ars ludi

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

PAX: Talking ’bout GM-less Games

There is life after kickstarter! I’m chugging away getting the sneak previews of Microscope Explorer material ready for backers. I’ll be at PAX next week playing games at the indie RPG games-on-demand area and I may have some cool new Microscope tools in-hand.

I’ll also be giving a talk about the secrets of GM-less games, so if you want in, show up Friday morning and you can listen to me rant, rave and probably sip coffee:

GM-less Role-Playing Games

Good GMs are awesome, but you don’t need a Game Master to play an awesome game. Join game designer Ben Robbins and explore the world of GM-less RPGs like Fiasco and Microscope. Whether you’ve never played a GM-less game before or you’re already an expert, come learn what makes them tick and expand your gaming horizons.

Friday, 11 am
PAX Chicken Theatre (Convention Center, Level 6)

Check your local listings to confirm the time and place when the PAX schedule is released (update: it just went live).

“That dot is intrepid. Doesn’t even have hands, still slays dragons.”

With the frenzy of crowdfunding I’m not sure I ever linked to it, but I did an interview with Jade Gaming News a little while back.

The Spot Check: Ben Robbins and Microscope

We talk about Microscope, game design, and the best video game character *evar*.

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.

“The people at the table are what matters”

Story games documentary time!

[ don’t be alarmed, the first thirty seconds or so is black, but if you have trouble here’s a direct link ]

That’s me, J.C. and Natalie playing, plus Ashley and Ed at the interview table. The background action is all the awesome folks of Story Games Seattle playing at the equally awesome Phoenix Comics & Games, as we do. Thanks to Alex, Candace and Glaser for deciding story games would make a fun topic for their film.

Oh and what’s that super-intense game we’re playing? That would be Downfall.

The Coaster Double-Dares You

A long, long time ago when I was taking Psych courses, I got the idea drilled into me that subjects must voluntarily and willingly take part in your studies. You must get consent. Which, as an experimental psychologist, is a bummer, because you can learn all sorts of exciting things if you pounce on people at unawares and subject them to your intricate and nefarious mind games. But despite how productive it is, it’s totally unethical, because maybe they just wanted to go to the grocery store and buy some milk, not be lured into your staged mugging to test “bystander intervention” and “diffusion of responsibility”.

I play games with strangers all the time. Lots and lots of strangers. Playing with people you don’t know adds a whole realm of issues, even more so in games where the personal stakes are higher, like story games that ask you to contribute creatively and cooperate (compared to something like Chess where the players don’t even have to speak or look at each other).

Now imagine playing a game with strangers, except the strangers don’t know they are playing. That’s the idea behind SpeakEasy, a new pub game now on Kickstarter.

Fascinating? Disturbing? Risky? Unethical? Maybe all of the above? Could be. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting design space to explore. And the people I’ve seen play it have definitely had fun. Take a look and decide for yourself:

Full disclosure: I’m a friend of Jerome, one of the creators of the game. You may recognize him from our Salem Fiasco game or hosting meetups at Story Games Seattle.

Fleeing From Goblins, West Marches-style

In Ben’s original West Marches campaign, he arranged the adventure-filled regions of his wilderness in order of challenge, more or less. The further you were from town, the more likely you were to be in an extremely dangerous place…

Ben tells an anecdote about his players fleeing from goblins for days, ultimately having to run so far they fled into a vermin-filled swamp. He also talks about the barrow wights in the otherwise pleasant Wil Wood – dangerous, but easily avoided, an in fact not that easy to find.

These got me thinking about non-mechanical difficulty levels for monstrous threats in general.

Some very cool ideas from Michael Prescott about determining a monster’s challenge by its behaviors, like how much they’ll pursue, how organized they are, etc. I think it has a ton of potential. Check it out.

“Bring me the finest gamers in town! Bring them on a platter!”

Meaty, behind-the-scenes documentary examining how our dark and epic Salem Fiasco game was translated into a movie, The Devil Walks in Salem:

[ direct link ]

Tons of fantastic moments with Caroline Hobbs, Jerome Virnich and Pat Kemp talking about our session and story games in general. Some great examination of the wheels-within-wheels that make a game go. Oh, and I talk a bunch too.

Thanks to Elke Hautala for putting the documentary together and Peter Adkison, the man with the plan, for making the whole Salem project happen!