What is Spellbound Kingdoms?

Spellbound Kingdoms is a pen-and-paper fantasy role-playing game. The most famous role-playing game is Dungeons and Dragons. Chances are, if you're looking at this site, you already know what a role-playing game is. But if you don't, you can learn more about role-playing games here.

What's the core mechanic?

SK uses a die-step, roll-over-target-number system. So skill checks, attack rolls, and magic rolls are all rated according to a die-size (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20). If you roll and beat the target number or your opponent's roll, then you succeed.

What's combat like?

It's kinetic. It's a little wild and hectic. And it's very, very fast.

Now that the Combat Primer is here, you don't have to take my word for it. Go check out the Primer in the Downloads section!

A few quick comments if you're too busy to download the Primer:

There's no initiative. Everyone goes at once. If you can guess what your opponent is going to throw at you - a Haymaker, say, or a Trip - then you can choose your own maneuver to counter that. You're aided in your guessing because each fighting style is different in how one attack sets up the next. Knowing what style your opponent is using is quite important. Not only does an opponent's style betray his possible attacks and counters, but it also allows you to change your own style, if you know more than one.

Twin Weapon Fighting, for instance, has lots of attacks, but not a lot of penetrating power. Guardsman is a good counter-style. But if you don't know Guardsman, and you're facing a TW Fighter, then you have to make do with the different maneuvers within a style that you do know. You'll have to keep your defenses up and time your attacks to when the TW Fighter is catching his breath, finding his balance, setting up a flurry, feinting (if you can guess when it's really a feint!), or moving.

All that is for physical combat. Spell-casting is another story.

What's magic like?

Magic is a beast. Most people consider it a menace to society. There are two rules of magic. First, "Magic hates magic." Second, "Magic, to be commanded, must be obeyed."

In combat, the first rule means that two wizards in the same place interfere with each other. Their intended effects are weakened, and unintended effects (wild magics) are created. So you can get some real crazy effects if one wizard isn't strong enough to eclipse the other. Beyond that, magic in combat is more deliberate and less kinetic than swordplay, although it is just as deadly. You don't have a sense of shifting position, changing stances, lunging and parrying like you do with physical combat. The sense you do get from magic depends on your style, and that could entail anything from a classic evoker raining down fire on the heathen to a Dramba witch sticking needles into a doll and watching the big lug's knee collapse under him.

Outside of combat, the first rule means that the social order is very careful to prevent two magicians from overlapping and inadvertently burning down the town. This has resulted in various control schemes, from autocratic monarchies to societies locked in a perpetual Inquisition (more on this in the default setting question below).

The second rule means that if you are going to practice magic, you must open yourself up to it. There are certain vulnerabilities you take on when you take on the mantle of spellcaster.

What's the roleplaying like?

It's fun and it's customizable. Some of the roleplaying aids have been a riot to playtest, to be honest. Laughing, pounding-on-the-sofa-cushions type of stuff. When we see each other later, the most memorable and quotable parts of the game tend to be from dialogue. Dialogue and diplomacy have an optional "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" type of improv feel. It's customizable, so if you don't feel comfortable speaking in character or you don't want to feel the pressure of improv, that's not a problem. You can just state the intention of your remarks, or what your character is trying to accomplish, and let it go at that. But we've been having a lot of fun with the dialogue system.

There are also big tools to aid characterization, story pacing, and conflicts. While there's nothing to dictate plot events at all, there is an optional pacing frame that helps the story emerge.

One of the most consistent feedback comments from playtesting is something along the lines of, "I really like how the game supports roleplaying." Inspirations are an important mechanic in the game, and they push the players toward narrating how their characters' motivations relate to important actions.

How about a sample character?

You betcha. I always get a better feel for a new game after I take a gander at a sample character (or even a blank character sheet). There's no final character sheet yet, but here's a stat block.

Gordon Black, captain and pilot of submarine prototype Capital

Male Human (Nineblood).

Fighting Styles: Swashbuckler (master), Dagger-and-wine (apprentice), Free Sword (apprentice).

Skills and History: Learned shadow drama as a child to entertain his invalid sister (2). Lived in Rithagn Court overlooking the Unicorn Downs (1). Sailor on Inverness Dugray's under-ice submarine voyage to the Descent (3). Commander of the Capital. (4)

Social Talents: Fierce commander (1 extra dialogue die when rank matters). Steady (Reason increased by 1 when resisting a mood change).

Inspirations: Love of his ship the Capital and her crew (4). Love for Alexia Tsodeta (1) Vengeance on the Tumenants (2).

Str 5, Qck 8, Rsn 7, Cha 8, Mgc 6, Hrt 9. Body 6, Mood 1. Warrior 4/Rogue 4/Engineer 2.

Catchphrases: "There's only room for one woman in my life, and her name's the Capital." "You think you're one slick firefish, don't you?" "Is it too much to ask for a first officer who doesn't continually threaten people with Capital punishment? If I hear that line one more time, there's going to be some."

What is the default setting?

The default setting is a fantasy Renaissance where magic is used for social engineering. Think Three Musketeers meets Brave New World.

Magic isn't common. Far from it: only nobles are allowed to use it. They are fanatic about reserving its power for themselves. There's a good reason for this, in most people's opinion. Magic is dangerous. The more magic that is used in an area, the more likely it is to get out of control. Entire graveyards have risen as undead, and entire towns have spontaneously combusted, as a result of magical disasters.

There are only two races of man: humans and trolls. Trolls look like humans, very elegant and slightly demonic, with occasional horns or antlers, but they can regenerate.

Magic as social engineering is a big part of the setting. Both humans and trolls can have their capacity for emotion ripped away. If a wizard rips your love out - you'll never love again. If he rips out your ambition - you're a slacker evermore. As you can imagine, this has societal repercussions.

There's a reason that this practice is as widespread as it is, and only practiced by the nobles, for the protection of all their subjects. Emotions are linked to magic. Love can accomplish a lot in the Kingdoms. Fear, vengeance, madness, faith, and other inspirations are just as dangerous. The nobles keep a close eye on their charges to make sure that no one steps out of line, loves too much, or hates too strongly.

All right, what else do you have?

Swords, sorcery, monsters, and treasure, for starters. You can kill bad guys and take their stuff.

SK also features:

* Storytelling support.

* Mass combat as an integral part of the game.

* Dramatic and tactical dialogue.

* Emotional depth.

* Players can play nobles, peasants, generals, soldiers, and anyone in between.

* A fast pace. Blazing pace, really.

* A world and an economy that are consistent with the rules.

* Combat that is easy to learn, difficult to master, fast, fun, and not a pain in the GM's butt.

* Cooperative worldbuilding.

* NPC relationships that matter.

What is the release date for the game?

When it's done. ;) That will be a few weeks before Gen Con '09.

Where does Spellbound Kingdoms fit in the GNS model? What about the player types of Robin's Laws? Or even the 1999 WOTC market research groupings?

There was a longer answer to this here before. Let's say it has all the bases covered. There is enough simulation so that the world makes sense, even with the combat rules and the magic rules (4e, I'm looking at you ;) ). There is enough gamism so that you can develop strategies and play the rules as well as the world. And there's enough narrativism to let the players direct a lot of the story.

You just compared yourself to Dungeons and Dragons. In the negative! ZOMG you're writing a fantasy heartbreaker!!1!


What games influenced the design?

Dungeons and Dragons is a great game, actually (including 4e), so that was a big influence. D&D and My Life with Master have been the two biggest influences. There are others, such as Savage Worlds, 3:16, Traveller, Risus, Unknown Armies, Exalted, the Shab al-Hiri Roach, and Mafia (the school bus game, but you can buy it as Werewolf).

Who are you?

I’m Frank Brunner. I co-designed and wrote several books for Wizards of the Coast and the 3.5e Dungeons and Dragons game, including Player’s Handbook II and Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords. During the day, I teach physics. During the weekends, I get schooled by the kids on my basketball team. Getting old sucks! I live in Buffalo with my beautiful wife and our cat Lucy. Our cat Lucy just had a stroke, actually, so we're hoping she pulls through. Keep her in your thoughts if you do that kind of thing!


Combat Primer