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trechriron
06-03-2009, 02:42 PM
What is an Indie RPG? Good question. There are many subjective ideas of what an Indie RPG is. The simple answer? A game published by a small independent publisher, studio, or individual. The subjective answers? An RPG not published by one of the big (3, 5, 10?). A game created by designers from The Forge (see links in next post). A game that is not D&D. A game that supports story over mechanics (that one is VERY subjective, and IMHO, false). A game that is cool and not like all the other games you play (when people are feeling snarky. I like to ignore that one too.)

Does this mean Indie RPGs are better than games published by larger or more established publishers? Nope. There are great games produced by all sizes of publishers in the hobby. Generally, if you're having fun playing an RPG, it's a good game. Also note that there are many Indie RPGs produced that read and play just like the games from established/larger publishers. Just because it's Indie does not mean it's "innovative".

Why would I want to try [game x]? Because new games tend to explore new areas in RPG design (both Indie or not). A new game can give you ideas to use in your preffered game, or offer new ways to approach how you play at the table. The "Indie Scene" has a large number of publishers, which means you get a significant ammount of new games to try out.

Doesn't an Indie game have to be self-published? Nope. Generally, you will find the bulk of the successful (at least in perception) Indie games are. The Indie RPG movement bears a striking resemblance to the Indie music scene. Smaller or individual publishers striking out into the hobby to offer their hard-worked creations to the seething niches. These days, with the economy as such, you will find many publishers utilizing PDF/electronic sales, smaller print runs, and less-frequent releases. It's becoming harder and harder to distinguish the Indie from the established publishers; at least as operations and strategy are concerned.

[I hope others will come in with some ideas for new FAQs (with answers please!) or just post a question you want answered. Also, posts with links to your favorite game/publisher or other Indie info you can offer would be great. Hopefully this thread will serve as a information source for this forum.]

[Disclaimer: I am not important. I don't know everything. I am just an RPG Enthusiast who spends WAY too much time following the hobby/industry, reads the InterWebs way too much, and has piles of useless info regarding such. These are my subjective opinions and thoughts and I hope they are at least a little helpful. :-D]

mnemenoi
06-03-2009, 03:12 PM
I appreciate the initiative on the thread. I can agree on what are Indie type games, but honestly minus a few larger companies the majority of publishers fall within the role of Indie. Even certain 'big name' games of the past have been acquired by smaller and much less known companies. Look at Ars Magica, Shadowrun and Battletech. They are all great games with larger then average followings, but a vast majority of players either think the game is currently out of print or stopped buying the system years ago.

Then there are those smaller companies that although they have been around for quite some time, have had to adapt to a changing and mutable market. R. Talisorian games springing to mind.

I'm certain there might be some disagreement on what exactly qualifies as an Indie RPG, but I think having a place that we can focus upon games that recieve little attention otherwise and usually are played by very small troupes is in essence what this is about.

Many of the recent younger players I have met at gaming shops or conventions have little to no exposure to smaller systems and with a bit of assisitance might be willing to look them over for what made them stand out originally and why/how they do differ.

I am glad that this forum group was placed here and am looking forward to seeing some things I might not have given a chance.

trechriron
06-03-2009, 03:21 PM
Here are some links to places that focus on the Indie RPG scene:

The Forge (http://www.indie-rpgs.com) - the place is called Indie RPGs dot com for crying out loud. :D Ron Edwards theories on game design are insightful and very controversial. There is a great list there of Indie games and links to all kind of game design resources.

Story Games (http://www.story-games.com/forums/) - A great forum that has a significant amount of discussion on some of the favorite Indie games out there.

Here are some Indie publishers I like:

Evil Hat Productions (http://www.evilhat.com/home/) - Makers of FATE (2.0 and 3.0), Spirit of the Century, Don't Rest Your Head (and variants/enhancements), and the upcoming Dresden Files RPG.

Atomik Sock Monkey Press (http://www.atomicsockmonkey.com/) - The creator of PDQ/PDQ#, makers of Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies; Monkey, Ninja, Pirate, Robot; Truth & Justice; Dead Inside and Zorcerer of Zo.

Silver Branch Games (http://www.silverbranch.co.uk/) - Makers of great supplements, Jaws of the Six Serpents (PDQ) and Legends Walk! (PDQ setting for Truth & Justice).

CRN Games (http://crngames.com/crngames/index) - makers of Donjon and The Shadow of Yesterday.

Bards and Sages Publishing (http://www.bardsandsages.com/) - Makers of the Karma RPG and various 3e D&D supplements.

Wise Turtle Publishing (http://www.wiseturtle.com/) - Makers of the Open Versitle Anime (OVA) RPG. A new edition is due out this year. You can follow that progress on the new OVA Blog (http://ovarpg.blogspot.com/).

Signal Fire Studios (http://www.signalfirestudios.com/) - A new design shop by Jamie Chambers and friends that will take up the torch for the Cortex RPG (Serenity, Battlestar Gallactica, Supernatural) when Marget Weiss retires from RPG design (soon). Here is a Wiki resource - Cortex RPG (http://cortexsystemrpg.org/).

Arc Dream Publishing (http://www.arcdream.com) - Makers of Wild Talents and Godlike and creators of the One Roll Engine (ORE). There are piles of free resources for ORE here on Project Nemesis (http://www.nemesis-system.com/). Also, check out Reign (http://www.gregstolze.com/reign/), a fantasy version of ORE and the creator's page - Greg Stolze (http://www.gregstolze.com).

The Suzerain RPG (http://www.suzerain.info/) by Talisman Studios (http://talisman-studios.com/) is an interesting game worth checking out.

Hellas RPG (http://www.hellasrpg.com) utilizing the OMNI system, is another beautiful RPG worth checking out.

Here is an example of an Indie publisher with some intense and gorgeous production quality. The upcoming Shard RPG (http://www.shardrpg.com/). Looks to be a interesting game.

[Please post more links and info to add to the collection!]


That's just it, though. They're different, but they're not all completely different. There are no hard and fast qualifications, true, but there are deep norms at play, consciously or not, when enthusiasts use the terms. And norms are informative.

Of course, I second the motion to have Farcaster set the terms as he wishes. I also enthusiastically second the fmitchell's suggestion that we turn the conversation to the games we consider exemplary. However, in doing so, I think it's a little unfair to think of Farcaster's potential judgement--or anyone else's (if they've thought long and hard about the issue)--as being hopelessly subjective.

This forum is barely a week old and already there have been recommendations that I, for one, am grateful to have been made aware of, including yours Tesral. I'm like a kid in a candy store--and this despite the fact that others may have different (yet overlapping) ideas about what qualifies as candy (is gum candy?--how about soda?--popsicles?--why are large sugar crystals recognized quintessentially as rock candy, but a packet of sugar is just, well, sugar?)

Of course, there's always the risk that our favorite treat won't be given the shelf-space that we feel it deserves... Nevertheless, even if it is only of theoretical interest, I'll wager that if we took a sizable poll among self-described "indie" enthusiasts, even though we would witness much variation in the examples given, we'd also be left with a core set of common prototypes, potentially even normative of a much larger sample.

In fact, if pressed to guess, I believe we might find many of these features already put forth by trechriron and other individuals in this very thread, some posed as objective benchmarks and others blatantly subjective. But, if we take the title of this thread seriously--What is an indie RPG?--I think a more useful way to approach the question posed, as compared to eliminating or despairing over what is subjective, would be to ask: what is the norm that binds the differences?

And this calls for a discussion, again to echo fmitchell and trechriron, of the games themselves. What are they? What do they have (mostly) in common? Looking at the games already put forth as exemplars throughout various venues and threads at PaPG, a nonexhaustive selection would be:

Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, Dogs in the Vineyard, Suzerain, Sorcerer, Colonial Gothic, Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, Fringeworthy, Don't Rest Your Head, Silvercord, Polaris, Dread, Montsegur 1244, Dead Inside, Sign In Stranger, Primetime Adventures, Shock, Spirit of the Century, Steal Away Jordan, Houses of the Blooded, Unisystem, Incarna.net, Victoriana, Beach Bunny Bimbos with Blasters, Shooting the Moon, Witch Hunter, Grey Ranks, Storming the Wizard's Tower, The Dark Eye, Thou Art But a Warrior, Kill Puppies for Satan, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy, Wushu, Spycraft, The Shadow of Yesterday, Hellas, My Life with Master, FATE, Donjon, 1001 Nights, The Mountain Witch, Bureau 13, In a Wicked Age, Agon, Nobilis, Mist-Robed Gate, Labyrinth Lord, Misspent Youth...
The list goes on. And I'm sure I'm neglecting many! Yet, just based on the quick compilation above, we can already see "potential" commonalities--and culled, as if data from a survey or poll, we can also see that while none of them individually escapes subjectivity or qualifies as a necessary or sufficient exemplar of the terms small press or indie games, they are collectively very useful.

If it were a truly representative list, we could then ask what do the core games themselves have in common? And again I can't help but point out that, when we compile the second-order list below, we can see that they are almost all restatements of observations that have already been offered by trechriron and many others. Also noteworthy, some observations appear to be directly contradictory (e.g. #7 and #8); and that's not necessarily a problem, since such contradictions underscore the unappreciated fact that, as abstracted from how most enthusiasts use the term, there are multiple paths to "indie-ness". Many paths, but not arbitrary paths.

1.
Games whose creators eschew the traditional 3-tier model of distribution;

2.
Games whose creators communicate regularly here at PaPG (Bless 'em!) or who are equally accessible at other sites whose purpose is discussion of ideas within the so-called "indie scene", i.e. there is little communicative distance between the designers of a game and its consumers;

3.
Games not published by the largest (top 5, you name it) game-publishing companies or their subsidiary imprints; nor published by companies whose market penetration in table top gaming can be leveraged by virtue of an "established brand" outside the market, i.e. Sony or "Second Life";

4.
Games whose mechanics or system as a whole, at least at the time of their arrival on the scene, are considered to be innovative, thought-provoking, boundary-pushing, possibly controversial, but always fresh, even when freshly retro (as many attempt to resuscitate older "neglected" systems in innovative ways);

5.
Games designed deliberately to be experimental, or otherwise to subvert rpg traditions or popular conventions that are deemed moribund or else too constrictive (e.g. diceless, more story-driven, GM-less, etc.);

6.
Games which are imported and/or newly translated from their designers' home nations, yet without a popular audience abroad;

7.
Games that are just plain cool, made by "the little guy", which may not get the attention and respect that aficionados think proper, dammit;

8.
Trend-setting games that seem to come out of nowhere, the source of whose buzz is mostly word-of-mouth within a specific gaming community, but yet eventually come to exercise noticeable influence on other games or systems outside that community;

9.
Games created by individuals whose primary motivation does not appear to be profit;

10.
Games or supplements made freely available, or else are offered provisionally as free works-in-progress, where anyone may playtest and offer feedback directly to the game's creator(s);

11.
Games that tend NOT to be entryways into rpg gaming for most players, but rather tend to be discovered later, often as part of a deliberate search for "new" ways of role playing.


Well said Tamberlain!

mnemenoi
06-03-2009, 03:52 PM
Here are the few I mentioned previously and I fear so many have disappeared before they were even known.

Atlas Games (http://www.atlas-games.com/) - Current producer of Ars Magica 5th edition. A revolutionary game that is set in a historical setting, while mixing in some fantasy.

Catalyst Game Labs (http://catalystgamelabs.com/) - Current producer of the original FASA games Battletech (http://catalystgamelabs.com/classicbattletech/) and Shadowrun (http://catalystgamelabs.com/shadowrun/). Both still have strong followings and their newer editions and streamloned rules have drawn attention from their older fans.

R. Talisorian Games (http://www.talsorian.com//talsorian/NEWWEBSITE/default.htm) - Original Maker of Cyberpunk 2020, groundbreaking game that captured the true grit and sleek future of Bladerunner. Also produced Cybergeneration and the new V.3 for Cyberpunk. Still has all the older editions and guides for sale.

West End Games (http://www.westendgames.com/) - Producers of Star Wars (D6), and Torg. They long ago had the original Star Wars license and produced some very good quality material.

Tamburlain
06-03-2009, 06:33 PM
Here are some links to places that focus on the Indie RPG scene:

The Forge (http://www.indie-rpgs.com) - the place is called Indie RPGs dot com for crying out loud. :D Ron Edwards theories on game design are insightful and very controversial. There is a great list there of Indie games and links to all kind of game design resources.

Story Games (http://www.story-games.com/forums/) - A great forum that has a significant amount of discussion on some of the favorite Indie games out there.

Here are some Indie publishers I like:

Evil Hat Productions (http://www.evilhat.com/home/) - Makers of FATE (2.0 and 3.0), Spirit of the Century, Don't Rest Your Head (and variants/enhancements), and the upcoming Dresden Files RPG.

Atomik Sock Monkey Press (http://www.atomicsockmonkey.com/) - The creator of PDQ/PDQ#, makers of Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies; Monkey, Ninja, Pirate, Robot; Truth & Justice; Dead Inside and Zorcerer of Zo.

Silver Branch Games (http://www.silverbranch.co.uk/) - Makers of great supplements, Jaws of the Six Serpents (PDQ) and Legends Walk! (PDQ setting for Truth & Justice).

CRN Games (http://crngames.com/crngames/index) - makers of Donjon and The Shadow of Yesterday.

Bards and Sages Publishing (http://www.bardsandsages.com/) - Makers of the Karma RPG and various 3e D&D supplements.

Wise Turtle Publishing (http://www.wiseturtle.com/) - Makers of the Open Versitle Anime (OVA) RPG. A new edition is due out this year. You can follow that progress on the new OVA Blog (http://ovarpg.blogspot.com/).

Signal Fire Studios (http://www.signalfirestudios.com/) - A new design shop by Jamie Chambers and friends that will take up the torch for the Cortex RPG (Serenity, Battlestar Gallactica, Supernatural) when Marget Weiss retires from RPG design (soon). Here is a Wiki resource - Cortex RPG (http://cortexsystemrpg.org/).

Arc Dream Publishing (http://www.arcdream.com) - Makers of Wild Talents and Godlike and creators of the One Roll Engine (ORE). There are piles of free resources for ORE here on Project Nemesis (http://www.nemesis-system.com/). Also, check out Reign (http://www.gregstolze.com/reign/), a fantasy version of ORE and the creator's page - Greg Stolze (http://www.gregstolze.com).

The Suzerain RPG (http://www.suzerain.info/) by Talisman Studios (http://talisman-studios.com/) is an interesting game worth checking out.

Hellas RPG (http://www.hellasrpg.com) utilizing the OMNI system, is another beautiful RPG worth checking out.

Here is an example of an Indie publisher with some intense and gorgeous production quality. The upcoming Shard RPG (http://www.shardrpg.com/). Looks to be a interesting game.



Excellent compilation! Thanks for this.

Arch Lich Thoth-Amon
06-03-2009, 07:13 PM
Very cool. Time to peruse the links.

korhal23
06-03-2009, 07:32 PM
Suzerain is an interesting one. Plays kinda like WoD but with drawing cards instead of dice rolling if memory serves... Now "Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies" has me by name alone... and a Dresden Files game can only make the world a better place.

trechriron
06-03-2009, 10:59 PM
...

West End Games (http://www.westendgames.com/) - Producers of Star Wars (D6), and Torg. They long ago had the original Star Wars license and produced some very good quality material.

Also, WEG has opened up the D6 system with the OGL. A SRD is due soon with a web site to compile open D6 material. You can peruse the forums on the site for more information. There are also threads over on RPG.net.

MortonStromgal
06-04-2009, 05:30 PM
Here are the few I mentioned previously and I fear so many have disappeared before they were even known.

Atlas Games (http://www.atlas-games.com/) - Current producer of Ars Magica 5th edition. A revolutionary game that is set in a historical setting, while mixing in some fantasy.

Catalyst Game Labs (http://catalystgamelabs.com/) - Current producer of the original FASA games Battletech (http://catalystgamelabs.com/classicbattletech/) and Shadowrun (http://catalystgamelabs.com/shadowrun/). Both still have strong followings and their newer editions and streamloned rules have drawn attention from their older fans.

R. Talisorian Games (http://www.talsorian.com//talsorian/NEWWEBSITE/default.htm) - Original Maker of Cyberpunk 2020, groundbreaking game that captured the true grit and sleek future of Bladerunner. Also produced Cybergeneration and the new V.3 for Cyberpunk. Still has all the older editions and guides for sale.

West End Games (http://www.westendgames.com/) - Producers of Star Wars (D6), and Torg. They long ago had the original Star Wars license and produced some very good quality material.

Are those really indie? I don't consider any of those companies to be that small.

mnemenoi
06-04-2009, 06:39 PM
Most have a skeleton staff, print books on very tiny runs and although well known usually have trouble keeping afloat in a very tumultuous market. Most if not all of the writers have day jobs and they continue making products for their love of the game, certainly not for massive profits.

In my own opinion I would think they qualify for Independent/Small Press publishers, though everyone might differ.

MortonStromgal
06-04-2009, 11:08 PM
I don't think that is true of Catalyst, I could be wrong but I've met what I thought were full time staffers. Maybe not the writers but the buisness end. Even White-Wolf has a ton of freelancers.

tesral
06-05-2009, 01:08 AM
Tri-Tac Games (http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/Tri%20Tac) as well. They publish Bureau 13 and Fringeworthy among other lessor offerings. Both in the original system,s and the d20 adaptions.

FYI, they are having a few website issues. The content is at the bottom of the page.

fmitchell
06-05-2009, 08:14 PM
Most have a skeleton staff, print books on very tiny runs and although well known usually have trouble keeping afloat in a very tumultuous market. Most if not all of the writers have day jobs and they continue making products for their love of the game, certainly not for massive profits.

By that definition, the current Chaosium might qualify, even though it's one of the few game companies still around from the dawn of the hobby, and still produces the relatively well-known Call of Cthulhu. (Alas, its other successes, notably RuneQuest, and Pendragon, spun off to other companies.)

Zzarchov
06-06-2009, 09:06 AM
Self Plug:

Unofficial Games:

Zzarchov.Bravehost.Com

It has Piecemeal (a plug and play RPG ruleset)

and

Adventuring Party, an hour to play intro RPG meant for a party game atmosphere.

MortonStromgal
06-06-2009, 12:23 PM
By that definition

Honestly if we are using such a broad brush you end up with WOTC, White-Wolf, and SGJ, as the only non-indie companies.


I tend to think of indie more as Don't Rest Your Head, Burning Wheel (Arguably with Mouseguard this may move up to small press), and Dust Devils.

mnemenoi
06-06-2009, 12:44 PM
To quote the Wikipedia article on Indie rpg's (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indie_role-playing_game)

Disputed Status of the title

Some contend that the term "indie" applies to members of a self-defined "indie (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indie_%28culture%29)" RPG community. The definition of indie in the context of role-playing games is difficult, because the role-playing game industry operates with a different organization and scale than the computer and video games (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_and_video_games), publishing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Publishing) or music (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_industry) industries. The dynamics that inspired well-known independent movements in these industries are not necessarily present in the role-playing game industry. Even prominent role-playing game companies often publish on a comparatively small scale. In this fashion, the industry is unlike the larger creative industries, whose indie communities formed to react to an elaborate bureaucracy. The question of whether indie role-playing games can be defined precisely, abstractly or not at all sparks ongoing discussion among RPG hobbyists and creators."

Is this forum to be entirely for Forge games and Ron Edwards foundations of what "Indie" games are?

templeorder
06-06-2009, 01:38 PM
Self Promotion:
Incarna - www.incarna.net

The 1.0 rules are online, 2.0 rules, simplified, are in the works... including psychic powers.

fmitchell
06-06-2009, 03:18 PM
Is this forum to be entirely for Forge games and Ron Edwards foundations of what "Indie" games are?

I think that definition is too narrow, just as sales figures are too broad.

To me, what sets an "indie" game apart from other RPGs is one or both of innovative mechanics and a strikingly different theme or genre. The "indie" movement, in part, is to break out of standard "adventuring" modes of play and stock tropes. Some games subordinate mechanics to the story; others play with or abandon the usual patterns: skills, combat rounds, random resolution.

Here are a few nominations as "indie enough":


Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies: flying pirates isn't exactly original, but the book lays out a whole civilization and cosmology, and this recent iteration of the PDQ mechanics changes the standard combat sequence for more of a "swashbuckling" feel.

Dead Inside: another PDQ-based game, which encourages players to help people and give them stuff.

Dogs in the Vinyard: a game I haven't read, but one which purportedly uses the same mechanic for physical brawls and philosophical arguments ... including escalating the stakes.

Primetime Adventures: an obscure game that frames each "season" as a sitcom, in which the resolution to each "scene" relies as much on what's dramatic and interesting as the numbers on each character's sheet.

Shock: Social Science Fiction: an even more obscure game which defined characters as opposed goals or passions instead of skills/talents/etc., and gives each player a "protagonist" and an "antagonist" of another player.

Almost by definition, D&D is not indie since its tropes pervade RPGs, and (subjectively) even its 4e incarnation doesn't really push the envelope. Maybe White Wolf or Chaosium were "indie" when they were founded (SJG never was), but they've become fixtures, thematically and mechanically.

Zzarchov
06-06-2009, 04:15 PM
My definition of Indy:

Not publicly traded and thus independent in terms of what you can do and publish.

darelf
06-10-2009, 02:40 PM
My definition of "indie".

Independent. That is, separate/independent from the "establishment". So, GW, FFG, ICE, etc. would all be non-Indie, in spite of any sales figures or small staff or whatever. GM may be bankrupt, but nobody says it is an "indie car maker".

Likewise, just because Iron Crown Enterprises produces only two RPGs ( counting both RoleMaster and SpaceMaster ) and working with a small staff and an even smaller user base, it is still part of the "establishment" game companies.

Indie vs. Establishment is about status and conformity. Being members of the same associations, adhering to "industry standard" procedures, etc.

Just my US $0.02

Harwel
06-10-2009, 02:45 PM
My definition of Indy:

Not publicly traded and thus independent in terms of what you can do and publish.

So Steve Jackson Games is "indy"? I wouldn't consider it to be so.

tesral
06-10-2009, 05:30 PM
The definition is what trips so many discussions. MY take would any game company that is not done for a living. Independent of any hope of profit. If the CEO has a day job, that is an independent publisher.

trechriron
06-11-2009, 02:01 AM
...

Is this forum to be entirely for Forge games and Ron Edwards foundations of what "Indie" games are?

Ye Gads! I hope not. :D Good games, but let's not limit the scope THAT much.


I feel we should define Indie as individual/small publishers not part of the established game companies that try and take games into new directions.

Established in my mind:


Adamant Entertainment
Alderac Entertainment Group
Atlas Games
Catalyst Game Labs
Chaosium
Columbia Games
Eden Studios
Fantasy Flight Games
Far Future Enterprises
Green Ronin Publishing
HERO Games
ICE Games
Kenzer & Company
Malhavoc Press
Margaret Weiss Productions
Mongoose Publishing
Paizo Publishing
Palladium Games
Pinnacle Entertainment
R. Talisorian Games
RPG Objects and member publishers
Signal Fire Studios
Steve Jackson Games
Triple Ace Games
Troll Lord Games
West End Games
White Wolf
WOTC


There could be more, but if its a main stream established or derived product, it tends to make it into the "not Indie game" category in my mind.

Just my two cents...

Zzarchov
06-12-2009, 10:02 AM
I'd like to point out that indie means "independent" not "unestablished" or "small scale" or the like.

Whether or not a game is established has nothing to do if its independent. Lots of products (if not in gaming specifically) are not well established, but are still in no way "independent".

When the X-box first bust into the Console scene, Microsoft was not established as a console making. I would not have considered it independent as it had too many stakeholders.

Likewise if tomorrow Sony tries to bust into the pen and paper RPG market (I doubt it, but in theory), it would not be well established, it would also not be independent.


Being well established has nothing to do with independence in my mind.

MortonStromgal
06-12-2009, 10:12 PM
I'd like to point out that indie means "independent" not "unestablished" or "small scale" or the like.

Whether or not a game is established has nothing to do if its independent. Lots of products (if not in gaming specifically) are not well established, but are still in no way "independent".

When the X-box first bust into the Console scene, Microsoft was not established as a console making. I would not have considered it independent as it had too many stakeholders.

Likewise if tomorrow Sony tries to bust into the pen and paper RPG market (I doubt it, but in theory), it would not be well established, it would also not be independent.


Being well established has nothing to do with independence in my mind.

In film, independent means small distribution. Therefore any rpg sold at Barns and Noble would fail that test. I used to work for a several hundred million dollar battery company, we were not publicly traded. We had couple thousand private investors. I would not have considered us independent. Our job was to make money for our investors. Actually we were the 3rd largest company of our type.

fmitchell
06-12-2009, 10:17 PM
I'm amused that we have a brand new forum category for something we haven't really defined yet.


I'd like to point out that indie means "independent" not "unestablished" or "small scale" or the like.

Defining what something isn't doesn't define what it is. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indie_role-playing_games) certainly doesn't have a clear definition, and I don't know of anyone who does.

I proposed one operational definition, based solely on the game's content: an attempt to break with standard tropes and mechanics, or experiment with new designs. For example, Burning Wheel is indie because of its life path rules and other mechanical improvements. White Wolf Games, on the other hand, isn't; it use die pools instead of fixed die systems but otherwise reuse patterns from previous skill based games (e.g. BRP, Traveller, GURPS) This is a highly subjective definition, and there's a considerable gray area between "mainstream" and "indie". One virtue of this definition, though, is that we don't need to know sales figures or even publishers details, and we can concentrate on what makes the games themselves interesting.

Another criterion, suggested in the Wikipedia article, is that "indie" games are self-published, using PDF or POD technologies, and available mainly at conventions and a few marketplaces. There's certainly a correlation between "the indie spirit" and one-man operations or small hobbyist groups; someone with a day job can take risks that a for-profit company can't. Unfortunately, that definition also has problems, too. What about games using Open Gaming Content? What about the latest "fantasy heartbreaker" that plays like D&D with a different dice mechanic or a few house rules? Marketplace certainly doesn't matter; are White Wolf's PDF-only offerings "indie"?

Obviously I prefer my definition, but at this point we should probably talk about (candidate?) indie games themselves, not "what distinguishes an indie game".

trechriron
06-12-2009, 11:14 PM
I'm amused that we have a brand new forum category for something we haven't really defined yet. ...

Obviously I prefer my definition, but at this point we should probably talk about (candidate?) indie games themselves, not "what distinguishes an indie game".

I agree with the first statement. :D

I also like fmitchell's definition and I agree we should chat about the games themselves and decide as we discuss. :D

Zzarchov
06-13-2009, 08:59 AM
@Fmitchell

A lifepath system in Burning Wheel is not groundbreaking, having been used in both WHFRP and Rolemaster. I think you will find any new mechanic has been done before.

As for being privately traded, its still not independant if you've got more than one shareholder (ie, the corporation as a liabilty free sole proprietorship). If you've got only one stakeholder you can be truly independant in terms of decision.

Tamburlain
06-13-2009, 07:38 PM
Given that we are talking about a category of games similar to "indie music" or "indie film" or "alternative art form X", if we try to substantively define "independent game" by laying out necessary and sufficient conditions as if the category were a formal set or as if it referred to some natural kind, then we are bound to run into paradox. And I don't mean the good kind of paradox, but the muddled headachy kind that tricks even well-meaning and articulate people into talking past each other.

"Indie", as used in all of the above examples, is a graded category, as is the concept of "game" itself. As conceptual spaces, this means that they demonstrate prototypicality (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prototype_Theory). A prototype-based category can't really be subjected to analysis by way of necessary and sufficient conditions (either you're in or you're out); instead, membership is defined with reference to common features of the common examples that we gamers hold in mind as we make use of the category. Some games are simply more "indie" than others.

So, I guess I'm not sure what is at stake here... at least in the sense that I cannot see why a person might hesitate to use a forum just because its discussion may focus on a topic with fuzzy boundaries. To me, and I'm sure to others, these are the ones often most worth talking about.

Personally, if I see a game being discussed here that wouldn't fit into what I would normally think of as an indie game, I'm going to just skip it. In any case, I trust people to use their best judgment. If you wanted to get empirical about the issue, you'd have to implement some kind of survey. In it, people might be asked to simply name five games (using any criteria they wanted) that they felt were most representative of the descriptor "independent game". Over a period of time, you could then tally all the choices and come up with the most popular five, and from this core set you could then describe what features they had in common. Voila', there's your category, in all of its provisional humility.

fmitchell
06-14-2009, 03:50 PM
A lifepath system in Burning Wheel is not groundbreaking, having been used in both WHFRP and Rolemaster. I think you will find any new mechanic has been done before.

Actually, I don't know much about Burning Wheel, but I'd heard about the lifepath system, so I used that as an example. There may be better ones.

BTW, Traveller (1977) probably did lifepath/career systems first. My point was not that "indie" systems necessarily invent whole new mechanics, but they compose mechanics into a game that stands in stark contrast to prevailing designs. PDQ uses freeform Qualities instead of a fixed list of skills and attributes; arguably it's been done before, and 2d6 mechanics are well known, but as a whole it produces a style of play that contrasts with the detailed and crunchy systems of D&D, GURPS, BRP, and so forth.

Zzarchov
06-14-2009, 04:23 PM
Again though, in terms of "Indie" that isn't a very useful definition, being entirely subjective about being different than what one considers "established"

Very much like the music scene actually. Indie is used alot as a marketing term, and as a way to attack the sales of rival bands. One band is "indie" and thus to a certain segment "better", while another band gets called "not really indie' to hurt their sales, or compete for better gigs. 100% subjective and usually based upon hysteria and hype.

Perhaps a better term is to simply say "IF you want to call yourself a small press or indie gamer you are. Because if you say those things it means you probably don't have banks or investors whose opinions you care about" and thats enough.

tesral
06-15-2009, 05:45 AM
Everyone has an opinion, alas they are ALL different.

OK Farcaster; YOU tell US what an "Indie" gaming means and we will use that definition.

Tamburlain
06-15-2009, 10:25 AM
Everyone has an opinion, alas they are ALL different.

OK Farcaster; YOU tell US what an "Indie" gaming means and we will use that definition.


That's just it, though. They're different, but they're not all completely different. There are no hard and fast qualifications, true, but there are deep norms at play, consciously or not, when enthusiasts use the terms. And norms are informative.

Of course, I second the motion to have Farcaster set the terms as he wishes. I also enthusiastically second the fmitchell's suggestion that we turn the conversation to the games we consider exemplary. However, in doing so, I think it's a little unfair to think of Farcaster's potential judgement--or anyone else's (if they've thought long and hard about the issue)--as being hopelessly subjective.

This forum is barely a week old and already there have been recommendations that I, for one, am grateful to have been made aware of, including yours Tesral. I'm like a kid in a candy store--and this despite the fact that others may have different (yet overlapping) ideas about what qualifies as candy (is gum candy?--how about soda?--popsicles?--why are large sugar crystals recognized quintessentially as rock candy, but a packet of sugar is just, well, sugar?)

Of course, there's always the risk that our favorite treat won't be given the shelf-space that we feel it deserves... Nevertheless, even if it is only of theoretical interest, I'll wager that if we took a sizable poll among self-described "indie" enthusiasts, even though we would witness much variation in the examples given, we'd also be left with a core set of common prototypes, potentially even normative of a much larger sample.

In fact, if pressed to guess, I believe we might find many of these features already put forth by trechriron and other individuals in this very thread, some posed as objective benchmarks and others blatantly subjective. But, if we take the title of this thread seriously--What is an indie RPG?--I think a more useful way to approach the question posed, as compared to eliminating or despairing over what is subjective, would be to ask: what is the norm that binds the differences?

And this calls for a discussion, again to echo fmitchell and trechriron, of the games themselves. What are they? What do they have (mostly) in common? Looking at the games already put forth as exemplars throughout various venues and threads at PaPG, a nonexhaustive selection would be:

Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, Dogs in the Vineyard, Suzerain, Sorcerer, Colonial Gothic, Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, Fringeworthy, Don't Rest Your Head, Silvercord, Polaris, Dread, Montsegur 1244, Dead Inside, Sign In Stranger, Primetime Adventures, Shock, Spirit of the Century, Steal Away Jordan, Houses of the Blooded, Unisystem, Incarna.net, Victoriana, Beach Bunny Bimbos with Blasters, Shooting the Moon, Witch Hunter, Grey Ranks, Storming the Wizard's Tower, The Dark Eye, Thou Art But a Warrior, Kill Puppies for Satan, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy, Wushu, Spycraft, The Shadow of Yesterday, Hellas, My Life with Master, FATE, Donjon, 1001 Nights, The Mountain Witch, Bureau 13, In a Wicked Age, Agon, Nobilis, Mist-Robed Gate, Labyrinth Lord, Misspent Youth...
The list goes on. And I'm sure I'm neglecting many! Yet, just based on the quick compilation above, we can already see "potential" commonalities--and culled, as if data from a survey or poll, we can also see that while none of them individually escapes subjectivity or qualifies as a necessary or sufficient exemplar of the terms small press or indie games, they are collectively very useful.

If it were a truly representative list, we could then ask what do the core games themselves have in common? And again I can't help but point out that, when we compile the second-order list below, we can see that they are almost all restatements of observations that have already been offered by trechriron and many others. Also noteworthy, some observations appear to be directly contradictory (e.g. #7 and #8); and that's not necessarily a problem, since such contradictions underscore the unappreciated fact that, as abstracted from how most enthusiasts use the term, there are multiple paths to "indie-ness". Many paths, but not arbitrary paths.

1.
Games whose creators eschew the traditional 3-tier model of distribution;

2.
Games whose creators communicate regularly here at PaPG (Bless 'em!) or who are equally accessible at other sites whose purpose is discussion of ideas within the so-called "indie scene", i.e. there is little communicative distance between the designers of a game and its consumers;

3.
Games not published by the largest (top 5, you name it) game-publishing companies or their subsidiary imprints; nor published by companies whose market penetration in table top gaming can be leveraged by virtue of an "established brand" outside the market, i.e. Sony or "Second Life";

4.
Games whose mechanics or system as a whole, at least at the time of their arrival on the scene, are considered to be innovative, thought-provoking, boundary-pushing, possibly controversial, but always fresh, even when freshly retro (as many attempt to resuscitate older "neglected" systems in innovative ways);

5.
Games designed deliberately to be experimental, or otherwise to subvert rpg traditions or popular conventions that are deemed moribund or else too constrictive (e.g. diceless, more story-driven, GM-less, etc.);

6.
Games which are imported and/or newly translated from their designers' home nations, yet without a popular audience abroad;

7.
Games that are just plain cool, made by "the little guy", which may not get the attention and respect that aficionados think proper, dammit;

8.
Trend-setting games that seem to come out of nowhere, the source of whose buzz is mostly word-of-mouth within a specific gaming community, but yet eventually come to exercise noticeable influence on other games or systems outside that community;

9.
Games created by individuals whose primary motivation does not appear to be profit;

10.
Games or supplements made freely available, or else are offered provisionally as free works-in-progress, where anyone may playtest and offer feedback directly to the game's creator(s);

11.
Games that tend NOT to be entryways into rpg gaming for most players, but rather tend to be discovered later, often as part of a deliberate search for "new" ways of role playing.

templeorder
06-15-2009, 11:29 AM
Tamburlain - well said.

MortonStromgal
06-15-2009, 11:55 AM
@Fmitchell

A lifepath system in Burning Wheel is not groundbreaking, having been used in both WHFRP and Rolemaster.

WHFRP and Rolemaster use a very different lifepath than Traveller, Burning Wheel and Mechwarrior 3rd.

WHFRP path you start in a career and change careers as you gain xp. Traveller you pick a series of careers as background to make your starting character, you then spend xp wherever you want as you gain it. For WHFRP its more like multi-classing (to use a D&D term) where as Traveller its just background.

Zzarchov
06-15-2009, 02:36 PM
As I recall with Rolemaster (been awhile)

During character creation to get skills, you had to pick "careers", aka things you did in your life prior to now to get training. These had costs listed in months or years, and opened (or closed) other options. You could start as older or younger based on the amount of previous training you took.

That doesn't strike me as THAT different than BW. Which hey, nothing new under the sun as they say.

Tamburlain
06-15-2009, 03:24 PM
As I recall with Rolemaster (been awhile)

During character creation to get skills, you had to pick "careers", aka things you did in your life prior to now to get training. These had costs listed in months or years, and opened (or closed) other options. You could start as older or younger based on the amount of previous training you took.

That doesn't strike me as THAT different than BW. Which hey, nothing new under the sun as they say.

Aside from Burning Wheel (and Mouse Guard by association), I haven't ever played the games that you and MortonStromgal are comparing in terms of originality. I can say that, aside from games that seem to entirely jettison the traditional rpg format (e.g., radically story-oriented, GM-less, collaborative, don't use dice or cards, don't call upon character stats...)--that Burning Wheel is among the most original rpgs that I've ever played. Again, I lack the breadth and depth of knowledge that would be required to weigh in on which game first implemented something like lifepaths, but to me it's more than that. It's the whole package and how they are integrated. It's the first game I've ever played that has a mechanics system rooted in action-adventure role playing, and yet plays simultaneously like a story telling game.

I'm not sure if there is any single aspect of the game that has never been implemented in another previously, but in my opinion it is strikingly original in how it all fits together. It's complex (even surprisingly crunchy in many ways) yet also transparent in the mechanical sense of providing just the right measure of tools for players to take control of their characters and really use their imaginations to shape the game's story .

trechriron
06-16-2009, 04:09 PM
Tamburlain - well said.

Agreed.

I want to take that list and add it to the top. Perhaps I WILL!

Farcaster
06-16-2009, 05:32 PM
Well, for the purposes of this section, we only have to define what do the terms Independent and Small Press games encompass. Now, I havenít been involved in any sort of esoteric discussion or deep research of the varying definitions of these terms, but in my mind, this section applies to: 1) RPGs that are owned and distributed by the original author(s) independent of a publishing company, and 2) RPG Publishers that have only a small print distribution (in relation to other RPG publishers) and those publishers that otherwise have only a small market presence. Apart from this, I donít think we really need to hash out the minutia of what is Independent and what isnít. To put a different twist on the words once put to pen by Justice Potter Stewart, ďI shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But, I know it when I see itÖĒ

Tamburlain
06-16-2009, 09:16 PM
Agreed.

I want to take that list and add it to the top. Perhaps I WILL!

Feel free. It's mostly yours and others' comments here and on other threads.

trechriron
06-17-2009, 01:06 AM
Feel free. It's mostly yours and others' comments here and on other threads.

Done. Post #3. :D

MortonStromgal
06-17-2009, 11:58 AM
As I recall with Rolemaster (been awhile)

During character creation to get skills, you had to pick "careers", aka things you did in your life prior to now to get training. These had costs listed in months or years, and opened (or closed) other options. You could start as older or younger based on the amount of previous training you took.

That doesn't strike me as THAT different than BW. Which hey, nothing new under the sun as they say.


Well the version of Rolemaster on my shelf basicly has D&D classes. However unlike D&D as you level up you get way more options. I only have one edition of Rolemaster though if you dont count MERPS.

ruselrones
09-24-2009, 05:05 AM
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