Sir Pellinore’s Favorite Game
Oddly, Not “Kick The Peasant”
A Genuine Old-School Revival
As my faithful readers1 know, I often refer to OSR as “old school revisionism”, as it takes a very narrow subset of playstyles from the era and elevates them to the One True Way, and furthermore often ignores many aspects of Actual Play in that era, or actively excoriates them, such as holding “rulings not rules” sacrosanct, when the actual experience was very often, “Here’s my 249 pages of rules for longswords, using fluid dynamics to determine how air resistance impacts the arc of the blade and thus the precise millimeters of skin pierced, and I’ve converted Grey’s Anatomy into a series of charts (using an intersection of 4d10+5 and 5d12 +72 +/–character height in inches) to determine hit location… Oh, you’ve got a mace? No problem, I’ve got rules for that, too, using a different set of mechanics, because maces aren’t longswords!”, and I could go on for a few dozen paragraphs listing my issues, but mercifully, I won’t.
“Sir Pellinore’s Favorite Game” is a genuine revival of an old-school game, one of the many third-party spinoffs from D&D that erupted in the late 70s, and one I’ve never heard of before, which shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does, because many of these games were distributed locally, and if you didn’t live in the right place or attend a lot of cons, you’d miss them. Anyway, the rights-holder recently did a reprint of both 1e and 3e (not sure what happened to 2e, maybe when I read the book as part of writing this article, I’ll learn), in a single bound volume, which I purchased. (I confess I thought I was buying a true facsimile edition, and was mildly disappointed to see it was not, but as is often the case, that’s more due to me enthusiastically screaming “IT MUST BE MINE!” and clicking “buy” without reading more closely, not to any deception on their part.)
Slightly more disappointing, but also understandable, is that this is a “remastered” edition, with typos corrected, terminology made more consistent, and so on. From the perspective of someone actually wanting to play, this is quite useful; from someone like me, who enjoys the amateur gonzoness of the era, the “beauty in imperfection” of wabi-sabi, it’s a little sad. (And it means I can’t score cheap points making fun of typos. I hate it when someone’s already gathered the low-hanging fruit and I have to actually work to be funny!2)
Art, naturally, is by the renowned artist of the Burgess Shale era of RPGs, “That Guy I Know”. (Full name:”That Guy I Know, He Painted This Bitchin’ Gandalf Fighting The Balrog On My Cousin’s Van, He’ll Work For A Pizza”)
Also, per the introduction, the 2e version is gone, gone, gone with lost Atlantis, but if a copy is ever found, it will be included in a future printing. Again, I note how small the distribution for these games tended to be.
This leaves with a choice: Do I generate a 1e character or a 3e character? Some casual flipping indicates they’re quite different in design, so that a 3e walkthrough would not really be comparable to the 1e. That said, and since I’m usually better at updating this blog if I have a fixed goal in mind, I’ll do a 1e character now, and a 3e character the next time I update, which will hopefully not be too far in the future.
Once More Into The Breach
Or The Dicebag. Whatever.
Three Shall Be The Number Of The Classes, And The Number Of The Classes Shall Be Three
While original D&D allowed you to be a Fighting-Man, a Magic-User, or a Cleric-No-Dashed, Sir Pellinore’s Game (in this edition, “Sir Pellinore’s Book”, 20 stapled pages) allows you to be a Fighting Man, Wizard, or “Other”, which includes “merchants, priests, etc.” You roll 3d6 in order for Strength, Intelligence, Luck, Constitution (which indicates hit points), Dexterity, and Charisma, here defined as “Personality”. So let’s do that:
In a post-Greyhawk world, I’d be a thief, but in this age, I will either be a fighting man or “other”. As there’s no actual referee (this was before “Dungeon Master” and “Game Master” became commonplace) for me to browbeat into letting me get away with anything I can imagine by picking the non-existent “thief” (technically, under “other”) as a class (the referee can ‘make up rules’ for any ‘other’ they wish, and in practice, if they weren’t prepared for it — and, certainly, they might be very well prepared, as noted above — a canny player can justify a wide range of “well, a thief should be able to do…” as needed, and the overburdened ref will likely go along just to keep things moving. In Ye Olde Dayse of RPGs, actions covered by rules were often fairly restrictive w/low chances of success, so “creativity” and “player skill, not character skill” meant “finding some action there’s no rules for and counting on the ‘rulings, not rules’ to give you much better odds of success”.
But I digress, of course. I can reroll, or I can say to hell with it and go with fighting man, as attributes in old-school games often had very little effect – so low rolls were not that important. (This began to change when attribute-gated classes like Paladin came in, Magic-Users could not learn higher level spells without high Intelligence, and so on. As part of a feedback loop, these mechanics led to character generation that produced higher average results and/or allowed players to arrange results to better suit their choice of class, which led to other rules assuming better-than-average stats when calculating probabilities, which led to…)
I say to hell with it, fighting man it is! I now roll for gold: A 12, which means 120 gold.
(I shall note that characters which are not fighting men get combat penalties, but not combat bonuses. )
Following these basic rules for generating stats is the costs of hirelings. Hirelings were vital in old school, as self-propelled meat shields, and a fighter for 2 gp a month was a real bargain!
Upkeep for any character is 10 gp/month per level, so it’s odd a hireling costs so little.. ah, the price doesn’t include “room and board”, but is a surcharge, so a fighter hireling in 12 gp/month, much less of a bargain.
We then move on to healing. As noted, Constitution is used for hit points. You heal 1 Constitution per day of rest. You must also roll a save vs. infection or take 1d6 more points of damage. You may lose more if the infection persists; whether or not this happens is up to the referee. Also, you lose 1 point of Strength per point of Constitution lost, as well as 1 for every 5 rounds of fighting. You “may” faint if either falls to 3 or less.
We continue with the seemingly stream-of-consciousness rules: Walking and Carrying, Turns (10 minutes normally, 2 minutes when fighting), Becoming a Knight (you must be of noble birth… so far, I haven’t seen any social status tables3), and Saving Rolls.
Saving Rolls are usually based on Luck, but may be based, at the Referee’s discretion, on Dexterity, Constitution, or Strength. To make a save, add your Luck (or other attribute) to your level, subtract that from 25, and roll higher than that on 2 dice, and if you get doubles, roll again and add that, unless you rolled under 5, which is an automatic failure. Lastly, the vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true. These rules do not discuss the flagon with the dragon. Get it? Got it. Good.
(Lessee, Luck 8 + level 1 = 9, 25-9 = 16, I need to roll 16 or less on 2 six-sided dice… this only happen if I roll doubles. So much for my earlier statement that ‘attribute scores don’t matter much in old-school games’!)
Ah, the meat of any true old-school (also, new school, middle school, post-graduate school, and Montessori school) game: Combat! Killing Things and Taking Their Stuff is what it’s all about, even those hippie indie games where what you kill is your own inner conflict and what you take is self-awareness or whatever. And in this case, it’s a lot easier to show than to tell:
Got all that? The key point is, the chance shown is the change of missing. So a bonus is negative (reduces chance of missing) and a penalty is positive! Also, wizards get a -5%.. I mean, a +5%… chance to miss at first level, and at 2nd and above, use the chart for a fighting man of half their level, rounding down. Wizards can only use daggers or staffs, and Priests (which are ‘other’, remember) cannot use bladed weapons.
Oh, humans and elves with a Dexterity of 15 or more add a +5% penalty to their opponent’s rolls, and… wait a minute? Elves? We haven’t seen anything about elves so far!4 Are elves an “other” class, as this was written in the days of race=class, or are there rules for non-humans coming up?
Anyway, a few pages of combat tables later, we get experience rules (you get e.p. for killing monsters, plus bonus e.p. if the referee wishes, such as “extra evil actions by evil players”, and I don’t want to think about how this might lead to players competing in atrocity Olympics. In any event, e.p. is used to increase attributes or go up levels; you must spend it to decide what happens.
Balrogs And Banana Peels
Actually, no balrogs. But I liked the sound of it.
“Banana Peel” is one of the first level spells, which tells me there’s a Tunnels & Trolls influence going on here. Spells, by the way, must be learned (for a fee) if they’re over first level, and Sir Pellinore’s Game uses a simple magic point system, where a wizard gains 1 point per level, and each spell costs its level in points, so even a 10th level wizard isn’t going to cast more than 1-2 high level spells. Healing and attack spells are both there for Wizards; if the “Priest” class (as a subset of “other”) is used, it’s not clear if they get some, all, or no spells — the referee must decide, I guess.
Most of the spells are somewhat generic, but there’s a few standouts in name if not functionality:
Maggot Mouth: Triples voice volume of the wizard for two turns; why it’s named this, I do not know.
Dr. Doolittle: Speak with animals, but not insects, for a half hour.
Hovercraft: Allows you to fly at 75′ per turn for two turns; also, increases eel-carrying capacity by 200 percent.
Water Breathing: For some reason, this is an 8th level spell! By contrast, “Inventive Curse”, which lets you create any curse if the referee agrees, is only 7th level, and conjuring an elemental is a mere 5th level!
Then follows the usual random mix of rules for a fiefdom, building a castle (with costs per door and tower), and maybe a dozen monsters, each with only the most basic stats and no descriptive text.
Thus, We End
As far as character creation goes, that’s it: Roll 3d6, pick a class, and buy equipment (I skipped that bit). Sir Pellinore’s Book is about as minimalist as it gets, barely more than a set of house rules for Original D&D. The 3rd edition is twice as long — it will be interesting to see how it develops, when I get to it. It came out in 1981, and gaming rules and expectations had advanced considerably in that three year span. Join us next time, whenever that may be!
- “Two” allows me to use the plural case, right? ↩︎
- “You’re not funny no matter how hard you work!” says my inner Statler and Waldorf. “Bite me,” I reply. ↩︎
- I reached the end without finding any. ↩︎
- And we never will. ↩︎