Sometimes I’m at the computer doing D&D prep work, and I want to take a quick break. Nerd that I am, I’ve often found myself playing a game or two of the Chess Titans program that came with Windows 7. I’m happy that I generally win when I play on level 3; I’m sad to know that it’s level 3 out of TEN. Yeah, I’m not a chess master.
Anyway, lots of role playing gamers are familiar with chess, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had fantasy RPG thoughts about the game. I was recently thinking about the rule in chess that allows you to promote a pawn to any other piece in the game if it reaches the far side of the board. I had two main thoughts about this:
1. You’re pretty much always picking a queen. I mean sure, there might be a corner case where you want a knight, but a queen can do everything that a bishop or rook can do, only better.
2. You can’t pick another king.
That second point got me thinking about D&D. What would happen if you had a second king? Would your opponent have to kill both of them in order to win? That was a fun idea, but it’s still going to be better to opt for offense (a queen) over defense (a second king). So, even if it were an option, it would hardly ever be taken.
The concept of having a back-up king intrigued me, though. The main thing that this would allow you to do would be to sacrifice a king. You never get to do that in normal chess, of course. It would be interesting if you could.
This eventually led me to think about Lich Chess. In this rules variant, each player’s king is a lich, which can’t truly die unless its phylactery is also destroyed. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Order of the Stick or something. Once I started thinking along these lines, I thought of several variants you could try.
Lich Chess variant 1: Secret phylactery, vulnerable lich. Before the game, each player secretly designates one piece as the phylactery bearer (probably easier to do in a virtual chess game, but you could perhaps outfit each piece with a sticker on the bottom that you could mark on to show which one is the lich each game – or just write it down on a piece of paper). If the phylactery bearer is captured, the information is revealed and the king has no backup plan any more. If the king is captured but the phylactery bearer is not, the game continues until one side’s king and phylactery bearer are both captured. Either the king or the phylactery bearer can be captured first.
Lich Chess variant 2: Secret phylactery, indestructible lich. As with variant 1, except that the king is invulnerable until the phylactery bearer has been captured. Now the king goes on offense – not even the opposing queen can take him down!
Lich Chess variant 3/4: Revealed phylactery, vulnerable/indestructible lich. A visible token marks the phylactery (I’m picturing a little ring to put around a piece). Any piece can hold the phylactery at the beginning of the game. On your turn, either before or after you move, you may move the phylactery from the current bearer to any adjacent piece (including the king itself if you wish). Pass the phylactery! This can be done with the “either piece can be destroyed first” variant or the “indestructible lich” variant, where the phylactery has to be captured first.
Lich Chess alternate rule 1: Limited bearers. Designate only certain pieces as being eligible to bear the phylactery (whether secret or revealed). For instance, it has to be a pawn or it has to be a knight/bishop or whatever. Especially in the “revealed phylactery” variant, there’s probably a lot of temptation to just give the queen the phylactery since she can defend it pretty well. This mixes things up a bit.
There are probably other tweaks you could make to this game, too. Personally, the most interesting variant to me is number 2 – indestructible lich, secret phylactery. I just love the idea of the king wading into battle, lopping heads off of knights and bishops until the phylactery is discovered.
Now, I haven’t actually tried these rules yet, but they sound interesting to me. If anyone out there gives them a whirl, let me know how it goes!