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Dr Pendragon's GM advice


Sometimes your players will want to make a plan, a detailed plan and they prod you, their illustrious GM, for all kind of information in order to come up with the perfect plan. Of course as GM you don’t want to disappoint them and you come up with the requested details, number of soldiers, watch schedules, names of all bribe-able NPCs, their background and motivations, weak spots in the wall, detailed maps showed every inch. And then your players spend 3/4 of the session planning and in the last 15 minutes of the session they blow it all with a bad roll... Sometimes this can be fun. But sometimes you just want to get on with the action.

But let's assume you, as GM, will provide all this information. The players will have full freedom to choose the approach they prefer, right? No, the players will go for the weak spot in the plan. This can be a weak spot introduced by the GM, or worse, an actual weak spot the GM missed (GMs are still human after all) , but a five year old would have spotted. So, there isn't real freedom of choice, just the impression of free choice.

And let's be honest. If the players came up with the perfect plan, the session would be a bit boring, as nothing would happen unexpectedly. In fiction it's when the plan goes south that we zoom back to the hero and the action happens. And hence in fiction and gaming "no plan is perfect".

If your players want to make a detailed plan in order to obtain an objective, let them provide the plan themselves. Let them come up with why and how they came up with this plan (which of course can always be GM vetoed). They must provide the GM with at least one detail about how they intend to carry out the plan, but most important let them indicate what the weak spot of the plan is. Let the players fill in any other details they like (again GM veto possible) but don't spend too much time. No one is really interested why they NOT choose the options that were not good choices. Remember it's the objective that counts, sometimes players already come up with a method. Point this out and remember them there are alternative

Different kind of plans require different kind of details. In broad terms there are the following kinds:
Attack: You want to attack a target. Detail: The point of attack.
Deceive: You want to lure, trick, or manipulate. Detail: The method of deception.
Sneak: You want to enter (unseen) where you are not wanted. Detail: The point of entry.
Social plan: You want to negotiate, bargain, or persuade. Detail: The social connection

The weak point or spot should be just that, the weakest point in the whole endeavor, the weakest link in the whole chain. Given the low skills in Pendragon, rolling for every step in the plan for every plan will be guaranteed at least one failure. As in fiction, focus on the weakest link and play out only this weakest point. Try to boil it down to a single roll, opposed or not, from a single player. This will also allow players to optimally employ their passions, and give a highlight to a deserving player. Let the players come up with weak point, but feel free to aid or veto them.

If at all possible let the players themselves indicate what would be the effect of failure. Don't always go with the obvious here or feel obligated to follow the players description. Try to convince your players to provide interesting failure options (see "Failing forward" below).


The players want to assault a castle in order to free a prisoner. The GM asks them if they are already decided on an assault, or that their objective is to get inside the castle, free the prisoner and escape. The players indeed want to get inside the castle first.

Instead of providing all the details, the GM simple tells them its a well-guarded castle and ask them how they want to get in. PK1 is an aggressive player and suggest an all-out assault after gathering their allies. PK2 is the more careful one and wants to bribe a guard. PK3 is a courtly knight and suggest he might know someone inside.

The players decide that their best approach is to try to persuade or bribe a (so far un-named) friend of PK3. The weak spot is the friend might not be persuade or (on suggestion PK1) betray and ambush them. The GM or PK3 provides some details on the friend and the game continues with the PKs meeting the friend outside the postern gate... Roll Intrigue...

Notice how the whole how to meet the friend or how to get to the postern gate was skipped in the interest of 'interesting action'. Also if the intrigue attempt is done successfully, the sneaking through the castle to get to the prisoner is also skipped, as the 'weak spot' was the intrigue attempt. Had the players indicated that the weak spot was the sneaking through the castle, it would have been a Dex check (modified with armor) that where the action would have started.

Other options would have been:
"By storming the castle at the main gate, but there might be more knights then we accounted for"
"By seducing the castellans wife and letting her free the prisoner, though his wife might not be so easily seduced"
"By sneaking into the castle over the moat, but we could fall with our armor while crossing the moat by boat"

Of course this method can be abused by players. The last option
"By sneaking into the castle, but we could fall with our armor while crossing the moat by boat" chosen by players who among them have someone with boating skill 35, is clearly not the weakest spot in their plan. A GM still needs common sense to point out if another part in the indicated plan is actually much, much weaker than the players weak point. Only do this is this is very clear, do not go in discussions if sneaking in armor (Dex check) or pulling someone up a rope (Str check) is weaker than the other (unless the PKs are a magically boosted).

How much opposition to offer to the players in such a case can be either GM fiat based upon the reasoning of the players. However for the more impartial GMs, the GM can ask the players how they came upon the information upon which their plan was formulated. Attempt to match this to a PK skill ("It's a friend I know: Courtesy", "I watched their battlements: Siege", "I know she is lonely: Romance" etc), and allow the PK to roll this skill as 'information gathering'. A success will allow unmodified further skill rolls on the 'weak spot' rolls, a failure will provide a -5, a fumble -10 and a critical +5. If a skill is needed during the 'weak spot' rolls and its rating is not immediately obvious roll 2D6+3. Of course, Kings guard will be harder to bribe than hillmen, so make sure to apply common sense and appropriate bonuses (+5 for elite opponents, -5 for substandard opponents)

Failing forward Another advice, if the skill rolls for the weak point fail, dont stop the action there. Always make sure that failure at the weak point creates new action. Failure to bribe leads to combat, failure to sneak leads to a chase, failure to seduce leads to a duel, failure to cross the river leads to being dragged downstream to a monsters lair. Never let a failure stop the action, always 'fail forward.


Determine Objective
Provide Type of plan
Provide required Detail of plan
Provide Weak Point of plan
Provide Information Gathering detail
Determine and roll Information Gathering skill [-10/-5/0/+5]
GM: Determine Opponent Skill [2D6+3]
Play out weak point (skip rest)
Determine and roll weak point skill (modified with Information Gathering roll)
Obtain objective or fail forward

with friendly greetings

Dr Pendragon

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