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2021: A Year of Legacy

Despite the pandemic — or more likely because of it — I played more role-playing games in 2021 than any other year since I started logging my games back in high school. It’s a fact.

Playing online via video chat used to seem like a pale imitation of face-to-face gaming, but for logistics it can’t be beat: distance doesn’t matter so you can game with anyone in the world, there’s no picking a venue, no travel time, etc. Even without a pandemic, it’s kind of a great fit for busy adults.

A big chunk of those games were Kingdom. Lots and lots of Kingdom. 71 sessions total. And almost all of them were the new Legacy rules from the second edition. I came from an old school D&D background ages ago, and while I love one-shot (or short arc) story games, there have been times I missed the immersion and involvement that comes from a campaign you’ve been playing with the same people for months or years. But before now there have been, as far as I know, exactly *zero* GMless games that really work for long-term campaign play — I’m talking about campaigns that run thirty, forty, or (ahem) seventy sessions.

But now with Kingdom Legacy we’ve got long-term campaigns again and it’s fantastic.

In 2020 we started our Kingdomon “collect all the pocket monsters” saga with Al, Caroline, and Marc, and it’s still going strong two years in. It was the very first Legacy game I ever played, before the rules were finished and I knew how awesome it was going to be.

Then in 2021 I added a second campaign, the Department of Witches Kingdom with Ace, Ashley, and Joe. And just like Kingdomon, it was originally a one-shot Kingdom game that grew out of control and is now over 30 sessions in.

And what’s better than two Kingdom games? How about three? The Ozari Traveling Circus, with Haskell, Jem, Mike, and Seth, complete with clowns, lion tamers, and trapeze artists. It’s still a “normal” Kingdom game so only time will tell if it will make the jump to Legacy too.

And yeah, I did squeeze in a bunch of other games that weren’t Kingdom: Caroline’s awesome Fedora Noir game, two Fallout campaigns (great players and not-so great rules), some Microscope, Follow, and Downfall, a few games I hadn’t tried before like Incarnis, i’m sorry did you say street magic, and Paninaro, and even a West Marches D&D 3e game that someone else is running so I get to just kick back and avoid getting eaten by wolves for a change.

As always, the key ingredient is great players. I am very, very lucky to know a bunch of people are a lot of fun to game with over and over again.

Cherish your peeps. And cut them some slack when you have to. It’s rough out there.

Ben Robbins | January 16th, 2022 | , , , , , ,

Does It Add Beauty to The World?

I’ve been working on a long post picking apart the movie Inception for ages, analyzing what I think are truths the movie hides in plain sight.

But looking at the finished essay, I decided it didn’t add to the beauty of the world. So I’m scrapping it.

Ben Robbins | January 12th, 2022 | | 4 comments

An Item or Object to Be Processed

I urge you not to endorse this sinister measure. Humanity many times has had sad experience of superpowerful police forces… As soon as (the police) slip out from under the firm thumb of a suspicious local tribune, they become arbitrary, merciless, a law unto themselves. They think no more of justice, but only of establishing themselves as a privileged and envied elite. They mistake the attitude of natural caution and uncertainty of the civilian population as admiration and respect, and presently they start to swagger back and forth, jingling their weapons in megalomaniac euphoria. People thereupon become not masters, but servants. Such a police force becomes merely an aggregate of uniformed criminals, the more baneful in that their position is unchallenged and sanctioned by law.

The police mentality cannot regard a human being in terms other than as an item or object to be processed as expeditiously as possible. Public convenience or dignity means nothing; police prerogatives assume the status of divine law. Submissiveness is demanded. If a police officer kills a civilian, it is a regrettable circumstance; the officer was possible overzealous. If a civilian kills a police officer all hell breaks loose. The police foam at the mouth. All other business comes to a standstill until the perpetrator of this most dastardly act is found out. Inevitably, when apprehended, he is beaten or otherwise tortured for his intolerable presumption.

The police complain that they cannot function efficiently, that criminals escape them. Better a hundred unchecked criminals than the despotism of one unbridled police force. Again I warn you, do not endorse this measure. If you do, I shall surely veto it.

From over fifty years ago, Jack Vance’s The Star King, 1964.

Science fiction, of course.

Ben Robbins | January 3rd, 2022 |

Three Kinds of Insight

When I’m noodling away, doing that thing we ostensibly call work, I bump into three kinds of insight.

There’s the kind of insight that you hurry to write down, so you don’t forget it.

Then there’s the kind of insight that changes the way you think, so you *know* you’ll never forget it, even if you don’t write it down.

And then, insidiously, there’s the third kind: the kind of insight you think will change your thinking and you’ll never forget, but instead you just keep forgetting and rediscovering it, and forgetting and rediscovering it, again and again, even if you do write it down.

That moment when you have a great idea, then look back and realize you wrote down that same idea three years ago and forgot about it? Oh yeah.

Sometimes the brain resists change.

Ben Robbins | December 26th, 2021 | , | 2 comments

Spot & Listen in 3e

We’ve been playing D&D 3e again recently, and here’s a tiny tip I don’t think I’ve mentioned before.

Instead of a single perception roll, D&D 3e had separate Spot and Listen checks, along with separate Move Silently and Hide skills. Which was kind of rubbish, because often it was really both happening at once. And if you roll once for each, you’re actually doubling the chance of failure (because two successes doesn’t help you, but one failure means you get caught). Or the GM was picking one randomly — yelling “make a Spot check!” as the goblins creep up on you — even though maybe you were better at Listen and it would work just as well.

Having a single Perception and Stealth stat is obviously better, but here’s a fix you can use in 3e without rewriting the rules: roll once and apply it to both tests.

You’re sneaking past the ogre, and you don’t want it to see or hear you of course. You roll a 9. You have +4 Hide and +6 Move Silently, so your Hide was 13 and your Move Silently was 15. Then the ogre rolls once, and applies their Spot and Listen to see if you are about to get a club to the face.

If only one applies, like you’re listening for something coming up behind you or trying to spot something sitting still in a bush, yep, still roll one die, but only use the one skill. Easy peasy.

You could probably take a similar approach when you’re doing a some mix of Bluff, Diplomacy, and/or Intimidate (which are also split up way more than necessary), but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Ben Robbins | December 22nd, 2021 |

Kingdomon: Back to Kin Je’do

“Imagine if the Warlord had never conquered Kin Je’do hundreds of years ago. If their philosophy of living in harmony with nature had been what survived and prospered? How different would our world be now..?”

In game 9, the peaceful citizens of Kin Je’do struggle to find a way to deal with Pashelkata, visiting scholar and spy for the Warlord, who wants to use their knowledge to turn Kingdomon into beasts of war…

In game 71, the crew of the SS Melody from hundreds of years in the future steps out from the Sub-Verse and see Pashelkata, studying in the libraries of Kin Je’do, learning secrets to take back to his master…

In game 15, the Warlord marches on Kin Je’do, enslaving its scholars and looting its libraries…

In game 73, we get ready to go back in time to stop him…

Now that we’ve inadvertently introduced time travel into our game, our Crossroad is, do we try to change history and save Kin Je’do? Because play big or go home.

Before we start, we talk about style: do we want a Crossroad where we sit on the sub and debate whether to intervene, watching historical events replay through hazy ether-windows? Or do we want “Back to the Future” hijinks where characters jump into the past and sneak around in the background, hiding behind bookshelves and eavesdropping on scenes we played a year and half ago?

Our decision: hijinks. So much hijinks. But all just barely toeing the line of not definitely intervening yet, because we can’t decide that until we resolve the Crossroad. We inadvertantly abduct the saavy scholar spy Pashelkata back to the SS Melody in the Sub-Verse, before (double-inadvertantly) returning with him to the Warlord’s camp and getting captured and tied to tent-poles. There are cameos by multiple fan favorites from 50+ games ago. Soooo much happens, with whole background arcs that could be filled in between scenes, like the most bad-ass of fiction. Our imaginary Kingdomon series fan-wiki is melting down from all the traffic.

In the end, just about every character wants to intervene. Touchstone tells us that the crew fervently wants to do the right thing and save Kin Je’do from the jackboots. But the predictions… the predictions are pretty bad. Yes, we’ll change the course of events, but we may also erase ourselves from history. And/or we’ll be trapped in the past, unable to ever return.

Was there a last minute change of heart and a single-handed mutiny/sabotage to avert a decision that could obliterate the whole world we’ve known and everyone in it? There was, but it was nowhere near a sure thing.

And here’s the tricky thing about Crossroads: a Crossroad is always a question about what the Kingdom decides to do, not the outcome. Consequences are for Perspective to declare. Our question was, do we try to save Kin Je’do. Not, “do we change history”. So after all our tampering, sneaking around, and telling people faaaaar too much about the future — not to mention leaving captured advanced technology in the absolutely wrong hands — we could have changed history *even though* we decided not to. Or, vice versa, Perspective could say “yeah, even if we try to save Kin Je’do, we’ll fail and things will turn out the same”.

Our Perspectives told us that if we intervened, it would work. We would win, but at a terrible price.

We almost did it anyway. That’s how much we still loved Kin Je’do.

Ben Robbins | December 9th, 2021 | , , , | 2 comments