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January 26, 2008 / jadettman

I.D.I.C.

If you’re a Star Trek geek then you know that the title of this post is short for “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” which was a philosophy espoused by Vulcans on that show.

That particular philosophy has been running through my head lately while I contemplate a Monsters and Mayhem revision specifically and roleplaying design in general.

Often I feel like RPG publishing has become an industry specifically for the time-crunched (when I’m feeling less charitable, I substitute lazy for ‘time-crunched’). Traditional rpgs are continually published that seem, on their face, to be retreading material that has been published before and, if there is anything new at all, it isn’t really significant. Indie rpgs, on the other hand, seem to be trying to push the system envelope while simultaneously boiling their setting down to something resembling tightly focused convention scenarios. Both approaches make it easier for someone without a lot of prep time to run a game but neither appeal to me that much.

Don’t get me wrong, I like low prep games. If I’m running a game there is a good 80% chance that the system is very ‘lite’ (Amber, Everway, Over the Edge), has some good tools to make prep fast (Iron Heroes), or I’m so totally running the game off the cuff that it is dead obvious to the players (you know, ’cause it kinda sucks). The other 20% of the time, I’m actually spending a significant amount of time prepping for the game and gritting my teeth about it.

Setting my personal preferences aside, though, let’s take another look at published games:

I don’t know if the traditional games rehash is a common complaint for gamers. It just seems like there are only so many things that a rpg needs to do and if it does them, then you can run whatever you need. Most settings are just paint and chrome anyway, without any mechanical connection to system itself, something easily proven by the sheer number of “Playing Ebberon with Unisystem” type posts that can be found on your message board of choice. Essentially, most traditional rpgs today are generic and/or universal enough that it just doesn’t matter. Pick your poison and play.

At the other end of the spectrum there are the indie rpgs. In most cases, I just don’t grok them. This could probably be changed if I had the opportunity to play them and get a better understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish. If I could do that at Origins it would be cool but most Indie folks go to GenCon instead.

I’ve tried to grok the Indie movement by reading message boards like The Forge and Story Games but I just haven’t made much progress. On the one hand, I don’t feel like spending the rest of my life trying to suss out the theory from a thousand and one different articles and blog posts, and, on the other, I’m unwilling to drink the kool-aid and just assume that they know what they’re talking about. Also, I apparently lack an interesting online presence or come across as a jerk because I just can seem to get any traction when I try to participate in an Indie discussion.

So, given that I don’t like or understand these two styles of rpg design, I feel that I’m in a bind when it comes to my own designs. I can’t think of any ideas for games that I’ve had that aren’t retreads. The two games that I specifically called out for my writing goalposts for this year both fall under that category: Monsters and Mayhem is a vanilla fantasy book for the Mutants and Masterminds system and my as-yet-unnamed Science Fantasy campaign is a mash-up of D&D and SF tropes.

Do I spend actual creative effort on these things above and beyond that necessary for me to run a private series? Do gamers need such products?

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