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Pendragon Design Journal #1: Where It All Began

Posted by Michael O'Brien on 27th Aug 2021

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. 

For this first article, David takes a look at where it all began...

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.

When Greg passed away far too soon in 2018, he left behind decades’ worth of material, both paper and digital, tracing the game’s development. Most of these archives are currently in my care (from where I sit, I can see the shelf of vertical files containing dozens of detailed “hundred maps” of every county in Logres…), but there was one artifact that has remained out at Greg’s home in California: the original two-volume set of Le Morte d’Arthur from which Greg first began formulating the mechanical underpinnings of Pendragon.

Thanks to Greg’s friend and longtime Pendragon contributor David Zeeman, I recently received photos of the marginal notes Greg scribbled all those years ago, some of which (for there are many) are shared here for the first time.

We see Greg zeroing in on the core concepts of the game in Caxton’s Preface (“For herein may be seen noble chivalry, courtesy, humanity, friendliness, hardiness, love, friendship, cowardice, murder, hate, virtue, and sin. Do after the good and leave the evil, and it shall bring you to good fame and renown.”).

Then, as the tale unfolds, we see Greg marking incidents in the book as he refines his ideas for Traits and Passions, and how those mechanics will work in play: “Mark gets a passion”; “Jealousy”; “Lancelot fumbles Energetic”; “Madness strikes Lancelot”. 

Some terms are already there (Heraldry, Awareness); others are still in development (Injustice, Courage).

The note that brought me the greatest delight had to do with Greg’s thoughts on Queen Guenever: “Gwen is honorable & I’ll kill anyone who disagrees.”

At some point, I will be writing about the revised Great Pendragon Campaign project currently under way, which includes a more detailed and nuanced treatment of the queen in the overall story arc. I’m tempted to include that bit of marginalia as a quote somewhere in the text…

For now, though, look forward to more details in forthcoming articles on the development cycle of 6th edition, including Greg’s journey from that first announcement back in 2010 to how we’re carrying on his vision and legacy today.

Until then, “Let us win glory for our king, who will reward us with honors and lands; and the devil take the hindermost!”