Forging Onward

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.

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One Response to “Forging Onward”

  1. Carrie Says:

    1. Victor Gijsbers left…
    Saturday, 10 December 2005 10:07 am :: http://gamingphilosopher.blogspot.com

    Hi Carrey,

    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.

    What makes you think that Forge games generally have ‘scarce Narrative Power Points’, or anything like that? What your example shows is how cool it is if everybody at the table has the narrative power to introduce new setting elements and the like. Now, whatever you can say about D&D, it is not a game that gives that narrative power to the players. In your example, it was only the GM agreeing with you that made the escape tunnel a part of the fictional world. What is exciting – to me, at least – about most of the narrativist games that were developed on The Forge is that they explicitly and unequivocally give this kind of narrative powers to the players. And not, generally, through the allocation of ‘scare Narrative Power Points’ or anything like that. (Indeed, I do not know even a single game that works like that. None of the indie games I’ve played, and that’s about 14 of them, do that.)

    I wonder: how could you possibly make getting an interesting Story easier by giving all the power to the GameMaster?

    That was a bit of criticism, now I’m going to ask a question which non-polemical; it’s just me being interested. It is about you last statements: you want to have a game that is both about killing things and taking their stuff, and about drama.

    How do you envision such a combination? Would these just be two parts of the game existing in relative independence? Because it seems to me that for drama you need a world that is morally grey, where killing someone is always a morally ambiguous deed; whereas a game of killing things and taking their stuff must suspend all moral ambiguity by making the world morally black and white. (Killing orcs and goblins for loot is not fun if their small cute orc and goblin children are left crying next to the bodies of their fallen parents, doomed to slow starvation.) So how do these two things fit together?

    Maybe one answer is that the characters in the world fall in two different categories: those that are real human beings, and those that are merely props for the action. In The Mountain Witch, for instance, the drama is between the player characters, who are morally grey and interesting; whereas there is also a lot of killing monsters and people along the way, but these are really just background. Is that about what you would be looking for? (You should really give that game a try; it’s not about samurai confronting a demon at all, even if it looks like that on the surface. It’s about people desperately struggling with issues of trust, betrayal and honour. 🙂 )

    2. Carrie left…
    Monday, 12 December 2005 8:32 am

    What makes you think that Forge games generally have ‘scarce Narrative Power Points’, or anything like that?

    The fact that, as far as I can tell, all of them have some mechanism for determining who’s in charge of the narrative at the moment. In some cases (Primetime Adventures, I believe, for example), it’s a die roll, GM vs player, and whoever wins gets narrative control; in some cases it’s whoever’s willing to spend more of some limitied resource, whatever. There’s still something that has to be done before any given person gets narrative control, even if it’s as simple as “It’s your PC’s scene, narrate it”.

    In your example, it was only the GM agreeing with you that made the escape tunnel a part of the fictional world

    Why would I be playing with a GM who didn’t generally agree with me about such things?

    This is not a rhetorical question.

    how could you possibly make getting an interesting Story easier by giving all the power to the GameMaster?

    Huh? I don’t want to play with a GM who has all the power; I just think narrative power doesn’t have to be explicitly negotiated. If I don’t trust the GM to be on a similar wavelength about such things, I shouldn’t be in that game.

    Because it seems to me that for drama you need a world that is morally grey, where killing someone is always a morally ambiguous deed; whereas a game of killing things and taking their stuff must suspend all moral ambiguity by making the world morally black and white.

    Depends where you get your drama, I think. If it’s in interactions between PCs, and between PC and NPC, the Kill Things And Take Their Stuff arc can be as black-and-white as you like.

    Or, for example: I am currently in a group that’s playing the Age of Worms arc from Dungeon. So far I think we have killed precisely two sentient beings: a graverobbing necromancer and his familiar (unless ghouls are sentient, in which case three). We have in fact killed nothing that didn’t offer us violence first, and we went out of our way to e.g. not kill the baby owlbear whose mother attacked us.

    I mean, yeah, D&D can be played as a slaughterfest; it’s very easy to do so. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In between KTATTS, you can have romance, intraparty quarrels, negotiating with NPCs, overcoming challenges in a way that doesn’t involve killing them, whatever.

    the drama is between the player characters, who are morally grey and interesting; whereas there is also a lot of killing monsters and people along the way, but these are really just background

    There’s also the drama of “Do I kill this particular thing and take its stuff, or do I try to deal with it some other way”, and making sure you only kill the things that are Evil, however you’re defining Evil in that game. (And the drama that happens when you discover that you killed the wrong thing…)

    about people desperately struggling with issues of trust, betrayal and honour.

    Yeah, I know, but the surface narrative has to be played through nonetheless, and it doesn’t interest me (oddly, because usually I’m all over anything with samurai). My Life With Master isn’t a travelogue about the Bavarian Alps, either; I still have no interest in it. 🙂


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