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. 🙂
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.
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.
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?