Today, we are taking a look at a world building TTRPG game called Lineage! Designed and released by G Johntson, AKA Washyourhands of Wash Your Hands Games, it has you role-play as the court chronicler for a monarchy following the royal family as they go from their rise to their inevitable fall. This game is designed to work as a solo game, but it could certainly be used to play in a cooperative world building effort. When testing the game, I completed one session with my son, which was quite entertaining for him.
Dice in this game are typically used for rolling on tables to randomize elements about the Monarchs, their spouses and children, and one or more major events that occur during the monarchs’ lives. These work by using two six-sided dice or, as I prefer to call it, a d66 system. This is similar to the d666 system that is used in Ex Novo. Instead of being added together, the first d6 result use used to determine which table from a set of tables will be used. Then second d6 result picks the event on the table, thus providing 36 possible combinations. You will want to use the same dice twice or have two distinct d6s when rolling for this game!
As I mentioned, all lineages must eventually falter and yours will be no different. There are several ways to reach the endgame. While there are rules for finding heirs from cadet branches the family should a monarch be without any children, your family may still run out of suitable candidates. The game also has three statistics that slowly accumulate based on certain rolls; Dishonorable, Unstable, and Weak. These indicate the royal family’s decaying reputation. When any of them hit 8, then special events will begin to occur with each subsequent monarch that further degrade the situation or overthrow the family. This means that some games may be quite short, while others could go on for a number of hours depending on how detailed you become with your world-building.
Much of the action or storytelling of the game is left up to the player as they create the family tree and chronicle. For example who succeeds the current monarch when they die is left up to the player to determine the rules for. The events give a prompt and ask questions about what the Monarch does based on their established personality. The response in turn decides if this event is small or has a long-lasting impact. One thing that is generally missing is a way for these events to potentially impact the reputation statistics. It is obviously possible for the player to decide that certain events may add to the family’s negative reputation, but it is not present in the base rules.
The text suggests that the player(s) should determine the setting and theme of the game prior to starting the game, such as a feudal kingdom, an established interstellar empire, or a newly unified chiefdom. However, it is important to note that many game elements are geared toward a European Medieval or Early Modern-influenced historical fiction setting. This is totally understandable, as references to Medieval and Early Modern European royal families like the Carlovingians (Karlings), Capétiens, Tutors, Hapsburgs, or Rurikids can be found in the events and cognomens in this game.
Speaking of Cognomens, this is an interesting way the game uses to suggest a personality for the Monarch and help guide the player's decisions during the events . A cognomen is a nickname that may be a reference to something they had done. For example, many of you are likely familiar with William the Conqueror, Ivan the Terrible or Vlad the Impaler. But of course there were also physical or personality traits like William Rufus or Edward the Confessor. However, having a cognomen may also be an unfortunate thing that the monarch is trying to get away from like King John's initial nickname John Lackland or given in irony like the theoretically hairy Charles the Bald. In our family game, my son decided that our first monarch had the cognomen "the Bloody" because of her leading a violent rebellion, but spent much of her subsequent rule trying to keep the peace.
This game is not for everyone and it does have some shortcomings. I should give a content warning that many cruelties you might expect for medieval politics may occur to or be done by your Monarch and their children including disease, assassinations and murder, coups, war and mass murder, treachery and rebellion, natural disasters, food-related issues, alcoholism, and suicide. Some of the negative reputation modifiers, events, and other factors will likely need some modifications or expansions if you run a game based on a society or setting that is significantly different from the default Medieval/Renaissance of many historical fiction and fantasy TTRPGs. The base game also has no rules for non-binary characters, non-biological reproduction, adoption, concubines or non-conventional family structures. Again, this is not really a critique of the TTRPG considering the intended feel and simplicity behind the game, but it is certainly a limitation for anyone seeking a wider or alternative experience.
It also does not simulate the increasingly common trend in Europe of having closely related families among the ruling classes or having multiple ruling titles in the same family. In fact, this may be another place where house rules can shine in this game to create a multiplayer experience. In the game session I did with my son, we had three different monarchies in the same family at one point due to combination of civil strife and intermarriage with a powerful neighbor. While we did not follow each of the monarchies to their end in the family line, that may have been an interesting experience that you could try!
Lineage is available on Washyourhands’ itch page, but it is also available for a limited time in the Worldbuilding Bundle with so many other great indie TTRPGs including the dungeon building sibling to the previously reviewed Ex Novo, Ex Umbra. Finally, if you wish a chance to get a physical copy of the game, the creator is holding a twitter drawing for their creation on May 23rd here, so jump on that quick!