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RPG Industry Professional Interview: Ben Robbins
Teh Slipperboy

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Ben Robbins designed Microscope, writes the Ars Ludi game theory blog, and once upon a time ran the infamous West Marches campaign. Now he plays games with complete strangers every week at Story Games Seattle.

Ben is an RPG geek user:
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He is also incredibly patient with lunkheads who somehow forget to post an interview he did months ago.
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1. RPG Designer: Ben Robbins
Teh Slipperboy

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Any other gamers in your family? How did you get into the hobby?

Back when I was a kid there was this mysterious thing called Dungeons & Dragons. I'd heard the name but I had no idea what it was. I imagined something like Monopoly: move your piece, draw a card, right? There were some kids I distantly knew who played it, so I asked them how it worked. "You might be going down a tunnel and get attacked by a Gelatinous Cube!" they chortled. But how would you know that was happening, I asked? Do you draw a card? "Well, your flesh would start to melt!" they answered gleefully and uninformatively.

No help there. My Dad took me to a very intimidating and serious hobby store and bought me the Holmes Basic D&D boxed set, complete with chits (dice sold separately). I read it, taught myself to play, and then then carefully selected other people who I thought would be fun to game with. In the space of a few months I had spawned about three different groups of gamers in different neighborhoods, all of whom went off and taught other folks to play, and so on. It was a gaming pyramid scheme. Before long I was getting strange phone calls from people I had never met asking for rules arbitration, which is odd when you're eleven years old.

And no, I never gamed with the Gelatinous Cube guys.
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2. RPG Item: Major Arcana [Average Rating:7.67 Unranked]
Teh Slipperboy

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Did any of your previous jobs or education help you become a game designer?

I somehow managed to convince my college advisor that role-playing games were a perfectly valid topic for my senior Psych thesis. I also took full advantage of going to a liberal arts college and took a broad range of courses outside my major (classics, anthropology, theatre, religion, statistics). Knowledge is power, yo.
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3. RPG Item: By Skill Alone [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Teh Slipperboy

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What was the first project you worked on? What was that like?

Years and years ago, a few of us were _positive_ that the gaming world would be revolutionized by the cascading skill trees and nativity system of our modestly codenamed "Gygax Project". I've been lucky (or wise) in that I've ditched most of my bad ideas instead of inflicting them on the public. Microscope was the first complete game that seemed worth following through to the end.
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4. RPG Item: Microscope [Average Rating:8.17 Overall Rank:51]
Teh Slipperboy

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What’s the most recent project you’ve worked on and what’s great about it?

Microscope. I've played about 70 games of Microscope with lots and lots of different people, and it still remains a strange and wonderful beast. I never get tired of watching it dawn on people how much creative power the game just dropped in their lap, and I'm always surprised at the things they create.

I think all game designers make games they want to play. We're selfish that way. As a GM I always loved building whole worlds and plotting out intricate events, past and present, so I made a game where you got to do that as part of play. I also wanted to make a game that really broke down some of the social barriers to creativity, that drastically changed some of the dynamics I'd seen at gaming tables for years and years.

I'm pretty thrilled Microscope was nominated for the Golden Geek RPG: Game of the Year.
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5. RPG: Capes [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:229]
Teh Slipperboy

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What games influenced you?

Capes was the first game I played that showed me that a ship without a captain could be far, far more interesting to sail. It took a while, but that was the beginning of my GMless gaming career.

Shock showed me I wanted to make games that tackled big things, things that were relevant, and Mars Colony drove that point home.

And it would be sheer hubris to pretend D&D didn't influence me profoundly. I played it so much for so many years that decades later I'm still picking apart all the ways it formed the foundation of my gaming brain.
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6. RPG: Zombie Cinema [Average Rating:6.15 Overall Rank:378]
Teh Slipperboy

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What are you playing right now or most recently?

I run a weekly public game gathering (Story Games Seattle), so I play a lot of different games with a lot of different people: total strangers, people who have never gamed before, all kinds.

Outside of Microscope and alpha playtesting Kingdom, some recent games are Zombie Cinema, While the World Ends, My Daughter The Queen of France, and Mars Colony
.

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7. Board Game Designer: D. Vincent Baker
Teh Slipperboy

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Who is one of your favorite RPG Designers?

Vincent Baker is doing unrivaled work exploring GM'ed games. He's dissecting the very root of what a GM does. Apocalypse World is the continuation of the arc that started way back with Dogs in the Vineyard.

But far below the mainstream radar, Jackson Tegu is brewing some fascinating stuff down in Olympia. Mark that town on your map, because there are a lot of hot young designers there. The next time the indie game-cano erupts, the news reports will be showing pictures of Olympia.
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8. RPG: Shock: Social Science Fiction (1.0, 1.1, 1.2, & 1.3 Versions) [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:140]
Teh Slipperboy

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What RPG do you wish you had designed?

Shock and Mars Colony both.
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9. Series: Civilization
Teh Slipperboy

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What non-RPG (either card, board, or video) games do you play?

For video games, turn-based strategy games for the win: many flavors of Civ, Master of Orion II, etc. For lighter fare, shooters with couch co-op like Resident Evil 5, Borderlands, or Army of Two
. I like to keep it social rather than play online. For board games I prefer co-op over competitive: Pandemic, Lord of the Rings, Arkham Horror, Shadows Over Camelot. I would say Battlestar Galactica, but when we play it we role-play, dammit!
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10. RPG: Mars Colony [Average Rating:8.33 Unranked]
Teh Slipperboy

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If you had to point someone to an overlooked RPG product, what would that be?

Mars Colony. It's not about Mars, it's about government and society. It's for exactly two players, which is rare and awesome, but which also makes it a harder fit for a lot of groups. Do what we do: just split into pairs and play multiple games at once. Our record is eight simultaneous games at Go Play NW 2010.


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11. Board Game: Coffee [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:6826]
Teh Slipperboy

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*Bonus Question*
What are you drinking right *now*?

Coffee. The answer is always coffee.
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