RPG Innovations

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A post on the Indie Game Awards site as well as Chris Chinn's blog post today got me thinking about all of the amazing design work that has been happening over the last few years. We're really seeing a great leap in RPG design innovations -- almost all of which build on work which has come before. Here are a few, off the top of my head.

Conflict Resolution:
I think I first saw the idea in Hero Wars. Also: Sorcerer, The Pool, and My Life with Master. Perfected by Primetime Adventures, Dogs in the Vineyard, and The Shadow Of Yesterday.

Scene Framing:
I first saw this in Sorcerer and Sorcerer & Sword. Perfected as a game system element in PTA.

Sorcerer. Conspiracy of Shadows. PTA.

Keys (player-created rewards):
I first saw this in The Riddle of Steel's spiritual attributes. Perfected by TSOY. Also, FATE's Aspects. Burning Wheel's instincts and BiTs.

Hero Wars. Trollbabe. Dogs. PTA.

Dogs. Capes.

Conflicts at multiple resolution scales:
Trollbabe's pace system. TSOY's "bringing down the pain."

Narration Control:
I first saw this in InSpectres. Also: The Pool, Donjon, Wushu, Trollbabe, PTA.

Sorcerer. Puppetland. MLwM. The Mountain Witch. TSOY. Polaris.

Shared GM Duties:
Universalis. Great Ork Gods. Capes. Polaris.

Social "combat":
Dying Earth. Dogs. Burning Wheel.

Group Created Point-of-Play:
Universalis. Capes. PTA.

Player-Created Traits:
Over the Edge. Everway. Hero Wars. Uni. PTA. Dogs.

All of these things are conspicuously absent from the texts of so-called "mainstream" RPGs. When I say that almost all of the innovative design work in RPGs is being done by the "indie" crowd, that's what I mean.

Have anything to add? More innovations? Details about where a given innovation comes from? Please comment.


Anonymous Anonymous says:  

Troupe Play (Ars Magica),Imbalanced Characters for specific purpose (Talislanta, Ars magica), Karma (Marvel Superheroes, a resource mechanic as well as social reward/moral reward)

Blogger jhkim says:  

I had two posts on innovations, which have some overlap with yours.

RPG Design Innovations, Part 1

RPG Design Innovations, Part 2

For some of your list, there are earlier games I think you should mention -- like Theatrix (Scene Framing), Baron Munchausen (Shared GM Duties), and Pantheon (Narration Control). Relationships is pretty broad, but I would mention Champions (which originated relationships as character traits via Hunted/DNPC/Follower/Contact) and Ars Magica (which introduced passions as bonuses to roll: i.e. Loves Beatrice +3 to get +3 on all rolls where loving Beatrice is important).

I'm certainly not disputing the flowering of ideas in the recent indie games, though. Great stuff. I'd throw in Shifting Forest's Parlor Larps to the mix, which I have been grooving on.

Blogger John Harper says:  

Good ones, Tim. And thanks for the links and info, John. That's great stuff.

Blogger John Harper says:  

Thanks, Ron. Looking forward to it.

Blogger John Harper says:  


One of the first lightbulb moments for me was the refutation of "System doesn't matter because a good GM can make any game good." Someone (Vincent or Ron) said, "Yeah. And those techniques the GM is employing to make the game good? Those are system." Ding!

What if someone wrote those things down, so they could be reproduced reliably? And there's your "indie RPG explosion." Starting as far back as Whimsy Cards and Prince Valiant and T&T, too.

Blogger jhkim says:  

Actually, I think that this ("System Matters") is a general principle of game design which has always been true. It was true in Tunnels and Trolls in 1975, and was true for all other innovative games since then like Champions, James Bond 007, Ars Magica, Prince Valiant, and so forth.

So I don't associate this specifically with the indie RPGs of the 2000s.

Blogger John Harper says:  

Oh, I agree, John. It is a general principle that has always been true. Which I why I mentioned T&T and Prince Valiant.

But for me it was not a spoken, clear, guiding principle of game design until I discovered the Forge.

Anonymous Anonymous says:  

The first historical use of conflict resolution and scene framign was the Story Engine (and its primary setting, Maelstrom) by Hubris Games.

The game introduced many new concepts for gaming and was on par with Over the Edge for me in those terms.

Story/Maelstrom are back in circulation through PIG games.

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