Interview with Ben Robbins about his new world-building story game Kingdom
Ben Robbins, designer of the story game Kingdom, presently on Kickstarter, was gracious enough to answer some questions about himself, Kingdom, and what makes his new game awesome. You should read it.
Q) How did you first get into roleplaying games?
I’d heard of D&D but I didn’t understand the basic concept of a role-playing game. Was it a board game? Did you draw cards to find out what happened? I didn’t know. My Dad took me to a hobby store to buy a copy. This was so long ago that a) you still bought D&D in hobby stores that sold trains and models, b) it was the Holmes Basic D&D boxed set, and c) the box didn’t even include dice, just numbered chits you’d pull out of a cup.
I taught myself to play and then recruited different groups of people and taught them to play. Eventually they went off and taught other people to play until we had these cells of gaming all over town.
Q) What inspired you to create Microscope, which has a very different design perspective than many traditional roleplaying games?
I was always the GM (well, 99% of the time). And as any GM will tell you, a lot of the fun is preparing the game, making the world and then just fleshing out all the details. Running an adventure is almost a separate activity.
For Microscope I wanted to bring that fun of making the setting and exploring all the nooks and crannies to the game table and do it together. Instead of having one phase of game prep that happened away from the table, the world-building and the action all went together. You’d do a bit of one and then a bit of the other back and forth, making big history like Periods and Events and then zooming in and playing scenes.
Q) How did you get the idea for Kingdom?
I actually wonder the opposite: how did it take me this long to recognize the idea?
One of the tag lines is “Kingdoms are all around us.” That’s not hype. I think it’s one of the fundamental issues we deal with as people: we’re individuals but since the dawn of time we’ve also been part of groups. We can get a lot done as groups but it also means that sometimes we have to do what the group wants instead of what we want. I look back at every job I’ve ever had, every club or organization I’ve been a part of, every meeting I sat through and the core concepts of Kingdom just jump out at me.
Q) How was the design cycle for Kingdom? Was it different at the start or did you create exactly what you set out to?
Much like with Microscope, the core was solid from the very first playtest but all the peripheral stuff went through revision after revision after revision. That seems to be my modus operandi.
Q) Anything you can drop about what Perspective is? I can’t say I’m not curious.
Perspective is one of the three roles characters can have in a Kingdom. When you have Perspective you understand the Kingdom, how it really works and what’s really going on. You can foresee consequences of actions the Kingdom takes. Does anyone listen to you? That’s a different question. You might be a trusted vizier or you might be Cassandra.
Q) Can you share something awesome you’ve seen during a game of Kingdom?
So many great moments! It’s hard to choose just one.
A pretty recent one was from the same game that I use at the start of the Kickstarter page with Captain Browning and the colony ship. This was actually a game with some buddies of mine from way, way back. They’ve played some Microscope but generally do a lot more D&D than story games. This was their first exposure to Kingdom so I was really curious to see what they thought and whether they’d enjoy it.
Our second Crossroad was about birth control: the ship was full of married couples but the plan was that no one would start having kids until we were close to our target world. It was all very carefully calculated based on the population limits our ship. But since our first Crossroad had established that our original survey data was totally wrong and we didn’t know where we were going or when we would actually settle a world, the question was “do we start letting people have children now?”
It was a dramatic lightning rod. One of the locations on our ship was this massive playground built for the children everyone was hoping to have, but which instead stood totally empty as a haunting reminder just how childless the community was. Characters would walk by it on their way somewhere and they just sit and brood.
The heat got turned _way_ up when one of the Chief Engineer’s subordinates confessed that his wife had skipped her pills and was pregnant. He was in a bind: tell me boss, what should I do? It opened a huge can of worms. If there were people cheating and just getting pregnant, what does the Kingdom do about it? Do we just let them have kids, effectively rewarding them for cheating while everyone else looks on jealously? Then add that the Chief’s wife *really* wants kids now. The Chief is torn and he’s also Touchstone, so most people in the Kingdom feel the same way.
Rumors start flowing and people start getting really, really mad. We’re on the verge of witch hunts to ferret out who was getting pregnant on the sly. Just when it looked like the Kingdom was really going to implode, the Captain floated a few (intentionally terrible) plans like a lottery to let some people have kids, but which totally favored the higher-ups over the common crew and did nothing about people who just cheated. The Chief winds up being an unwilling popular leader and reluctantly takes Power, openly planning on only having Power for a few days, just long enough for the Crossroad to resolve.
Unfortunately for him, the Crossroad triggered a Crisis which spilled over into a interlude where time passes and we reflect on everyone’s life. So he meant to lead the mobs for a day or two before getting back to work but instead got stuck being a protest labor leader for six years. And they still didn’t have a kid.
It was fantastic.
Q) Where can people find more stuff about you, your games, and Kingdom?
My website is arsludi.lamemage.com.
The Kickstarter has just under a week to go, so if you want to get your hands on Kingdom as soon as possible you still have a chance.
Q) Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Have fun! And play more games!
Have thoughts about Kingdom? What sort of world would you create? Talk about it in the comments!