Cover of 5.1 Edition of King Arthur Pendragon RPG

It Builds Character #3: King Arthur Pendragon 5.1

Welcome to the third in an occasional series called It Builds Character in which I use the character generation rules of various tabletop role-playing games to create a character and attempt to flesh them out into something distinctive.

It Builds Character #3: King Arthur Pendragon

The Game

For the third entry in this series, I’ll be using the rules of Nocturnal Media’s King Arthur Pendragon RPG (which I’ll be referring to as Pendragon hereafter), specifically the 5.1 Edition that was released in 2010. I’ve ran one game of Pendragon’s  third edition a number of years ago. I confess that I don’t remember a whole lot about it, so I’m mostly looking at this with a fresh pair of eyes. As something of an Arthurian lore fanboy, I’m seriously looking forward to going through this process.

The Character

By default, Pendragon’s character generation concentrates on the dynastic, feudal and heraldic dynamic within the kingdom of Camelot, which is a very different approach to other RPG’s (and therefore also to the previous “It builds character” blog entries.)

In the standard character generation rules, Pendragon assumes your character is a male vassal knight of the Earl of Salisbury, so that’s going to the basic skeleton which this character hangs on.

STEP I: Personal Data

The creating a character section starts off with information that’s not mechanistic or based on the rules and dice rolls. Instead we begin with some of the more basic facts of the character. First of all, the character needs a name. As we’re dealing with a somewhat anachronistic 5th-14th century timeframe in the best Arthurian tradition, the character only has one name. Pendragon lists a number of more obscure character names from Le Morte d’Arthur as examples. Since I’m creating this knight specifically for this blog entry, I opt for one of those choices: Gilmere.

Next up are the choices of Homeland, Culture & Religion. Homeland and Culture are assumed to be Salisbury and Cymric respectively, whereas Religion is a choice between Christian & pagan. I decide that Gilmere will be a Pagan, much to the disappointment of his father.

And speaking of his father, the next step is to decide on that father’s name. I opt for another from the list: Selivant. Next up, deciding on a title or honorific for the character. I decide that, since at some point Gilmere converted from Christianity to Paganism that he’s referred to as “the Lost” but taking a page from Malory, I decided to make it French (or at least French-ish, I’m not fluent) via the power of Google, so “Gilmere the Lost” is now “Gilmere la Perte.”

The next four items of personal data are all decided for Gilmere. Father’s Class is “vassal knight,” Son Number is “1” (being the oldest son is incredibly important in the age of primogeniture as it is really the only way an adventurer could afford to be such.), Liege Lord is Sir Roderick, Earl of Salisbury (Though I’m just saying Earl of Salisbury without naming a specific one because a lot depends on the timing of later steps in the character creation process. Current class is “squire,” but that will change as this process goes on. The next section is Current home, and for the first time, we’re busting out a die. Specifically a 20-sided die (d20) to see which of the twenty Salisbury manors will be Gilmere’s inheritance. I rolled a two, so Gilmere will be the heir to Berwick St. James manor.

The last section on personal data is Age & year born. We’re told to leave this blank as it gets filled in later, but I threw in what will be the default values. Gilmere would be 21 at the start of the campaign, which is in 485AD in the reign of Uther Pendragon. this means he was probably born in 464 or 465AD

Name: Gilmere

Homeland: Salisbury

Culture: Cymric

Religion: Pagan

Father’s Name: Selivant

Title: la Perte (“the Lost”)

Father’s Class: Vassal knight

Son Number: 1

Liege Lord: Earl of Salisbury

Current Class: Squire

Current Home: Berwick St. James

Age & Year Born: 21 years old. 465AD

 

STEP II: Traits and Passions

In the Arthurian tradition, many of the knights are driven by passionate goals and ideals. In Pendragon this is represented by various traits and passions on the character sheet.

Firstly, we hit on Traits, which are shown as paired virtues and vices. There are thirteen pairs to begin with. The total of each pairing has to add up to 20, so if one side of the virtue/vice pairing is 13, the other side has to be 7.

Initially, the Traits are influenced by the character’s religious background, with five of the traits ascribed as virtues within the Religion and assigned a score of 13. As Gilmere is a Pagan, he gets 13 in Generous, Energetic, Honest, Lustful & Proud.

Since Gilmere’s a knight and has undergone martial training. he automatically gets 15 for Valorous and a corresponding 5 in Cowardly. All the other Traits get a 10 initially, so we’ll do that now for Gilmere. Finally, a player gets to choose a famous trait, which the character is known for, and will likely heavily influence role-playing the character going forwards.  That trait gets 16, and so it’s companion paired trait gets a 4. in Gilmere’s case, I’ve decided he’s going to be famous for being Worldly, so that’s where his 16 goes, and the corresponding 4 goes to Pious. This might be connected to him converting from Christianity to Paganism, but I haven’t fully sketched that out yet.

The second part here are Directed Traits, but we’re told to leave those blank for now, presumably to come back to later.

So off we go to the third section, Passions. All starting Pendragon characters begin with five Passions – Loyalty to their Lord (or else the feudal system would break down), Love of their family, Hospitality, Honor and in the case of Salisbury residents like Gilmere, a Hatred of the Saxons. The first four of which are assigned values of 15, and the final of which is assigned a 3d6 value, in this case 11. But note that the Hatred of Saxons value will change if the character uses the optional Family History section as part of their character creation (which we will be doing, so that 11 is not going to be staying put). Starting characters also get 3 additional points of Passion they may assign among those 5 (though they don’t have to). I decide that Gilmere is going to spend one additional point on Hospitality, raising it to 16, and 2 points on Love of family, bringing that to 17

 

Traits:

Chaste 7/13 Lustful

Energetic 13/7 Lazy

Forgiving 10/10 Vengeful

Generous 13/7 Selfish

Honest 13/7 Deceitful

Just 10/10 Arbitrary

Merciful 10/10 Cruel

Modest 7/13 Proud

Pious 4/16 Worldly

Prudent 10/10 Reckless

Temperate 10/10 Indulgent

Trusting 10/10 Suspicious

Valorous 15/5 Cowardly

 

Directed Traits:

None

 

Passions:

Loyalty (Lord): 15

Love (family): 17

Hospitality: 16

Honor: 15

Hate (Saxons): 11 (3d6: 2,6,3)

 

STEP III: Attributes

Now we’re getting into the more mechanistic cores of the Pendragon system. There are five main attributes that each character has:

  1. SIZe
  2. DEXterity
  3. STRength
  4. CONstitution
  5. APPearance

I feel like these are mostly self-explanatory, but that’s never stopped me from explaining things anyway, so let’s take a look at each of these, and figure out how to divide up the 60 attribute points that Gilmere has to spend.

Size, is as one might expect a descriptor of just how large (height and weight wise) the character might be. As a Cymric character, Gilmere can have a size score between 8 (around eighty pounds) and 18 (closer to 215 lbs, or your author’s actual weight…).

Dexterity is a summary of the characters agility, balance and similar related qualities, and can range between 5 and 18 for Cymric characters.

Strength also ranges between 5 and 18 for Cymric characters and reflects the combat abilities, carrying capacity and movement rate, as you might expect.

Constitution ranges between 5 and 21 for Cymric characters (as to why it’s 21 rather than 18, Cymric characters get +3 CON as a cultural modifier.) and reflects how healthy the character is, at least in terms of how much damage he can take.

Appearance reflects how attractive/handsome the character is, which is of equal if not greater importance than combat statistics in this age of chivalry and courtly love that is the reign of Arthur. Again, this ranges from 5 to 18 for Cymric characters.

The rules strongly recommend that initial characters have a combined SIZ + STR of 21 and a minimum CON of 8, which becomes 11 thanks to the Cymric  modifier. I keep this in mind as I assign the initial 60 points among the 5 attributes.

I opt for a size of 13, making Gilmere on the larger size, but not gigantic. Since he’s on the larger side, a decent strength of 12 makes sense to me. I feel like being a little big probably affects Gilmere’s co-ordination and so he gets a DEX of 10. That leaves 25 points for CON and APP. I decide that Gilmere la Perte is a good looking chap indeed and assign 14 points to his APP. That leaves 11 points for CON, which the Cymric cultural modifier turns to a 14.

As well as the five core attributes, each character has a series of Derived Statistics calculated based on those attributes. In each case, the derived statistic is rounded to the nearest whole number. The first of these is Damage, which represents the amount of damage that the character can inflict on an enemy in combat. It’s calculated by adding together the character’s size and strength and then dividing that total by 6. Given Gilmere’s attributes so far, his Damage score would be (13+12)/6 = 4. Healing rate is to do with how many hit points the character recovers during a week of resting up. It’s calculated by dividing the combined STR & CON of the character by 10. For Gilmere that would be (14 +12)/10 = 3.

To calculate the movement rate of the character, the STR & DEX are totaled and then divided by 10. Gilmere has a Movement rate of (12+10)/10 = 2.

Hit points represent how much damage the character can take before being killed. It’s simply the total of STR & CON, which for Gilmere means 26 hit points. The final derived statistic is Unconscious and represents how many hit points the character can have remaining before losing consciousness and is simply the character’s hit points divided by 4, so Gilmere will remain conscious until he has fallen below 7 hit points.

Now that the statistics are covered, there’s one more part of the attributes step to consider, and that’s Distinctive Features, which could be done organically or mechanistically. Since I like rolling dice and will be using Gilmere merely as a sample character, I’ll go for the mechanistic approach. With an APP score of 14, Gilmere has two distinct features, which should be positive things. Rolling on the Distinctive Feature Detail table, apparently Gilmere has a very distinct face, as he rolled a facial feature and facial expression. I decide that these are high cheekbones and a disarming smile.

Attributes:

SIZ 13

DEX 10

STR 12

CON 14 (11 Points + 3 Cymric)

APP 14

 

Derived Statistics:

Damage 4

Healing Rate 3

Movement Rate 2

Total Hit Points 26

Unconscious 7

Distinctive Features:

2 – High cheekbones & Disarming smile.

STEP IV: Skills

Now we come to another mainstay of roleplaying character generation: skills. The skills in Pendragon come in two distinct groups: Non-combat skills and combat skills. Within those groups, certain skills are considered either Knightly, neutral or Non-Knightly.

Knights can take Knightly and neutral skills, but not Non-Knightly ones, which aren’t even listed on their character sheets. Cymric sons of knights, like Gilmere, start with the following non-combat skill values: Awareness 5, Boating 1, Compose 1, Courtesy 3, Dancing 2, Faerie Lore 1, Falconry 3, First Aid 10, Flirting 3, Folk Lore 2, Gaming 3, Heraldry 3, Hunting 2, Intrigue 3, Orate 3, Play [harp] 2, Read [Latin] 0, Recognize 3, Religion [Paganism] 2, Romance 2, Singing 2, Stewardship 2, Swimming 2, and Tourney 2.

As the Cymric son of a knight, Gilmere’s combat skills start at: Battle 10, Horsemanship 10, Sword 10, Lance 10, Spear 6, Dagger 5.

Now, Gilmere gets to personalize his skills somewhat in a multi-step process. First of all, he gets to decide which Knightly skill he excels at and make that 15. Gilmere is quite the rider, and plumps for Horsemanship.

Next step is to raise any three non-combat skills to 10 points. Gilmere chooses Heraldry, Flirting & Stewardship.

One more step is to heighten any four stats, with each heightening raising either a skill by 5, a trait by 1, an attribute by 1 or a passion by 1. For simplicity’s sake, I’m opting to use all 4 heightening options on skills, so Gilmere’s Romance, Read [Latin], Sword & Hunting all get boosted by 5.

Last of all, Gilmere gets 10 additional points to distribute among his skills as he sees fit. So, 3 of those go to Hunting, 4 to Intrigue and 2 each to Swimming & Tourney.

Non-Combat Skills:

Awareness 5 [K]

Boating 1

Compose 1

Courtesy 3 [K]

Dancing 2

Faerie Lore 1

Falconry 3

First Aid 10 [K]

Flirting 10

Folk Lore 2

Gaming 3

Heraldry 10

Hunting 10 [K]

Intrigue 7

Orate 3

Play [harp] 2

Read [Latin] 5

Recognize 3

Religion [Paganism] 2

Romance 7

Singing 2

Stewardship 10

Swimming 4

Tourney 4

Combat Skills:

Battle 10 [K]

Horsemanship 15 [K]

Sword 15 [K]

Lance 10

Spear 6

Dagger 5

Skills marked with a [K] above are considered Knightly skills

STEP V: Previous Experience

In this step, players can opt to age their characters between 1 and 5 years. Each additional year of experience confers two benefits in terms of Attributes, Skill, Traits or Passions. I opt not to do that for Gilmere as i want him to start at age 21, and also to use the Family History option that comes later on.

STEP VI: Other Information

While a lot of this section is optional, it’s mostly still worth doing to get a better idea of just what resources a starting character has.

The first part of this is to derive the character’s Glory score, which is the level of fame and renown he has within the kingdom. This is a hereditary score in that every son has a starting Glory that is 1/10th of their father’s score. Since i am going to use the Family History section later for Gilmere, we’ll derive it then rather than using the 6d6 + 50 starting value. The act of being knighted also confers 1,000 Glory points on a character, but Pendragon suggests using the first adventure session to confer the actual knighthood on to the character, so Gilmere will technically remain un-knighted throughout his character creation.

The next part is coming up with a coat of arms for the character. Since I’m fond of heraldry, I’ll likely come up with something good later, but for now, I’ll go with what heralds would refer to as “sable, a saltire or” as his blazon. To translate, that’s a black shield with a golden/yellow diagonal cross.

We also record Gilmere’s Joust Score. This is easy, since he hasn’t jousted anyone, so his score is a big fat zero.

As a starting character, Gilmere has four horses to keep track of. A charger (warhorse), a rouncy for himself, a rouncy for his squire (effectively, a rouncy is the horse equivalent of a “daily driver” in car terms) and a sumpter (pack horse) for carrying extra equipment.

Gilmere also has a squire to attend to him. Since it makes no difference in game terms, I decide his squire is 15 and goes by the name Elias.

By default Gilmer has the following starting equipment: Chainmail, shield, 2 spears, sword, dagger, fine clothing, personal gear, travel gear and war gear. He also gets one or more additional belonging representing a family heirloom or the like derived from rolling a 20-sided die. For Gilmere, that additional belonging turns out to be an additional £1 of money.

Next would be determining life and family events for Gilmere, but as a starting character, most of tehm don’t apply other than he was born in 465AD and squired in 480AD.

After that, Gilmere gets to roll a Family characteristic that represents something that the males in his family line have in common. Apparently Gilmere’s family are natural healers, so they get a +5 bonus to their First Aid skill.

Now that’s done, it’s time to figure out the army that Gilmere has at his disposal thanks to being the heir of a manor. Rolling various dice determines that Gilmere can call upon 4 middle-aged knights and 3 young knights, for a total of 8 family knights (including Gilmere himself). As well as knights, Gilmere can summon 9 other lineage men, (who are males of the family line who are not knights) and a levy of 53 able-bodied men from Berwick St. James manor..

Glory: TBD

Coat of arms: Yellow diagonal cross on a black shield

Joust score: 0

Horses: Charger, sumpter, two rouncys

Squire: Elias, a 15 year old blonde boy

Equipment: Chainmail, shield, 2 spears, sword, dagger, fine clothing (worth £1), £1 money, personal gear, travel gear and war gear.

Family Characteristic: Natural healers (+5 First Aid)

Army: 4 middle-aged knights, 3 young knights, 9 non-knight family men, levy of 53 able-bodied men.

That’s technically everything needed for Gilmere’s character generated pre-knighthood, but as I mentioned before, we’re also going to be looking at his…

STEP VI: Salisbury Family History

This is based on a lot of twenty-sided die rolls representing different years before the campaign start year of 485AD, and some of the things here will influence Gilmere’s current stats.

We begin with the year 439AD, when Gilmere’s father, Selivant was born. However, Selivant is too young to be accumulating much of a history or any Glory score yet, so we begin by seeing what Gilmere’s grandfather, Alein of Berwick St. James was up to. Alein’s starting Glory score is 1,144 (120 inherited from his father, 1,000 for being knighted and a further 24 for his knightly actions so far).

439: Nothing significant occurred

440: Served Garrison duty. Killed by Pictish raiders. End of Alein’s history. +20 Glory

So Alein of Berwick St. James died with a total Glory score of 1,164. Which means Selivant will inherit 116 Glory from his father.

Since Selivant won’t be active until 460AD, we skip to that year and see what Selivant is up to. Since it’s assumed that Selivant is knighted in late 459AD, he begins 460 with a Glory score of 1,116.

460: Served Garrison duty. Saw little or no combat.

462: Served Garrison duty. Saw little or no combat.

463: “Night of Long Knives” treachery. Selivant gains Hate (Saxons) Passion of 16

464: Selivant marries. Gains 200 Glory from his bride (Glory score is now 1,316)

465: Gilmere is born

466-467: Selivant fought and survived at the Siege of Carlion. Gained 90 Glory for participating (1,406 total)

468: Selivant fought and survived the Battle of Snowdon. Gained 60 Glory (1,466)

469-472: Selivant gained 50 Glory aiding Uther in fighting the Saxons, Picts & Irish (1,516)

473: Selivant fought and died in the Battle of Windsor. Gained 60 Glory (1,576). Gilmere gains Hate (Saxons) Passion of 16.

So, going into the first scenario of the campaign, Gilmere has an inherited Glory score of 157 (Which will increase to 1,157 after his knighting ceremony) and a Hate (Saxons) Passion of 16 in addition to everything generated in the first five sections above.

That’s all for Gilmere for now. I realize the Pendragon system is more than a little complex, and so the next It Builds Character entry will hopefully be looking at a somewhat simpler system for creating a character. My current thought is that it will probably be a Superhero character…

What do you think, loyal blog followers? Is this a series worth continuing? If so, are there any particular games and editions you’d like me to use to create characters?

Please leave some comments and let me know!

Shovel against a fence post

Flash Fiction: Three Good Reasons

“There are some things a man’s got to do himself.”

 

He’d heard one of those cowboy actors say that. It was either Clint Eastwood or John Wayne. Right now, Scott couldn’t remember which. Either way, he thought, they were wrong. Scott leaned on the shovel and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the flannel sleeve of his shirt. He was drenched. He’d give anything to have someone else dig this damned hole for him.

 

Scott thrust the shovel into the ground, more reddish mud spattered against the bottom of his ragged black jeans. He’d either have to get them straight in the laundry or just toss them in the trash. Stomping on the top of the shovel’s blade with a steel-capped boot and feeling it reverberate up his leg, Scott moved another shovelful of dirt.

 

As far as he was concerned there were only three good reasons for digging a hole. Here in the twenty-first century, Scott worked as a bank teller rather than a pirate of the Barbary Coast, and so was unlikely to be burying a wooden chest full of doubloons. Hell, he’d never even seen a doubloon and he worked with money literally every day.

 

That meant his first good reason, digging up buried treasure, no longer counted as good and hadn’t for close to three hundred years.

 

His second good reason would be to plant something. After all, there were always plenty of people using the allotments in the community garden center the city council opened last summer. Scott frequently saw women (it was nearly always women, for some reason) carrying shovels around. They had to be digging something. Based on half the cooking shows he caught on the TV, Scott figured the women were all planting some green weed called “kale.”

 

If anyone had ever said Scott had a green thumb, then either they were lying, or Scott had caught an unfortunate infection in the hand. He knew he wasn’t a gardener. Hell, even the cacti and artificial plants he’d tried to take care of withered and died.

 

That left Scott with exactly one good reason to dig a hole, to hide something. Scott chuckled to himself, as that was kind of the reason he had been digging for the past couple of hours. It also explained why he wasn’t able to hire someone to do this particular menial task for him. Another firm stomp on the shovel’s blade sent the vibration up his leg and the tool’s wooden handle bucked against his hand burying a splinter in the fleshy arc around the base of his thumb. Scott cursed, dropped the shovel, which bounced against the ground, and started to pull the wooden slivers out of his hand.

 

“No good deed goes unpunished,” Scott said, “No bad one either, I guess.” Scott manhandled the plastic-wrapped body of his wife into the freshly dug hole and started to shovel the red dirt back into place.

“They’ll never know you’re here,” he spat at the corpse.

The inspiration for this piece of 500-word Flash Fiction was a prompt I found online (I forget the site, or I would link it) that read “Three Good Reasons.” A It’s a first draft, but feedback and comments are always welcomed.

Shovel photograph by Mark Preston