ars ludi

if you asked Ben's brain about gaming, this is what it would say

Terraforming VikingCon

May 3rd I’m heading up to Bellingham to attend VikingCon. I’ve never been. Will there be actual Vikings? Horned helmets, longships and kenning skalds? I’m kind of hoping.

In between hunting down authentic recitations of the Prose Edda, I’ll also be doing a panel:

Terraforming the Tabletop: World-Building in Tabletop RPGs (Sat 3-4 pm)
Tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons rely heavily upon their rich worlds and interesting lore to generate interest among players. However, the process for building a world for a pen-and-paper game is not the same as building one for a novel or television series. This panel will explore those differences with the help of some of the industry’s world-building greats. Panelists: Bruce R. Cordell, Ben Robbins, jim pinto, Jennifer Brozek, Jason Andrew

I happen to know that a few other cool cats from the Seattle area are going to be there as well. I’m looking at you, Abducted by Sharks.

Return to the Angry Red Planet

Tim C Koppang has a sequel to Mars Colony in Kickstarter right now: Mars Colony 39 Dark.

Nope, it’s not just a new improved Mars Colony. It’s Mars Colony from the point-of-view of the rebels.

What’s different is that 39 Dark is a look at the colony from the people up instead of from the government down. Some number of years have passed since Kelly Perkins attempted to fix the colony’s problems. Things have not gone well. Now a protest movement, 39 Dark, has gained a lot of traction. No one can ignore them any longer. You’ll be playing as Lane Novak, the leader of 39 Dark, as he or she tries to take matters into her own hands.

Mars Colony has been a favorite ever since we picked up an early version at GenCon years back. I’ve loved it because it’s one of the few games I’ve seen that tackled real world issues of governance and civics. It’s also ultra-rare in that it’s a hard-hitting RPG designed for exactly two people.

Here’s a walk down memory lane of some of the amazing Mars Colony games we’ve played:

I can’t wait to take it for a spin.

My Emerald City Comic Con Schedule

Emerald City Comic Con approaches. I happen to know there is a whirlwind of behind-the-scenes activity as enthusiastic gamers get ready to man the battle stations of the Indie Games on Demand area in the Sheraton Hotel. Morgan and his team of ninjas are going to be using the same model they used at PAX (facilitator game menus, sign up sheets). I liked that system a lot, so I give it a big thumbs up. We’ve had alarmingly good gaming the last two years at ECCC and all signs are pointing towards a trifecta.

I’ll also be taking a break from the gaming to do a panel:

Designing Tabletop Games (Sat 4-5 pm, Sheraton Issaquah Room)
Five creators of board games, card games, and RPGs discuss designing games and answer your questions. Drew Nolosco (Design Manager at Wizards of the Coast), Chris Pramas (Green Ronin Games), Joshua Balvin (Salem, Oktoberfest), Ben Robbins (Microscope, Kingdom), Jeremy Holcomb (Rorschach, the ink-blot game, Mad Scientist: Lab Rats), David Fooden (Continuum, Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination).

There are rumors I may also be on a “crowdfunding your game” panel at 2 pm on Saturday, but that might just be misinformation to confuse any cyborgs returning from the future to assassinate me before I lead the rebellion that crushes SkyNet.

Temporary Kingdoms

I was reading about how during the American Revolutionary War, Henry Knox hauled an entire battery of cannons from captured Fort Ticonderoga 300 miles through the dead of winter to give George Washington’s army the artillery it vitally needed to threaten the fortified British. It sounded like an epic trek: cannons falling through the ice of frozen rivers, sledges mired in snow drifts, the works.

My first thought was, naturally, I want to play that Kingdom! Crossroads in the journey just leap out. Do we try to cross the cracking river ice? Do we take a short cut that brings us dangerously near the fighting armies? Do we abandon the heaviest guns to make better time?

It would make a pretty unusual Kingdom because it’s inherently temporary: everyone knows that when the expedition reaches its destination, its job is done. The troops would go on to other duties and the Kingdom would dissolve.

But is a temporary Kingdom really a problem? I don’t think so. There is nothing that would prevent an intentionally short-lived community from being a great Kingdom to play. It might even have certain advantages, particularly for a one-shot game, because it could establish a clear end point for the game: if the Kingdom isn’t destroyed by Crisis or totally side-tracked by the Crossroads it faces, when you are ready to stop playing you can narrate your Kingdom arriving at your goal (victorious or bedraggled, depending on how your game played out). You don’t have to wonder what the future holds for your Kingdom because its job is done.

Lots of ideas for temporary Kingdoms spring to mind:

  • people trying to get somewhere, like a caravan, a merchant ship or the cannon-toting Knox expedition
  • people united to accomplish a finite thing, like a political campaign, a rebellion, or a civil engineering project like building a castle, the Hoover Dam or the Panama Canal
  • a place that only brings people together for a while, like a Renaissance faire, a Woodstock-esque music festival, or a summer camp. When camp’s over, everyone goes home. Promise you’ll write!

The key bit is that everyone knows the Kingdom is temporary. Even if we’re all committed to it right now (and all the characters should be) we know it’s only going to last as long as it takes to get the job done.

A temporary Kingdom could have an extremely short lifespan. The whole Knox expedition took about two months, but that’s plenty of time to make lots happen. Some Crossroads might take just a few days — or even hours! — but my instinct is that it might make play even more dramatic. If you wind up with Time Passing, you would scale them to fit as well. Instead of two years going by, it’s a two-week montage of summer days lazily drifting by at camp…

They Have Perspective

I just sent out the sneak peek of my next game as a reward for the fine folks who backed Kingdom at the Perspective level. If you’re a Perspective backer and you didn’t get the link, let me know.

I usually play my cards pretty close to the vest when it comes to projects I’m working on, so this was a bit of a departure for me. It was actually one of the harder things I’ve written in a while.

And no, I’m not going to reveal any of the details — it wouldn’t be a very special special preview if I blabbed. If you missed the Kickstarter, you’ll have to wait to hear about codename “That Game I Talked About In the Perspective Reward”. Yep, need to work on that codename…

Emerald City Comic Con 2014: The Time Is Now

Emerald City Comic Con is coming. Real soon, in fact.

In case you missed it, the last two years have included some epic gaming. We showed up with a flag and a dream and carved a glittering city of gaming out of the untamed wilderness:

2012: Dance the Victory Dance

2013: Snatched from the jaws of defeat

But now it is time to game again and we need brave souls to volunteer to spread the love of the crazy indie story games we adore.

Want to help out? Morgan is heading up the indie gaming area this year. Hit him up.