Some of you may know about the Forge, a forum for independent RPG designers. For several years, the Forge has had some areas in which one could talk about game theory–why is it that some games work and some games don’t, what’s the difference between two die mechanics, that sort of thing. Those bits of the site have closed, which has led to some discussion in indie-rpg circles, and it helped crystallize something I’ve been thinking about for a while.
The short version is: I don’t like the Forge, and I like its creator Ron Edwards even less.
The long version: I try hard not to look down on people for having “unsophisticated” tastes. I think, for example, that car racing is possibly the world’s most boring activity, but that doesn’t mean that I think people who enjoy it are somehow inferior. Ron doesn’t seem to have that circuit–that is, the one that tells him that what he likes is not the same thing as what is good, or what other people can like.
Now, before I get much further, I’d like to point out that I would dearly love to try Dogs in the Vineyard or Primetime Adventures or some of the others. The Mountain Witch and My Life With Master strike me as unfun, but I think that has a lot to do with their settings (samurai bearding a demon in its lair and Igor And Friends Kill Frankenstein, respectively).
In any case, I can’t say how many times I saw something on the Forge that involved someone posting something they thought was fun, only to be informed that it was dysfunctional and immature (but they were still free to have “fun” with it if they liked, no one was going to stop them, oh no). Or someone would say, “Gee, all these terribly avant-garde games you guys’re coming up with don’t really work for my group,” and someone else would reply that the first person’s group was either 1) playing the new games wrong, 2) composed of gamers (poor little things) who’d been trained into bad habits by mainstream games, or 3) both. To which I say, bite me–could it be, instead, that your games are not the One True Way, and that people who don’t like them are, perchance, just in posession of different preferences?
Take, for example, D&D. It’s hard to dispute that the game at its core is about killing things and taking their stuff. One wonders why the Forge thinks that you can’t have Story in and around that. Heck, the lack of discrete mechanisms for such things actually makes it easier, in a way: there’s no allocating of scarce Narrative Power Points or whatever, you just look at the GM and say, “I go to the entrance of the escape tunnel from the palace” and the GM, recognizing that this is cool, replies, “OK, it’s in a storefront a few blocks away.” And yes, that’s an example from personal experience.
Then there was the Forge’s preference for the practical. If you weren’t designing your own rpg, or at least playing one that someone one the forum had designed, your opinion, bluntly, didn’t matter. Because, of course, no one who’s not a designer can have any insight into how games work, no matter how much they have played, right? This one’s going to get worse now that the theory forum’s closed; if you aren’t a designer, there’s just no reason to go there anymore. Clearly the collective wisdom of the Forge needs no further enhancement, right? The stated reason for closing the forums is to cause theory discussion to metastitize (which I know I’ve spelled wrong), spreading out into other places on the net. Which, yeah, sure, that’ll happen…
I suppose this isn’t very coherent, and can be justly ripped apart for that. But I think that some of its core points are things that indie rpg designers should keep in mind: some of us like killing things and taking their stuff, at the same time that we like having drama and narrative interest. That doesn’t make us dysfunctional, it makes us complex.