In This Life

“I’m tired of characters who are just shallow stereotypes…”

We had just finished a delightful session of In This World and were basking in the afterglow. Talk turned to different stripes of gaming, from story games to D&D. Which is when Ace said how tired they were of one-dimensional characters. Characters that were just cardboard cutouts or well-trodden stereotypes instead of digging into what made them who they were. We all agreed that this was indeed a pox upon the house of gaming.

And then Joe said: I wonder if you could use In This World to make more interesting characters?

Naturally I looked at him like he had two heads. Make characters? What? C’mon, this is a *world* building game. It’s right in the title!

But we talked about it and I had to admit, it made sense. Not only did it make sense, it seemed like a surprisingly good fit. My innate game design caution made me want to retreat to my thought-cave and carefully weigh the changes that would be necessary, so I could be sure it would work.

Or, shouted Joe and Ace, we could try it RIGHT NOW.

So yeah, we had just finished one game of In This World, and we turned around and jumped in and started another, hacking together the rules for In This Life…

What Makes A Jock A Jock?

In This World takes a concept and then imagines a world where that idea is different.

But to make interesting people, we didn’t want to change the stereotypes, we wanted to explore how individual people might not fit the stereotypes we expect or project on to them.

So we start with a category of person we want to explore — in our first game it was “jocks” — and then the statements are the things that people expect to be true of that stereotype. For example:

Winning matters
Sports are life
Team is your family
Coach knows best
Play hard, party hard
Studying is for nerds

Classic jock stereotypes, right? And then instead of worlds, you make individual people. A person who doesn’t fit one of the stereotypes we just outlined. Coach knows best, but this jock doesn’t trust their coach. Studying is for nerds, but this jock cares about getting good grades. Winning matters, but this jock doesn’t take it all that seriously. They just enjoy the game.

And then dig deeper, following the same procedure as normal In This World to see how these breaks from expectations affect this person’s life and those around them. You see what happens when someone doesn’t fall into that neat little box.

The result was — just as we hoped — complicated and interesting people. And maybe more importantly, sympathetic people. Each character we created, we cared about, even when they messed up, confronting our own preconceptions about those stereotypes in the process. We would have happily kept playing any of those stories to see what happened next.

It also feels different from normal In This World because you’re inherently exploring a tension that arises from being different, from not fitting in. It’s gripping story soil.

Just Scratching the Surface

The funny thing is that even though I didn’t tell playtesters any of this, *multiple* groups independently came up with the same idea. Not all in exactly the way I described here, but some variation on the concept of characters instead of worlds.

“In This Life” is going in the book as an alternate way to play, because it is just too good not to include. I have… a few other ideas in mind as well, but we’ll see if they’re good enough to make the cut. I’ve said before that In This World says it’s a game where you make worlds, but it’s really a tool to examine assumptions. I think there may be a whole host of ways or places we could use this method that we haven’t even thought of yet.

We’re just scratching the surface.

Ben Robbins | June 17th, 2023 | , | 1 comment

Combining Worlds: See You Space Cowboy…

We had an urge to play some space cowboys. But what does “space cowboys” even mean to us? There was one way to find out: play In This World and chew on our preconceptions.

Our plan was to play In This World to prototype some worlds, and then pick one to use for another game we were going to run. Rather than trying to define “space cowboys” as a concept at the start, we used the ‘combine two things’ technique and inserted space into slot 1 and cowboys into slot 2, just to make sure we were really starting from the ground floor.

And it totally worked! We made four tasty worlds. Well, universes really, because: space. All very good, all very distinct takes on what it meant to be a space cowboy. But which one to use for our game??

Spoiler: we used all of them.

Yep that’s right. After a bit of pondering we realized that all four ideas we created could interlock together, perfectly.

World 1 was a planet where a colony ship crashed long ago, leaving survivors to spread out and settle the barren world. Security androids from the ship had been repurposed into law enforcement, creating relentless robot sheriffs prowling the badlands. A totally cowboy vibe, but on a distant world.

World 2 was a lot more sci fi, with “cowboys” as frontier mech jockeys, on the very edge of the expanding universe, fighting to claim infinitely valuable star-seeds from the emerging cosmic proto-matter before anyone else. They are the legendary adventurer-heroes every child dreams of becoming, their names written among the stars.

What, no hackers yet? World 3 has you covered. Cowboys roam the data nets, infiltrating and stealing. But this is an interplanetary internet, the data connecting a thousand worlds and a myriad of races in a great galactic civilization. Humanity are small fries, a tiny unimportant race, except for one distinction: for reasons unknown, they are the only species who can project their minds into the net. They are the only cowboys, so the other civilizations have to hire them to do their dirty work. Essential but eternally outsiders.

And then World 4 takes us back to a more classic cowboy vibe. The entire galaxy is united and civilized, but one world has been kept wild as a haven for people who don’t want to follow society’s rules. Anyone can reject civilization and go live on the badlands planet, where there is no law but what you make… And once you go, you can’t return.

Four very different worlds, but I think you can already see how they click together. Worlds 1 and 4 are the same place, a world where a colony ship crashed long ago and has now been set aside by the interworld-government as a free haven, an outlet for those who can’t adapt to the galactic utopia. And that galactic civilization is world 3, where humans have a rare niche as hackers, but are otherwise unimportant… with that unimportance perhaps fueling the desire to escape, one way or another. And then world 2, with the larger than life mech-cowboys on the edge of the expanding universe are just the outer fringes of that same civilization, another place where heroic individualism can still survive.

Normally you can merge ideas with a little adjustment, but this was exceptional because we didn’t have to change a single thing. They just clicked. Was that a side-effect of creating them all with In This World? That even though we knew they were independent worlds, our brains were already primed with similar ideas or subconsciously making things that worked together? Who knows? It’s not something I’ve seen in other In This World sessions.

Either way, our combined setting gave us three distinct kinds of space cowboys in this one universe:

Which actually brought us right back to our initial question: what kind of space cowboys did we want to play? If you guessed dusters, speeder bikes, and robot-sheriffs prowling the wastelands, you would be right. But now we knew so much more about the civilization outside our world, the wardens of our tiny preserve.

We knew what we had turned our backs on.

Ben Robbins | June 11th, 2023 | , | 3 comments

Early Access Released

My original plan was to release an early access version of In This World to backers after the Kickstarter ended, so they could get started playing before the whole book was done.

But then the other day I was having a great time playing with a new group of people and it made me think — for the millionth time — that this game is just fun to play. And I thought to myself: why wait? Why not let my backers start playing as soon as possible?

So that’s what I did. I finished incorporating all the playtest feedback, revised and improved all the explanation text, made sure everything was ready to go, and then sent it out to backers. Just in time for the weekend!

I can talk about how much fun In This World is all day, but the real test is people sitting down and getting to play it for themselves. And now they can.

Ben Robbins | June 10th, 2023 | | 2 comments

Gameplay Video: In This World

Trying something new! I’ve uploaded a gameplay video of one of our In This World sessions. The topic for our worlds: Vacations!

I’ve never tried posting video of our sessions before, but a lot of people have asked to see what all my games look like in action, so we’ll see how this works!

It is, of course, totally unscripted. You get to see the whole process, from sitting down to picking a topic for our worlds to hashing out all the details. Real gaming, warts and all! Big kudos to Caroline, Marc, and Al for being willing to take the plunge!

Like and subscribe and all that jazz!

Ben Robbins | May 30th, 2023 | , ,

In This World, In Your Head

or, “Can you play this game solo?”

Ever since I starting working on In This World, it has been slowly taking over my brain. I don’t mean I’m working on it all the time, I mean it is working on me!

I’m just going about my day, minding my own business, and then something crosses my mind, some topic like Toys or Museums or Weather. And immediately I start thinking of statements: common and obvious things that are true about that topic. Things we don’t even normally think about. Things we take for granted.

And then, naturally, because In This World has a hold on me, I think “hmmmm, well, what if that wasn’t true?” And before I know it I’m imagining new worlds and questioning everything.

Like just now, after dealing with social media, I imagined an alternate world where people leave each other secret notes in the woods. The most adorable social media!!!

But let’s be clear: the game is designed to be a group activity. It’s not built for solo play. And yet… I find myself playing it solo all the time. I start applying the method and suddenly I’m interrogating the world and percolating new ideas.

And that’s not even counting cases where I play a normal session, and then walk around afterwards thinking of even more ideas (yeah, ask me about my Dating world where instead of “people have a wide range of expectations of dating” there are Five Schools of dating philosophy and everyone adheres to one of them, like a 70s kung fu movie).

It’s a compulsion! I can’t stop myself!

And you know what? I like it.

Ben Robbins | May 24th, 2023 |

In This World, Story Games Are Joy

“We started by changing “Story games aren’t about winning,” to “well, actually they are…””

Caroline and Marc took In This World for a spin on a lovely and leisurely Sunday morning. Their topic? Something near and dear to us all: story games!

Less Than Three Games: World of Story Games

“But what I most appreciate about In This World is how it makes me feel that the magic of each and every game is us — people getting together and sharing our unique perspectives to make something new.

“In this world, story games are joy.”

See? Caroline gets it.

Ben Robbins | May 20th, 2023 | , ,