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

“I just like saying ‘overthrow the government'” (GMless RPGs, ECCC 2017)

Delving into the secrets of GMless role-playing games at Emerald City Comicon. No that recording is not speeded up, that’s just how fast I talk about these things. I’ve got just one hour and a lot of ground to cover!

(or download the file if you prefer)

There’s a natural tendency, when examining GMless games, to focus on how the functions performed by a Game Master are divided up and replaced. But I think that’s the wrong question to ask. The real question is, what entirely new ways could we be role-playing if we don’t start from the decades-old assumption that we need a GM at all?

Ben Robbins | April 10th, 2017 | game theory | 2 comments

Emerald City Comicon: A Full House of Story Games


There is a secret trick to organizing a great con: great people. Great facilitators who step up and make people welcome and bring the awesome to the table.

Then add to that: more great people. Great attendees. Soooo many fantastic people who wanted to come out and try these games.

We had five tables for Story Games, but in the very definition of “above and beyond the call of duty” we foraged for space and ran overflow games shift after shift. And even then, we still had to turn a bunch of people away when all our games were full. I wept that they didn’t get to play, yet huge demand is, as they say, a good problem to have.

Top three games were Fiasco, Follow and Downfall. After that it was a five-way tie. A grand total of 18 different systems, 49 game sessions, and countless thrilled gamers. (Okay, not really countless. We counted them. There were a lot.)

Special thanks to Eric Portney and all the other ECCC volunteers who put on such a great con. And mad props to the tireless facilitators who made the Story Games area happen. Ace, Alex, Andy, Ashley, Caroline, Corinne, Drew, ET, Grey Pawn, Heather, Joe, Justin, Kevin, Marc, Max, Miles, Nick and Ross — I was proud to work with such a stellar team.

Ben Robbins | March 13th, 2017 | events

Emerald City Comicon: The Game Schedule

Coming to play story games at Emerald City Comicon, but looking for a particular game? Want to know when you can get a spot at the table to play it? Check it:

Emerald City Comicon Story Games

These are the games our volunteers will be offering to facilitate in each slot. Only some of these games will be played depending on which ones get selected first. So if there’s a game you really want to play, you should get there early to sign up for it. And all games subject to change, of course.

Ben Robbins | February 27th, 2017 | events | 3 comments