Thanks largely to that swell dude John Harper (check out Ghost/Echo and Lady Blackbird if you haven’t), there’s a new design trend that may soon become a movement. He gives me credit for starting it (via Geiger Counter and my love of hacking), but the intellectual historian in me gives credit to the first Game Chef competition, game contests since then, the Forge Birthday Forum threads where people request games from other designers, the Ashcan Front, “roleplaying poems” inspired by Nordic trends, the anti-publishing undercurrent (frex: Clinton), and stuff like Ben’s XXXXtreme Street Luge and Vincent’s Poison’d, Storming the Wizard’s Tower, and Apocalypse World. I’m a part of all that somewhere, but it’s hard for me to say exactly where.
If I had to sketch out the basic principles of the trend, it would go like this:
- design small, fast, and light, spending less than a week on the initial design work and then tweaking as you play;
- design for real people that you plan to play with;
- hack together existing material that you dig;
- make it pretty;
- enjoy playing it, because why bother otherwise;
- share it freely;
- ignore formal publication as long as possible (maybe forever), and
- move on once you’re sated, because there’s always something new and getting stuck on one thing can kill your passion.
Somewhat ironically, my sense is that this is the kind of game design that more “traditional” folks engage in all the time (frex: Brand), but don’t tend to share or necessarily even write down formally. But because these games and hacks are emerging from the indie scene, they’re going to look a bit different and share a certain body of background thought.
Personally, I’m excited as hell about this. Honestly, this is the kind of community of practice that I’ve always wanted roleplaying to be (partially due to my strong passion for design, low attention span, social socket, and overgrown sense of aesthetics). And now it seems like it might be coming together. Rock.