Ghost of Astariole’s Wife

Old school D&D story time:

During an attack on the Wizard’s Guild, Astariole’s wife was caught in the magical crossfire and killed. But Trey (Astariole’s player) decided not to raise her from the dead because she was Druidic and therefore all about reincarnation instead.*

It was really a “meh” decision for all of us, an opportunity to write-out an uninteresting character. Despite being introduced years before, when we were all just kids, she had never been fleshed out as a person — which, as the DM, was all my fault. I can’t even remember her name off the top of my head, which says a lot. Other characters had very interesting spouses with their own stories, etc, but Astariole’s wife was just filler. A meh character. In all those years she hardly ever appeared in play.

Part of the reason was that, originally, Astariole was not Trey’s main character, so he had less screen time. He was part of a “side roster” of characters at the Wizard’s Guild, not the main adventuring party in the Ashtal campaign, though later that all flipped around and Astariole became Trey’s main.

What happened after she died? Well I seized the day and had her appear a lot more often. Astariole would be getting ready to camp in some forest or looking up from a book in his library and his wife would quietly walk past the door or stand and watch him wistfully.

He guiltily realized he was being haunted by the wife he had left behind. Suddenly, the story of their meh marriage was entirely interesting.

And Then… Gone

What was Trey’s reaction to being haunted by his dead wife? He seemed into it. Because suddenly now there was some story there. It was an interesting relationship, even if not a good one.

In a way it was a do-over, a chance to re-examine their relationship. I started playing D&D when I was 11. Astariole’s wife was introduced probably when I was 13. We were adults now (read as 20ish) so dwelling on this overlooked character and this blank slate of a marriage was thought-provoking, even in just a series of silent cameos.

Months later, after a particularly bad fight, an ally cast a Heal spell on Astariole to fix his wounds. It’s a powerful level 5 spell, the same level as raising the dead, and it pretty much heals everything in one shot. The big gun for dire straits.

And just like that, his wife stopped appearing. Because she had never been haunting him in the first place.

Why? Before all this started, back in the infamous Citadel of the Deep, Astariole had been hit by a psionic blast from a mind flayer and failed his save. The damage? *roll roll roll*: Minor insanity. As a DM I looked at that and told the players nothing happened. But I thought hmmmmm and made a note. And then his wife started appearing.

The haunting had always been all in his mind, hallucinations that were the product of psionic damage and guilt, which the Heal spell unintentionally cured (the psionic damage, not the guilt)

The death of his wife and the self-examination that followed with “the haunting” was, I think, a subtle turning point for the character. It was a key part of shifting Astariole from a backup PC to Trey’s main character. A transition from a character from our childhood to a character played by an adult. It made Astariole feel like a complete person, flaws and all, and set the stage for a whole series of stories that followed.

* In AD&D aka first edition, clerics raised dead but druids could reincarnate you, putting your spirit in the body of a chipmunk or (if you were lucky) a centaur or something else with opposable thumbs. Deep cut for people who remember The Rogues Gallery supplement and the surprisingly high percentage of PCs who were reincarnated as lizard men and centaurs.

Ben Robbins | November 28th, 2022 | ,

In This World, It’s Time to Game

In This World is out! For playtesters anyway.

If you signed up to playtest you should have gotten an email with a download link Friday night. If you don’t see it, and it’s not in your spam, drop me a comment below to make sure you get hooked up. If you signed up after Friday, I’ll send out another round in a day or two, so don’t worry that you’re missing the boat.

We got *a lot* of volunteers for the playtest, which is very exciting. You are many, but you are precious, each and every one of you.

Now go forth and play!

UPDATE Nov 22: Just sent out a new batch of emails to late sign-ups. Welcome!

Ben Robbins | November 19th, 2022 |

Playtest In This World

My new game, In This World, is ready for outside playtesting. I’ve played it a bunch, made some tweaks and refinements, and now it’s ready for you:

Playtest Sign-up for In This World

It’s a very accessible game, probably more than any other game I’ve made. I think it would work great even for people with zero role-playing game experience. And as always I’m looking for playtesters who will get people together and play, not just read the game.

After we get some people signed up I’ll send out an email with the download link. I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of worlds you create!

Ben Robbins | November 13th, 2022 | | 1 comment

Uncanny Valley Androids & Secret Sacred Laws

Just played two fantastic games of In This World, back-to-back, with Story Games Seattle veterans Ace and Joe.

Yes, we played one game, and then got so excited we jumped right back in and played another.

Why? Because after the first game, which got us chatting a mile a minute, Ace made a comment which led Joe to ask, hmmm, what about using this In This World in this way instead..? So we turned on a dime and tried it and damn if it didn’t work great. Surprisingly great. No spoilers, but is this alternate method going in the book? Yes it’s going in the book.

And never fear, I’m cranking away on the public playtest release so you can play it too!

Ben Robbins | November 4th, 2022 | ,

In This World

Police carry badges…
Dragons breathe fire…
Nations have borders…

In our world, things are a certain way. Sometimes ways we don’t even question.

But In This World — the world we make together — things can be different. We can see how the world would turn out if we examined our assumptions… and maybe turned some of them on their head.

And instead of just making one world, we’ll make several, freeing everyone at the table to explore a variety of possibilities without worrying that the world we’re making isn’t exactly the one they want.

I said in the previous post that In This World was a small game for big ideas, and that’s exactly right. It uses a simple procedure that gets you examining concepts and issues very quickly. The rules break the creative steps down into very digestible bites, letting you sneak up on big ideas instead of asking for invention out of the blue. It’s weirdly easy.

I imagine its strongest use is exploring real world concepts like money, privacy, or religion, but you can just as easily explore fictional ideas that we are all familiar with, like wizards or the Force. Want to make a D&D setting that isn’t like every other D&D setting? Fire up In This World and see what comes out.

Ben Robbins | November 1st, 2022 | | 1 comment

“That sparrow has seen some shit”

I had this idea for a game.

Been kicking it around for ages, but couldn’t figure out how to make it into something you could actually *play*… until I had a breakthrough a few weeks ago. With that new wrinkle the rules wrote themselves, so I recruited some brave souls to try it out:

First playtest. Very good. See some rough spots, make some adjustments.

Second playtest, a few days later. Different group so they’re seeing it fresh. The rough spots now run smooth and feed back into the creative furnace. Toss and turn all night afterward, unable to sleep, because my brain is going a mile a minute, which is exactly the design I was shooting for.

Honestly, the whole game feels a little like a cheat code to draw out creativity. That’s one of the things that held me back from bringing it to the table. It just looks… too easy? Can games be that easy? Shouldn’t it be… harder?

But forget all the metaphysics — the test is, does it deliver? So far the answer is: Yes. Yes it does. Cue game design fist pump.

Next step, some more internal playtesting, and then… expect the call for the public playtest so you can jump in on the fun. And yeah, this is one of those times where I tell you nothing about what the game is about. Not yet. But I will soon. And no, this is not Evergreen. This is a different side project. A much smaller, simpler design.

A small game for big ideas.

Ben Robbins | October 22nd, 2022 | ,