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

The Colony: Strength vs Beauty, Truckers vs Slugs (Follow at Go Play NW, part 3)

My third game of Follow at Go Play NW. The very last slot of the con. The slot that has no lunch break before it. Traditionally that means people will be a little logy, a little tired, or maybe if you’re lucky, laid back and serene.

That was our first real life “what makes your quest difficult?” hurdle. The second was that we added a last-minute player even though that put us up to six, because dammit, our motto is “no gamer left behind!” Six is a serious crowd for any game, let alone a tired, hungry, Sunday slot. It also unintentionally continued the perfect growth arc of my Follow games over the weekend: the first was four players, the second was five, and now six.

So last slot of the con, low food, big crowd: we’re doomed, right? Yep, I’m a little concerned. So as soon as sit down we talk about these very issues and agree to try to keep things tight, frame aggressively, etc.

And oh my god did we. Massively, absurdly tight. I don’t think I’ve played *any* game, ever, with such a narrow difference between what was said at the table and what would have been in the movie script. The scenes in our whole first round were maybe five minutes each. Five minutes, tops. Some even less: situation, drama, perfect lines, bam, done.

Our quest: colonize a new world. The big problem? Our thousand or so colonists were not carefully picked for the task. We were a desperate hodgepodge, thrown together by fate.

We had a Teutonic social philosopher trying to mold a new uber-utopia rooted in Strength (“haff you read my book? It iz all in my book…”). We had preservation of the arts (“what’s the *point* of having farms if we don’t have a museum?!?”). We had drug addiction. And we had tiny caustic slugs, eating everything we built.

I had a great time playing Constable Lila Madison, reluctant peace officer. My starting need had me watching Karen’s ex-con character, Esme, like a hawk, but as we played I recognized that she hadn’t just turned over a new leaf but a whole new tree. I was so impressed I dragooned her into being my deputy, as you do. That’s another example of where the need set the situation but it played quite a bit differently than I expected. As I said before, Follow is flexible. If you just follow the fiction, Follow works just fine.

In the “something I’ve never seen before in a Follow game” category: ornery trucker and unlikely hero Swain had a perfectly descending scale of unhappiness. In the first challenge he was 2 red (i.e. “to hell with this colony”), then 1 red in the second challenge, and then no unhappiness in the final challenge. Possibly the most uplifting story of an unemployed trucker on an alien world ever. He even got a rig in the end, a literal monster-truck (“uh, it looked a lot smaller in the blueprints…”) built to conquer the wilderness and bring back the ore that would save the colony.

Outcome: Victory! The colony thrives. In time, we’ve got grandchildren playing at our feet.

But not everyone’s happy. In a sweaty basement somewhere, the eclipsed Doctor von Bleben leads a secret fight club to indoctrinate the youth and prepare for the day when the colony realizes that only Strength can save it…

Those are my three fantastic Follow games, each so different, but each so great. Re the con as a whole, everyone I’ve talked to has agreed: this was a top notch Go Play. Quality gaming and great people all around. Thanks, everybody!

Ben Robbins | August 28th, 2016 | follow