2005-06-16 : Craft and Innovation
In his blog Yudhishthira's Dice, Brand Robins has a great post about the craft of us indie RPG designers:
The other problem this runs us into is that much of the Indie game community is so focused on innovation they never focus on craft. The quest for the new cool system that does the new cool thing has far eclipsed the work of making a good system better which makes up so much of the strength of paradigm based thought. We're so busy trying to make a new tool that we aren't getting the most out of the tools we've already made.
Read the whole post.
Now first, he's absolutely right.
Now second, it's even worse than that.
The cycle of innovation in RPG design is slow. It stretches out past 18 months toward two years. For us as designers to incorporate real innovations into our designs, we need to read, play, reflect, play, and then design - and that's like I say a couple years' work. I submit that only now do we finally understand My Life with Master (e.g.) well enough to be building on it, we can expect to see its children at GenCon this year. Primetime Adventures' children won't appear until GenCon next year - we've spent this past year being blown away by how cool screen presence is, now we're finally starting to incorporate it into our design goals, and we have the long work of realizing those goals ahead of us.
We've been doing indie RPG design as a group for four years. That means we're two innovations away from our starting position, no more, working on a third. Pursuing innovation on a month-by-month basis is pointless, but that's what we've got at the Forge. The frantic quest for the cool new system that Brand sees is sustained simply by growth in the Forge's membership, not by any development of our craft at all.
What I'm saying is that innovation unrealized by craft isn't even innovation, it's just woo-hoo.
Some time back, Ben Lehman wrote about journeyman games. (Here's the post: Great White Games at This Is My Blog.) The idea is that before you create your life's work, you should and must first create a journeyman work. Until you've learned your craft, your life's work is beyond your skill.
It's even worse than that too.
My grampa Palmer always said that it takes 5,000 hours to become competent at something. You can learn to play chess or piano, you can learn physics or computer programming, you can learn to write a poem, a short story, an essay or a novel - in 5,000 hours. 5,000 hours is a dedicated amateur's 3-4 hours a day for four years. That's why four years is how long it takes to get a college degree.
You're qualified to write your journeyman game after you've spent 5,000 hours, four years' free time, learning and practicing game design.
That means that Dogs in the Vineyard is my journeyman game. That seems right to me: Dogs feels like my journeyman game. It also means that Sorcerer is Ron Edwards' journeyman game*. I bet if you asked him he'd agree to that - it's the game that proved he's competent to create a game to meet his design goals. Ask him if it's his masterpiece and I bet he'll say he's more proud of it than we can know, but no, his masterpiece is ahead of him. (Forgive me for putting words in your mouth, Ron, and correct me as appropriate.)
So to Ben's call to set aside your Great White Game and create a game you can actually finish, I add my own dour pronouncement: the game you can actually finish is an apprentice game. Finish it and maybe another, then comes your journeyman work, and then you can begin designing in earnest.
There are some truly awesome games that I consider apprentice games. Take that for the good - there is a good, after all this "even worse":
We have no idea yet what masterpiece indie RPGs look like. But man oh man, judging from our apprentice- and journeyman work...
* I mention Sorcerer because both Ben and Brand did, and because it deserves pride of place. It is the first journeyman game, the first step away from our starting position, the single most influential indie RPG yet and probably ever. If we feel casual about it, it's only because it's the one indie RPG that we collectively have had enough time to metabolize.
1. On 2005-06-16, Jay Loomis said:
2. On 2005-06-16, Ben Lehman said:
3. On 2005-06-16, Vincent said:
4. On 2005-06-16, JasonL said:
5. On 2005-06-16, Vincent said:
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8. On 2005-06-16, Eric Finley said:
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10. On 2005-06-16, JasonL said:
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12. On 2005-06-16, Michael S. Miller said:
13. On 2005-06-16, Sydney Freedberg said:
14. On 2005-06-16, Vincent said:
15. On 2005-06-16, Ben Lehman said:
16. On 2005-06-16, Eric Finley said:
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18. On 2005-06-16, Eric Provost said:
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33. On 2005-06-18, Ben Lehman said:
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36. On 2005-06-19, Vincent said:
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40. On 2005-06-19, Meguey said:
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42. On 2005-06-19, Brand Robins said:
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44. On 2005-06-20, Vincent said:
45. On 2005-06-20, Troy_Costisick said:
46. On 2005-06-21, Ninja Hunter J said:
47. On 2005-07-12, haiiro said: