Top 5 Design Ideas 2001-2005 Forge

edited September 2017 in Forum Discussion
What are the top 5 (or 10) design ideas from the Forge era that helped you personally?

What blew your mind? What was helpful in a hands-on kind of way? What revolutionized your approach to gaming?


  • That I could, and should, publish my own work
    That system was a wider concept than rules, and that it mattered
    That system could not only frame but enforce a game's about-ness
    That very little was off limits, because almost nothing had been tried
    That because people were part of the game's system, caring about others was fundamental to playing well
    That game design was itself a conversation, and my games would necessarily be answers to questions I had in that conversation
    That play was itself a different conversation, and my choices during play would necessarily be answers to questions I had in that conversation
  • Off the top of my head...
    * Different games are suited for different creative purposes, and those purposes can and may be designed into the game explicitly. System Matters.
    * GSN analysis and the concept of creative agenda
    * Conflict resolution
    * Bangs
    * Scene framing
    * Analysis and deconstruction of GM and player roles
    * Egri-based analysis of narrativism
    * Challenge-based analysis of gamism
    * Reward cycle systematics
    * The Big Model

    There's more, but I suppose those are the top 10. I intentionally left out ideas concerning publication and productization of rpgs - while I learned great things about that at the Forge as well, you asked about "design ideas".
  • I'm a hedgehog, not a fox, so I will tell you the one big thing I learned at the Forge: that when you say a thing is true in the game-world, players will have their characters act like it is true.

    I had written a game for one of the early Game Chef contests, in which the characters belonged to hunter-gatherer tribe in an icy world of eternal night ruled by spirit-like stars, but the dawn was approaching and the PCs, as members of the tribe, were going to have to deal with enormous changes in their world.

    To give that scenario teeth, there were these tribal resources that determined the shape the village was in--oil, bone, meat, and hide, I think, each with different effects if it were understocked or oversupplied.

    The thing is, it was not obvious to players what the numbers meant in terms of motivating them to act. Oil 3, Bone 2, Meat 2, Hide 6--what does that mean to me, Angyrok the bold shaman? Without more explanation, nothing. Why not start with the explanation?

    So I ripped out that system and started using cards with oracle-like motifs on them. "What's going on in the world, GM?" GM throws a card: "Hunting Camp: To set things in order, as in defense." "Angyrok, the men of the village are despondent and fearful! The animals out on the ice have grown menacing and aggressive, and several men have been injured while hunting. What do you do?" That player, if he's the bold shaman I think he is, is either going to whip those men up and get some hunting done, or go find the angry bear spirit that's riling up the animals and fight him to the death. Regardless of what the character does, or even if the character does nothing, something interesting will occur--and all because I told the player it was true.

    You might call dignify that by calling it a corollary of the lumpley-Boss principle, or even just say it's merely an application of it, but to me it felt like a real insight. And it came out of engaging with game design from a Forge perspective: you can make the game that does what you want.

  • * Lulls in the fun at the table, for some or all participants, needn't be simply accepted -- investigation and improvement is also possible. If the fun is broken too often, or too seriously, consider whether everyone's on the same page re: the point of play. "To roleplay, because roleplaying is inherently fun" often isn't all you need.

    * The details about when exactly you roll (or employ whatever formal procedure) can make a big difference. Make a conscious choice about whether the roll comes before/after an action's initiation or completion are established in the fiction, and what the roll then establishes in terms of binding consequences.

    * Structural and procedural rules and principles like "there is a GM and they judge what'd happen based on what seems cool" are just as important and designable and worthy of clear communication as mechanical rules for fictional resolution.

    * Think about how your game motivates player behavior, including formal feedback and rewards as well as creating the context in which players reward each other.

    * Getting the most out of playtesting requires focus. Analyze all of these: how the rules functioned, how easy the game was to use, how the players behaved, and who engaged and had fun, across the various different moments of play. Look for patterns over multiple playtests.

    * A few people are actually making significant money self-publishing RPGs, so it's possible! Go read what they've written about how they've succeeded.
  • Some others I liked:

    * No one likes to admit that their interpersonal problems can affect them, so an unintuitively large amount of problems at the table can be traced to interpersonal problems.

    * "Never theorycraft without an observed concrete example", while not perfect, is quite productive if everyone is on board.
  • Story Now. Every so often, I look up from where I think I'm doing Story Now as GM and realize I've slipped and need to recalibrate. Story Now.

    Don't play before play begins. This isn't as inflexible as it sounds because when play begins is flexible. Homeroom creation in Monsterhearts? Totally play -- you can see the stormclouds forming over the classroom battle lines and that is awesome.

    More narrowly, I've been doing R-maps all along and didn't realize it. I blame Tolkien and Lovecraft / Call of Cthulhu.

    System Matters -- it is not the only thing that matters, but it does matter.

    While I think the comparison of RPGs to board games isn't always correct, and when it is correct, the speaker sometimes forgets that we use house rules in board games, the idea that if people are regularly ignoring an RPG's rules in particular ways, this means that something is wrong with the rules -- the idea that if the rules are solid, people won't need or want to ignore them -- while this ideal is not always reached, it's worth striving for.

    (Side note: I hadn't quite realized how much of what was going on was a reaction to stuff in 1st edition World of Darkness. Mike Holmes was describing a game of original Vampire: The Masquerade he'd been... subjected to... and the GM was doing exactly what the rulebook said. And as I was listening to this, the lightbulb went on and my thought balloon said, "Oh, you poor thing! You were trying to follow the rules! I am so sorry!" To me, it was obvious that you were supposed to ignore a lot of that crap. And, of course, this is EXACTLY one of the points the Forge was discussing -- if you are following the rules and it leads to that kind of lack of fun, those are Bad Rules, and RPGs do not need to have bad rules. The solution is not to figure out what rules to ignore. The solution is to make better games.)

    The idea that a game should be complete in itself isn't entirely a Radical Forge Thing -- but isn't entirely not one either. If White Wolf had created Dogs in the Vineyard, there would have been splatbooks and books about the secrets of the Elders. But, as Vincent noted, yeah, sure, there are Elders doing Elder Politics Stuff, but who gives a shit? That's not what this game is about.

    The idea that a game should be focused, that it cannot and should not try to be everything to everyone -- like many ideas, it's so totally obvious that we forget it often. It's one of the reasons I get turned off by kickstarters for RPGs that claim to be The! Perfect! UNIVERSAL! System!

    The idea that we all want different things from a game, and that's okay -- but we need to know this to have a better chance of getting them. And, we want different things at different times -- I love my Nar. I love genre Sim. But, the moment of sheer joy I had in an amazing larp I played in was pure Gamist -- we'd done the larp's equivalent of hitting the jackpot, and tech advances were showering around us like quarters from the slot machine, and we could make all of our PCs' dreams come true. And... that's okay. And it's important to own that.
  • edited September 2017
    Vincent's Otherkind dice mechanic and how it shapes play. Thank-you Vincent! @lumpley I assume (but could be wrong) it came out of Forge discussions. When I first met this in a game, my jaw hit the floor.
  • I am not a game designer, so I am approaching this question solely as someone who runs and plays roleplaying games.

    The most potent insight I have ever seen about roleplaying games comes from Vincent Baker during this era. Roughly : The only legitimate avenue goal of any system or rule is to sustain character level conflicts of interest in the face of overwhelming player level unity of interest. No system can fix player level conflicts of interest and sustaining character level conflicts of interest when we are all fans of these characters is an extremely hard thing to do. Like monstrously hard.

    This hit me like a pound of bricks back in the day. It fundamentally changed the way I saw and evaluated what system was doing for us. It convinced me to stop trying to use game mechanisms and rulings as a means to achieve player unity of purpose and solve social issues at the social layer. It helped me understand why many of the games we played failed to sustain my interest over time.

    The other thing was sort of fundamental to the way I approach roleplaying games was how the discussion over IEEE implied that it was alright, even crucial to sometimes block rather than follow standard improv techniques.

  • I agree with almost everyone above, but I can add a few things:

    Most problems at the table are social problems and probably need social solutions.

    A common problem at my table (and lots of others') is that they want to play different kinds of games, and they believe that they can all play by the same rules, and that ends up not satisfying anyone completely. That leads to spotlight sharing techniques that leave people dissatisfied a large portion of the time while they wait for their turn ("10 minutes of fun packed into four hours of play") and maybe the solution (if it's a problem for you) is to play different games with different people.

    Very focused rules can consistently produce really intense play just by following the rules.

    The "cult of the awesome GM" can be toxic. I was toxic.
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