Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An Overview of the Hidden Kingdom Arthurian Role Playing Game

This is the Game I am currently about to begin as soon as I gather a crew to play with. I owned this game once in the mid 80's and somehow lost it. By amazing luck I managed to ferret out the title of it again, which I had forgotten. try finding a game if you don't have any name, designer, game or publisher--wasn't easy. It's pretty rare but someone on Amazon is selling them for a cool $70.99 (that's with S&H)...and for me, it was worth every penny. And no, I am not said seller nor do I have any idea who is.

Essential Elements of Hidden Kingdom

The Game Components

The Game  Rules Book, in a 3 ring Binder. With appendices, it is over 300 pages, but the actual rules are 200 pages long. This shouldn't be daunting though, as it is divided into sections and you need not incorporate all sections into play when you first begin, only the most simple. Also, much of it is familiar ground to people used to gaming. Conversely, for people new to rpgs, I have never seen a better  and more concise description of some of the key concepts.

It also has a two part hexagonal Map of Britain and Ireland, nice character sheets with a front and back including a place for your coat of arms(which is important to the game), a bag of dice with three ten siders in addition to one each of all the other standard polyhedrals (and a d6), and a large glossy fold out sheet that is sort of like a DM's screen--it has nearly everything you need to run a game smoothly with very little reference to the rule books for either players or DM.

The game has a very durable slip cover box which allows you to keep it on a  bookshelf.

How Does One Play?

There is a giant Map of Britain and Ireland, 459 A.D. 

It is divided by numbered hexes, and the hexes are marked for terrain type, major political boundaries, and smaller provinces. Every single town, chapel, monastery, and individual castle of the game world is marked on the Map. Further, a source book tells the name of every King, Queen, Knight and Lady who inhabits every single castle on the Map. There are 300 of these castles and the Lord or Lady of each is playable as a character in the game. 

These are the only characters one can have in the game, and they are all drawn from Classical Arthurian Romantic literature. They are of four sorts,: Chivalrous Christians, Renunciate Christians, Chivalrous Pagans, and Powerlord Pagans. In most cases, the characters world view is already listed but some are open.

The Four Alignments and Character Types

These four character types represent the four alignments of the game, a major focus of play. 

Some of these characters come to the table with alliances, enmities, family, spouses and paramours as well as, in a few cases, special abilities. 

Actual Play

When you have chosen a character, you begin on the map where the book states that your castle is.

The Game Book also has a listing of the number of peasants and militia in each province, as well as its monthly food production and the amount of gold owned by each and every king.

You leave your castle and travel the map to go upon quests. 

These quests can be small and seemingly mundane in nature, such as traveling to another castle to attend a jousting tourney, or some great adventure such as to seek a lost relic.

You could simply be traveling to meet up with the other players if they are your friends or allies so you can all go on an adventure together.

A game begins on a certain day of a certain month and generally each game will encompass the events within a month. 

You can manage your province as well as your individual character by announcing to the Game Guide what you want to do --the GG also has special tables and it possible for various Acts of God to occur in month that could weaken your kingdom/province.

The Game Guide must keep track of a calendar and notes of character actions that will affect them later in the game. There is a Harvest month that increases provincial holdings once per year, trade with other players or non-player Kings and Queens can also increase holdings. Warfare can increase or decrease them, as well.

There are movement rates for the Map that depend on your means of travel and the terrain. Each "empty" hex you enter (no town, chapel, castle or monastery) has a chance of a random encounter. These encounters can be with Men-Types, Faery-Types, Monster-Types, or Special Situations. Encounters can unfold to become quests, end up as role playing encounters, or become dangerous battles ...or all three. 

The Game Book has a long list of Special Situations.

If you enter a castle hex, there is a table for castle reactions to you, modified by any special alliances, family, or enemies your character might start with or incur later in the game. Castle reactions determine whether a castle is hospitable to you, hostile, indifferent or hosting a tournament when you show up.

In a town or castle hex or with merchant encounters in the wilderness, you can trade and buy and sell goods.

Monasteries are like hospitals and if you reach a hex with one in it you can get healing. Certain miracles can also heal, as can all Queen and lady Characters (Just something about a woman's touch...). Certain spiritual beings can also heal characters.

The Four Modes of Play

There are 4 Modes of play, look at each at a degree of magnification of the time and events taking place.

1st Mode is traveling the map and/or taking care of provincial affairs. 

2nd Mode is when an encounter occurs and you get into role playing.

3rd Mode is actual individual combat during an encounter, or sundry options a character can undertake in a town, monastery, chapel, or castle ...hide, search, send message, or negotiate..or supernatural intervention such as the use of magic or petitioning for miracles. 

4th mode is large scale mass combat, tournaments, or the traditional role playing type adventure of a mapped out ruin or dungeon. I should mention that warfare is usually resolved in a  few turns and is largely a matter of writing down one's troop actions secretly, handing them to the person running the battle (the GG or other helping player), and doing a set of detailed math equations when results are compared. If players opt to have their own character go along in the battle, individual battle between them and the provincial or kingdom overlord is computed separately. Outcomes can be being surrounded, routed, victory, or utter defeat. Utter defeat has a simple mechanic--it simply means the losing region pays tribute from then on to the other. If this is too complicated for players tastes, players can simply avoid mass warfare altogether.

These four modes can change as a result of the focus of the players and game guide or by chance through how play unfolds. The game can have any level of complexity or simplicity desired. 

While all role playing games have these modes, very few have such a detailed and comprehensive map with peasant populations and production, as well as castle inhabitants already detailed and pre-built with character dynamics that depend on a players character choice. A great deal of the GM's world building work is already done.

Role Playing and Game Objectives

How you play your character depends on the Alignments we have mentioned, and inded, this, alignment, is a central focus of the game.

The premise of the game setting is that the Pagan Order is still preeminent in the Isles but Arthur has become King of Logres and he is a Christian but rather than seeking to establish Christianity he seeks to unite the Pagans and Christians of the Isles to repel all outer threats. The new order he proposes to achieve this unification is an order based on Chivalry.

Chivalrous Christians and Chivalrous Pagans have accepted the new order and promote it by their behavior actions and goals. 

Renunciate Christians reject this compromise and serve only pure spiritual Christianity.

Powerlord Pagans likewise reject the new order and seek only their own power and advancement in the tradition of the warlord or the Pagan sorceress.

Nothing in these world views dictates that those of opposing alignments are necessarily enemies or must attack or oppose each other. Players of widely divergent alignments can all quest together if desired if there is a logical common end in mind .

There is a Faith Rating, a Power Rating, and a Chivalry rating. 

The first is the only concern of Renunciate Christians, while Powerlord Pagans care only about their Power Rating. Chivalrous Christians and Chivalrous Pagans are concerned with their Chivalry Rating, but Chivalrous Christians must pay some heed to their faith rating as well. 

There is a detailed list of behaviors and actions possible within the game that can give bonuses or penalties to these ratings, depending on character actions. The object of the game is to have the highest rating possible in the score that matters to your characters alignment .

Magic and Miracles

Supernatural intervention can come in the form of Magic or Miracles. 

Only Pagan characters can use magic. 

There are five levels of magical power and a small but well rounded list of spells under each level. Using magic has a percentage chance of being successful, the lower level the spell the greater chance it will work.

However, magic also has a chance to unleash powerful negative forces in a character's life--the chance this will happen, and how serious these effects are, goes up with the level of the magic being used.

If successful, spells are instantaneous and grant such powers as invisibility, flying, immunity to certain effects, and changing one's appearance, as examples. 

Since the Code of chivalry holds that such unfair advantages as magic violate its focus on manly physical prowess and courage, male Chivalrous Pagans who use magic incur penalties against their Chivalry Rating.

Miracles can only be sought by Christians. 

Miracles are healing, protective, restorative and guiding in nature. 

They come as a result of prayer or through encounters with very spiritual beings such as hermits, recluses, or angelic beings. 

Prayers are aided by fasting and being near chapels, and the power of a miracle is more comprehensive the less selfish is its petition.

Game Mechanics

Complex as the game sounds, actual mechanics are very simple.

Here is a sample Knight:

Name: Bertilak

Alignment: Pagan Chivalrous

Kingdom (Province): Gore (Riding)

Blazon: Ver, a battle axe in bend argent (note: heraldic terms defiend in the rules and illustrated).

Born: 10/397

Leadership Bonus: 0

Weight: 204 Swordplay Roll: 11 Offensive Bonus: +3 Defensive Bonus:-2

Unseating Number (Jousting Bonus): 16 (0)

Special Ability: By the word of Queen Morgan Le fay, can become the Great Green Knight for one day per month, whereby he becomes green in color and all wounds taken are healed at the end of the day, even fatal wounds, and none cause him to cease functioning.

And a sample Lady Character:

Name: Queen Morgan Le Fay of Gore

Alignment: Pagan Powerlord

Home Castle: Maidens Castle in Gore

Blazon: per fess Or and azure, in chief a dragon rampant sable and in base a ram's face Or.

Born: 9/395

Weight: 124

Beauty Rating: 7

Family: Husband, king Uriens; Son, Uwayne le Blanchmains; Mother, Dame Igraine; Sisters, Queen Elaine and morgause;Half-brother, king arthur.

Paramour: Accolon and Hemyson.

Enemies: King Arthur

Special Ability: (+30%) Success probability on casting spells.
Special Beginning Equipment: The Drinking horn of Chastity, Morgan's Mantle.

I have picked two examples of the more colorful Characters, but most characters have no special abilities like these do. But nor do they have the enemies or weaknesses of these two! Note that Bertilak has a no Leadership Bonus. This is a weakness--some Knights have no special powers but have a better Swordplay Roll, a Leadership Bonus, Weigh more, etc. 

All Women have a base Swordplay Roll of 17, but they also have an attribute that male characters do not have, a Beauty rating, which can be used to compel characters (players and non player characters) to grant requests to them or gain service!

How simple is the combat mechanic in this game? 

The Sword Play Roll is a character's base chance to hit with a d20, modified by the size of the weapon they are using, larger weapons being harder to wield but doing more damage.

Weight is the equivalent of Hit Points. 

Armor is handled uniquely--there is a hit location chart and if you are not wearing armor, there is an add on to your damage.

Character Sheet-Front

Character Sheet-Back

Very Customized Game Possibilities

There are many ways Hidden Kingdom can be played.

It is designed to be played without miniatures but it can adopt miniatures as well, and there is actually potential for a strong war gaming element if one desires.

It can be run like a traditional role playing game (4th Mode) and each person can become the game guide once they design a maze, dungeon, Ruin or what have you. 

The Kingdom and provincial building aspects (trade, politics, etc) can be played to a degree desired or largely ignored.

If politics becomes a focus (beyond alignment), the depth and degree of it will depend on the gaming group's grasp of such matters as little historical material is given, though a wide bibliography is recommended and can only improve play.

If one wishes, players can oppose each other and work against each other to varying degrees, not only against non-player characters

There is very ample opportunity for role playing and the social factor for the game is high. 

While a group should be small until the rules are mastered, there is no reason why a very large number (10-12 players) could not be involved once there are people present who are able to help fellow players resolve their turns, such as undertake combats, while the GG is conducting the rest of the game . 

House rules could be introduced, such as making Stonehenge give power to Pagan Characters the way Chapels give power to Christians. 

There may also be a way to make the Alignment Ratings more relevant to actual play in the game (like increasing chances in miracles and encounters), since as is they are really just a score.

I don't want to mess with the rules for awhile though.

I intend to keep a tally of my players ratings while they play and the player with the highest score becomes Lord or Lady of the Chalice, a special drinking cup they hold while occupying the position.

L.O.t.C. will have certain very limited but significant veto and decision making powers during the game, such as what Mode to close a session out with (this can affect someone's character if they don't want a lot of time to pass I the game world before the next adventure) and other things.

Each player could also bring some small tribute (a candy bar or the like) and whoever gets L.O.t.C. gets the loot at the end. There are other things one could do to make for a unique game, such as the use of props, themed music, or watching the occasional film and feasting and making merry instead of paying the game.

Or, you could just play the game without such nonsense.

In short, if you come to the table looking specifically for what you get out of D&D or even ballpark, you will likely not find Hidden Kingdom to your taste at all as the flavor could not be more different.

But if you like Arthurian style games, and a different kind of feel and tension in the game from the unique alignment system and the ever changing 4 modes of play, you will greatly enjoy it! The artwork form the game is beautiful and interspersed with a  lot of quotes from authors of Arthurian literature.

In closing, I propose that the core engine of the game could be adapted to any sort of role playing game. A Middle Earth campaign would be very interesting using these rules, although it would require a great deal of work. For now, though, I am excited about running the game as is!

One of Paula Lamb's many fine Illustrations from Hidden Kingdom


Note: For additional review, visit here:

Hidden Kingdom


  1. I've been following this discussion on the OD&D forum and thoroughly enjoying the glimpse into this rare game. Thanks for the insights JB.

    1. I appreciate your comments. As I am trying to get the game in print again I would appreciate any reviews, comments, information or comments. Hope to do some supplements and support material. OD&D Forum? You can find us on Facebook at Fun Quest Games.

  2. Thanks Austro. I plan on using my camera to get some images and maybe scanning a few pages. I will write a better review after I have played it for awhile. Honestly, the core mechanic would work for any rpg or setting if one took the time to create the Map. A game of Middle earth based on this system would be tremendous, though the work involved would be staggering! Going through and statting out every single mentioned character, the hexing of the Maps, placing of castles towns and villages--wow!

  3. This is fascinating. I've never heard of this game before. Although I'm a Pendragon fanboy to the core, there look to be some eminently steal-able ideas here (I particularly like the "hexcrawl" system and the various encounter/reaction tables).

    Any chance of getting the map scanned in? I've been considering creating my own customized poster map for my Pendragon campaign and I'd love to have some material to steal, er, find inspiration in.

  4. Sirlarkins--I am in fact preparing to do something along the lines of this request and I will send you an e-mail as soon as I have it done.

  5. P.S. I read your Pendragon fiction--are you the author? If so, you need to be getting published because I only wish I could write such prose.

  6. Looking forward to the scans!

    Thanks for your kind words, too. I am indeed the author of the recaps. As a writer of non-fiction I do have some words in print, but I haven't made a stab at fiction yet. On the list, as they say...

    In the meantime, I've played around with the idea of, once we wrap up the campaign, putting all the recaps together in a PDF and offering it as a free download.

  7. I bought the game in the 80s and still have my copy. However, unlike the author of this article, I detest the game. I found the writing to be pretentious and confusing. The author (of the rpg) made changes to standard rpg idioms for no reason than to make changes. The lack of ability to create your own character I also found annoying. It is in the top 2 of my least favorite rpg games...and I can't remember what the other one is. I keep it so I can look at it to remind me of what not to do when writing an rpg.

    However, the map is superb.

  8. I appreciate the feedback, Callin. Having had the game for a couple of weeks now, I feel the same about the game--I like it a lot. That said, I am doubtful that I will find many people in the gaming circles I hang with who will be real eager to play it...if they even would. It's a very different game, but I feel it a success in many respects. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. I was one of the designers of the game. There is a lot of back story as how and why it was designed. It is a great game on some levels with weaknesses in others. I take a lot of pride in it and hope to some day to put out another or an updated edition.

    Gene Riemenschneider (Check the Credits)

  10. I am getting ready to do another printing and will be launching a kickstarter campaign very soon. The company putting it out will be Fun Quest Games. I would appreciate a like there if you are interested. I am also open to sharing some of the back story on the game. I plan to put supplements out and make the game more playable. Any comments or feedback would be appreciated, even the negative.

    1. Gene; thank you so much for your comments. Hidden Kingdom is a truly remarkable game and definitely deserves a rebirth! I would be honoured to help promote the kickstart and to assist you in anyway that I can with this blog, which needs some rebirth itself! If you would be interested in being interviewed by e-mail about Hidden Kingdom and having your comments posted here I stand ready. Thanks for stopping by! And please keep me posted. Justin

  11. JB I just saw your post here. We just relaunched on Kickstarter again. This time we are 75% funded after 3 days. I would love to do an interview. You can e-mail me directly at

  12. Gene, thank you. I will most definitely prepare an e-mail interview and also solicit any comments or information you wish to share as well as feature the kickstarter and the game itself. I am very busy this week so it may be a few but I look forward to it.