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Thread: What is an Indie RPG? FAQ, Info, Links

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    What is an Indie RPG? FAQ, Info, Links

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    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]
    Trentin C Bergeron (TreChriron)
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    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.

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    Here are some links to places that focus on the Indie RPG scene:

    The Forge - the place is called Indie RPGs dot com for crying out loud. 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
    - 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 - 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 - 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 - Makers of great supplements, Jaws of the Six Serpents (PDQ) and Legends Walk! (PDQ setting for Truth & Justice).

    CRN Games - makers of Donjon and The Shadow of Yesterday.

    Bards and Sages Publishing - Makers of the Karma RPG and various 3e D&D supplements.

    Wise Turtle Publishing
    - 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.

    Signal Fire Studios - 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.

    Arc Dream Publishing
    - 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. Also, check out Reign, a fantasy version of ORE and the creator's page - Greg Stolze.

    The Suzerain RPG by Talisman Studios is an interesting game worth checking out.

    Hellas RPG 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. Looks to be a interesting game.

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

    Quote Originally Posted by Tamburlain View Post
    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!
    Last edited by trechriron; 06-16-2009 at 04:14 PM. Reason: Adding a great post
    Trentin C Bergeron (TreChriron)
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    Here are the few I mentioned previously and I fear so many have disappeared before they were even known.

    Atlas Games - 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 - Current producer of the original FASA games Battletech and Shadowrun. Both still have strong followings and their newer editions and streamloned rules have drawn attention from their older fans.

    R. Talisorian Games - 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 - Producers of Star Wars (D6), and Torg. They long ago had the original Star Wars license and produced some very good quality material.

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    Quote Originally Posted by trechriron View Post
    Here are some links to places that focus on the Indie RPG scene:

    The Forge - the place is called Indie RPGs dot com for crying out loud. 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
    - 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 - 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 - 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 - Makers of great supplements, Jaws of the Six Serpents (PDQ) and Legends Walk! (PDQ setting for Truth & Justice).

    CRN Games - makers of Donjon and The Shadow of Yesterday.

    Bards and Sages Publishing - Makers of the Karma RPG and various 3e D&D supplements.

    Wise Turtle Publishing
    - 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.

    Signal Fire Studios - 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.

    Arc Dream Publishing
    - 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. Also, check out Reign, a fantasy version of ORE and the creator's page - Greg Stolze.

    The Suzerain RPG by Talisman Studios is an interesting game worth checking out.

    Hellas RPG 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. Looks to be a interesting game.

    Excellent compilation! Thanks for this.
    There is no path, traveler; the path is made by walking.
    -Antonio Machado

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    Very cool. Time to peruse the links.
    Thoth-Amon, Lord of the Underworld and the Undead
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    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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mnemenoi View Post
    ...

    West End Games - 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.
    Trentin C Bergeron (TreChriron)
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    Quote Originally Posted by mnemenoi View Post
    Here are the few I mentioned previously and I fear so many have disappeared before they were even known.

    Atlas Games - 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 - Current producer of the original FASA games Battletech and Shadowrun. Both still have strong followings and their newer editions and streamloned rules have drawn attention from their older fans.

    R. Talisorian Games - 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 - 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.
    Playing: Pathfinder
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    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.

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    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.
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    Tri-Tac Games 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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mnemenoi View Post
    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.)
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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    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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fmitchell View Post
    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.
    Last edited by MortonStromgal; 06-06-2009 at 12:26 PM.
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