A Decade of Indie Roleplaying: 2010

The twenty-teens brought a torrent of new small-press, independently created roleplaying games to us. The Forge had come to an end, the diaspora sent seedlings far and wide, Google Plus and Twitter were rocket fuel for the chaotic dissemination of ideas and audiences, print on demand made the entire workflow faster. And then there was Kickstarter, stomping on the gas and never letting us catch our breath. Now Itch.io is poised to further aerosolize game publication.

What even are roleplaying games? Do we still play these things or just deliver hot takes about them?

What a decade.

I’ve gone through my notes and bookshelves and thought long and hard about the titles that were most important to The Indie Game Reading Club over the past decade. Okay nerds, don’t @ me about when the decade “really” starts and stops. I’m starting in 2010 and ending in 2019.

This is by no means a comprehensive list! That would be impossible, truly. As I went looking for date confirmation and reminders, I scoured the Indie RPG Awards page (http://www.indie-rpg-awards.com/), Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indie_role-playing_game), DriveThruRPG (https://www.drivethrurpg.com/) and of course my own collection. There is a marked uptick in raw output starting around 2016, and by 2018 there’s just too much to track. I know I’m forgetting stuff, which is why I’m relying on these games’ lasting impressions on me.

Let’s do this thing. If you want to buy these games, please consider buying them through the links in this article (I get a few pennies per sale).

This was originally a (very!) long piece for my $10+/mo patrons on Patreon. I’ll be doing this as a series of small posts here on the blog, one per year every year until we’re through the teens! Please keep checking in. 🙂

The Series

2010 | 2011| 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019

Apocalypse World, 2nd Edition

This is the title that put Powered by the Apocalypse on the map and prompted a huge outpouring of hacks, reskins and PbtA-inspired original works.

Explore everything I’ve tagged “Apocalypse World” here.

You can get the PDF at DriveThruRPG here.

2010: Apocalypse World Changes Everything

This is the year Apocalypse World changed everyone’s life. This is the birth year of Powered by the Apocalypse, perhaps the first truly new method-of-play (or “genre” as Vincent Baker, AW’s co-author, calls it) since Fudge/Fate. I’m not sure another one has shown up since. This game was by no means “the most important” game to me in 2010 itself, though! I had picked it up prior to BurningCon 2010, noodled over how the heck to make moves and fictional triggers and, what the heck, the GM never rolls? The GM doesn’t use stats? It was incomprehensible to me for the next two years, while I fell back into the easy habits of Burning Wheel and Burning Empires and late-stage Forge titles. I remember meeting Vincent at an after-party and saying “yeah, nice game, money well spent!”

I had no idea what was coming.

Apocalypse World is the single most important title to my gaming of the whole decade. I’ve played at least 20 titles that emerged from PbtA, and there’s little sign of the platform slowing down. It’s flexible, it has invited a generation of hacking, it does something genuinely new, and it doesn’t take advanced math to work it out.

2010 Runners-up

Stars Without Number

Stars Without Number was my first exposure to Sine Nomine’s OSR-inspired methodology. It’s a space adventure game, very loosely constructed, with lots of trad-style GMing tools. I ran it for a few sessions and it didn’t really tick for my home players at the time. We were accustomed to storygame-style mechanisms driving play via economies or other incentive schemes. SWN is D&D in space, and I hadn’t really internalized what that meant. It wouldn’t be until I ran Godbound (in 2019!) before this clicked. I would love to swing back around to the game’s beautiful second edition.


Freemarket was a collaborative effort by Luke Crane (Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, Inheritance) and Jared Sorensen (InSpectres, Lacuna, Parsley). I thought it was kind of a love letter to urban living, with post-scarcity cyberpunks out-creating each other in search of social media cred. It was hard for me to find the fun in the game but it was a beautifully produced box set, foretelling the uptick from indie-standard 5.5×8.5 perfect-bound books. Personally, I think Freemarket was just a decade ahead of its time. Love to see a new edition of this that took our actual social media dystopia into account.

Next Week: 2011

That’s it for 2010! What was your most important titles of the year?

See you next week for another year of important indie titles.

5 thoughts on “A Decade of Indie Roleplaying: 2010”

  1. Closing in on the finish now, and not a moment too soon. The games in these last couple years are going to be familiar with most everyone, I think. Another tied year! 2018 was, I think, the year I finally conceded that I just can’t keep up with everything coming out.
    If you’re just starting the series, the first entry is here. This series was made possible by my generous Patreon supporters. Thank you!

    The King is Dead
    Feels-heavy dynastic melodrama in a super accessible GM-less package. Great to play with your non-gamer friends who are enjoying the mainstreaming of fantasy.
    PDFs are available at DriveThruRPG. The marvelous physical production, with neat little cards and other props, is available at Lumpley’s Itch page. Not necessary but strongly encouraged!

    2018: The King is Dead
    The King is Dead is a sexy, violent Game of Thrones-inspired GMless PbtA game. Each player gets a book filled with little mini-games that handle various types of scenes. You take turns arranging scenes between characters, while organically developing a map in the middle of the table comprised of locations, events, and characters mentioned in those little games. Oh and there’s a card game happening concurrently with the mini-games, where you’re trying to assemble the best possible hand before moving to “the coronation,” the last scene of the game.

    Facilitating TKID at NewMexicon in 2019, with possibly the first set of prop cards available.

    For subject matter that could be so fraught –a sexytimes-focused minigame, seduction baked into almost all the rest, lots of violence and the possibility of character death – I found TKID notable for the extensive safety and consent baked into every element. It is currently my favorite game by the Bakers.

    Legacy (2nd Edition)
    A PbtA game about building communities across generations.
    PDFs are available at DriveThruRPG.

    2018: Legacy, 2nd Edition
    Legacy 2nd Edition by Jay Iles was my other important game of 2018. I ran a nice campaign of this for my local group, and playing it was a great reminder of how different PbtA games can be. Legacy is a post-apocalyptic game based on Apocalypse World, which sounds like an ourobouros but the focus is very different. In Legacy, you play both specific characters and the family/house/faction to which that character belongs. The editorial focus is on community building, rather than personal stories. Playing at the house level is the big, abstract movement of history, while zooming in on the characters lets you work out the personal dramas of the folks tied up in that history. The weakened character monogamy and shifting scales is an acquired taste; my players prefer sticking to one character. But the form is strong and distinct, and has spun off several free-standing hacks.
    Maybe my favorite part of Legacy is how very different your world and shared map ends up looking, depending on the mix of family playbooks you started with. If you chose Kaiju-hunters, well, welcome to giant monster land! If you chose the sneaky scientists hiding away in their secure bunker, you get lots of pre-ruin technology. You want mutant monsters? Play the mutant monster hunters.
    I’ll be running a Slavic-flavored fantasy game version of Legacy, called Free From The Yoke, as a spotlight GM at New Mexicon in 2020 (rescheduled for September – I hope you’ll try to make it!).
    2018 Runners-up
    For The Queen

    Available through Evil Hat Productions.

    Few games have garnered as much critical acclaim and fan hype as Alex RobertsFor the Queen. The structure of the game is dead-simple, so simple in fact I’m having trouble reconciling how this was the first breakthrough game in this format. There’s a deck of provocative questions about your past with the Queen, and you spend the game drawing cards and answering those questions. That’s it. I called it a “feels filler” when I first played her hand-written draft of it at a house con. The published version includes a deck of gorgeous art of various “queens” to choose before you embark on your mission. Terrific game and enjoyable at any age or experience level. I expect many, many hacks to appear in the coming years.
    Available through Evil Hat Productions.

    Available through DriveThruRPG.

    I got to play Star-Crossed, Roberts’ other big-deal game, at the same house con as For the Queen. This one’s more conventionally structured, although it’s still GMless: two players act out two people who cannot be together for reasons you come up with before play. Then you pull blocks from a Jenga tower as you execute PbtA-style moves from your playbook. There are two playbooks and they’re slightly different from each other. I played half of an isolated pair of scientists on a distant planet romantically orbiting one another despite the mission’s prohibition against fraternization. I love that this model can be mapped to so many different settings. It’s also got a nice game-y layer, which is a fine alibi for friends to not feel weird about flirting with each other.
    Available through DriveThruRPG.

    Available through DriveThruRPG.

    Goblinville is a sweet little fantasy mashup of several other games. I’ve run it a few times now, and it always produces a fun time. The characters are little goblins in a big world, going off on small-time adventures for small-time stakes while trying to build up their small-time village. I wrote way too much about Goblinville in 2019. It’s a tiny, very good game.
    Available through DriveThruRPG.
    Forbidden Lands

    Available through DriveThruRPG.

    Forbidden Lands is Free League’s fantasy adventure game built on the Year Zero Engine. I played a bunch of it, and it was pretty fun, but I couldn’t help but feel let down by it. I was hoping for a more direct adaptation of Mutant: Year Zero, in particular in how MYZ delivers its campaign, but FL was more concerned with serving up an old-school-evocative experience. Which it does. Forbidden Lands is probably my favorite fantasy adventure game, but the setting is a mess and its official campaign was hard for me to deliver to the players. I’ll probably run it again in the future for my own fantasy setting.
    Available through DriveThruRPG.
    Old School Essentials

    Available through DriveThruRPG. The physical boxed set is available through Exalted Funeral.

    I’m not super into OSR-style games (other than Sine Nomine’s Godbound and Stars Without Number), but I’ve had a couple chances to play convention one-shots using Old School Essentials. It’s just B/X D&D, but it’s reorganized and super cleanly presented. It’s the D&D I grew up with so I know it down to my prepubescent bones. A fine platform to run system-agnostic OSR-style adventures in.
    Available through DriveThruRPG. The physical boxed set is available through Exalted Funeral.

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