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Tales of Pendragon

Players Guide

Pendragon - Players Intro - Players Guide - Travellers Guide - Rules - Conventions  


Tales of Pendragon is a special kind of role-playing game. In ToP, you are encouraged to create much of the world yourself together with your fellow players. Here are some ideas and notes to help you understand how best to enjoy the game.


Cooperative role-playing

Tales of Pendragon is a cooperative role-playing game. While all role-playing is cooperative to a degree, in many games your character is in direct competition with other characters or forces in the game world to achieve your goals. In ToP, this is not the case. You will be rewarded for your efforts whether your characters succeed or fail, triumph gloriously or die ignominiously.

The characters in ToP are not real people to be played realistically. They are larger than life, like characters from a mummer’s play, or a Commedia dell’Arte street show, or Shakespeare. They speak their thoughts aloud, make quick friends or enemies of complete strangers, take offence on others’ behalf, make quick, emotional decisions, and go haring off after adventure at the drop of a hat. Their object is to portray all that is good and bad and dramatic and funny about the human condition, not simulate someone’s life. They are stories, and what works best for the story is what will be the most fun.

In ToP, we give you the freedom to be bested, to struggle against mighty odds and fail, to go home with your tail tucked between your legs. If you play a Tale character that goes down to defeat, what of it? You have learned something, told a good story, and changed the saga of King Arthur. Soon you will be playing another character in another story.

In sum, while bad things may happen to your character, nothing bad can happen to your game. So be careless, stupid, prideful, reckless, smitten, joyous, vengeful, spendthrift, or intemperate! You have nothing to lose, and much enjoyment to gain.

Many times in ToP other people will want you to take part in their story. They may wish you to help them, or step into a role, or even become another character for a time. If you are at a critical point in a tale of your own, you may of course decline. But otherwise, we urge you to cooperate. Just as the legends of Arthur are full of quests and missions that were sidetracked by other concerns, you can freely get involved in some other activity and come back to your story later, if you like. Conversely, if you need someone to assume a role for your own tale, don’t be shy! The game is full of players who will be happy to help your story along.


Getting the Most from Tales

Often your character will be a protagonist in a story, free to make whatever decisions you see fit. But just as often you will be a foil, a character that creates the situation in the story rather than encounters it. As a foil, sometimes you have to do something in order to make the story happen. When this is necessary, you will see Director’s notes to that end. Be sure to follow these notes! They are necessary for the tale to unfold dramatically or make sense. Where there are no Director’s notes you are free, of course, to decide for yourself what to do.

Once the structure of the Tale is in place you should feel free to take it wherever the participants collectively wish to go. If one tale blends into another or continues to develop after the main conflict is settled, great! Be flexible and let the stories happen as they may.

Tales end when those taking part in them desire them to end. Often this will take place after a resolution of some sort: a battle, reconciliation, achievement of a quest, etc. In other cases it is left up to the judgment of the players. Indeed, a Tale need not end for all participants at the same time; if you feel that your action has been resolved, you may opt to leave a Tale, even if others are continuing to play. And if somehow you are not enjoying whatever Tale you are in, you can always stop. If others are involved, however, we urge you to find someone to take your character, so that the Tale can go on to a proper resolution.


Now and then 

In ToP, your home character hails from the early middle ages. Christianity pervades the British Isles, and paganism is clandestine, existing only in scattered rural areas and wild places. There are no dragons or giants. Problems are mundane, more about everyday life, love, warfare, and calamity than grand ideals and fantastic quests. Life is more complex; people are more realistic.

Tales, on the contrary, take place in the mythic past, from “in my grandfather’s time” to “long, long ago”. The past is a time when people are more emotional and when the world is a wilder place, full of possibility. Fantastic creatures still roam Britain, and people readily war or die for Honor or Love. While Christianity dominates in towns and cities, paganism is still common in the countryside, and numerous noblemen still cleave to the old ways.

When you enter a tale, then, you are going back into the past, into the time of story and myth. As you do so, the world changes. What was fantasy is now real; the complexities of modern life depart and are replaced by chivalry, virtue, and passion. The Tale character inhabits a different world than the home character.

But your home character can become involved in tales as well! If you are playing your home character and you encounter a tale character, you have stepped into the story. Had you been back in Arthurian times, you might have met Sir Lancelot, or travelled to Rome, or been chased by a ghost. You have become so enthralled by the story that you have imagined being there yourself.


The players are the World

All of the world of Tales of Pendragon is created by you and your fellow players. While the Bards stand ready to assist you if you do not understand the rules, there is no time when you will need to talk to one in order to further your story. The other players and your imagination are all you need.

To this end, ToP gives you permission to make things up! As long as all of the people involved agree, you may conjure up whatever you need to make your stories happen. The game space and props are there for your disposition. Do you require a pavilion, a tower, a tomb? Find it within the game area and designate it so for your story. Do you need judges for a competition? Any willing players can fill the role. You are free to create whatever places you need and have other people play whatever roles you need for a story – what we provide you is a beginning, not the end, of your play.

There will doubtless arise situations during Tales of Pendragon that are not covered by the rules. If this happens, we encourage you to make up your own solution with the other players involved. Do whatever is the most fun for everyone; the rules are there to help your imagination, not limit it. If nobody can agree on a resolution, you can ask a Bard to decide, but leave that as a last resort.


Offers and Acceptance of Roles


One interaction in particular bears note. Often in a Tale you may want to find someone who is not specifically written up as a separate character. For instance, you might need to get permission from your liege lord to perform a task, but no one has been specifically assigned to be your lord. In that case, you may approach any character who fits the bill (here, any noble) and offer them the role.

As an example, Sir Gareth might say to King Mark, “Your majesty, I offer that you are my liege Lord.”

If there is no important reason why Mark could not be Gareth’s lord, he will say, “I accept that you are my sworn vassal, Sir Gareth,” or the like. If there is a vital story reason why this is not possible, he will say, “Alas, I deny that you are my man, because …” or similar.

If the offer is accepted, then Gareth is Mark’s vassal, and presumably has been for some time; the story just never mentioned it until now. Doubtless Gareth has some important thing to say, but Mark may also desire to make use of his newly-returned vassal.

Note that you should use offers when you need to give someone a role that your character cannot just give by asking someone to help. For instance, Sir Bors desires to find three judges for a contest. No offer is required, since he can simply ask people in character whether they wish to be a judge. If, however, he had to find three virgins, he would have to offer the roles, since he cannot make people virgins by asking.



Staying in character

We urge you in all ways to remain in character during the entire game. Whenever you speak out of character, you break the action of the game, if in a small way, and avoiding this will enhance your experience and that of other players.

We recognize, however, that you are not actually in a castle, town, or woodland, and that the imagination must occasionally have more to work with than simple conversation. To this end, we offer the following guidelines.

Soliloquize. If you desire to create an interaction with someone else or give them information but would not in character do so, speak your thoughts aloud. For instance, a distraught nobleman says (to himself, aloud), “Oh, miserable day! Will my wretched thoughts allow me no sleep at all?” This informs others nearby that he has slept poorly and probably looks haggard. Soliloquies can even be used to generate opposition to oneself, if a story requires it: a miscreant says “Ha! How easily they fall into my trap!”
Narrate to others.  If you believe that others would see something, remark upon it aloud. For instance, an alchemist cooking up a potion might say, “Aha! See how the fetid smoke rises from the cauldron! This will be an especially potent batch!” Or a guide in the woods says, “Now watch your step as we proceed into yonder glade, for the ground is strewn with the bones of all who have died in this quest.”
Narrate to yourself. In those cases where you would not describe to others, describe to yourself, aloud. A bandit lying in ambush might say, “I will wait here behind these concealing bushes for an unwary traveller to pass by.” This lets others know that there are concealing bushes there, and that therefore they might not see you.
Speaking Sooth. In those few instances where your character is not able to communicate at all, you may say “Forsooth”, followed by a description of what the other sees. For example, a person lying unconscious and bleeding cannot really narrate or soliloquize. Instead, they might say, “Forsooth, here you see a young maiden lying senseless but alive by the roadside. She has a gaping sword wound in her left side.” Note that even when speaking sooth, you speak as if a narrator were describing the scene. Avoid saying “I’m wounded but alive” or the like – who is talking?
Speaking to Bards. The Bards are people in the world and can be treated as such. Even if you have a question as to the use of a special ability or other game rule, try to ask it in character, e.g. “Good Bard, I have here a sword of curious power, but am unsure as to its provenance. Can you tell me more about how I might best employ it?” The Bard will answer in like fashion.

Challenges and Special Abilities. Of course, Arthurian folk do not use virtues and special ability cards to resolve their disputes, so there are some conventions that you can use to avoid talking of “virtue points” and other rules. They are these:

When making a challenge, use appropriate language, e.g. “Sir, I implore you on your Piety to help me in my endeavours” rather than “I challenge you with Piety.” Respond similarly, e.g. “Madam, upon my Honour I will weigh your entreaty.”

When you have determined the value of the virtues involved, announce them using some other measure than “points”. For instance, a Knight might say to another, “See how you respond to my 12 blows,” and the other may reply (winning), “I meet them all and give you two more.” A woman using Love might say, “Sir, I will entreat you 9 times over to help me,” and the King she asks might respond (losing), “Madam, your desires have touched my heart.”.

Special abilities and boons can simply be narrated in character for the most part. For instance, if the challenging knight in the fight above desired to use a boon to add Courage, he might say, “But you reckoned not with the Sword of the Defender, which allows me to match your two blows and give you yet a third.” Or a dragon might say, “Now feel the blast of my terrible flame, which causes all who have less Piety than Courage to flee in singed and ignominious fashion.”


Pendragon - Players Intro - Players Guide - Travellers Guide - Rules - Conventions  


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