Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Heroes of the City: A Kingdom Seed

I still haven't written a review of it, but let me say that I really love Ben Robbins' game Kingdom. Two things grab me the most when I play: community building and planning/problem solving. Kingdom offers a mix of both, leading to something completely new. It offers a more setting-variable and character-focused version of community-building than The Quiet Year (which is also great). It isn't Microscope at a smaller scale. Instead imagine something with the play structure of Fiasco, but where you're aiming to protect, preserve, and sustain something. It's about group versus personal interests in many ways. 

Which means that it also connects closely with many of the themes present in Hillfolk and many, many of the DramaSystem pitches there. I think a ton of those can easily be ported over to offer new and interesting Kingdom seeds. It moves the focus a little bit away from personal drama, but I think it works. On Thursday I'm running an online session of Kingdom for LUG Con (Let Us Game). I decided to borrow elements from Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan's "Heroes of the City" from Blood on the Snow: A DramaSystem Companion. It's probably my favorite pitch from the books. I used the framework of the "Eshbal, the Door of Hardship" seed from the Kingdom main book. Many things below come verbatim from these sources recombined with some of my stuff; this is a hack and is intended just for personal play. You should check out both of the original books. 

BASIC PREMISE
The archmage—an evil wizard who sought to rule the world—lies dead, slain by the heroes who thwarted his vile scheme. Now, that unlikely brotherhood of heroes must rule and keep safe the dark city which was once his seat of power. The main characters may be former adventurers who aided in the downfall, members or leaders of various factions in the city, officers of the decommissioned military, rebels who worked to undermine the archmage from within, or surviving civic leaders who made hard bargains in those dark times.

CUSTOMIZE
  • The City was [the original seat of the archmage’s power and conquest | built by the archmage from slave labor | conquered and transformed by the archmage’s forces | the remains of a once proud kingdom that the archmage desperately seized in the last days].
  • The City was liberated [a few weeks ago | several months ago | one year past, come tomorrow].
  • The most striking thing which survived the City’s liberation is [ the grand structures built at the archmage’s whim | the looted wealth drawn from across the archmage’s conquests | the grand library filled with ancient tomes and secrets | a bizarrely practical sanitation system managed by demons | the central black jade tower of the archmage].
  • The City is now populated by [ mostly the liberated populace, with bands of representatives from those who slew the archmage | a mix of surviving populace, refugees from the conquests, and the liberating forces | mostly refugees, a few who survived the archmage’s rule, and the forces of reconquest | the forces and peoples of those who fought against the archmage, plus some local survivors and refugees who also fought].

THREAT IDEAS
  • Corruption still holds over from the archmage’s time and bribery is rampant. Any favor can be bought for the right price.
  • Some loyalists to the archmage still exist and work to undermine the city and even resurrect their master.
  • The garrison of the city is under-staffed. Troops have left to return to their homelands, leaving few to guard the city.
  • The city’s defenses were devastated in the final assault on the archmage.
  • Drought and disorganization has raised the specter of famine. Some in positions of power still have food, but commoners are tightening their belts.
  • Other forces who fought against the archmage resent the city’s survival or suspect it contains secrets & wealth. Forces may be massing to attack.
  • Eldritch forces once contained by the archmage hunt the streets. Alternately: the spirits of those dammed by the archmage haunt the city.
  • Tensions have grown between peoples from disparate races and nations which once banded together to fight the archmage.

LOCATION IDEAS
  • The Hall of Summons. Where the current ruling council meet to discuss and decide issues.
  • The River Docks. Where the merfolk hold sway now.
  • The Gnarls. The twisted forests outside the city’s south wall. There’s a gigantic oak tree there, all gnarled and mutated by the archmage’s vile magics.
  • The Red Nail Inn. A mercenary cross-roads tavern and declared neutral ground for grudges.
  • The former Mansion of Ministries. Once a seat for horrors, now populated by refugees…or something else.
  • White Keep. The intact garrison fort within the city.
  • The Dog Market. A maze of stalls and hawking merchants, crowded .and busy. Named for the barking of the sellers.
  • The Baths. Makeshift enormous public building with numerous elaborately tiled chambers. A rare place where social strata becomes meaningless. Naked people all look alike.
  • The Gallow’s Gate. Where the outer road pierces the city wall. It is still framed by the various awful devices and signs the archmage used to show his power.
  • The Broken Temples. Place of worship being repurposed and reclaimed by locals.
  • The Crossroads. A jagged main plaza now crisscrossed by makeshift bridges and walkways. It lies between several of the faction and race’s areas of control.
  • The Shackles. The dungeons of the archmage, now filled by those who served him and fresh criminals.
  • The Blue Pool. A great and still pool of water, deep and dark. It lies in a domed chamber and once served as a tool for the archmage’s works.
  • The Arena. Where blood soaked stands now sit empty.
  • The Undertunnels. Once used by those who hid from the archmage, they still contain peoples who use them for other purposes.
  • The Repository of Silences. One of the few remaining libraries.
  • The Tower of Harmony. The local wizards have claimed this for their own as a place of training and meditation.

CHARACTER SEEDS
  • Prophesied heroine, brought up in obscurity to hide her from the archmage’s legions.
  • Former head of the rebellion inside the City which helped with the overthrow.
  • Once wandering Bard who has chosen to make the city their great project.
  • Keeper of the Three Magics, current head among the magic users within the city.
  • Prince(ss) of the elves, scion of an ancient and noble people, and greatest archer in all the world.
  • Grizzled captain of the dwarven faction, whose mountain fortress for years thwarted the advance of the archmage’s armies.
  • Skilled merchant guild leader determined to make the City a thriving hub for trade.
  • Brash, conniving trickster who, through blackmail and guile, forged alliances.
  • Champion of an order of crusading knights.
  • The archmage’s old apprentice, who fled after a quarrel, returning later to take bloody revenge.
  • Former mayor who made hard bargains in dark times. 
  • Current commander of the overtaxed garrison.
  • Priest of a new order hoping to use his worship to bring the city together.
  • Last survivor of a race destroyed by the archmage determined to use his role to negotiate calm between the different races.
  • Grand Magistrate given the task of policing the various factions and races now occupying the City.
  • Once good-for-nothing noble who found themselves placed in a position of authority and power here.
  • The former spymaster sent to the City to organize rebellion against the archmage. Now must serve more openly.
  • Representative of a racial faction with special skills or talents which can aid the City: Ents, Merfolk, Centaurs, etc.

NAMES
It’s a fantasy game, so anything goes.

CROSSROADS
  • Allow a new mass of refugees into the city? They have been driven from their land by invaders, but there may be more than the city can support.
  • Execute the archemage’s vizier who supplied information vital to bringing down her former master?
  • Bribe the forces of a foreign nation who threatens to attack?
  • Open up the secret libraries of the archmage to [ discover more treasure | find a way to defend the city ]
  • Crack down on suspect archmage sympathizers?
  • Give each race their own quarter of the city?
  • Execute the Elvish warriors who slew a group of Orcish allies?
  • Draft citizens to bear arms and defend the city?
  • Strike against the newly resurrected Thieves Guild?
  • Order a liberating faction from the city for their troublesome behavior?
  • Conscript refugees into labor gangs? Make them work on civic projects like roads, canals and wall repair.
  • Organize a hunt against the remaining horrors of the archmage?
  • Pay demanded reparations to the [ Dwarves | Elves | Haflings]?