Monthly Archives: September 2021

Pendragon Houserules for Battles

This is a draft!

There are numerous battle systems for Pendragon. Version 5.2 of the standard rules includes a battle system, as well as book of battles. I find the standard rules in 5.2 unsatisfying:

  • they are rather complex, and despite that
  • it does not feel that they are reasonably good att deciding the outcome of the battle (number of soldiers, types of soldiers, level of training and such fundamental things have vague implications)
  • the Army/Battallion/Unit/Personal/Special-event layers are simply too many layers of rules and events, with too little connection between them
  • the Personal mode is still not “in character roleplaying” but some rather abstract melee resolution

I consider Pendragon a roleplaying game. I don’t want it to be a tactical Battle-game (so the Book of Battles is out). What I am looking for in a Battle game is:

  • Plausible, simple, battle resolution – in case winner and loser need to be determined and something is at stake for the players
  • An personal battle experience for the player characters

When I write plausible, I mean that Gamemaster and Players should be able to envision the battle in a theater of mind, and what happens should not be unreasonable or ridiculous. We can ask ourselves questions like:

  • would 10 peasants be able to through a knight off his horse and beat him to death?
  • can you charge through a little river, and with what disadvantage?
  • are a bunch of well equiped peasants going to have any chance against poor knights?

My idea is that the answers to such questions should be decided in a whay that both Gamemaster and players think it is reasonable.


For most not too large battles, both sides just make up one Battalion each (this is not the way Battalion is used in the rules, and it is probably not historically correct either).

For very large battles, it is fine to let both sides consist of several battalions. The battalions will resolve their battle like separate battles. It is possible in the middle of the battles to evaluate the situation, reorganize (perhaps merge remaining forces) and start over.

Such a battle between two battalions is not divided any further. It is a battle. However, there is a Personal level for the player characters.

The battle is divided in Battle Turns (typically 30 minutes) and between each Battle Turn there is a Personal Turn for resolving what player characters experience. The Player Turn is typically divided into normal combat rounds when needed. If the player characters are in the front line, charging, start the battle with a Personal Turn.

Battle Level

Both battalions are assigned a Battle Value (typically 10). The battle is then resolved as turns of opposed checks against the Battle Values. Each turn will result in losses, and eventually one battalion will be more or less defeated.

Units and Damage

In order to keep track of losses, it is decided how many Units each battalion consists of (can lose). Starting with the smaller force, assume it consists of 5 units, and decide how many participants are in each unit. Then do the math and figure out how many units the larger force consists of if the units are roughly equally big. For a shorter battle, start with 3 or 4 instead.

Each unit can be lost two times

  1. The unit is withdrawing, has suffered some losses, and can not participate in offensive fighting
  2. The unit is fleeing, has suffered significant losses, and can not participate in any fight

What this means is that a Battalion of 4 units can take at most 3 points of damage, and still keep attacking. At 4 to 7 damage, the Battalion can defend itself if the enemy keeps attacking. At 8 damage there is no organised battalion left, the battle rules are not used any more, and if the attacker wants to chase imprison or kill everyone that is a different business.

This means that a battle can often end in an inconclusive result (as in the standard rules), when no side is defeated and no side is capable of attacking.

Resolving the opposed check of Battle Values

The opposed check of Battle Values for the turn (typically rolled by the Battalion commanders) is resolved like this:

Success Tie0 damage on both sides
Success vs PartialWinner decides if there will be 2-1 damage, or 1-0 damage
Success vs Failure2 damage to loser
Failure Tie1 damage to both sides
CriticalAs success, and Battle Value +1 (to maximum 18, otherwise one extra damage)
FumbleAs failure, and Battle Value -1 (to minimum of 3, otherwise one extra damage)

Deciding Battle Values

Battle Value and Unit Count are essentially what decides the odds of the battle. Both Battalions have a Battle Value of 10, plus or minus the sum of their advantages and disadvantages decided below.

A smaller advantage gives the Battalion with the upper hand +1 Battle Value.
A major advantage gives the Battalions +1 and -1 Battle Value respectively.
No significant advantage gives no modifications.

A major advantage (+1/-1) generally requires that all the troops on one side has the advantage over all the troops on the other side.

Standard possible advantages are:

  • Better trained troops
  • Better weapons
  • Better armors
  • More horses (double effect first round)
  • Ranged weapons (only effective first round)
  • More rested
  • Better organization, discipline, motivation, and leadership (not the battalion leader leader)
  • Terrain advantage
  • Ambush
  • Defensive measurements

Both battalion leaders also roll a Battle check where Critical: +2, Success +1, Failure -1, Fumble -2. This modification should be given some in-game explanation, and may be removed/rerolled later in the battle if conditions have changed.

If any side gets more than 18 Battle Value, set it to 18 and compensate with not counting the first hit.

If any side has a very diverse army (like 50 knights and 1000 unequiped peasants), use the guidelines above and make sure everyone kind of agrees on the Battle Value. An alternative is of course to divide the army and make more than one battle. The important thing is that the story makes sense, and that the rules dont create implausable odds and outcomes.

Personal Level

For the player characters, the battle is roleplayed. It is not an abstract melee as in the standard rules, but the normal combat rules that are used. First a reflection: A battle may last for 1-2h or longer. If both sides are roughly the same size, and some participants die, some are wounded and some are quite fine after the battle, it means that most participants do not kill a single opponent in hours of battle. Otherwise the battle would be over in a few minutes. Roleplaying 2h of in-game-battle, stardard combat round for round, would take days and nobody would survive. So I think we need to agree that most of the time, player characters involved in a battle are:

  • Looking for their friends, unit or horse
  • Taking care of someone elses wounds
  • Helping someone else off the battlefield
  • Guarding an ally who is wounded and perhaps attended
  • Taking a breath
  • Considering where are we going to run/charge next
  • Discussing tactics or passing on information
  • Enemies evaluating each other without engaging
  • Move to different part of battlefield

I would assume that things going well, you and your unit are able to pick and engage enemies that you can defeat. Things not going so well, enemies are probably assaulting you in large numbers possibly from behind.

For the personal level, normally assume that all the player characters are included in a unit (as in the standard rules) with a unit leader. This is not one of the Hit Point-units. Keep some kind of normal roleplaying record of who is in the unit, how many they are, and what has happened. The participants of the unit are expected to follow their leader and to care for each other.

Each Personal Turn calculate a Tactical Value. It is based on two things:

  1. The opposed Battle Value roll above
  2. The current unit leader (may be a player character) making a Battle skill opposed roll against a Battle skill of an enemy leader (if the enemy is disorganised, use 5, if in doubt use 15)

Interpret those two opposed rolls using the next table, and add the results (to a value 0 to 10).

Partial Fail2
Partial Success3
Success / Tie4

In the below table, see what the unit can be doing. If there are multiple options the Unit leader chooses. It is possible to choose from a worse (lower) result if it makes sense.

0Surrounded and engaged by twice as many foes as unit size, no chance of escape
Surrender/Taken as prisoner (if enemy takes prisoners)
1Engaged by stronger enemies
2Engaged by equal enemies
3Can just lay low (no glory for this turn)
4Can withdraw
5Can get into combat with enemy unit of equal strength
6Can do first aid or watch over someone
7Can engage an enemy unit, having the upper hand
Can attempt to find a horse
8Can take a prisoner
Can engage enemy unit leader with bodyguards
Rescue attempt of allied prisoner
9Good assault or assasination opportunity on enemy unit or unit leader
Can engage enemy high commander with bodyguards
10Good assault or assasination opportunity on enemy high commander

Options are to be interpreted by the Gamemaster and other opportunities or threats may be possible.

Gamemaser can decide that the Player events may result in a -1 or +1 modification to the Battle Value, for one or more Turn. Killing or taking as prisoner a high commander may have even bigger effect.


If the players are in the front line, the first Turn is resolved as a charge. Roll an opposed Unit Battle check as above. What typically happens is:

First (if enemy ranged weapons)Second (lance charge)Third (melee)
Fumble1d6 arrowsLost opportunityEngaged by strong enemies
Fail1d3 arrowsStrong enemiesString enemies
Partial F1d2 arrowsEqual enemiesEqual enemies
Partial S1 arrowWeaker enemiesWeaker enemies
SuccessChoose enemy typeChoose enemy type
CriticalChoose enemy type, +5 first roundChoose enemy type, +5 first round


Glory is decided as in the standard rules, for each turn of the battle, at GMs discretion.


The players can get Passion during the Player Turn as during normal. The Passion may last for more than one turn, if there is a continuity of action. A turn without combat typically cancels the Passion.


What good is a battle system if it fails to produce likely outcomes? I programmed a simulator (link) to verify the likelyhood of outcomes. Everything about this battle system is quite subjective. It is meant to produce plausible outcomes with plausible probabilities so the result of the battle can be accepted in the story.

Pendragon Houserules for Jousting

This is a draft. House rules are not tested much.

This article applies to Pendragon 5.2. The rules are useful with any version.

We ran a small jousting tournament the other day, using the standard 5.2 rules. We soon found that the rules were not good enough, and we did some quick in-game house-rules. My main objections are:

  • A partial success (success, but still not as good as your opponent) makes no difference.
  • The horsemanship roll to save from Knockdown is far too easy. Jousting can go on for (too) many rounds.

The truth is that I have no idea for how long real knights were jousing. 1 pass? 5 passes? All afternoon? But I do not care – I and my players have seen Ivanhoe – we have an idea what we expect, and we want it to be quick.

Suggested House Rules

The suggested house rules are not that different from the orginal 5.2 rules. Both knights roll opposed Lance checks.

OriginalHouse rule
Both fail/fumbleTieTie
FumbleGM decidesSee table below
Same success (or both crit)TieBoth falls off
Winner vs Fail/fumbleDamage and Horsemanship rollsLoser falls
Winner vs PartialDamage and Horsemanship rollsIf difference in success is
1-4: Damage and Horsemanship rolls
5+: Loser falls
CriticalReal damage and Horsemanship rollsDeal real damage, Loser falls

This should avoid too many passes/rounds.

Type of Win

Here is a random table to decide what the victory looked like, in case anyone is curious. This is for dramatic effect. If it is a real battle no one should be penalized by this table.

  1. Hit to head, helmet removed, dizzy for a while
  2. Loser stays on for for a dozen feet but can not hold it
  3. Hit to head, rolling backwards over horse
  4. Shoulder hit sends loser spinning off the horse
  5. Loser thrown off, lands on back with a noise
  6. Loser falls off backwards, manages to land on feet
  7. Loser seems to make ut, but lance hits ground and he falls of
  8. Loser is left dangling to the side of the horse, can’t get up or down
  9. Losers horse made a weak rush, making him an easy target
  10. Loser hits shield, then ground and is pole jumping off his horse
  11. A corner of the shield comes off
  12. Hit to head, on his back on the horse, then rolling off
  13. Hit to head, dizzy for a few moments, fails to stay on the horse an falls off moments later
  14. About to be hit in neck, evades, fails to stay on the horse
  15. Loser delivers a solid shield hit, but it is him losing the balance
  16. Loser is pulled down by his shield (being hit by the lance)
  17. Loser lifts shield to protect from head head, gets shield in the head
  18. Tries to dodge a head hit, taking hit to upper torso
  19. Hit to shield is just too powerful to recover from
  20. Tries to dodge sideways, falls off doing so
  21. Comes off rolling into the middle fence, comes to sudden stop
  22. Shield hit, lance slides hitting the lance arm, pulling the knight off
  23. Light hit to side of head, enough to lose all balance
  24. A rare lance-lance hit sends knight off spinning
  25. Loser, sitting high, manages to get lance under him, ejected out of saddle
  26. Violently thrown off, helmet comes off, face buried in mud
  27. When about to recover from impact, thrown off by horse
  28. Rider and horse falls by the force of the impact
  29. Falls off, landing on the fence, not pretty
  30. Looking bad, landing on head, but rolls up nicely finishing on his feet
  31. Breaks lance when landing on it. Score?
  32. Ridiculously flapping with arms, throwing shields and lance, for no gain
  33. Never taking determined eyes off opponent, until afoot again
  34. Both horse and knight falls backwards
  35. Losing breath, taking a few minutes to recover
  36. Hit by horse kick when falling off
  37. Pushed backwards by impact, falling off behind horse
  38. Shield hits face with some blood spilled
  39. Horse comes back quickly, licking his master in the face to get him up again
  40. Horse comes back quickly, kneels down, and helps knight to his feet
  41. Horse runs away
  42. Crashes into the mud on opponents side of the fence
  43. Seems confident for a while, then just falls off
  44. After impact, horse makes a few jumps, throws knight off forward
  45. Pushed out of saddle by impact, tries to recover sitting on the rear of the horse, but fails
  46. Hit to head, leans numbly forward for a little while, then falls off
  47. Saddle comes off, knight has no chance
  48. Clings to the mane of the horse to get back up, but has to surrender afoot
  49. Gets splinters in face and eyes, takes a while before walking off the field
  50. Knight gracefully slides sideways out of saddle, ending up on knees and hands
  51. …you are welcome to suggest more…


Fumble is 1/20. For two knights that is almost 1/10. I think that is way to often for some kind of critical or disqualifying event. So this table is somewhat forgiving.

  1. Hit opponents horse, dealing normal damage. Disqualified
  2. Horse tries to get rid of rider, Horsemanship or fall off before impact
  3. Blinded (by dust, sun), and makes no proper attack attempt
  4. Horse tries to run off in another direction (roll horsemanship or disqualified)
  5. Too voilent charge, can not direct attack at all
  6. Lowers lance way too late
  7. Lowers lance way too early
  8. Horse stops suddenly, just before impact (horsemanship or fall off forward)
  9. About to hit opponents horse, throws lance on ground to save
  10. Cracked lance, not even an attempt
  11. Hesitating start, no power, easy target
  12. Lose grip of lance, trying to recover as it hits the ground (DEX or fall off)
  13. … you are welcome to suggest more…