Pendragon: Saber and Wing
Welcome to Saber and Wing, a campaign for the Pendragon 5.1 rules from Nocturnal Media, as played by the Legit Use of the Mule Players. Audio recordings of our sessions can be found at http://legitmulerpg.blogspot.com/.
The Pendragon rules system is a marvelous engine, subtle and strong and capable of producing epic stories that can't be made using any other system I know of. It's smart, it's fun, and it's unique. What other game system lets you play generations of knights who are driven by their inner desires, loves, and hates to achieve the most dazzling of heights and the most appalling of depths? The tales that can be woven using Pendragon are as fascinating as can be read in any book.
The usual way to play Pendragon is by way of the Great Pendragon Campaign (GPC), which follows the rise and fall of Arthur from before his birth to his death. Indeed, to a great extent the system was written to enable play of the campaign, rather than the campaign to enable use of the system. This has some good effects — it's grounded in familiar terrain and it lets players taker part in famous stories.
However, it has bad effects too. Namely, it means that the spotlight shines brightest on NPCs: Arthur and Guinevere, of course, but also Lancelot, Mordred, Percivale, Gawain, and the rest of the usual suspects. It means that, at every critical juncture, the players are expected to step aside and let the real heroes of the piece do their thing. This isn't satisfactory to me, either as a GM or as a player.
The real problem, of course, is canon. GPC is designed to play out the Arthurian canon, or at least one version of it, and it doesn't want the players to interfere in that. A good way to describe how that makes me feel would be to transpose it to another game — let's say, Star Trek. Imagine the following conversation:
GM: We're going to play a Star Trek game.
PLAYER: Oh good. Can I be Kirk?
GM: Nope. Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Bones, Uhura — everybody you know from the show is an NPC. You're a redshirt.
PLAYER: Oh. Can I at least fight the Gorn?
GM: No, Kirk fights the Gorn. But you get to watch the fight from the ship, and I promise to describe it really cool.
No matter how vividly the GM describes Kirk fighting the Gorn, that's not as much fun as it could be of the PCs were the stars. In other words, to get the Pendragon game I wanted, I needed to avoid the GPC.
Saber and Wing turns the Pendragon rules away from the Arthurian setting in favor of an original setting inspired by Slavic folklore and history. Players will take the part of knights in a war-torn land beset by invaders, bandits, monsters, and petty warlords. These troubled times will give these noble warriors the opportunity to witness and guide great events and either rise to glory or fall to ignominy in the service of glorious kings and a great kingdom.
Saber & Wing also changes the paradigm by looking east. Half of my ancestors came from Poland, and that land has always held a fascination for me. Polish history is filled with tragedy in an almost Classic sense: a people arise from obscurity to become one of the world's most powerful countries, only to have internal division and narrow self-interest lead to downfall and ultimately subjugation by hostile foreign powers. This mimics the traditional Arthurian pattern of rise-golden age-fall and provides a spine to the campaign. I decided that would be my inspiration.
A pleasant benefit of this choice is that Slavic folklore is much less familiar to Westerners, especially Americans, than the Celtic and other British themes that provide so much Arthurian (and GPC) material. This allows me to introduce elements from across the Slavic countries, from the Polish dragon of Krakow to the Russian Firebird, and to change both the content and the tone of the mythological elements in Pendragon.
I will caution that, while I draw inspiration from Polish history and Slavic folklore, I am not beholden to either fact or established fiction. Saber and Wing and its setting are my own original creations and exist solely for the purpose of telling the stories contained in the game. I want to use as much tone and as many elements from Slavic history and folklore as I can, but if history or folklore conflict with the need for a good game, history or folklore goes out the window. Thus, people looking for a simulation of Polish history or a devoted exegesis of Slavic mythology will be disappointed and probably angry. So if you know more about these areas than I do (not a high bar to clear) then I invite you to point me to sources and alert me of stories I haven't heard before. I'll welcome all such feedback. But if you want to complain about the details (or indeed the crux) of this or that being changed, well, I don't really care.
Saber and Wing awaits. Listen to our games, explore the site, and please do feel free to comment and make suggestions!