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Pendragon Design Journal #14: Writing the Starter Set, Part Three - Plus, we have a release date!

Posted by Michael O'Brien on 9th Jun 2023

Pendragon Logo

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.

Last week we were excited to announce the Pendragon Starter Set is having its worldwide release on June 29th! Here's our special release video, narrated by Mark Meer:

So what will you find when you've got your own Pendragon Starter Set box and opened it? After paging through everything and admiring the gorgeous art, you’ve played through the SoloQuest and gotten an idea of how the game works and know a little bit about the fantastic world of King Arthur. Now it’s time to dig into Book II: The Fabled Realm and see what makes the Pendragon RPG tick.

Our goal with this book was to present the game’s setting and mechanics as succinctly as possible while still conveying what makes Pendragon such a special gaming experience. Those of you who have downloaded our free quick-start scenario, The Adventure of the Sword Tournament, already have a super-streamlined version of the rules; this book takes that structure and expands it to allow you to play through the campaign in Book III (which we’ll be talking about in our next and final Design Journal!).

At the same time, we felt it important to keep the game as accessible as possible for newcomers. In that spirit, we don’t spend a lot of pages talking about the game’s setting; not in this book. The SoloQuest and Sword Campaign, along with a series of handouts triggered by various events in the campaign, do most of the heavy lifting in that regard. In playing through the scenarios, the Gamemaster and Player-knights will get fully immersed in the experience of this world. Book II starts with the broad strokes: customs of the realm, and the rights and responsibilities of knighthood, as well as a look at a typical day in the life of a knight.

Next, we dive into the game system itself, expanding on what you learned in playing through the SoloQuest: how the core dice mechanic works, what the various Statistics mean, and so forth. After that, we look at the Traits and Passions system, Skills, how Honor and Glory work, and combat.

As you might expect, the combat chapter, in concert with the following three chapters which cover weapons and armor, horses, and how to track injuries and recovery, respectively, constitute the most detailed portion of Book II—a fitting focus for that most definitive of knightly duties. After all, what is a knight if they cannot lay their lives on the line in answer to the call of their lord or for a righteous cause?

And so here you find the many possible actions available to knights, including mounted charges (and the soon-to-be-infamous Mounted Charge Fumble table!), reckless attacks, what happens when you get trampled by a horse, and even grappling rules. You’ll learn the advantages and disadvantages of an axe versus a mace in battle, and how many volleys you’ll be subjected to as you charge towards that mass of cowardly archers on the battlefield—and how well your armor will protect you or your horse from the arrows that do strike home!

The remainder of Book II examines the knight’s life during downtime: the value behind ransoming prisoners, and, of course, the Winter Phase, presented here in a streamlined version that focuses on the relatively simple lives of the pre-generated mercenary and household knights that come in the box.

Much as the Pendragon Starter Set rules expand on the quick-start version of the game, so too do the core rulebooks expand on what is found here in The Fabled Realm. But there is plenty here to allow for many sessions of play. In fact, it is my personal hope that players use Book II as a sort of quick table reference even when playing the full game. One of my design goals when editing and developing this book in particular was that it stand on its own and be of utility to all Pendragon players, and I feel we have achieved that.

Pendragon Starter Set box

Next time: The Sword Campaign revealed, and much more!