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

Follow Needs Playtesters

I’ve been having a lot of fun playing Follow and now I’m ready to share it with playtesters. Which means you!


As always, I’m looking for people who will actually play the game and provide feedback, not just read it. If you’re interested, drop me a line at follow-playtest at lamemage.com or leave a comment in this post and I’ll get your email from the hidden email field. Let me know the last few role-playing games you’ve played so I have a sense of what kind of spread of gamers I’m getting.

Yes, Follow is a game where we work together to complete a quest. And right now our quest is to playtest Follow…

UPDATE: There’s also a G+ group for Follow if you want chat about the game or keep an eye on how the playtest is going.

Ben Robbins | June 17th, 2016 | follow | 24 comments

Hide In Your Own Body

Playtesting Eden again. Baruch has troubles. He accidentally broke Hosanna’s precious dagger so she paid him back by luring him into webs of biting spiders. But it didn’t end there and now she’s just terrorizing him.

Baruch is afraid and asks turtle what to do. Turtle (slowly) pulls his head and legs into his shell. A ha! Baruch tries to imitate turtle and crawl under a log for protection, but turtle (slowly) shakes his head.

“No. Hide in your own body.”

An innocent and literal statement for a turtle, but possibly the worst advice ever for a scared young human.

Ben Robbins | June 2nd, 2016 | what we played

Microscope Seed: Brave New World

“Colonists set foot on a new planet and strive to make it home. Can it grow into a flourishing, civilized world or will the colony fail and be forgotten?”

Brave New World is one of the new, improved seeds in Microscope Explorer, but I wanted to make it available for all those Microscope players who haven’t picked up the new book yet but need to get a game going quickly. Colonizing a new world is a solid premise for a history that you can use over and over again. If only I had a nickel for every Microscope world we civilized and/or ruined over the years…

Ben Robbins | May 29th, 2016 | microscope explorer, microscope tools

Eye of the Kraken

One of the nice things about the quest templates in Follow is that they get everyone on the same page about the kind of task we’re performing, but they’re flexible enough that you can easily change the flavor or setting. Want to steal the plans to the Death Star? Whip out the Heist quest. By default it’s a standard robbery caper, but with a flick of the wrist it could just as easily be Rebel spies lifting Imperial secrets.

So when we sat down to play the dragon-slaying quest the other day, we decided to reskin it as fierce Viking warriors hunting the Kraken that plagued the seas with storms and brought ruin upon the clans. Easy-peasy. The reskinning part, I mean.

Slaying the Kraken? Not so easy-peasy. It turns out when the runes say you need the Spear of the Gods to slay the beast, and you spend months sailing all the way to the frozen north to find it, you really shouldn’t let it fall into the icy depths, forever lost to mortal hand. Empty-handed, we return to face the Kraken anyway. We fight and fail. Some die, others wander in exile, fighting countless battles in the vain attempt to erase the stain of dishonor.

Which brings up another thing I’m really enjoying about Follow, but which may shock those who have followed (ahem) my other games: there are mechanical randomizers. Not dice, but still: randomizers. There is always a chance of success or failure, but the odds are very heavily weighted by what we think makes sense. If we look at what we did and we all think we should succeed, it’s very likely we will. On the other hand if we look back and we all think we puttered around and didn’t do a good job confronting the challenges in our way, we’re very likely to fail. Everyone’s opinion has equal weight, and if we disagree, the odds start to split and the results become much more unpredictable, which is as it should be because we don’t agree what should happen.

In our final battle against the Kraken, some of us were really rooting for our heroes to succeed, but given everything that happened in the fiction, it was a hard sell. The odds were not great, and fortune handed us a failure. Winning would have been easy to narrate (“yay, we conquer, woo hoo!”) but this result made us think about what failure would really do to these characters — the survivors anyway. Our epilogue was far more interesting because we had to think about how these would-be heroes would handle the consequences of utter defeat. How they would carry on having lost so much and gained nothing in return?

Did I mention that bad draws also kill characters? Oh yes they do.

Ben Robbins | May 25th, 2016 | follow | 2 comments

Coffee & Kickstarters

Yesterday we brewed the strong coffee (and tea) and sat down and talked about the wonders and woes of Kickstarters.


(depicted: me doing some kind of magic trick, apparently)

There’s an audio malfunction for about a minute towards the end that gives my voice a robotic, destroy-all-humans quality. You can’t make it out, but I was just noting that the bell curve of Kickstarters is actually encouraged by the “remind me at the end” button — even if people come to your Kickstarter in the middle, they may click that and only back at the end. In other words, you may be picking up more backers in the middle than you realize.

Now I just need to find a new headset that includes ‘killer robot voice’ as a feature, not a bug.

Ben Robbins | May 17th, 2016 | interviews