ars ludi

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

Echo: Take Your Time

Ever since the first playtest, Microscope Echo required the Lens to describe a faction going back and changing history. The idea was that this intervention kicks off each round and drives the action. But as I keep playing it, I’m thinking that requirement isn’t necessary. Players don’t seem at all hesitant to go back and mess with the timeline.

Requiring an intervention at the start of each round seems to push the action a little too much. The changes snowball too quickly. Instead, I’m adjusting it so players have more freedom to explore the history as it stands without forcing them to jump in and change it so soon every round. That way players can establish the problems and events that really cry out for intervention and give the situation more context, if they want.

At a gut level it feels like a more graceful fit, which is always a good sign. It’s a lot like when I was originally working on Microscope: every time I would put in something that forced players to do a particular thing instead of giving them choice, I would eventually come around to taking that requirement out and putting the decision back in the player’s hands. Constraint is good — in normal Microscope you almost always just pick whether to make a Period, Event or Scene — but you have to make sure you are still leaving the proper space for the players to use their taste and judgment, particularly around things like pacing or escalation.

Does that mean I’m getting rid of the requirement that you must follow an Intervention with an Echo? Nope, that still feels like a very useful constraint. It makes us examine the consequences of tinkering with history instead of just lobbing more bombs. Plus it ensures that every change to the history include a rebuttal from another player:

Yes, the Moralists thought pumping classical music into the AI cyber-creche would begin to awaken something akin to a soul within them, but as the Echo showed, it instead conditioned them to react to the music in a way that made them easier to lobotomize and control, Clockwork Orange-style.

Cue enslaved terminator armies rolling over South America. Whoopsie!

Summer Is Coming

The Story Games Seattle crew delivers some stunningly good Kingdom games. This time we played a Kingdom in the style of Toy Story, if Toy Story walked in on Lord of the Flies going to third base with Animal Farm.

Playtime Is Over (Kingdom)

Is there an award for darkest story featuring toys? Because if there is, I think we are a top contender.

Guilt Con 2015

“Let’s work on our games! Use the devastating weight of procrastination shame to jam it up!”
–the Mighty CHOBBS

Peer pressure makes good company. So this weekend, Marc, Caroline and I set the grindstone speed to “dangerously high” and leaned way, way in. We ignored the pretty-pretty sunshine, the chirpy-chirpy birds, and did the dreadful labor that precedes victory — the horrible, soul-crushing groundwork that must be laid to build a castle in the clouds.

We each have our projects we’re slaving away on: Caroline has Downfall, Marc has Eden, and I’m plugging away at Microscope Explorer.

The genius of working together is that not only does the mere presence of witnesses keep you going, but when you have those roadblocks or doubts, you could turn straight to two other awesome game designers and say “hey, question about character creation…” and bounce some ideas around. Pat runs a weekly Make Stuff gathering, which is fantastic, but I’m usually the only one there working on tabletop games. Most folks are knee-deep in video game dev. Having some other story game designers to brainstorm with was a lovely change of pace.

I don’t want to spill any secrets but much progress was made. This was our first Guilt Con of 2015 but not the last.

Getting ready for Microscope Explorer

Now that all the spin-off games have gone through playtesting, I put up a proper introduction page to talk about what’s going to be in the new Microscope Explorer book.

Three Microscope spin-off games? Detailed step-by-step seeds plus randomly generated seeds? All that lovely strategic advice? Yep, we got all that.

“Fantasy worlds that break history’s back”

“But too often, fantasy worlds are created like Ikea furniture, popping up whole with minimal assembly from big pre-existing parts that creak and come apart after heavy use. That’s why so many many fictional worlds seem to produce carbon copies of real world Western gender hierarchies, even if it becomes painfully dissonant with other details of the setting.”

That’s Katherine Cross, getting to the very heart of the matter.

Her article is about Microscope specifically, but I think it highlights that role-playing games in general have vast potential to help us look at the world with fresh eyes. A long, long time ago, role-playing games were panned as escapist fantasy. I think we’re realizing now they can also be the exact opposite.

Fantastic article. Go read it.

ECCC Games On Demand

Emerald City Comic Con is coming up this weekend! I’ll be at the Indie RPG Games On Demand area, which is now on the 2nd floor of the convention center, in the open area just north of room 208.

I may be trying out some of the new tools that are going to be in Microscope Explorer.

Ooo, I think we’re right next to arcade games. So if the gaming is slow there may be some Galaga.