Kingmaker: Alternatives

A few posts back I looked at how I might go about running a kingdom-building campaign in the Numenera system and setting. Today, I’ll be examining a couple of alternative frameworks for this campaign concept. Along with the overview of each given framework, I’ll list what I see as the given pros and cons for each of them.

Framework One: This is the one described in the previous post; the players are given a reason to go found a new settlement by someone in authority, and charged with both clearing the land of dangers and selecting the site of the new settlement. As frameworks go, this one is something of a catch-all, with the early stages being traditional exploration and adventure, while the latter stages involve political intrigue, military matters, and civic challenges.

The pros of this framework: The players have the freedom to set up their town-to-be wherever and however they like, no overarching plot hems in their plans, and challenges can be easily arranged to suit whatever they’ve gotten up to at any given time. For groups with players who like to take charge and forge their own path, this is an excellent campaign model.

The cons of this framework: The players have a sandbox, which most groups tend to find a bit daunting and overwhelming without hints and clues to a plot being dropped around them. Likewise, they may get sidetracked in the exploration and discovery phase, and may end up neglecting the kingdom part of things in favor of going spelunking or chasing what they’re sure is a plot hook. Not recommended for groups that are unlikely to show initiative.

Framework Two: This one takes the players and drops them into a situation where they’re the most-qualified people to lead a group that otherwise has been and will continue to fumble along. A shipwreck that casts the players ashore near a small settlement huddled in the ruins of a prior-world structure, barely surviving as they fend off bandits, wildlife, and other dangers is an example of this framework. It limits the total control of the players, since there’s already a base location, and it makes things more traditionally adventure-oriented than the first framework.

The pros of this framework: Players who don’t do well without being offered direction can do well in this, as there’s a clear goal – defend the encampment, shore it up, help it prosper. It comes with a pre-defined base of operations to work from and can have a plot seeded in to help players decide where to explore.

The cons of this framework: Many players won’t appreciate the baby-sitting role this requires for the early stage, and they may want to uproot the settlement to a ‘better’ location if they decide they’ve found one. The nature of the scenario means that many of the later aspects of kingdom-building will be missing, unless you carefully inject them to make them more viable; political intrigue is unlikely with a settlement of exiles and refugees, for example.

Framework Three: The players are given a specific site to settle by the people who have given them leave to found a new settlement, because the location has a rare resource to be exploited. While this doesn’t leave much to the early exploration phase other than finding the best spot in the immediate vicinity of the resource to start the settlement, it does leave things open to player development and immediately includes hooks for intrigue and politics.

The pros of this framework: Players who enjoy planning and developing can get right to it, it still involves exploration and discovery, and the players who enjoy solid RP will feel right at home. Adventure and exploration happen when the mines break into hollow spaces that may hold dangers of the deep past, or when outside forces move to try to conquer the settlement and claim the resource for themselves.

The cons of this framework: Players who chafe at authority aren’t going to be happy with this framework, since they’re essentially just lords appointed by the local authority to administer the area. Likewise, it cuts out much of the initial exploration of the world, and can use a significant dosage of the Weird to make it feel different from generic fantasy games.

Framework Four: In this one, players are less explorers and settler and more rebels; they’re the founders of a rebellion or revolution in the Steadfast itself, people fed up with the rulers or perhaps with the Amber Papacy. The settlement would begin as less a town and more a bolthole and staging ground for the rebel forces, growing over time as they begin to claim ground and win victories until they hold an actual nation carved out of the existing lands of the steadfast.

Pros of this framework: Most players will find something to enjoy in this framework; combat-oriented players can find ample excuses to get in the thick of things and bloody some noses. Planners and tacticians can design the bolthole, eventual fortress, and the battle plans for the rebellion. Intrigue-oriented people can look to get allies for the cause, talk loyalist forces into defecting, and eventually be the public face of a new country when the other nations demand that differences be settled.

Cons of this framework: It’s a lot of work for the GM, moreso than any of the other frameworks, and a careful balance has to be kept among player types and with the plot to keep people from getting bored or feeling that the story is getting contrived and overly simplified. Not recommended unless the GM has ample free time to work on it.

Framework Five: The last framework under consideration is the one of wholesale conversion. Several other game systems have campaigns and adventures built around this concept, with a pre-built plot and much of the necessary materials ready to be used. Given how easy conversion into the Numenera system is, the GM’s workload is fairly minimal, and as long as the players are on board with the plot things should flow smoothly.

Pros of this framework: The work is done on all the hard parts, and there’s a ready-made plot that just needs to be converted to fit the system and setting. Thanks to the system, the mechanical conversions are quite simple, and any relatively creative GM should be able to make flavor conversions. You can pick something to convert that you know should appeal to the players, and go from there.

Cons of this framework: If the players are familiar with the campaign already or if they know the world, the GM will need to slap on an extra-thick layer of the Weird to keep it from showing through. The plot isn’t going to be flexible to the characters, and it can show if the group decides to zig with some numenera trinket when the original plot assumes they’re a standard fantasy group who have to zag because zigging isn’t an option.

There are other models to work from, but these are the five primary ones I’ve come across; whether the pros outweigh the cons will depend on your specific group. Still, either way, any of these frameworks can provide a satisfying campaign for the entire group if everyone is up for it.

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Kingmaker: Alternatives

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