Irish designer Gareth Hanrahan has written many roleplaying game supplements, including a few for Mongoose Publishing's licensed Conan RPG. Doubtless that had nothing to do with his short free RPG Poking the Emperor, subtitled "A Game of Courtly Intrigue, Epic Adventure, Eldritch Sorcery and the Vital Importance of The Regularity of the Imperial Bowels."
The players are viziers, courtesans, doctors, and other civilized drones in the palace of an uncouth, aged, crazy, yet still dangerous barbarian Emperor. After decades on the throne, he's dying without an heir, and generals are plotting insurrection on the empire's borders. You'd better wake him and tell him the bad news -- no, YOU wake him -- no, YOU...
An odd hybrid of RPG scenario and strategy game, Poking the Emperor gives each player one action per turn to curry favor with the Emperor, somnolently played by the gamemaster. Using their Charm, Intrigue, Heroism, and Wisdom scores, suitably augmented by Influence and Gold, Sycophants seek rewards and promotion. They must also try delicately to adjust the Emperor's volatile Humour --Choleric, Melancholic, Sanguine, or Phlegmatic -- to something less likely to get them impaled. If the Emperor is currently Mostly Dead, someone must rouse him with "the Sacred Rod of Kingly Pokage, a twelve-foot length of gilded ivory, tipped with a diamond the size of a man's knucklebone." Ultimately each player seeks to be named Heir before the empire falls to an offstage invader or the evil Cult of Zoth.
More a sketch than a serious design, Poking the Emperor nonetheless shows impish creativity sure to appeal to contrarian Conan haters. The game embodies the unbridled creativity unleashed in the annual Game Chef competition. Here fecund RPG designers, inspired by a few keywords from a specified list, quickly dash out a short game. Each year's entries are freely downloadable from the host site, 1KM1KT ("One Thousand Monkeys, One Thousand Typewriters"), the largest collection of free paper RPGs on the net. Spend a fascinating hour browsing around there to find games even more outlandish than Poking the Emperor -- which this year placed no better than #30, if you can believe it, out of 87 entries. Better luck next year, Gareth!