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Kingdom Is Ready to Play

After many, many, many (many) revisions, the second edition of Kingdom is done and ready to play.

You can get the PDF right now. Books will be printed as soon as print tests are done, but you can pre-order those now too. If you bought the advance release, you should have already received an email with a download link. If you didn’t, give me a holler at info at lamemage.com. If you’ve got your original purchase email with your download link, that will work too.

Now go make some Kingdoms!

Ben Robbins | April 19th, 2021 | , | 1 comment

Teaching Games

A snippet from the discussion section of the new edition of Kingdom:

If you’re reading this, you are probably the person teaching everyone else the rules and how to play: what we call a “facilitator”.

First of all, thank you! Learning and teaching other people games is a great public service. You are already a hero, at least in my book. Which of course this is.

I write games very much with you, the facilitator, in mind. I want everyone at the table to have fun, and I know you are essential to making that happen. When I’m writing a game, I’m thinking about how you’ll have to sift through these pages at the table and explain what to do. The easier I can make it for you, the more you and everyone else at the table can focus on the fun.

Just sent the second half of the book off to editing, so getting close to the finish line…

Ben Robbins | March 30th, 2021 | , , , | 3 comments

Follow Invades Spain

Did you know Follow was popular in Spain? I did not! El Refugio is absolutely knocking it out of the park promoting their new Spanish translation of Follow.

As an added bonus, I give you the most adorable animated intro to Follow I’ve ever seen:

I don’t even know what the narrator is saying and it still makes me want to play!!!

Ben Robbins | February 21st, 2021 | , | 1 comment

Microscope Comes to Japan

Microscope has arrived in Japan! You can get the PDF right now.

Microscope in Japan

The print edition will follow later, thanks to Harrow Hill, my Japanese publishers!

Ben Robbins | February 13th, 2021 | , | 1 comment

K2: The Price of Overthrow

Game design journal time!

In Kingdom, overthrowing another character and taking their role away falls into that most pernicious category of game rules, “things that rarely happen but are very important”.

Which are, my friends, one of the trickiest species of rules. The rule is important, so it has to be robust and fulfill its purpose, but since it comes up infrequently (or never) you may wonder why you’re putting so much effort into it at all. And it’s harder to playtest, because it comes up less often.

As anyone playing Kingdom already knows, a core premise is that all the players have equal ability to influence the story, even if your role means you have totally different tools to work with. If you’re playing Touchstone you move the story very differently than if you’re playing Power, etc., but you’re both moving the story in ways that matter. And therefore, in theory, every time you change roles you’re just changing *how* you influence the story, not *how much* you can influence the story.

When someone overthrows you and takes away your role, you aren’t being robbed of your seat at the table, because you immediately take another role. You aren’t losing your voice you’re just being forced to pivot to a different kind of contribution. But it’s still a dramatic moment in the game and a big shift in dynamic between the players. I probably *wanted* the role I had, and now I have to adjust to playing something else.

So sometimes there’s going to be hell to pay.

The Price(s)

So what are the checks & balances on overthrows? There are several actually. The first and simplest is that the person overthrowing has to take that role for themself. If you want to stop Perspective you have to become Perspective. But of course if you already have that role this is no price at all.

The second is the overthrow may cause Crisis. The rules ask the players at the table how much they think what happened hurt the Kingdom and increases Crisis that much. This establishes how the Kingdom is reacting to events in the fiction and tells the overthrowing player what the rest of us think. We see the impact on the Kingdom and get the table on the same page.

The third is retaliation. The person you overthrew gets a new role and can immediately use it however they want. Yeah you dethroned the king and took their Power, but now they take Touchstone and the populace misses the sweet sweet monarchy.

All of which is well and good. But there’s a fourth element that I’ve gone back and forth on, and that’s a personal price the overthrower pays. You become department head so now your former coworkers can’t hang out with you anymore. Or you get caught up worrying about the future of the Kingdom so much you don’t pay attention to your husband. Or you storm the castle but take an arrow to the knee, etc. A personal price is cool and interesting fiction.

The price also serves to re-establish emotional balance between the players. Even though the overthrower is taking something from you, they’re also losing something in the process. Which is why the price comes very early in the process, before most of the other checks and balances I described above: by showing the personal price the overthrower pays early on, it reduces everyone’s urge to burn down the Kingdom in retribution, because we’ve already seen the overthrower taking a hit. The whole thing feels more fair.

The question is: who sets the price?

A very logical answer is that it should be the player you overthrow. You’re taking something from them, so they get to establish some price you pay. But it turns out that player is really not in the right state of mind. They’re thinking about their own character being pushed out of their role, so the prices tend to be punitive rather than interesting. You wind up with drastic, apocalyptic outcomes.

So I pivoted and said, well, why not just let the overthrower set their own price? They know what’s interesting about their character and where it would be good for their story to go. After all, the price isn’t really a deterrent, just a prompt to escalate fictional pressure.

That’s where the current version of the rules landed, which is what people are playing right now. And it’s… fine? But not really interesting. The overthrower usually makes something okay but predictable. It doesn’t add that much spice to the story.

Which, to be honest, means it isn’t working.

The Fix

Which leads to the variation I’m playtesting right now. Like all the best fixes, it is a simple and obvious change:

Instead of the overthrower (or the person being overthrown) setting the price, one of the other players who is not involved in the overthrow sets the price.

A neutral third party! I’ve been trying it out and so far it is working great and doing exactly what I wanted, adding interesting wrinkles without being weirdly retaliatory.

If you’re playing K2 right now, try it out!

And yeah, this kind of microscopic analysis goes into just about every part of my games. Even in cases like this where players can play a whole session and never overthrow anyone. Because when it does come up, I want it to work!

Ben Robbins | February 7th, 2021 | , , | 3 comments

Watering My Seeds With Tears

True confession: I hate writing seeds. Seeds, playsets, setting templates — whatever you call them, I hate it.

I really do. Not because I hate making fiction (I love making fiction) but because, as a game designer, it feels wrong to be making *your* fiction for you. I want the people at the table to create stuff, not me. Those are the kind of games I make.

But seeds can be a godsend. They can help a group shift out of neutral and agree on a concept more quickly, so everyone can get to the fun of playing. That’s valuable. And on a totally different front, even if someone never actually uses seeds, just reading them can inspire you. You see the wide range of possibilities and it makes you excited to bring the book to the table and play.

The first edition of Kingdom included a bunch of seeds, and let me tell you, they were chock full of material. There was a big explanation of the concept and there were lists of examples for evvvverything. Each averaged over two pages of dense text.

For the new edition, I have completely rethought that approach. As I picked apart the seeds for K2, I narrowed my focus down to providing exactly those two functions I described above — inspiring play by showing the range of possibilities, and helping players agree and get started — but at the same time *removing* all the extra stuff that supplanted player creativity.

Less Is More: Three Choices, Threats & Crossroads

When I was rewriting Union I hit on a “three variations” model, which I liked a lot and I’ve adopted for K2. Each seed has a core concept, but you’re then presented with three different versions of that idea to choose from. If we’re using the Winterhook’s School for Wayward Wizards seed, is our Kingdom a prestigious school for gifted young magicians, a hideaway where wizards can learn to control their errant powers, or an actual prison for sorcerers deemed too dangerous to roam free?

Presenting three alternate takes on a Kingdom lets me (the designer) demonstrate the potential of the premise very quickly. Even though players are only picking one, just hearing the other two starts the wheels turning.

In the original edition of Kingdom, I also did the obvious thing and provide lists of prompts for basically everything. Way too much stuff. Thinking about it more carefully, I decided there were really only two things that needed solid guidance: Threats and Crossroads. If you make good Threats and Crossroads, that will drive your game and everything else will flow naturally.

The net result is tight, one-page seeds that are easy to use to get your game started without a lot of mucking around.

And not only that, but once I hammered out this new approach and recipe, writing seeds became fun again, because it no longer felt like I was usurping the players’ creativity. Win-win!

Ben Robbins | January 21st, 2021 | , , | 3 comments