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Only Say Yes to a Yes

“Say yes” is a fundamental principle of just about every shared creative process. “Yes and”, “yes but” — either way, say yes. And it is absolutely good advice for role-playing games. Accept what other people contribute. Embrace what’s been said as established truth and build on it. Don’t contradict it. But there’s a big caveat […]

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

Feelings > Actions

When I’m playing a role-playing game, I’m much more interested in hearing what someone’s character feels about a situation than what they do. If we understand the character’s feelings, even taking no action is informative. And if we don’t know their feelings, any action remains a mystery. Why did they do that? We don’t know. […]

Ben Robbins | July 9th, 2021 | ,

A Careful Balance of Agreement & Disagreement

Any role-playing game is a careful balance between agreement and disagreement. We need agreement because the game world only exists in our minds. If we can’t agree about what’s true, we’re going to contradict each other. If you think there are walls around the city and I don’t, our game will crash. Since agreement is […]

Ben Robbins | July 3rd, 2021 | , , ,

First Rule of Gaming

My first rule of role-playing games is to care more about the people at the table than the story. The players matter more than the fiction. The danger is getting caught up in the wonderful story and forgetting that.

Ben Robbins | December 28th, 2020 | ,

Making Characters: The Fine Art of (Not) Fitting In

Taking a break from my kickstarter (and the worrrrrrlllldd) to talk about a character creation trick that’s extremely applicable to Kingdom, but also applies to a whole host of other games. Say you’re playing a game (like Kingdom) where the characters are supposed to all be part of the same organization or group. Naturally you […]

Ben Robbins | October 5th, 2020 | , ,

Story Games Online: What I’ve Learned So Far

I’ve spent most of my life playing roleplaying games at the table, in person. I’ve only started playing online much in the last few years, so I’m no expert, but here are some things I’ve learned so far. I follow the “simpler is better” approach with technology. I want no bells and whistles, unless those […]

Ben Robbins | March 28th, 2020 | , , | 9 comments

Rewrite the Ending Together

I see a lot of anguish on the internet. Sadness that the latest epic franchise didn’t stick the landing, or didn’t turn out quite the way you hoped, or maybe threw characters under the bus and utterly betrayed what you thought the whole concept was. Other people’s fiction will always disappoint you. Because those creators […]

Ben Robbins | January 8th, 2020 | | 2 comments

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I love good, dramatic conflict in a story game. But sometimes players shy away from or downplay an established conflict or history. Our clans have decades of grievance and blood feud, but yeah, that’s not such a big deal, let’s just forget that and work together, okay? And now we’re buddies. Sometimes the player is […]

Ben Robbins | June 10th, 2019 | ,

Story Games 101: Protagonist, Be Transparent

I talked about good antagonism a while back, so let’s talk about the flip side of the coin: good protagonism. When you’re playing a protagonist in a story game, you have a very important job: want something. Have desires. Have needs. But merely wanting something, deep down inside, isn’t enough. You have to *show us* […]

Ben Robbins | June 23rd, 2018 | ,

Story Games 101: Saying Terrible Things

“We expect kindness and maturity from everyone who attends and so should you.” That’s what it’s said on the Story Games Seattle website for years. When your charter is to game with strangers every week, maturity and civility is fundamental to making that work. We did not tolerate bigotry or discrimination in any form and […]

Ben Robbins | June 13th, 2018 | , | 4 comments

Story Games 101: Angle the Chairs

This is a simple trick we’ve been using at Story Games Seattle for years. It may seem trivial but it’s not. Your physical environment has a huge impact on your social interactions, and a role-playing game is just one big social interaction. In the kind of games we play — story games with no game […]

Ben Robbins | September 20th, 2016 | , | 2 comments

Defy Everyone

In story games, a character can defy everyone else and succeed entirely on their own. A player cannot. Big, important distinction.

Ben Robbins | September 15th, 2016 | ,

Story Games 101: Shifting to Third Person

You’re sitting at a table, playing a game, and someone across from you says: “I grab your neck and put a knife up to your face and say “Tell me what I want to know, or else!’” Story games can be intense. Sometimes too intense. If you need to cool it down and avoid scaring […]

Ben Robbins | January 31st, 2016 | , | 2 comments

A Beginner’s Guide to Making Scenes

(This is an excerpt from Kingdom, but it’s a good recipe for making scenes in just about any story game.) The secret to making a good scene isn’t coming up with an amazing or surprising idea. The secret is painting a clear picture so players know exactly what is going on. Being able to visualize […]

Ben Robbins | January 6th, 2014 | ,

Defining Story Games

But first a caveat. Nailing down definitions can turn into a horrible quagmire, particularly when we’re tackling words that lots of people already use but define differently, or use without an actual definition just a case-by-case “I can’t explain it but I know it when I see it”. But without definitions words can be treacherous. […]

Ben Robbins | October 29th, 2012 | , , | 10 comments

Talking ’bout Story Games

Jay Loomis put together a great video interviewing folks from the Seattle-Olympia story games family, including yours truly, flanked by ducks. “Play more! Less talk, more play! More play!”

Ben Robbins | January 26th, 2012 | , ,

Antagonism 101

or, being the right kind of mean “So, you’re trying to expose government corruption. Well, a car drives up, and a bunch of guys jump out. With guns! And… they shoot you! Uh, dead! Conflict!” “Allll-right…” We play a lot of story games where there’s no GM, and each character has an arc or agenda […]

Ben Robbins | December 2nd, 2010 | , , | 6 comments

My Indie Realization

I wrote the first draft of my first indie game (codename: hicks) on the plane back from GenCon 07. It was the perfect recipe for writing: post-con euphoria, extreme exhaustion, lots of caffeine, and complete captivity in an airplane seat. It helped that my partners in con-crime quite sensibly passed out so I was on […]

Ben Robbins | February 8th, 2008 | , | 2 comments