Posts in this Category

The Thesis: Practice and Escapism

Years and years ago, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, I did a psychological study that looked at the relationship between gamers and the characters they played. I had two phases of questionnaires, one asking a lot of standard personality index questions and the second asking what kind of character the person played, how their character […]

Ben Robbins | March 5th, 2009 | | 11 comments

Boredom & the No-Prep Game

I’ve been playing a lot more indie games lately, which is great, but I’m finding they have one big problem: boredom. Not boredom during the game — the games are fun. But lots of indie games follow a model where the GM (if there even is a GM) doesn’t prepare anything ahead of time. Everything […]

Ben Robbins | December 16th, 2008 | | 8 comments

Widen the Fun

Games don’t always work. A game might be too ambitious to really be feasible, or it might just be too much for the people involved. In the middle is the range of games that work, the successful game, the fun zone. There are two ways you can widen the fun: 1) you can push the […]

Ben Robbins | May 23rd, 2008 | | 4 comments

Game vs World

For many, many years I ran games as a way of expressing the worlds I had built. I ran different campaigns, with different groups of people, all in different places or different times, but the vast majority were all on the same world and in my mind all connected. Not connected in plot, just connected […]

Ben Robbins | April 20th, 2008 | | 4 comments

Choosing New Games: the Character Sheet Test

When I’m struggling to decide whether a new game system is worth trying out, there are lots of different things that can influence my decision. But when in doubt, I find I fall back on the character sheet test: 1) Open the book 2) Flip through it until you find a character write-up 3) Read […]

Ben Robbins | May 24th, 2007 | | 2 comments

Rules Influence Style

When I was 19 I got in an argument with an older and (as it turned out) wiser gamer. He was talking about using Bushido to run a samurai game, and I was saying how I didn’t like having to learn a new system for every different kind of game. If wanted to play a […]

Ben Robbins | February 27th, 2007 | | 2 comments

Bottling GM Skills

I just released Evil Genius #1: World Domination, and it occurs to me that I come up with much (much) more ars ludi material while working on games for publication than I do while working on games that I’m just going to run. It makes perfect sense really: as a GM you may do all […]

Ben Robbins | December 11th, 2006 | | 2 comments

Computer Games vs Tabletop Games: Learning Curve

Why is it easier to get someone to try a computer game than a tabletop game? And by tabletop games we're including them all, board games on up to RPGs. Ignore the fact that you need a group of people (in the same place, at the same time) to play a tabletop game, and ignore […]

Ben Robbins | November 27th, 2006 | | 4 comments

The Second AI

Problems with video games can highlight what is right with tabletop role playing games and vice versa. When a player goes up against a computer opponent in a game, that opponent is controlled by an AI. The AI is supposed to simulate the tactics and decisions a real opponent would make. The orcs might be […]

Ben Robbins | November 25th, 2006 | | 7 comments

Continuum of Roleplaying

Roleplaying can be a pretty broad term. Is a MMORPG roleplaying? Is Monopoly roleplaying? You could spend a lot of time arguing what counts as roleplaying, but the answer is not yes or no, it’s a matter of degree. Even “move your token” board games contain an iota of roleplaying. When you move the shoe […]

Ben Robbins | March 5th, 2006 | | 4 comments

Blessing of the Dice Gods

“Good shot, MacReady!” So about a million years ago I’m running a Star Frontiers game. It’s D&D in space, about an inch away from listening at doors. The PCs uncover a spy in the computer center, but before they can grab him he dashes into the maze of computer terminals, needler in hand. Two characters […]

Ben Robbins | February 17th, 2006 | , | 8 comments

Developing a Gaming Vocabulary

We lack terms to discuss a lot of what goes on during games. We have lots of terms for things that are within the rules, Hit Points or THAC0 or Skill Ranks, but relatively few terms to describe concepts that are not covered by the rules. We have terms for genre (high fantasy, western, space […]

Ben Robbins | February 13th, 2006 | | 7 comments

Why Did Your Game Suck?

Sometimes your game sucks. Despite the best laid plans, these things happen. Sometimes you never want to run a game again. You wonder why you are wasting your time doing it. In that case it was probably the players that messed things up. Probably. Sometimes you want to run another game as soon as possible. […]

Ben Robbins | February 7th, 2006 | | 4 comments

Who Ends the Game?

At a certain point game sessions become a puzzle that everyone is trying to solve, players and GM both. Having created these problems, having put our heroes and other innocents in dire straits, having set up the villains and terrible hazards, how do we resolve everything in a way that is both dramatic and satisfactory […]

Ben Robbins | January 25th, 2006 | | 3 comments