Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Indie Gaming Scene Lives!

Hello, and thanks for welcoming me back! I'm sorry it's been so very long since I posted, but Professor Kory Curtis has had me exceedingly busy playtesting an entirely new way of gaming. "I'm afraid even to mention it aloud yet", stated Professor Kurtis several times during our intense, one-on-one sessions. I don't want to spoil anything, but adherents of Wrongist theory? Look out--your days are numbered!

Here’s a thought I had today—using My Life With Master to run a game in the Mountain Witch setting cut out and put in the binding of Shock. Maybe Sorceror.

People ask why I still like Exalted, but not D&D. Not to bash the 11 year-olds out there that love D&D, but Exalted is just clearly a thinking person’s game. D&D just too munchkinny for my tastes. In D&D, 20th level characters can easily raze whole kingdoms. Sure, any Exalted character can do the same thing, but it’s all about exploring the theme of how you handle that power. There’s also the Daiklave, and no, it’s not about ANIME, thankyouverymuch. It draws on such themes as Joseph Campbell and…well, some of the stuff is close to Samurai Jack, which is made for Cartoon Network, an Amerikkkan company. So I don’t want to hear anything about anime, ok? This is a serious game, for people seriously ready explore serious themes regarding the abuse of power.

Now, I have a rule in this column not to bash D&D; I understand that some people want to play simplistic glorified board games, and that’s their choice to not rise from the ignorant masses. But I got to thinking today about politics (I’m a very political person, who thinks Bush is a morron and hates him for reinstating the draft, has read part of Chomsky’s last book, and have watched Super Size Me), and doesn’t it seem like if Nazis were to play a RPG back then, it would be D&D? Think about it:

For one, D&D is all about gaining ultimate power through crushing enemies in a ruthless manner. Doesn’t that fit Nazis to a T? Second, player characters are raised above other non-playing characters, sort of a “master race”. (Getting eerie, isn’t it?). Lastly, most intellectuals fled from Nazi Germany, having seen the writing on the wall. Us intellectuals in the gaming world have fled from fascist GM empowerment and functional combat mechanics, whether it is Ron Edwards from Champions or myself and Professor Curtis from D&D. Clearly, we are ahead of the curve on this one. I think all the smart people who got out of Germany before 1918 would be proud of us that have followed in (and improved upon) their footsteps. True art trumps politics any day!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Not Selling Out & Reviews

Not much for today--Professor Curtis mentioned that he would be taking a page from Vincent Baker and not selling his game Limbo Fever to the suits at Mongoose....that is, if, in the forseeable future, they actually ask to purchase his game. Way to stick it to THE MAN, Vincent! I especially enjoy the way my fellow independent game designers and advocates bring it up at every opprtunity to illustrate the viability of independent gaming. Can that story ever truly get old?

In other news, I just checked my email, and it seems several of you are interested in me reviewing your products! Very well, I shall, but be warned: indie gaming reviews are a harsh mistress. If your game does not very well quote other indie game designers or if it can be used for more than 4 games before becoming redundant and boring, I will be marking off for that. If it is sufficiently avant-garde, however, I promise to do my best to plug it in every thread that comes up on RPGnet, including ones where people specifically rule out that game as what they are looking for. I call this the Wushu Technique.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tremendously Important News

Apologies for not posting earlier, but I've been working on a BIG story:

Professor Curtis says he might be quitting the hobby. That’s right, you heard it here first—I want credit when it gets into Spin or CounterCulture lol! No, now don’t worry—from now on, he’s says, he won’t say he’s “part of the hobby”, but rather, “part of the Movement” (he said to make sure it is capitalized). And what a Movement it is! Just think! Modern psychology had a little over a century, but we’ve delved deeper into the human mind just using 14-page games and message boards than they ever could have dreamed. Sorry, Dr. Freud, but if there’s a mental illness or repressed emotional issue that can’t be cured with Polaris, I haven’t heard about it yet! Well, not retards, of course, but they’re likely playing Rifts lol!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Narrative Explained

Narrative in gameplay is something people seem to have a lot of trouble with. Now, here’s the thing: it is DEATHLY important for your GM (if you’re still using one of those outmoded devices) to have everyone use narrative in your gameplay. That means YOU have control of the setting. Say you’re playing some (presumably exploratory thematic) sword and sorcery type of game, and the GM has told you there’s a castle corridor with a guard at the end. Now, in a game for the “normals”, you might be constrained as to what is in that hallway by the limits or boundaries of the game. But using narrative, you can describe ANYTHING! You don’t have to sneak up on that guard and brain him with your club—you can have the floor be rotten and fall out underneath him, have him undergo a flashback to childhood abuse and collapse in a sobbing heap, or even decide that a falling sperm whale crushes him! That’s the sort of serious flexibility that your mundane “mainstream” gaming just can’t deliver! Remember though, eventually bring everything around to dealing with some sort of childhood trauma. I love to explore issues like that and then include all the details on my online actual play threads.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Cornell's Review Corner

My quick ratings for recent games I’ve reviewed (on a scale of 1 to 10):

In Harm’s Way (Better Mousetrap): Supports troupe play, which is a plus, but entirely too much mainstream appeal to make any sort of real statement. Based on the Horatio Hornblower novels, which were adapted from an A&E miniseries. 4/10

MilkWork (by Professor Curtis) A haunting work of great import that comes down to the one moment each mother has to decide: to breastfeed or not to breastfeed? Possibly a great date game. 10/10.

RuneQuest (Mongoose Edition): Let’s be honest: any edition of RuneQuest that doesn’t take Trollbabe into consideration is going to be a commercial failure. 1/10

(by Professor Curtis): A haunting work of great import that comes down to the one moment each Hamlet has to decide: to be or not to be? Possibly a great date game. 10/10

My Life With Hitler (Half Meme): Picking up where My Life With Master left off, players take the role of Eva Braun in 1944 Germany. You still get silk stockings! Look out for those briefcase bombs! Does his moustache tickle? You decide! 7/10

(by Professor Curtis): A board game/RPG that combines the movie and WWI battle Gallipoli with all the fun of Monopoly. Buy up all the trenches! Establish a beachhead and build a hotel! Most importantly, this haunting work of great import that comes down to the one moment each player has to decide: to pass Go or not to pass Go? Possibly a great date game. 10/10

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Discouraging Actual Play Recounting

I am so tired of Tim’s Gaming Dungeon! Every Saturday night is Open Gaming Night, where folks can come in and use some of the tables in back to play whatever game they want. I’ve tried to run Nobilis a few times, but it seems like I never quite get there before Tim has all the tables reserved. Maybe next week!

Anyhow, I thought it would be sort of a lark to jump into one of the Dungeons & Dragons games that some of the less-awakened gamers were running. They had pregenerated characters, which I didn’t mind—I do so enjoy a challenge! I made sure to ask a lot of questions about my character’s background, motivation—I don’t think Greg the DM was used to such an outstanding, thoughtful gamer, because after about a half hour, he waved his hand and said, “Dude, your relative introspection level or whatever is whatever you want it to be. Or an 18. Let’s just start gaming”.

So, anyhow, we set off—I was the party’s dwarf fighter, and there was an elven cleric, a human ranger, and a gnome wizard, too, if I recall. Our party’s quest involved retrieving some rubies from a crypt under this large metropolis—lame, huh? I asked why he didn’t just include a big red dragon while he was at it lol! No one else said anything, but I think they were on my side.

We get into the bottom of the crypt, and the GM starts to describe the room we’re in. Once he paused, I started adding details, too, like a large acid pit in the middle of the room and shredded purple curtains on the wall and a large glowing battleaxe stuck in a giant dragon skull. The GM stopped the game and said, “What the hell are you doing, dude?”

I rolled my eyes at the poor schlub. “It’s called shared narrative control, and it helps build better stories!”

“Well stop it,” is all he said.

So after that, a large Ogre burst through the door and starts tearing apart our party. The cleric wanted to try a spell she’d been saving, but I had a better plan. “I take out my alchemy set and mix up a batch of Ogre Poison, put it in a flask, and throw it at him!”

The GM said, “What the hell? A) You’d didn’t take ANY of the skills or equipment to be able to do that, and B) it isn’t your turn!”

Exasperated at this 20-year veteran ignaramus, I said, “Who cares about skills? I’m adding it in to make the story better, or are you not aware of the Professor’s exhaustive papers on the matter? And don’t tell me you’re still using initiative! What are you people, 13?” (As it turns out, one of them was).

Well, that pretty much ended the game right there. Tim came over and suggested that I find a group more ready to receive advanced gaming theory. He suggested The Gamertopia on East 14th Street. I guess I’ll have to check it out.

I bet they didn’t get anywhere without my Ogre Poison.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Perhaps PBeM would be a better choice...

We played a new creation of Professor Curtis’ last night, Blankety-Blank, which explores the social mores and taboos of cursing in our culture. Basically, we sit around the table and argue over topics, the pivotal moment coming when each of us decides whether or not to curse to illustrate our point. Unfortunately, one of his associates from his philosophy class played with us and it turned out he had Tourette’s Syndrome, which ruined a lot of the artistic elements for us. After that the Professor said he though it might work better as an online RPG, since he was pretty certain people with Tourette’s didn’t type that way, but then I reminded him of Gareth-Michael Skarka.

Friday, October 13, 2006

An Indirect Chat With Professor Curtis

We are very fortunate and honored to have Professor Kory Curtis himself online today to field a few of your questions. He won’t be able to stick around for comments, as he really cannot afford to be late to Philosophy 102 again.

Our first question in the mailbag comes from a Joshua A., of Comstock, California:

Dear Professor Curtis,

Help! My group and I are stuck on the meaning of “story”. Do we need to actively mold our game to produce story, or can we simply expect it as a byproduct of good gaming? For that matter, what would you consider the playstyle of a group playing an immersionist game of Shock set in the Serenity universe that discarded the social combat rules in favor of the “give” mechanic from Dogs In The Vineyard? I’ve read everything I could find on what you, Ron Edwards, Vincent Baker, and Clinton R. Nixon say on the matter, and I’m hopelessly lost. Plus, most of the G/N/S essays seem to conflict one another halfway through. Tell me what to do! --Joshua


I would love to have this conversation with you, but I must first ask that you read the following discussions:

-The Index of this site

-Alexander R. Galloway’s Gaming, Essay on Algorithmic Culture

-Is Director Stance Real?

-The Fetzer Vineyards Mission Statement (read between the lines on this one)

-“Mildly Disappointed” thread at the Forge’s HeroQuest forums

-The fact that Sorcerer is nothing like Rifts

-Paul’s Letter To The Ephesians

In addition to these, I will assume you are already familiar with the main body of my academic work. I really must insist that we continue this discussion after and only after you are well-read and flawlessly proficient on all those subjects. –PKC

Dear Professor Curtis,

My group is trying to decide what game to play next after completing an extremely successful Warhammer 2e campaign. We’ve gotten our choices down to Star Wars d20 or Star Frontiers. Any advice on which one to pick? --Jim B., Watseka, Illinois


I sense a lot of social conflict in your group. Sadly, I believe this all stems from your group having played Warhammer 2e, which I can assure you in a professional professorial manner is responsible for the bed-wetting problems that no doubt have plagued you since you started playing it. From your letter, I can gather that you are all desperately unhappy playing outside the Correctionist fold, which is where I think you want to be. If you are fixated on playing Star Wars d20 or Star Frontiers, my advice to you is treat it as you would the latest novel for a book club: instead of rolling dice and actually playing the game, have everyone read the text and come back the next week ready to go around in a circle telling a story inspired by what they read. I think you’ll find this much more fulfilling, but be warned, using Star Wars d20 even in this approximately Correctionist manner may still result in fetal damage to any children you or your spouse plan on having. –PKC

Dear Mr. Curtis,

I’m having trouble getting my independent game off the ground. I suppose it is what you’d call traditionally rules-heavy fantasy game, but I’ve worked very hard on it, and feel that it has something to offer people, and I’m especially proud of my scale percentile dice mechanic. However, the Forge won’t give me a forum for it, and every time I ask for feedback at RPGnet, I’m told my game is a “fantasy heartbreaker” and therefore worthless. Why can’t I find support out there? -- Darren Fowler

Mr. Fowler,

First off, I would thank you to refer to me as Professor Curtis. I didn’t get accepted to community college on my first attempt to be referred to as “Mr.” Curtis!

Your problem is a very common one I witness among those would-be indie game designers attempting to garner support for their game. You see, designers such as myself, the good learned men at the Forge, and the esteemed professional gaming hipsters at RPGnet have to be very careful as to what we endorse. Simply put, we have yet to see nearly enough of you posting profound italicized passages in favor of our work on gaming sites and blogs. Until we can be certain you will not poison the Movement with Wrongist and Bankruptist alternate theory, you will have to peddle your gaming in the opium dens and tarnished backwaters of gaming society. As the forefront of independence and individualism in gaming, we must be certain we are in lock-step at all times concerning theory. –PKC

Lastly, a question from the self-identified “RPG Pro”, Chuck Spindler:

Professor Curtis,

Despite your arrogance, I think it's time to give you a second chance. I understand that since you aren't yet an insider, it's natural that you would lash out against the gaming industry. You haven't had a chance to meet Steve Jackson, or have a beer in the same bar as Monte Cook. It's clear that you're jealous…


Just stop right there, “Pro”. You’ll get nowhere with me by bandying about key figures of the Bankruptist school of non-thought. I suggest you follow the links I provided young Joshua above. Indie game design is a harsh mistress, and I really need you conditioned for the journey. Now, I could easily take you down to mere nothingness using the intense skills I learned playing Breaking the Ice, but that would be entirely like shooting monkeys in a barrel, so to speak. We’ll speak further soon, my new acquaintance. (Oh, and if I might make a small suggestion, perhaps you could start your newfound path to the heights of gaming excellence by ceasing to post far-fetched threads every other day on RPGnet regarding D&D 4th Edition acting as though you have insider knowledge on the topic? That’s 1 down, 247 to go…).

By the way, is there any way you can get some of my products into the ENnies? Because that would be super. -PKC

I’m afraid the Professor has to run for now, but I think we’re all a bit wiser after that intense Q&A session!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Special Q&A Session Tomorrow!

I'm sorry to post twice in one day (I know I give you folks plenty already to thoughtfully consider between posts), but I just spoke with Professor Curtis himself, and he has agreed to answer some of your questions that you've been sending in for tomorrow's entry! He probably has time to respond to 1 or 2 more, so send those questions for Professor Kory Curtis to This is a rare chance to speak to a man with over 67 unpublished works of genius to his name, so make sure to take advantage of it and this chance to better yourself!

A Breakthrough Testimonial

I still remember one of the earliest breakthroughs I had with gaming (and no, not that roll-a-dice, professionally produced nonsense lol) soon after Professor Curtis and I met. We were to head up to an indie gaming convention just outside New York City (which was cool, because during high school I always wanted to move there, where things would be different), and the Professor and I ended up sharing a room (though I told him he didn’t have to insist on sharing the bed, as the cot they furnished was plenty comfy) at the local Motel 6. Over continental breakfast the next morning (“continental” refers to the way they properly eat breakfast in Europe, just so you know), we ran into one of his other gaming friends who was staying in the same hotel! His name was Lionel Marker, and his black-frame glasses and ironic t-shirt immediately marked him as a man of intellect and bearing. After I pointed out the smear of grape jelly on his goatee, we struck up a conversation about gaming. I guiltily admitted sometimes I missed the tangible mechanics of games such as D&D and GURPS.

“Those things you miss about those games—playability, coherency, solid rules—why do you miss them?” he asked.

“Well,” I responded, “they helped me enjoy the game and feel like I wasn’t just part of a Theater 101 class exercise”.

“Cornell,” he said, “what you need to realize is what you used to play was just a child’s game. You, my friend, are intelligent enough to partake not in mere "games", but in psychosocial exercises and experiments, to explore themes and social dynamics, and to partake in activities that are building an entirely new school of academia! You don’t play with your dice, you play with your mind”.

And it suddenly clicked. Wow. I play indie games because they cater to me and my kind. I could no longer enjoy GURPS or Rifts because I had evolved, anymore than a grown man could find enjoyment in a dog’s chew toy. And conversely, you can’t expect GURPS players or infants to enjoy a fine wine, or a well-stocked library featuring Shakespeare, Noam Chomsky, and Anne Rice.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Take The Advice You're Given!

Pfft! So much for trying to reach out and pull mainstream gamers out of the swill they inhabit. So on RPGnet yesterday, there was a thread about this guy who wanted advice for his Rifts game as far as technical advice for ships. I was gratified to see so many “Rifts Sux!” responses, but I still wanted to throw in my two cents. I don’t know any specifics about ships, but I helpfully told him that his game was for total retards and that I felt he could do better by switching over to Polaris or Bacchanal. Well, HE copped an attitude and said if he wanted to play Polaris or Bacchanal, he’d have darn well said so in the first place! Well, that’s the last time I offer him my help (not really, of course)! Sometimes, people are embarrassed about letting their cultural and academic betters suggest a course of action for them, and I understand that. It’s the same problem we have with Middle America not voting for Democrats like our best and brightest actors tell them to. But it still makes me sad knowing that guy could be playing something important and superior instead of what he and his group want.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Down At The Gaming Store

I had this new idea I pitched to the guy down at our local gaming store about a new type of RPG I was thinking of developing. I asked him, what if we got rid of all the dice, all the resolution mechanics, all the rules, the fascist GM structure which perpetuates a negative white authority model in our country, and just had two or more people sitting around, telling a story? He said it sounded a lot like this thing people had been doing since prehistoric times called “telling a story”. I was like, “exactly!” I think I might be onto something with this one. Stay tuned for further developments.

I also told him about Vince Baker turning down Mongoose because he’s making soooo much money alone (I guess Mongoose wanted to make a REAL RPG for once), and he was like, “so I guess that means D&D is doomed like you’re always saying, huh?" I hate that store sometimes—they never stock My Life With Master or Trollbabe, just because they don’t have “widespread appeal”, and “nobody here buys that crap”. Fine, Tim’s Gaming Dungeon, stock your White Wolf, stock your D&D, be the generic Wal-Mart of RPGs—but you know what? Wal-Mart is for rednecks. They don’t even have Chomsky in their book aisle.

Monday, October 09, 2006


I had this amazing breakthrough while reading Dogs in the Vineyard this week—the characters are basically Mormons. Let’s see Deadlands or Coyote Trail match that sort of diversity!

We’ve really broken through the “glass ceiling” as far as blogs go—I think I’m ready to start linking to some of the more academically credible gaming blogs out there and get some more traffic. If anyone is interested in trading links, let me know! I’ll have to administer an ideology test, but it should be easy, so long as you are well-read and have a complete working knowledge of all the academic papers to come out of the Forge, even the ones that contradict the previous ones. Of course, you also need to have a very good grasp of theories of Professor Kory Curtis, but according to him, most of you should already be aware of his body of work.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The New Traveller--A Raw Deal?

Well, I’ve heard rumors regarding the 5th Edition of Traveller, and I must say I am pretty annoyed. It’s going to have dice? Game Masters? Combat Rules? Possibly even a fleshed-out setting? Evidently, they want us to think this is still 1977! I think I’m going to start a thread at on one of the Traveller boards expressing my outrage, not that I think any of the senior citizen fatbeard grognards will listen to a voice of the future. All I’m saying is, if a game is capable of exploring more than one theme at a time, I call that a scatter-brained lack of focus. No sir, give me Professor Curtis’ Alienthing RPG any day, which is a powerful thematic study of the decision astronauts must make—who will be the first one on the moon (and if you aren’t avant-garde enough or savvy in the ways of Hungarian filmmaking to know why its called Alienthing despite having no aliens, I pity you, in a totally non-judgemental way).

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Right Gaming Theory

A lot of people gripe about G/N/S theory (for those of you that don’t know, G/N/S stands for Gamerist, Narrationist, and Simulationalist), and I can partly understand that. I’ve read the original G/N/S essay and the accompanying 124 vital tie-ins that the Forge people said I had to read to get it, but after discussing it with Professor Curtis, I now feel it is a little too elementary for my tastes. Professor Curtis, when he isn’t busy these days working through Philosophy 102 (I guess that’s why he’s the prof and not me, huh?) has a different classification theory for games that I feel works a bit better:

Correctism: Playing the correct games correctly; i.e. exploring deep social and moral themes, self-publishing games, ensuring said games are profound enough. Games in this category: Professor Curtis’ games (inclusive), occasional Forge games.

Pseudo-Correctism: Playing games that are almost correct, but feature some form of combat or don’t explore social themes and issues deeply enough or sacrifice profundity for entertainment. Games in this category: Capes, The Shadow of Yesterday.

Wrongist: Playing games that are the correct games incorrectly. Examples: having fun killing people in Dogs in the Vineyard, playing or translating Nobilis in plain English.

Bankruptism: Playing games that lead to emotional and/or mental bankruptcy, or discourage people from enjoying more artistically important RPGs. Examples: Anything from Wizards of the Coast, Palladium, Steve Jackson Games, White Wolf (except Exalted, of course), and Hackmaster (which I hate to even be associated with by typing its name out).

Now, any game you play can be defined in those terms, and if you can’t do so, you’re likely doing something wrong.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Our Weekly Gaming Night

I just got done reading Joshua Newman’s Shock. I’m telling you, Orange is the new Pink. He’s so right when he compares himself and his fellow Forgites to the Beat Poets. In fact, you might say they “beat poets” any day of the week! Ha ha!

I went over to Professor Curtis’ house tonight for our weekly gaming session. Right now it’s just the two of us, since a lot of our gaming community around here is mired in “traditional gaming”. I can’t believe I used to play that sort of thing, but I guess anything will sell to the masses if it’s “mainstream” enough.

Anyhow, I’m helping him playtest his game Limbo Fever, which is all about the choices contestants in a dance competition face; basically, it all comes down to the question “how low can you go?”. We’re also using it to explore some heavy personal stuff. There was a moment where my Venezuelan limbo king dealt with his alternative sexuality, which was really a powerful moment at our table. I didn’t see the game going that way, but the Professor threw it in there. That’s the great thing about our Forge and indie games—unlike some other systems I can think of that are extremely popular and have over 60% of the market share, we can introduce and explore different “themes” to our games any time we want!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

An Intro To This Site

Hello, and welcome to the Indie Gaming Scene, a new blog about indie, small-press, and alternative role-playing games that I’m really excited about starting!

Just a little background on me—my name is Cornell Richardson, and I’ve been an advocate of Forge-type games ever since a fateful run-in with an enlightened soul named Professor Kory Curtiss. Professor Curtis (well, he’s not technically a professor, but he is only 5 years of college away from that worthy title) introduced me to narrative-style, narrow-focus thematic gaming at one fateful convention about two years ago. Here’s how it started: I had been having a wonderful time playing Shadowrun and Rifts all weekend (how I grimace to say that now!) at our college convention and was looking to round out the week’s action with a game of D&D when I saw a man sitting by himself at a gaming table. I asked him if he was interested in playing D&D, and we fell into talking. It was so amazing—he talked about gaming in terms I had never heard anyone use—and he used such very impressive professional and technical-sounding terms to do so. It was amazing—I learned that day that sure, I might be having fun playing Dungeons & Dragons, I might really like the system, and might find it comparatively easy to find folks I wanted to play it with, but, he, asked, was I exploring heavy social and morally relative themes with my gaming? At this, I could only hang my head in shame. But did the Professor chide me for my ignorance? Well, yes, but afterwards, he let me play his “thematic” game Cats In The Cradle, which is all about the choices we have to make regarding giving up pets if we have children. And it just totally blew my mind. From that day forth, I’ve loved all sorts of indie games, so long as they explore deep moral or philosophical questions. And that’s what I’ll talk about on this site.

Now, some of the topics we cover here might be a little heavy for those of you still enthralled with D&D or some other intellectually lightweight fare, but I believe in reaching out to new audiences and really spreading the good word about my type of indie RPGs. Remember, just because you’re having fun gaming, doesn’t mean you’re doing it correctly.