Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Matter of France

Bulfinch's Mythology was very important to me as a kid. I regularly borrowed it from the library and read it cover to cover more times than I can recall. Though I was very enamored of the first two sections, which retold the myths of ancient Greece and the legends of King Arthur, it's the third part I've found myself thinking about lately. This is where I was first introduced to the tales of Charlemagne and his twelve paladins, names that meant little to me in my early childhood but that would come to mean a great deal more to me once I discovered Dungeons & Dragons.

The reason I've been thinking about it is that, as I mentioned last week, I'm playing in a Pendragon campaign at the moment and am having a great deal of fun. Pendragon, as I never tire of saying, is one of my favorite RPGs, one whose underlying mechanics do a terrific job of encouraging and supporting play that feels very much like what you might read in Sir Thomas Malory. Many others feel similarly, which is why, over the years, people have been borrowing Pendragon's mechanics for use in other mythic or historical settings. 

I think that's a great idea and have kept an eye on several of these projects over the years, but the one that most interested me is Paladin, which aimed to do for the legends of King Charles the Great what Pendragon had done for King Arthur Pendragon. Riding the high of the Pendragon campaign, I finally pulled the trigger and bought a copy of Paladin last week and have been reading it ever since. The physical copy is a truly massive tome over 450 pages in length – and a beautiful one, too. The cover, as you can see, is quite inspiring and the interior art, while sparse, is similarly evocative. I'm not usually a fan of gilt edges for RPG books; in this case, it somehow seems appropriate.

Rules-wise, Paladin is quite similar to Pendragon, with a few changes to reflect its different cultural and historical context. For example, a character's extended family is given much greater emphasis in Paladin. Players are encouraged to make their characters related to one another, in an effort to better emulate the epic medieval poems about Charlemagne and his paladins. Relatedly, characters age faster (and, therefore, die sooner) than do characters in Pendragon, which lends a very different flavor to campaigns. Paladin is also a bit more "magical" than Pendragon, in that divine miracles are within the grasp of player knights, who are loyal to Charlemagne and adhere to the tenets of the Christian faith. Many of their adversaries are wicked sorcerers, who command the powers of Hell. The result is a game that is familiar to anyone who's played Pendragon but by no means identical.

This is a game I'd very much like to try refereeing at some point in the future. Precisely because the Matter of France is not as well known in the English-speaking world as the Matter of Britain, I think Paladin could possess a degree of "freshness" that might be lacking for gamers who've known about Arthur all their lives. This gives it the potential, I think, for being the basis of an excellent campaign, especially when tied to the terrific mechanics of Pendragon. I have no idea when I'll have the time to take up Paladin seriously – I've already got more on my plate than I can handle – but it's nevertheless a rare example of a new RPG that I feel I must play. The only question is when.

6 comments:

  1. I've been looking at Paladin for a while myself, but I've refrained from buying it because I doubted I'd have much opportunity to play it. Your comments here may have pushed me over the edge, though. This is exactly the sort of thing I'd like to play, and hearing that it's a well-made product is encouraging.

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  2. I didn't know about this game, sounds great. I loved Pendragon and many years ago (in college when I had all the time in the world) I played a Middle Earth game using Pendragon. One night we talked about what a Matter of France rpg would look like...I'm going to get this!

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    1. Oh man, if Chaosium was able to make a "Matter of Gondor RPG"... that'd just be... wow.

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  3. I backed the kickstarter for Paladin and I wasn't disappointed. That rulebook is gorgeous. I think it will play a bit different from Pendragon, not sure when I'll have the time to find out though, or whether or not to add some Orlando Furioso for color.

    "Matter of Gondor RPG"? I'd buy that.

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  4. I've always doubted... For a game to emulate the chilvaric romance, as Amadís de Gaula, Tirant lo Blanch or Orlando Furioso, I think that Pendragon could do well, but it's too linked to the (staffordian) interpretation of Arthuric Legends and I don't really like a couple of things of that game. You think that Paladin it's more suitable for a game like that?

    Thanks James!

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