I don't get to run or play much these days, but Spellbound Kingdoms is one of those fun, exciting, yet familiar systems that makes me want to badger my friends into playing. I've read it multiple times and each time I come up with new ideas as to how to use its systems and setting. A campaign against one of the monstrous kings of the Kingdoms almost writes itself, while the various player options let a party tackle the idea in so many ways that it doesn't feel like it'd ever grow stale. Want to be the tiny band of outlaws striking down the corrupt king in his throne room? Do it. Leaders of a mystical order of revolutionaries out to change the world in the name of their prophesied savior? Go for it. Powerful lords, generals, and high priests starting a civil war to claim it all for themselves? Heck yes. Mad inventors ready to blow up the realm if you can't have it? Please, let me run this game for you.
This book is one of the more imaginative takes on the whole... vaguely medieval European, dark lords and adventurers, fighters and wizards Thing that I've seen. So low a bar to clear that someone buried it six feet under, yeah? SK pole-vaults over that bar as the creator, Frank Brunner, was clearly having a ridiculous amount of fun writing the game and wants everyone to have at least as much fun playing (and even running!) it. Plus, Brunner's mechanics are just plain clever. My biggest issue is that the book could have used another editing pass to clarify a few spots, but as a rule the game is very straightforward with plenty of wiggle room for exciting nonsense.
The core resolution mechanic comes down to rolling a (small) dice pool to look for successes, though the dice can vary in size across the pool. It's not all d6s or d10s. They can also explode up to a higher die type (d6 to d8), or be reduced to a lower one by confounding factors (d6 to d4). It's hardly a new way to handle dice in a game, but Brunner sticks with it clean through the system rather than indulge in a bunch of unique subsystems. It makes it simple to tie all the different game elements together as it covers social combat, running organizations, waging war, waging shadow wars, chase scenes, and more. You could, say, roll the Force score of your organization to try to intimidate someone if you don't have a relevant skill ("You know who I work for, right?"), or divert some military forces to a raid against your foe in a shadow war ("Whoops, someone must have told the watch about your smuggling operation. Oh dear, who could it be."), or run one PC's chase scene clear through another PC's social scene to create a distraction for a third PC to take advantage of to steal something. And it's all just, "Okay, roll this stat. That skill? Sure, go ahead. Yeah, the distraction lets you use that other skill as well. Target number of 4." It's clean and direct.
This isn't even getting into the more "narrative" style rules the game runs with, as things like Inspirations and Mood are important to every character. These aren't just vague motivational statements that occasionally provide a bonus point, these are central mechanics to each character with meaningful scores and that can be attacked. Your Mood is important to keep up as it is a health bar that can be attacked socially or soak physical damage for you as your heroic spirit keeps you going, or spent to improve your rolls. Yes, this means you can insult-swordfight your way through a fight.
As for Inspirations, well, let me quote The Princess Bride: "Even death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while." These are actual game mechanics.
I could go on. And on. And on. I already have a fair bit, though. So, to summarize... I've read this game clean through twice and am considering a third read just for the fun of it, and to see what other new ideas start bouncing around in my head.
[5 of 5 Stars!]