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.