Sunday, February 03, 2008

First appeal ... Progress Report

Well, not much came of that effort. I sent in a pretty detailed post about the Elthos RPG and got Willow's well meaning but somewhat frustrating response. She's kind of a hard core Indie Evangelist type who kindly tried to set me on the direction of redesigning the game again, as she did the last time when she was posting to the LRPGSW. I had to patiently explain again that what she thinks my game is supposed to be about isn't really what my game is about. The way it happens is that the Indie crowd have developed a "Help the Indie Game Designer See the Light" methodology that is supposed to help the would be game designer narrow their focus and make their game into what the Indie crowd believes is "the right stuff" via the answering of a series of Game Design Questions (called The Big Three, or the more extended Power 19). This means it needs to be "about" something specific, such as The Hero's Journey, and then all the rules should conform to making the game "about" that. Fair enough for an Indie game, I guess. But Elthos has 30 years of development, and was not conceived of being "about" anything in particular. It evolved over the years into what it is now, a setting that focuses on the Hero's Journey, however the rules were originally designed to leave the setting question open ended. So to now try to make the rules (even the new Settings Rules which deal with the Cosmology, including the Hero's Journey) conform to the current evolution of the setting (and even then, only a small part of it at that) doesn't really make sense for Elthos. At least not the way I play it, nor the way I envision other GMs playing it. And so there was the same friction as last time. Willow's previous comments were more brittle and corrosive the last time, and at least this time I was able to switch the subject to something more tangible, like how to find Play Testers.

That didn't really go anywhere, however, and so my thread began sinking. In a somewhat futile effort to keep my situation from bottoming out I took the outlandish risk of stating some of my opinions on other threads, on the hopes that some outlanders in the crowd might see my posts and take interest... Oh nothing I wrote was all so terrible, and some were even complementary to my peers who I find highly enthusiastic, energetic and brilliant in their own way. However, I think I already fell out of the Zen of Story Games by then.

And so I sink there. But I did, as advised by Rob and Tim and Willow, try them out. I think the main problem with my association to that scene is that we're basically at odds on the point of the "Creative Agenda" aspect of their initiative. Story Games, the forum, is *about* games that devalue and diminish the role of the Gamesmaster, whom they've identified as a kind of tyrant that crushes the spirit of their players. As phrased by the author of their site:

":::A Story Game is a type of role-playing game or gaming experience with a lesser focus on My Character and a greater focus on Our Story.:::"

Of course that is open to interpretation, but the way it reads to me, and the way this principal seems to be applied by the members generally, is that the idea of Players owning their own Characters and the GM owning the back story (the traditional mode of play) is being contested, and the Story Games (aka Indie Creative Agenda Games) are designed to buck that. However, as others have mentioned, it sounds like this imperative was born out of two things:

1) Bad experiences with Traditional RPGs (the legendary Tyrant GM).

2) A Marketing Imperative to do something Different to compete with the Traditional RPGs.

Ok fair enough, I say. Let's have some new kinds of games sure. However, Elthos is not designed with that Creative Agenda in mind. I am, in fact, somewhat neutral on the topic of Creative Agenda. I think that the Traditional GM-Player relationship can work, or it can suck. It depends on the GM and the Players. My answer to that is not to necessarily to change the foundations of the Creative Agenda, but to cultivate better Gamesmasters. The reason why is that, as identified on Story Games itself, and I agree... most Players do not want to assume the role of Story Creators (myself included) while they are playing their Characters. It breaks the sense of immersion in the story to be able to, and even forced to, add back story during the game. Well that's my take on it, but here is what the poster Chearns on Story Games actually said:

Posted By: chearns
Posted By: Clinton R. Nixon If you want to play something, why don't you rustle up your friends and play?

chearns: Identity politics. In the city I live in, I've met plenty of people who specifically don't want to play non-traditional games because they identify as traditional roleplayers. That being said, it seems like the best policy would be to round up non-roleplayers to play. And non-traditional games are, in my experience, much better at appealing to non-roleplayers than traditional games (my father thought A Penny For My Thoughts sounded cool; you'd have to have grown up with my father to understand the magnitude of that statement).

Posted By: Hituro I totally agree about the division. I've come away from here, and the Forge, and CE, enthused about some games which are different to ones I'd played before, only to find that many of the gamer friends I talked about them with were very hostile. This was a surprise, but it's held true.

...It appears to be resistance to gaming style. They don't want to be more protagonised. They don't want to share in world creation (overtly). They want a GM who presents plot and holds all the keys (Matrix style).

As it happens Story Games have an incredibly small following, and extremely tiny sales numbers, though members of the community will argue that either sales don't matter bacause it is a "labor of love", or that their sales are good (ignoring, I think anything like a comparison to any other kind of sales of pretty much anything else), or that those who are in it to make sales are not "real artistes", or something along those lines. Bottom line: their sales are tiny, even for the most successful of them which maybe sell under five thousand units per year (at $10/unit that's $50,000 a year, which on person working alone could live on, but not run an actual company). My own assessment is that if their games are really appealing by design then I would think that their sales would be higher. They argue that they can not compete with games like D&D because they do not have the marketing clout. But then again, neither did D&D when it started have any clout. It just so happened that it was a brilliant game that lots of intellectual fantasyists loved and gravitated towards.

Do Story Games hold the same appeal, generally? Well, not for me, frankly. While I am very open minded and have no axe to grind, and nothing against Story Games, they simply don't appeal to me either as a player or a Gamesmaster. As a Player I don't want to be responsible for the back story, and as a GM I don't want the Players modifying the back story. Some story games do away with the GM altogether. I'm not crazy about the implication. And some of the rhetoric regarding traditional modes of play coming out of the Indie Community has been rather offensive. And so the Indie Scene is interesting, and a lot of people involved with it have great energy and some very cool ideas, but overall, it just simply isn't really my bag.

Nevertheless, I still have an open mind about it and haven't chalked them off or anything. This is just my current impression based on what I've seen so far, and I'm perfectly aware I have seen that much yet, and also aware that I may be pleasantly surprised. Even so, I don't think the Indie crowd is going to find my viewpoint all that appealing, and I'm not willing to hide my views for the sake of fitting in. So I came out all guns blazing, and I think people there have mostly concluded that I "just don't quite fit in". That, I suppose, will have to be ok.

Who knows what will happen to Elthos? Not I! While I love my game and think it's great, it may just be the case that it is unmarketable in the current atmosphere. Is it a case of too many cooks? Or ink in the well? Or just that Elthos is beyond comprehension? Hah! Who knows? Even so, I am quite determined to continue developing it and working towards it's eventual, and hopefully successful, publication. Some day. And I do believe it will be smashing when I finally get it out to market! :)

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