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Pendragon Design Journal #12: Writing the Starter Set, Part Two


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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.

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Let’s start looking at the contents of the Pendragon Starter Set, shall we? We’ll begin, naturally enough, with Book I: The Adventure of the Sword in the Stone. As was done in the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set and RuneQuest Starter Set, we have included a tutorial SoloQuest intended to teach newcomers about the rules and setting of the game, as well as showcasing the the new edition for veteran players.

Although most of the material in the Pendragon Starter Set was written by Greg Stafford – including the exciting mini-campaign from which we pulled our new free Quickstart adventure (download here), and about which much more in a future Journal entry – I had the honor of writing this solo tutorial myself.

In many ways this felt like coming full circle from my beginnings in the hobby, as my first experiences with adventure gaming (circa 1987) came courtesy of the Lone Wolf series of game books. For those of you too young to have experienced the delights of the 80s gamebook craze, these were like advanced Choose Your Own Adventure books (a separate craze of their own which I also enthusiastically participated in) featuring what were essentially streamlined RPG-lite mechanics, character sheets, and systems based on generating random numbers. In short, a perfect primer for a lifetime hobby in tabletop role-playing games!

The aforementioned solo tutorials in the Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest Starter Sets set the bar pretty high for writing my own solo gamebook, but then I do love a challenge! And so, as I was busy editing and revising Greg’s text during the development process, I also blocked out some time to conceive and write up an original SoloQuest.

The setup is simple: you play a 14-year-old page on the cusp of becoming a squire. The twist is that you serve in the household of a provincial knight in the Cambrian kingdom of Penllyn by the name of Sir Ector; he has two sons, named Kay and Arthur.

Anyone with a passing familiarity with Arthurian tales (particularly those who have read T. H. White’s The Once and Future King or seen a certain animated feature film based on the book) can instantly imagine the scene, I’m sure. Of course, Greg’s interpretation of Arthurian canon puts our own Pendragon treatment on the home life of Squire Arthur and his household, which is reflected in this book.

london-street-pd.pngOver its 48 pages, The Adventure of the Sword in the Stone introduces the reader to the world of Arthurian Britain at a time of its greatest peril: the land is without a king, the Saxons press in along the borders of the great realm of Logres, and everywhere anarchy reigns. We then get a very brief introduction to the basics of the Pendragon system and the components that go into making a character.

From there, you actually generate your squire-to-be in a streamlined version of the core character creation rules and you are off and running!

Turning to the first entry in the SoloQuest proper, we read:

Sir Ector’s manor is built upon the ruins of an ancient hill fort in the country of Penllyn. The hall, Sir Ector’s place of residence, is a grand two-story stone building with an entrance on the second floor. On this fine autumnal day, with the harvest done and the air getting chillier, you are enjoying a brief respite from your duties with your friend and fellow page, Alis. The two of you are sitting near the warmth of the central hearth, playing a game of improvised draughts using river pebbles, when the main door to the hall flies open.

It is your friend Arthur, Kay’s younger brother, and his fine features are lit up with excitement. He beams at you.

“Kay wants to do quintain practice. I asked if you could join us, and he said yes!”

You leap to your feet. As a page, you are not allowed to practice martial skills with the squires. Kay, the senior squire of the household, must be feeling magnanimous. The game of draughts forgotten, you and Alis run outside with Arthur.

From these humble beginnings, you experience the highs and lows of life at court before heading out for adventure in the far-flung city of Londinium—the title of the adventure should provide a clue to where this is all leading…but what role can a humble page play in one of the most legendary events of all time?

Over the course of The Adventure of the Sword in the Stone, you keep track of your decisions and their consequences. At the very end of the SoloQuest, you tally up points based on these decisions to find out the future fate of your young character. Based on the events of this adventure, you find out if they destined for greatness—or ignominy. It’s a reminder of one of the central tenets of the game: you play to find out what kind of knight you will be.

In The Time of King Arthur, What Kind of Knight Will You Be?

Download The Adventure of the Sword Pendragon Quick-Start

Pendragon Quick-Start

ART: 'London Street' Mathilde Marlot; 'SoloQuest Cover' Sam Carr

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