ars ludi

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

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.

Uncontrolled Orders & Predictions

A small but important official change to the Kingdom rules. If you switch Roles and leave orders or predictions behind, it’s up to the players who have Power or Perspective during Crossroad resolution to decide whether they happen.

Kingdom Rules Update: Uncontrolled Orders & Predictions (one-page PDF)

Update: I revised and simplified the text to make it easier to play and remember. The PDF shows exactly what text changed. You can print it and tuck it into your book.

Why the change?

The old rule wasn’t exactly broken, but it could lead to tricky play. Uncontrolled predictions and orders could already be cancelled by any character who decided to Challenge them and success was automatic. But during Crossroads, players can only interrupt once, and you might want to save your interrupt for something you care about more. Having to choose what’s important to you is good, but it doesn’t make sense for another character to apply that much pressure with a Role they no longer have.

And most importantly, this just makes more sense. The players who currently have Power and Perspective are the ones who control that aspect of the Kingdom. When you switch Roles, you lose that control and gain different influence. In hindsight it seems incredibly obvious (like, “why didn’t we always do it this way?!?”) which is always a good sign.

Necropolis: Fingers Worked to the Bone

In Necropolis, you work even after you’re dead. Your corpse is state property, reanimated as a mindless undead laborer.

It is an industrialized city-state powered by reanimated perpetual motion machines. If it can be powered by crank, piston, or gear, you’ll find it worked by a skeletal hand.

Ryan Deugan was one of the Power backers for Kingdom but, instead of having me make a seed, he decided to write it himself. Necropolis is the setting for his upcoming book Engine of Change.

Salem Kingdom

Will you work the undead to dust to keep the lights burning or cast out the vile abominations?

Burn the Witch! A Salem Kingdom

For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken … we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us…

–John Winthrop’s sermon to the Puritan colonists, sixty years before the witch trials

Evil lurks in the heart of Salem. But is it witchcraft, the Devil, or just the bitterness and envy of your friends and neighbors?

Salem Kingdom

This is the first Kingdom seed release from the Kickstarter campaign. It’s inspired by Peter Adkison’s new short film The Devil Walks In Salem, which was itself based on the fantastic Salem Fiasco game I played with Caroline Hobbs, Jerome Virnich and Pat Kemp.

Could you really ask for a juicier Kingdom than Salem Village? A community striving to be a model of righteousness but torn apart by fear and superstition?

Truth to be told: in the original game, our Salem didn’t turn out too happily. Bad stuff happened to good people. When you watch the movie, you’ll see what I mean (no spoilers!). Can your Salem turn out differently? Play and find out.

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…

“How Weirdly Powerless”

How weirdly powerless Power is. There’s a built-in irony, caused by these limitations, by not allowing a character both perspective and power. And of course, that makes perfect real-world sense, doesn’t it? When you take power, you become something set apart from your peers, and can’t claim to properly represent them. You have, in fact, set yourself as being someone exceptional, and therefore by definition not a member of the community. But you aren’t apart from the community the way Perspective is… so distanced as to be able to understand how it works. You are in a very real way trapped by your power. Neat!

– Ed Turner, reflecting on Kingdom after the fantastic Drift game we played