Hail to the King

You catch a clan member stealing food - what do you do?

I’ve recently gotten into the computer game King of Dragon Pass. You play as the chieftain of a clan of Iron Age barbarians. It’s set in a fantasy universe with dragons and whatnot but it’s still very well-researched with regard to the attitudes and material life of your people. The broad mishmash of Celts/Gauls/Saxons/Norse that the game is drawing inspiration from feels realistic. Wealth is measured in cattle and you must continually propitiate the gods for political legitimacy. Also you can do stuff like take out a lawsuit on a ghost haunting a house.

The game society’s gendered division of power is not so overwhelmingly patriarchal but it doesn’t feel like a sop to political correctness. The way it’s presented in the game feels perfectly plausible and shows that the developers studied their history and/or anthropology. Using female slaves as currency like the Irish did would have been kind of interesting, though – "You want misogyny? Have some goddamn misogyny you unwashed neckbeards!" I imagine the developers shouting.

It’s a very unique take and practically a game in its own genre. How does one classify this? A strategy roleplaying fantasy game, perhaps? There are no real time elements and when you’re not picking what crops to plant then you’re just clicking on choices in dialogue trees. But the roleplaying narrative the game creates for you is so involving that you feel the need to keep going just to see how your clan will fare.

Still, despite my enjoyment, lately I’ve plateaued on the game. I’ll be back and at it soon enough, though. There are trolls out there that need slaughtering, and who else is going to do it?

2 Replies to “Hail to the King”

  1. King of Dragon Pass was an incredible game, and I agree, it’s sort of a genre of its own. Village Management Sim, maybe? Cultivating warriors and leaders over three generations was really cool, though I never managed to properly deal with my “Designated Final Kind Leader guy” very well. It was a ton of fun, though, when my Matriarch went insane and had to decide how to deal with her – especially since she’d been giving crazy bloodthirsty advice in council for several months.

    I also agree about the way that it really nails the feeling of tribal politics – constant yet largely meaningless raids, the occasional grudge feuds, heroes versus carls versus ordinary villagers. The only thing I wish it had done better is to have more clearly defined “quests” and progress tied to exploration. I kept sending people to the Goblin mountains hoping I’d get the option to send an expedition against the Goblin Queen, or something like that, but it was just the same thing over and over.

    1. I haven’t finished the whole game yet, just the short version where you become king of a tribal coalition, so I’m not sure what you mean about the ending. I was hoping to hunt down the troll queen but I got spoiled on a wiki and found out you can’t ever kill her. Which is too bad because I wanted to wipe out the shame of my hero’s life being spared because she begged for her life from the troll queen.

      I guess one of the reasons I took a hiatus from the game is what you mentioned, that feeling of aimlessness you get when you don’t have a defined goal for the short term. I’d already gotten to be tribal king so I needed to unite all the tribes to form an actual kingdom. However, I really didn’t want to make nice-nice with a whole new bunch of jerkoffs when I had just finished sucking up to all my tribe members to win the kingship. And I still needed to build my wealth back up because I’d given away so many cattle to secure votes. The whole thing seemed daunting so I decided to take a break for a while.

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