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Friday, 6 November 2015

The Radioactive Ruins of the Storygame Movement Sure Burn Pretty From Up Here

So, a couple of days ago someone at theRPGsite posted a transcript/link to a slapfight that's going on amongst the remnants of the Storygames "Indie" movement.

My first thought when I saw this, I kid you not, was "oh yeah... those guys existed!" followed by an even more surprised "and apparently they still do, kind of!"

When you look around, the legacy of the failed Forge/storygames movement is.. well, almost nothing.  There's the two vast and trunkless legs of stone that were 4e D&D, done according to the Forge designs, despised by almost all D&D fans, and loved by a group of assholes that despised D&D.  Now, it's buried under the desert. No "Pathfinder" for 4e; because unlike 3e, 4e was not a popular game when it was scuttled... or ever.

The Forge is a lifeless tundra.  No game the Forgistas/storygamers ever made themselves ended up being of any truly meaningful prominence.

In other words, they have accomplished nothing.

And now, some of the survivors were having a funny argument on Google+. Man, how the full-of-themselves have fallen.

The argument started when one guy, who runs a podcast I'd never heard of, complained about the cult of the game designer, how Indie keeps making games that no one plays (often not even the creators), and how some other people get a lot of attention by talking about diversity but he's not going to do that on his podcast because he's a "blue-collar gamer".

Dude. In your podcast you talk with the dudes who made the pretentious jenga-based non-rpg game Dread, mutated forge-survivor and author of "My Life With Master" and "Nicotine Girls" Paul Czege, Emily Care Boss, Monster Hearts, The Quiet Year, etc etc ad nauseum.


None of those games are 'blue collar'. No one plays them. They're the very thing you're complaining about.

You know what "blue-collar gamers" play?  D-AND-FUCKING-D!  5th Edition. The Old School Renaissance. You know, everything I've had something to do with.

Your problem isn't that you don't talk enough about 'diversity', though I'm sure if you did the four remaining indie games people would pretend they watch you more; your problem is that you don't talk about what we're all into now.

Storygames are extinct. I helped kill them.

In the conversation you were in someone mentioned me as a "boogeyman" like "careful, don't be like the RPGPundit!"   Why the fuck wouldn't you want to be like me!?  People ACTUALLY PLAY shit I was involved with. My games are doing spectacularly well. I rule this fucking hobby. You should fucking wish you were like me, dude.

Seriously, look at the people you're hanging with: none of them have done fuck all. Even the Old Swine like Czege have lost all credibility and influence.  Zak Smith, who bothered to show up on Czege's thread to deliver a backhanded slap at the lot of you ("DIY RPG-types who talk about play all the fucking time have been making way better stuff than them, especially lately"), has done more in the hobby than all the rest of y'all put together.

So what is the real Indie movement, bitch?!

If you were involved in the old Indie as a way to feel like you were really special and smarter than the unwashed masses, then you have nothing left for you now but to cry in the rubble of your sad failed ambitions. Or, you know, complain about 'diversity' as though that was the fault for your failings.  But if you really wanted to be part of a creative movement that ALSO actually fucking reached gamers, and wasn't just one enormous circle-jerk, that is doing creative stuff that isn't just mastubatory pseudo-intellectual bullshit but an actual CRAFT of design that focuses on long-term actual play, then in every respect the OSR is a superior "Indie game design" movement than the Forge/Storygames ever was. Why would you still stick with the ineffective wankers instead?

You know, I've been busy the last couple of days squabbling with a few other OSR-guys, but this whole thing just reminded me that the biggest assholes in the OSR are still leagues above almost anyone in the Indie-storygames movement in terms of actual value to this hobby, and the OSRs worst most annoying qualities are still tiny compared to Storygaming's status quo.  

And podcast dudes have it right as to why: no matter what anyone tries to claim, the Forge & Storygames was ALWAYS about the Cult of the Game Designer.  It was all about the designer, in their brilliance, taking authority away from player and (especially) GM alike.  So if the greatest value was placed on the Designer, it made any kind of actual-play focus completely unnecessary.  This is why you get the phenomenon where most storygames are on ridiculous topics meant to be played once or twice at most, and where play at all seems entirely optional. The point of a Storygame was to write it, to brag about writing it, to own it and feel smug about owning it, but playing it? Well, if you really wanted to debase yourself to being an actual filthy gamer, I suppose they'd say it was better to play their 'coherent' game than those awful games the vast majority of gamers actually like! Ugh.

On the other hand, while you have a lot of 'celebrity designers' in the OSR, the OSR isn't about the game designer. Its about the GM. OSR games are not 'coherent' little models of micro-game pseudo-genius that must not be altered in the least by the grubby little hands of a mere GM. On the contrary, they are almost always toolkits for the GM, who knows his party and what he wants, to create his campaign his way.

The OSR succeeded as an 'indie' movement where Storygames failed because it was pro-D&D, it was pro-GM, it was pro-ongoing-play, and it was pro-gamer.

Seeing this squabble among the shattered remnants of the movement that had intended to tell us all how we had to play is pretty delicious. Tastes like victory.


Currently Smoking:  Neerup Poker + Gawith's Balkan Flake


  1. I never did understand how the word "indie" came to mean "storygame". And I'm not even dissing storygames right now, I'm just saying that to my mind, being "indie" is about self-contained production methodology and funding (i.e. the lack thereof), not about mechanical or narrative approaches. Maybe someone can enlighten me?

    1. Its pretty straightforward: they hijacked the word.

  2. I don't know if you count as a story/indie game but Apocalypse World seems to be going strong. Not my kind of system but some people do play it and there's a boatload of AW-based games out there (also, I they will use it to power the next edition of Kult).

    For me, the problem with storygames has more to do with the attitude of some indie game designers than with the games themselves, which some people seem to genuinely enjoy.

    1. Unfortunately a significant portion of people "playing" Forgy games take on the shitty attitude of those games' designers.

      Also, AW seems to be mostly about emulating old school play without losing "indie" hipster cred. AFAIK it's technically a perfectly traditional RPG.

    2. Some people do experience a shitty feeling of superiority by enjoying (or by pretending to enjoy) non-traditional stuff, be it in litterature, music, or any other medium.

      Btw, I think you were actually referring to Dungeon World, which is an AW mod emulating old-school play.

    3. Yup. AW and DW are the most successful thing to come out of the Storygames movement, and they did it by betraying everything they stood for.

    4. And even then, they're not very successful.

    5. Well, I don't think it was designed with the intent of ever outselling D&D or Pathfinder in mind...

      Btw, as for the legacy of D&D4, you might want to check 13th Age by Pelgrane Press. From what I hear, it's a D&D4 neoclone (or at least a D&D clone with heavy D&D4 influence) and there's apparently a Glorantha adaptation upcoming.

    6. I'm not very familiar with 13th Age, but from what I understand it is not actually a clone of 4e; it's borrowed some ideas, but it is less similar to 4e than Pathfinder is to 3e.

  3. All true. I'm perfectly fine with people enjoying whatever they want, but that shitty attitude tended to get pretty annoying at times.

    Interestingly, I've experienced the same elitist stance from fans of two notable none-"indie" games: Das Schwarze Auge/The Dark Eye and World of Darkness.

    And yes, now that you mention it, I was referring to Dungeon World and kind of assuming AW is similar, just with more hip "indie" jargon and edginess.

    1. As a person who plays World of Darkness I will say this. I have never meet a group that love the smell of their own farts as much as the White Wolf community. Seriously world of darkness players have a problem and need their egos check. It is their attitude that makes the game worst. That and hiring freelancers that want to shove neo progress idealogy down the reader's throat.

  4. Maybe it because I have not been following your exploits over the last 10 years, but what games do you consider "story games"? I have my definition, but I think it is different than yours. Or different enough to cause me confusion anyway.
    What are some examples?

    1. "Story games" refer to the games that emerged out of the Forge and their notion of "narrativism", of creating games where the central purpose was not to play a game but to create a 'story' (usually in the form of "addressing a theme", but not always).

      These are games that when gameplay potentially gets in the way of effective story creation, the latter will always be favored. Often setting is just a facade, and players can regularly use mechanical points to alter reality. There's little to no regard for real emulation in the setting, or for Immersion as a goal of roleplay. Players often have significant power to over-rule the GM if they have the right mechanical resources. Sometimes at the same time they have little agency; games may have a pre-determined end.

      Example: My Life With Master, Dread (the jenga game), grey ranks, the mountain witch, the shab al-hiri roach, etc

    2. This is not the same as White Wolf's games, which are sometimes called story-based games, or storytelling games, but are in fact regular RPGs with delusions of grandeur. As opposed to those others, which by definition aren't RPGs.

    3. Got it. That is what I thought you meant. Was not sure if you added White Wolf or not.

      I will admit, I had some fun with "Monsterhearts" in the past.

    4. You may have to reverse that decision because of the beats system. They are trying to emulate fate in what I feel is the worst mechanic. The more you choose to fail and suffer the more beats you get. Which means the more powerful your PC becomes. This doesn't even make sense.

  5. For all its worth, I was lucky enough to play in a spontaneous LRPG when I was a kid in second grade. It was pretend on steroids. We would either climb under the table and pretend that it was the bridge of a starship, or, we would run around with toy pistols and pretend to be spies and officers in WW1.

    Here is the thing - it was an RPG without a GM, or rather the group consensus was the GM. The game started out with each player introducing their character. Say, I am a German counter intelligence officer. See the nice Luger (pistol, toy) I got? I execute spies with it - like this. An air execution. OK, cool. Everyone would do a round of introductions. Then you build on it by adding more stories about the character. Basically we would walk around pretending to be characters talking about themselves as they walk. Sometimes there would be spontaneous interchanges in character. Two cardinal rules were (and this is where this went into the LRPG territory) was that 1) you did not copy another's story or try to one up another tale and (2) you can not contradict what you claimed about your character previously. The game usually involved someone throwing out a crisis, and the rest trying to solve it. The starship is flying into Yellow Fog! If a ship goes into Yellow Fog, everyone on the ship dies!

    It sounds like we were playing one of those storytelling games except we didn't know what it was.

    I am a big fan of the Dust Devils. Indie RPG's going defunct is a loss. I think that it was more economic pressures and WOTC imposing their brand of gaming and defining it as "role playing" to the exclusion of the other games. OSR is still D&D. Indie games have more innovative ideas often from the avant garde. I consider this to be a Standard Oil victory for the WOTC. I will run a Dust Devils type game in a different setting once the D&D campaign is finished.