Follow Is Ready for You

I am happy to report that Follow is done and released into the wild. If you’re a backer or pre-ordererer you should have already received your new download link. Everyone else: you can buy the PDF right now.

Do you love that cover? I love that cover. It’s the gorgeous work of Al Lukehart. She captured the spirit of the game perfectly.

Next I’ll be doing print tests to prepare for printing the books. If everything goes well they should be in the mail late July / early August. In the meantime, quest away!

Ben Robbins | July 2nd, 2017 | follow

Do You Think You’re Beautiful?

We’re on the verge of a breakthrough that will change society. We’ve deciphered the genetic code and can bend it to our will.

But… the only genetic trait we’ve mastered is beauty. Physical beauty. We can’t make you smarter or healthier, just more attractive. We’ve isolated beauty to a mathematical equation and can engineer facial symmetry, eye size and spacing — the works — to guarantee generations of children with equally ideal features.

That was the premise of our Follow game at Story Games Seattle last week. The quest we picked was, of course, the Breakthrough, where the goal is to change the world with our invention. Our characters were part of a medical-tech startup company, Blossom, that was gearing up to roll out this procedure to the world, and if you’re thinking “oh my god the horror, what a giant bucket of ethical worms!” then you are on exactly the same page as us. That’s what we were going for.

The challenge in a game like this, where our agenda is sooooo questionable, is to make characters who support it for reasons that feel believable and even relatable, and that’s where everyone at the table rocked it. Some were personal — like the wealthy investor who wanted his kids to have advantages he never had — and others were broadly idealistic: it wasn’t that beauty was better, it was that if everyone was equally beautiful, discrimination based on looks would be eradicated. Right? Right?!?!

As we played and really dug into our characters, the central question that kept coming up was whether each of them actually saw themselves as beautiful. For a variety of reasons, the answer was universally no. Even the extremely vain, self-centered womanizer turned out to doubt his own appearance.

Were we kidding ourselves about our real motives? Claiming to want to bring happiness and equality to an unfair world, but really just trying to tackle our own insecurities? But as we’d known from the start — known consciously, but maybe not really viscerally come to terms with — our procedure worked by engineering a fertilized egg that would, years later, grow into a beautiful person. We couldn’t alter the DNA of someone already born. It wouldn’t change the lives of all the people around us now, the very people we were trying to sell on the idea. It wouldn’t change OUR lives.

Quite fittingly, our final challenge was to convince the public our breakthrough was needed. After wrestling with terrible side-effects and then a surprise competitor in our first two challenges (and resorting to legal skullduggery and flat-out corporate espionage), we had the technology down, but without public acceptance none of that would matter.

Did we win? Did we change the world in a morally dubious way that everyone in the fellowship was now secretly questioning? Of course we did. Our work changed the world, and everyone at the table groaned. Never has a victory been so unappreciated.

Our epilogues spanned the decades that followed as the process became widespread. On the surface we smiled at these beautiful children of ours (some literally our own children) and accepted the accolades of a thankful world, but in our hearts we wondered what we had done.

Serious and thoughtful stuff. Well done, team.

Ben Robbins | May 31st, 2017 | follow | 2 comments

Teaching Teachers How to Teach

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Keenan Kibrick continues to kill it in the classroom, teaching teachers how to teach Microscope (say that ten times fast).

Yes, that event says “mobile gas chamber”. History can be scary.

And if you’re an educator, definitely check out the Immersive Imaginative Education discussion group. It’s a place to share ideas about how role-playing can be used in the classroom.

Ben Robbins | May 28th, 2017 | microscope kids

All Your Base

In groups I’ve played Downfall with, I’ve seen a tendency to make the society a small, insular place, like an island (possibly a floating island) or an isolated town. But I want to go big and make a Haven in the vein of Robotech, Voices of a Distant Star or Ender’s Game.

Our Haven is the entire Earth, after we made contact with aliens. Our flaw is militarism: instead of crossing the cultural divide and finding a way to make peace, we’ve committed to total (and perhaps unwinnable) interstellar war…

Ben Robbins | May 24th, 2017 | games I want to play | 1 comment

An Eye for an Eye

Do cybernetic implants count as human remains? When you have parts inside you that are the intellectual property of others, where does the boundary of ownership lie — is it really *your* arm? And once total body replacement is available, can you still be held responsible for your actions since someone else made your synthetic brain?

We played Microscope Chronicle at Story Games Seattle, following the owners and implantees of a single cybernetic eye, and got into big, serious issues of humanity and futurism. Privilege, justice, sexism — we brought it all in. Justice also included a recurring theme of revenge and revenge’s place in society, as you might have guessed from the title. We were going for a very slow burn “Ghost in the Shell” vibe and I think we hit it on the nose.

One thing I personally wanted to avoid was the “corporations are all dark and nefarious” cliche, because once you paint one side as just evil, you stop giving them genuine motive, which oversimplifies interesting issues. To try and counteract that, I added “no corporations without a guiding societal ideology” to the Palette: a corporation has to have some vision of what they want society to be like, which forces us to think about what they’re really trying to accomplish and how they’re trying to shape the world.

Did it work? I think it totally did. Some of our corporations were terrible and misguided but they were following their own clear vision of how they thought humanity and society should evolve, which meant that as players engaging with them in the history was still interesting and fun. Like a lot of things on the Palette, just having that discussion at the start changed the way we thought and played.

Ben Robbins | April 17th, 2017 | microscope actual play

Kill All Enlightened Robots

Usually at a con you get some good games and some okay games. At our story games area at Emerald City Comicon I drew the lucky penny: all my games were great great great.

One Microscope game included a textbook example of building on each other’s contributions to make an unexpected whole. We’re making the palette for our story of alien civilizations in collision:

player 1: “I want a race of robots.”
player 2: “I want genocide.”
player 3: “I want mysticism, like spiritual beliefs.”
player 4: “I want a god-like race of aliens.”

As our history unfolds, the robots, who we learn were created by humans after they discover remnants of mysterious Ancient technology, make contact with the not-as-dead-as-we-thought Ancients and achieve enlightenment. The rival alien races promptly unite to eradicate them: enlightened robot genocide.

Later in play we find out that the Ancients had previously tried bringing enlightenment to the other races — including us humans, which explained our first contact — but had failed or been rejected. Only the poor robots were young and innocent enough as a race to achieve enlightenment…

Ben Robbins | April 11th, 2017 | microscope actual play