Tag Archives: indie

Indie Games as a Sub-Game?

I have a soft spot for indie games.  They have cool ideas.  But often those cool ideas are more one-shot-worthy, and aren’t really full of enough stuff to maintain a campaign.

But what about using one as a kind of minigame within an existing campaign?  I was actually thinking about this recently. I was wanting to beef up rules concerning relationships in my Pathfinder campaign, and I know a variety of indie games have strong stuff there, so I asked on RPG Stack Exchange about if there were any good mechanics I could steal to use in it (I had the ones from the dead in mind).

I just bought a copy of Blowback, an indie RPG designed to model the TV show Burn Notice.  My gaming group talked about doing a one shot of it but it would interfere with our Alternity campaign.

But then I was surfing forums for entertainment and found this post on storygames from someone who used an indie game, Hell 4 Leather, as an adjunct to his D&D campaign.  I started thinking.  You know, a lot of the subplots we’re doing with the “B Team” characters in the Alternity campaign are kinda similar to Burn Notice.  In the main plot, our military characters are fending off an alien war fleet, but our secondary characters tend to be “helping the NPC of the week.” Would it make sense to use Blowback for that part of the game?  It’s somewhat attractive to me – thirty sessions of Alternity rules have gotten a little stale and they don’t support some activities well.

I’m not the GM for that campaign so it probably won’t happen, but it’s an interesting thing to think about.  Has anyone done something like that?

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And Don’t Forget The Indie RPG Awards

Sure, the ENnies are all well and good, but what if you’re not stuck in the D&D Ghetto and want to take a walk on the wild side?  Well, there’s a thousand games out there and many of them are small, daring enterprises known as “indie” RPGs.

The Indie RPG Awards are taking a look at the best games of 2009.  Some of them you saw in the ENnies list, like diaspora, Escape from Tentacle City, Atomic Highway, and Lady Blackbird. Others you may not have heard of.  Many of them are interesting departures from the traditional RPG format, and some sport features like no GM, no prep, collaborative storytelling, weird resolution mechanics…  Settings from the prosaic to the esoteric.  here’s some little sniblets to tempt your interest.

“Montsegur 1244 – A story game about burning for your belief.”

“In Ribbon Drive, we collectively create a story about a road trip.”

“Misery Bubblegum… helps you tell the stories of strong, sympathetic young teens dealing with the incredible difficulties of relationships and identity.

“DAWG is the role-playing game that lets you unleash the full canine experience. Here you can learn what it truly is to be the pinnacle of evolution that is dog.”

Yes, everything from zombie survival horror in Shotgun Diaries to the refugee experience in Last Train Out Of Warsaw to being a bad, bad schoolgirl in Hellcats and Hockeysticks.  Some of them are even free, like Ocean, 44, and Lady Blackbird, so check them out.

Playing some very different games, even if you return in the end to good old D&D, really helps your game.  You get to see all the different ways you can do things, and realize that some things you always thought “must be” that way aren’t.

FreeMarket (aka Project Donut) In Free Beta

It’s been a long time, but the new game by Jared Sorenson (octaNe, InSpectres) and Luke Crane (Burning Wheel) is out in public beta.  The game, which was referred to as “Project Donut” for some time, is now called FreeMarket.  It’s a colorful game of transhumanist life aboard a 80,000+ person space station.  It’s a more lighthearted take on the other new game in that genre that’s on my radar, Eclipse Phase (and what came before: Underground, GURPS Transhuman Space…).

Anyway, if you go register you can d/l the beta (if you’re one of the first 1000, they’re at 288 now).  It looks interesting – it’s definitely an “indie RPG.”  Character generation has a lot of “tagging” (in the Web 2.0/Spirit of the Century sense) and the mechanics are part board game, part RPG.

I’ll post more once I’ve had time to digest the mechanics, but here’s the basics.  In general, on the station everyone’s basic needs are taken care of and you’re trying to get “flow” – think of it as in-world “rep” or “karma” like on a forum.  Even death is pretty much always reversible in this super high tech world, mainly you kill someone just so they lose some short term memories.  Combat is not distinct in the rules from other conflicts (from memetic hacking to agriculture) which are commoditized into “Challenges”; a special card deck and tokens are used to resolve those.  Your and your group’s flow is raised or lowered thereby.

Your character is in a group called a MRCZ (pronounced “mercy”) which is a voluntary birds-of-a-feather organization like an online clan or guild.  You are good at things like “wetwork,” “ephemera,” and “thin slicing” – yes, there’s a big glossary included.  It seems fun and not as complex and heavy as Eclipse Phase or GURPS: Transhuman Space.

If I have one major concern, it’s the same concern shared with a lot of indie games – they come up with an interesting setup, new way to conceive a character, an innovative mechanic – and then leave coming up with scenarios totally up to you.  Some of this is in the name of being player driven, but I’ve seen groups have a hard time with just “here’s a cool character and cool setting, go…”  More adventure seeds and “things that could happen” are needed – they really only tangentially brush on that in 2 pages of the 150 in the rulebook.  I would recommend sitting down and generating at LEAST 5 pages of that kind of thing, and more setting detail too.  There’s some basics but for such a complex location it’s quite bare bones.  You don’t have to go “full trad” and have a keyed map of the station, but an example street (if that’s what they have there) with interesting locations/people/etc. would be a huge boost to not just reading the game, thinking “clever!” and playing it once, but actually trying to use it for real ongoing gameplay.

Indie RPG Awards Are In!

The yearly Indie RPG Awards have been announced.  I like these awards; you get to learn about  a lot of fringe stuff you may not have heard of, and a lot of it’s free.  I like the way they run the awards, too, they have a judge point system and they list the points each nominee gets so you can see who came in first, second, third, etc. and by how wide a margin.  Here’s the rundown:

Indie Game of the Year

  • Mouse Guard, by Luke Crane and David Petersen.  No huge surprise, this won three ENnies and at Origins!  Burning Wheel mechanics plus licensed comic plus lil’ mice equals goodness.
  • 3:16 Carnage Among The Stars, by Gregor Hutton, also an ENnie nominee, came in second.

Indie Supplement of the Year

  • Don’t Lose Your Mind, by Benjamin Baugh, for Don’t Rest Your Head comes in first.  They got the silver ENnie for writing as well.
  • Magic Burner, by Luke Crane, for Burning Wheel is a very narrow second.

Best Free Game

Best Support

  • Uncoincidentally, two of the award winners in other categories win here.  Mouse Guard comes in first and Don’t Lose Your Mind comes in second.

Best Production

  • The 900 pound gorilla, Mouse Guard, comes in first.
  • 3:16 Carnage Among the Stars comes in second.

Most Innovative Game

  • Being “Most Innovative” in the indie crowd means your game is probably weird enough to give D&D players hives.  That makes me happy.  The winner is Sweet Agatha, by Kevin Allen Jr.  No dice or anything, it’s a story creation game where the players cut up the game book/investigative journal.
  • In second is In a Wicked Age: sword & sorcery roleplaying by Vincent Baker.  Kind of a negotiating player conflict game like Amber.

Congrats to all!

Nominate Now For the Indie RPG Awards

John Kim has opened the nominations for the 2008 Indie RPG Awards.  If you enjoyed an indie game published in 2008, go nominate it.  Voting is not by the public, but by some cabal of small press and indie RPG designers.  Registration’s through May and voting is in August, and winners are announced at Gen Con!

Ron Edwards Too Good For Indie Press Revolution

Ah, the RPG community.  No difference is too small to be an excuse to fragment it further!

Background for the Uninitiated: There are such things as “indie” role-playing games, for those of you who consider using rules from Dragon Magazine in your D&D to be “living on the edge.”  What “indie” means is of course immediately up for debate; to some folks it’s any games from single person or small shops (e.g. not from a big publisher).  Of course, in the RPG world pretty much everyone but WotC and White Wolf has less than a handful of employees.  Some people draw a distinction between “storygames” and “traditional” RPGs, which is also a very arguable distinction between RPGs that are more story-oriented, or, frankly, just more “newfangled” and games that seem to be constructed just like every RPG since 1970.

The Forge (aka indie-rpgs.com) is a forums site run by Ron Edwards, author of the RPG Sorcerer, which is for certain indie game design folks to collaborate. (I say “certain” because they have a very specific view of what’s indie and other views are not welcome.)

Indie Press Revolution is a distributor that carries indie titles, from the FORGE and others.  There’s some overlap in publishers with the mega-RPG sales site RPGNow.com, but they focus on small press titles. They’ve grown quickly; now my FLGS (Rogue’s Gallery, in Round Rock, TX) has an IPR mini-section.

Anyway, on the FORGE site, Ron Edwards has declared IPR not “indie” enough and is starting his own distributor (well, a couple hours a week of some chick named Meg) to do fulfillment for him and a couple other companies.  He’s concerned that his “definition of independence” is a low priority for IPR taking on new publishers, and that his books are not “front and center” on the IPR home page.

Unlike the RPGPundit, who dismisses the whole kerfluffle as storygamer silliness, I enjoy some indie games, storygames, whatever you want to call them.  I own octaNe, InSpectres, Lacuna, Don’t Rest Your Head, Spirit of the Century, some of the GUMSHOE titles…  In terms of older games I’d consider indie, Feng Shui changed how I play all RPGs.

Anyway, this whole thing seems to be a case of ego run wild.  I defy you to read the FORGE thread and not say “Man, that Ron guy is being an assmaster.”  He claims to not have a beef, but then casts IPR as some huge demon corp with tremendous overhead used to fleece the publishers, then when one of the IPR guys very politely responds to say “we’re like two people and I pull only 10 hrs/week salary from it”, goes into full attack dog mode, even threatening to moderate him so he can’t reply.  Stay classy, Ron.  He claims that “No one owns independence” but you get the clear idea he thinks he does, or at least is its pope.  For someone that’s published exactly one game, that’s a bit of a tall order IMO.

And franky, it’s not a good idea to split off on your own.  I’m sorry his game isn’t “front page” on the IPR site any more.  But there’s a reason you get mileage out of a good distributor – their reach and quality.  IPR has become (like RPGNow and Paizo.com, at least for me personally) a destination to go look at when you’re in the market for games.  They have a great and usable Web site with helpful features, a problem-free store, they take credit cards and not just PayPal – all that stuff that junky little one-man Web pages don’t have.  I mentioned there’s an IPR mini-section in my FLGS.  All that gets your game out to people.   And the woods are littered with well-meaning self-fullfilment folks who just end up screwing it up and alienating customers and publishers.  Like everything else, fulfillment/distribution is a discipline and people who specialize in it will do it better – more reliable, get you your books faster, etc.

In fact, Pelgrane Press posted an interesting thing to the FORGE about their distribution model and how they do some self-fulfillment *and* IPR – their self-fulfillment was plagued by the expected problems (bad store software that can’t calculate shipping, etc.) and reasonable costs.

If you don’t like the store site not having  your books on the front page, or not making a “shared and enticing concept,” have a Web site of your own to push it – I don’t know why you have to get into the distribution business for that.  That’s sour grapes, not good business.

Some of the folks supporting this make the somewhat odd claim that “we don’t want to get our games out to just anybody, but only to those who would enjoy them.”  If you think only your fellow FORGEites can appreciate your brilliance, just give them all PDFs, it’s a quite small community.  I think that’s an inherently stupid and elitist attitude to talk about who’s worthy to buy your game.  “Some dude in some game shop in Iowa is obviously some redneck retard who could never enjoy my game without being a part of the FORGE community for five years first.”  Do you think so little of your product that you think there might not be others out there who would enjoy and appreciate it if they had access to it?  And they are proud their new scheme “isn’t a business model.”  You know, things are profitable because they provide something people percieve to be of value.  Many big companies got big because it was doing things better for their customers than the smaller one.  Shocking, I know.

On the one hand, so someone’s doing something stupid for fulfillment, welcome to small business.  But the real risk is that this is going to be used as an excuse for infighting, fragmentation, or “purges” as RPGPundit puts it.  Sadly, my many years experience with the online RPG communities leads me to believe that’s a likely outcome.  The RPG community is very small.  The indie game community is even smaller.  Don’t let someone with a big ego goad you into fighting with each other.  There is value in collaboration and in dealing with people that, God forbid, do not share the 100% same worldview that you do.  In fact, it might *improve* what you produce.  This isolationist mindset is not useful and will generate bad feelings and a weaker indie RPG industry.  If you would like to see more people in general play RPGs, and see more RPG players play innovative, new games – don’t fall into this trap.

Indie RPG Award Winners!!!

Lest I be accused of giving more love to the Corp$, here’s a rundown of the Indie RPG awards, also presented at Gen Con yesterday!

I’ve done some value-add by hyperlinking them for you, apparently that’s what “the Man wants you to do” since they don’t bother on the awards site. Go there to read about all the runners-up, I like how they indicate point totals so you can see how close (or not) the race was. For example, Grey Ranks didn’t even have a close competitor for Best Game, pulling 52 points to Reign’s 29 in the category. Congratulations to all winners, runners-up,and nominees!

Here’s the complete nominee game list and supplement list. The ones that intrigue me the most personally are The Princess Game, The Dead (free), and Ave Molech (supplement).  But they’re all cool!