Kuninkaiden aika – Age of the kings

I finally got to read the Finnish Christian roleplaying game from 1993. It’s called Kuninkaiden aika (Age of the kings), and its setting is during the kings Saul, David and Solomon. It was mocked in Finland roleplaying circles, at least in mine, when it was published and I didn’t like it when I read it soon after it was published. It’s a better game than it was thought of but it’s still not a very good one.

The game is written in Finnish. I don’t know much about the process that went into the game, but the game says that it’s meant to be used in the (Finnish Lutheran) Church clubs.

The game is oddly divided. The background of the setting is told in the book in a condensed version, and some of the peoples are described. The setting and its history is of course from the Books of Samuel and the Book of Kings in the Bible. It is described for probably teenagers, so all the details in the Bible are not in the book. It’s a nice summary and probably easier to read than the Bible itself.

The Old Testament is of course full of war, violence and sex. However, the instructions for the game master advise against combat, and even the profession ‘soldier’ provides the skill ‘observation’ instead of something more martial. The equipment however is a spear and a shield – I think they would get used at some point by most players whose characters are soldiers.

The game’s system is very random. There are two stats, Viisaus (wisdom) and Voima (strength). They are rolled with 2d6 in the beginning of the game. Each character gets four skills, one of which is determined by the profession (which can be selected) and three of which can be selected. The profession also provides some equipment. The skill levels are then determined by 1d6. Age, appearance and other things can be chosen by the player.

The skill system is simple: when using a stat 2d6 is rolled, and when using a skill 1d6. You have to roll lower than the stat or skill to succeed, so with some luck in the character generation you can succeeed in most things you have skill for. On the other hand, you could make a middle-aged stonemason, who is both weak and stupid and on top of that has skill of 1 in his skill, which means that he cannot succeed. There are no rules for fiddling with the numbers in the character generation, but they are easily added.

There are some instructions for game mastering and some adventure seeds in the game. The instructions are aimed at a beginning game master, and it seems to me that the game is meant for the club leaders to make a game for the club children. The rules distinguish between ‘Junamalli’ (train model) and ‘Torimalli’ (market place model) for the adventures. The ‘train model’ is of course the traditional railroad approach: the characters just go from one set encounter to the next one. The ‘market place model’ is a more relaxed approach where the game master needs to adjust the encounters according to the actions of the players.

The strangest thing in the game is that it doesn’t in any way describe any group cohesion. From the one example in the game and the instructions, it seems that the characters are not meant to form a group or even interact in any specified way during the game. The game instructs the game master to just give each player a ‘turn’ to act and when enough actions have been performed, move on to the next one. The adventure model is very straightforward in that there should always be a simple goal for the characters to attain – the session ends when it has been achieved. This is of course simpler for club games, and pretty traditional, but the world could give possibilities for more sophisticated adventures.

The adventure seeds have some instructions to form a group, for example in one  seed the characters are Solomon’s trusted soldiers and have to get back a favorite concubine from the Philistines.

The game has no experience system. It seems to be aimed just for one-shot adventures in a club setting.

All in all, the game is not sure what it wants to be. The source material talks about heroes and large actions, but the player characters seem to be limited to be small players in the world. This is of course the same problem with all licensed games: playing David in an Old Testament setting is very close to playing Luke Skywalker in a Star Wars roleplaying game. Gaming in the setting could be fun, but I’m not sure how my way of doing it would combine with teaching the Bible to children.

Kuninkaiden aika is an interesting read. I don’t recommend it for anybody to play, but I don’t know any other game in just this setting. It’s more of a cultural historical artifact than a really playable game.