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Pendragon RPG blends the mysticism of The Green Knight with Crusader Kings

A preview of the soon-to-be-released 6th edition

A lord and his lady clasp hands across a chessboard, the hearth in their estate roaring in the distance. Image: Eleonor Piteira/Chaosium
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The Green Knight wowed audiences last year with its moody lighting and mystical storyline — not to mention Dev Patel’s outstanding performance. What stunned many critics was its authentic presentation of a classic Arthurian legend for modern audiences. David Larkins, line editor for game publisher Chaosium, has embarked on a similar quest. His goal is to revitalize the classic tabletop role-playing game Pendragon, created by Greg Stafford and first published in 1985. Speaking with Polygon ahead of this year’s Gen Con tabletop gaming convention, Larkins said fans of the critically acclaimed movie should keep their eyes peeled for when the game finally arrives later this year.

Stafford completed the first draft of Pendragon’s sixth edition before his death in 2018. Larkins said the author, also known for creating the world of Glorantha, called it his “magnum opus.” In it, Stafford cleverly counterposed traditional Arthurian legend against the historical European timeline. Players start off as budding knights in the darkest depths of the early Middle Ages, serving as little more than armored thugs on behalf of the various royals vying for control of medieval Britain. But each time players sit down at the table for a three- or four-hour session, a full year of time passes in-game. As play proceeds into the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, Larkins says that the very idea of chivalry emerges, takes hold, and begins to evolve. Simultaneously, Stafford weaves in the political machinations of historical events like the Black Death and the 100 Years War, which continuously churn in the background. Even the technology of war changes from session to session as new weapons, armor, and fortifications get invented and enter the timeline.

Two noble women, one turning batons of cotton into thread and the other reading to her. They are rendered in the style of medieval marginalia. Image: Agathe Pitie/Chaosium

Played as a long-form campaign, players will even be able to create and play as characters from their own dynasties — much like the hit strategy game, Crusader Kings 3.

The Green Knight is actually the perfect sort of aesthetic representation of the last third of the campaign,” Larkins said, “where it’s very gray. There’s just a lot of war and death, and Arthur is this feeble king and he’s dying. And then, of course, you have the Grail quest that kind of restores everything right at the end — prior to, you know, the final battle of Camlann where Arthur and Mordred kill each other.

“It ends on a down note,” he added with a chuckle.

Two knights in crusader helms ride at each other, lances raised. Image: Andrey Fetisov

Every player at the table will take on the role of a knight and, just as in Crusader Kings, those knights can be drawn from virtually anywhere in the medieval world. The game accommodates every nationality and religion. Knights can also be any gender they so choose. (Female knights did exist in history, although they were not always formally recognized as equals.) The only requirement of knights is that they swear fealty to their lord — and that they abide by their traits and passions established during character creation. It’s in those traits and passions where Pendragon really shines, says Larkins.

“I like to say it sort of pushes Arthurian story beats because oftentimes you’ll find yourself acting against your own best interest,” Larkins said, “much like the characters in those classic stories do. Your hatred for someone will cause you to call them out in an inopportune time, or your love for somebody will drive you to do heroic acts in spite of maybe [the fact that] it would have been better to be a little more prudent in that moment.”

The doors of the castle battered down, a captain leads his army through. Guards blow hors, stand at the ready, and knock bows as flaming debris rains down inside the castle. Image: Josep Perez/Chaosium

“Everyone plays a knight, but every single knight is different,” Larkins continued. “And really, the game is about discovering what your knight is like. Who are you? What kind of knight are you? Are you chivalrous? Are you spiritual? Do you have these aspirations that you’re trying to live up to but you’re falling short? Are you meeting those aspirations? It’s a journey every single time you play.”

Unfortunately for the team at Chaosium, the final production run of Pendragon’s 6th edition didn’t make it overseas in time for Gen Con. Visitors in Indianapolis will be able to pick up a hefty introductory adventure for free — one that could make its way online soon.

Update (Aug. 22): The quickstart for Pendragon’s 6th edition is available and free to download now at the Chaosium website.

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