In the recent winter, Kingdom 2e (by Ben Robbins) had my interest. I’ve played four sessions. I considered this game as a personal challenge: This game really plays different. Not just how random-less framework works, but also what do you really do during your scenes…
This is a review of Kingdom 2e – but of the game, not the book.
What’s Kingdom about?
Kingdom is a game about community and it’s fate. How people react to dire situations, dangers and situation changers. Here’s the spotlight of a game: we tell scenes about, how people in our „kingdom” reacts to looming struggle. When those folks are forced to make an answer to the problem. A „kingdom” can be as small as anime fanclub (example from the book!) or ship of the line, up to size of a galactic empire…
This game is GM-less and needs 2 to 5 players. However, Kingdom introduces it’s own definitions and how it divides narrative rights to players. We have three Roles:
- Power (who governs, rules and decides what will happen)
- Perspective (who says what will happen, if something has been decided)
- Touchstone (who says how they feel with the situation, so all folks feel it too)
A given Role can be taken more than by one player, and not all Roles needs to be taken. The latter will have interesting results, however.
How to play Kingdom, actually?
We create our Kingdom (what is it really, what are it’s theme and boundaries, who lives there, external and internal dangers). Every player picks a Role and makes a main character, who needs to fit a chosen Role and have a bond with another main character. Also, each player creates a minor (second) character, without a Role.
Then, we state the Crossroads: a critical question to answer (YES/NO) during the game, as an unavoidable decision to make. For example, „Does Penguin Club mercenary company will fight the Swahili Coalition?”. Each player introduces a scene (in turns) about their main character, with 1-2 other characters: player’s main or minor characters, or improv NPCs. We play those scenes as long, until either Crossroads or Crisis track will fill. How to fill those tracks? In the end of a scene, it’s author decides, whether to add +1 to Crossroad or to Crisis. Additionally, Touchstone role can add +1/-1 to Crisis, after that.
Filling the Crossroads track is the moment, when all players must resolve given Crossroads of the Kingdom. Power chooses YES/NO answer. Perspective decides, which stakes (added during the play) from given answer happen. Touchstone jugdes, how all people in the Kingdom feels with the decision and outcome.
Filling the Crisis tracks is the crucial moment, where sole existence of our Kingdom is contested. Also, what will happen to main characters (depending of the fate of Kingdom and their own choices).
During the session, players can change Roles. They can also contest decisions made by an another player, through procedures like Fight-or-Fix or Overthrow…
If it’s important to someone: Kingdom does not use any dice nor any random method of resolving things. Mechanics and procedures works like:
- Somebody have made a decision, so the other one makes an reaction, then the first person has lasting word for it (and the second one agrees with that or not).
- Yes/No/Abstain voting (and outcomes behind each of those votes)
- Drama-like resolutions, like „show from 0 to 5 fingers, how much progress do you think to add, and we count the middle result”.
How did I feel while playing Kingdom?
It wasn’t easy to set myself into playing in deliberate way, according to the Role. I played as Perspective and Touchstone. I admit, those roles feels like the’yre focusing on the opposite sides of a spectrum. Perspective introduces the stakes, turns things up and it’s the most engaging one with crunch of Kingdom. Touchstone, in another hand, is „the softest role”, with seemingly least impact on the Kingdom, but it delivers the feedback to the fiction (shared imagined space). Perspective’s scene should be about a new stake to YES or NO answer, Touchstone’s scene should show us the emotions and opinions of a very folk of our community (what main character feels and thinks = all people of the Kingdom feel and think!).
I felt good with Perspective role. For instance, during two-session play in „Penguin Club”, my notorious stakes frequently compelled other players to „Fight-or-Fix” it. To replace given stake to something alternative. It was engaging and fun.
Here lies the most important thing. In Kingdom, we don’t create additional conflicts during scenes. The conflict is only one and very important: Crossroads. Kingdom’s scenes focuses on expositions. How do you govern the situation? What are fears of the common folk? What are consequences of possible grand decisions? What that Crossroads’ conflict really is about, in detail? We create scenes to show (and tell) as much as possible, to add gravity, nuisance and complexity to the situation. We play to find out, what our Kingdom really is. What do you think about the final outcome, as players?
I admit, that all my previous TTRPG experience didn’t help me much. It was the opposite: I felt that by referrencing to them, I only mislead myself. I noticed, that some players also struggled with chosen Role. It’s quite interesting statement. Kingdom’s written instruction is quite clear, the book says exactly what do you need to do by playing given Role. I think that how Roles are divided – how narrative rights and suggested agenda works selective – makes difficult to referring it into an another TTRPG. Which was on purpose (by design). You need to understand the Role first in order to properly play it. This creates quite non-flat learning curve for Kingdom…
Kingdom is not about player characters. The second edition introduces „minor characters” as additional (second) characters for a player. This helps to remind that characters are mere tools for expostion and description of the Kingdom. „Minor characters” helps player to introduce other people into their own scene, if they either doesn’t have an idea to introduce their main character or quickly make an NPC.
That actual part of the review.
At first hand, I think that Kingdom is easier to someone completely new and fresh to TTRPGs, than to veterans of Traditional RPGs. Playing Roles and focus on describing things and making the exposition of the Kingdom is not hard on it’s own. It’s a completely different experience than what Traditional RPGs teaches…
Like my last, fourth session. Five players, „Kingdom” as „Green Chariot Team in VI c. Byzantine Empire”. Only me and the game host knew the game beforehand, and still we didn’t had much trouble with playing scenes.
In other hand. you need to buy-in into Kingdom; get involved a little into it. It’s not a party game (like Fiasco) nor lightweight and effort-less game. You need to focus on shared storytelling about the community. You need to know and remember, how your Role works (either your scene or Reaction after scenes) in order to properly facilitate the game. In other words, that new and fresh player needs to know, what they’re signed for…
Kingdom needs a substantial effort of self-discipline, when you play your own scene. It can be easy to forget – while you’re genuinely immersed in roleplaying – what you’re expected to do as a Role. This game does not support mixing Roles, or „what happens, if somebody plays differently”. You can change the Role, of course, but it has to be announced and introduced to the fiction.
Kingdom was (and still is) a challenge to me, how to navigate in shared imagined space. It was a really interesting experience, which I expected and got delivered well. I’ll return to Kingdom, some day. OK, maybe not in settings already played (science-fiction or brutal modern mercenaries in Africa; something lightweight)…
This game shows you, what part of RPG medium (roleplaying, essentially) you are really into it, and what you struggle with…
Ten tekst powstał dzięki wsparciu: Jędrzej Śmietański, Aleksandra Sontowska, Jakub Kucharzewski, Erpegowe Piekiełko, Sebastian Żarnowski, Michał Laskowski, Przemysław Wasilewski i Marcin Zaród. Dziękuję!