I’m spending the next several weeks talking through my most important indie RPGs of the twenty-teens. Last week I posted about 2010. Onward!
2011: Burning Wheel Gold
This is kind of a cheat but it’s my blog so I can do what I want. Burning Wheel, revised edition, came out five years earlier and continues to be the single most important RPG I have ever played. Every other game I have played and evaluated since then is colored by the life-changing experience of internalizing the lessons of BW. The Gold edition further refined and clarified the game into a jagged little perfect gem.
I’ve only run a small handful of Gold-edition games since it came out, but it continues to be one of the all-time greatest tabletop indies. If you get a chance to even just read this hefty tome – it’s extremely reasonably priced, I keep telling Luke he’s underpaying himself – it will change your thinking about conventional tabletop roleplaying. You’ve probably already seen the impact of Burning Wheel in whatever you’re playing right now.
Ben Robbins’ Microscope received a new release in 2017, but I was first exposed to it a few years prior. It’s GMless/GMful, depending on your biases, and might not even be a “game” that many roleplayers would recognize, but it broke a lot of important ground in this design space. Players work together to sketch out a civilization’s rise and fall, and use various tools to zoom in and fill in the blanks in between. Very clever, useful in lots of applications beyond just Microscope, you owe it to yourself to get educated about what it does.
Technoir and I had a rough first encounter, but my regular con roomie and celebrity podcaster buddy MadJay Brown ran this for me at Dreamation 2018. It’s really sharp and it renewed my interest in decoding the game for myself. There are some terrific situation-creation tools in this game, way ahead of their time given the 2011 publication date.
Technoir and Microscope remind me of an era of design that felt less like a market-driven monoculture than 2020. There were hardly any Powered by the Apocalypse games out yet, Fate was out there since 2003 but would never dominate indie mind share, and Kickstarter wasn’t quite the monster it would become. Other big titles of 2011 (per the Indie RPG Awards) include Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, Anima Prime, Bulldogs!, Chronicles of Skin, an early version of Dungeon World, and some titles I confess I’ve never read. Visit the Awards page for 2011 to see all the entries.