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What to replace Pendragon's cultures with for a campaign set in the USA?


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Hmmm.....my question about other Pendragon Engine games (Powered by Excalibur?) brought my idea about a Matter of Pride campaign up again.  That is, a Great Pendragon Campaign equivalent tracking the history of queer liberation in the US stretching from 1927 or so to 2013 or so, with the initial "family history" equivalent dating back to 1887 or so (maybe longer once I actually read BoSi).  That would cover things like cowboy culture being a home for disaffected/illegal lgbtq+ (or equivalent) people, the Boston Marriage, the development of the identity of homosexuality, the Homophile Society/Daughters of Bilitis era, the powerful effect of World War 2 on queer history, Stonewall/Compton's Cafeteria, gay lib, AIDS, ACT-UP, Will & Grace, etc.

The biggest question I have before I can get started, really, is with what I might replace Pendragon's cultures ~ there's 5 in Pendragon mainstream.  So far I've had two sets of ideas ~ one socioeconomic (Urban, Suburban, Rural, Homeless, and Immigrant) and one regional (West Coast, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast).  Of the two, I'm happier with the latter, but I'm not certain that'sn the way to go ~ whadday'all think?

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I don’t really think that Pendragon’s model of a small number of monolithic cultures is a good one for a game set in modern times.*  

On the whole, I’d think a better way to do this would be to start with a BRP variant** like Call of Cthulhu that already is designed for modern characters in a North American setting and has support for creating such characters across your period from the 19th century to today.   (If CoC, one might change the emphasis on occupation in favor of a more flexible “background,” that might highlight race, ethnicity, region, nationality, class, assigned gender, occupation, education, interests, experiences, etc., etc. to suit what the player wanted to be most formative about their character.)  Add a modernized list of Traits and Passions.  

The main thing that you’re taking from Pendragon is the multidecade experience, but that’s not a mechanical thing, and could be done in any system.  If you want it to pay homage to Pendragon, take your final BRP variant and divide all the numbers by 5. 🙂  

*Before someone points it out, it’s probably not all that adequate for C5th-C6th Britain, either.  But that matters less, as Pendragon’s setting is more distant and to a significant degree fictional.

**Keeping it Chaosium-friendly!  There are obviously many modern-oriented or modern-friendly systems. 

Edited by Voord 99
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I agree with Voord 99, in that Pendragon is not the best fit for what you are attempting.

Call of Cthulhu has settings that run from Roman to Middle Ages to Victorian (Cthulhu by Gaslight) to classic Call of Cthulhu to modern (Cthulhu Now). Adding updated/modernized Traits and Passions would not be that difficult to do with Cthulhu, but I would keep the occupations, as they help determine the starting skills. (full disclosure: I am a Call of Cthulhu game master)

Another workable option would be using GURPS, as it is specifically designed to be flexible.

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  • 1 month later...
On 8/4/2021 at 10:34 PM, Merlin Monroe et alia said:

The biggest question I have before I can get started, really, is with what I might replace Pendragon's cultures ~ there's 5 in Pendragon mainstream.  So far I've had two sets of ideas ~ one socioeconomic (Urban, Suburban, Rural, Homeless, and Immigrant) and one regional (West Coast, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast).  Of the two, I'm happier with the latter, but I'm not certain that'sn the way to go ~ whadday'all think?

In a lot of systems, you could have both of those -- for example, in RQ:G (to keep it BRP!) you have your Homeland, you have your Occupation, and Cult, and each of those is like a small package of modular starting abilities and boosts.  So you might have, let's say, Social Class, Occupation, Place of Origin, and Ideology playing vaguely similar roles.

But I have to agree with the chorus of comments that Pendragon doesn't seem like a good fit:  is a crunchy combat system the sort of mechanic that'll be most useful, or are you thinking of more of a social contests type of game?

But you could look at systems like for instance QuestWorlds.  (Still keeping it in-house, Chaosium has bills to pay!)  Your socioeconomics, region/state/city, politics, would be keywords:  again, packages of abilities, but can also be simple broad-brush abilities in themselves.  Has rules for social and other types of conflicts.  Family history/political lineage/community rules you'd have to flesh out, but there's the structure for that, too.

Then there's other 'indie engines' like Fate and Powered by the Apocalypse, which might also be a fit, depending on your personal preferences and design objectives.

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I'd look closely at QuestWorlds, Cortex Plus/Prime, and Fate before trying to hack Pendragon into something that can mechanically highlight the themes you're looking to center. Pendragon was groundbreaking for integrating things like Personality Traits, Passions, etc. into the classic RPG mechanics of its BRP foundations, but other games have gotten to stand on its shoulders for decades now, and have tools better suited to engaging with conflicts around identity, love, acceptance, and so on. 

Rather than working out how skill bonusses should differ between a shopkeeper's son in Boston and a farmer's daughter in Oklahoma, you could be deciding things like "OK, my stress tracks are going to be Safety, Acceptance, and Pride."  

Edited by JonL
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On 8/4/2021 at 5:34 PM, Merlin Monroe et alia said:

Hmmm.....my question about other Pendragon Engine games (Powered by Excalibur?) brought my idea about a Matter of Pride campaign up again.  That is, a Great Pendragon Campaign equivalent tracking the history of queer liberation in the US stretching from 1927 or so to 2013 or so, with the initial "family history" equivalent dating back to 1887 or so (maybe longer once I actually read BoSi).  That would cover things like cowboy culture being a home for disaffected/illegal lgbtq+ (or equivalent) people, the Boston Marriage, the development of the identity of homosexuality, the Homophile Society/Daughters of Bilitis era, the powerful effect of World War 2 on queer history, Stonewall/Compton's Cafeteria, gay lib, AIDS, ACT-UP, Will & Grace, etc.

The biggest question I have before I can get started, really, is with what I might replace Pendragon's cultures ~ there's 5 in Pendragon mainstream.  So far I've had two sets of ideas ~ one socioeconomic (Urban, Suburban, Rural, Homeless, and Immigrant) and one regional (West Coast, Southwest, Midwest, Southeast, and Northeast).  Of the two, I'm happier with the latter, but I'm not certain that'sn the way to go ~ whadday'all think?

So, setting aside the various reasons why Pendragon might be an ill fit, I think the main thing would be analyzing what culture is doing in Pendragon by default. What it mostly does is create a set of concentric circles of familiarity that potentially tie your character in to important setting figures- there's a central Cymric culture, and then on the next level out you have other British cultures and sub-Roman Aquitanians, and then on the next step out Saxons and Picts and Franks, and so on. And obviously if your PK is from France, they'll be tied to Lancelot, and if they're from Cornwall, Tristan, and if they're from insular Scotland, Gawain and the other Orkney knights.

So I think the core question here is the question of what concentric circles of familiarity you'd be trying to run with in this prospective game. (Which I find really fascinating just as a potential artifact.) This is also not necessarily going to be easy, because while there are certain equivalents you could use in a campy/light-hearted enough game ("Oh, are you a theater gay or a gym gay?") they didn't really stay consistent over this time period.

I think I would maybe define the culture equivalents as a combination of socioeconomic status and regional identity. You'd be able to use them as a similar kind of background and linkage to important setting/historical figures in that way. So I would perhaps do Middle America as the Cymric equivalent, and then build from this with things like Fresh Immigrant or Clapboard Church Yankee or similar. And then, eg., you could draw upon that Fresh Immigrant connection to be able to bond with Marlene Dietrich or whatever. (I think in this model maybe general working environment might replace religion as the primary shaper of socially valued Traits!)

Edited by Eff

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