Damage Per Second

I was playing Sentinels with the usual crew, and my buddy was playing a character that could play a card to let them play a card to let them play a card, etc. Each turn took… forever. We might still be playing. I’m not sure.

The character wasn’t exactly overpowered, because each of those cards didn’t do a ton, but it took a long while to resolve even a moderately good hit.

I joked that, unlike video games, in tabletop games Damage Per Second (DPS) isn’t just a measure of how effective you are but whether the stuff you did was worth the playtime it took away from everyone else. Yeah you did a big hit that landed a lot of damage on the bad guy, but if we all had to wait ten minutes for that combo to finish, maybe everyone else would have rather you just played one card that did moderate damage and moved on.

Within the fiction and the raw math of the game, it is objectively better to do more damage on your turn, because the game is cooperative and we’re working together to try to beat the bad guy. But to the players, how much real time you take to play out your turn matters. The game does not measure or care how long it takes you to finish your turn, but the players really, really do.

“How are you enjoying my paladin?”

I think this points to a broader issue in games, which is that instead of just evaluating the mechanical effectiveness of a character/class/build/whatever, or how fun that character is to the person playing it, you should absolutely be keeping an eye on how fun that character is for the other players at the table.

Yeah maybe your Witchcross Hunter is reasonably effective and helps the team without overshadowing everyone else, but if your turn is slow, complicated, or boring for the rest of us to sit though, are we really excited to have them on the team?

Dead giveaways are multiple steps to resolve something that really could be resolved with one roll (“okay first I roll to see if my hex mark locks onto them, then I roll to see if I can invoke the Spirits of Wrath to boost my attack, then I roll to attack, and uh now I roll damage… oh wait and now I roll to see if the hex mark gives me bonus damage”) or a lot of moving resources around on your character sheet that no one else understands or cares about.

Even if something is theoretically happening in the fiction and could be interesting it fails if it gets hidden away so no one else at the table is involved (“you just talked to the ghost of your great grandfather to get a +1 to hit? Are you doing that every round???”). Navel-gazing action that does not invite other players in. It also fails if it’s something you have to do over and over again. Overcharging the flux capacitors of your megazord and putting the reactor in the red once is cool, but if you do it every round everyone’s eyes glaze over.

I’m talking about cooperative games like D&D etc but the same thing is true in competitive games. Beat your opponents with cool moves, don’t bore them to death.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: time is the most precious resource. Play-time doubly so. Waste it at your peril.

Ben Robbins | September 4th, 2023 | , | 1 comment

Say Hello to Chop Downhouse

Ever wonder whether you could come up with the best character name of all time? Well the bad news is, you can’t, because that achievement goes to 5-year-old who came up with Chop Downhouse. CHOP DOWNHOUSE.

Yep, Caroline has started playing D&D with her kiddo: Mommy, Let’s Play Dungeons and Dragons

“And if you’ve ever heard a five year old say “Dungeons and Dragons” over and over again in his irresistibly cute voice you can understand that I was powerless to say no. And so our DnD campaign began.”

Highly recommended read. We can only hope for further updates, though I’ve heard rumors that the kiddo has already been tempted by story games and started playing both In This World and Microscope…

Ben Robbins | September 2nd, 2023 | ,

Follow In German

Want to play Follow with your German-speaking friends? The good news is a translation is in the works, courtesy of Plotbunny Games.

Nächstes Crowdfunding: Follow von Ben Robbins!

Work on the translation has already been underway and there’s going to be a crowdfunding campaign, so if you’re interested keep an eye on their website!

Ben Robbins | September 2nd, 2023 | ,

My Mom’s a Mech Merc on Mars

I’ve been GMing a very hacked version of Lancer. Our setting has kind of a Cowboy Bebop meets Hammers Slammers meets professional sports vibe: pilots are professionals but it’s just a job. It’s not personal. And because they’re in mighty mighty mecha, even if they get wrecked in combat they are likely to walk away with minor injuries so they can have a drink at the bar with pilots from the other side and talk smack between battles.

Likewise, most pilots change outfits a lot over their careers. You do a stint with the Wolves of Ganymede, but when your contract is up maybe you sign with the Redstars, until they fire you or you get a better offer. Which means you’ve got history with a lot of different outfits. An ally today might be an enemy tomorrow. But again, it’s not personal… except when it is.

So when the players are making characters, I ask them to tell me a little story about an outfit they served with in the past, one that they had a bad experience with. Some place that threw them under the bus or treated them unfairly. An outfit they would not want to work with again and which probably wouldn’t hire them.

When everyone is done, I ask them to tell me about another outfit they had a great experience with. Someplace they really liked and would gladly work with again. And of course explain why and what happened.

Great! Now guess what? The outfit you hate is actually the same as one that someone else loved, etc. Criss-cross randomly, but make sure no two players match on both the good and bad side (or just pass to the left, etc).

Yeah, INVICTUS abandoned you in the middle of a battle, cutting a deal to end the conflict and leaving you behind enemy lines, forcing you to hide from pitchfork-wielding locals and find your own way out when your mech ran out of gas. But that’s the very same INVICTUS who was founded by another character’s mother. She taught her son everything about being a mech mercenary, and yeah she *totally* loved having him on the team but eventually every bird has to leave the nest and fly on their own…

“That piece of shit is your Mom???”

It’s a little bit shades of Western Paranoia, except in this case the players all know right from the start even if the characters don’t. Or do they? I let each pair of players decide when and how they want it to come out. Have they been bickering about their conflicting opinions of this one outfit as long as they’ve known each other? (“Naw, the Hellcats are totally cool! You probably just weren’t a good fit…”). Or is it a landmine that has never been trod upon… until our heroes find themselves on the same battlefield as that outfit. And suddenly it’s awkward.

Who’s right? Are those people terrible or awesome? Who knows??? Every point-of-view is biased, and each person only sees some slice of the story. Maybe everything happened for a good reason. Maybe it was all a big misunderstanding. Maybe.

You should totally talk this out. Forget that you’re sitting at the controls of a 50 ton wrecking ball loaded with missile racks and autocannons. Use your words.

“That piece of shit is your Mom???”

Not the words I was thinking of. Okay fine: roll for initiative.

Ben Robbins | August 16th, 2023 | ,

Now you can play In This World too

Did you miss the Kickstarter? If so, you can finally get your hands on the early access rules of In This World. When you pre-order the book or PDF, you’ll get the fully playable rules now, and the final version when it is released.

Lots of people have told me they only heard about the Kickstarter after it ended, which is the classic problem with crowdfunding campaigns — no matter how hard you try to get the word out, people miss it. Backers have had the early access version of In This World all to themselves for two months, so it feels about time to let people who were late to the party have some fun too.

I also started receiving topic ideas from people who backed at the world-builder level, and let me just say: *chef’s kiss!*

Ben Robbins | August 8th, 2023 |

Do you remember Remember Tomorrow?

Remember Tomorrow by Gregor Hutton is a weird little game that you probably never heard of. It came out back in 2010, and it’s possible that it made less of an impact because on the surface it doesn’t look weird at all. You play a character with a goal, fighting bad guys to get what you want. What could be more straightforward?

We have two — count em two — Remember Tomorrow games going right now. One straight cyberpunk, and the other digging more into one of the fantasy eras of one of our Kingdom legacy games. Did I mention it’s a cyberpunk game? Yeah that’s the default setting but we found it works just as well for swords & sorcery. So long as you have daring individuals being opposed by groups or organizations, whether that’s scheming corporations or hooded cults, it works.

We used to play it at Story Games Seattle every now and then, but trying it again recently reminds me that yes, it is a good game and deserves more love.

“Come At Me Bro!”

Cool, cool, cool, you say. But what’s the interesting part? Why should you check out this game?

The interesting part is the very unusual structure. The best way to describe it is a tapestry of stories that are loosely interconnected, but with threads that come and go based on what we think is interesting. I know it sounds like Microscope when I describe it that way, but that’s probably just me. It isn’t at all… except maybe in spirit.

Each player has their own character, which looks very straightforward, but you only keep that character for as long as they’re interesting to you. On your turn you can choose to abandon them and introduce a new character and launch their story instead. Your old character goes to the center of the table and sits there, untouched, unless someone else decides they want to adopt them and continue that story — giving up their old character in the process.

Each character has a goal, and their story is all about accomplishing it: you want to cure the cyber-plague, or kill the killer who killed your partner, etc. But the strange part is that the only way you can move towards your goal is by making *other players* interested in your story too.

On your turn you’ve got exactly three options:

  1. Introduce a new character (or faction), which I just described
  2. Have your character make a deal with a faction
  3. Forget your own character for a moment and describe a faction attacking someone else’s character

The second option, cutting a deal, can give your character a leg up, but at the cost of making a faction more powerful. Ultimately factions are all the characters’ enemies, so it’s bad for everyone. And the important thing is that while a deal can give you a buff, it *cannot* give you the checks you need to move closer to your story goal.

The third option is the key. The only way to get your story checks is if another player, on their turn, decides to forget about their own character for a moment and describes how one of the big bad factions is attacking you. They take off their protagonist hat for a moment and decide to be your antagonist. That scene, on their turn, can be one of the big story beats that moves your towards your goal. CEL-X tries to shut down your research lab, but that proves to be the critical moment when you isolate the transmission vector of the cyber-plague, bringing you one step closer to a cure.

It’s hard to wrap your brain around at first, because players keep thinking that their turn should be about their character–and it can be if you’re introducing a character or cutting a deal–but once you get in the swing of it it’s very fun.

Tapestry of Characters, Tapestry of Players

What happens when you accomplish your story goal, or fail and go down in a flames? That character is done. They’re out of the game. You make a new character and start a new story thread.

What I love about the whole combination is that we have a bunch of *potential* stories on the table, but the ones we follow and how they turn out must be the result of us building on each other. One person puts forward a character and a story goal, but that goes nowhere unless some other player is interested in creating adversity for that story.

And it’s a decision each of us makes individually, deciding how to spend our turns. The story *I* like might be quite different from the one that interests you, and that’s totally fine. All these threads weave around each other, creating a rich tapestry.

Is the game perfect? I think it has more fiddly bits than it needs, adding a little too much complexity in some places (I’m looking at you, conditions), but we have house rules to simplify it while still keeping true to the core mechanics.

The tapestry structure also means the game is super-flexible in terms of players coming and going. You can run it at a con, and if someone has to leave, no problem you just keep going. And if someone wants to join in they can just make a character and boom new thread added to the mix. Even if they know nothing about what’s already happened in the game, they can jump in on a new character’s story and get right into the action.

There’s always room for one more character, and for one more player.

Ben Robbins | July 31st, 2023 | , , , | 1 comment