Tag Archives: ben lehman

Open Play 53: RSGpdx’s Second Birthday!

11 Sep

6pm – 10pm

Tuesday, September 17th

Guardian Games

345 SE Taylor St

Wow, it’s been another year! So much has changed since our first Birthday Bonanza last September. We are fortunate enough to have lots of new faces and many familiar friends. It’s a growing family, that’s for sure.

Since Technicolor Color Dreams is just around the corner, these event will not be the over the top no holds barred that last year’s birthday party was. However, we have several critically acclaimed story games ready to go (see below) and we’ll be doing a potluck of snacks and sweets, so there will be plenty of merriment going around.

By now you know what to expect from RSG events, so here is what we have in store for you this time!


Archipelago is a game styled after Ursula K. LeGuin’s «Earthsea» books. It is a game of grand destinies, that at the same time has time to dwell on the details of plants, words, everyday lives. It is a game that is about great conflicts, but at the same time treats its characters’ stories with respect. It is not a steel framework, but a spider web of thin threads creating subtler stories.

This game works best if you play it slow. Sometimes, the best thing to do is wait a little and see how things unfold. Ged stayed with Ogion for years, learning about the old language, the names of flower petals and bugs. There’s time to let the characters evolve.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Take your time.

Humanity spreads to the stars and forges a galactic civilization…

Fledgling nations arise from the ruins of the empire…

An ancient line of dragon-kings dies out as magic fades from the realm…

These are all examples of Microscope games. Want to explore an epic history of your own creation, hundreds or thousands of years long, all in an afternoon? That’s Microscope.

You won’t play the game in chronological order. You can defy the limits of time and space, jumping backward or forward to explore the parts of the history that interest you. Want to leap a thousand years into the future and see how an institution shaped society? Want to jump back to the childhood of the king you just saw assassinated and find out what made him such a hated ruler? That’s normal in Microscope.

You have vast power to create… and to destroy. Build beautiful, tranquil jewels of civilization and then consume them with nuclear fire. Zoom out to watch the majestic tide of history wash across empires, then zoom in and explore the lives of the people who endured it.

Mock chronological order.
Defy time and space.
Build worlds and destroy them.

This weeks history… the dawn of man!

In SKEW the players guide a single protagonist from the ordinary world to a bizarre alternate reality. Will the protagonist understand this new world? Will the players? Do we understand the ordinary world as it is? Perhaps you will answer these questions and more, perhaps not. Perhaps you will find answers to questions unasked along the way.

SKEW is a surreal science fiction role-playing game that gets right to the point.


Ready, Set, Game PDX is brought to you by Play Out Loud. Play Out Loud serves Portland with spontaneous shared storytelling activities featuring non-mainstream games. Learn more athttp://www.facebook.com/playoutloudpdx.



22 Aug

SKEW 8 20

Last RSG we game SKEW, the new surreal science fiction story game by Ben Lehman a spin. Two spins, actually, and great spins they were!

I confess that reading the text itself did not leave me super excited to play. I was curious, I like the genre and flavor, and Ben’s games are some of the best anywhere. But, as soon as we sat down to play things really kicked into gear.

SKEW takes place in a sequence of Phases that guide the story into, and possibly out of, misunderstanding. Players take turns narrating what happens to the protagonist and their world (unlike many role playing games, there is only a single protagonist shared by the table in SKEW) in one or two sentence turns. This is very reminiscent of one of Ben’s earlier games, Hot Guys Making Out.

A simple token economy paces the encroaching weirdness, and eventually, one player at a time will speak for the weirdness of this bending reality. The short turns keeps the pace of the game brisk, which accommodates for a large group of players. This also allows for a steady stream of creativity. Since things change so quickly you have to listen attentively to your fellow players. This prompts very functional play, and may be one of the chief reasons we had such a good time.

Our first game took about an hour and a half, and the second took about an hour. The second game was facilitated by one of the players who had no experience with SKEW beyond the first game.

Clearly, SKEW is very accessible. After the game we reflected on our play, and many of the players commented on how this would be a good game to play with non-gamer family members, or in one players case, how it might be used in her classroom.

For our plays the early Phases were the most fun and exciting, and while the later Phases didn’t drag, they were not as poppin’ and the first few. In one of the final Phases the players ask questions of the GM (the player who speaks for the weirdness) as they try and figure out what is going on with reality. Both of our games slowed during this Phase. In our second game we distinguished between asking questions about the details of the established narration, and asking questions about the nature and workings of the weirdness. This was a critical distinction for our play, and is something I will mention in my future plays of SKEW. The text itself isn’t terribly explicit on this, but I feel this approach is likely in the spirit of the rules.

Our first game saw a postal worker attempt to deliver a non-euclidian package to a superspace processed cheese factory only to become a kind of sentient metaphor for certain elements of Greek mythology via a Hero’s Journey quest against a implicitly nihilistic minotaur while on an errand to replace Hermes.

Our second game was the story of Napoleon, a ukulele playing islander who got caught up in a rock ‘n roll battle of the bands with Nordic Gods, Satan and the miserable souls of hell at sea after sounding the lowest pitch possible given the diameter of the physical universe which happened to free an entangled titan. Napoleon successfully (?) re-created God from the kindness in his grandmother’s soul by way of a strange parent-child paradox (“it’s complicated”).

I have no doubt that each player would sum up these games differently, but hey, that’s SKEW. You don’t tell just one story, you tell a spectrum of possible stories, and each is as crazy as the last.

Read more about SKEW here: http://www.tao-games.com/skew/. Enjoy!

Open Play 51: SKEW, Tremulus & More!

19 Aug

6pm – 10pm

Tuesday, August 20th

Guardian Games

345 SE Taylor St

Wow guys, sorry for the delay! I’ve got to get caught up.

Welcome, again, to Ready, Set, Game PDX Open Play!

Ready, Set, Game PDX is an easy story gaming event. All you have to do is show up and play a game. You don’t need to bring anything other than the desire to play and the willingness to try something new. Absolutely everybody is welcome! No experience necessary! You are free to invite anybody and everybody; just make sure you RSVP. That helps us make sure everybody has a good time.

A story game is a game where the players create a narrative as a product of play. You might recognize a few things from other tabletop games, but the difference here is that you spontaneously make a collaborative story with the other players. There are always several different ones to choose from, so odds are good there will be one that’s just right. A description of each of the scheduled games will be posted as comments, so check ’em out!

At 6:00 we kind of loosely gather in the “Blue Area” of Guardian Games and socialize for a bit. Please, just relax and chat! At 6:15 we all come together as a group and the facilitators introduce their games. At that point players sign up for whichever game they want and get down to business.

Technically we have the space until 10:00, but we try to get games wrapped up around 9:30 or so. After the games, all who wish to do so go out for drinks and banter at a nearby establishment – which this time is the Speakeasy Tavern on SE 6th & Taylor St. As usual, everybody is welcome!

Here is what we have this week!


This is SKEW. It is a role-playing game by Ben Lehman.

“when we play this game we will create
a science fiction short story
a protagonist is struggling to understand
a world that is beyond understanding”


Tremulus is a storytelling game of Lovecraftian horror where you take on the role of a person who has been destined to live an interesting life, one touched by blood and bile, dark revelations, and horrible sacrifice.

The weight of the world is upon your shoulders as you strive to drive back the darkness threatening to drown it out.

For four erstwhile investigators.


Ready, Set, Game PDX is brought to you by Play Out Loud. Play Out Loud serves Portland with spontaneous shared storytelling activities featuring non-mainstream games. Learn more athttp://www.facebook.com/playoutloudpdx.

Open Play 43: Dirty Secrets, Fanfic, InSpace, Hot Guys Making Out

18 Apr

6pm – 10pm

Tuesday, April 23

Guardian Games

303 SE 3rd Ave at Pine St

The Breakdown
6:00pm – Chit chat, socialize, make merry, be humans at each other.
6:10pm – Introduce the games and facilitators, facilitators will have the sign up sheets.
6:15pm – Game on!
10:00pm – Any and and all who wish go out for drinks and/or banter, probably at the Green Dragon.

The Games

Dirty Secrets:
Sure, your home town’s a great place to live. Crime rates are low. Employment is high. Everyone is happy, successful, and filled with civic pride. I’ll bet your city has spent a lot of money telling you it’s true.

Don’t believe it. Scratch the surface, and you will find the truth. That businessman’s cheating on his wife. That politician’s snorting cocaine. That cop’s taking bribes to look the other way. No one is clean. Everyone has a secret, and most will do anything to keep their secrets safe. Even murder.

But secrets have a way of getting out, and bodies don’t stay buried forever.

Welcome to the game of Dirty Secrets. In this game, you and a few friends will create stories of corruption, betrayal, deception, and murder, all set in your own home town. Together, you will guide a single investigator through a complex web of lies, corruption, and murder as he pursues that most elusive prey: the truth.

Fanfic is a game for collaboratively creating erotic “fan fiction,” naughty fan-created stories inspired by existing works of fiction, and it aims to do it badly. You will explore the deepest sexual desires of characters from your favorite books, television shows, movies and video games. Fanfic strives to emulate everything that is quirky and ultimately endearing about fan fiction: bodice ripping; stilted dialogue; awkward turns of phrase and improbably coupling.What better way to learn to do it right than to do it oh-so-wrong?

Beyond man’s small blue world a vast cosmos awaits. What wonders of the universe are yet to be discovered? Is space more grand or terrible than we even imagine? Are we alone?

This supplement for InSpectres let’s you explore the mysteries of space and play games in the style of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Contact, Ringworld, or Forbidden Planet. It is not necessarily a humorous or even action-packed escapade–it can be a thoughtful and serious examination of the mysteries of the universe and humanity’s place in it.

Hot Guys Making Out:
Hot Guys Making Out is a passionate role-playing game, set in the Spanish Civil War, in which a tormented nobleman and his young ward attempt to resist their forbidden love for each other, and fail.


Ready, Set, Game PDX is brought to you by Play Out Loud. Play Out Loud serves Portland with spontaneous shared storytelling activities featuring non-mainstream games. Learn more at http://www.facebook.com/playoutloudpdx.


XP: The Drifter’s Escape

12 Mar


This game was on backup at the last RSG, so it wasn’t announced proper with the rest of the games. In case you were wondering when we played this.

I’m still trying to figure out how to make a game of the Drifter’s Escape really pop. I’ve had a few confusing sessions of this game and a a few decent sessions, but it’s not really clear to me what made the difference for each session.

But, I’m pretty sure it comes down to the Drifter much of the time. How the Drifter decides when to make a deal or not seems to set the pace for the game. On one hand, it’s pretty tough for the Drifter to be successful with a deal, so the Drifter usually only makes a deal when it’s really important to them. In and of itself this is fine, but deals are what makes things happen. A lack of deals mean the Devil and the Man have to keep on raising the stakes of each scene until the Drifter feels obliged to make a deal.

Before long the scenes get so crazy that the Drifter has no sense of hope. The player can no longer buy into the Drifter’s struggle, and then has little incentive to make a deal they have a slim chance of winning. This unchecked escalation of stakes has been present in every game of Drifter’s Escape I’ve played.

So what can be done about this?

Drifter, use every resource at your disposal. In particular, re-write goals immediately before making a deal often. You don’t need to re-write all of them, and you don’t need to do it before every deal, but take advantage of this. You need to rack up Dream quickly.

Drifter, redeem somebody as soon as you think a person can help you do something big. Remember, you also pick the deals, so you can set yourself up for assistance. But, you will need to have Dream to spare in order to keep this up.

Devil and Man, make demands frequently. This is really the only say you get in what kinds of deals are struck. Drifter, be willing to take them up on this. A Demand isn’t just an opportunity for them to own your future, it’s an opportunity for you to keep your Debt to them in check.

Devil and Man, keep a gradual and incremental escalation of trouble and danger in the scenes.

Devil and Man, when you make deals with the Drifter, your cost doesn’t need to be all bad. The more the Drifter enjoys your cost the better. You don’t have to go easy, but you don’t need to make them cringe every time (of course, the poker you play with the cost is something to consider too. What does the Drifter think is in your hand based on your cost?).

Finally, focusing on the icons of Americana lends the Drifter’s struggle more meaning than simply having terrible luck. This too may influence what the Drifter find important, and thereby influences what they are willing to deal for.

This is a curious game with a gripping premise, but perhaps it lacks a certain kind of direction to the players. It’s a journey worth taking, but you have to remain willing and open, or you may be frustrated.

January ’13 Ladies’ Night!

4 Jan

5:45pm – 10pm
Wednesday, January 9
The Green Dragon Bar & Bustro
928 SE 9th St


No boys allowed! Let’s drink good beer, eat good food, enjoy each others’ company, and play quick, easy-to-learn, story-based role playing games in a welcoming environment.

The featured game this time around will be Animal Crime: “On the mean streets of Animal City, one marmot stands on the brink between justice and oblivion.”

Sniff out the truth: http://www.animalcrime.com/

There are rumors that 1001 Nights may be played as well.

If you are a seasoned role-player and/or story-gamer, you are more than welcome, and please let me know if you might like to help facilitate, either at this first game night or sometime in the future.

If you are intrigued by RPGs and/or story games, but have had your doubts about jumping in to an established group (especially one that — let’s face it — is sort of dominated by dudes), you are SUPER DUPER EXTRA welcome. These games take no more than a few minutes to learn, play within a couple of hours, and focus on story rather than rules.

Story games are a little bit like board games, and a lot like grown-up versions of the “let’s pretend” games you probably played as a child. Above all, They are about TELLING A STORY TOGETHER. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s not about making the best character or mastering the rules. It’s about CREATING something together and HAVING FUN. Come check it out!

Ready, Set, Game PDX is brought to you by Play Out Loud. Play Out Loud serves Portland with spontaneous shared strollytelling activities featuring non-mainstream games. Learn more at http://www.facebook.com/playoutloudpdx.

XP: On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon

23 May

On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon by Ben Lehman with Alexis Siemon, art by Kevin Moore is a quick playing humorous game about the pathetic and frankly juvenile behavior exhibited by the lowly Mud Dragon.

This has been kind of a difficult game to write about. The game text is so focused on its particular style and approach, and the game itself is so slim that there is surprisingly little to say that the text does not make explicit

Even just reading the text it’s pretty clear how it all works. I could have used “Hey, you are going to be constantly rolling dice, and that’s just how you do it” but that becomes clear in the first minute of gameplay anyway.


When it get’s down to it Mud Dragon is ultra-functional. The meager size of this game makes it possible.

So, I’m going to talk a bit about why some of the conventions really work to focus gameplay toward comical hijinx and how these conventions encourage the desired kind of participation.

First of all, everything related to characters and scenario is determined by rolling on charts. Even your Mud Dragon’s name. Even whatever it is they are trying to do. You get stuck with a set of assorted details and you have to connect them up, and that probably means it’s going to be ridiculous. But, that’s the point.

Second, when dice hit the table and a success or failure is determined, the player may choose to succeed in spite of themselves or fail anyway. The Ginormous Mudhole (“GM”) then chooses to raise or lower the stat in question. Raise or lower. This gives the player a great reason to focus not on the numbers, but on the humor of the situation. It also gives the GM a means to help the player when some stats get into dangerous (and potentially less fun) waters.

This brings up an interesting point. It seems like some games are so focused on the randomness of implemented mechanics that simply allowing a player choice to determine results is looked down upon. Here is a great example of how player choice can be used to great effect, and it certainly does not take away from the experience of play. Last I checked dice don’t make story decisions, people do.

Finally, if you are just doing something pathetic, stupid or reprehensible then yeah, whatever it is happens. No dice, no question. So go ahead with all of your silly antics.

These three conventions steer the players head on into the cartoonish antics Mud Dragons are known for. Why not misbehave? There is no reason not to.


There are a couple of small concerns that the play group should keep in mind.

It is fairly easy to allow gameplay to degenerate into a spree of bumbling stupidity and childish jokes. Which is fine and dandy, but can be a bit unfulfilling. An effective session requires the Mud Dragons to actually do things and get into trouble too big for them to handle. Fortunately, the text is aware of this pitfall and as long as the Ginormous Mudhole is as well there is little to fear.

The only other possibility of things going awry would be a mismatched set of expectations. Mud Dragon is a game for a specific mood, energy and purpose, and if you aren’t into it it just isn’t going to work. Still, I have to wonder why a person wanting neither the light-hearted nor the comical would consent to playing this game. I mean, the premise is so clearly up front and obvious.

Though Mud dragon is a simple game in every facet, it truly delivers on its expectations. No fuss, no confusion. No tricks, no dead ends. It seems like some kind of cosmic irony, On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon is an example more games ought to follow. Few games are this tight.

Go have some stupid adventures! Visit http://www.tao-games.com/?p=25.


18 May

ANIMAL CRIME by Ben Lehman, art by Jake Richmond is a noir mystery game set in Animal City. We had the opportunity to play this with Ben on May 8th along with On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon. The game follows Marmot Detective as he gradually (and often painfully) unravels a case detailed by the other players.

ANIMAL CRIME offers one of the most enjoyable detective/mystery games out there. It has a lot going for it.


Let’s get to the bottom of this!

ANIMAL CRIME is a quick play. With a large group and an elaborate crime you can still reasonably expect to conclude play within two hours. A more typical set up will result in about an hour of play.

The art found in the playbooks and in the comic is stellar. It captures the personality of the characters and the setting so effectively that as a player you immediately feel like you know what you are doing. This effect doubles up with the smart pairing of animals to characters to moves, which makes every character iconic and easy to grab onto.

The game text and playbooks offer very clear directions. How you use your character to engage with the fiction is obvious at every step. The moves, though they only consist of a few words each, intersect with the character’s personality in such a way that you will never be groping for what to say.

Even though Marmot Detective can only be killed under specific circumstances you will still feel the hot breath of danger on your neck when things turn sour. Marmot Detective seems to attract misery.


Much more significantly, there is hardly a question of whether Marmot Detective will uncover clues. Odds are, in any given confrontation Marmot Detective will learn something. The other characters are told to reveal the truth of the matter. This is important. The whole “hide the clue” method of mystery gaming is really frustrating. If you need the clue to proceed, and you want to proceed, why in the nine hells would you withhold the clues? Is checking under every stone in game any fun? Is going around in circles because the players have failed to guess what the GM is thinking meaningful play of any kind? How many dozens of games do we have that do just that? Thank you, ANIMAL CRIME, for being one of the few that gets this right.

However, that is not the best feature. The most interesting inclusion in ANIMAL CRIME is the story form mechanism. When Marmot Detective makes a move it lowers the stat in question, making that move less likely to be effective in future contests. So, Marmot Detective starts off getting some real info, homing in on the crime and the culprit. But as he gets close things start to go bad. The other characters start to take more direct action against Marmot Detective. Just as Marmot Detective gets to the very bottom of it all things are at their worst. To see this in play is simply wonderful.

But that’s not all. Since Marmot’s stats are going down, sooner or later Marmot’s player is going to have to mix things up and try using the other moves and stats. So we get to see more than one side of Marmot Detective. No relying on the single high rank skill here! Additionally, when Marmot Detective indulges in Alcoholism he may refresh one of his stats. Poor Marmot, who must give into vice and drown his sorrows so he can go on. This is, of course, a mechanical reinforcement of character, too.

Finally, you had best be ready for an unending stream of animal puns. You’ll be howling at the moon, I promise.


Compared to this long list of things I absolutely adore about ANIMAL CRIME I have only two quasi complaints.

When it gets down to it, only two players are really playing at any one time. Though this is not mandated by the game in any way the general tendency is for Marmot Detective to learn something that takes him to another character. You can have multiple characters in a scene, and the other players can take up minor characters, but this requires some deliberate attention from the players to make it so.

Now, these last couple of things don’t affect a player’s enjoyment of the game at all. But, the box is large and mostly empty. It gives me the impression of driving up the price, and there isn’t really more game here that various offerings at half this price. Granted, ANIMAL CRIME is a high production value affair. The comic and artwork is slick as hell and everything you need to play, pencils, dice and all is right in the box. But if I had to choose between buying ANIMAL CRIME or buying two other games of a similar scope it would be a tough choice. The detail about the box is only really relevant when you are trying to make that choice.

ANIMAL CRIME is a very impressive piece of work that promotes some dangerously functional play. This will be a go-to game for my spontaneous games for some time, especially with newer or more casual gamers.

Check it out now at http://www.animalcrime.com/.

Session 18: On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon

30 Apr

Tuesday, May 8
Guardian Games
303 SE 3rd Ave at Pine St

On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon is a game about stupid little dragons and their stupid little adventures, in the spirit of the old Dragon Magazine backup features and other fantasy-comedy comix. It’s easy to learn, takes only about an hour to play, and is totally hilarious.

Text taken from http://www.tao-games.com


Game Chef 2012

8 Apr

Game Chef 2012

Go and do it. What else needs to be said?

How about this: Let’s play your games at RSGpdx in May. We can make a thing of it.

Now get in the kitchen a make me a game!