Paul Czege on the wild energy of the itch.io ttrpg scene, or, "My Life With Itch"

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
It might be true, it might be false - but since when has it become illegitimate or improper for an important creative figure in a field to exprss an opinion about where the future of that field is to be found?
Huh? Who said it was "illegitimate"? He can say whatever he wants. It's all good. All we said is we didn't understand what he said. Blimey, dude.
 

pemerton

Legend
Huh? Who said it was "illegitimate"? He can say whatever he wants. It's all good. All we said is we didn't understand what he said. Blimey, dude.
Sorry, I wasn't responding to you - I was rseponding to @Umbran's description of it as "self important" and "pretentious". Those seems like criticisms that don't aim at comprehsibility but propriety.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It might be true, it might be false - but since when has it become illegitimate or improper for an important creative figure in a field to exprss an opinion about where the future of that field is to be found?
He can perfectly well express an opinion.

And I can perfectly well read it, and feel it comes off less like a humble opinion and more like a sales pitch, and express that opinion.

Quite frankly, if he'd said, "Hey, this place is really cool, and I think some extremely creative work that may well be important to the future of the RPG hobby is going on here," I'd not have batted an eye. If a place where he himself has published work (so, he has skin in the game), becomes a place where "the future paradigms of RPGs" (note, not some of the future paradigms, but, as stated, all of them) come from, I'm apt to engage a more critical reading.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
He is basically just trying to say that the platform is where all the experimental stuff that plays with the form is happening. It's the avant garde. He's saying the games are calling you to try new things and see where they lead. He is specifically speaking from the context of the indie community having become overly focused on Powered By The Apocalypse and Forged in the Dark games and becoming more focused on delivering full products than the early experimentation it was known for.

He's talking about the sort of creative energy the indie community had when Sorcerer, My Life With Master, Dogs in the Vineyard and Primetime Adventures were brand new. That same sort of erratic creative energy was also in place when Dungeons and Dragons, RuneQuest, and Traveller were in their formative years before it became the game industry.
 

Tun Kai Poh

Explorer
"Incitement" is for me about inspiration. Beyond the Fence, Below the Grave, a game I discovered through the itch Folklore Jam, is a PWYW investigative RPG about Old Norse folklore.
https://t-akw.itch.io/beyond-the-fence-below-the-grave

It pits siedr, godi, skalds etc against otherworldly powers that threaten typical villagers. You're all experts in magic and the supernatural, and you need to eliminate suspects, visit realms of the dead and the trolls and spirits, and find the ritual that will stop the threat. It's a viking game that's not about combat, and I love it!

It inspired me to make my own supernatural investigator RPG, so I'd say it worked.
 

Celebrim

Legend
So we have a whole culture now for producing fantasy heartbreakers, or whatever the Forge inspired Indy version of that is?

(Actually, it's probably an 'Itchy' now that I think about it.)

I still think the world does not need another RPG system. You don't impress me with your high concept RPG. You impress me by writing an adventure that everyone talks about and wants to play.

(How's that for incitement?)
 

Tun Kai Poh

Explorer
So we have a whole culture now for producing fantasy heartbreakers, or whatever the Forge inspired Indy version of that is?
Most of the folks on the itch gamedev community haven't even heard of the Forge. Paul is one of the few old-timers.

(Actually, it's probably an 'Itchy' now that I think about it.)

I still think the world does not need another RPG system. You don't impress me with your high concept RPG. You impress me by writing an adventure that everyone talks about and wants to play.

(How's that for incitement?)
Well Beyond the Fence, Below the Grave has one of the best investigative scenarios I've seen in a long time.

Saviors of Hogtown has a terrific trio of Dungeon World funnel adventures for 0-level peasants!
https://moth-lands.itch.io/saviors-of-hogtown
 

pemerton

Legend
There's always a slight irony in seeing critics of the Forge use the term "fantasy heartbreaker", which of course is a Forge-ism:

Ron Edwards said:
This essay is about some 1990s games I'm calling "fantasy heartbreakers," which are truly impressive in terms of the drive, commitment, and personal joy that's evident in both their existence and in their details - yet they are also teeth-grindingly frustrating, in that, like their counterparts from the late 70s, they represent but a single creative step from their source: old-style D&D. And unlike those other games, as such, they were doomed from the start. This essay is basically in their favor, in a kind of grief-stricken way.
Of course it's the fate - perhaps even the purpose - of the avant-garde to have their works and their ideas appropriated and bowdlerised.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
1) Czege's prose has never really moved me either way. I agree with @pemerton 's take on his disposition. Some folks get excited about things and express that fervor with language that follows through. I'm sure I do that sometimes (and likely, similarly get accused for being overdramatic and pretentious). Whatever.

2) However, Czege's My Life With Master is very moving...and awesome.

3) This site looks like its got some pretty inspired (tee-hee?) system-agnostic content. I'll have to make some purchases. Thank you for exposing it to me @TunKaiPoh .
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
Seems like an endorsement of itch.io as a place for experimentation in game design and presentation. I’m only passing familiar with itch so I’m glad to see this thread come up as a reminder. Thanks @Tun Kai Poh.

It seems like a place that game designers should know about and watch, even if their preferred games are different than what’s on offer there.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I still think the world does not need another RPG system. You don't impress me with your high concept RPG. You impress me by writing an adventure that everyone talks about and wants to play.
So... have you played Ten Candles? If not, I suggest you go find someone to run it for you. It may not be your bag, but it would show you the flaw in that position - adventures for a extant system are great - but they only perpetuate the style of the extant system. Sometimes, to get a new feel and style, you need a new system.

I will agree - most of the time, the high-concept RPG just isn't worth the extra effort. But, then there's the ones that do give something thoroughly new that really works. To use Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crap, but we need it to produce the 10% that isn't.
 

Celebrim

Legend
So... have you played Ten Candles?
Ten Candles falls in that class of games that people whose opinions I have some respect for rave about, but for which I feel I have no capacity whatsoever to run it successfully unless I first see and experience it ran well. I have no idea how even to approach it, as it strikes me as a format best suited to 20 minutes of a show like The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone. How you get 3 hours of fun RP out of a game with a fixed story arc and a single topic of exploration I'm not sure. I am sure my existing pool of players couldn't make it work.

Similarly, I heard a lot of good things about Dread, but never felt I could run it, and my one attempt to run a Dread based game (Dread House, with my kids) very much proved that. However, reading the Alexandrian's review:


Makes me think that however cool the high concept is, it's math just doesn't work - which is one of the several problems I encountered trying to use Jenga as a framework for a story telling game. (And Dread House even has something of a solution to the 'elimination problem'.)

Or in other words, 'Ten Candles' falls into the class of games I want to at some point sign up to play at a convention with someone running the game that knows how.

If someone in central Ohio wants to run Dread, My Life with Master, Ten Candles, etc. and thinks they really know how, I'd definitely do that.

On a related thought, I was enamored by the Mouse Guard RPG from the moment I saw it, but ultimately have arrived at a similar conclusion - no matter how cool the concept is, the math just does not work. The rules set poorly supports the game it wants to be, is highly inflexible, and doesn't play nearly as well as it reads. Maybe again the problem is that I just don't know how to run it, but there are objective flaws in the math that I don't think style can overcome, and that's not even getting into the fact that having a game exist mostly in the meta runs contrary in my experience to the aesthetic of character exploration. It has you always externalizing what is best experienced as an internal experience. It's like the difference between experiencing a story and experiencing being on a creative team charged with creating a story.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
@Celebrim It seems you’re advocating for one universal system for RPGs and then supplemental settings/scenarios/adventures for that system as the main focus of additional products.

So what’s the system you think works best overall?

I’d expect that, given the variety of play goals and the desired experience that a given game may produce, there needs to be more than one system.

But the idea of just one is interesting. I don’t know if such a universal system does or can exist, but I’m curious what you think would be a good one.
 

Celebrim

Legend
@Celebrim It seems you’re advocating for one universal system for RPGs and then supplemental settings/scenarios/adventures for that system as the main focus of additional products.
Not at all. There is no one perfect system. However, at this point in the development of rules technology there are known to be several very robust systems with their own strengths. To name a few, we have D20, BRP, PbtA, Gumshoe, WEG D6, HERO, Cortex Plus, FATE, etc. And each of those has several variants and there are a number of robust independent game systems that could support new setting treatments - Dogs in the Vineyard has a system that I think could easily be adopted to classic Star Trek, for example.

What I am saying is that at this point in time it's largely wasted effort to go out and reinvent the wheel. The vast majority of effort in professional publications is being spent on producing new rules. I think this is happening because producing new rules is relatively easy and its fun, and as a rulesmith myself I totally get the need to write down your clever ideas for a rules set. But it's still mostly wasted effort that largely duplicates what is already out there and divides the community amongst a bunch of rules sets, most of which almost no one will ever play. For whatever sort of story you want to tell, or you want to help others to tell, there is a ruleset out there that does the job well enough.

What most rules systems actually lack is truly robust and well thought out examples of play. I've been harping on this for like 20 years now, and it just keeps being driven home for me who much effort we put into rules and how little effort we put into scenarios for those rules.

For example, about 2 years ago I decided to run a Call of Cthulhu campaign and that I didn't want to homebrew the scenarios because I was burned out from writing. Call of Cthulhu is ironically a system that is known for having invested much more effort into creating its scenarios than its rules, which is IMO (along with the robust BRP rules set) is exactly why CoC has remained relevant for so long. But even when exploring what's available as scenarios in BRP, I was shocked by how few scenarios out there are really well done and how much work I had to put into even the most classic scenarios to make them really pop. Many scenarios which I'd heard about when inspected turned out to have serious flaws, and even fewer of them really captured anything like what I would associate with the core ideas of HP Lovecraft's 'Cosmic Horror'. What I ended up running had moments of fun, but ultimately I found it disappointing because the examples of play I was being provided really weren't up to the challenge of presenting the game I wanted to present. And it wasn't obvious to me how to go about presenting the game I wanted to present. Whatever the solution was, I realized it was hard, and doing something hard was exactly the opposite of what I wanted at the time, which was to pick up a text and with minimal effort turn that text into a game.

Leaving aside my problems with the subject matter of the scenarios, even Seth Skorkowsky - who seems to be one of the the world's leading expert on running the system - when reviewing these scenarios frequently makes note of the serious and yet obvious flaws that CoC scenarios often have and has extensive useful notes to the would be GM as to what they will need to prepare or alter from the scenario to get good results in play. And this is in a system that has spent more than the usual amount of money and effort on having examples of play available. It seems the vast majority of rulesets exist as rules only, with no real examples of play.

There is just a dearth of really good writing out there. There is not a dearth of good rule sets. Indeed, one lt;dr summary of what I'm saying is that pursuit of the perfect rules set is a false goal that really needs to die. I'm not necessarily saying that investigation of rules technology should come to a stop, as I think that there are plenty of well thought out subsystems that will always need to be created to support various minigames that become more central to play in a particular system than usual, but I am saying that I'm not really that interested in new rule systems.
 
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dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Why write for RPG's? The itch stuff makes perfect sense, even though there isn't a correlation between the number of systems and quality of writing, if it's all for nothing anyways, I'd definitely not work under the aegis of someone else.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
There is just a dearth of really good writing out there. There is not a dearth of good rule sets. Indeed, one lt;dr summary of what I'm saying is that pursuit of the perfect rules set is a false goal that really needs to die. I'm not necessarily saying that investigation of rules technology should come to a stop, as I think that there are plenty of well thought out subsystems that will always need to be created to support various minigames that become more central to play in a particular system than usual, but I am saying that I'm not really that interested in new rule systems.
Thanks for clarifying. I think that makes more sense to me now.

I don't know if it's about the perfect rules set....I agree that's a kind of false goal. But I think it's about figuring out the desired experience the game is meant to deliver, and then finding the rules to help deliver that experience.

You mentioned Dread earlier, and I think that is a good example of what I'm talking about; the act of playing Jenga has the anticipation, anxiety, and inevitability that horror fiction relies upon.

So in that regard, I don't know if it always make sense to go with an existing rules system. Maybe components of a system might fit the design goals, but others don't. Maybe mixing and matching different rules from different games will result in the desired goal. I think there's a lot of that going on, for sure. But I think that drive to find something that fits this specific part of this specific game.....that's where innovation is most likely to happen.
 

pemerton

Legend
It's a general feature of modernity that nothing (culture, technology, social forms more generally) is static. There's no reason to think that RPGs should be any different.

At any given time someone might declare RPG design to be finished and done with. But at any past moment since D&D was first published we can look and see new games being created that now are seen to have been important if not fundamental: RQ and Classic Traveller in the late 70s; 007 in the mid-80s; Over the Edge in the early 90s; Maelstrom Storytelling in the late 90s; HeroWars c 2000; the Forge and allied games that followed that (Sorcerer, Burning Wheel, Vincent Baker's DitV and AW, Czege's My Life WIth Master, etc). There's no real reason to think that now we've reached the millenium of RPG design and play.

And speaking personally, I've got plenty of games I haven't yet played and want to - AW, perhaps DW, maybe Fate, Maelstrom Storytelling, perhaps OtE, HeroQuest revised, Wuthering Heights - and I've got no reason to think new games aren't going to be invented that will add to that list.

When I first started RPGing it would never have occurred to me that one might play a game like Wuthering Heights (or even something more traditional like Burning Wheel). There's probably stuff being invented right now that's never occurred to me either.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Ten Candles falls in that class of games that people whose opinions I have some respect for rave about, but for which I feel I have no capacity whatsoever to run it successfully unless I first see and experience it ran well.
I think that's understandable. And the fact that you don't know how to approach it supports the point I'm about to get to.

Similarly, I heard a lot of good things about Dread, but never felt I could run it...

Makes me think that however cool the high concept is, it's math just doesn't work
Yes, so here's the thing - once you include something like player physical ability into the ruleset, it is no longer about "math". It is about using something other than math, other than simple odds and probability, to generate player subjective experience. In the original Shakespearean sense, there is no accounting (meaning math) for taste.

Now, as you say, you don't really have a good handle on how to approach these games. Have you considered the possibility that this is because you, as a GM, have a particular style, which isn't suited to these experiences? Think of it like you were a film director - not all directors are good at all genres. Being good at directing a comedy does not mean you'll produce a good horror flick. Maybe, you are not (currently - there's skill development that might change this) suited for such things as a GM. It isn't so strange to think that each of us, as GMs, have our own personal gaming paradigms - we have our habits and styles, after all.

But, there's folks who really, really like these games that you don't have a handle on.

Ergo - there are game experiences out there that are worthwhile, but not up your alley.

Requests for the hobby in general to not explore those other experiences... are not particularly fair or reasonable.
 

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