On Sunday I ran a Make You Kingdom (迷宮キングダム)one-shot for my regular group. Make You Kingdom is a cute little Japanese kingdom-building role-playing game set in a world (?) that has fallen into a vast and infinite labyrinth, after a cataclysm. The players play the court of a small kingdom, attempting to expand their kingdom and protect it from the many great and evil powers that patrol the mysterious world of the labyrinth. I have previously played the game in Japanese, and had a lot of fun, so it’s been a long-standing goal of mine to GM it in English. This is a report of the session.

The Kingdom Phase

I have previously described the Socialist Republic of Disasters, which I generated entirely randomly, and its court, which consists of the following people:

  • Mario, who is untroubled by the Ephemeral God, the King
  • Cocoa “Wise Ears” Scarlet, the Knight
  • Cookie the Involuntarily Anointed, Ninja
  • Hairan Blademagnet, the Oracle

The players decided that the people populating their kingdom – their citizens – were vaguely crablike, with a random number of extra limbs and sometimes shells and slightly non-human faces. The ninja player also decided his PC was part cat, with a squirrel for an animal companion. The Knight’s mount was a giant lizard. Everyone was eager to capture monsters, bring them back to the kingdom and clone them in the mysterious cloning ranch. What could go wrong?

The characters had a slightly oily and untrustworthy contact, apparently partially descended from an otter, who is something of a legendary fixer and dealer amongst the kingdoms of this section of the Labyrinth. He appeared to tell the characters that rumour spoke of a debt collector in a neighbouring kingdom, who might be on his way to the Socialist Republic of Disasters to call in the debt that Mario owed to the Subterranean One. He might also, it appeared, be carrying some rare item, and so it might be a good idea to visit him, find a way to escape from the debt, and perhaps loot him. Also the neighbouring kingdom was supposedly a peaceful land ruled by an Ant-King, and dealing with an intruder could gain the characters favour with the ant-king.

In the Kingdom phase the PCs get to make some basic decisions about what to do in the coming adventure, or explore the kingdom and try and get benefits from their people. Cookie decided to send some followers to the kingdom to explore the first two rooms; in both rooms he identified the number of monsters, traps and tunnels, which is very useful since knowing there are monsters in the room prevents surprise, and surprise is bad news in this game. Meanwhile the other characters decided to wander their kingdoms, to see what they could find. Cocoa discovered that the kingdom’s army was slovenly and weak, and as a result for every 5 units of horn that the PCs recover in the dungeon, they would gain 1 gold coin. Hairan discovered that the area around the Socialist Republic of Disasters was still in the process of labyrinthifying, and so they needed magic to protect against this; for every 5 units of magical material recovered in the dungeon, they would gain 1 gold coin. Finally Mario was approached by emissaries from two neighbouring kingdoms, and discovered that two neighbouring kingdoms were at war; he could choose to send troops to help one kingdom in the war, with some benefits if they succeeded in a (very difficult) skill check. Everyone decided not to risk getting involved in the affairs of their neighbours, and instead they set off for the neighbouring kingdom to explore.

The Labyrinth phase

The Labyrinth phase involves moving from room to room, to the destination. This is the fatal part.

The Rust Farm

Sound is no barrier to the Angelic Death Penguin

Sound is no barrier to the Angelic Death Penguin

The characters followed an old and rusting railway line to a distant stop far from their kingdom. This station consisted of a crumbling platform with a rusted sign on it declaring they had reached the “Rust Farm.” They followed the exit through to a set of rusting steel ladders, walkways and gantries, that in turn led down into a vast, rust-hued space set in some kind of huge cavern. The walls of the cavern were set with glowing embers and streaks of lava, that gave the whole room a dim red glow; the room itself was filled with the distant sound of chattering cogs, clattering metal and moving chains. The walls and floor were of rough stone, festooned and inset with rusting steel chains, pylons, and other pieces of disused metal; from the ceiling hung huge chains and meat hooks, all suspended from somewhere far above in the dim light. The room was also faintly diffused with hanging rust, so that it tasted like blood in their mouths and the whole room was suffused with a grim red light.

As soon as they had made camp, the group were attacked by a squad of four mysterious, speedy flying beasts. These creatures crashed into the party from a great height, but the Knight managed to strike one down, and they could all see their enemy’s form as it smashed into their camp. They had been attacked by cybernetic emperor penguins, that had been fitted with armour, chainsaws and rocket engines. Mach penguins!! One of these ferocious beasts stooped on the Oracle, and he would have died had not four of his followers – his troop of busty dancing girls actually – not rushed to his aid, forming a cheerleader-style pyramid over him so that on its return attack the Mach Penguin embedded in them, tearing all four of the Oracle’s followers apart. Hairan lost his four favourite cheerleaders, but was able to stumble to his feet unharmed and destroy the penguin with his warhammer as it tried to free itself from the gore of the dead girls[1].

After the initial shock of the attack the party recoverd quickly and were able to beat down the remaining penguins quickly. They recovered from steel from the penguins, and everyone except the Ninja sat down for a meal to recover some damage. While they did this Cookie explored the room, discovering a cuckoo clock the size of a block of flats on one side of the cave; this was the Mach Penguin’s nest, and inside Cookie found a level 1 firearm (d6+1 damage on a random enemy in one area).

Still somewhat bruised from the encounter, the characters moved on to the next room, which their followers had explored, and where they knew they would find four monsters and a trap …

The Disastrous Study

The next room was entered through a metal tunnel that slowly narrowed and changed composition until it was made of bone. Pushing through the narrowing hallway the characters emerged into a structure made of bone. Confused at first, they wandered a little until they found themselves looking out of some kind of joint or knuckle, onto a fantastic sight. They were inside the bones of a vast, ancient jellyfish-like creature that had crashed and died here. The jellyfish-like creature had bones inside all its tentacles, and these bones had formed a complex network of caves and tunnels when the creature came to its final rest. Outside the beast was a vast, empty night; the only light was the gentle glow of the beast’s bones, and starlit night or some distant glow far above. The beast was so old that the outer layers of jellyfish material had long since decayed and blown away, and some ancient civilization had formed a city here, setting clinics, libraries and offices in every joint and chamber of the vast skeleton. Had the body been turned into a hospital or a research centre for some ancient race of long-dead scholars?

The PCs pushed through this warren of bone-tunnels into a central chamber, where they found a huge single bone, the size of a sailing ship, like cuttlebone. It rested on its keel inside a vast dome, the last remnant of the jellyfish-god’s original flesh, which had dessicated into a perfect dome far ahead, opaque but with enough translucence to allow the dim light from far above to suffuse the room; the keel-like cuttlebone also glowed faintly. As the King pushed through a bone-flap valve into this room the air that rushed in with his entry caused subtle disturbances in the air of the room, and the central bone-sheet rocked gently on its keel like a vast sail. The characters decided that their party would set up camp here – what could possibly go wrong if one camped in the brain-space of a long-dead cthulhoid god?

Of course, as soon as their camp was fixed three skeletons emerged from the dust around the bone-sail, and were lashed into battle by a tall human-shaped shadow monster (a shadowjack!) The battle was short but brutal, for the Shadowjack eats hope, and our party are highly dependent on hope to power their magics and skills. The shadowjack offered up a bounty of magical material, while they were able to harvest the skeletons for bone – both items they need to strengthen their kingdom. Money!

Once the beasts had been cleared the party set out to explore further. The King sent followers to explore other rooms, as far as seemed wise; they returned carrying a jar containing a siamese fighting fish, and bearing reports of chaos and cold. Cookie, Cocoa and Hairan wandered the room, with Hairan managing to find restorative rest in a hospital (Hairan likes hospitals), as well as making better friends with Cocoa; Cookie, meanwhile, managed to become annoyed with Hairan[2]. During this time the characters also found that they were affected by the strange odours coming from the bones, but most of them were able to resist this trap; Mario had an amulet which protected him from it, so the trap did not trouble anyone.

The Offal Beach

If only it were jet powered!!

If only it were jet powered!!

Having cleared this strange corpse the characters returned to the Rust Farm and took its only other exit, a tunnel of steal that slowly turned to ice, widening and becoming lighter as they headed down it. A cool wind, becoming rapidly colder, blew up this tunnel, until the characters were shivering and frozen. The tunnel emerged into an ice cave and from there into a scene of chaos and frozen death. The cave opened into an expanse of ice and open water, a little stretch of polar ocean with still, freezing waters separating calm, flat stretches of ice. On all these stretches of ice huge flocks of penguins ran around in chaos and confusion, squawking at each other and running around in aimless confusion. The characters pushed through the nearest gang of these strange waddling mad birds to the beach, where they found rafts of penguin bone. They hopped into these rafts and paddled across the calm seas towards a larger mass of ice, from which they could see a plume of smoke rising into the still grey sky.

When they arrived they found a scene of horror. A beach of black pebbles stretched up to a large factory-like structure, from which the smoke emerged. The beach was covered with the shattered remains of penguins, broken, torn apart, surgically opened, smashed and generally horribly mistreated. On one side of the beach a huge, fat leopard seal lounged, gnawing half-heartedly on the remains of a penguin; it was obviously so sated and overweight that it didn’t even want to eat. The King tried to convert it to communism to join their kingdom, but it gave him a flat and terrifying look, snorted a horribly charnel-scented snort, and fell asleep in front of him. Disgusted and horrified, the party headed up the beach to the factory. From the factory a figure of horror emerged, a huge man wearing a blood-soaked apron, his faced concealed behind a mask of penguin skin. In one hand he held a huge and bloodied cleaver; in the other a strange arrangement composed of a piece of clockwork embedded in a piece of penguin.

There followed a short conversation in which this alarming and bizarre man revealed himself to be the ex science-advisor of the Ant King. He had been exiled here after his creations killed the Ant King’s favourite leopard. Taking the characters through his abbatoir-factory-workshop, the man introduced himself as Boeing and told them he was hoping to perfect his invention and return to the Ant King to show it could be used. He took them into a small study, brightly lit by pale sunlight through huge glass windows, and showed them the source of his genius: a huge pile of crashed drones, some propellor-powered and some jet-propelled, stacked up in the snow behind his factory. On the desktop were designs for combining these with penguins. Here was the source of the Mach Penguins they had killed!

The King managed to convince Boeing to join their kingdom, and after a somewhat horrid experience in which Boeing produced a red carpet made of the skins of freshly-butchered penguins they were able to move on to the next room … First however, King Mario sent forth underlings to explore more remote rooms; they came back bearing a massive bean, the size of a horse, wrapped in a leaf big enough to be turned into a sail. This, they were told, came from a room with no monsters and no traps. They headed to the next room, which they already knew contained three traps, and which then linked to the room of massive beans.

The Gimmick Factory

 

One man's gimmick is another's sinister religious offering

One man’s gimmick is another’s sinister religious offering

The western end of the Offal Beach had a small ice shelf in open water, on which was an abandoned and crumbling whaling station. Within this was a tunnel leading into the ice; this tunnel slowly turned to stone, warming slightly, and opened into a complex network of tunnels that was much more like a normal labyrinth. It was from this labyrinth that their underlings had returned bearing a Siamese Fighting Fish, and indeed this labyrinth was strangely lined with such little ornaments. All the tunnels appeared to have been dug by some ancient race of huge moles, whose three-clawed feet had left triple grooves along the two sides of the smooth tunnels. Each groove was perhaps two hands wide and two hands deep, and after this race of moles had passed on some other group of people must have turned these tunnels into a bizarre place of worship, for the grooves were filled with small gimmicky ornaments: golliwogs, china dolls, hawaiian hula girls, tin soldiers, and of course jars holding siamese fighting fish. The whole was lit with chains of tealights in star-shaped glass holders, and eerily disturbing in its randomness and yet its … completeness. Rather than resembling a huge, labyrinthine junk shop, it took on a frightening, slightly sinister stillness, like a church to some great and ancient evil that expressed itself through the malevolent glint of countless tiny ornamental eyes – and the cold, grim stare of many ferocious warrior fish. The court passed hastily through these sinister tunnels of kitsch watchers, emerging into a crossroads where they only just avoided a ceiling that was tripped to fall; they dodged aside, and then explored more carefully. Cookie managed to disarm a bomb trap, but none of them could disarm the rolling stone, which came hurtling down the tunnels towards them, large enough to crush all of them and preceded by howling winds and the thunder of rock rolling on rock. Watched with distant, alien glee by the millions of tiny fetishes and ornaments, the party scrambled madly away from the stone. They threw themselves around corners and down slippery, sloping tunnels, always down, down, down, until Cookie saw a side exit too small for the rolling ball to enter. They dived in, but only realized too late that this side exit was a slide; it led steeply down, and the whole party were thrown down a steep, sickening series of turns and corkscrews until they were thrown out into brilliant, open air. They found themselves falling through empty space, with no ground in sight: far below them were clouds, far above them a harsh and brilliant sun; and nowhere, as far as the eye could see, any sign of ground. They had a long way to fall to their doom …

The Golden Nebula

... And for their Sherpa a giant coffee pot ...

… And for their Sherpa a giant coffee pot …

 

The court and their followers fell and fell, spinning slowly in the vast open sky. The warm air rushed by faster and faster, roaring in their ears; high above them their followers’ wagon tumbled haphazardly through the still sky, all their treasures and worldly possessions falling out of it and cascading amongst the scattered group. Their newly-acquired Siamese fighting fish tumbled from the heavens in its jar, spinning end over end and flashing brilliant azure as with each slow rotation it caught the distant, brilliant sun. Looking down, our PCs were sure they would fall forever – even after a minute of falling they could still see no sign of distant ground. Not that the eventual sight of far-off earth would do anything to ease their dilemma …

… But eventually one of them noticed that they were beginning to fall more slowly. It was impossible to tell with no landmarks, but the clouds seem to have slowed their advance, and the roaring of the wind was lessened; soon, as the clouds began to draw closer, they all realized that their fall was coming to a stop, and eventually they found themselves floating still in space the nearest of those once-distant clouds just a few hundred metres from them. All their followers, the wagon, the Siamese fighting fish and even the giant leaf all came floating down to land still in mid-air, held in gentle stasis between the distant sun and an invisibly distant earth. Their fears of death by falling were gone, but replaced – with fears of death by exposure. For the sun was relentless, there was no shade, no rain, and though there was no wind the air was dry and warm, and even with the greatest of effort they could not move. There was no sign of a rain cloud, a horizon, or any hint of coming night. They were trapped in an empty space, their only source of water that distant cloud, close enough they could almost smell its moisture, near enough to wilt with desire for the gentle shade of its underside; but too far to move to by any means under their control.

For hours they drifted, wilting under that oppressive sun, until one of their followers called out in surprise, and they realized that over the past few hours that cloud had drifted closer, and was now at his feet. Then, to their amazement, he began walking up the side of the cloud as if it were solid. After a few minutes of precarious struggle he stood atop it, arms outstretched, as if it were more solid than one of the icebergs in the Offal Beach! They were saved! Slowly the cloud drew closer to the main knot of courtiers, and they were all able one by one to climb onto the cloud, dragging all their possessions (even the Siamese fighting fish!) with them. They found a space under a tower of cumulus where the sun was less punishing and set up camp, overjoyed to have finally escaped from the heat and the dry air. The cloud, white and moist, was cool and pleasant to sit on, and its crags and towers offered much shade. From its pinnacle they could survey the landscape without panic, though in truth they were all a little concerned that they might be trapped here forever. But at least for now they had safety and a chance to plan.

They had little time to relax though; for shortly their group was visited by a strange monster, that looked alarmingly like a huge coffee pot with wings, the size of a house. This monster demanded to know their business in the kingdom. It was obviously neutral towards them at first but extremely arrogant (and very large); it hovered over them demanding to know more about them, and when challenged to reveal its own identity simply declared “I am not the creator, simply a giant coffee pot.” It then demanded that they offer up a magic item of great worth, or suffer its wrath; lacking any magical items of worth, they were forced to fight it. It summoned forth three strange flying beasts, called Waliahyra, and the battle was on. This battle passed with limited damage to the players, who were able to slay the strange monster quickly and force the surrender of the remaining Waliahyra. After some negotiation, the Waliahyra agreed to join the kingdom of the Socialist Republic of Disasters. They also told the characters that these clouds rotate on a regular path, and that in a few days’ time the cloud would “join up with a tree” so that they could “go to the abyss.”

They waited …

The Abyssal Fort

Yggdrasil is our playground ...

Yggdrasil is our playground …

After some days the cloud drifted towards a vast and imposing sight at the borders of the Golden Nebula. Here the sun was just as bright, but the clear skies of the nebula bled into a zone of darkness that seemed to be thicker than air. This zone was too large to see to the other side, and in the middle of this empty space grew a grand tree, so huge that its branches were kilometres long and hundreds of metres wide, it’s trunk stretching up and down into obscurity. The light of the nebula’s bright sun pierce this dark space between the branches of the tree, but the thick quality of the air meant that the light soon faded, like sunbeams entering clear water, and the sunlight only entered the abyssal darkness beyond the tree as lances of light, like a streetlamp seen through the branches of a tree on a misty night. The branches of the tree closest to the golden nebula were teeming with life: huge leaves the size of ship sails, strange birds and beasts cavorting on the branches. Somewhere far below, giant ant-like humans herded aphids the size of cattle on branches wide enough to build towns. A roadway coiled around the trunk of the tree, but the ants were so far away that they would surely be months’ worth of careful travel to reach – and who knew what terrifying storms scoured this tree, drawn up from the depths of the abyss beyond? The tree branches became less fecund as they circled the trunk, and on the far side of the tree ice could be seen glittering on the dead branches furthest from the light. Here the party alighted onto a huge branch and set forth into the tree; they soon saw in the distance, on the far side of the tree, a campfire burning in the chilly darks of the abyss.

They set out for the camp, and set their own camp at the base of the branch on which the camp was set. Chill winds blew here, and though it was not cold enough for frost, the bright and cheery sun of the Golden Nebula was a distant memory. From the far camp, figures approached, and they found themselves facing their expected enemy: the Debt Collector, and a bevy of Bad Company. Perfunctory negotiation failed to hold sway over the repo man, and battle was joined. The Debt Collector was a tough foe, able to steal items from the group and armed with double pistols that he could deploy to devastating effect. His bad company were also terrifying. When they came close to a court member’s followers they would lose all their battlefield calm and rush forward, dropping guns and drawing huge meat cleavers, while their own camp followers rolled up a butcher’s wagon festooned with meat hooks and horrifying slaughter devices – the bad company actually tried to eat their enemy’s followers in the middle of battle! Fortunately they were weak and easily killed, and our heroes were soon able to triumph, though they all sustained damage.

Amongst the rubble of the Debt Collector’s camp they found a blank promissory letter, to be signed by Mario, indicating he had paid off his debt and thanking the Subterranean One for his kindness. They signed it and left it in the ruin of the camp where it would be easily found by whatever monster set out to find the debt collector, and then looted the camp. They then decided they’d had enough of adventuring, didn’t want to spend huge amounts of time looking for the last two rooms, and wanted to go home. Mario activated his dungeon insurance policy, and they all teleported back to their Court.

The Conclusion Phase

In the conclusion phase they calculated the Upkeep cost of their castle, rolled for the reaction of the people to their successful return, and calculated loot. Their successful return inspired the people, and new citizens came to join the kingdom; also, another kingdom launched a surprise attack on the Socialist Republic of Disasters but was repulsed, and had to pay reparations; at the end of the adventure our heroes’ kingdom had grown to 91 citizens (including monsters, and monsters cloned in the ranch), and their gold stock had risen. Finally they all gained a level (and Mario gained 2); with these levels they were able to select new skills and increase their number of followers.

A few notes on the game, and playing from Japanese to English

Somewhat surprisingly – given that two of the players are full-time salarymen in Japanese companies – we all had difficulty reading the rules, and at times had to wing some of the random results a little bit. I have read through the key rules as best I can perhaps twice, but because they’re in Japanese I still don’t have a feeling for the overall structure and sense of the rules or the game, as I would have if it were in my native language (this ambiguity is a common experience I have of reading anything in Japanese). Fortunately there is now a ruleset in English (available in pdf format here) but I didn’t have it during the game, so it all felt a bit vague. Still, even with the rules fumbling, the entire adventure – everything we did above – took just 4-5 hours (I think 4.5), including breaks. I think I made some of the battles a little too easy, but overall I think the game flows very quickly and smoothly. We were going for a comic and humorous approach to adventuring, but there was still time for horror, descriptions, and interactions. A few players said they felt especially exhausted afterwards given the time spent playing, but I think this was likely just a coincidence (or connected with the frantic pace of this cute little game? I’m not sure). Everyone said they enjoyed it and want to revisit the game in the future. I think it could be an excellent system for a campaign, though I’m not sure where such a campaign would lead. Playing this in English confirmed my enjoyment of this game, and I’m happy I finally got a chance to GM this game. I hope I can do it again sometime soon!

 

Picture note: the Picture for the Gimmick Factory is from the website of a fine cafe in Shibuya called And People. The Yggrdasil tree in the Abyssal Fort is the work of Margy Nelson, whose artwork can be bought from here, amongst other places.

fn1: This was roll on the death table. The Oracle took enough damage to reach 0 hit points, and so had to roll on the death table. The result: he lost 1d6 followers and took no damage. Brutal!

fn2: All PCs have relationships, and during the game random events can change these relationships in quite remarkable ways. By the end of this adventure Cookie hated everyone.

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