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Author Topic: return to the island of misfit games  (Read 5845 times)
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« on: June 05, 2002, 07:07:10 PM »

Well...some of the more controversial thoughts I raised for discussion on the http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2358">island of misfit games thread got eclipsed by conversation about how the Forge might better promote actual play before people had a chance to be offended by them, so I thought I'd try again with a more blunt instrument. And it's here because I still think this is a process of game design conversation.

This is the insider's attack on the Forge. It's going to hurt. I love you anyway. I'm not sure how much of it I believe.

At one point in the Gormenghast trilogy, Mervyn Peake describes these servants whose sole task is to ride bicycles that pump an enormous bellows. As a result, they have enormous, over-developed legs, and shrimpy upper bodies. They are perfectly adapted to what they do. But external to the tasks and environment they have adapted to, they are monstrous. Game designers grown in Indie Game Design on the Forge are like these bicyclists. We're perfectly adapted to an unnatural environment, and we're monstrous and non-functional external to the Forge. We write games to appeal to others who are writing games to appeal to us. We write games to be objects of art, to be read but never played. We jockey for significance in a controlled environment, competing to be perceived as innovative/beautiful/prolific/rigorous, and take pride in that significance, carefully protecting a self-denial that it means and represents nothing about skills external to the Forge. Are we well served by the competition we have? How many of us could get others to play our games if the Forge disappeared? We're dramatically overdeveloped in skills promoting significance on the Forge, and cluelessly underdeveloped in skills that are necessary for significance in the larger environment. Ron got people to play Sorcerer. He consistently demonstrates an ability to get people interested in and playing games. How many of us can do the same thing? Why the hell aren't we learning how? Do we want Indie Game Design to be the environment that turns out the kind of designers we are?

Paul
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xiombarg
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« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2002, 08:22:26 PM »

Bah. I have two responses to this.

1) If we are freakish monstrosities, as long as the other freakish monstosities enjoy our work, and we're cool with that, who cares?

2) I don't just design for the Forge. Part of the reason, for example, I stuck with the background of  Rise Again, despite an initial lukewarm (at best) response from the Forge, was it garnered a lot of enthusiasm from people I knew outside the Forge. I want people outside the Forge to see, enjoy, and use my work -- I advertise my games in other places than the Forge, and try to get responses where I can.

That said, the reason I post my work on the Forge is the long point of the Forge: Theory coupled with practice. People here have a lot of experience to draw on, and the best suggestions come from here, even if I choose to discard them. I'm not doing it to please the people at the Forge, though if it does, great. I'm using the Forge as it's intended: As a resource and a tool.
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Nathan
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« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2002, 09:19:47 PM »

I think there are many examples of games on the Forge which never appeal most folks on the outside -- I don't think there is a whole lot wrong with that. (Notice we are starting to talk about the outside like we are in prison here.. sheesh. Can I buy Jared for two packs of cigs?) Some games are funky and fun to design, even if it is just good ol' jerking off.

But -- I agree with you in spirit.

I wish we could get some nice game designers in here to provide a level of reality to everything. Greg Stolze or John Tynes -- rock on! But do they really have the time to sift through all the fantasy clones that people post? Or to respond to another thread about a game where people are fuzzy squares in a battle against the Malignant Circle? They don't have time -- they are busy designing things that people want to play.

In essence, I think this is why we don't see much posting from some folks -- like mearls, Doc, and a few others. I drift in and out for the same reasons -- I see all these threads about these cool games in development, but where are the announcements on rpg.net? Where are the reviews? Where is the promotion?

Bottom line -- the forge has gotten me in contact with a bunch of extremely cool gamers who I use for ideas and inspiration -- and has made me think, "Whoa! I need to be conscious and alert when I design games, or otherwise, I end up with the Trainwreck Game System From Hell."

So, is there a transition point for Forge posters?

I am releasing Eldritch Ass Kicking for sale on Friday. It may suck like burnt cookies, but darn it, I'm tired of waiting, waiting, and waiting... I'm tired of thinking -- well, let me do one more system update, or tweak this, or change that, or I need a better layout, or I need a better title... blah, blah. Enough of that -- I'm either gonna do it now or not do it.

So, maybe our new focus should be -- encourage a transition. If a designer doesn't want to make a transition, then the designer is just jerking and we should treat them as such.

Thanks,
Nathan
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Cynthia Celeste Miller
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« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2002, 09:28:36 PM »

I truly don't think that the Forge fosters a false sense of security or an unnatural environment for designers.  I've always viewed the Forge as a nice, cozy bar where we can all wander in, grab a few drinks and bounce ideas off one another for awhile.  

While it's true that much of the material bandied about never reaches an "outside audience", I believe this is the exception rather than the rule.  I've seen quite a few of the games that grew from the Forge mentioned elsewhere on the net (rpg.net, etc.).

I, for one, have never confined my work to the Forge, though most of my game (Cartoon Action Hour) was already finished by the time I discovered these forums.
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Cynthia Celeste Miller
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2002, 10:26:33 PM »

Paul,

Here's how I translate your post(s):

YO!!! Wake up call!  At some level, game design is a failure unless these things are actually played!!

("At some level", because as folks have pointed out, Nicotine Girls can be an admirable work of art even if it ain't played.  And a game, playABLE or not, that isn't actually played, might still have value as a lesson, or an evolutionary step for the designer, or . . . lots of reasons.)

Another approach - I read your post(s) as a Forge/indie version of Monte Cook's Shut up and Play rant.  I hear echoes of it every time Ron talks about Design as a subset of Play.  I agree - every game here that hasn't had 50+ hours of playtesting would be improved (perhaps immensely) by such treatment.

The psychological specifics about competition and the rest . . . I'm all in favor of everyone watchin' out for how their own psychology can trip 'em up, how it can get in the way of their goals (like, designing games that get played instead of just scoopin' some Forge/Ron/Indie props).  Real tricky stuff, though.  That you can even mention such things here without folks flaming you to hell and back is a good sign.

Maybe you're looking for some "truth in advertising" kinda thing?  Where a game design that is "merely" an interesting experiment is clearly so labeled, and "serioius", designed to be played and enjoyed by lots o' gamers (and thus in need of playtesting) work is also labeled?  As Nathan says, if there's going to be a transition, we can encourage it.  If there's not . . . I wouldn't go so far as to say the designer is "just jerking", but it is a different critter.  I for one wouldn't stop reading 'em, even though my main reaction is usually something like "neat bits in there - I wonder how I could apply 'em to a game my friends would actually play?"

In short - I think I get your point, and it's a good one, even if the situation isn't as bad as you (or others) might fear.  If creating more games that "transition" (like InSpectres?) is your goal, I approve (like that matters).  If you're sounding a wake-up call against over-insularity . . . that's good too.  I don't think it's a huge problem, but it could be.

Guess that's the end . . .

Gordon
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Bankuei
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« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2002, 10:33:39 PM »

Since I've only fiddled with games, perhaps I'm not the best to answer, but then again...

Quote
Game designers grown in Indie Game Design on the Forge are like these bicyclists. We're perfectly adapted to an unnatural environment, and we're monstrous and non-functional external to the Forge. We write games to appeal to others who are writing games to appeal to us. We write games to be objects of art, to be read but never played.


Actually, I've been making games since at least '98.  Do I sell them? No. Do I share most of them on the Forge? No.  Do I play them? At least 1 out of 3.  Usually the other two are so incomplete, or simply the idea from the design gets subsumed into something else.  

As I look into my design folder, I've got 12 games that are either "as complete as I want them" or else as complete as they're going to get for a long time.  Why aren't they being shared? I don't have web space at the moment.  So why am I writing all these games?  Who am I impressing?  I'm doing it because I want to.  

No one but me and my players have to play my games.  I don't intend on selling most of them, so I don't have to worry about capital, distribution, layout, editing, etc. etc.    My design goals are modest; a game for me and my friends, not a "revolution in gaming".  I don't have to advocate, represent or promote.  I just play my games, and if anyone else is interested, all good by me.

So, let's look at what we're comparing ourselves against; a corporation. Of course it's easier to "convince" the gaming populace that your game is the shit when you have videogames, movie tie-ins, more novels than supplements, minitures, card games, and at least two magazines dedicated solely towards your product.

And if our concern is making sure that things get tested, with or without the Forge, shouldn't we be trying stuff out with our own game group?  If your concern is making a "legit" game, let's not forget that pure "legit" wargaming is a minority even amongst gamers. Who are we battling ego with?  At how many gamers is our games played with to have passed the test?

But, even if I wanted to sell my games, I certainly wouldn't compare myself to WOTC(Hasbro), or even smaller companies like Whitewolf.  If you want a lot of folks to play your game, its about advertising.  Advertising, as we should all know from our last trip to McDonald's, has absolutely nothing to do with quality.  Since D&D alone hasn't sated your appetite, you began designing for what you wanted.  You cooked your own food, the way you really wanted it.  And now you want to share it.  Guess what?  The terror of advertising is that it is excellent at delivering preconceptions of quality to people, and people will go to their brand loyalty because it is now part of their identity.

So how do we get more people playing our games?  Are we fighting for the current gamer market, or the non-gamer market?  If it's the former, then we're looking at folks aimed for gamist/sim play, who want fantasy and goth(with a dash of sci fi).  If it's the latter, all our artsy games can only be a stumble that may get us there.  Maybe we just need a Monsters & Mazes movie or two made of our games :P

Chris
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2002, 06:41:18 AM »

I think I understand the whole "monstrosities" thing, but isn't that how it should be?

If I'd go to a massage parlor, I'd expect the denizens to be 'freakishly overdeveloped.'  I'd also expect them to stay pretty much to themselves and talk about their 'stuff.'  I can count many other examples of just this kind of specialization.

The Forge, as I have observed, is a pressure cooker for indie games.  Many people come here, duck the GNS discussions, get some solid advice on what they need to address in design, and then go on to better things (never to be seen again).  If there's some kind of 'social pressure' to vend the games the regulars here create, then that 'pressure' would be lost.

I don't subscribe to the idea that "those who can't teach."  That would be like saying the best race car drivers are inherently great mechanics.  Have you considered that the Forge might be a 'home' for those whose skill is developing games especially even when they have no ideas for their own?  In a bigger organization, you have the idea men, the designers, the developers, the producers, and the marketeers.  I know a lot of the indie punk scene is based on the idea that one person should do all of those, but should we drive off people who have talents in only a few of those areas?  Wouldn't we be lesser for it?

Think about it this way.  The mythical 'talkers who don't play' would only probably 'hang out here' if they provided something.  That would make them consultants.  I think the Forge makes a great place for consultants to hang out and 'talk shop.'  The best part is every one of them is happy to help out the irregulars and short-term posters with their stuff.

I don't see it so bad as a place that can be known for indie role-playing game design advocacy and consulting; I think such a place should exist and I can't think of a better form than this.  I think the problem here is the external parties who 'get their jollies' taking pot-shots at a mythical group of elitists who are 'all talk.'  (I know if I hired a consultant, I would not want him to design my game for me.  Further, there have been times I have needed just that kind of help; guess where I got it?)  This 'mythical group' is wholly the creation of those same external parties and cannot defend itself because it doesn't exist.

All I see here is 'Forgites' slipping into the belief that these 'pot-shots' are aimed at them.  (And I can see why, if there's not concrete self-identification.  I don't suffer from this problem for two reasons; 1) I clearly think of myself as a consultant here, and 2) I play Scattershot pretty much every night with my partner.)

Does that answer the question?

Fang Langford

p. s. On the topic of 'designed but never played' games, do you think that all of NASA's test planes were 'put into production?'  I think that a quick game design which explores some 'uncharted' design concepts is exactly this kind of 'test platform' and I don't see why using a strictly theoretical basis is fundamentally wrong.

Or, without experimental, unplayed games, the innovation would be frequently stymied.  Pish tosh to those who think every design must be played to be valid.
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rafael
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« Reply #7 on: June 06, 2002, 06:57:48 AM »

I'm still learning here.  Meeting people, getting used to the way the Forge works.

But I see the Forge as the online equivalent of the Tokyo Rose.  The Rose is this club where I used to hang out (I moved to another city, otherwise I still would).

Local bands used to play at the Rose every weekend.  Lineups would include a punk band, an emo group, and maybe some straight-up rock.  Or, other nights, it was industrial/goth.  None of the bands got top billing, it was just come see these guys play.  Friends and co-workers would show up, yeah, but mostly the audience consisted of musicians, or people who were interested in becoming musicians.

There was a couple bands that had hit the big time, so to speak.  They weren't signed or anything, but they had CDs out, and shirts, and they knew what they were doing.  They were independent, and liked it that way.  They were approachable, they were cool, they offered support to new bands, and also gave lots of good advice.  Members of these bands were always willing to jam with anybody, and sincerely loved music.

Most of the bands didn't have CDs out, they had tapes.  They didn't have shirts, they had stickers.  They didn't take the stage very often.  Once every couple of months.  But they dug the scene.  They talked about music a lot, they exchanged ideas, and eventually, one of the smaller bands would have a CD party/show.  Next thing you know, they're on tour, they're printing shirts, they're giving new bands advice...

So that's what I see here.  So far.  I mean, we're creators, and the people in the audience are pretty much all creators too.  There's some friendly competition, and I think that just drives everybody to try harder.

Now, Paul, I totally see what you're saying.  But I think that this is kind of like open-mike night, and we're all just learning about how to design games.  Next, we maybe tackle promotion and distribution and whatnot.  But, from what I've seen, most people here just want to exchange ideas about design.

Like I said, though, I'm still learning.
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Rafael Chandler, Neoplastic Press
The Books of Pandemonium
Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #8 on: June 06, 2002, 07:35:00 AM »

I really liked Rafael's (deadguy) analogy. I'd like to extend it, though: there's a few people on the Forge that really, truly know what they're doing. They're equivalent to these indie bands that show up and have CD's and tour, but still like to hang out with their friends that are playing for playing's sake. Our equivalents started making their game to play with friends, showing to some others, maybe giving it away on the Internet, and then finally taking that plunge and selling it.

The majority of us (definitely including me) are the other guys: we show up all the time and show off our skills, but aren't really getting anywhere.

I know I've been harping on this lately, but I feel the real key is consistent, frequent, valued playing. I hate to point out names, but here goes, anyway:

 - Ron plays extremely frequently, and usually doesn't do one shots. From knowing him, I know his gaming is very high on his list of priorities, and he works at it. He's put out two games, and is finishing a third - one of them is in print, and I'd say it's the most successful indie game yet: it's selling out, it's up for awards, and the majority of (online) gamers have heard of it.

 - I, on the other hand, wasn't playing a lot until recently. I'd had tons of cool game ideas (I have three on the back-burner right now), but never really followed through. The Nutcracker Prince was a flop except among a few people, and I created that during a time I was playing like crazy. Urge - and I won't get any more sales from this - is crap. I shoved it together, finishing it only because I knew Ron would kick me if I didn't. Compared to the other mini-supplements, it's by far the worst one.

Now - Donjon. (Or more correctly, the earlier version of it called Donjon Krawl.) People picked up on it and mention it fairly frequently. I like to think it's pretty good. Why? I played the hell out of it. I'm supposed to be currently re-writing it and getting it ready for sale. Half of it is done. Half of it has been done for two months, and I stopped working on it. Why? I quit playing it.

I have a new game that should be up for sale within two weeks. It's pretty much done now, but I want to edit and polish it. I wrote it inside of a week, and it's the best design I've ever done. Why? Because I started playing again, every week, and not one-shot blow-offs, but a game I spend a lot of time preparing for and thinking about. A lot of those ideas coalesced, and suddenly I have a game - and not just a short, arty game that no one will actually play for more than one session.

It's the key - play, play, play some more, and then play. Play your own games - for 5-10 sessions straight. Don't do a one shot - you're not going to get a real idea of what a game's like until about 2-3 sessions in. Play other people's games - generally, other people will come up with neat ideas you never would have. Most of all, value your play time. Prepare for it, and don't blow it off for dates, shows, beer, or whatever else. I truly think with a good, balanced play regimen, anyone can get themselves into good gaming shape.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #9 on: June 06, 2002, 08:07:07 AM »

I agree with Clinton on everything except the "Don't do a one-shot." I know we disagree with that, but I want to support play, play, play. Even if your game is a one-shot game. 5-10 sessions of your one-shot game is as valid as 5-10 sessions of your in-depth game. (debating the actual merits of one-shot vs. multi-session is for another thread, though)

Back to the thread at hand. This is more of a designer's hang-out. And as long as we, as designers, also play we're all the better for it. It's been established that we play. So what's the problem with active designers designing? Sure we design for each other and ourselves, both as designers and players. What other reason is there to design?
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #10 on: June 06, 2002, 08:14:35 AM »

Quote from: Zak Arntson
I agree with Clinton on everything except the "Don't do a one-shot." I know we disagree with that, but I want to support play, play, play. Even if your game is a one-shot game. 5-10 sessions of your one-shot game is as valid as 5-10 sessions of your in-depth game.


I mis-spoke. If your game is made for a one-shot sort of thing (Soap, for example), run a one-shot. Just do it a good 5-10 times.

Quote

This is more of a designer's hang-out. And as long as we, as designers, also play we're all the better for it. It's been established that we play. So what's the problem with active designers designing? Sure we design for each other and ourselves, both as designers and players. What other reason is there to design?


Um. As an administrator on the Forge, I'd like to make it clear that it's not a designer's hangout. It's a place for anyone interested in independent role-playing games and innovative RPG theory to talk. You don't have to design anything, and to be honest, it's better if you don't. (Look at the real successes - Ron, Jake Norwood, Cynthia Miller, Jared Sorensen. Look how many games they have out. Even Jared, with his crazy production, took his time when it came to his real successes, Schism and InSpectres.)

Outside of that - what reason is there to design besides for ourselves? Personally, I think designing for success is a good idea. I don't say that because I want the money - I say that because:

 - Every independent game success is a success for all of us. Ron does Sorcerer - people pay attention. He notices Riddle of Steel - suddenly people pay attention because they now know, "Hey, indie games can be cool." Cynthia puts out Cartoon Action Hour as a PDF. People buy it because they now know "Hey, PDFs can be cool."

 - Every time an innovative game is taken seriously is another chance for innovative thought to spread throughout the market. I'd rather have a game with one innovative idea catch on among 2000 people than a completely ground-breaking, radical game be bought by 10.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: June 06, 2002, 08:22:30 AM »

Hey,

I highly approve of the Tokyo Rose metaphor.

One thing I want to emphasize is that there is no ideal pace to effective design and play. If it goes slowly, then it does. Some of the bands that Rafael refers to are going slowly - maybe one gig every couple of months, maximum. That's fine by them, or (equivalently) it's the most they can do given other constraints on their time. It doesn't make them a "less-committed" or "second-tier" endeavor.

Another thing ... What bugs me a bit is the idea that if a person puts a game design up for discussion or play, and if it doesn't "bite" real fast, then the person says, "Oh, poop," and ... stops. This actually bugs me a lot, not a little. It puts pressure on the Forge to take the responsibility for the game to "live." That responsibility does not exist. Clinton is right; if the designer plays, that's what keeps the game alive, in the game's early existence, say, the first year. I've discovered that with Elfs (not enough play on my part) and Trollbabe (tons of play, live and kicking).

This transference is often directed specifically at me - "Hey, my game's been out for months, then someone made Game X available and you played it right away! You reviewed it! Now it's cool, and I've been passed over! No fair!"

You know what? It is no fair. My only weathercock for actual play is the interface between my immediate interest, the interest of folks whom I play with, and whether any of the groups has finished up with a given game lately. Some games caught all of our interest, but during a time in which we were wrapped up in extended play of other games - too bad, this cool game didn't get played by me. Conversely, some games didn't capture the group interest despite my interest - too bad, those games didn't get played either. I gave up promising reviews a while back, when I realized that (for instance) JAGS was getting screwed by not getting into the mill due to this time/interest mismatch. When I tried to force getting a game into play, it backfires - Kayfabe is a borderline example; UnderWorld is a definite example.

The above paragraph is a reality that people have to deal with, not only regarding me, but regarding everyone on the Forge and their time/interest of play.

Best,
Ron
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #12 on: June 06, 2002, 08:24:49 AM »

Oooh ... good points, Clinton.

I think joint success for indie designers and players (you caught me on my misunderstanding of the Forge, there!) is a great thing. And your analogy is good, too. 2000 people learning one new neat thing, as opposed to 10 people learning a whole new paradigm (bad word, I know), and all that. Excellent.

How do we go about that? I've had the opportunity fall in my lap once, where I suggested some author-stance rules to a Hellboy RPG designer and opened a bit of dialogue. If it makes it in, that book will going to be seen by tons of folks. Luckily for me, the guy (Jonathan Woodward, I think?) was very open and frank in discussion.

Should we be trying harder to open dialogues with other designers, indie or otherwise? What about players? What can we do to introduce ideas to the public?
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #13 on: June 06, 2002, 08:35:27 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Another thing ... What bugs me a bit is the idea that if a person puts a game design up for discussion or play, and if it doesn't "bite" real fast, then the person says, "Oh, poop," and ... stops.


Damn straight. This goes back to "how do you measure the success of your game?" I measure my free games successful if there is a bit of discussion when I release them. They're free, and is more a way to share the results of experimentation.

There'll be a much different measure for Chthonian Redux, because I plan on releasing it for sale. Same with the 20+ page Shadows. Have your goals laid out before-hand. And with that different measure comes different responsibilities: Doing tons of Actual Play, promotion, getting others to Actual Play, etc.

I'll repeat Ron & Clinton, because it's so damn important: The responsibility for a game lies with the designer, not the Forge.
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #14 on: June 06, 2002, 08:48:57 AM »

Two things:

One. Would it be a Good Thing to have a "New Games" forum for people to just post URLs to their games/ideas (or the games/ideas themselves)? Then, if something grabs you, you can talk about in Indie Game Design. This *could* work -- a separate forum would enable people to post stuff a) without it disappearing right away amidst other discussion) and b) without having the spectre of "Omigod, nobody's replied to this..." hanging over the thread (posts in this forum would simply not allow replies).

Two. I REALLY hate the term "one-shot" and make a motion to strike it from the Forge vocabulary. One-shot seems to imply a lot of things:

- the game isn't meant to be taken seriously
- the game can't support anything other than a "one-shot" performance
- the game is a humorous
- the game is what you play when there's nothing else to do

I propose the term "single-session games." Meaning that you can play a whole game, beginning-middle-end, in a few hours. One-shot makes it sound like you play it only once (because the novelty wears off I guess?) or the game is automatically "funny" and has no bearing on serious play.

(and I might as well amend that motion to also strike "beer & pretzels RPG")
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