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Welcome to the Summit of Kings, a Salute to Rap

For the People

With the Summit of Kings coming out tomorrow… What exactly is it? And how is it a salute to rap? Well, let me explain.

If you weren’t aware yet, Summit of Kings comes out tomorrow, February 18th! And with it, I introduce a dual taste of Swordsfall lore and RPG mechanics. Something of which I know a lot of people have been wondering what it looks like on the RPG front. This is my way of doing that and showing off a bit of what of how I do design. First though, a story. A story about the origins of the Summit of Kings.

The One Page RPG That Never Was

I like to lurk around Twitter and see what other designers and peers are doing. I don’t always comment, but I see. I’m always trying to be mindful of influence on my work but I always love to see new ideas. It usually inspires me to add or tweak something in Swordsfall.

Well last year DungeonCommandr released Plot Armor. A cool one page RPG about mechs and emotions. I don’t normally do one page RPG’s as I like a little bit more crunch. But I was curious about and I wanted to see DC’s work. So I buy it off of Itch.io and give a read.

It was basically like people said it was, it was light and fast but had all sorts of cool ideas to do. I liked it. It stuck in my head and I kept telling myself,

“I’ll try my hand at an overnight one page one day.”

Ella King by Queen Beanie

Then one November night I was in a strange mood. The Swordsfall artists were beginning to go on holiday break, and Thanksgiving had social media slow. I wanted to do something Swordsfall related but I needed something fresh to get some mojo.

I realized, tonight was the night to try my hand at it. So I buy a few more small RPG’s like Mothership to give me another view of it. Then I started writing. 30 minutes later I realized, I had a problem.

I was on page two.

Shit.

So I start looking back to see what I can trim. Nothing. Not a thing I wanted trim. I had this fun idea for a sort of NBA All-Star contest but with Jalen’s, the rapping bards of Swordsfall. I had IDEAS now, and they were not going to be contained to one page.

And so, 30 minutes in, the one page RPG died. (Sorry DC. I tried, you’re a BAMF) In its place, however, the Summit of Kings was born.

The X Annual Summit of Kings

I have no idea how many previous Summit of Kings there was. I’ll get that out the way. If I really have to, I’ll give a random number. But I was less interested in how many previous ones there was as much as the idea of the current one.

Growing up as a black kid in the 90’s, you naturally were introduced into rap, hip and hop and all its grandness. While everyone has there own thoughts on the genre, it was always powerful for me. I didn’t always understand the subtext but I felt empowered to go out and do things. I’d hear lyrics and bars that spoke to me in a way nothing else had.

Reggie Savage. Jalen of the Summit of Kings
Reggie Savage by Joshua Small

Fast forward to modern times and I feel a certain way with how Rap is treated from the outside. Especially in entertainment. There is always this low key villainization even as rappers turned actors are showing just how GOOD they are.

The Jalen profession was always my way of bringing out the best parts and codifying it in an RPG. I wanted to show the history of African bards through Griots and what I consider modern bards, rappers, as Jalen.

Summit of Kings lets me showcase them specifically in a way that won’t get lost amongst physical classes and fireballs. The best part is I didn’t even have to make a new game. Why? Cause the core loop of the Swordsfall RPG has been done for quite some time now.

A Slice of Swordsfall RPG

Swordsfall has always been about the world first. The lore and RPG and such are ways to show off that world. When I started writing Swordsfall I also worked bit by bit on the RPG as well. But I decided I wanted the world to push forth the RPG and not the other way around.

That means the system you play in Summit of Kings IS the Swordsfall RPG system. A slick of it, but you are playing the system. The core dice system, the way it flows and character creation is all straight from the RPG. For one that means you get to try out the game and I get to beta test but in a fun way.

Summit of Kings revolves around the tournament of the same name. It’s a fighting tournament but with words instead of fists. To me, it was a way to capture that epic feeling of a rap battle in a tabletop RPG. I changed everyone’s Life to Pride, to show that you weren’t doing physical damage, just mental damage.

I’d like to think that if this was an anime, this would be your side story. Your “Beach Episode” if you will. There’s fun to be had. And there’s an adventure in that. While I’m not against battle and such, I also wanted to explore other types of conflict. I had this image of two Jalens trading barbs back and forth with this huge crowd around. Watching the two like it was the Superbowl. Except those people are you. Or maybe you ARE watching and the adventure is in the nightlife after each night of the tournament.

Welcome to Tikor Test

There was also another benefit to doing Summit of Kings. It served as practice for Welcome to Tikor. It always made me nervous to have such an important book be the first one we laid out. Summit of Kings is considerably smaller, but I wanted to put the same effort into it. Come up with a style that is readable, but also FUN. I don’t mind the layout of some books, but I’m ready for more color. More fun. A sexy read.

Interior Layout for Summit of Kings. Design by Owen St. Gelais

Summit of Kings let me throw out some ideas and see what you layout designer Owen. St. Gelais could do, and I think they absolutely SMASHED it. I couldn’t be happier with the layout of this book. He really hit the background color, style color, and overall layout. It’s exactly what I want for Welcome to Tikor. Not a copy mind you, but in spirit.

I also think we worked out a pretty sweet template going forward. It’s something I’m sure we’ll keep banging on it as well. With stuff like this, I’m realizing how much of the work is front-loaded at the very beginning. There’s a lot of set up work, but once you get that out the way, it’s a nice clear road if you set it up right.

To fill out the book there’s a number of art pieces that you’ll see in Welcome to Tikor as well. One page, in particular, gives a hint at how we’ll be laying out Welcome to Tikor. There will be more info of course, but I want to show how we’ll be matching text to art. I’ll let you check out the book for that page. But you can’t miss it.

What do you need for the Summit of Kings?

Lastly, the gritty details. Summit of Kings is a 2 to 4 player adventure. That’s not a hard rule either. You could do it solo, though the system isn’t really specifically built for it. And you can definitely do more than 4 people, but like with most RPG’s it increases the time you’ll be playing.

As for dice the Swordsfall Cinematic System (pending name, I kinda like it), you’ll be using d6, d8, and d12. Those are the main ones so you’ll need 2 to 3 of each. Character sheets are included. FOUR of them in fact. Fillable and printable in both black and white variants! One of the few things I’m really picky about as a player is my character sheet. I like all my stuff in one place.

And that’s what Joshua Mendenhall did! He came in and made a KILLER character sheet. One with borders so good that we re-incorporated them into the Summit of Kings book layout. Just like the book itself, the character sheet is a look at what we’ll be doing later on for the RPG. Josh did a really good job of giving each section room to breath, but also fit in all the info on one page.

The sheet is shorter than the one we’ll be using for the full game, but I expect the general layout, design and look and stay the same. Another template set!

Character Sheet for Summit of Kings. Design by Joshua Mendenhall

The Wrap

To wrap it up, Summit of Kings started as a one-page, one-night project and ended up being a great introduction into Swordsfall. I’m really pleased at how it all came out. The layout is gorgeous and we establish a lot of baselines for Welcome to Tikor. Which is going to make for an even killer(er er) book. It was nice to get the bumps out the way on a smaller project, but also have it count toward the bigger one.

Consider this a taste of the RPG. If you ever have that feeling of, “Seems more here,” while playing it, that’s because there is! Hopefully, you like it and are ready for more. But even besides that, Summit of Kings stands strong on its own and I think players will find a surprisingly deep game in a small package.

I’m also looking forward to seeing all the lyrics people come up with.

-B

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Swordsfall

Creator and Author of Swordsfall. He's a longtime omni-nerd who grew up during the classic days of Toonami, TechTV, and Transformers. However, as a black man in the hobby, he found himself longing for more stories that told the adventures of people that looked like him. Creating Swordsfall has not only been an effort to be the change he wanted to see but also as his own personal journey.

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