What do Cyrano de Bergerac, Owen Glendower, Bruce Lee, Nostradamus, Harald Hardraada, and Doc Holliday all have in common? Well, they're dead humans with Y chromosomes – but more importantly for this post, they are the only player character options in Tom Moldvay's The Future King.
As Moldvay's birthday quickly approaches, we interrupt our analysis of Timeship with a study of The Future King, a 1985 “adventure booklet” published by Spellbinders™, an establishment located two miles from Moldvay's residence in Akron, Ohio.
At a mere 28 pages – including covers and inserts – The Future King promises to be a complete adventure, requiring only “a pair of common dice.” It is therefore an attempt to provide an 'accessible' role playing experience; a game where one need not “learn some separate rule's [sic] system” or obtain “the odd-shaped dice used in so many role-playing games.” The back cover blurb encourages the prospective buyer, “So just take The Future King home, read it, and you'll be ready to play.”
According to the Introduction:
Instead of stressing complex rules, The Future King stresses the interaction between the players and the Game Master. This interaction is the basis of all role-playing games. But role-playing basics are often lost amid a confusing complexity of rules.The title is a reference to King Arthur, specifically the legend that he will return in a time of great need. The bard Taliessin explains to the player characters:
These are dark and troubled times. Ancient evils banished long ago are returning. It is time for Arthur to awake and once more take up the kingship. But his return is being blocked.Thus the adventure begins. Saying that The Future King is a railroad is an understatement; it is a guided tour punctuated by combat. The player characters fetch MacGuffins and are confronted by opponents and riddles; frequently, there are 'magical' changes of scene over which they have no control. A strategic appearance by the magic cauldron of Bran the Blessed ensures that player characters who have died are brought back to continue the adventure.
All actions in the eternal struggle produce reactions. So the cry for six great heroes echoed through the corridors of time, and you six answered the call. Without your help Arthur will remain asleep and the forces of chaos and destruction will sweep across this land.
Of course, The Future King isn't intended for seasoned Game Masters and players; it is meant to demonstrate the possibilities of role-playing games to people unfamiliar with them. In that respect, a guided tour may be the only practical option. Regardless, Moldvay informs us that:
It is simply not possible to predict the reaction of every player. So the GM should feel free to change any part of the adventure if he thinks it will make the adventure better for his players. On the other hand, the adventure is complete in itself and can easily be played without any changes being made.The actual rules take up about a page and I will provide them in an upcoming post. The mechanics are kept to a bare minimum. There is no provision for character creation or improvement – it is an 'adventure' as opposed to a full-fledged game system.
In game terms, each character is defined by a few numerical scores. Survival points act as hit points. Essentially, Luck is an all-purpose saving throw. (Luck value or less on 2d6 indicates success.) Move is represented as number of feet walked in a (six second) turn. Initiative bonus is applied to a 2d6 initiative roll. (Each 'side' rolls initiative each turn to determine which side moves and attacks first; the highest Initiative bonus among the characters of a given side is used for the entire side.) Armor (if any) reduces the chances of success of an opponent's attack. (“Normal armor offers no protection against ballistic weapons or magic weapons.”) For a given character, Weapons are listed specifying: number of attacks per turn, base chance for successful attack, damage modifier, and range (if applicable). A character may also have one or more special talents, such as Cyrano de Bergerac's fencing or Nostradamus' premonition. Concepts such as “Strength” and “Intelligence” are not quantified in and of themselves; whatever effects they may have on survival and damage (for example) have already been calculated into those values.