Sunday, 23 February 2014

[King] Arthur as an 'Old School' PC

I borrowed Bernard Cornwell's Enemy of God, the second book in his Arthur series, from the library* yesterday. I'm only a few pages in, but there is a description of Arthur that should be applicable to any PC in the sorts of games that I prefer to run:

"He was good at fighting, and he even enjoyed battle for the unleashed thrills it gave his usually so careful soul, but he never sought war if peace was available because he mistrusted the uncertainties of battle. The vagaries of victory and defeat were too unpredictable, and Arthur hated to see good order and careful diplomacy abandoned to the chances of battle." (p. 12, Penguin paperback)

Once the dice are clattering on the table, the lives of the PCs are at the mercy of random chance. The odds of victory might be good, but the spectre of mortal failure is always there, and some victories come at a cost you would be unwilling to pay. So long as the PCs are talking (and scheming) their fate rests in the quality of their play, their decisions. It is thinking such as this that goes some way to explain no only why I tend to struggle to run games that have rules for 'social combat', but also why I prefer games in which PC success in combat is not so intimately related to rules mastery.  

*Aren't libraries brilliant? I know that 'austerity' will have great human cost as services are cut, but the cost to British cultural life will also be lamentable. Cardiff Council, for example, has to make cuts worth £50M. This might close a concert hall with one of the best acoustics in Britain, and it will almost certainly will restrict the services, opening hours, and staffing of libraries. If not close some entirely.


  1. This is one of the primary reasons why, despite some of its other wonky mechanics, I've stuck with running Pendragon as-written rather than converting it to, say, Savage Worlds. Its combat system is super-deadly, and players really think twice before throwing down. Or else, if they're compelled to fight due to their own passions or the wishes of their lord, they enter into combat with a certain grim fatalism.

    Plus, healing up from injuries is a real pain (no pun intended), so that adds an additional threat. In the short term, a major wound will take you out of game play just as surely as character death.

    1. Oh, and congratulations on Dragons of Britain, by the way.

  2. Bernard does a great job of describing the various negative yet real feeling things of the time period.

  3. Pendragon combat often seems to me to be be a little, 'tink, tink, tink, tink, BOOOM!' Which is no bad thing.

  4. But at the same time, his descriptions of Dark Age Britain never get too heavy on the 'this is a crapsack world' (except perhaps, for when he has us visiting Merlin's hillfort, but that is fascinating anyway) for the reader to begrudge spending time there. Well, maybe that's not true of the framing device involving Derfel's later years, but the contrast is deliberate.