Kingdom v1.3

I released Kingdom three years ago, but every time I play it I’m still looking for ways to make it better. It’s a crowd-favorite at Story Games Seattle so I’ve had a lot of opportunities to try out refinements that streamline the rules and make things simpler, faster and more fun.

This rules update includes the latest improvements we use, hot off the presses. If you’re playing Kingdom, I strongly recommend it.

You can also download updated character sheets, role cards and a new reference sheet. This is Kingdom version 1.3 for those of you keeping track, and it incorporates everything from previous updates as well.

Just about every change is something being removed, and that should tell you a lot. I’ve played Kingdom a lot since it came out and I’ve had a ton of fantastic games, but each session has made it clearer that some parts of the rules, while totally logical, are simply not necessary to make the fun or the drama. And therein lies a big secret of game design: recognizing all the pieces you don’t need and removing every single one.

Ben Robbins | July 25th, 2016 | kingdom

You don’t vote for kings!

I dropped four new quests on Team Follow: the Booty, the Candidate, the Colony and the Gods. If you are in the playtest and didn’t get the email, let me know so I can hook you up!

The Booty was actually the very first quest we played but it didn’t make the initial cut because in some ways it’s just a specialized subset of the Heist (i.e. pirates stealing loot). But is that such a bad thing? I think there are advantages to having a mix of quests that are loaded with specific material and those that aren’t. That lets the players choose how much detail they want the quest to provide. Sure we could play a pirate quest with the Heist, but if we pick the Booty it is loaded with more distinctly pirate-y goodness to get us in the groove.

The other new quests explore more of the potential range of Follow. Quests don’t have to be just action and pew-pew-pew: the Cure and the Music already showed that, but now you can build a new society or rig an election (or y’know, play it straight). We played the Candidate the other night and got our Trump-analog elected. So sorry, folks. We also played the Colony at Go Play NW last week and… wow. But more about that later.

Oh and the Gods? Yes, you are the gods. Your quest? Make mortals worship you. And hey, if you have to flood the world a few times and create new civilizations from scratch, so be it…

Ben Robbins | July 18th, 2016 | follow | 2 comments

Microscope Seeds: Secrets & Squirrels

Two more history seeds for you! These were created as part of the Microscope Explorer kickstarter, based on ideas requested by generous backers, but they are provided as free downloads for all Microscope players to enjoy.

In the War of Secrets seed, a world-shaking truth lurks, guarded by some and sought by others: Aliens hide among us. Our royal line is descended from our hated enemies. We evolved from monkeys. But even if the truth is revealed, is it believed? Or is it misunderstood or warped into myth, hidden in plain sight? The secret may be exposed and then forgotten or suppressed over and over again as your history ticks down the centuries.

Instead of a history of humans, the Tree & Tail seed explores a community of squirrels that climb and hide and thrive and die in the Great Tree and the forest beyond. Tell a story of ordinary squirrels or tiny furry tool-users, squirrel knights and squires defending their leafy realm. Was this seed inspired by Pat’s legendary squirrel Microscope Union game? I’m guessing yes.

Thanks again to the fantastic supporters who made Microscope Explorer possible!

Ben Robbins | July 14th, 2016 | microscope tools

“I have never been so proud of her…”

I was on my way to make a surprise appearance on Strix’s Weekly Affirmations show on HyperRPG when it occurred to me that in the seven years I’ve been playing Microscope, I had never recorded a session I played. Ever.

So if you’ve been curious to see how I play and teach Microscope (with occasional pauses for mythical animal imitations) here it is:


For a quick game with a lot of chatting and general shenanigans, we made some really fantastic fiction, though I probably spent more time explaining the rules than I normally would.

Our history: winter is not coming. The seasons magically grind to halt and our world is stuck in perpetual autumn while the faerie courts feud and scheme. The game proper starts about 45 minutes in and around 1:30 we start the Death of the Sun Queen arc, which was glorious and bathed in feelz. How glorious? Check out the artist’s renderings Voidsmoker did while we played:


Thanks Strix, Alex, Marcus and everyone at HyperRPG. gg!

Ben Robbins | July 5th, 2016 | interviews, microscope actual play | 2 comments

A Good Week (for Betrayal!)

Obviously the question of people working together (or not) is a pretty fundamental one which I think makes it great material for examination. As a game designer, that’s something that interests me: looking at core issues or social dynamics that we all deal with. Cooperation is a universal issue. Where it isn’t, it should be.

It has been a good week.

As all my lovely playtesters know, the new and improved version of Follow went out Friday. The big change is in character creation. The old method was okay, but it didn’t whack the nail quite the way I wanted.

The new method? I’m pretty darn happy with it. I already talked about the excellent Hackers & Homework game we played testing the new rules on Monday. But then, shocker, we had an even more amazing game Thursday. It was so hot I can’t even talk about it clearly yet. The drama got so real we had to take breaks to walk around and cool down. So real that players who weren’t in the scenes said they felt like they were intruding on the privacy of the characters who were. No joke. These players brought it. We played until the store closed and then finished out on the street, because we needed closure.

We also hit peak-betrayal and really embraced its potential to drive excellent fiction. I feel like the lotus flower of the betrayal mechanic is opening. More about that later.

Suffice to say, after that session I pulled the trigger on the new release with a song in my heart.

What’s next? Go Play NW is this weekend and I’ve scheduled a Friday night game of Follow, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I played a wee bit more during some of the pickup slots too. And don’t tell anyone, but I’m also working on a booster pack with more quests for playtesters. Build a thriving colony? Play gods and make mortals worship us? Oh yeah.

Ben Robbins | July 3rd, 2016 | follow | 2 comments

Hackers & Homework

or, “You can take down the corrupt corporate hegemony after you finish cleaning your room!”

I tried out some rules tweaks for Follow at our Story Games Seattle playtest meetup Monday. We agreed on a Heist but decided to make it a cyberpunk-hacky thing. Pretty normal so far, right? Except half the characters turned out to be an adorable suburban family whose kids secretly had l33t skillz online. Meet the Smiths! Bob and Janice, and their two spunky kids: Brandon (aka “8oo85_mastah”), an obnoxious 15 year-old, and his older sister Kim, who was totally too mature to have a dumb hacker name.

The other half of the team? Totally straight stereotypes: a burned ex-exec, a personality construct of a dead hacker who just wanted to be erased, the unreliable money man, etc.

The mix of corporate espionage and homey family drama (“Kim, we have to get Brandon out of detention so he can hack the mainframe!”) was… kind of completely awesome. More than I would have expected. Funny and adorkable but also very serious at times, because we really didn’t want anything bad to happen to them. When things went kablooey after the first challenge and we were trying to cover our tracks, all the pros are whipping out false identities and going to ground as you do. But suddenly we’re like “oh hell, how can the Smiths get away???” We were genuinely worried we couldn’t explain how they could avoid being swept up in the corporate dragnet and things would get very, very dark.

Cue the RV backing out of the garage for a looooong vacation in the wastelands of future America. Family road trip to the rescue!

“Kel, how long have I been offline?”

I think this may be the first game of Follow I played where every player vote was completely unanimous. Either we all thought we succeeded or we all thought we failed, every time. The characters..? Not so unanimous, which is even better.

But what about the rules changes, you ask. Ah yes. It’s all in character creation. Good setup => good action. Bonds, as I was doing them, weren’t pulling their weight, so I went back to the drawing board on that. The rest of the game hasn’t changed, so far.

I’m still fine-tuning but so far I’m happy with the new method. A single good or bad session doesn’t necessarily prove something works or doesn’t, but since I was at the table I could see how the new setup choices were driving action throughout the game. And that’s a very good sign.

I’m going to take it for another spin and then fire off the new, improved version to playtesters, anon.

Ben Robbins | June 30th, 2016 | follow