After playing The King is Dead again last night, I have some words to say about this game!
The biggest oversight of my previous playthrough was the mutliple Muster & Intrigue scenes at the start.
"On your turn, choose one of the games. Turn to that page in the playbook and follow the rules there. On the very first turn of the game, choose Intrigue and Muster. Turn to page 18 and follow the rules for that game."
So the first time we read that, we all thought like Firebrands that we ALL do an intrigue round as our first turn. WRONG. Tonight's game would not repeat that mistake.
The stage was set with another five player game. Interestingly, we all ended up with a more greco/cretian/swords-and-sandals inspired game.
Hector of House Dillstone
Arxemus of House Luneste
Akileus of House Sandoreal
Asterion of House Oake
Huon of House Antyre
Our intrigue scene set the stage for "Season 1" of our The King is Dead:
House Sandoreal was getting mercenaries across the sea, among the mercenaries were agents of House Luneste.
I was playing Asterion, an handsome astronomer/warrior (as you do), who saw Luneste crates on the shores via a wandering telescoping eye one night during his stay as tutor to family members of House Dillestone. We agreed to cement our pacts together and be on the lookout against House Sandoreal.
Sexy fighting times were had between Sandoreal and Luneste but the whole game took a turn when, during a meal celebrating the marriage of the infant king-to-be of house dillestone to a member of house oake, it was revealed to our House Antyre guests they were fed the meat of butchered raiders of their own house! DUN DUN DUN!
Yeah it was shocking. And awesome. And horrible. And awesome.
House Antyre flew into a rage there at the dinner, while everyone else here was kind of horrified at the violation of guest rite by House Dillestone. (Was it Hector acting alone? What does this mean!?).
By the end of the game, Hector kind of Macbeth'd his house as they all kind of died in an infighting thing while the combined armies of the other houses marched on Dillestone's lands.
The final parts of the scene were arguing between Luneste and Oake about what would happen next. Justice must be delivered!
House Oake, loyal and honorable, petitioned the armies of Luneste to disband with us. There'll be no more bloodshed today. It's time to put aside our differences and heal as a country. It went over fairly well. It helped that House Oake promised Luneste Dillestone lands if they back Oake's claim to the throne!
Season 2 would explore that Luneste and Sandoreal aren't very happy with the mediocre leadership of House Oake. The drama being fueled by House Antyre's refusal to bend the knee demanding independence.
Unfortunately I did gloss over a lot of the bad that we wound up in. The scenes between House Dillestone and House Antyre were troubling. We had players confused about the stakes of a tactical skirmish, and what the loser must do if they lost.
House Antyre won the skirmish in the dinner hall after the reveal they were eating their kinsmen. House Dillestone got caught up wondering how this makes sense in a Dillestone castle, so there was a lot of walking through and "ok so this doesn't mean the WAR is won by Antyre it just means this particular scene they got what they wanted... sort of... because also House Antyre proposed a Withdrawl instead of just submit so their demand of taking Hector prisoner didn't work out."
It was a gordian knot of fictional positioning we had to slice through by letting both sides kind of speak what's going on, why they're not trusting the rules, etc.
I'm excited to play The King is Dead again tonight on my channel!
So you might know already that I'm a huge fan of MF0: Firebrands. The King is Dead was pitched to me as our darling Firebrands set in a Game of Thrones like political fantasy setting. Hell yes!
I brought and facilitated it for the first time over at Story Games Seattle with a group of Firebrand lovers as well as 2 new comers. Our game of five was set.
We went over the rules for character creation and that was all well and good, but I should note that we did not use the prescribed paperclips for muster. Don't worry though. That's about the extent of rules deviation we consciously attributed to the game.
We each drew our house name and a symbol as our paperclip on the muster board.
Speaking of which, I should probably go over muster. The muster mechanic of The King is Dead is probably the biggest mechanical difference between itself and Firebrands. Muster embodies the strength of your house. It symbolizes the number of armies you can yield as well as determine whose house ultimately becomes crowned. Each house begins with a different quanta of muster.
When it came to do our first "solo" scene, we each followed the rules. Instead of having scenes affecting your own character, you create a scene or just describe an event occurring for a different house. Now with five people, reading 4 sets of 10 options is kind of a lot to parse initially, but we got there and had some cool premises for groundwork of our game going.
We proceeded to play the game getting about 15 scenes total through the game (3 per person). It certainly had its high moments: one house was looking for aid from the most powerful one for their upcoming war. We decided they had to prove their convictions by wrestling and we had the negotiations take place over a wrestling duel. It was really cool!
By the end of it though, no one topped the house in the lead the whole game and we all were feeling like the game wasn't doing what it did with Firebrands. (Not like it mattered the strongest house remained strong, that's not the object of the game).
Anyways we spent some time discussing the game after.
The new players brought up how the game would be more fun the second time around, now that they grok the scene selection/flow of the game, which is definitely how I felt about Firebrands the first time.
But something we all agreed on was that muster was lackluster. The change demonstrated most notably with the way the solitaire game works: Muster and Intrigue. The fact you no longer declare what your faction is doing, but what other factions are doing, is an interesting choice and a big deviation from Firebrands' solitaire scene selections.
Our big takeaways were that The King Is Dead puts players between their House's actions (but not being in charge of their house's actions) and their player actions in a way that isn't satisfying. Even moreso than firebrands, it felt like we were struggling to fictionally get our characters into those scenes instead of scenes with other NPCs of that particular house and whatnot.
We also all wondered if this was because Story Games Seattle is a biased sample of players where we're pretty comfortable driving characters like stolen cars and lighting their dreams on fire ourselves, that the game was pushing us towards making declarations about how other people's houses were on fire rather than our own that made it unsure of where we were going.
Instead of the solitaire scene invoking a sense of fictional authority/advocating a particular direction the game is heading and then pitching it to the table, you as a player just react to whatever unstable event comes down the pipeline. Instead of actively pushing the game forward, you're re-actively pushing the game forward.
We will DEFINITELY be playing the game again, but we're looking at making some changes to the way the game is played.
A notable change (even one we've added to Firebrands) is that in scenes like a Conversation Over Dinner, the player suggesting the scene also has more control over the circumstances. The partner obviously consents/provides additional context, but often times the player who wants to do a conversation over dinner has a scene idea in mind. Instead of their partner having to be put on the spot and the player who chose that scene be disappointed, we just skipped that.
Another change we're eager to try is that we're going to explore emphasizing the House rather than particular characters of said House.
Our game setup will follow a procedure about selecting three attributes that describe the tendencies of your House, rather than the main character we're playing. A list of suggested names, ranks, or positions unique to each family is also something we're considering doing. Think, like, the skirmish suggestions but some roles unique to each house. Additionally, a House Motto and symbol for the muster tracker is also returning in this game.
It'll be the player's choice if any given house character embodies or subverts their house's traits. The idea we want to convey is that each house can conjure up notable family members and we can drive them like stolen cars in scenes.
Additionally, we're interested in returning the intrigue and muster to the way firebrands works, where each player only chooses from the list under their own particular house and going from there.
Anyways thanks for reading my post! If you've played The King is Dead, let me know how it went. I really really love the format of this game, and while it did not tonally resonate or play as well as Firebrands, it's got a lot of greatness going for it.