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Not the Great Pendragon Campaign: Pick a lane, Gawain, just pick a lane.


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So, Gawain.  (Gawaine, if you prefer.)  Pendragon Gawain comes across to me as a bit of an uneasy compromise.

Everyone knows that Gawain is one of world literature’s biggest victims of the Worf Effect, both in terms of how formidable he’s portrayed as being, and more strikingly still, in how moral his character is supposed to be.  He goes from being top knight — and there is a lot of material in which that’s what he is — to being downgraded to show how amazing Lancelot is.  By the time you’re in the Post-Vulgate, Gawain is a complete bastard.  Morally, Malory dials it back a lIttle, to the point where some people do praise the complexity of his “hero-villain” Gawain, but on the prowess side, Malory’s Gawain is pretty clearly outclassed by several other knights.

Malory is obviously the chassis on which canon Pendragon Gawain is built, but there’s also an attempt to integrate the more positive Gawain.  (I believe that Hall’s translation of the English Gawain material is recommended reading in every edition of Pendragon.)  It’s an interesting question how well this works: I remember feeling a bit of whiplash in 3e going from the core rulebook’s Super Nice Guy Gawain to the Malory Gawain of The Boy King — the latter really does not seem like someone who would credibly develop into the former.   And I think it’s always a bit difficult to implement, “He’s a very decent and noble person, with this one flaw — which leads him repeatedly to murder people dishonorably.” 

Arguably, the single most effective Pendragon Gawain was in 1e, when he was pagan.  Wouldn’t work for me personally (no pagan knights in my game), but for an orthodox Pendragon campaign, making Gawain the greatest pagan knight gives him a clear role to play.

So it’s pretty obvious, I imagine, what I’m going to propose.   What if, instead of trying to mash up different Gawains, one picked one and stuck to it?  

Option 1:  The easy option is the villainous Gawain — nothing significant about the GPC needs to change as plot points, just (in some cases) in presentation.  But one could have a lot of fun with it, and it would work well with a weak Arthur who can’t bring himself to see how terrible his nephew is.  And every really famous superknight that one takes off the table opens a space for a superlative PK to shine.  Steal the stories of the positive Gawain and give them to a PK!

Option 2:  The radical one is to commit to having Gawain as the greatest of Arthur’s knights.  Not necessarily the best in particular qualities — Chrétien likes to play Gawain off against his main characters.  But overall, the most glorious figure at court after the king.  This doesn’t have to involve eliminating Lancelot (there’s at least one story where he features but seems clearly lesser than Gawain).  But it would involve reducing him to “the knight whose distinguishing feature is that he’s the queen’s lover.”   And it might be a good idea to eliminate Lancelot and have Arthur brought down by going off to fight the Roman War (earlier thread), and the Grail achieved by Perceval alone (another earlier thread) — which indeed is one of those traditions in which Gawain repeatedly features as the foil to the main character and greatest “normal” knight.

If one does option 2, one should definitely use Gawain’s origin story from De ortu Walwanii.  (Which I’m doing in my own GPC playthrough, with some changes.)   

 

Edited by Voord 99
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On 5/2/2021 at 12:02 AM, Voord 99 said:

Everyone knows that Gawain is one of world literature’s biggest victims of the Worf Effect, both in terms of how formidable he’s portrayed as being, and more strikingly still, in how moral his character is supposed to be.

Sure, but I am not sure everyone in this forum understands what you are saying ^^

Yes, Gawaine was trashed by the narrative, in the post-Vulgate, and therefore in Malory.

On 5/2/2021 at 12:02 AM, Voord 99 said:

Option 2:  The radical one is to commit to having Gawain as the greatest of Arthur’s knights.  Not necessarily the best in particular qualities — Chrétien likes to play Gawain off against his main characters.  But overall, the most glorious figure at court after the king.

It's my take. My "Gauvain" is a mix between the "sun of chivalry" found in Chrétien de Troyes, very courteous and brave, and the "Gauvain" in the Vulgate. Still a good guy, but overshadowed by Lancelot, the new guy. Gawaine became soon after the second best. So even if Lancelot and him respect each other, Gawaine knows deep done that he is not "THE" best, with a hint of jealousy. His rage against in Lancelot at the end is also fueled partly by his jealousy.

Of course, in my GPC, Gawaine is clean of the most foul accusations made against him.
 

On 5/2/2021 at 12:02 AM, Voord 99 said:

If one does option 2, one should definitely use Gawain’s origin story from De ortu Walwanii.  (Which I’m doing in my own GPC playthrough, with some changes.)   

I used the story found in the Vulgate. He came very young at the court of his uncle, against the wishes of his own father.

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