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 | | 3 comments

“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 | ,

Classic Cartography: Star Frontiers

Time for some map nostalgia!

When Star Frontiers came out in 1982, we were so excited about lasers and gryojet pistols that we briefly dropped our long-running D&D campaign like a hot potato and went all-in. I remember wistfully wondering whether we’d ever return to our gelatinous cubes and +3 longswords. In the end the break was probably less than four months, but to a kid, that’s a life time.

These are some of the maps I drew for that first Star Frontiers game, an interconnected web of adventures on the barren backwater planet, Laco. Complete with authentic smudges, stains, and eraser marks!

Port Nacano

The main attraction was Port Nacano itself, the only “city” on the planet and the center of the action. In hindsight that “6 meter” scale seems way off. Clearly a clerical error.

Laco Planetary Map

The plains of Laco were littered with starship wrecks, including the shell of the Myyrs-Varn that was now being used as the camp for a hoverbike gang, the notorious Dentriss Howlers.


I used to draw *a lot* of maps back when I ran campaigns, as GMs do. I was about 14 years old when I made these, so it’s interesting to see how quickly my style changed and developed, as you’ll see if I get around to posting more blasts from the past.

Ben Robbins | September 18th, 2022 | , , | 2 comments

Mind of Sandra Birch

“It’s Inside Out, the game”

I have a short list of go-to GMless pickup games, “games to play at a moment’s notice.” What I’m always looking for are games you can jump into easily but still have endless replay, usually because they handle a lot of different flavors of fiction.

Mind of Margaret is one of the few games on that list.

You tell the story of one main character, but each of us role-plays different emotions inside that person and debates what they should do at key points of their story — hence the “Inside Out” reference.

We played it recently, as part of Go Play NW this summer: Sandra Birch is trying to rediscover life after ending her marriage of twenty years. She has shared custody with her nearly-adult and eternally opinionated children. Her job is head of HR at the community college, but her dream is to go back to painting, which she gave up when she got married.

A pretty ordinary human situation, right? Not super dramatic. But one thing I love about Mind of Margaret is how even the most mundane decision is dramatic and interesting to play once the emotions start debating. Should I join the chess club? Should I pet that dog? In most games those would not be meaty scenes, but in Mind of Margaret all the inner drama comes out.

Sandra’s excited to discover that she’s sold her first painting! She’s doing it! But when her kids let slip that the buyer is really her ex-husband (“the patronizing bastard!!!”), will her Resentment, Fear, or Love decide whether to throw it back in his face?

Will Sandra revert to her maiden name? Will she try to finish that old painting she started in college? Will she let her new boyfriend sleep over? Every debate digs right into the *why* of each decision. There is no such thing as an uninteresting question once the emotions get their hands on it, because they’re all referendums on who this person really is and what drives them.

And while, yes, Mind of Margaret rocks “mundane” human stories like Sandra Birch, it also scales perfectly in the other direction. You can decide whether to attack the Death Star or slay the dragon. Both ends work great. It’s solid exploration of the human condition.

What I’m saying is, you should play it… but which emotion will win, your Curiosity, your Bravery, or your Doubt?

Ben Robbins | September 6th, 2022 |

Finger Dice

You and your friends are trapped on a desert island. What better way to pass the time than to play games? But you have no dice! What do you do?

You could whittle some out of coconut, but instead here’s an easy way for a group of people to simulate rolling a six-sided die. I originally laid out this method in Microscope Explorer, but it seems like a useful thing for everyone to have in their toolkit so I’m sharing it here.

You’ll find that you can also quickly eliminate sets of six as you count fingers. Drop fists or group together fingers that add up to six and drop them as you go, so long as there are still more fingers remaining (i.e. don’t go down to zero).

Statistically all results from one to six should be equally likely, regardless of how many people you include. Can you cheat and rig the results? Only if every player cooperates. If even a single player picks randomly, the result is unpredictable, which is pretty solid.

Ben Robbins | August 29th, 2022 | , | 6 comments