Game Reviews Games (not MMOs) 4 Comments

Kingdom of Loathing: the turn-based RPG that I love too much

If you look at my Raptr or Steam stats it looks like I haven’t been playing any games recently. In actual fact, I have been playing hours and hours and hours of a game but it just happens to be the untracked browser-based Kingdom of Loathing.

2013-05-14 02_00_30-The Kingdom of Loathing KoL has been around for just over 10 years, and probably most gamer enthusiasts have poked at it at least once by now. But for the uninitiated, KoL is a RPG that is infamous for combining clever, sassy writing and extremely deep gameplay. Each day players get a limited number of turns to play, although that number can be increased through consumables. There are very few graphics in KoL, and those that do exist are all done in a minimal black-on-white style. (That stick figure over to the left is probably one of the more in-depth graphical moments, it being my character Laplume in a goblin costume. Obvs.)

KoL has many of the familiar trappings of RPGs, although mostly with delightfully silly names. There are classes (like Accordion Thief and Seal Clubber), a myriad of main and secondary stats, gear drops, familiars, consumables, and quests. On a micro scale, the goal of KoL is to level up your character from 1 to 13 or so, beat the final big boss (the Naughty Sorceress), and then sacrifice yourself for the good of the world. Yes, that’s right: you die.

Or at least that incarnation does. Unlike most RPGs, character development in KoL mostly comes from repeatedly leveling up (and then dying). The run from level 1 to death is known as an ascension, and as ascensions stack up you will accumulate special skills and gear and familiars and just know-how that will make your character more powerful even at level 1.

2013-05-14 02_00_06-The Kingdom of Loathing

An example of my wardrobe

Running the level 1-13 quests over and over again, even if you change your class around, sounds a little dull right? Oh hell no. For each ascension you can pick a number of different variables to shake things up. Try choosing a different difficulty, and pick one of a number of special ascension “paths” like oxycore (no extra turns from food or booze), or Bad Moon (limited familiar options and unlucky adventures), or Zombie (be a zombie with special skills but no access to stores and stuff because, um, you’re a zombie). Currently, new paths are added about every 3 months.

One of the neatest things about KoL is the flexibility in content. You can farm for rare items, you can play the notoriously unstable marketplace, you can work on collections and trophies, you can take on the clan (guild) raid dungeons. If you hate spare time and love numbers, you can focus on speed ascensions and nerd out over math and strategy to come up with the most optimal way to go from start to ascension with your particular set of skills and familiars. Try to hit a new personal best in either days or turns spent!

The strategy rabbit hole goes extremely deep if you like that sort of thing, and boy do I. I started playing KoL in 2009, and I usually can play it for about 3 months before I have to stop because all my friends have forgotten who I am and my dishes have become a sentient life form. (It is entirely possible to play the game without obsessing over turns, but just not something I’m good at.)

Although there aren’t any synchronous multiplayer activities, there are plenty of asynchronous interactions and global chat channels. Clan raids require group participation but are organized by turns (“you open X gate later, then in a few days I’ll go kill Y and send you half the loot”), which is nice for people with limited playtime.

KoL is a game that benefits from research. If you want to play, I advise checking out the wiki. The game is free, and if you play now or in the future say hey to Laplume.

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  • Reply
    May 16, 2013 at 4:29 am

    This post inspired me to log on to KoL for the first time in about 2 years.

    As a result, I remembered that (a) I still have a Level 9 Pastamancer trying to complete his first ascension, and (b) it really is an awesome little game!

  • Reply
    Green Armadillo
    May 19, 2013 at 4:06 am

    I was big into KOL a surprisingly long number of years ago – 70 ascensions between 2005-2007, not counting an even older account that was deleted for inactivity, and the occasional visits back since.

    Two things turned me off on the game. First, in the old days almost all quests consisted of nothing further than going to an area, farming up the required drops, and then combining them somehow (paste, etc). As they have revamped content, they have made the game objectively better for someone playing for the first time… but I find that I’m less enthusiastic to repeat quests where I already know the answer but will need out of game pencil and paper to remember my progress.

    The bigger issue was the time factor. I actually went Hardcore Oxy in large part because this limited my turn generation and thus the amount of time I needed to dedicate each day to burning use-or-lose adventures. (According to the stats page, I had 27 Hardcore Oxy runs pre-NS11, one of only 28 players in the game to do that many.) I was routinely generating 100 adventures per day, with a rollover cap of 200, just as the new content meant that each adventure was going to take more of my time to use. You describe the real world impact in humorous terms, but I really did not like what this aspect of the game did to my daily life in the real world, and I would be reluctant to return fulltime over this point.
    Green Armadillo´s last post: Rift Goes Pay-For-Others

    • Reply
      Jessica Cook
      May 20, 2013 at 10:34 am

      Perfectly understandable. One can reduce the amount of planning and pen-and-papering by using something like KOL Mafia (I do so love mods) but I find planning for a HC run will expand to take up as much time as I allow.. one could potentially plan endlessly for 30 minutes of actual turns.

      That’s exactly why I wander in and out of the game every few years. I find HC runs (speed or 100% familiar or whatever) amazingly fun, possibly a little too much so.

      Also, mad respect for being old school. :)

  • Reply
    Green Armadillo
    May 20, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    One of the great mixed blessings of KOL (at least in my day) was a relative unwillingness to balance the game around the relatively extreme minority. If the devs thought it was fun, in it went.

    For example:
    Having specific days in the Kingdom’s complicated dual lunar cycle that offer up a +50% bonus to a specific substat gain is something they thought was a fun bonus, and it probably is to most of the playerbase. If you’re actually serious about min-maxing your turn-count/day-count, though, you need to be planning around these things (i.e. make sure you have the max 200 adventures banked, plus a full pantry of food and drink for the next day), which (by design) don’t happen on the same real world day of the week each week and (not by design) could be very laggy and painful times to be trying to play because of how many people are trying to spend 300+ turns on said days.

    It’s not necessarily a bad design, but it was actually a bigger impact on my schedule than raiding in WoW – WoW raids at least happened on the same day each week, and if I was busy at that time there’s zero temptation to try and fit it in earlier or later in the day because the set time was when my guild did their raid. Maybe I’d handle it better nowadays – dailies were also very new to the genre back then, made me feel some of the same pressure that I “had” to do them every day for fear of losing progress, and I’ve gotten over that.

    Certainly it also would have helped if they had added the seasonal paths in my day for variety – once you’ve HC permed 70+ skills it’s kind of hard to sell yourself on going back to zero in Bad Moon, even if the new jokes are funny. Then again, perhaps I’ve been there and beaten that enough times. The above comments may sound more negative than I intend, and I wouldn’t say that I regret my time in the game, I’m just not in any real hurry to go revisit it.
    Green Armadillo´s last post: Rift Goes Pay-For-Others

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