I thought I’d sum up my position that I’ve tried to articulate recently, about what I look for in an Indie Story Game (also known as Role-Playing Games) design.
But first, some clarification. Why should anyone care what I personally look for? And why do I look for it?
If you’ve read my blog over the past year, you’ll know I came to the indie role-playing game scene via my interest in teaching storytelling skills (and what the hell: improving my own too). Jason Godesky, designer of the (in beta playtest) Fifth World game pointed out to me the possibilities of ritual re-enactment, and resuscitating our ability to maintain healthy oral/spoken traditions.
This priority created a kind of play so consistently in one corner of the field of activity that one could call “role-playing”, that I gave it a name to reinforce its single-minded identity: storyjamming.
Now, a kind of play with such single-minded focus needs game design that supports that focus. The fact that I consistently play with storyjammers with no or little role-playing game experience (aka newbies) narrows that focus even more.
I see this as a place of super-high growth: people, who have never heard of role-playing or story gaming (or storyjamming, for that matter), discovering this activity, picking up games and jamming story together. I run into a lot of people who find this an exciting idea.
So, I want games for these purposes; easy on newbies, and supporting the specific kind of activity I call storyjamming. My friend Jake Richmond tossed out the possible term “art games” to point to a certain subset of indie games which I think excellently support storyjamming.
I propose that “art games” with the needed design will incorporate:
1. To really sum up, just “Judge your Design by what you’ve left out”. That incorporates pretty much everything else. But if you need more details, this incorporates the following aims -
A. “Just enough rules” in the “Keep It Simple, Stupid” spirit. Sleek, elegant, spare.
B. “Bite-sized pieces” of rules, delivered one at a time according to an intentional pedagogy, so that players can play an enjoyable game at every stage of learning (small-chunk modularity spins off of this too, I think). Even if you’ve designed a ridiculously complex game, never let them know!
C. “Show, Don’t Tell” using evocative, succinct oracles, setting generators, and actual stories and sequential art that embody the setting. Remember, ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’.