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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 175 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Princes' Kingdom] Not Giving to a Monkey  (Read 4622 times)

Posts: 75

« on: August 01, 2006, 03:02:56 PM »

The Princes’ Kingdom

I recently ran the Princes’ Kingdom for two new gamers and a veteran, all adults.

For people who might look at Clinton’s game as just “Dogs variant” – don’t! To reinforce a world where children have the power to make change, in the Princes’ Kingdom, violence doesn’t enable you to win so easily. It’s a good lesson to teach, and well conveyed by the mechanics, which are both simple and nuanced.

I’m going to go through this process in detail, because for me this was also an experiment about how non-gamers play an RPG, and how they relate to other players, the setting, and their characters. Also I am learning what aspects of this game are easy for non-gamers to understand and accept, and what might require more explanation.

The set-up:

Lida and Bob, old friends of mine, have never played RPGs before. I offered to run a game for them during the summer.

I tried to think of a game that would provide an easy and incredible introduction to newcomers. My friends talk highly of great success running “Dogs in the Vineyard” for non-gamers, so I proposed that. Days later, I learned that Clinton’s The Princes’ Kingdom was released. I talked with Clinton about Princes at Dreamation, and was intrigued by his simplification of the Dogs mechanics without losing the moral center. Lida is a fan of fantasy fiction, particularly Ursula Le Guin, so she was keen on Princes’.

I called upon Jon Hastings, part of my semi-regular gaming crew, to join in and we had three players. None of the players had read the text, though Jon has read and played Dogs.

Character creation:

After providing a brief introduction, where I read over the Island Kingdom chapter of the book, folks were ready to dive into the character creation.

Lida played Vu, age 5. When later asked if Vu was a boy or a girl, Lida decided that Vu was simply addressed as Vu and hadn’t decided on a gender identity yet. In a later session, I hope that it will become a quality or an aspect of the color of the world.

Jon played Dara, age 7, a boy.

Bob played Pot, age 11, a boy.

We spent a good deal of the initial discussion on qualities. I had forgotten to explain to the players, until the middle of the qualities creation, that by having a quality in certain things they were telling me what they wanted the game to be about.

Jon developed “sneaky” qualities for Dara, Age 7
Strong Qualities(4): Good at not being seen. Gets along w/ strangers. Wilderness explorer. Good at building stuff.
Troublesome Qualities(2): Spies on adults. I’m a Prince.

Bob was inspired by seeing the “4 Laws of the Kingdom” which are on the character sheet, and decided his character were be rebelling against them. He decided his first quality would be “disobedient of the four laws” and as a group we revised this to “rebellious.” He was also the first and only player to take a martial quality.
Pot, Age 11
Strong Qualities (2): Charming/Charismatic. I can make weapons out of everything.
Troublesome Qualities (3): I’m rebellious. I’m a Prince. I have a weakness for cats.

Lida had a bit of a difficulty coming up with qualities because her character had so many and she didn’t know what they would do. One of the first qualities she suggested was “magickal wish-granting hair.” I thought this was pretty cool, so I asked her to explain what it would do. “It means that whenever I want something to happen it does.” I asked her what would happen if someone didn’t want the same thing to happen. She thought about this for a little while and decided instead that her Prince can “Make Fire.” She also took a troublesome quality: “Has to drink 1 gallon of water a day” and said “If I don’t drink a gallon of water, I can’t make fire.”

This was mostly confusion about how the mechanics of the qualities work. So we talked about how qualities might be used in conflicts, and with Jon’s help Lida was able to better understand how she could use qualities that were specific and general in tandem.
Vu, Age 5
Strong Qualities (5): Good judge of character. I can make fire. I’m a Prince. I’m physically flexible. I’m lucky.
Troublesome Qualities (1): I have to drink 1 gallon of water per day.

Next we came up with relationships.

Bob immediately came up with a Strong Relationship for Pot: My baby-sitter who was exiled. He added a Troublesome Relationship with God.

To this, Lida offered a Strong Relationship with the King’s mistress, who exiled Pot’s babysitter. She also took a Strong Relationship with Dara.

Jon, seeing that Pot was such a rebel, decided that Dara had Troublesome Relationship with Pot.

Last but not least, items and belongings.

The players each described their cloaks. This was a significant indicator in their interest in color and description in the world, and I probably missed how important it was.

Dara wears a green and red cloak, the colors of all the leaves of all the trees in the Kingdom, plus the red flowers in bloom (d8). He has a slingshot (d6), a spyglass (d8), and sandals (d6).

Pot wears a black leather cloak, because he’s at that stage in his life (d6). He carries alcohol (d6). His weapon is a monkey (d4)

Vu wears a magick emotion-shifting cloak. It shows the faces of all the people who contributed to the making of the cloak, and indicates what their emotions are (d8). Lida wanted him to have an “iPod” – so I said that we weren’t thinking of a modern setting, but could if people wanted to play in it. The other players weren’t into high tech – Jon suggested that it was a singing bird, so Lida decided it was a “Songbird that sings any song to put people to sleep” (d4). She also carries a water purification machine (d8).


I asked Jon to go first in the proving. Dara hopes that “I proved I can mind my manners.” The scene was set at a feast table. I asked Bob to also play Pot, who would be antagonizing Dara on certain raises. This also let Jon roll Dara’s relationship with Pot. I managed to see Jon with my last two dice, however he also lacked dice. Initially we thought that Jon had won, but saw in the rules that the last person to “see” is the winner, if the other player cannot raise.

Lida went second. “I hope that I proved that I have influence with adults.” The scene was Vu and the King’s Mistress in the King’s offices, where Vu is proving that the Mistress was right to exile Pot’s babysitter. Lida very quickly grasped the mechanics; she utilized almost every quality to win this conflict. Three highlights: Lida rolled her troublesome quality “I have to drink 1 gallon of water a day” and “I’m a good judge of character” – her raise was “I know she was a bad babysitter because she didn’t give me my water when she was taking care of me.” Later on she used “I’m lucky” to narrate that a servant entered the room with a message that something valuable had been stolen from the castle, and Vu blamed the babysitter for this. Last but not least, she had Vu throw a tantrum. “I will set myself on fire if you don’t listen to me.” Of course, I gave.

Last but not least was Bob. “Pot hopes to learn to ride an elephant.” Jon provided some witty commentary from Dara and the other kids who were watching as Pot’s elephant ran rampant through the parade grounds, but Bob had enough dice on hand to defeat me. He used his “charming” quality to calm the elephant.

Mechanical question: Unless I missed it, The Princes’ Kingdom does not mention FALLOUT as part of the mechanics in proving chapter. Therefore, the players weren’t introduced to the repercussions of seeing with three or more dice until they engaged in conflicts on the Island.

Posts: 75

« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2006, 03:03:40 PM »

The Island of Chava:

Before the session, I had done very little in terms of Guide preparation, I jotted down a few quick ideas that I could use to quickly flesh out an island, knowing what things my friends might be keen on exploring.

I also wrote down a list of names, mostly those of my cousins, since we all come from an island with its share of ethnic conflicts and are of various mixed backgrounds.

However, influenced by Bob, Lida, and Jon’s choices in character creation, I knew that rebellion had to play a big part in this Island, and added that to my initial chain.

Conceit: On the Island of Chava, the majority Chavani think they are better than the minority Amari (baby sitter).
Injustice: The Amari are excluded from government decision making as well as schools.

Disobedience: Some Chavani families have built settlements on Amari parts of the island.
Outlaws: Amari have gotten into physical confrontations with Chavani settlers.

Unrest: Amari workers have refused to work on the Chavani coffee plantations.
Loss of liberty: Some of the Amari have been jailed for sedition. Also, Chavani cannot travel to Amari parts of Island safely.

False leader(s): Chavani, under the leadership of Sanjay (General and brother of the Mistress) are mobilizing to stop a movement for the Amari to divide the island and secede from the Kingdom.

To this I added another chain:
Conceit: Amari laborers believe that their sacrifices for the Amari give them dominion at home. Injustice: Married Amari women are given a secondary role.

Disobedience: Violent behavior at home.
Outlaws: Arunan, Amari labor leader, beats his wife and is not criticized for it.

The Princes on the Island of Chava:

The first fifteen or twenty minutes of the Island involved mostly exploration. The players didn’t jump forward to engage in conflicts, and I didn’t push them. As their boat sailed up on the shores of Chava, the Princes saw two little girls hitting another girl with coconuts. Only Dara jumped forward to intervene, but rather than push a conflict, I had the two children run off upon seeing the Prince in his cloak.

The little girl he rescued, immediately smitten with him, told Dara her version of the story – that the Amari are mean and don’t want to Chavani to live in peace. Bob was the first person to offer his own take on the situation when he said “Wasn’t my babysitter an Amari?” I immediately looked at my list of conflicts and wrote down “Babysitter” as the false leader of the Amari rebellion.

Dara asked for more information and the little girl, Kamini, took the players to her father. There was some exposition from the Chavani perspective, and then Lida declared that they should go speak to the “other side.” Bob decided that Pot knew how to get there, and rather than create a conflict around them having to find the Amari, I narrated them getting lost in the woods as a means to arriving at the Amari village under cover of night – where a gathering was happening in torchlight.

Lida decided to split from the group, handing her cloak to Pot so that she could slip into the circle unnoticed. I had the “Magick emotion shifting cloak” show that the Babysitter was expressing anger and the Mistress was expressing arrogance, and Pot saw this when the cloak was handed to him.

The first two conflicts followed from this split. In the middle of the gathering, the head of the workers, Arunan, was getting the group fired up to fight against the Chavani. His wife, who was less excited by the prospect, found Vu – Lida said “hey you got any food” and so the lady took Vu back to her home. Vu asked if the lady had any kids, and I decided that the woman sadly said “no” (initially the kids from the beach would have been hers, but in context, it seemed appropriate to not have children in the abusive household). Lida wanted to discover why the lady was sad, and revealed Vu’s identity as a Prince. So the lady, Shyami, revealed that she was being hit by her husband since he was so mistreated by the Chavani.

Conflict 1:

Meanwhile, Pot and Dara had walked into the middle of Arunan’s speech. They talked about how the Amari are abused by the Chavani, and eventually I decided that the discussion had reached a conflict. The Amari wanted the Princes, if they really believed in Justice, to lead the effort to push the Chavani settlers back.

Stakes: “You will lead us in this struggle” for the Amari workers vs. “We will represent you in peaceful negotiations.” Pot took up the Princes side, while Jon chose to stay out of the conflict since he didn’t trust his brother.

I picked one of my mid-power proto-NPCs for Arunan, the worker leader, and we set forth.

In course of the conflict, Bob introduced two other aspects into the story which worked well. He incorporated his troublesome quality “I have a weakness for cats” and stated that he could tell that Arunan was a cat lover, and they could see eye to eye over this, just like his sister babysitter, Olga (the Babysitter, now named). I decided that the Babysitter was Arunan’s sister, and then framed my arguments to talk about how Prince Pot had failed to protect her from the King. Bob had to take the blow several times, but managed to best the labor leader in arguments. He would represent the Amari in negotiations, but wanted to see Olga first.

As his fallout, he took a troublesome relationship with Dara (who didn’t help him in the conflict). For his growth fallout, he took a strong relationship with Arunan.

Conflicts 2&3 (aborted):

Meanwhile, Lida was pushing a conflict towards the wife. We spent some time discussing how this conflict was to be set up.

Stakes: Her stakes were to convince the wife to leave the husband. The wife’s stakes were to make the husband into a better person again.

Lida eventually decided she liked the wife’s stakes and that there was no conflict. She would wait until the other players joined them to confront the husband. This conflict was also aborted.

It was going to be a two prince (Vu and Dara) vs. husband conflict, but it became clear that the players seemed less interested in playing this out. When it was obvious that Dara was going to take up the charges against the husband, Lida even said “there isn’t really a need for my character in this conflict.” I could tell she wasn’t that keen on it, and that the other players were more invested in challenging the ethnic conflict. I had the husband give in and admit his crime and agree to leave his house until the Princes decided how to best help them.

Bob was playing with the idea that Pot thought the husband’s wife was his Babysitter Olga, as he had decided they were twins. The real Olga showed up, and Bob said “Olga I can’t believe you’ve gained so much weight.” He continued inserting description and relationships into the game that I hadn't thought of.

We fished around a discussion between Pot and Olga to see if there was a conflict. I didn’t want to repeat the conflict that they had just won against Arunan, so I was hoping to find a place where Bob could be convinced to reveal that he thought the King’s laws were wrong – as Jon continued to have Dara challenge Pot to follow the King’s laws and go to the Governor. I established that the Governor had done nothing to stop the problem, in Olga’s eyes, and that the Chavani were going to go to war led by General Sanjay, the Mistress’ brother.

The players decided they wanted to go straight to the Governor and General, so we cut to the next scene. The Chavani have spread rumors that the Princes were kidnapped by the Amari. The General is detailing his war plan to the governor when the Princes’ bust in. The Governor and General bow to the Princes, but Pot insists that they “kneel” to him. He begins to antagonize the General, in fact making him reveal that the Governor is too weak.

Jon steps up and has Dara declare that the General should stand down. This initiates:

Conflict 4:

Stakes: Dara & Vu “The General will stand down and leave Chava.” The General: “Return to the King and admit that you are collaborating with the exile.” Bob chose to stay out of the conflict. This actually became useful.

Lida and Jon struggled against the General. I had used my most powerful proto-NPC, who had five strong qualities to bring against them. They were doing quite well, until Jon reminded me that as a “false leader” I could use the islands’ problem level in the actions of my minions. I called forth “guards” to arrest the Princes, but Dara intimidated them with his Princely authority. At this point, all the General had left was to use his martial abilities. He drew his excellent sword and attempted to strike down Pot, who was not part of the conflict, but who he knew was collaborating with Olga. Either Jon or Lida had to see this raise, and Jon took it by declaring that Dara used his own body to take the blow. He took 4d8 fallout for this action. I’d expended my dice, and Vu was able to use the “songbird that puts people to sleep” and make the General drowsy, knocking him out.

Luckily, Dara survived his fallout roll. He decided that his long term fallout changed his “good with strangers” quality to “wary of strangers.” He also damaged his cloak. As growth fallout, he changed his “I’m a Prince” quality from troublesome to strong.

Vu took a troublesome relationship with the King’s general. As growth fallout, Vu took “Courageous” as a strong quality.

Conflict 5:

Bob didn’t give them a moment to rest. He immediately initiated a follow-up conflict, as Pot wished to execute the General for his crimes. Both the other Princes challenged him.

Stakes: Pot: “The General will be executed by me.” Dara and Vu: “The General lives.”

This was an exciting conflict. Bob struggled a bit with the narration, as he felt that the relationship amongst the Princes had gone past talking but didn’t wish to use violence against them. He knew he would be outmatched and had to figure out raises that had to be met by both opponents.

Pot focused on the brutality of what the General had just inflicted on Dara. He also raised with “The General was the King’s best friend – our Father would have known what the General was doing, and endorsed it.” This was probably the best raise in his arsenal, but he lacked the dice to hold them off for long. Eventually, he escalated to violence, using his monkey as a weapon to threaten his brothers.

He managed to push Lida to the verge of giving, as she had very few dice left on her sheet. He asked her to give and she responded “I’m not giving to a monkey.” Using Vu’s ability to make fire, she pushed enough dice forward to kill the monkey (Bob had to take the blow). Jon avoided using violence, and utilized Dara’s “I’m a Prince” quality to explain to Pot how the Princes should have higher standards. Bob, having enough dice to continue, but seeing the inevitability of his loss, ceded. “There is wisdom in what you say, brother.”

Fallout: Bob lost his monkey. Lida took “afraid of violence” as a long term fallout, and “good negotiator” as growth. Dara took “scared of swords” as a troublesome quality and “courage of convictions” as a strong quality.

Wrap Up:

We discussed a bit about what the players wanted to happen on the Island.

Jon wanted the Chavani to repay the Amari for stolen land, and make new arable lands available. He also wanted to assert a way that they lived together peacefully.

Lida wanted to integrate the villages and tear down all the walls. Amari’s are allowed into the leadership. They can go to the schools, which would also have Amari teachers and curriculum.

Bob wanted the Chavani and Amari to switch places for 10 years, so the Chavani can experience discrimination. Also he wanted Olga to come back as his babysitter.

We had some discussion about how to reconcile these different attitudes – as everyone felt Bob’s solution would lead to further conflict and animosity. Eventually it was decided that there would be joint Governors in each community, and also that women would have the power in marriage and equal power in the leadership.

Likes & Dislikes:

As this was the first game for Bob and Lida, we spent a good deal of wrap up on what they enjoyed.

Bob felt that the Guide has too much power in guiding the story. He also didn’t like playing a kid so much (though I felt that in character he played the extremes of being the eldest kid, arrogant and mature, but also wanting a babysitter). He wanted to go to another island, and was interested in the ethics of the situations presented, and being able to explore the extremes of his character. He saw how it could become addictive as a hobby. Bob later wrote an email to me that, as a law student, he thinks these games can be used to teach ethics to his fellow students.

Lida felt that there was something’s in the setting of the world that were unchangeable- such as enforcing the “limited frame of monarchy.” Sometimes everyone’s narration didn’t feel cohesive and the qualities didn’t mesh. She didn’t understand the probabilities and math behind the die rolling, so it felt somewhat arbitrary. It took her a while to figure out the difference between the “strong” and “troublesome” things, especially relationships as they aren’t used enough. As a woman, she didn’t like ending up having to do the domestic violence conflicts. She said she would love to play the game as the Princes of Earthsea, but sees a lot of the themes from the fiction could be explored in this game.

Lida decided that the game was best when the players threw in the twists to the plot, it’s “like a better movie.”

Jon liked the conflicts. In comparison to Dogs, he saw that in this game violence doesn’t really make you win. Conflicts are less powered and dice heavy. However, he felt that he made his character much blander than Vu and Pot and didn’t have as much to contribute narratively. Later on, he told me how he was impressed with Bob and Lida’s play, and how they jumped into things without some of the fears that veteran players would have. Bob in particular chose to engage in PvP conflicts, but that his character conflicts never felt like player conflicts and he was easy going about the outcome.

From my end, I probably set up conflicts that were too “adult” in nature in reflection of my friends’ characters and political perspectives. I wanted to present them with a reflection of real world ethnic conflicts and give them the power of kids who could make a change, without acknowledging that they might feel constrained by the setting.

Since we really only had three conflicts, I assume we would have been able to reconcile some of those things through follow up. We really pushed for “big stakes” each time, and could have helped to start smaller. This could have allowed us some build up – in the situation between Arunan, his wife, and Olga – and in the conflict between Dara and Pot, which was included from the character creation but set aside until the last scene.

Also I think it would be interesting to explore the children’s world more, and perhaps have an Island where everyone they interact with is a similar age of their characters.

In terms of the new gamers, Bob already asked about some other games, and Lida is keen to play again. So there was at least some success on that level.
Jon Hastings

Posts: 95

« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2006, 11:59:15 AM »

Thanks for writing this up, Mayuran.  I don't have too much more to add.  I was really impressed by the game.  I was also impressed by Bob and Lida's contributions.  I have a somewhat conservative tendency to create "average" characters, especially when trying out a new game: so, while I thought my Little Orphan Annie-ish concept fit the game, I wish I had followed Bob and Lida in pushing the boundaries a little more.

Some of Bob's choices reminded me of what Timothy Kleinert wrote about in this thread about non-gamers playing the Mountain Witch.  On the one hand, some of his character choices were a little bit goofy and I got the sense that he was, to a certain extent, seeing what he could get away with in the context of a new and unfamiliar activity.  On the other hand, his choice to have his character be the oldest but still attached to his babysitter really seemed to cut right to the heart of what the game is about.

I'd definitely play again!
Clinton R. Nixon

Posts: 2624

« Reply #3 on: August 04, 2006, 01:52:46 PM »

Hey, guys, this is awesome. Thank you for posting this. I don't have a ton of time to respond right now, but I wanted to talk about one thing:

Lida felt that there was something’s in the setting of the world that were unchangeable- such as enforcing the “limited frame of monarchy.”

I fully, totally hope that in a game of TPK, the kids decide monarchy is stupid and change it. They can.

Also, Mayuran, your assumption about fallout is correct. I explicitly left it out of the proving challenges.

Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
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