A king is a head of state of a nation, usually of a kingdom or a realm. It is the second highest title of nobility after emperor. The queen is either the female counterpart of the king or the wife of a king. The appropriate adjective pertaining to a king (specific cases aside) is "royal" and kings and queens as a group are referred to as "royalty" - a classification which may also include their immediate family. A king may also be referred to as a monarch (A.Gk. "one who rules alone") and their government as a monarchy. He (or his role) may also be referred to by syndoche as "the crown" or "the throne". He is typically addressed as "your majesty" (although "your grace" was used in England for much of the Middle Ages).
Of course being a king is a relative thing - he may rule over an extensive kingdom that covers all or most of a continent, or reign almost as far as he can spit. In some circumstances, any tribal leader who isn't doing homage to someone else may call himself a king. A king may rule in his own right, as the figurehead of a nation with some other system of government or as the subordinate of an Emperor. The typical pseudo-medieval fantasy setting typically places the king at the top of a feudal pyramid.
Speaking of relatives, monarchy is generally thought of as being hereditary by one means or another, but this is far from universal. By way of examples, the Saxon Kings of England were subject to acclamation by the Witengamot - being a son of the previous king made you "atheling" ("throneworthy") and therefore a contender, but far from certain of the job. Likewise, the biblical kings of Israel were appointed by annointment by the High Priest or an appropriate Prophet. Other cultures passed the role in other ways. Hereditary monarchy, by contrast, whilst common could be something of a lottery - in theory it should garuntee that a sucessful family remains in charge, but in practice poor breeding decisions and bad luck could make the business something of a lottery, especially if royal descent is seen as the only source of a claim to the throne. Where sucession is not hereditary, there may be significant effort required to seperate crown estates from those of the current royal family - where it is, the amount of upheaval require to change royal house generally means the distinction is more or less irrelevant.
The king's duties could also vary - from being the universal font of government (in many medieval monarchies), to a glorified general (like the kings of Sparta) or priest (like the Roman Rex Sacrorum) … sometimes to the extent of being sacrificed to the gods at the end of his tenure (or when things started to go downhill). Most modern monarchs are primarily ceremonial with limited or no executive powers.
Game and Story Use
- Outside of an empire, kings will generally be the highest secular authorities the PCs will have to deal with in fantasy settings, and thus will be people the PCs will need to thread carefully around - or which they will want to cultivate as patrons.
- Becoming a king is a fine, epic aspiration for a player character, as this kind of title means, at least in theory, that no one else can tell them what to do.
- Of course, realpolitik might force them to bow them to the pressures of others - either influential citizens or more powerful neighboring realms. And they might only find this out when it is too late…
- It is important that the other player characters are interested in helping with this goal, or else they might get bored with the campaign. After all, making them all kings is unlikely.
- Being someone's sacred king on the other hand - the sort that gets sacrificed at the end of the year - could be an interesting gig.
- Indeed "fugitive sacred king" could be an amusing character concept.
- Especially if the failure to sacrifice him has created a disaster in his former domain…
- Also, playing the king's immediate council could be an interesting exercise - especially if the king in question is a drunken idiot, a child or some other sea anchor.