Personality in RPG

23 04 2008

Pendragon I recently came into the possession of the rpg Pendragon, also known as King Arthur Pendragon (a much more epic name, don’t you think). I found it while looking for the ElfQuest game by Chaosium.

I have a thing for Chaosium games. While growing up, my father played RuneQuest with his friends. Their children and I also played it. Some kids grew up on D&D, but I grew up on RQ. I also grew up on ElfQuest. My best friend had the original series in collections, so I read it. Over and over. Recently, the comic has been re-released online for free (hooray!) so I did what I always do these days—looked for any associated rpg materials—hoping to stumble across something unique, nostalgic, and creative.

I found it! Though it is not as unique as I had hoped. Imagine my surprise that it was designed by Chaosium. The game uses the RuneQuest system, or Basic Roleplaying System as kids are calling it these days, but vastly stripped down for the simple world of ElfQuest. In the package I also got the Elric and Hawkmoon RPG, and the Thieves’ World setting, which is apparently compatible with nine different systems. Ohmygod!

Of all the similar rpgs that I’ve seen, in fact, all of them in general, Pendragon is unique in that it quantifies characters’ personalities in the form of opposing traits with thirteen balanced scores. Chaste/Lusty, Honest/Deceitful, Just/Arbitrary, Valorous/Cowardly, etc. As the score on one side goes up, the score on the other drops. The DM can force characters’ actions using these personality traits, and the players can easily make roleplaying choices for their characters. The DM has a chance to change how characters act by making players roll against the balance, and the players can find their character acting in ways they didn’t intend. Furthermore, it does away with mental statistics completely. Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, and Appearance are all accounted for, but Intelligence and Wisdom are ignored. The mental state of the character is much deeper.

It is probably one of the most role-playing friendly systems I have ever encountered. I ran the starting scenario out of the book the other night, and it went really smoothly. At every turn, the book says, “Ask your players how their characters feel.” I felt there was more in-character talking between players in that little game, with completely new characters, than any established game in which I’ve ever been involved. Even the LARPS. My guess is because of the personality traits—you know who your character is and how they will act in many more situations.

I desperately want to play around with the Personality Trait system. I think it can lead to a greater variability in characters. Unfortunately, I get very tired very quickly of stories that others have written. King Arthur has been done before, over and over. As long as you take this system and dump it in a setting with social codes and rigidity as bizarre as romantic chivalric feudalism—the people who wrote the book for the Victorians—you should come out with something interesting.

The system has other very interesting aspects that I think are a pleasing change from monotony, but I’ll get to those some other day. I have to go help someone turn into a Lovecraftian fish-man now.

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