At first, there was nothing.
Movement revealed feeling, and feeling told me that there was something below, hard and uneven.
Then the light of my lantern revealed sight, and the sight revealed more darkness in all directions, as well as the nature of the ground; stone faces grimacing in pain or agape in horror.
A bestial roar from beyond the edge of sight revealed sound , followed quickly by the scurrying of my feet and of others like myself who crawled quickly over the macabre floor and away from the approaching sound.
But we could not move fast enough, and the twisted cat-like figure tore into those closest to it, splattering a crimson rain over the granite faces all around.
This sight begat fear, there would be no escape. Fear spurred ingenuity. I battered my lantern against the ground below me, snapping off a shard of the rock face. The others within sight followed my lead, arming themselves with similar pieces of stone teeth and noses.
We turned to face our death with what we had.
Thus begins the game of Kingdom Death: Monster. A wildly successful KickStarter campaign, the base game now sells for approximately $400. That’s a staggering figure, but is probably appropriate for what you get out of it. The box is absolutely huge, and comes with an unbelievable amount of supplies; sprue after sprue of bits to assemble your characters and monsters from, over a thousand cards, a rulebook covered in unique artwork, dice, tokens, the showdown board for tactical battles, and everything else you need to play this game. And the level of detail in the plastic is amazing. If you’re carrying a bone dagger, wearing a loincloth, a helmet of bone, and leather boots, you can build exactly that model from the parts available. The owner of this copy of the game is magnetizing pretty much all of it to be able to hot-swap his equipment from model to model, which I think is a brilliant idea if you’re going to play multiple campaigns (and you should at this price point).
Kingdom Death: Monster consists of three parts: Construction of a kingdom of survivors, lots of death, and monsters. The kingdom part is considered optional, and only comes about if you defeat your first opponent, a nightmarish creature that somewhat resembles a lion. That is to say if that lion had supernatural levels of cunning and was a twisted shadow of its’ traditional self with random hands reaching out of its’ body to grab and hold you as it ate you alive for sport. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a game for children, nor is it one that you win. At best, you delay defeat.
With incredible luck, a full health player character in this introductory fight can take 5 damage without being knocked down, one to their arms, legs, and body, and two to their waist thanks to the loincloth they wear for armor. One more damage to any of those locations or to a character’s head will cause them to be knocked prone and be unable to attack that round. Any further damage to that location causes critical injuries with permanent effects. We’re not talking dislocated fingers either… losing an eye or suffering from a collapsed lung would probably be considered one of the less serious criticals; most result in major trauma and any can result in instant death. Even the less serious injuries cause players to receive bleeding tokens, five of which result in that collapsing and dying. So of course, I took plenty of time getting attached to my first character, “Grey Lady”.
Already a brutally hard game, with a last minute addition of a fifth player this encounter went from “you’re going to lose” to “don’t bother trying”. By the book, adding a fifth player increases the damage output of the monster by two per attack (from 1-2 per hit to 3-4 per hit at this level), as well as an extra attack per turn (increasing most of its’ actions to three attacks per turn against a single target). Attacks resolve using a ten sided die, and in this “intro” battle, the monster’s hits land on a 2+. So chances are, if you luck out to be the monster’s victim, you’re taking somewhere between nine and fifteen damage. Remember, our threshold for “you might die instantly” is somewhere around seven damage, but is possibly as low as two points.
We died at a rate of one character per turn, with detailed descriptions from the critical hit charts in rulebook explaining exactly how each one happened… some of us died of shock and rapid blood loss as our arms were ripped off by the beast, others were cleanly decapitated.
Determined to make this work, we cleared out character sheets of damage, renamed ourselves, and tried again, this time with only +1 speed (extra attack) and +1 damage for the beast rather than the +2 damage per attack recommended to compensate for our extra player. Combining a bit of luck with surviving long enough to implement a few tactical moves, only three of our five characters died in the rematch.
As brutal as some of the hits can be on the players, they can inflict similarly visceral damage on the enemy. “Nero”, a character that ended up surviving this first fight, inflicted a particularly brutal critical hit on the Whie Lion. The description of the damage was something along the lines of the following: “You slam your weapon into the Lion’s throat, causing it to shower you in a vomit of blood. It feels awesome! [Gain 3 points of insanity]”.
After finishing off the wounded beast, the two survivors gathered up what they could harvest from the Lion’s corpse, and set off in search of other people.
Now in the settlement phase, the survivors gathered up the other people they could find (eight, for a total of ten potential characters to work with and for us to replenish our losses from), and began to establish a humble kingdom, taking time to build a few basic structures, fashion some very basic armor and weapons out of the bones and hide taken from the vanquished White Lion, and making the important decision of what to do with their fallen comrades. They chose to bury us, rather than harvesting us for parts as well, which by the sound of it was actually an option.
It wasn’t much, but it was a start. My new character, still in the process of being named, made the official discovery of voice and language, teaching the others to speak. Now a part of a tribe, it felt appropriate to chose a tribal name, and I chose to honor my previous character while burying her by naming my new one after her demise.
To build our civilization further, we would have to find more resources, which meant tracking down and fighting another White Lion. One of our adventurers from the last fight was so seriously injured that she could not hunt this round, but “Nero the Hero” gathered up a handful of his new allies and led them off into the darkness, wrapped in furs made from the prior foe. With a voice of experience to lead us, slightly better protected this time, and with a few extra weapons as well, surely we would have an easier time of things. But the beast that served as our welcoming party came to us, and now we had to track down another one somehow. Enter the Hunt track.
This phase represents the party’s trek to find our prey. Random event cards are placed along the board, some specific to this creature, some more generic. These events are encountered and resolved one at a time, and can do anything from causing the beast to move further away in an attempt to escape the hunt, to extra scavenging for resources, or the ever present possibility of death. In our case, we lucked into finding a patch of herbs that could be used as medicine when needed, which was given to Nero, our best equipped and most seasoned party member. But we also spent longer on the trail than anticipated, and hunger struck, reducing all of our speed (attacks per turn) values by one for the upcoming fight. A definite hindrance for any battle, but so early in our campaign where we have only two attacks with our basic weapons each round, that could be crippling. Our potential damage output had been cut in half right before we found the beast.
Luck is a fickle mistress though. Somehow, our lack of quantity meant that our attacks became high quality. We rolled lantern after lantern (standing in as the 10 on the d10) on our attack rolls. Our very first attack reduced the beast’s accuracy, as did multiple subsequent blows, eventually reducing it to landing no more than half of its’ strikes in the open, and that would be reduced even further if we could taunt it into fighting us in the grass. And we even managed to trip the creature up a couple of times, preventing an attack that turn.
Even with this streak of good fortune, the hunt was still perilous, as Nero and one of the other newcomers were torn to shreds by our prey. But we eventually downed the creature and limped back to camp victorious.
With more resources to work with, and more opportunities to do things around camp (called “endeavors”) this time around, we resumed building our civilization. We discovered ammonia. We learned to read auguries out of bones. We built ourselves more weapons and armor. Nameless villagers copulated, resulting in a couple of new children in our village, but one of the mothers died in childbirth, bringing our total headcount to nine after our latest battle casualties. Celebrating the arrival of the newborn children, we decided to raise them as warriors from day one; this was not a world where coddling and sheltering would do any good.
And just in time to wrap up for the evening, and pick up here in the next session, something even more haunting and unnerving than we had seen thus far screamed in the distant darkness, letting us know that there was more in this world than just us and the White Lions.
Welcome to Kingdom Death, enjoy your short stay.
– The Tabletop General