Two types of pond life

Today I managed to attend the monthly konkon convention[1] in nearby Oita, and was rewarded for dragging myself out of bed with a slight hangover by an introduction to an excellent Japanese RPG, Meikyu Kingdom. The strict translation of this title is “Labyrinth Kingdom” but the nature of the game and the easy transliteration means that the game is actually given the English title Make You Kingdom.This is basically a mega-dungeon exploration and combat game with random tables that make D&D look rather tame and stingy; a social mechanic to rival Double Cross 3; and hireling rules that make your average D&D “I send my hireling down the corridor to spring the traps” look terribly noble. It’s also very cute and engaging, very fast, and has a degree of attention to details that is staggering in its thoroughness.

The basic idea

In Make You Kingdom the PCs are a group of heroes from the ruling court of a small kingdom that is part of a massive labyrinth of similar dungeon kingdoms. One of the PCs is always the ruler of the kingdom. Together with a large group of your subjects (we took about 30), you head off into the labyrinth surrounding your kingdom to explore new dungeons and capture kingdoms for yourself. The world consists entirely of labyrinthine dungeons – this is a real megadungeon, folks – because at some point in the past there was a “dungeon catastrophe” in which all of the world collapsed into the labyrinth – even the sky and the sea got labyrinthisized[2]. There is a whole ecology and science to this labyrinthine system, but from our point of view it doesn’t matter, because our purpose is to explore a neighbouring kingdom, kill everything in it, and take its stuff.

How it works

The mechanics of the game are remarkably simple. There are a couple of classes – Ruler, Oracle, Champion, Servant, Ninja – and each person had a job before they became part of the royal court. In our group we had a doctor, a eunuch, a prostitute and a hunter – and it is from this job that they get their single skill. There are 4 attribute scores – Wit, bravery, Quest and Charm – and 3 derived scores – Hit points, resistance and Supplies. That’s right folks, 4 stats and 1 skill. You also get a skill from your character class (I think the Servant gets 3), so you start the game with two skills. I had “hunting” and “disruption” (I was playing the Ninja – see below). All PCs get basically the same starting scores in their skills – a 4, two 2s and a 1. The ruler and the servant are slightly different, but that’s basically it.

The mechanic for resolving any skill test, saving throw or attack is the same. You roll 2d6 and add one of the 4 skills, and try and beat a target. There are two methods for boosting this roll to 3 or more dice, and damage is also done with d6s.

Combat occurs on a battlefield with 3 sections for each team – the Vanguard, the Rearguard and the Encampment – and the rules are very simple. You can move and you can attack, but you can’t move through a section that’s occupied by the enemy and you can’t disengage from combat. Various special abilities apply in combat, all with their outcome determined by the 2d6 skill mechanism. Monsters are presented in terms of 4 values: Bravery, Resistance, damage and Hit Points.

When your hit points reach 0 you’re dead. One member of the party has to be the ruler, and he/she is not allowed to die.

That’s it. The whole mechanic – including all forms of bad status, which is the Japanese word for “effects” – are written on the back of the character sheet.

There are two special methods for boosting your attack rolls:

  • Wishes, which are generally employed by spending a point of a stat called “vitality” (気力) that is not written anywhere on the sheet, and that we kept track of using paper clips, can be spent to add one die to any roll. Vitality is gained by a rather amusing method. If when you roll your 2d6 skill check you get a 6 on one die, and the other die has a value sufficient to get you a successful result, you get to trade the 6 for a point of Vitality. This applies even if the extra die you bought with vitality got you the 6. You can’t have more Vitality than your wit. This proved a problem for us.
  • Sacrificing followers, in which you get to throw 1d6 of your followers into the fray, and in exchange you can increase the value of your skill check by 1. At the end of the adventure your ruler can resurrect 1d6 followers. Some skills rely on followers – my Ninja could have chosen the skill “shinobi army,” which sacrifices 1d6 followers in order to disarm a trap (sound familiar!?) but he/she only had 7 followers, so this didn’t seem like it would get him/her very far

So, on those two paragraphs of rules the whole game flows.

Except for the social mechanic, and the kingdom-building.

Social mechanics

Similar to Double Cross 3, when you create your character you also have to generate a relationship with another PC, which can be based on loyalty, friendship or love. You can also have unrequited love. You get points in these traits, and these points can be useful. The Oracle in our group had “loyalty 2” for me, which she used to aid me at a crucial point in the adventure. During the rest phase of exploration things can happen that change these points (see below) or even turn PCs into enemies. You also have a background and a purpose that are related, and these can apparently affect the game (I didn’t see this happen). Some abilities and effects are limited by the number of points you have invested in your relationships with other people.

Kingdom-building

Before you can go anywhere you need to build your own kingdom. Your (and every other) Kingdom is built on a 3×3 grid of “rooms,” each connected by a varying number of corridors. You roll a random number of buildings to spread through these rooms, of varying types limited by your level and some traits of the kingdom that depend on the choices of the ruler. These buildings can take a wide range of forms – there is even a memorial hall – and they can have effects for the characters. For example, if two PCs go into a “Piazza” they can swap equipment and change the status of their relationship. Also, the level of order or education in your society depends on which buildings you have, and I think the number of combatant followers you have depend on some of these things too. We had a Shrine, a Palace, a School and a Hospital, and on my suggestion after completing the adventure we added a harem (which has a very funny picture).

The Kingdom also has 4 attributes – lifestyle, order, culture and something else that I forget. These determine some aspects of the kinds of items you can buy, and the number and kind of followers and allies you get.

Adventuring: Traps and Monsters

So, having established your characters, their interrelations and their kingdom, off you go on an adventure. The GM creates a new dungeon kingdom, also on a 3×3 map, and populates it with monsters and traps. In each room there will be a certain number of each. You explore in turns, that are divided into quarters, and each turn you need to eat once (so you need to pack food! We carried “bento” and a “full course” that  recovers HPs). In each turn there is an encounter/fight/camp type phase, and in each stage certain things happen.  The best thing about this aspect of the game, though, is the monsters, which are hilarious, cute, nasty and intertextual all at once. Here are the monsters we fought:

  • Ogrekin (小鬼), little ogres that are really easy to kill
  • Giant Squirms (みみず), giant worms that are quite easy to kill
  • Scum (人間の屑), really dodgy humans who drink too much and try to rob you
  • Bad Company (極悪中隊), a squad of nasty soldiers
  • Scum (人間の屑), a bunch of useless losers who try to kill you and steal your stuff
  • Chowhound (大喰らい), a great big fat thing that eats stuff
  • Ogrekin Shaman (小鬼呪術師), who can summon Ogrekin (actually a really annoying trait)
  • Primal Ogrekin (原始小鬼), slightly nastier versions of Ogrekin
  • Mushroom Dragon (キノコのドラゴン), which is exactly what you think – a dragon that is a mushroom

We fought all of these, and were nearly killed by the Mushroom Dragon. The picture at the top of this post is the little cardboard token for my PC, next to the token for a Scum. Below is a picture of some of the last group of monsters we fought – some Primal Ogrekin with the Mushroom Dragon.

Who says dragons are a strange idea?

Traps are ubiquitous in the dungeons, and you have to either disarm them or avoid them, and to do either you need to find them. This was my Ninja’s job, but because he can’t find and disarm a trap in the same quarter, he/she left others to do the finding and he/she did the disarming. Traps are quite nasty – we sprung two, one of which did small amounts of damage and one of which seemed to be some kind of disapproval trap that lowered our scores. There are several pages of traps for the GM to choose from, and some rooms had more than one, either in the room or the connecting corridors.

Random tables

The game is built on fighting and exploring, but the social mechanic is important and all sorts of things happen outside of combat, randomly. In addition to the random tables used to generate your PC’s history, purpose and inter-personal relationships, there are also:

  • Random encounter tables for travel between kingdoms
  • Random event tables for when you go “roaming” around your own kingdom. These can have significant benefits but you can only encounter any one line of the table once.
  • Random event tables for when you are resting, and decide to take a rest action. I used one of these tables to explore the area I was in, and found the tomb of a Rust Samurai, from which I looted some metal; I also nearly started a love affair with another PC (by accident)
  • Random treasure tables for every type of monster
  • Random event tables for certain types of action taken to prevent death (usually involving destroying an item)
  • Random event tables for your journey back from a successful quest – these can involve getting lost or having new types of encounters
  • Random event tables for when you return to your kingdom after a succesful (or unsuccessful!) quest, which can involve a gain or loss of followers, more money, new items or buildings, etc

There was a lot of rolling for this sort of thing during the game, and a lot of hilarious results arose from it. The dungeon we explored was already established, but I think that there are probably random generation methods for this too.

Conclusion

In essence this is a very cute, entertaining and light-hearted game that combines mega-dungeon, classic D&D-style dungeon crawling, very simple strategy and resource management, and exploration within a very simple system that incorporates some very clever social dynamics to provide triggers and dynamics for role-playing. The monsters are hilarious, as are the descriptions of buildings, character classes, jobs and items. It’s a really entertaining mixture of manga, classic D&D references, Japanese-style role-playing and strategy game. If you get a chance to try it out, I strongly recommend it. Over the next few days I’ll put up a description of my adventure and some scans of monsters, buildings etc from the rule book, which I’m borrowing for a week.

fn1: Today was the 60th convention, which apparently means it’s been running continuously for 25 years (it didn’t used to be every month). I think that’s pretty good for a town the size of Oita.

fn2: The way that Japanese is written makes this word really easy to invent naturally: Meikyuuka means “labyrinthification” and you can stick that “ka” onto pretty much any noun to get the same effect.

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