The King is Dead - AP and questions

We played a short three-player game of The King is Dead yesterday. It's a very interesting game, and absolutely remarkable in the way it gets you playing right away with a minimum of effort and very little required from the players.

With a group who becomes familiar with the procedures, I can imagine it being a much more fluent and in-depth experience. (For our group, the game had too much detail for our short playtime - about an hour and a half - but all those things would feed into a longer game nicely.)

However, there were a few things which tripped us up, and I'm hoping someone who's played can help clear them up. Here are some various comments and concerns:

1. This is a game which could REALLY use a list of names. (The names used in the game are very particular, and you're expected to come up with many more in play.)

There is a list of location names which is tremendously helpful. Why not personal names, as well?

2. Since it's a Vincent Baker game as well as a fantasy epic, I suggested that we start drawing a map. This was a nice aid - I recommend it.

3. The biggest challenge was trying to figure out how Muster works. I'm still not sure how it's supposed to go.

The text implies, but never states outright, that two Houses can't have the same Muster. Is that the case? It's the only way I can explain how someone losing Muster can "displace" another person.

If that's the case, then it would make sense (and be easier) to track everyone's Muster on the SAME sheet instead of having each player so it in their booklet and shouting out their old position and new position, as the rules suggest. That would simplify and clarify things at the table.

Now, someone moving down and "displacing" someone in that position upwards makes sense. (If I'm reading that right!) It also means the notes on the order of operations here are crucial (and useful).

But what does it mean to "surpass" "everyone"? That doesn't make sense to me. Do I literally bump everyone below me down the ladder? That sounds... like everyone would end up with 3 Muster pretty quick.

Not sure what to do here. Fortunately, in our game no one ever increased their Muster.

4. We had one Skirmish, and it was suitably and delightfully Bloody. The choices we made created some memorable events and provided fuel for future developments.

Two things we stumbled on:

What are good objectives to declare? Our players wanted to declare larger-scale objectives, and I had the feeling more immediate objectives would work better.

In any case, it wasn't clear if and when they were achieved. Is it just Colour to declare them, does the winner get theirs, or something else? (Perhaps "submitting" means the other party gets their objective in the fight.)

The "submit or else I will begin my retreat" choice seemed hard to parse. In a way, it makes sense, but it's not clear why the fight would continue once that happens (in our scene, the attackers withdrew to their boat). It would have been nice to transition into a Chase here, but we weren't sure how to do that by the rules.)

It's an odd choice: "withdraw or I will start to withdraw myself!" If we look at even partially through an in-character lens, it sounds very bizarre. From a pure director stance, however, its fine, of course.

Is there a best practice here which would make this smoother?

5. We ended with a War, just before the Coronation.

It turns out that War is a bit awkward for the low Muster factions. We were three houses with Muster 3, 4, and 5.

First of all, a House which drops to Muster 3 loses the war. Does that mean that a house with Muster 3 can't fight at all? What about as an ally?

It's not much better for a House with Muster 4. Many/most choices come down to "surrender or lose 1 Muster", which were utterly uninteresting. We struggled a bit here.

Finally, if we're reading the Muster rules right (which I'm not sure of at all), you can get a situation where the two houses just keep switching Muster positions with each other. That's not a huge deal, but it make me wonder if we understood Muster correctly.

6. The Coronation was surprisingly bare-bones. We should have led into it more clearly - I felt like it came out of nowhere. (Not a huge deal; we will just do it differently next time.)

Any thoughts or comments welcome!


  • edited September 2017
    I've only played MFO:FB, but I just read the Muster part in TKiD. It is super confusing, but I think both operations work the same way. The vocabulary and wording is poor—sorry Baker crew :smile:—so it's hard to tell. If you increase your Muster everyone in the range whom you pass when moving up must move one space down on the number-line; likewise, when you decrease your Muster everyone in the range whom you pass when moving down must move one space up on the number-line. Does this requirement to move (either up one space or down one space) apply to another player who is occupying the exact number you move to? I'm not sure, the wording is too contradictory to tell. I wonder if there is an AP video recording somewhere that might shed some light on that or maybe you could ask Vincent or Meguey? Anyway, that's what I could make of it :smile:
  • Yeah, that's a reasonable interpretation. But what does "pass" mean? If you have Muster 5 and I have Muster 4, when I move up one notch I don't "pass" you.
  • I haven't found any discussion of the game online. Perhaps it's all confined to Patreon?
  • edited September 2017
    Yeah, that's a reasonable interpretation. But what does "pass" mean? If you have Muster 5 and I have Muster 4, when I move up one notch I don't "pass" you.
    Right, this is where I think the wording is confusing, because it says "surpassed" when moving up which implies that I must move one number higher than you for you to be affected and required to move one space down the number-line; but, it also says "displaced" when moving down which implies that I must move to the same number as you for you to be affected and required to move one space up.

    I think what is meant is that all the other paperclips, that are anywhere in the range of the movement on the number-line, must move one down or one space up. So if someone moves up from 4 to 6 everyone in that range (4,5,6) would move one down. Like I said, the language is super confusing so who knows what exactly is meant, but that's my best guess.

    Edit: I checked Patreon; unfortunately,there's no discussion of it.

  • I agree with that interpretation; it's the only reasonable one I can see. It would be nice to have some greater clarity in this point, however.
  • Another question - although this didn't come up in our game, it's just something I noticed now.

    In "An Animated Disagreement", the audience poses the challenges. Some of the challenges are very strong - they give the audience a lot of control over the disputees. (For example, I can choose to force you to threaten war against your opponent!)

    Is that intentional, the loss of control in this disagreement? It wouldn't be out of character for the game, but I find it interesting that I can't maintain a consistent character in an argument - even if I think I'm cool and collected, I could get violent and threaten war, or vice-versa.

    As written, there's no option to back down or cede the argument.

    If that's the intent - that the audience fully controls the nature of the argument and how far it escalates - that would be a good thing to note in the orienting text. ("In an animated disagreement, your nature will get the better of you, and you'll end up doing things you might not normally have done," or some such.)

    Two of the Challenges give me pause:

    * "Please threaten to go to war..."


    * "Please challenge your opponent to trials..."

    These are interesting in light of the inability to cede. However, they are also confusing in that the audience is called upon to ask BOTH disputees when they issue a challenge.

    Does that mean that when one side threatens war, the other side always does so as well?

    It's even stranger for the "trials" Challenge, since having both parties do so can lead to logically contradictory outcomes. (For example, if both sides accept the other's challenge, the rules then indicate that both have "the better answer" and win the argument.)

    Should this, then, read something like, "Ask the two sides which would like to declare war/challenge the other to a trial?", or perhaps for the audience to simply declare that one side does so?

    Those are all very different outcomes and deserve some kind of explanation or orientation, as they would all play very differently.
  • edited September 2017
    Thanks for playing my game!

    On muster:

    Playing it on a board on the table is easier than playing it in everyone's books, yes! Picture pawns standing on a track.

    Two houses can't have the same muster.

    When your muster increases, you march upward from your old position to your new position. Everyone you meet, decreases their muster by 1, in the order you meet them.

    When your muster decreases, you march downward. Everyone you meet, increases their muster by 1, in the order you meet them.

    You might be interested to know, as a behind-the-scenes peek, that the skirmish is now out of the game, and it was one of the main constraints on how muster worked, so the muster rules are completely up in the air. The next version you see, muster might be quite different. War, too, accordingly.

    On the animated disagreement:

    I'll point out first that what happens in an animated disagreement doesn't constrain anyone's free choice of future games at all. Threatening war or challenging trials doesn't mean that you have to go on to play war or trials with that other player, ever. That remains up to you, when it's your turn to choose a game.

    But beyond that, you'll really, really want to see the game in action before you try to rewrite it like you're doing.

    For instance, I think you'll manage to cede, if you find that you want to. It's easy. I think that you'll manage to threaten war, insofar as you want to, and keeping easily to your character, too.

    I also think that you'll see exactly the implications of your audience challenging you to challenge your opponent to trials, and how it's going to play out, when it comes up naturally. (Don't go looking for it, let it come up on its own.)

    It does create a logically contradictory outcome in An Animated Disagreement, but I think you'll see in action that it's trivially resolved, and that the logical contradiction itself represents a solid, sometimes arresting, move in The King Is Dead.

  • edited September 2017
    Thanks for clarifying Vincent. I'm very much looking forward to playing The King is Dead. Paul, you're a jerk for not inviting me, haha :smiley: j/k
  • Jeff,

    We were playing "in meatspace", as well as on very short notice - would have been an expensive plane ticket for you to join us...


    Thanks for the prompt reply! We had a good time playing the game, and I'm sorry more of my post wasn't focused on the positives. There were lots of those!

    One of the players even said she was going to bring the game to her non-gamer colleagues for a try.

    The clarifications on Muster make sense - that was the conclusion we came to, as well, as you can see, in this thread, but the text didn't help us there at the table. Thank you!

    About Skirmish:

    That's disappointing! That was one of the most successful games, for us, and created much of the fun of the session. We had a meaningful injury (the Princess's sister had her hand chopped off!) and an interesting hostage situation, both of which pretty much laid the groundwork for the rest of our narrative.

    About War:

    Interesting! I'll have to see where you take it next, then. I was wondering if the ineffectiveness of low-Muster houses was an intentional design feature - basically, "don't go to war if you haven't Mustered the strength", that kind of thing.

    About Animated Disagreement:

    Good notes on choices made within the Disagreement not constraining you going forward. That's implicit in the design of the game, and makes sense to me.

    The rest of your comments, however, are totally uninformative to me. I don't really understand!

    However, it's the one comment in my thread so far which did not follow from Actual Play, so I'm willing to try it another time to see if it pans out. (Perhaps you'll join me, Jeff!)
  • edited September 2017
    Sure thing!

    The skirmish is good in The King Is Dead if you play it early, but kind of a serious problem in the midgame and later. It has to go.

    It's good solidly throughout MF0:Firebrands, though. If you want to see it at its best, that's the game.

  • Interesting. I can't imagine why, so I'll have to take your word for it.

    Apparently, a bunch of non-gamers played it backstage at a show yesterday (via one of the people I introduced to it on Friday). That's exciting! I'll post here when I get the details.
  • edited September 2017
    I've played quite a few games of the king is dead and have had the privilege to have run a few on my show, once upon a game: the king is dead.

    The first time I played this game I ran intrigue/muster like you would in firebrands with everyone doing one..... BIG mistake. Following which, the game has been much smoother and very fun. The game is friggin' fantastic. Tracking muster online with our color coded tokens was the way to go. In person I draw house sigils :)

    I ran it at GoPlayNW this year and I forgot how important it was to have several copies of the rules/games around. I'm so used to running it online I never thought about it.

    I like how easy it is to die. In Firebrands the genre demanded death be less infrequent than my time with The King Is Dead. Perhaps it's a playstyle thing. It was always fun to come back as a new character looking for revenge! (They almost always fall in love with their target.)

    My friends and I talk about this game on Twitter and Discord which is basically slack for gamers. But I promise people are talking about the game out there!
  • Eric,


    How do you deal with the various rules situations we've outlined here? Do you have any tips and tricks?
  • edited September 2017
    I don't have much to add about Skirmish, but for War games we'd have a very fun time.

    War is a muster destroyer. Personally I've found the weaker houses trying to force the higher muster houses into war with one another, weakening both of them, to be a frequent play style. Entire nights have been about that very thing. The lower houses would avoid wars, but either argue, fuck, intrigue, or trial their more powerful neighbors into fighting each other.

    We never treated arguments and trials as pure compels for future scenes, but often times we'd pick them anyways because it'd be fun. A pair of lovers trialing over some political intrigue one house was up to (getting money from the foreign house maybe?) which turned into meeting sword to sword and both dying was one particularly fun time I recall.
  • Thanks! That's good to hear.

    How did you deal with those odd options under Skirmish and An Animated Disagreement, if it ever came up?
  • I played this again; online this time. We had a good time in approximately 2 hours, and, as before, the game delivered in terms of getting us into the game immediately.

    We struggled a little with finding a line between just reading the prompts and free play (more so than in my first game with relatively inexperienced gamers, who mostly just read the promps), but eventually settled into playing the game pretty "straight" (we had a time constraint, which helped).

    We used the "final preview" document this time, which omits the Skirmish game (a shame; that was my favourite!) and changes the failure condition for War (you can now drop below 3 Muster).

    War was somewhat challenging for us, since it mostly relies on working with your allies. I can see how this is entirely in-genre for the game: in these stories, the stronger army will generally win, unless the weaker can manage some other House to fight alongside them. The *real* game in War, therefore, may largely be about negotiating for allies as the Challenges come forth.

    However, we only had three players, and the third wasn't interested in switching sides, which made the game a fairly forsaken conclusion. However, the fallout of the war DID change the ascension to the throne - one House was sufficiently reduced in Muster that Luneste, the foreigners, took over the kingdom.

    One interesting maneuver: I had fun sacrificing my character's life in a Trials game to demonstrate the truth of a demonic rumour, which sent the two remaining Houses to War. (Although in the fiction it was still fairly ambiguous whether the demons and the rumour was true or false.)
  • Hi all,

    I played in the second game session that Paul mentions, above.

    I think it was my first time playing this kind of game, I guess you could call it a heavily guided story game, like Apocalypse World?

    I found it interesting... I'm not yet sure if I like it or not. I'd say the success or failure of a game like this depends heavily on the quality of the "games" (these are called "moves" in Apocalypse World, right?) that make it up. It might be more unambiguous to call these mini-games, since that's what they are--small games within a game.

    My favourite mini-game was Trials by Contest. I thought this brought a massive amount of opportunity for role-play, to see just how far your character was willing to go to win a particular objective. One character Spiro wanted to marry Juliet, to help cement his position of power in his own House, while she wanted his help to disrupt his house's payments to their mercenaries (who were ravaging her own House's countryside). Juliet was dead-set against marrying Spiro, but he brought the contest all the way to a duel, and Juliet gave up after drawing Spiro's blood with her sword. I thought it was a really interesting result, and a fun process getting there.

    My least favourite mini-game was probably War, which didn't work at all for me. It seemed completely one-sided. In one War, my side had the higher muster (which gave me the initiative), and the option I initially picked caused me to lose the initiative after a coin flip. After that, it was pretty much an automatic loss. I felt like this mini-game could have used some more randomness, or variability, or... something? The King is Dead could really use a map, and maybe your options in War could be informed by the positions of your armies on the map. Otherwise, it just feels really one-sided as you can just push the opposing army into the ocean and crush them to death without breaking a sweat.

    It seems like a lot of skill is required to pick the right mini-games to give the story good pacing. Sometimes, the options for a mini-game didn't make any sense to me, and really didn't help my role-play. Other times, it did help...

    So like I said, an interesting experience... I'd play again, if only to try to understand this style of game better.

  • Hi, Jonathan.

    While The King is Dead and Apocalypse World are both by the same author, I don't think they have much in common.

    AW is very much a traditional RPG, in the sense that there is a GM and PCs and the way they interact with each other - the GM frames scenes, portrays the opposition, develops the world, and so on. There are a variety of design features and play guidance (the Agenda, Principles, and Moves) which distinguish it from a lot of "trad RPG" play, but there are also some groups with do "trad RPG play" in a way which is almost exactly like Apocalypse World, so there's a LOT of overlap.

    (For more on that, you could check out this thread, where that topic was debated recently.)

    For example, The King is Dead's "games" are little mini-systems which create scenes or storylines, and the game literally does not exist outside of them - the entire game is a sequence of these mini-games, and that's all it is.

    Apocalypse World's "moves" are bits of mechanics which are "triggered" by stuff happening in the fiction created at the table - they only take when a fictional situation exists, and an actor within that fictional situation takes a specific kind of action. In a way, it's pretty close to D&D's "to-hit rolls" or "Ability checks", although they tend to be a little broader in application.

    I agree with a lot of your comments about The King is Dead. In particular, the War "game" did not go too smoothly in either of my playthroughs. It seems to rely heavily on having a number of other players available to act as allies or supporters. This was frustrating both times I played, since we only had three players. However, I can see how the "unexpected allies turn the tide of war" is very in-genre for the kind of story we're telling in this game.

    Like the other "games", I think it works best as a "story creation" engine, and falls flat if the players are actively trying to win, and choosing options accordingly.
  • Some guidance about the balance between OOC and IC, or mechanics and fiction would be good, there’s clearly a distribution among the online players between those who want to move the game along and those who want to roleplay.
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