“What is your fondest memory of a game you thought was fun before you knew better?”
I’m pre-empting my usual “Wait for Paul so I know what the real question is” habit because I think I get it… this is about elitism, and kind of sums up everything at which this blog challenge was poking fun.
But! I also genuinely believe that the last decade-and-a-half has seen a staggering amount of great discussion about RPG design and the spaces in which they are played, and the lion’s share of that discussion has come from the indie publishing scene — and, yeah, I am going include both the Forge and the OSR here, as they are both fundamentally about:
1) Re-examining our pre-conceived notions about games, primarily by examining actual play and actual texts;
2) Putting power in the hands of independent creators.
Sure, the Forge did it first, but still. 😉
And I think everyone who has felt the heady rush of “enlightenment” when first diving into these scenes has been guilty of wanting to “help the heathens see the light” — look at any RPG fora around 2005 or so, and you’ll see the flamewars that erupted as a result. (The OSR probably has its equivalent after 2008 or so.)
But! Again! There are absolutely games — and/or ways of playing games — that I know are no longer fun for me. And indie brainwashing is absolutely to blame for my leaving gaming groups to which I’d committed years of my life.
So, to answer the question-as-written, let me say: HERO, both the game and the people with whom I played it.
Most of my HERO in the 21st century was GM’ed by one guy, and for the longest time I thought he was a brilliant GM. I mean, he was. He had a great knack for pacing a campaign, portraying NPCs, keeping multiple plot arcs going, running combats, etc — but he also relied on a lot of GM-fiat techniques. For the most part, I think he was improvising, and most NPC stat blocks were “in his head”, and when he wanted something to happen, happen it did. To someone raised on ‘80s RPG design, this was all well and good. It was how you ran games.
But then I learned about “illusionism”. Add to that the Forge emphasis on focused design and mechanics that support premise, and it was all over. Instead of enjoying the illusion, I spent sessions peering behind the curtain, or thinking about how much time I’d spent math-ing my HERO PC into existence and how it didn’t seem to matter much.
I also make the rookie cultist mistake of trying to “convert” that group to indie games. The session of Spirit of the Century I ran went pretty well, though afterwards they wanted to convert it to HERO. Burning Wheel was a flat-out disaster. And when I pitched the idea of The Pool, they got outright hostile.
So, was I not really having fun when I was playing HERO? Yes and no. There were definitely aspects that were nagging me; that I knew felt off but couldn’t quite put my finger on. But there were also great times, and sessions I will remember forever.
The cool thing about “indie” gaming and my experience with the Forge is that they gave me both exposure to new ways of engaging with this hobby and language with which to talk about how I engage — both of which helped me to better understand what I liked and what I didn’t, and thereby be better able to pinpoint what it is I wanted. And this has benefitted my play of all kinds of RPGs, not just the “indie” ones.
FYI, the original list, one last time: https://plus.google.com/+PaulBeakley/posts/SCyvyFEEbsv