Story Games 101: Angle the Chairs

This is a simple trick we’ve been using at Story Games Seattle for years. It may seem trivial but it’s not.

Your physical environment has a huge impact on your social interactions, and a role-playing game is just one big social interaction. In the kind of games we play — story games with no game master — the ideal seating arrangement is as close as possible to a circle.

Why a circle? Because it’s easier to communicate if you can see each other. If you aren’t facing each other it’s much harder to read all the unspoken social cues we use as human beings. A slight frown or raised eyebrows can reveal tons about how the other person is reacting to what’s happening. We do it constantly.

Unfortunately, the world is full of tables like this:


Ah, the rectangular table! Our old enemy. It’s too long to put people at either end like you would with a square table, so the players sitting next to each other are in the social danger zone. They have to turn 90 degrees to face each other, so they will miss a lot of social cues. I will lay down cash money that they will have a harder time interacting or will simply interact less.

But there is an absurdly simple fix. When you sit down, just have everyone angle their chairs to face the person diagonal to them.


Instant round table. The key thing is that the angle of your chair to the edge of the table (i.e. the way we normally orient ourselves) is completely unimportant. Your angle towards the other players is what matters.

For other numbers, just position everyone to face the center of the imaginary circle. If you have three players, you can put someone at the end of the table and angle the chairs that are facing each other. Same with five: put someone on the end and alter the angles. The two chairs near the seat on the end should scoot back slightly so the other two players have a clear sight line.

When in doubt, imagine there is no table. Just position your chairs to face the other players.

Ben Robbins | September 20th, 2016 | how to play | 2 comments

PAX 2016: Veni Vidi Ludi

“We came. We saw. We gamed.”

Once again, crack squads from Story Games Seattle, Story Games Olympia and other parts Pacific Northwest, descended on PAX to bring the story games to the people. From Friday through Monday, our expert facilitators were on hand, offering games to anybody who wandered up and wanted to take them for a spin. And wander up and game they did!

PAX 2016 Story Games

There are 81 games in the log, plus probably more pickup games that didn’t get recorded. A whole slew of different games were played, but the hands-down winner was Downfall, which got played in at least 14 slots. What’s even more impressive is that at least six different facilitators decided to run it: that’s a huge vote of confidence.

Salutes and kudos to all the tireless facilitators and organizers who once again made the gaming possible. And cheers and applause to all the great gamers who showed up, took a leap of faith, and tried something new and exciting. Let’s do it again soon.

Ben Robbins | September 18th, 2016 | events

Defy Everyone

In story games, a character can defy everyone else and succeed entirely on their own.

A player cannot. Big, important distinction.

Ben Robbins | September 15th, 2016 | how to play

Microscope Oracle: Capes & Justice

“fall of league of supervillains creates world war”
“outlawing of experimental drug unleashes social inequality”
“rise of psi talents unites terrorists”

The special bonus superhero Oracle from the Microscope Explorer kickstarter is ready to go! You can use the PDF and roll the dice or use the oracle online.

Superhero Oracle

There a lot of societal issues, justice and world politics in the mix rather than just four-color rock’em sock’em, but that’s just my personal preferences showing through. And also because when you summarize a whole history, it’s trends like that which shine through, even if there are a lot of death-rays and kill-bots along the way.

As always, with 46,000 possible combinations per oracle, some results are going to be weird or outright nonsense. If you don’t like what you get, just roll again or tweak it however you want.

Now go punch injustice in the face.

Ben Robbins | September 11th, 2016 | microscope explorer, microscope tools

That Winning Face

“That moment in Follow where everyone holds their breath as you draw the stones… and then everyone screams. Priceless.”

Game designers make the games they want to play. We’re selfish like that. But it’s a good thing, because it means we want our games to work (selfish) and we love what we make.

But for the game to be useful to anyone else, it has to work when you, the designer, aren’t at the table. And that’s the definition of an unknowable / black box kind of thing, because, well, you aren’t there! That’s why moments like this are music to mine ears:


I walked up just as they drew and cheered, so I asked them to strike a victory pose so I could capture the moment. I have no idea what was going on in this game except that it was Follow, the last game slot of PAX, and they had won their last challenge. And I know that face.

But you know what’s really interesting? The face when you draw and lose often looks exactly the same, but maybe with more screaming before the smiles.

Because good story is good story.

Ben Robbins | September 6th, 2016 | follow

PAX 2016: Games on Demand

Want to play games at PAX? We will have a *horde* of talented facilitators ready to bring the fun. A horde. Enough to form a political party or stage a barn-raising.

The sign-up table for games on demand will be at the door to 305 on the third floor of the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC). Show up, sign up, and play. It’s first come, first serve, so it’s not a bad idea to show up early to reserve a spot for the time & game you want.

I’ll be there Friday night (starting 7:30 pm) and Saturday & Sunday afternoon (starting 4:30 pm). I’ll have Follow and Microscope in my bag of tricks.

As always, no experience necessary. Just bring your good attitude and your sense of adventure!

Ben Robbins | August 28th, 2016 | events