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Pendragon Design Journal #2: Bringing the Light in Sixth Edition


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By David Larkins, Pendragon line editor.

A new edition of the Pendragon RPG is coming! The intention of this series of design journals by Pendragon line editor David Larkins is to trace the path of development, starting in the early 1980s and culminating with the forthcoming new edition of the Pendragon RPG, which will be first to be wholly published by Chaosium in a quarter-century. 

Sword Hand by Andrey Fetisov

The path to the forthcoming 6th edition of Pendragon formally began on April 5th, 2010, when Greg Stafford sent out an email to his team of collaborators (whom he referred to as his “Household”) outlining his vision for the new edition—his Ultimate Edition.

Here is how Greg's fateful email began, in part:

My Fellows,

Thank you for accepting my offer to help out on the new King Arthur Pendragon 6th edition, and its supplements.

Yes, that is correct. I plan to release a new edition of KAP. The core book and game, the “real” KAP, is about adventuring knights….

The innovations and changes will actually be few in number…. My desire is to have a set of rules that provides everything that a player needs to play an adventuring knight, unencumbered by anything but his goals and passions….

Now, one thing is that I want to be sure that the core game functions of itself, and also anticipates all of the below….

Greg then goes on for several pages, outlining his tentative plan for the sixth edition line. Looking over this today, it is striking to see how, even though the particulars changed quite a bit in the development, the central vision has remained essentially unaltered over the past ten years. Greg’s desire to make the core rules into a focused resource for playing adventuring knights and build out from there remains a key facet of Chaosium’s vision for the products to come.

The key word is modularity: start with the adventuring knight and add other facets to the game to taste. (I will talk more about how we intend to realize this vision in future Design Journals.)

As reviewed in last month’s installment, Greg first started to work on what he would come to call his magnum opus in the early 1980s by conducting a close reading of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and other Arthurian texts and then adapting the Basic Roleplaying system around his notes.

Four editions of the game would follow (plus a phantom “2nd edition” that was never actually published). Each edition saw tweaks and changes based on Greg’s evolving understanding of the literature and how he wished to represent it in the mechanics and setting of Pendragon.

For sixth edition, Greg’s objective was to consolidate all that work into a coherent whole, one that reflected his latest understanding of what the game should be, which he achieved with the completed first draft of the rules shortly before his passing in 2018.

It is notable, for example, that the game’s subtitle evolved from first edition’s “Game of Quest, Romance, & Adventure” to sixth edition’s “Game of Valor, Honor, & Tragedy”.

This is not to say that there is no room for questing, romance, or adventure in the new edition—far from it! But over time, Greg came to understand that the mechanics and setting of Pendragon tend to produce gaming experiences of a much deeper, emotional timbre. Characters are tested. Some show Valor in the face of despair. Some hold to Honor when all else is lost. Yet, as we all know, Arthur’s dream is fated to end in Tragedy. How we navigate these challenges—finding out what kind of knight you really are, and building a legacy of a brighter tomorrow—is the heart of the Pendragon experience.

One of my favorite bits of text from Greg’s sixth edition manuscript is a little essay he wrote entitled “Bringing the Light”. I will close by sharing it here in its entirety:

The medieval Britain of history, inherent in the old literature, was a dismal, violent, and cruel place, with outdated standards of behavior. Setting the game in this world was a deliberate choice, for alongside the dark overtones comes hope for a brighter tomorrow.

In the campaign, the Gamemaster paints a harsh background as the reality within which the characters move. Initially, the Gamemaster’s characters are merciless and brutal. Player-knights may choose to remain in that unenlightened realm of history—this kind of behavior does not penalize them, but neither rewards them. But they also have a choice to join the struggle to improve the world. Their actions can stand as shining lights of exceptional behavior, breaking the old ways and preparing for a better realm.

The story of King Arthur is about the struggle to improve life. With his faithful knights, he manifests the dream of a better world. The game dramatizes this heroic effort in its play. Great rewards go to those who struggle to improve the kingdom.

King Arthur changes the world, slowly to be sure, but in general for the better. Bloodthirsty warlords, selfish sorcerers, and even the environment itself in the form of the Wasteland, all conspire against these changes. The Player-knights are an important part of the struggle for the betterment of Britain.

The improvements in the lives of women and commoners are hallmarks of Arthur’s efforts. Ladies make great gains both socially and legally over the course of his reign. Women may become knights if they wish, gain the power to choose their own husbands, and, whether knight or noblewoman, eventually may inherit their due estates and take care of them without a warden. Commoners are among King Arthur’s earliest supporters, and he even forms Parliament to give them a place to exercise their powers alongside the clergy and lords.

The Gamemaster decides how much resistance hinders these changes. You may of course decide on presenting a fantasy realm that is better than our modern world, with fairness, justice, and goodwill everywhere. However, that attitude significantly alters the stories, and what the stories mean. The best balance comes when the world is at first medieval, reactionary, and reluctant to change; yet slowly yields under the influence of the Player-knights and their allies in Arthur’s court working to create a luminous realm.

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Art from the forthcoming 6th edition of Pendragon
—TOP: Andrey Fetisov
—BOTTOM: Katrin Dirim 

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I'm really happy about women knights being a central part of the rules. Almost all of the groups I've played in have included women, so it's important to me that games be inclusive. Also, there is no one true Arthurian story. Why not a variant with women knights? Now I am inspired to shake off my pandemic stasis, get out there and find a group. After it's safe again, of course.

 

Edited to say that the art is really good!

Edited by Dagonet
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18 hours ago, piersb said:

The way 6e is approaching this is very similar to the way I'm approaching it in my home game.

There were no women knights in the world at the start of the campaign; there is one now; as time moves on it will be seen to become unremarkable.

I tjhink it's the best way to handle the matter. To link the rise of female knights with the rise of Arthur and his progressive ideals.

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5 hours ago, Dagonet said:

Suppose a player wanted to play a line of exclusively female knights. How would that work in the early periods? Perhaps they could pass as men. Then at the right period, Sir John could reveal herself to have been Sir Joan all along?

Personally I'd ask what the Player wants. If they don't want to hide it, I'd carve a special exemption for their lineage. Maybe the great-grandmother saved Constantin's life around 415 and was given a knighthood and a manor for her trouble. In memory of that special knighting by the High King, her manor and knighthood is inherited by the eldest daughter rather than the eldest son, by the order of the High King. Three generations later (including the Mother fighting for Aurelius) that exemption would be hallowed in time already, at least around her own locale.

Rule 0: Have fun.

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10 hours ago, Dagonet said:

Suppose a player wanted to play a line of exclusively female knights. How would that work in the early periods? Perhaps they could pass as men. Then at the right period, Sir John could reveal herself to have been Sir Joan all along?

In times of war, families with less valid men will have to rely on women to take arms, and some may later opt for a tradition where some women are trained to become warriors.

I can also see a geographical and cultural divide, where some regions/cultures have no problem with knighting a woman, and not others.

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12 hours ago, Dagonet said:

Suppose a player wanted to play a line of exclusively female knights. How would that work in the early periods? Perhaps they could pass as men. Then at the right period, Sir John could reveal herself to have been Sir Joan all along?

After The Adventure of Sword Lake the three involved were taken before Earl Roderick who Merlin had told a Great Change was coming and that these three characters would be a part of it. 

Helms off to be knighted, and Shock! Horror! It's a girl!

Bit of a surprise for ol' Roderick, but he knighted her anyway in front of his whole court.

So female knights exist now.

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As an aside, what naming conventions for female knights do people prefer? I know the current rules suggest “Sir” but having downloaded the Quest for the Red Blade the pre-gen characters seem to use “Dame”; so was wondering which 6th edition may use.

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9 minutes ago, Grey said:

As an aside, what naming conventions for female knights do people prefer? I know the current rules suggest “Sir” but having downloaded the Quest for the Red Blade the pre-gen characters seem to use “Dame”; so was wondering which 6th edition may use.

My personal preference is:
Sir = male knights
Dame = female knights
Lady = noblewomen who are not knights (for example, most daughters and wives of knights)

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10 hours ago, Grey said:

I like that! (Sir for female knights just felt bit “off” to me and this distinction between “Dame” and “Lady” makes sense)

 

That's not a distinction available to me, as I'd play in French in which "dame" is a translation of "lady".

Calling a woman "sir" sounds like an insult to me, implying she's not behaving properly for her sex.

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Dame is, as many people here will know (but just in case), the equivalent of “Sir” in the modern British honours system.  Which is no doubt why the game has adopted it, but, perversely, to me it has the opposite effect from the desired.  I just start thinking of modern people who are Dame This or Dame That.  Part of this is no doubt that I have a fairly strong dislike of the honours system, and do not like being reminded of it.  (Runs in the family.  My grandfather turned down an O.B.E. on principle.)

My personal preference would be (a) to abandon, with reluctance, Malory’s practice of consistently referring to every knight as “Sir Whatever” and mostly just refer to them by their names.  (b) When it’s necessary, women knights are “The lady or damosel Whatever.”  But most of the time one does not worry about it, and just uses her name.

 

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I always talk it over with my players and bow to their wishes on this, especially in the early phases.  Once Arthur takes the throne, the pressure to conform will slowly etch upwards as more and more women become knights.  As always, YPMV.

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I’d prefer to say ‘Lady’ as a title for a female Knight, and simply note that Pendragon is not a historical recreation, but a historical fantasy - which includes a bit more egalitarian attitudes than was actually the case, historically.

Edited by TrippyHippy
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13 hours ago, Mugen said:

That's not a distinction available to me, as I'd play in French in which "dame" is a translation of "lady".

Calling a woman "sir" sounds like an insult to me, implying she's not behaving properly for her sex.

Same. It doesn't work in french. I use "dame" in both cases in french, and it works just fine ^^

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For what it’s worth, there’s a decent alternate-history justification one could use for “sir” being both masculine and feminine.  

“Sir” is from Old French sire, which is from Latin senior, via *seior.  (Seigneur is also from senior, but by its own separate derivation.)  Now, no doubt if people in the Middle Ages had addressed women as sire, they would probably have invented a feminine — cf. seigneuresse.  But in Latin, senior is both masculine and feminine.  

(And obviously, what people are “really” speaking in Pendragon is some indefinable mix of Late Latin/Early Romance and Brythonic languages, and they are not “really” speaking English with a lot of borrowings from French.  No-one is “really” calling anyone else “Sir Whoever.”)  

So one can imagine a history in which sire remained both masculine and feminine, was used in Old French as a respectful address for noble women as well as noble men, and in due course English “sir” was used interchangeably for both men and women.

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7 hours ago, Voord 99 said:

For what it’s worth, there’s a decent alternate-history justification one could use for “sir” being both masculine and feminine.  

“Sir” is from Old French sire, which is from Latin senior, via *seior.  (Seigneur is also from senior, but by its own separate derivation.)  Now, no doubt if people in the Middle Ages had addressed women as sire, they would probably have invented a feminine — cf. seigneuresse.  But in Latin, senior is both masculine and feminine. 

There was also "Sieur", which appeared at the end on 13th century (and which you can still recognize in "Monsieur"). Feminine forms would be "Sieure", Sieuresse or Sieuse.

Hmm... What about Siress ? It seems to follow the same logic behind Master/Mistress or Actor/Actress.

Edited by Mugen
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On 10/4/2021 at 10:21 AM, piersb said:

I agree with the stance in 5.2 and use Sir for all knights regardless of gender.

 I think I would go with that. Me support for it comes from that cornerstone medieval English text, uh, Star Trek. Seriously, I like how they call all officers "Sir". To be fair, I would discuss the issue with players first and probably go with what they preferred.

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