Tag Archives: Pendragon

Top Secret S/I Returns to the Table

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone has been having a good holiday season. My Christmas time has been light on the gaming front, but we made up for it this past weekend in a big way. Our gaming group got together for the first time in months, with a full roster including two people joining us via a laptop and webcam.

And let me say, technology is great. Members of our circle of friends have moved far and wide and the ability to bring them back to our gaming table is wonderful. There is no substitute for physically being together, but having friends join in over the Internet is a heck of a lot better than not having them there at all.

The session had me back in the GM’s seat with the return of Top Secret S/I. Once again set in 1965 and with several agents returning from my previous game. For this outing I used the first mission from the GURPS adventure book, Operation Endgame. The mission is a set in Denmark and involves facilitating the defection of a master KGB spy, code named “Midnight”. One thing that is nice about espionage games is that their focus on intrigue means they are not tightly bound to a specific rules set. Switching the game system from GURPS to Top Secret was a snap. I did need to make other changes to the adventure such as downgrading the technology from the early 90’s to the mid-60’s, adding a few minor characters and removing one principle NPC who really isn’t necessary. There’s also a bottleneck in the investigation that needed a fix, but that was easily provided by giving the targets more agency to act on their own.

I was worried about the number of players. Seven is my hard cap and I was at it, but for investigative games I’m more comfortable with five. However things worked out well and my players had a good time. They played well, had some close shaves, had fun with various bits of misdirection, and triumphed in the end. I only got them to burn one luck point along the way, since in proper spy fashion they avoided most direct confrontations. What fights they did get into were brief, brutal affairs. There were two fatalities, both NPC killers and both resulting from knife wounds. One lead to uncomfortable conversations with the Copenhagen police, the other contributed to the well being of the local fish population.

A nice side benefit is that one of the agents has picked up a new enemy. One of the slain NPCs has a brother who was allowed to escape, and he knows which agent killed his brother.

He’ll definitely show up again. It’s a moral imperative.

Top Secret S/I continues to impress me with its mechanics and my players are having fun with the spy genre. I’m looking forward to bringing it out again in the future.

Not much new on the board gaming front, however I did get to try out King of New York. This is the sequel to the giant monster game King of Tokyowhich I quite enjoy. The new game brings a little more to the table, adding nice variation to the game without sacrificing the simplicity of the original. I don’t own a copy of either yet, but New York has taken Tokyo’s place on my wish list.

I picked up the Pendragon collection on its recent Bundle of Holding resurrection. The Bundle has also brought back the Delta Green collection. I picked that set up on its last offering, but they’ve added a couple new titles to it. One of the classy things that the Bundle of Holding does is that if they bring back a previous offering with additional material, they give the new files to previous purchasers at no cost. So now I have even more Delta Green to read! The Pendragon offering is finished, but you still have two days to get in on the Delta Green set. Plus there are four more bundles currently on sale.

How have the holidays been for you and your gaming groups? Any new treasures for your library?


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Posted by on December 29, 2014 in Gaming


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All the Knight Reasons

I’ve been reading a collection of King Arthur stories called The Pendragon Chronicles.

Perhaps no mythology has been as pervasive to the western world than the Arthurian mythos, in no small part thanks to Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and T.H. White’s The Once and Future KingHowever what isn’t as well realized is that Arthur’s tales are a melange of stories drawn from a wide array of people over several centuries, a body of work that continues to expand today. The Pendragon Chronicles gives readers a chance to read some of the less-common stories, from both modern and historical sources, as well as a glimpse at the history surrounding them.

One particularly useful resource is the Dramatis Personae section, which provides not only a description of the characters but also some of the myriad spellings of their names. For example, Arthur’s foster-brother Kay is known for his, “bad humor and sour temperament,” but in earlier stories he was a more heroic knight. He has also been known as Kai, Cai, Cei, and Quex. Everyone knows of Sir Lancelot, but Sir Dinadan, known for his humor and quick wit, appears in far fewer tales. Another less well known is Sir Palomides, a Saracen and Knight of the Round Table.

It’s worth noting that Sir Palomides is a person-of-color, one of Arthur’s greatest knights, and first appeared in the stories in the 13th century. Huzzah for diversity!

There isn’t a story in the book that I haven’t enjoyed, though I do like the older stories more than the modern ones. Contemporary writing conventions humanize the characters, delving into their psyche and exploring their motivations. Normally I’m fine with that, but when it comes to the Arthurian stories I want the old style where the characters are larger-than-life archetypes and superheroes of the medieval world.

My favorite story by far has been the first tale in the book, Chief Dragon of the Island. Written by Joy Chant in 1983 it’s an adaptation of the history of Arthur from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century History of the Kings of Britain. This makes it simultaneously one of the newest and oldest tales in the book.

It’s also one of the most unconventional takes on Arthur that I have read, more mythic than the standard versions. In this tale Igerna (Igraine) is the wife of Duke Gorlis who has imprisoned her in a remote castle with a guard of women warriors. He fears a prophecy saying her son would kill him.

In another change from what we are familiar with, Uther Pendragon is not a man, he is something else. Something ancient and godlike, probably of the Tuatha de Danann. Uther uses his own magic to impersonate Gorlis and deceive Igerna, making her pregnant with Arthur. He also uses his powers to hide her pregnancy so that Gorlis cannot slay her until after Arthur is born. Thus Arthur is portrayed as a demi-god, making this tale a fusion of Christian and Pagan beliefs.

Further evidence of his divine nature is shown in this passage describing how the prophecy was fulfilled:

“The fire where the afterbirth had been cast had burned down, and out of the eggs broke a worm. The worm ate the shell of the egg and the ashes and embers of the fire, and it grew to the size of a lizard, then of a cat, then of a hound, then of a horse; then it spread its wings and rose into the air. The dragon sped down to the beach, and found Gorlas coming up from it. It swooped over him and enveloped him in its fiery poisonous breath, so that he smothered and scorched in it, and so died.”

-The Pendragon Chronicles, pg. 13

Slain by a dragon born of your child’s afterbirth. That’s harsh.

In later years the young Arthur is taken by Merdyn (Merlin) to a magical island. There he meets and falls in love with Morgen, also daughter of Uther and Igerna, and the two become lovers. Arthur does not know they are siblings but indications are that Morgen does. Like her father Morgen has a different view of sexuality that the Christian Arthur.

Arthur proceeds to the hall where he is armed with his father’s sword Caledvolc (Excalibur), “That sword would draw blood from the wind, it would divide the thought from the word.” Uther also provides Arthur with a cloak of invisibility, as well as a horse and hound of unparalleled size and skill.

It is only upon leaving that Arthur learns that Uther is his father and Morgen his sister. He rejects Morgen, considering their love a deep sin. Morgen does not understand his beliefs and curses Arthur for his rejection, saying he will know no peace with women until he returns to her arms.

There are other major differences between Chief Dragon of the Island and the Arthurian tales we know so well, such as Guinevere being the daughter of a giant. In many ways it’s a far more primal and certainly more pagan legend, while at the same time it keeps the chivalric qualities we associate with later Arthurian stories.

There are many stories in The Pendragon Chronicles that make it worth tracking down, but Chief Dragon of the Island alone makes it worth the effort.


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Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Books and Comics, History


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