King Arthur Pendragon (usually just called Pendragon by fans) is a roleplaying game first published in 1985 and currently on its fifth edition. In it, players take on the roles of knights in a mythic version of medieval Britain, living through the events of King Uther Pendragon's reign, then the Anarchy that follows upon his death, and finally the reign of King Arthur himself up until his final death. The characters and setting are based heavily on Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, but with inspiration drawn from a number of other modern and historical incarnations of Arthurian Legend as well, including The Mists of Avalon, The Merlin Trilogy and The Once and Future King.
Unlike most roleplaying games, Pendragon is meant to be played on a quick time scale, with one year going by with every two or three roleplaying sessions. It is assumed that the player characters will spend each summer going to war, having adventures, and other "normal" activities for characters in a roleplaying game, whereas the winter is devoted to the "Winter Phase" of estate management and family events. Since a campaign based on the full King Arthur legend takes place over the course of 82 years, no one character is expected to be able to live through it all — instead, it is assumed that characters will eventually die and their players will take on the role of their heirs to continue the game.
While the setting is more detailed and inspired by real history than most fantasy roleplaying settings, it is by no means historically accurate, which the books freely admit — it is rife with Schizo Tech and legendary fictions (like the presence of a native British Christian Church, founded by Joseph of Arimathea, already existing in Britain before the arrival of the Romans, as well as Jesus having visited Britain in his youth) being treated with the same seriousness as historical facts. In particular, social and technological progress in the game's timeline have been vastly accelerated, so that while at the start of the game in AD 485 the world corresponds roughly to the same period in real-world history, at King Arthur's death in AD 566 it more resembles the fifteenth century.
In addition to the below tropes, the game of course contains just about every trope listed on the page for Arthurian Legend as a whole.
This game provides examples of:
- Action Girl: Not a common thing, but the core book mentions it as an option for player characters and lists some historical and mythical precedent.
- All Myths Are True: There are many religions with greatly varying accounts of history and metaphysics. Each of them is described by the books as if they were correct, and each of them can back their claims up with actual miracles.
- Ancient Rome: Exists in a fading state. While Britain is no longer part of the Roman Empire at the time of the game, it still has strong influences of Roman culture, and many knights are ethnic Romans.
- Barbarian Tribe: The Saxons, the Franks, the Picts and many, many more.
- Big Good: Arthur. Uther tries to be this earlier in the game, but ends up falling far short.
- Cool Horse: Just about any character can be a badass when riding a pure-bred charger! (Just don't fall off...) Later on in the game, even cooler horses are introduced.
- Corrupt Church / Saintly Church: The game presents both as possible, with the Gamemaster being free to choose which one the Church in her game is.
- Damsel in Distress: Expect to meet and save a lot of these.
- Death by Childbirth: The rules make this the most likely fate of your character's wife.
- Defeat Means Friendship: During early parts of the game's history, the Saxons are the main antagonists. After Arthur conquers them, they become part of his kingdom and Saxon player characters become possible.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: In keeping with the source material, players are expected to adhere to a decidedly archaic notion of morality. However, part of the game is also the gradual movement from greater to lesser (but still noticeable) Values Dissonance — e.g., from peasants treated as livestock to noblesse oblige, and from women treated as Baby Factories to being revered and put on a pedestal.
- The Dung Ages: The game starts in this kind of setting, and gradually moves towards Ye Goode Olde Days as Arthur and Guenever begin to bestow justice and culture on the land.
- The Fair Folk: They start turning up more and more from the Anarchy period onward.
- Foregone Conclusion: A lot of things in the metaplot. No matter what the player characters do, Uther will prove himself unworthy of Excalibur and die, Arthur will pull the sword from the stone and unite Britain, the Grail will be found, and Camelot will ultimately collapse. While the game allows for the fact that some players might actually manage to drastically change events, for the most part the emphasis of any campaign will be on the player characters' personal lives and adventures within the context of those predetermined historical events.
- From Bad to Worse: At the start of the game's timeline, things are already pretty grim, with seemingly endless hordes of barbarians threatening to overrun the civilised kingdoms, the British nations fractured and divided, and brutality and oppression being the order of the day. Still, Logres under King Uther is at least holding its own, and there are some Reasonable Authority Figures around who uphold something resembling honour. And then comes the Anarchy...
- Glory Seeker: Every knight is this at heart, though there is more than one way to get Glory.
- Ye Goode Olde Days: The prime of Camelot. Sadly, it doesn't last.
- Heroic BSoD: Happens whenever you fail a passion roll to become Inspired. Your character will mope and be useless for months as he broods on the hopelessness of being true to his ideals.
- Home Base: Most player characters will have a manor that they can pimp out according to their own taste.
- Hope Spot: At the end of the King Uther period, Uther recovers from an illness in time to lead Logres to a great victory over the Saxons and a great celebration feast is thrown... during which Uther and most of his lords, advisors and prominent knights are poisoned and die, heralding the start of the Anarchy period.
- Knighting: Per default, the game starts just before the player characters' knighting ceremony.
- Knight in Shining Armor: What you're supposed to play, natch.
- Lord British Postulate: Pendragon's combat system works on a basic d20 to hit. You have a skill, roll under it and you hit and between you and your opponent, the highest hit wins. Roll your skill exactly and you critical; A critical is better than a hit so it's possible to defeat someone of higher skill in a pass of arms with a critical even if their skill is higher and they roll a higher hit. When your skill reaches 21 you critical on both 20 and 1; 22 is 20, 1, and 2. Lancelot has a 40 skill with all weapons; he always hits and he always crits. Yet it is possible to beat him in a pass at arms and even in an entire fight (as happens once in the entire Morte d'Arthur). If you always crit higher than Lancelot's crit, you can damage him through his usually-amazing armor, his usually-present protection from God, and his slightly-superhuman hit points until he falls. Galahad is another story. Under Galahad, it reads, "Galahad wins"
- Lost Technology: A low-key example. Britain contains a number of traces of the Roman occupation, like bridges and roads, that are more advanced than anything currently living Britons know how to duplicate.
- The Magic Goes Away: After the Grail is found, the Enchantment of Britain ends and magic begins fading from the world. This isn't entirely a bad thing, since it means much fewer curses and meddlesome faeries to deal with, but it also hints that Camelot has passed its peak and it's all downhill from here.
- The Paladin: No matter what religion your character is, he can become a Religious Knight by being especially true to its particular ideals, and get some subtle magical benefits from it.
- Role-Playing Endgame: The game naturally ends with the Battle of Camlann, in which King Arthur dies alongside all but one of the player characters. The rule explicitly state that the fighting continues until the second-to-last PC drops. Arthur then tasks the last survivor with returning Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake, and after he's done so, the campaign is over.
- Religion is Magic: Christian miracles and pagan sorcery are both very real.
- Seven Heavenly Virtues: All knights are supposed to aspire to some subset of them, and get mechanical bonuses if they succeed well enough to become a Religious Knight or Chivalrous Knight. However, there are also religions that make virtues out of Christian vices (for instance, British Paganism reveres Lust, considering it a healthy expression of life and fertility). There are also knights who revel in evil and get some perks from that, but they are not recommended as player characters.
- Charity: The Generous trait is observed by giving extravagant gifts to your peers. The Merciful trait also compels you to spread your wealth among the less fortunate.
- Chastity: The Chaste trait forbids not only sex outside of marriage, but any inappropriate behaviour towards the opposite sex.
- Diligence: The Energetic trait is observed by being hard-working and diligent, even when exhausted.
- Humility: The Modest trait forbids putting yourself forward or aspiring to recognition beyond what is due to your station. (which still means that even the most Modest character is expected to hold himself to be better than those damn dirty peasants -- anything else would just be unthinkable!)
- Kindness: Again, the Merciful and Generous traits compel you to spread the love.
- Patience: The Forgiving trait forbids you from striking down a defeated enemy or otherwise continuing a feud beyond what is absolutely necessary.
- Temperance: The Temperant trait forbids you from over-indulging in worldly pleasures like food and drink.
- Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: Defaults to "Know Your Place, Woman!". Female knights are possible, but male is the assumed default and the game offers little mechanical support for them (much to the frustration of people who want to play them).
- Stop Worshipping Me: Wotan apparently feels this way, since to get his blessing a character needs to be famously unreligious. It's implied that he doesn't want to be obeyed, he wants to be emulated.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: The game suggests this is the easiest way to have a female knight.
- Take Up My Sword: When a player character dies, the player is expected to go on playing as his heir.
- Unable to Support a Wife: The defining trait of bachelor knights, who have no lands of their own and who gets paid enough by their lord to maintain their own lifestyle and to keep horses and a squire, but not to provide for a wife and children. As the rulebook helpfully points out, that's where the term "bachelor" originally comes from.
- The Unfair Sex: In courtly love, this is considered desirable behaviour. A lady should make outrageous demands of her suitor and expect him to carry them out with no reward but the faintest expressions of favour, because how else is he going to prove how absolute his love for her is? Guenever might take this a little too far even by her own standards, though.