, potentially including a PK.  In the GPC as written, this is almost certainly not going to happen, but a GM who wanted might rejigger it to make it more possible.  That’s something you’d have to give up.  Although there is a possible radical solution that might not be to everyone’s taste: the backstory of the Grail in Von Eschenbach (stone associated with the time before Adam when Lucifer rebelled against God) does not exclude the possibility that the Grail might not be the only such sacred object.  So there could be a second Grail, maybe called something else, and the PKs are by blood related to its guardians.
  • Trevrizent in Parzival runs through a long series of fetch quests done by the Grail knights in which they get this and that magical healing herb or whatever in an attempt to heal the king.  Obviously, the PKs could do one or more of these, even if they’re not Grail knights — one of those convenient “open” ladies of the Grail could recruit them.
  • There’s a big tonal difference.  In the GPC, the Grail Quest is elegiac and even a little depressing, especially with the emphasis on the idea that this ends the Enchantment of Britain and marks the point at which the adventures stop.  The story in which the PK’s friend, or at least acquaintance, Percival ends up as Grail king is more triumphant and happy in tone.  It might make more sense to have it mark the high point of the campaign, and coincide with whatever you decide is the apogee of Arthur’s reign.


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If KAP is lacking about something, it's about the Grail Quest. We are in need of good material.

I don't now exactly how I will play the Grail Quest.

I don't like Galaad either (very bland), and Perceval is my favorite character, especially in the unacheved Conte du Graal. So I intend to keep the arrival of Galaad, the sword in the stone, the Perilous Seat, the grail feast, the oaths, etc. And... The first dead quester they will found will be ... Galaad ^^

I think it's a great way to tell your players there is no destiny, and it's deadly serious. Go Away if you are not up to the task!

2 hours ago, Voord 99 said:


The Post-Vulgate is the main inspiration for Malory and very close of course. It's very depressing. Everyone (except Galaad and his two buddies) is a bastard (especially the poor Gawaine) or an idiot (like Erec, without his Enide).

2 hours ago, Voord 99 said:

I’ve never read Perlesvaus

Perlesvaus is insane! You should read it ^^ !!! For the grail quest, it's not very good however. Gawaine and Lancelot in this tale are good guys, but failed. They are not pure enough. Perceval/Perlesvaux/Parluifait/Whatever will conquer the Grail and  become the new Grail King. He retired himself as a monk. The end.

It's a bit disappointing of course. Perceval is very violent in Perlesvaux, killing everyone who is pagan, demon-worshipper, etc (The narrator have some narrow views about religion ^^)

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I agree that the Vulgate/Malory version  of the Grail Quest is really Lancelot-centered.  Its chief goal is to show how Lancelot's affair with Queen Guinevere (and maybe his pride, as well) cost him the Holy Grail, with Galahad as really a sort of "how Lancelot would have fared on the Grail Quest if he hadn't fallen into sin".

The earlier, Percival versions work much better if you want to move the story away from "the Lancelotian legend" - if with the challenge that the Grail Quest is here designed for Percival.  (Indeed, Gawain is generally the only other knight of the Round Table to participate in the Grail Quest in the Percival version - the notion of the Grail Quest as something that all the knights of the Round Table embark on is apparently the Vulgate Cycle's invention.)  One version that stands out to me is the "Romance of Perceval in Prose" (I was fortunate enough to find a modern English translation at a library sale a few years ago), which includes the following features:

1. Perceval's initial blunder here isn't failing to ask the Grail Question, but insisting on sitting in the Siege Perilous when he joins the Round Table; the seat splits in half and trouble descends upon the land, that will only be healed when Perceval fulfills the Grail Quest (and when he does, the Siege Perilous fuses back together).

2. Perceval's fulfilling the Grail Quest ends the "adventures" of Arthur's kingdom, resulting in nothing left for the knights of the Round Table to do, so they decide to leave Britain and search for some other land that *does* still have adventures.  Arthur embarks on his foreign conquests (leading to the Roman War) in order to prevent this.  (I've mentioned this in another thread.)

3. Merlin doesn't go into full retirement until after the passing of Arthur, which he reports to Perceval at the Grail Castle, after which he withdraws to a mysterious retreat (with no mention of Nimue/Vivien), though he starts the process after Arthur becomes king.

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We’re closing in on the grail quest now,  and I’m not sure how to handle it. I didn’t expect any of the characters to be especially grail-worthy, but now we  actually have one who is extremely devout, although still no Galahad.

One thing we HAVE done, is limiting the wasteland to Listeneise. In spite of Boorman it didn’t feel right to us to let it cover the whole map.

(Galahads story seems a bit weird: He has lived his entire life in the grail castle, next door to the grail. The very first time he leaves his home as an adult, he just stays in Camelot for a couple of hours, before he begins his big four-year quest of finding the way back to the place where he has spent 99% of his life. He only left it to go to Camelot and start the quest!)

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2 hours ago, Baba said:

We’re closing in on the grail quest now,  and I’m not sure how to handle it. I didn’t expect any of the characters to be especially grail-worthy, but now we  actually have one who is extremely devout, although still no Galahad.

Yeah, it's very tricky. If you lack time, I would say:

Read Malory, especially the Grail Quest, and the few adventures in the GPC. In Tales of Magic & Miracles, there is one or two christian adventures you can throw to your players. I would say "be unfair". A little mistake, and bam, you're out of the quest. You are unworthy. 

The Grail Quest should be very frustrating. Kill their horses, their friends, their foes, etc. until the players want to quit the quest. If your devout knight want to continue, even alone, fine. Maybe, after a few another moral tests, he will see the Grail from afar, or even be one of the 12 worthy knights during the Mass of the Holy Grail.


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8 hours ago, Baba said:


(Galahads story seems a bit weird: He has lived his entire life in the grail castle, next door to the grail. The very first time he leaves his home as an adult, he just stays in Camelot for a couple of hours, before he begins his big four-year quest of finding the way back to the place where he has spent 99% of his life. He only left it to go to Camelot and start the quest!)

The most likely explanation for that is that the Grail Quest is not a conventional quest to find Carbonek; the goal is to understand the spiritual significance of the Holy Grail, which can only be done by wandering about in the wilderness, facing a series of tests and challenges.  As Phyllis Ann Karr pointed out in her Arthurian Companion, it's more like a vision quest or a walkabout.

Also, Galahad has a number of missions to fulfill first, such as delivering the Castle of Maidens from its masters, ending the burning tomb and the boiling fountain, achieving the Shield Adventurous, etc.

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