We're playing Pendragon at BWHQ.
First thing everyone asks is "What edition?!" Why is that so important? Anyway, we're playing 5th Edition.
Thor's running. The rest of us knuckleheads are being complete assholes, er, completely chivalrous.
Here are some thoughts I shared with the crew about the game:
I like Pendragon because it's challenging in a way that's different from both its contemporaries and Burning Wheel.
I think the issue of mortality is part of a larger aspect of the game: Your character is a pawn. In order to play Pendragon effectively, you must have some dispassion, some remove, between you and your character. You can't care too much about any one thing your character does because:
• the randomness of the resolution and the lack of resource management to influence an outcome. You can really only roll and hope (even when you invoke Passions).
• the personality traits. Through them you can lose momentary control of your character.
• the failure results for passions. Roll a 20 and you can lose control of your character for more than just a moment!
• the scope of the game -- the time scale, the mortality, the generations. Eventually you're going to lose your character. It's practically inevitable.
I think this is brilliant. I can see echoes Call of Cthulhu in this game -- the sanity mechanics are a prototype for Personality Traits -- but this game is much more sophisticated. It is better grounded in its source material than CoC and it is just better developed as a system.
However, from a few sessions of play, I think I can see the counterpoint to this dispassion. If you really care -- if you ardently apply your performances to the rigorous definition of particular personality traits -- you can advance and become a paragon of one particular virtue. But to do this, you must never slip. You must never be cowardly, never be reckless, never be lazy, etc. Because in the way that the advancement system works, if you play your opposite trait, you are nearly certain to lose an edge in your prime virtue. If you've got a 16 in one trait, but you have an advancement in the other side, you're rolling to advance against 4. So you're almost certain to lose your 16. Thus I think this all circles back to the performance part of the game. You must be extremely vigilant about your character's behavior. Never compromise!
This system is going to be frustrating to die-hard Burning Wheel players. We're used to caring a lot about our characters. In fact, we can even care a lot about a single roll. And we're used to being rewarded for playing into our character's personality. We're not used to being punished for going against it. Yet, I see Thor very lightly using techniques from Burning Wheel in his GMing set up to goad us into nuanced behavior. And this is already having a strong pull on our characters. We're used to compromise and change, but in this game our response should be the opposite. When the nuanced situation presents itself, we should turn aside and hold fast to our character's traits. I'm not saying that we should fail to engage, but we need to take care that we don't approach those dangers from the perspective of Burning Wheel. Because failure really fucking hurts in this game!
And for the record, I've enjoyed all of the combats we've played so far. I've found them harrowing. I was convinced that young Idres was going to perish in the river at the hands of a nameless Saxon. The tactical choices were limited (and frankly boring) but the decisions of when to use passions and the moments when our personality traits came into play were very exciting. The balance between damage, armor and hit points seems to be very solid. I can feel every blow, and certainly don't feel invulnerable, but still rather tough!
And I'm not even going to touch on glory here, which I think is a lot more subtle than it appears.