ars ludi

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

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.

Watch the Unwatchable Foreign Film

Jackson Tegu has been working on a hack of Microscope called Kaleidoscope:

Gather 3-5 players, set aside 2 hours, and make up an unwatchable “foreign” film using a pile of index cards and your crazy brains!

Use this step-by-step guide to guffaw your group through non-chronologically remembering a wildly bizarre movie that you apparently just watched together! On each player’s turn they write a part or moment into the movie (oh, I mean remember a part or moment of the movie they saw, pardon me) and insert it anywhere into the timeline you’re collaboratively creating!

Kaleidoscope, a thorough stand-alone hack of Ben Robbin’s celebrated Microscope: a fractal role-playing game of epic histories, has been simmering on my back-burner for a couple of years, and I want to share the laughs!

You can buy it right now.

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.

Aaron Allston

A long, long time ago, Aaron Allston sent me my very first rejection letter. He did me a huge favor.

Rest In Peace.

A Battle of Men Against Men

It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace…

The Two Towers, J. R. R. Tolkien

Pretty much what you’d expect, right? Now look at the lines right before that:

Then suddenly straight over the rim of the sheltering back, a man fell, crashing through the slender trees, nearly on top of them. He came to rest in the fern a few feet away, face downward, green arrow-feathers sticking from his neck below a golden collar. His scarlet robes were tattered, his corset of overlapping brazen plates was rent and hewn, his black plaits of hair braided with gold were drenched with blood. His brown hand still clutched the hilt of a broken sword.

It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men…

That’s the first appearance of a black person in Lord of the Rings. Does Sam say “holy shit, look at that guy’s skin?!?” No. He doesn’t even bat an eye. He thinks of him as just another person caught in this war and wonders if he would have been happier at home.