Ludo, Ergo Sum

Ludo, Ergo Sum
My Eyes Glaze Over

Allen Varney | 14 Mar 2006 07:02
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Edwards concludes his seminal essay "GNS and Other Matters of Roleplaying Theory" with a heartfelt discussion of "dysfunctional roleplaying"; his words will resonate with many, many gamers:

I have met dozens, perhaps over a hundred, very experienced roleplayers with this profile: a limited repertoire of games behind him and extremely defensive and turtle-like play tactics. [...H]e hunkers down and does nothing unless there's a totally unambiguous lead to follow or a foe to fight. His universal responses include, "My guy doesn't want to," and, "I say nothing."

I have not, in over 20 years of roleplaying, ever seen such a person have a good time roleplaying. I have seen a lot of groups founder due to the presence of one such participant. Yet they really want to play...

These roleplayers are GNS casualties. [...]They are the victims of incoherent game designs and groups that have not focused their intentions enough. [...]They are simultaneously devoted to and miserable in their hobby.

My goal in developing RPG theory and writing this document is to help people avoid this fate.

The Fruits of Their Effort
Though I'm a professional game designer, GNS theory hasn't directly helped me improve my craft. Partly, this is because for two years I've been concerned exclusively with a new edition of the classic RPG PARANOIA, an offbeat game that fits awkwardly in the GNS framework. (Forge articles seldom mention PARANOIA.)

But many other designers have somehow soldiered on without me. Some, taking strongly to GNS and the Big Model, have produced amazing work, and I've gleefully stolen many ideas. Don't look for their games in your local store; they're almost all small press, print-on-demand or PDF-only, sold exclusively through e-tailers like Indie Press Revolution, RPGMall and e23. A few highlights from this teeming field:

  • Sorcerer (Ron Edwards, Adept Press): You have no magic yourself, but you can bind demons to your bidding. How far are you willing to go?
  • Dogs in the Vineyard (Vincent Baker, Lumpley Games): Mormon(ish) missionaries, "God's Watchdogs," on the 19th-Century frontier, cleansing possessed townsfolk. (Review by Frank Sronce.)
  • My Life With Master (Paul Czege, Half Meme Press): Stupendously atmospheric and intensely innovative, MLWM casts you as Igor, in service to a harsh nonplayer Master; your characteristics are Weariness, Self-Loathing and Unrequited Love. (Review by Steve Darlington.)
  • Primetime Adventures (Matt Wilson, Dog-eared Designs): Create your own episodic TV melodrama. (Review by Aaron Stone.)
  • The Shadow of Yesterday (Clinton Nixon, Anvilwerks): Post-apocalyptic sword-and-sorcery fantasy meets Wuthering Heights in this highly original "open source" paper RPG released under a Creative Commons license. (Review by Jeremy Reaban.)

Find more good indie RPGs, with links, on the Wiki.

For major fun, check the contest entries by stunt-flying indie designers who create entire RPGs in one day or one week, or based on two out of four random words suggested by Ron Edwards. All these entries are hosted on 1000 Monkeys 1000 Typewriters.

Want to learn more? Hit The Forge forums. Also check out the Roleplaying Open forum and blogs such as The 20' By 20' Room, Attacks of Opportunity, and RPG Theory Review.

Allen Varney designed the PARANOIA paper-and-dice roleplaying game (2004 edition) and has contributed to computer games from Sony Online, Origin, Interplay, and Looking Glass.

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