Mini-Review: A Patch For Pendragon

The fifth edition of Pendragon has proven to be its longest-lasting edition, having originally been published in 2005 and remained supported by some publisher or another ever since. The original release of 5th Edition, with its cover art depicting Arthur fighting… erm… a giant piggy, came about through ArtHaus Games – an imprint of White Wolf, would ya believe it – before the purchase of White Wolf by CCP and the departure of Stewart Wieck, whose baby the ArtHaus imprint was. Wieck’s new Nocturnal publishing house was the home of Pendragon for some years, until recently it made its triumphant return home to Chaosium.

Over time, Nocturnal made a couple of patches to the fifth edition core book. The 5.1 revision, which I never got around to looking at, incorporated some errata and corrections and sported new cover art of Arthur accepting Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. More recently, the upgrade to Edition 5.2 – the version you can currently get from Chaosium – took place. Folding in further corrections and embellishments, the book also benefits from an updated layout, which is delightfully clear and readable, and a gorgeous interior with subdued but welcome use of colour. Perhaps the biggest upgrade is the use of the absolutely gorgeous artwork from the Spanish translation of the game.

Is it worth the upgrade? In my case I’d say yes, if only because my old copy of the ArtHaus edition is beginning to feel fragile after the rigours of play in my old Pendragon campaign. On the whole, I would say that it’s still essentially the same take on the game as was offered up in 2005, so if you already have the ArtHaus version or the 5.1 edition you don’t urgently need the upgrade – but it is undeniably an upgrade and given a choice between 5.2 and another version I’d go for 5.2.

Advertisements

Inscribing the Core Runes

It’s been a little while since the core rules for the new edition of RuneQuest made landfall, and now the physical versions of the major core supplements – the Glorantha Bestiary and the Gamemaster Screen Pack – are out in the wild too (along with a handsome slipcase to hold the treats in).

In my review of the core rules I found them to be a credible return to RuneQuest‘s old stomping grounds – how do these first expansions stand up?

Continue reading “Inscribing the Core Runes”

Down Darker Outback Trails

Terror Australis was an early Call of Cthulhu supplement – it originally came out in 1987 – which has been left fallow for some years, only to now receive a major new rerelease for 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu. Both the original supplement and new edition involve significant amounts of work from Australia-based game designers including Penelope Love and Mark Morrison, whilst the new edition has been substantially enlarged and revised.

The supplement is a guide to Australia in the 1920s, and seeds the threat of the Cthulhu Mythos within the island continent – both in terms of homegrown horrors (such as the Great Race of Yith and their enemies, the flying polyps, thanks to Lovecraft setting the climax of The Shadow Out of Time in Australia) and nastiness brought to the continent by the settlers.

Continue reading “Down Darker Outback Trails”

Alone Against the Book-Keeping

Alone Against the Dark is a solo adventure for Call of Cthulhu – a valiant attempt to cram a globe-trotting campaign on the scale of Masks of Nyarlathotep into a thin gamebook which almost, but not quite, succeeds.

The gamebook deploys several clever innovations to add useful options in play without needlessly wasting paragraphs – like the scope to telephone places or the use of a single paragraph to describe the process of using medical facilities, whether the place in question is a world-class hospital or a lonely ship’s medical bay. The cleverest thing about it, however, is the way it incorporates an honest-to-good method of providing multiple “lives” in a gamebook adventure. Though you only play one character at a time, when your character dies that isn’t the end of the adventure – you instead go to the starting paragraph of the next pregenerated character, who it is assumed has been largely filled in on what has been going on by regular telegram and, with the flow of telegrams having stopped for some days, is prompted to spring into action themselves.

The pregens themselves have 150 unspent skill points each, so you can personalise them as you see fit, though they each have their specialties – you begin with an aged academic and end with a tough muscley sailor lad – presumably because the later in the investigation it is, the more you’re going to need to resort to violence. It’s only a full-fledged “game over, start again” situation if your fourth PC (the Tom of Finland pinup) dies. In principle, it’s possible to finish the investigation with your starting character still alive, though you’d need to be both clever and lucky to manage it.

The major downside of the adventure is the painstaking timekeeping it demands; it literally requires you to account for every single hour of every day, including 8 hours for sleep and 2 hours for eating, each meal hour suitably separated from the other one. Though there’s some important plot stuff which does hinge on timing, equally I feel like this level of bookkeeping and fiddling about amounts to overkill – far, far too much effort on the part of the player for the payoff it gives. It feels like Alone Against the Dark might be better off were it adapted to Cthulhu Chronicles as a result; then your mobile could handle the bookkeeping and as a player you wouldn’t spend half the playing time ticking off hours and planning meals.

The Delta Green Archives

With UFOs high in the zeitgeist in 1992, and shortly before The X-Files made the subject matter a full-blown pop culture phenomenon, Pagan Publishing’s Call of Cthulhu fanzine The Unspeakable Oath published a little adventure called Convergence, which introduced the concept of Delta Green – a top-secret, unsanctioned, off-the-books conspiracy within the US government to investigate and contain the threat of the Cthulhu Mythos.

In years to come, Convergence would begat a whole swathe of supplements. The original run of Delta Green material would provide an exciting model for modern-day Call of Cthulhu play. In more recent years, Arc Dream Publishing – consisting of many former Pagan personnel and generally speaking the inheritors of their illustrious mantle – has turned Delta Green into its own standalone RPG, though not with a system so radically divergent from 5E/6E Call of Cthulhu as to render the original supplements useless. In essence, the Delta Green RPG is a fork of Call of Cthulhu, with adaptations and changes made to better reflect the style of the Delta Green setting – substituting out the Call of Cthulhu sanity system for an adapted version of the Unknown Armies one being the most significant system deviation.

Sooner or later I’ll be doing Kickstopper articles covering the new Delta Green RPG, since the product line has been underwritten by crowdfunding efforts, but until then (and to avoid those articles getting even more absurdly big than they are already), here’s some reviews of the original run of supplements.

Continue reading “The Delta Green Archives”

Chivalrously Keeping It In the Family

One of the most fun aspects of character generation in 5th Edition Pendragon is the Family History tables in the core rulebook. Assuming your campaign will begin in the Uther period and will focus on knights based around Salisbury, these tables allowed players to work out what their first PC knights’ fathers and grandfathers had accomplished in the struggles against the Saxons in previous generations – both giving starting characters a small amount of glory based on those deeds and a sense of family history (with attendant Passions) that help give shape and depth to characters early on.

It’s rather lovely, but somewhat limited to PCs starting out at that point of the Great Pendragon Campaign, in that particular region. That’s in general sensible for a starting Pendragon group – Greg chose Salisbury as being reasonably close to much of the early action, and I suspect most groups would want to begin their story at the beginning of the narrative.

That said, it would be nice to have this option for a wider range of starting locations if a referee has decided that they want to focus the campaign somewhere else, or if they want to give their players the option of playing knights from further afield who’ve come to Salisbury (or whatever other starting location the referee has chosen) to seek their fortune. After all, a consequence of the feudal system as depicted in Pendragon would be that you’d expect knights who either didn’t inherit much from their fathers or, due to being younger sons or being driven off their homelands, didn’t inherit anything at all to try their luck further afield in the service of lords with lands to spare. Similarly, it would be nice to have the option of using the family history system but with a bit more freedom about campaign starting date.

The Book of Sires, the first Pendragon publication to be released after the passing of Greg Stafford (it’s penned by Robert G. Schroeder), is a comprehensive expansion and rethink of the Family History rules, designed to accommodate knights hailing from nine different regions. Though obviously focused on Logres, this can also include knights hailing from as far away as Aquitaine, from regions which give rise to interesting dilemmas like Cornwall (who do you side with when Uther comes for Ygraine?), and even a newly-introduced subfaction of the Saxons who decide to side with the Britons against their Saxon kinfolk. It’s a simple idea which requires a lot of hard work and cross-referencing to produce the actual tables for, and Schroeder’s done sterling work in producing such and providing clear guidelines on their use.

Particularly welcome is the appendix which allows you to extrapolate the Family History process forwards, based on The Great Pendragon Campaign, to allow for campaigns starting in the Anarchy following Uther’s death or the Boy King period when Arthur makes his presence felt, which also feels very useful to me – I can see the Uther and Anarchy periods as being the periods groups are most likely to skip, if they’re impatient to get to Arthur himself, but equally I wouldn’t want a Pendragon campaign to start much later than the Boy King period because you don’t want to hit the Grail Quest or the Battle of Camlann without having built your own personal histories to be invested in when the rise of Mordred and fall of Camelot brushes everything away into the stuff of myth.

As one of the first fruits of Chaosium’s new stewardship of the grand old game, The Book of Sires is an important and useful addition to 5th Edition Pendragon; as far as that game’s supplements go, I would put this on the same level of importance as The Book of Knights and Ladies, the supplement which allows for generation of knights from beyond Salisbury. If this is the quality we can expect out of future Pendragon releases, then rejoice. Greg Stafford has left us, and is doubtless refereeing a Pendragon campaign in Avalon for Arthur, Morgan, Nimue and the other Ladies of Avalon (and is doubtless being very careful about his answers when Morgan queries the role of women in the game); meanwhile in the mortal realms, the game remains in safe hands.

Getting Into Glorantha

Glorantha has a strong claim to being the second oldest fantasy setting to have been introduced to the general public through the medium of tabletop gaming. Sure, Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk and Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor campaigns were the first campaign worlds developed specifically for Dungeons & Dragons, but before either of them had hatched those worlds Greg Stafford had been tinkering away on Glorantha since the 1960s, with the public’s first sight of it being the boardgame White Bear and Red Moon. M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel setting is the only gameworld that can claim to be older whilst still fitting the criteria of its first public offerings being gaming products – those being Empire of the Petal Throne and its little-discussed companion boardgame War of Wizards – since Barker had apparently been working on it since the 1940s. Beyond that, settings like Middle Earth, H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos or Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age were all, of course, introduced to the public via stories in other mediums, and only later adapted to gaming formats.

Any world which has been tinkered with by its creator and his collaborators for half a century is going to accrete an awful lot of detail – and getting those details straight is a challenge, particularly when changes to the canon have been made here and there and when the published depictions of the world have unfolded over four decades, winding their way through multiple different publishers – Chaosium, Avalon Hill, Mongoose and Moon Design being the major ones, with Moon Design’s assumption of leadership roles at Chaosium bringing it all full circle.

It is fitting, then, that the lead minds at Moon Design would, shortly before and shortly after they became the guiding intelligences at Chaosium, be involved in crafting definitive, canonical depictions of Glorantha, to provide clear and definitive foundations for future explorations of the world and to sum up multiple decades of accreted material.

One of these projects, the Guide to Glorantha, was undertaken prior to Moon Design’s fusion with Chaosium, but sort of ended up being the product which made that possible in the first place – produced in close collaboration with Stafford and Sandy Petersen, who between them would assume sole ownership of Chaosium after negotiating Charlie Krank’s exit from the business, it was funded through a Kickstarter. The successful completion of that Kickstarter meant that Moon Design had accumulated both experience with the Kickstarter process and, perhaps more crucially, goodwill with gamers – which made them a good pair of hands to handle the delivery of the troubled 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu Kickstarter.

The Guide is now put out by Chaosium themselves, having been integrated into their product lines; The Glorantha Sourcebook, an introductory book of more modest dimensions and different emphasis, was later produced by Chaosium.

So much for the publishing history; are the books any good? Let’s dive in and find out.

Continue reading “Getting Into Glorantha”