Creating a new Kingdom
Original SA post
Some of you have played Microscope. It’s even reviewed on this thread somewhere. Allow me to introduce its little, less well-known sibling. While the former focuses mostly on world-building, Kingdom is about… well… actually let’s allow the game to tell us that itself.
Kingdoms Are All Around Us…
Groups are stronger than individuals. In a Kingdom, we can work together to do great things. But we may not agree what path our Kingdom should take or what it should stand for. Can your vision of the Kingdom work with mine? Can everybody get what they want? Because if you’re part of the Kingdom, it makes demands on you too. You’re pressured to do what it thinks is right. The question becomes: do you change the Kingdom or does the Kingdom change you?
We Make Our Kingdom Together
A “Kingdom” is the game term for the community or organization that is the focus of our game. Any kind of community works, and we’ll decide what kind of Kingdom we want to play together. Our Kingdom could be…
… a frontier town in the Old West
… a colony ship crawling towards a distant star
… or the teachers and students of Sunnybrook Elementary School
Each of us will play a character who is part of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is what ties our characters together. It’s the center of all our lives.
And Watch It Burn
The game is about seeing what happens to the Kingdom and the people in it. How the characters change the Kingdom and how it changes them. As players, we all have equal authority to influence the game. It’s up to each of us to push the Kingdom in directions we find interesting. What will our Kingdom do? What will it become? Will it burn or flourish? Will iit stay true to its ideals–our ideals–or will it become some twisted shadow of our dreams?
The Kingdom’s fate is in our hands.
Yup, this is a game about an organization, or at least it claims to be one. In reality, this is a small deception on the part of the author, as we will see soon enough.
Creating a new Kingdom
The first part of starting a new game is creating the organization that your characters are going to lead. It can be done in 10 minutes, because there is very little mechanics that actually describes it. You start with a concept – any community with a common cause or identity is enough. It should include at least 20-30 people, so the characters have someone to boss around, but beyond that its size doesn’t matter. It can be a stellar empire or a criminal gang. The book gives an example of a concept.
Cactus Flats is a frontier town in the Wild West. There are ranchers, rustlers and gunslingers. The Sheriff wears a badge, but law mostly comes from the barrel of a gun.
The next thing that needs to be done is to pick three Threats (let each player come up with one). Each is some condition that could destroy the community, or at least seriously threaten its well-being. The players will mostly use them to come up with Crossroads (choices that the community needs to make) and Crises (the special events that happen when enough players decide to fuck the Kingdom over). The author advises that at least one of them should be an internal one.
The example Threats for Cactus Flats are:
- Outlaws and lowlifes have been drifting into town.
- Railroad is not coming thru our town after all.
- Drought. A long dry spell has made the rivers run low, making it harder to water cattle or crops.
The last thing that needs to be done is to come up with Locations, which will give the players ideas where to set their Scenes. Each person should come up with two. As the example shows us, the description doesn’t need to be very detailed.
- Taproom of the Old Saloon
- Boot Hill, the graveyard
- Sheriff’s office & jail cell
- Hanging Tree, lonely oak south of town
- On the dry banks of the Cahoga River
- Treacher’s Canyon, surrounding the road north to Fort Brook
- Honest Cartwright’s dry goods
- Abandoned mission on the edge of town, its adobe walls crumbling
And… that’s pretty much it. We don’t get an idea if our Kingdom is rich or poor (unless lack of money is one of the Threats), if its army is powerful or not, or even if it’s relatively strong or weak. For a game about people leading an organization, it’s probably the sparsest description of one I have ever seen. That is because the game is the Great Man Theory in the form of a book – its entire focus are characters that lead the community in question.
The first thing that every player needs to do is to choose a Role. It’s the most important attribute of all and the only one that actually influences the mechanics. That’s why it’s picked before you even have an idea who your character is going to be.
Powers are the ones who call the shots. When the Crossroads gets to its resolution, they are the one that actually make a decision what will the community do. They can also decide what actually happens to other characters (aside from killing them) – they can reward and punish them for support. This is purely narrative, though – an imprisoned character is still assumed to have enough clout to use their Role.
Perspectives are experts and advisors. They actually decide what consequences a choice is going to have and their predictions by default are assumed to be true. This lets them push the Powers into making the decisions they want. You don’t want the town to pardon the outlaws? Just say that if it happens, they are going to get bolder and take over – and it’s true until someone does anything to remove your prediction or you decide that you no longer want it.
Touchstones represent the common people: anything they say is automatically assumed to be the most popular opinion. If they’re tired with the war, everyone is. If they hate the outsiders, everyone does. Pissed off Touchstones can also tick additional Crisis boxes or clear them, so they can either blow the community up or make it content despite everyone else’s effort.
It’s assumed that there will be at least one character with each role during the Crossroads resolution. If there aren’t (because someone changed their role, which they totally can do), bad things happen.
After picking up the role, you actually decide who your character is. This should be someone that has a stake in the Kingdom survival – even if they can leave, this won’t be painless for them. What’s interesting is that the person’s description doesn’t actually need to correspond to the Role. For example, a King can totally be a Perspective, or a Touchstone – it just means they are a figurehead and someone else wields the actual Power.
The next step is choosing two locations your character can be usually found. Again, this is for the benefit of the players creating scenes: if they want to talk to the captain of the guard, it’s helpful to know they can usually be found on the courtyard or the battlements.
The next element to be chosen is the Wish or Fear. This is something that the character either really wants to happen, or is afraid it will happen if someone doesn’t stop it. The important thing is that Wish/Fear should be about the community, not anyone’s character. Therefore “I wish to be the king” or “I fear that I’ll be executed” are not valid; “I wish that the country becomes a worker’s paradise” or “I fear that our band of noble outlaws will become common criminals” are both great. This signals other players what issues do you really want to see in the game.
The Problem is something that holds your character back in any way. It can be a personal issue, like alcoholism or a chronic disease. It can be a problem with someone else, like a good-for-nothing relative or someone blackmailing you. It can be a bad reputation, being actually terrible at your job, or anything else. To be honest, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to do – perhaps to give other players something to exploit or hold over your head. It seems like something that can be safely omitted; in fact, the update to the rules throws it out entirely (along with the Wish/Fear).
The last step of the character creation must be done by all the players together. Each one chooses the bond they have with the character belonging to the person on their left. These bonds can have a bit of antagonism – your character can consider someone else an incompetent fuckup, dislike them for some past misdeeds, or even want to see them go.
That’s all about preparing the game. Next time we’ll see how it is actually meant to be played.