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.

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.

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.

My Norwescon Schedule: Talk a lot, don’t you?

I’m going to be on a stack of panels at Norwescon. To wit:

System Matters: The Right RPG for the Job (Fri 1-2 pm)
Like the invisible hand of fate, the rules you use weigh on every aspect of your game sometimes in ways you aren’t even aware of. Are you using the right tool for the job, or do you always use the same hammer for every task? You may be sabotaging your game before you even sit down at the table.
John Harper, Ben Robbins, Chris Pramas, Aveloc Twiceborn, Ryan Macklin

GM-less Role Playing Games (Sat 1-2 pm)
Or “Oh my god who’s running this game?!?” Good GMs are awesome but you don’t need a GM to play an awesome game. Explore games designed to play with no GM, like Fiasco, Shock and Microscope. Whether you’ve never played a GM-less game before or you’re already an expert, come examine what makes them tick and stretch your gaming muscles. Microscope creator Ben Robbins gives an introduction to GM-less Role-Playing games.

D&D vs Story Games (Sat 2-3 pm)
D&D and Pathfinder may be the most well-known role-playing games, but indie games like Fiasco and Polaris are becoming more popular. Can these two genres co-exist in the same room together? What do they have in common, and what are the benefits and limitations of each style of play? Is it possible to like both? Industry experts and indie creators discuss the differences between traditional tabletop role-playing games, GM-less story games, and everything in between.
Ashley Cook, Ben Robbins, Erik Mona, John Harper, Jonathan Tweet, Ryan Macklin

Women in Gaming Communities (Sat 6-7 pm)
Gender inequality among gamers continues to be a frequent topic. Women and girl gamers often feel unwelcome in the boys club, and gamers can be clueless or dismissive of gender inequality. What are some successful ways to get women into gaming? What are some things to avoid? How can event organizers and game designers make women that show up more comfortable?
Lillian Cohen-Moore, Ashley Cook, Ben Robbins, Gwen Yeh, Mickey Schulz

Apocalypse World: The New Rosetta Stone of GMing? (Sat 7-8 pm)
Hidden in between the crowbars, shotguns and radioactive mutants, Vincent Baker (Dogs in the Vineyard, In A Wicked Age) snuck in a doctoral thesis dissecting the fundamental nature of what GMs have been doing since the dawn of RPGs. Forget vague gaming advice: this is step-by-step method. Learn how you can take the lessons of Apocalypse World and calmly whoop ass and bring fun in any game you run.
Ben Robbins, John Harper, Ogre Whiteside

Running a Sandbox RPG (Sat 8-9 pm)
Sandbox RPGs put the players in the driver’s seat. Hop off the railroad and go where you want, do what you want. But GMing a good sandbox requires iron discipline and a solemn oath to follow a very different set of rules than most RPGs. Learn the dark secrets of running a successful sandbox game and not falling back into dangerously “normal” GMing habits.
Erik Scott de Bie, Ben Robbins, Clinton J. Boomer, Erik Mona, John Harper

And no, your eyes do not deceive you: there’s a lot more indie gaming content in the role-playing games track this year. Will it be awesome? Come and find out.

For bonus points guess which of these panel descriptions I wrote. Difficulty level: T1 Village of Hommlet.

Emerald City Comic Con: Snatched from the jaws of defeat

How fast can the Story Games Seattle squad go from zero to sixty when it comes to busting out a big can of con gaming goodness? We now know definitively that the answer is: extremely fast indeed.

Despite getting the green light at the last minute our troops assumed battle formation and rocked games all weekend long. Forty-five games total including Fiasco, Microscope, Zombie Cinema, Durance, Quiet Year, Shock, Dungeon World, Polaris, Coyote Won’t Talk, InSpectres, Kaleidoscope, Baron Munchausen, Remember Tomorrow and Serpent’s Tooth.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t think anyone was going to show up. I expected all our facilitators to sit around and entertain each other. Yep, I said the same thing last year but this year I had a very good reason to be worried: there was nothing about the gaming area on the Emerald City Comic Con web site (there still isn’t). No one had any way to know we existed and we didn’t have any gaming panels to spread the word. As the weekend went on some signs went up telling people there was gaming on the lower level but that was a pretty late fix. No one would know to come to ECCC to game.

But despite that, even if it wasn’t the apocalyptic deluge of gamers we got last year we got a solid stream of people looking to game, including a surprising number of people who had never played role-playing games before but who (inexplicably) seriously, definitely, absolutely wanted to sit down right now and play some of these newfangled story games. Brave and, as it turns out, fantastic new gamers. People can argle-bargle about the state of the industry or whatever but let me tell you: the gamers are out there and they are ready to play.

We also got to reconnect with lots of the awesome folks we met last year, all of whom have clearly spent the intervening year sequestered in monasteries training in secret kung-fu gaming techniques, because: damn!

Just like last year, being right next to Gamma Ray’s table was a perfect match. People would wander up and ask about games and the nimble Gamma Ray staff would flag one of our tireless volunteers to come answer any questions they had.

A fantastic weekend of gaming, defying all the odds. Hats off to the tireless facilitators who made the magic happen. Adrienne, Alex, Ashley, Caroline, Jay, Jerome, Jess, Marc, Martin, Miles, Pat, Sam, Shuo and Xander: you are a peerless crew and shining ambassadors of gaming. Kudos one and all.

All ECCC Systems Are Go!

Story games at Emerald City Comic Con is a go! We’ll be in Lower Level of The Conference Center, just like last year. That’s the building across the street from the main convention center.

The gaming area is open a lot later than the main show so you can drown yourself in comic books and still come play. I suspect we’re some of those tables marked “tournament” on the map, but if you have a hard time finding us look for the enormous glowing green sign proclaiming our credo far and wide:

Just like the sign says, come find us and you get to play. We’ll have a crack squad of facilitators on hand so all you need to bring is your brain and a good attitude.

We are not particularly shy.