ars ludi

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

Necropolis: Fingers Worked to the Bone

In Necropolis, you work even after you’re dead. Your corpse is state property, reanimated as a mindless undead laborer.

It is an industrialized city-state powered by reanimated perpetual motion machines. If it can be powered by crank, piston, or gear, you’ll find it worked by a skeletal hand.

Ryan Deugan was one of the Power backers for Kingdom but, instead of having me make a seed, he decided to write it himself. Necropolis is the setting for his upcoming book Engine of Change.

Salem Kingdom

Will you work the undead to dust to keep the lights burning or cast out the vile abominations?

Rewriting Your Game From Memory

@lamemage gives hard advice. Rewriting Downfall from memory suuuuucks.

There’s a thing I do when I design games — this is real secret squirrel, behind-the-curtain stuff — which is that after I’ve written a draft or two and playtested a bit, I take everything I’ve written and just put it away. Make a new folder, slap a version number on it, and hide everything in there.

Then I start with a brand new blank page and write the entire game from memory. Blank page. No peeking.

Caroline and Marc are slaving away on Downfall and Eden, respectively, so I suggested they give it a try. Because that’s what friends do: torture you when you’re down.

@lamemage And right after I tweeted that I had a breakthrough. Fuck you.

Sure it’s a great way to test your memory and see if you can remember your own text but that’s not the point. It’s the direct opposite, in fact.

The more you play a game, the more you understand it. That goes double for when you explain the game to someone else. You may not realize it, but your insight into the game has improved so much that the old text is holding you back. If you started from scratch (ehh? see where we’re going?) you would write it in a much more clear and elegant fashion.

Freed from your old structure, you may even find that the game in your mind is very different now. Elements that seemed necessary and critical just fade away. Better ideas take their place. But if you sit down in front of that old text, you have to chisel and hammer to break free. With a blank page, you write what you would say at the table.

I’m not saying it will be easy. It’s a bit of work. But it’s worth it.

Give it a try. And then curse me. And then thank me.

Burn the Witch! A Salem Kingdom

For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken … we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us…

–John Winthrop’s sermon to the Puritan colonists, sixty years before the witch trials

Evil lurks in the heart of Salem. But is it witchcraft, the Devil, or just the bitterness and envy of your friends and neighbors?

Salem Kingdom

This is the first Kingdom seed release from the Kickstarter campaign. It’s inspired by Peter Adkison’s new short film The Devil Walks In Salem, which was itself based on the fantastic Salem Fiasco game I played with Caroline Hobbs, Jerome Virnich and Pat Kemp.

Could you really ask for a juicier Kingdom than Salem Village? A community striving to be a model of righteousness but torn apart by fear and superstition?

Truth to be told: in the original game, our Salem didn’t turn out too happily. Bad stuff happened to good people. When you watch the movie, you’ll see what I mean (no spoilers!). Can your Salem turn out differently? Play and find out.

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.

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.

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.