This is the first in my Design Diary series about MR-KR-GR: The Death Rolled Kingdom. It’s a game setting by Mun Kao and Zedeck Siew, and one I want to evangelize to others in the world. This first installment is an overview of the setting, and an initial playtest. Future installments will dive deeper into how I built the mechanics around supporting the game I wanted to play.
Playing with RPG systems
Running a game module using an alternative game system is not a new idea. OSR thrives on the concept, with many D&D derivatives being used to run modules that were written with D&D in mind, or sometimes with no game system in mind.
A very influential game for me was run by Tom McGrenery: the module Death Frost Doom, run as Death Force Doom (in the Star Wars universe, as an old haunted Jedi temple with us as adventuring snow troopers). Tom used Stay Frosty, an OSR system built to emulate stories of marines in situations similar to Predator or Aliens. I was impressed not just because the system worked, but because the game we played felt enhanced by the system, above and beyond what a D&D clone would’ve done. Tom and Jason Cordova have since taken this ethos and discussed it in the Fear of a Black Dragon podcast.
Additionally, I’ve seen Rich Rogers do very similar things with his series of Star Wars themed games, using systems like 1%er for swoop gangs, Apocalypse World for drama on Tatooine, and The Few (a game about WW2 fighter pilots) for a game about X-wing pilots. Each system felt like it targeted the narrative and mood more directly and appropriately than a generic Star Wars RPG would have been able to pull off.
What is MR-KR-GR?
It is a work of art, plain and simple. Mun Kao and Zedeck Siew are working on a Thousand Thousand Islands, a Southeast Asian-inspired fantasy setting. The first of these books is MR-KR-GR: The Death Rolled Kingdom, a land of crocodiles and the people who mostly worship, or love, or work for and with them (or perhaps even plot their downfall). It’s less a setting book or module, and more a work of sublime poetry. A world visualized in sparse words and phrases and drawings. I can’t remember the last time I felt this connected to a game world, and yet it’s so short it can be read in half an hour.
But how to run a game in this land? I spent time ruminating on that before finally being inspired by Mun Kao’s art, and Zedeck Siew’s eloquent wordplay. It reminded me of Heart of the Deernicorn’s Fall of Magic, a game made popular because you literally play on a scroll. Fall of Magic uses beautiful and simple artwork, reminiscent of those maps from Lord of the Rings. The story prompts and wordplay on the game are simple yet evocative, providing just enough direction for a story focused around a single topic, yet open to myriad interpretations (as I’ve seen experienced through play many times).
A test run of MR-KR-GR
After inspiration hit, I created a few locations (such as MR-KR-Singga Port and The Gates, as described in the module), and created a few thematic story prompts that would get players diving into this world. I wanted players to be able to come from the perspective of foreigners visiting this land, but also as locals or those from neighboring kingdoms.
I still needed a way for conflicts to be adjudicated, and turned to a relatively light system that I was familiar with: World of Dungeons (John Harper’s simplified Dungeon World hack). I planned for the players to be able to create a simple character on the fly, or even fill out much of the stats and other information as we were playing.
Because of the short time from inspiration to playtesting, I didn’t post this as a scheduled game on the Gauntlet calendar, but instead took advantage of the Gauntlet Slack community and resources such as the #need_players channel therein. My crew consisted of stellar players Lauren, Ellen and Ary, so even though I was nervous, I knew I was in supportive hands.
Unlike Fall of Magic, which is a GM-less / GM-ful game, MR-KR-GR is a setting where having a facilitator is important to providing the players a grand tour of this beautiful world. Because it’s also drawn with so many blank spaces, you can easily fill the world and adventure with input from the players, which for me is some of my favorite gaming. So, we started with some story prompts to get them going and introducing their characters.
Image from my cards, graphic by Mun Kao:
As it turned out, using World of Dungeons, despite being a relatively simple game, was complete overkill. We made a handful of rolls during the game, but almost all scenes were very story-centric and just improvised narratives between myself and the players. That said, we did occasionally desire some conflict resolution that was “random”, and in lieu of any other mechanic, did use the 2d6 rolls inherent in World of Dungeons. This led to some great fiction as we had to respond to unforeseen consequences and successes.
Where to go from here?
I’m definitely planning to streamline the mechanics. My plan is to remove the use of World of Dungeons completely, and have character generation much more similar to Fall of Magic.
I still need some conflict resolution, and I do love the mix of success levels provided by PbtA games. Currently, I plan to use a simple d6 roll, not terribly different from Blades in the Dark perhaps, but with just a single die (instead of a pool of dice).
I also like the idea of using individual character traits similar to Fall of Magic (almost like Aspects in Fate), where each trait could provide a +1, or even a -1, to the roll. So instead of tracking stats, a character may just have traits such as “Tough” or “Nimble” or “Clever”.
Want to see the actual play?
We recorded the game on Google Hangouts, and I used an audio track in the background (that the players could hear, but you the viewer will not be able to, as this time). Ary could only play for 2 hours but Lauren and Ellen could do closer to 3 hours, so we did some narrative jumping forward and backwards in time, which ended up working very well, story-wise.
This was first published on Tomer's blog, which can be found here.