World-building Tool Review - Craft a King

Hello all! Sorry it has been a little while since a proper written post, but I have been trying some experimenting with video that you will hopefully be able to see more of soon. Today, we will be taking a look at Craft a King by Aaron Voigt (Itch Username: Aaronsxl). The basic idea behind this tool is to create a GMless mini-game for a group to develop a significant non-player character (NPC), usually a leader or high-level antagonist for the players in your world. This could be a king like the title suggests, but the tool is setting & system agnostic. The NPC could be a faction leader or significant figure from a fantasy setting, but they could just as easily be from a scifi, modern, or historical fiction setting like the galactic president, a high-level corporate officer, an influential community member, or a union boss.


How Does Craft a King Function?

Craft a King uses a d100 (two 10-sided dice), a deck of standard playing cards with no jokers, a pair of reference tables that are found in the text, and writing materials. The game runs through a series of between 4-8 Phases were the players decide on important aspects of the NPC they are creating together. In Craft a King, the four recommended topics for phases are "Family," "Early Life," "Rise to Power," and "Current Ambition." The four optional topics provided in the text are "Childhood," "Rival," "Lover or Confidant," and "Significant First."


Each topic has a small set of questions to act as a prompt. As you can see, the topics mainly focus on motivations and back-stories rather than mechanics to maximize the compatibility. I could definitely see a very creative group coming up with additional optional topics to tailor-fit a particular setting or character type.

Before we get to the main mechanics though, the players first need to decide some of the context behind this NPC. If you do not already have a game or story in mind that this character is going to be used in, the group will need to decide on the genre at least before creation begins. Another thing that needs to be decided before play begins is a Prize. This is a set of details about the NPC that the winning player will get to decide at the end of the game. Recommendations range from the NPCs name and its origins, their most valuable possession, or their greatest fear.


Phases

Each Phase goes thusly:

  1. The Starting Player draws a card from a deck of Standard Playing Cards and consults a table full of nouns. Then they create 1-2 sentences responding to the Phase’s topic prompt using that noun.

  2. Each other player then rolls d100 and consults a table full of adjectives. They then create a sentence describing a detail that builds on the Starting Players' original response using that adjective.

  3. The Starting Player awards one point to the player who created their favorite detail.

  4. The Starting Player role moves to the left for the next Phase.

As you can see, the judging aspect closely resembles the play of a game like Cards Against Humanity or Apples to Apples, but instead of relying on a deck of prepared cards the players are creating the topics and submissions on the fly. Once play reaches the end of the final round, the rewarded points are tallied and the winner gets to create the detail set aside by the Prize and the game is complete!


Giving It a Try

I wanted to give this game/tool a proper shakedown. Unfortunately, I was not able to use it with someone else, but I will do my best at using this tool as a solo player. For this sample, I will do the four main topics, completing a card prompt and a detail prompt for each. Then I will end with the Prize, which this time will be the NPC's favorite pastime. The setting is a scifi alien world.


Family

  • Card Prompt: 3♣︎ - Chair

The NPC's mother was the long-term Chair of an important agricultural corporation, which she passed on to the NPC.

  • Detail Prompt: 35 - Tactful

They were able to secure the succession of their child to the position because of their tactful maneuvering of powerful interests on the Board of Directors.


Early Life

  • Card Prompt: K♣︎ - Scepter

The NPC was a little autocrat from the very beginning. They took to carrying a scepter everywhere they went, pretending to be a monarch.

  • Detail Prompt: 83 - Swelling

This tendency to carry a scepter around came in handy when they had to begin using a cane when they developed long-term symptoms from a suspected infection which includes swelling in their joints and difficulty walking.



Rise To Power

  • Card Prompt: 2♥︎ - Autumn

An icy city built on the top of a small mesa next to a sea
Our World in Winter? (Source: Artbreeder)

The world where the NPC lives has a multi-year seasonal pattern. They were able to take advantage of the autumn preparations to smooth out their rise to power and make a lot of members of the Board of Directors happy with the swell in profits.

  • Detail Prompt: 54 - Friendly

This also allowed the NPC to develop a friendly public image to reinforce their power base in the corporation against the Board of Directors.


Current Ambition

  • Card Prompt: 6♣︎ - Fish

Now that winter is here, the NPC intends on pushing their assets into the fish industry instead of relying on greenhouse profits to get the company through the cold, lean years.

  • Detail Prompt: 68 - Undeniable

There are several established fishery organizations but the NPC has a diabolical but undeniable plan to force their merger with the corporation if they do not willingly submit.


Favorite Pastime

With the NPC's difficulties in moving around, they have taken to creating art like holographic sculptures. These pieces are often used by the NPC's personal marketing team to further improve the NPC's public image through sales donations and public beautification.



A Final Look

And there we have it! A corporate autocrat who has a positive and generous public image that hides a manipulative and vindictive side that drives much of their business decisions and likely makes them an eventual BBEG for the players in this scifi alien setting with potential elements of punk, class resistance, or climate fiction. Maybe the PCs start working for the fishers resisting the corporation's push on their business or were originally fishers themselves. Perhaps they get hired by Board-member seeking to take the NPC down a peg. Maybe the NPC hires the PCs and then the true autocratic side of the NPC is revealed at a dramatic moment. Maybe there are other sources of rot hiding under the surface of that pretty public image like poor environmental & labor practices. The sky is the limit and the players would have driven it's basic creation.


Again, if you want to take a look at "Craft a King" yourself, you can find it at Aaron's itch store along with Craft a Kingdom that uses a similar system of cards, dice, and player creation to build up a nation, it's history, and basic structures like military, legal system, etc. Both games are available as PWYW.

 

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