Friday, August 15, 2014

Twelve Kingly Archetypes

If a campaign goes on long enough, with PC's gaining more and more power, wealth and ability, there's a good chance they'll eventually deal with a king (or queen). But what kind of king? Oh, it could just be a very basic monarch type who hands out a quest in exchange for money or some other royal favor. If the focus is the dungeon, the king doesn't need to be particularly interesting.

On the other hand, you could leverage the amazing potential kings offer for role playing and campaign play. A monarch can become a very important NPC in a game, hindering and helping the PC's in a wide variety of ways. A helpful king might have a much less helpful rival in the wings, making him a resource to be protected and making his protectors targets for that rival and his faction. On the other hand, a cruel king might have a more worthy successor somewhere around whom the referee can build a campaign of regime change and revolution. So many possibilities, but only if you put a little time and effort into creating a king worthy of a campaign.

So - today we look at twelve archetypes that you can use in your campaign. Later, I'll try to do the same for queens later, though clearly these archetypes are as applicable to females and males.

God be praised!


The heroic king is a fixture of mythology and folklore. King Arthur is a good example, a storied monarch that founds a nation, protects it, and, after death, is expected to return to usher in a new golden age. In a campaign, you might use the Hero-King when he is a young man, still founding his kingdom, or when he is an old man, largely inactive as an adventurer but commanding a renowned band of knights. Of course, a young adventuring king does present one problem - why is he sending the adventurers on a quest when he might do it himself. Well, even hero-kings have paperwork.

A hero-king is almost certainly going to have levels (at least 9) in a PC class, with fighter, paladin and barbarian being likely candidates.

Warrior kings at play


Warrior kings aren't uncommon in history. After all, it takes a fair bit of war to establish and maintain a kingdom in a medieval or ancient milieu. Famous warrior-kings include Richard I of England (the Lionheart), his rival Saladin (or Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb to be more precise), Agamemnon, Henry V of England, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, Napoleon of France, Genghis Khan and William the Conquerer. All of these men were known for personally leading their followers into battle, and that's the key to a warrior-king - they actually fight. They may be great strategists and tacticians, or they may just be brave men who like to wade into melee. In either case, they will tend to be resolute and decisive when dealing with adventurers, and they will always be very goal-oriented. Their own past success in battle will tend to make them less accepting of failure on the part of others.

Warrior-kings might be simple aristocrats in armor, but they are more likely to have levels (at least 5 to 6) in fighter or another warrior class.

Bring on the girls!


No man better represents this archetype than Henry VIII of England. The young Henry, for sure, but especially the older, fatter Henry. Lusty kings are all about indulging their passions. They are headstrong, stubborn and do not deal well with being told "no". Lusty kings are selfish and egotistical, and quests for them may very well be about settling scores and seizing prizes on their behalf. Fail a lusty king and ... well, just ask Henry's wives how that works out (if you have access to a speak with dead spell).

Lusty kings may very well be simple aristocrats with massive egos. If you were to give then class levels, consider barbarian - an enraged lusty king throwing a temper tantrum would be all the more dangerous and entertaining if they have a few levels of barbarian to draw on.

Squeeze every last drop out of those insolent ... musical ... peasants.


Prince, and later King, John, the brother of the Lionheart, has come down to us through the pen of Shakespeare, as a weakling intent on tyranny. Ustinov made him a sniveling moron in Disney's version of the Robin Hood tale. The real story is a bit different, though to be fair, he did attempt a coup d'etat while Richard was on the 3rd crusade. Still, he proved an able administrator, if not a brilliant leader during war. John represents the politician king - not powerful or popular enough to have his way, he must bargain and triangulate. He is a master of political, if not military, strategy.

Politician kings can rarely be trusted. They are out for number one, and they are willing to get where they want to be though almost any means (or any means, if they are evil) necessary. They are also patient, and understand that to get what they want, they must make a bargain. Adventurers will be fairly paid for their service, but when they become a liability, they're dropped like a hot potato.

Politician kings are probably just aristocrats with no, or few, class levels. They probably have higher than normal intelligence, wisdom and charisma scores, for without them they would be poor politicians indeed.

Yeah, he's every bit as big a d-bag as he looks


When Europe's monarchs found themselves in control of nation states, the old relationship between the royal court and the royal subjects changed. With large, standing armies at their disposal, the old parliaments of Europe fell by the wayside, leaving the power of the king virtually unchecked.

Tyrant-kings, like King Louis XIV, believe they are and must be supreme over all their subjects. There is no possibility of power-sharing, in political terms, and more importantly, there can be no intimation that they are not perfect human specimens. They are, after all, placed on their throne by the will of God, and God would not put an inferior man upon the throne.

Tyrant-kings are no picnic, and adventurers, who represent not only an independent streak but also a potentially competing power center, must almost certainly run afoul of them. Even tyrant-kings who are not egomaniacs must behave that way in their dealings with others to preserve the edifice of the absolute monarchy and stave off rebellion. Tyrant-kings will go to any length to maintain their hold on power, so assume they are at least mildly evil in alignment. Their lack of respect for man-made laws would tend to rule out the lawful alignment - neutral, chaotic neutral, neutral evil and chaotic evil are probably the most likely alignments for tyrant-kings.

Caligula - not the most "safe-for-work" Google search you can do


While Ludwig of Bavaria (Mad King Ludqig) might be the most famous of the mad kings (which is unfortunate, because later evidence suggests he was not insane and that this was merely an accusation made by his ministers to reign in his spending), there have been many over the centuries. Caligula, Charles VI of France (Charles the Mad), Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (the Mad Caliph), and Tsar Ivan IV of Russia (Ivan the Terrible) - all lacking in the whole sanity thing.

Mad kings are unpredictable, which means they can be the adventurers' best friends one moment, and their worst enemies the next. This makes them tricky patrons, but terribly useful to game masters, as they can generate all sorts of fodder for the campaign. Maybe the best way to model a mad monarch is to randomly determine their alignment whenever the adventurers meet them, or maybe begin with a good alignment of some sort, and then begin making some sort of insanity check for the monarch each month. Maybe their alignment changes a bit, maybe it stays the same. If it does change, only change it one step. As time progresses, make those checks once a week, and allow more severe alignment changes. Eventually, the king will be checking each day, with alignments being almost random - though never Lawful.

The Wisdom of Solomon


Solomon is a by-word for Wisdom - just ask Billy Batson. He is the perfect model not only for a wise king, but for the magical king, for Solomon was by all accounts a magician. He could control devils and genies and the like, and raise palaces in a day and even convince that super-fine Queen of Sheba to drop by for a visit.

A magical king is probably a magic-user rather than a cleric. Solomon was interesting in the stories because his great magical power eventually turned him against his patron, God, and led to his downfall. Fantasy game campaigns are better served by a story arc of this sort than by just sticking a 20th level magic-user on a throne and having him send the adventurers on quests he could probably better perform himself.

The Queen's okay, but the king ... not so much


Not every king is strong and resolute. Many weak kings - either weak physically, mentally (but not to the point of madness - see above) or morally - have sat on thrones, at least for a while. Boy kings, kings henpecked by their more willful queens, and kings controlled by their advisers are included in this category, as are kings who would be better off if they were being controlled. The depiction of Phillip III of Spain in The Adventures of Don Juan is a great model for this sort of king.

When there is no leadership on the throne, a kingdom soon falls into chaos. What a wonderful place for adventurers to play. The value of a weak king on a throne is probably that his kingdom is embroiled in revolution, rivalry and brigandry - the perfect spot for a brave band of plunderers to work. Those adventurers might also be cast into the role of protecting the kingdom as it disintegrates, hoping to keep it in one piece until a new king can take the throne.

Marcus doing his impression of a Jack Kirby character - Image found HERE


Marcus Aurelius has come down in history as a philosopher king, the real-life embodiment of Plato's philosopher kings that ruled over his perfect society. Setting aside how well academics do when put into positions of power, the ideal philosopher is wise, logical and calm - an able administrator and a preserver of justice.


Well, not necessarily. A philosopher-king might rule over a civilized, peaceful land, but in a fantasy world, that peaceful land may have chaos lapping at its shores. Where there is chaos, there is something for adventurers to do - and in the case of a kingdom ruled by a philosopher-king, a safe place to return to when they are done.

As a patron, a philosopher-king is going to be trustworthy and even-handed. Adventurers will have to watch what mischief they get into, as he might not be inclined to tolerate trouble in his kingdom, even by useful allies. Philosopher-kings are probably lawful good or lawful neutral, since they rule within the law rather than above it, and since they generally show an interest in the well-being of their subjects.

Not the nicest fellow in town


While the tyrant-king is willing to do evil to maintain his power, and the mad king might well do evil because he has little control over himself, the villain-king is just out and out evil. Villain-kings are needlessly cruel - they hurt people because they enjoy it. They are treacherous and murderous and in all ways not fit company for paladins. Attila the Hun got the reputation for being a villain-king, and Claudius, slayer of Hamlet's dad, could also fit the bill.

If a villain-king is the patron of a band of adventurers, they can at least take solace in the knowledge that there is nothing they can do that will offend him morally or ethically. On the other hand, the man is not to be trusted, especially if the adventurers seem to challenge his authority in any way shape or form. Because villain-kings are so cruel and despicable, their lives are constantly being threatened. In a fantasy game, it's likely they'll need class levels (and extra hit points) just to keep them alive.
Not only saintly, but apparently huge - looks like he's winking in this shot - "Say no more, nudge nudge, wink wink"


In the real world, a sainted king often received his sainthood for primarily political purposes. Everyone knows that two of Saint Louis' miracles were card tricks, after all (yeah, I ripped off Father Guido Sarducci). Sainted kings include St Louis of France, St Edward the Confessor, St Alfred the Great, St Stephen I of Hungary and St Charlemagne of France.

In a fantasy world, of course, a sainted king can really be a saint, or at least a trusted ally of the higher (or lower) powers. The saint-king might be a cleric or druid, but they might also simply possess great spiritual powers, a la a demigod in Deities and Demigods or a saint in "Setting Saintly Standards" (Dragon Magazine, Nov 1983).

Assuming the saint-king is lawful good in alignment, he can be a powerful ally and a powerful enemy of a band of adventurers. He's good, so when they're serving him they have access to his powers. But when adventurers start acting like, well, adventurers, they may find themselves in a sticky situation.

I bid you ... welcome


Vlad Tepes. Enough said. Okay - he was only a count, and in reality he was just a homicidal maniac (at least, from what I gather), but in a fantasy milieu we know that he became a vampire.

A monster-king is literally that - some creature taken from the pages of a monster book and sat upon a throne. In NOD, I have a gynosphinx ruling the pseudo-Egyptian city-state of Ibis, and in the Ende hexcrawls I'm finishing up, four rival city-states are ruled by nagas.

The monster king probably exhibits some aspects of the other archetypes provided here, and those should be referenced based on the monster's alignment and inclinations. They make obvious foes for a band of adventurers, of course - turning the royal palace into an above-ground dungeon for a group powerful enough to challenge the legal ruler of a kingdom.

Hopefully these archetypes will aid you in creating some memorable monarchs to help and hinder the adventurers in your game.


  1. “Adventurers will have to watch what mischief they get into, as [the Philosopher King] might not be inclined to tolerate trouble in his kingdom, even by useful allies."
    Tenderblades, just leave now.

  2. My favorite D&D King: Emperor Thincol. Slave turned gladiator turned militant turned Romeo turned emperor. And a total badass.

    Being Thincol (you can't role play someone as badass as Thincol. You have to BE the Thincol) gives you license to scare the PCs in a way a balrog can't hope to compete with.


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