A Game of Knights
King Arthur Pendragon is a pen-and-paper roleplaying game. It was first published in 1985, and due to its excellence in capturing the feel of the genre, has remained in print for thirty years (and counting).
To play, you make up an imaginary guy who goes on adventures with other knights in the world of King Arthur. The Gamemaster (GM) narrates what happens, you play your knight-character, and your friends play other knights, boon companions to your character. They all either die violently (usual) or grow old and die. They raise families and strive to qualify to be a Round Table knight. Along the way, their courtly skills and battle prowess are challenged by ambitious and less scrupulous knights, a host of medieval monsters, and, of course, the relentless Saxons, who seek to bring all of Britain under their dominion.
The game was revolutionary in that it was the first to try to capture the inner workings of the player character by providing simple rules for roleplaying a character consistently while allowing for personal growth and evolution over time. These Traits and Passions have found a home in many modern game systems, where they may be called Boons, Edges, Flaws, Hindrances and many other names besides. But none of these system quite match the power of King Arthur Pendragon's Traits and Passions for creating three-dimensional, fully realized characters. Hence we've seen many fans convert their favorite game worlds and systems to King Arthur Pendragon in pursuit of a more satisfying game experience.
Another concept that still influences games like Cubicle 7's The One Ring is the dynastic aspect that allows a character to pass treasure, traits and glory down to his surviving heirs — a more realistic alternative to the effective immortality found in the use of all-too-common Resurrection spells of other game systems. The “Winter Phase" is another popular concept that allows for “downtime" character and story development.
To read more about my concepts for the game, and how it evolved, see my Designer's Notes from the 5th Edition. If you're considering starting a King Arthur Pendragon game I've also included links to player reviews and industry awards that recognize the game's innovations. Hopefully they'll encourage you to buy some of the books, many of which are still available for sale online, because doing so will allow me to continue to support the game and produce high-quality material for the game.
In recent years I've partnered with Stewart Wieck (author of Mage: The Ascension, co-creator of the World of Darkness, and founder of Nocturnal Media) and have assembled a new team of King Arthur Pendragon creators. With their help, I've released several books with all-new material and have developed a strong pipeline of game supplements that will continue to add depth and breadth to any campaign (although they are not required for play). Stay tuned to this site to keep up with the latest news and announcements.
My Opus: The Great Pendragon Campaign
Kenneth Hite has compared this monumental book to The Idylls of the King and the Nibelungenlied, calling it the “single greatest narrative work" in the annals of roleplaying games. The massive tome provides 429 pages of adventure and background material spanning 81 years of game time. All the major story beats of the Arthurian tradition are here, from the rise of King Uther to the Fall of Camelot. It's primary purpose is to provide a framework for the harried Gamemaster who really wants to run an epic, long-lasting game, but cannot invest the time that building such a narrative requires. The book has scores of adventures and scenario seeds ranging from courtly intrigues to monster hunts to huge battles to damsels in distress and everything in between. All of the Knights of the Round Table may be encountered and Merlin is a prime mover throughout the saga, at turns a help and a hindrance. The Great Pendragon Campaign can provide years of play, and almost begs for “another go" after a Gamemaster has been through it once. But don't take my word for it —
- 1986 Origins Award for Best Role Playing Supplement (The Pendragon Campaign (precursor to The Great Pendragon Campaign)
- 1988 Origins Award Best Role Playing Adventure (Tournament of Dreams)
- 1990 Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Rules
Still More Arthurian Goodness
King Arthur Pendragon is not the only Arthurian game I've developed over the course of my career. My love for the genre has proven to be a near-endless source of inspiration. Prince Valiant: The Story-Telling Game is the most significant example of my other Arthurian-themed games, but there are a couple of lesser offerings worth mentioning, in the interest of completeness.