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Author Topic: Playing Indie Games  (Read 7081 times)
Gordon C. Landis
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« on: August 12, 2005, 03:00:00 PM »

This post is in (small? large? I'm not sure) part inspired by Ron's "This one's important" post (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16335.0) - it's been on my mind for a while, and I wasn't sure where to post it.  It touches on Actual Play, and Publishing, even Indie Design, but . . . I suspect the core issues belong in Site Discussion, so here it is.

The subject line I chose is "Playing Indie Games," and the thing is, I mostly don't.  With rare exceptions, my play over the last few years has been with games like D&D, Savage Worlds  . . . even a very loose freeformish GURPS.  My GMing (which is rare) has occasionally included Indie games, but has mostly been playtesting my own game design(s).  I use huge heaping gobs of what I've learned here at the Forge (and from folks like Ron and Vincent, and from my attendance at Gencon) in all my play, but the actual games themselves?  Not so much.  I've never really gotten a Sorcerer game off the ground.  Primetime Adventures is a pleasurably-remembered con-only event.  And etc.

Now, I suspect there are other folks like me out there, and I don't think there's anything wrong with us.  We may not be the absolute core of the Forge mission, but we don't have to be.  I know I have some friends who like to play "standard" games in sometimes non-standard ways, we have fun with that, and I'm able to use Forge/etc.-stuff to help with it, and that's cool.

However - personally, I'm starting to realize TOO much of that is (for me) taking the easy way out.  For one thing, it means I don't have to GM much, and somehow over the past few years, GMing has become a somewhat scary thing for me.  I overcome that fear in order to get some playtest polish to my own game design, but beyond that, I don't push.  There are 3 or 4 local game conventions each year that I could hit, run cool indie games, promote my own design - but I don't.  I really think some form of Narrativism in the right product has a chance to expand the hobby in both practical and artistic terms, but I don't (anymore) really try to expand my play groups much outside of folks who already game.

The exact "why's" to all that for me personally probably don't belong here.  I'd say "take it to my blog," but I don't have one, so - take it to PM/email.  Again though, I suspect there are others out there in a similar position, and without getting too melodramatic about a social/entertainment activity, I bet some of us are taking the easy way out, and are (secretly or otherwise) unhappy about it.  The Forge has, thoughout its' existence, certainly been a place to find ways to get past being unhappy about your gaming.  So the question becomes, if you aren't playing Indie games, why not?  Or maybe, if you aren't playing them as much as you'd like, why not?  ('cause I don't intend to give up on the other games I have fun with)  I obviously believe that it's possible to answer "because I'm having all the fun I can handle as it is," but - not eveyone, and/or not always.

So the topic for discussion is successes and failures at getting past the barriers to playing Indie games, and comments on the barriers themselves.  If a response touches on those issues but fits better in Actual Play, I guess (if it's OK with the moderators) a pointer here to an Actual Play thread is the right solution.  Hell, there may BE some actual play threads that address this (Jesse's Art Deco Melodrama comes to mind), and I'd love to see pointers to those here as well . . .

Gordon
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2005, 03:09:47 PM »

Hiya,

This is a fine topic for this forum, but I'd like to state up-front, at the outset, that "the Forge" as a site-policy (i.e. me and Clinton) doesn't represent a moral mandate. I do not think this thread will benefit from a whole bunch of internet-adrenalin defensive cries about why people don't play "enough" independent games, and if experience serves, a whole ton of you are composing such posts, in your heads, right fucking now after reading Gordon's post.

So stick with what Gordon really asked. If you "feel" that there's an implied criticism or that someone thinks they're better than you for playing more independent games, then go ahead and feel it if you must, but keep your damn witnes-for-the-defense posting to yourself.

Best,
Ron
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: August 12, 2005, 04:15:38 PM »

Well, I overcame the barriers to playing Indie Games in the most brutal possible manner:  I stopped playing non-Indie games, and instead started organizing Indie Games.  Which doesn't sound that radical, until you realize that I have (as a result) stopped gaming with fully half the people I used to game with before.  I still hang out, we're still friends, but they don't play the games I want to play, and that's that.  The people who I'm still gaming with know what I want, and want to do it with me.  And that's that.

I think that one of the major barriers (for me) was a sense among my friends that if they simply kept offering what they wanted, I'd eventually agree rather than face the prospect of not playing in a game.  Whereas I assumed (correctly, it turns out) that if I simply kept offering what I want, some subset of my friends will continue to ignore it until judgment day.  I'm not sure whether this is due to our social context (some folks are less adaptable than others) or due to the distinction between Forge-y games and mainstream. 

The only way to overcome that barrier was just to accept that it wasn't meant to be scaled, and to walk away from the whole conflict.  Is that a success story?  I guess.  Not without cost, though.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2005, 04:26:19 PM »

Hi Gordon,

I think it comes down to the whole broken dysfunctional gamer culture.

First, if you asked anyone if they wanted to try out a new card game, boardgame or video game, it wouldn't be a big thing.  But when it comes to rpgs, it seems like you have to do a giant sales job.

Why is that?

Gamers are a hurt and fearful lot.  They have been forced to reinvent the wheel with each new game and group of gamers, trying to work out Social Contracts and CAs through trial and error.  Once they find something that is functional, or at least can be maintained without explosive conflict, they stick to it like it was the Promised Land itself.  Trying out new games sets them afear- that they'll have to go through all the senseless arguments of "realism", "how the rules work", etc. etc. all over again.  In other words- they're afraid that they'll have to completely re-establish their Social Contract or the house of cards that covers up the conflicts amongst the players.

Second, a lot of these indie games directly challenge those broken assumptions.  In order to play these new games, you not only have to win over the group to just try a taste, you also then have to deprogram many of them of some messed up ideas just to play.  For the most part, this fails, and often stresses friendships.  A lot of people don't find it worth the hassle.

Finally, indie games can be a hard sell, because they don't necessarily come in a 200+ page hardback with thousands of modules to flood the shelves and reassure these folks that the game is "legit" and that they'll get to feel like they're part of a larger community of folks.

Me personally?  I'm currently playing in an Unknown Armies game and running an Legend of the 5 Rings game, mostly because I couldn't rouse up enough folks to try anything else.  I've -just- earned enough trust from some folks in the group for them to come try a playtest of Stranger Things with me.  Note that these folks & I don't have an long established history, so that can either be working for or against me in that regard :)

Chris
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Nathan P.
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« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2005, 10:02:16 PM »

Heya,

In my case, I've always been the GM for my group, and my friends have always had a great deal of trust in me. So it's actually not been a problem at all to play some indie games - I'll basically say "hey, this looks like a cool game, lets play a couple sessions", and we do. However, I'm pretty lucky in that we all do a pretty good job of avoiding stereotypical gamer hangups.

When I'm at school, however - oy vey. It is hard to get games of anything not d20 or White Wolf going. Which I personally attribute to not having a great many friends who game, as opposed to gamer friends. Which is definitely something I'm working on. In my experience, gaming with friends is way more rewarding than trying to make friends with gamers. That sounds pretty harsh, but Chris's comments are pretty accurate from what I've seen. So there's one possible way of addressing the no-one-to-play-with hurdle - prostylize!

Personally, I've been running a long(ish)-term game of Adventure! with some rules tweaks inspired by Primetime Adventures, and a parallel game of Inspectres every once in a while, along with playtests of my IGC entry. I was playing in Mikes Heroquest IRC game until my regular gaming night moved to the same night.
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Nathan P.
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matthijs
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« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2005, 10:53:00 PM »

In one of my old gaming groups, I have a reputation as "the GM who always has to try experimental stuff, even if the game sucks". It's not entirely deserved, but not entirely without reason, either. As a result, I don't think I could ever get that specific group to try indie games. I was stunned to find that a friend actually ran a Sorcerer campaign with them; if I'd tried that with those players, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have gone along with it at all.

However, there's always Other Players. I moved a couple times, and suddenly I'm in touch with a handful of games-hungry people from other places. I'm running a TSOY campaign, have tested out Capes and PTA, and can get the occasional playtest group together for games I design.

So my barrier was reputation. Like Tony, I didn't climb the barrier, I walked away from it.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2005, 11:43:38 PM »

Hmm... from the start of the decade up to a year and half ago I didn't play much indie, either. Actually, practically none at all. I read the stuff, though. And this happened alongside actively reading the Forge and applying the stuff in gaming, including designing games and writing about it on Finnish forums. Pretty weird.

Why was that? Part was that I didn't really play much at the time, after having stopped altogether for several years when the BRP/Rolemaster track started to get dull on me at the end of the nineties. The major game I started playing some time after starting to read the Forge was, strangely enough, D&D. During a span of a couple of years the game went from entirely customized d20 (new classes and races custom-fitted to the setting, mainly) to something with more in common with HQ and less with any D&D you've ever seen. When people say that you can't sneak up on a mode... well, for all practical purposes I did.

However, I could have probably continued on my merry way with my merry players, except that at some point I decided to do an in-depth play-test article about MLwM for an university zine, after which we (my brothers and I) decided to translate the game into Finnish, after which it was pretty natural to buy a bunch of other games as well... the point is, my change of gaming habits from homebrew (don't be mislead; playing highly customized homebrews is nothing strange for experienced GMs; at least in Finland it's kinda expected) to indie was pretty much a result of the cultural politics and economical realities of what I wanted to do for the Finnish rpg scene in general, rather than what I wanted to play as a hobbyist. Publishing MLwM and starting to represent all your games in Finland pretty much made it natural that I play them too; have to be able to talk them, walk them, better than anybody here, answering all kinds of questions and challenges. Call me cold, but that's my main reason for starting to play indie regularly and exclusively; I can well imagine that I could have continued adapting Forge theory and mechanics from all those various games into a highly satisfying design of my own. At some points I've been seriously considering polishing up that d20 variant of mine for publishing, for example, so I could have gone down that path, as well. (Although TSOY pre-empts much of the point, nowadays.)

Even then, after publishing MLwM, my weekly or bi-weekly sessions of homebrew d20 continued strong, so just that wouldn't have made me exclusively indie. However, last winter I decided to take a break from my studies in Helsinki and moved up to northern Savo to pursue writing and game design. You can imagine that I felt no reason at all to trump up my homebrew stuff in front of completely new players; it would have been highly pointless, because much of the good things we had with that system were very much tied to our common experiences during that long campaign in Helsinki. It would have worked, sure, but only to repeat what I already had and still have in Helsinki. Instead, what I did was to introduce the local roleplayers ("the next generation" of my home town, so to speak) to a bunch of indie games, which we've been playing merrily ever since.

So, I've been exclusively indie from last Christmas, more or less. Gaming's been great. After publishing Dust Devils in Finnish last month I've been playing LOTS (like, averaging two sessions a week for a month) of both MLwM and DD to introduce them to people, but there's been many other games, too, like InSpectres and Primetime Adventures. Meanwhile, my elder brother has taken up the mantle of GM for our group in Helsinki. The players ask me now and then if we're going back to that d20 homebrew at some point, but I'm still considering it. Could be fun, especially if I did another revision of the rules to again make it better than the best there is for that kind of stuff (currently TSOY, I guess).

So, what's been my barrier to switching over to indie games? No barrier at all, really. Why did I take so long to start playing these games? I had all the fun I could handle anyway, through adapting the theory and techniques myself. I wouldn't be surprised if this was true for other people as well; after all, many of us ARE game designers, so it's not that difficult to just take all the good ideas semi-annually and slot them into a functioning campaign in mid-flight, if you already have a good thing going in that regard.
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2005, 12:44:58 AM »

Great stuff so far - thanks, everyone!

Just to reinforce Ron: yeah, let's not do that.  I'm certainly not feeling "inferior" over not having played "enough" indie games.  Or superior, for that matter.

Chris - I don't want to discount the gamer culture issues, but I don't want to over-emphasize them either.  While the majority of the folks I game with have plenty o' experience with that culture (and thus have the scars to show for it - along with the not-always-as-numerous blessings), I haven't been in a group that was seriously entrenched in dysfunctional gamer culture for years.  But yeah, that's a barrier lots of people are likely to run into, so great point. 

Tony - and everyone else who's responded, I think - I'm seeing you establish one part of "making indie game play occur" quite clear: take leadership of having the game you want to play happen.  So there's a clear connection between my GMing reluctance and my lack of indie play.  Which is not to say that GMing and that kind of leadership are neccessarily directly connected - I'd be interested in hearing how people who don't GM still manage to "lead" a group to the indie-trough -but traditionaly they often are.

Gordon
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Paganini
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« Reply #8 on: August 13, 2005, 08:36:49 AM »

This thread is like... bull crap. Gordon, I'm gonna get a little personal, but I don't intend to offend by it.

OK. Every so often we have this recuring thing. "AIEEE! I'm not playing indie games! AIEE! Why aren't people playing indie games? AIEEE! HAND-WRINGING! Why aren't people playing our crazy mad gamez? There must be something wrong with them / us / me! AIEEE! WE MUST FIX THEM!"

Pfui.

Last time this happened, I said "OK, so, not enough people are playing indie-games. That's probably because they don't have anyone to play with. How about we set up a facilitation group?" Ron didn't think that was within the scope of the Forge, so I set one up on yahoo-groups. Indie-netgaming now has over 300 members, and 3 or 4 games running concurrently at this time.

Gordon, if you want to play indie games... then you must play indie games. No one but you is responsible for your indie-gaming-ness. Is not the first basic point of GNS that people like different things? Is not the second basic point of GNS that, given people who like different things from you, find other people who share you goals - rather than trying to force disfunction down your old group's throat?

This is basically the same lecture I give periodically over at indie-netgaming. Every-so-often we hit a dry spell, and someone invariably posts "AIEEEE! NO ONE IS PLAYING ANYTHING! THE GROUP MUST BE DYING! WHAT CAN WE DO?" The answer is simple. If you think there should be a game, then organize it. If you want more play, spear-head it, foo'. Don't wait for someone else to say "oh, gee, anyone want to play <the same exact game that you've been wanting to play, but have been too lazy to get going>." No one else is responsible for your entertainment.

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greyorm
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« Reply #9 on: August 13, 2005, 09:25:07 AM »

My reasons: no group to play them with, and no willing group to play them with. The problem of a group is probably easily overcome, however. In fact, I have a small group of players ready and willing to play games. The willingness to take on the responsibility for it, however, isn't as easily found.

What it really, really, really boils down to is I'm SICK TO DEATH OF GMing. Really. I can't stand it anymore. I'm utterly, completely, totally burned out on the concept of taking up the cross of being responsible for running and planning and dealing with a game beyond just showing up and playing my character.

I want to PLAY indie games, not RUN them. I don't want to be the guy pushing and fighting and helping everyone out to get them to that place where we can play anymore. I want to sit in the back seat for a while and just enjoy the damn ride. That is, I don't want to be the initiator, the driver, the one making sure everything is set-up and worked-out so we can all play.

I want to be able to say, "You know, I'd love a game of Sorcerer," and have someone else say, "Great! I'll GM!" and I can wash my hands of caring about anything except my sitting at the table and playing. So, when Nathan rants, "Start a game!" I don't fucking want to start a game. I'm tired. I don't want to do the work. I want to enjoy my hobby as a player for a while because I'm really, really tired of being responsible. Enough so that I'm seriously thinking of dropping RPGs altogether for the foreseeable future if I can't rectify this situation and get out of the captain's seat for a decent spell.

And I dread saying this to the group after I went through the trouble of drawing it together, because they're all looking at me as the leader and expecting me to do the leadership/GMing thing. Because my saying, "I'm not running any games" is going to disappoint everyone, especially me, if no one stands up and says, "Well, then, I'll take charge!" Mind you, that won't affect my decision if no one does, but it will affect my disappointment.
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2005, 11:00:21 AM »

Paganini,

Well, no hand-wringing and screaming AIIEEE here.  I mean, at the core you're 100% right - Just Do It and there's no one responsible for that but you.  That's an important thing to say.  But we can say more about it than that, can't we?  I mean, Ron's already steered us away for the moralizing beartrap.  I guess you're steering us away from the hand-wringing beartrap.  That's good.  I understand the folks who just say "play or play not - there is no try," but I am hoping for something a bit more substantial than that as well.

Raven,

Hey, yeah, that's very useful to me.  Because I was there some years back - I had a guy to switch off literal GMing with, but all the other planning and logistics and soothing personalities and etc. was always 99.9% me.  Huh.  None of my current groups are actually similar to that situation, at all.  Maybe the echo of dysfunctional gamer culture is with ME more strongly than I thought.

But when you're unquestionably in that burnt out place - definitely time for a break.  And if no one else will take the lead, that means no RPing.  Mental health's gotta come first,

Gordon



Gordon

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Bill Cook
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« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2005, 03:15:44 PM »

Quote from: Gordon
So the topic for discussion is successes and failures at getting past the barriers to playing Indie games, and comments on the barriers themselves.

Barriers are conflicting play styles, reluctance towards authorship, availability of gamers and establishing credibility for the system. I've found that artwork is more enticing than verbal assurances, so show off the books. There's a lot of "de-centralizing the GM" going on in many Indie games. Providing input for direction can make some gamers feel exposed. (e.g. "What's my Kicker? I don't know. I'm just here to play.") It's almost always a better choice to go around a particular group than to drag them up a conceptual hill. Roleplayers are everywhere. I meet four-to-six new ones every month without any unusual effort. I will admit, coming out of your shell and professing your gamership is a painful transition, but on the other side, it's just another habit. You want to focus on groups that get together to network, and from those meetings, schedule sessions for play.

I've been surprised by talking with fans of mainstream systems. They can be mistrustful that you're going to trash their baby and power convert them. What matters is that (a) they like you and (b) you're excited about playing your new system. Also, give what you take. Fortunately, it's easy. There are a number of gamers, clutching a rules manual to their chest, eyes filled with pain and hope that they'll get to play it. They're you, so you want to play their games, too. Besides, their games are pretty cool.

You want to show more than tell. For example, "Hey, I've been reading about this cool game I want to try. I just got my copy in the mail. Why don't we try it out?" is not as strong as "This is my copy of TSOY. (Lays book out on the table.) I spent the last week preparing a four-hour one-shot. These are what the characters look like. (Hands out character sheets, one to each player.) Look under notes to get a one-line description of what they're about. After you guys pick the one you like best, I'm ready to play."

I'm the only guy pushing Indie among the gamers I meet. One exception is the time Ron Pyatt organized a one-shot for Universalis. And currently, Luke Neatrour is running a Sorcerer campaign for his Late Night at Denny's Group. There are people who like second stream systems like Fudge and Mutants and Masterminds, but not utterly crazy, margin-of-the-field games like BW and DitV.

If your ultimate goal is to be a non-GM player in more Indie games, .. Geez, good luck. Here are some thoughts:

  • Make a short list of outstanding GMs, regardless of system.
  • Refine the list by qualifying those who are open to running different systems than they're familiar with.
  • Show them your collection of Indie games. Let them drink in the covers, hold them in their hands and thumb through the pages as you bullet point its premise.
  • Ask them which sounds most interesting. Give it to them. Insist that they take it. Say it's no big deal; this is the third copy you've given away this week.
  • Contact them later in the week and say you're getting together with some friends who are interested in playing [whatever]. Tell them they're the only one you could think of that could GM it. They'll say they're not ready. Say that's no problem; you're not planning on getting together to game until next week. Offer to meet to help them prepare if they'll just run it.
  • Get on the phone and schedule with your friends to sit for your new GM.

[/sneakiness]
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GaryTP
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« Reply #12 on: August 13, 2005, 03:25:04 PM »

In answer to the Indie game question... "Or maybe, if you aren't playing them as much as you'd like, why not?"

For my group - time, the reason we play

1. Time available to play - the people I hang out with have very little time. They'd rather jump right in and play then sit through new rules that bring up new ways of thinking and playing. Speed of absorption around the rules and game concept would then be a biggie in terms of what would make an Indie game better. The group is open to new ways of thinking but getting them to take the time to open up their minds is the hard part.

2. Reason we play - the big motivator for us is to get right into the action so that the rare times we get together are as rich a shared experience as possible. (I'm the only one in my group who could spend a whole day talking rules and social structure and enjoy it.)

Gary

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droog
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« Reply #13 on: August 13, 2005, 05:27:13 PM »

I'm doing what I can. I push an indie game every chance I get, and the most mainstream game I'm interested in running is HeroQuest. I'm buying up games from the Forge bookshelf as quickly as our budget can afford them. I've got at least one guy to start thinking about games in different terms. The quest goes on--and God rewards the righteous!

I really want to run these games; though interestingly enough I also want to play these games, which is something unusual for me. I've been looking for something more out of roleplaying for so many, many years, and 99% of games have just never supplied it for me. I'm not really on a holy mission; I just like these games better and I want people to play with.

The problems:
1. Most roleplayers I meet are wrapped up in their own games, which typically last at least a few months.
2. People I like to play with are typically too busy to play more than once or twice a week.
3. There is a waiting list of games people want to play; in some cases the size of a warehouse.

So that's mainly a time thing.

4. Many people are dullards--in a broad sense, they're not interested in new experiences.
5. People I meet are using most unsuitable systems to run things (L5R for Harry Potter?). 'System does matter' is like pushing shit uphill with these types, because they believe that Bob (and maybe they're Bob) can fix it. I used to be one of these people myself--twelve years of RQ only, because it can do everything, right?
6. People go for what's popular and shiny.
7. People only know what's popular and shiny. I met a fellow who's designing a game about prisoners escaping from a POW camp; the game is basically D&D. He wasn't even interested in hearing about the farm.

So that's mainly to do with passive consumerism and tribalism.



Anyway, those are the barriers as I see them at this time (ask me again in a year). All I can say is that if I had my old gaming group things would be different!
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AKA Jeff Zahari
droog
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« Reply #14 on: August 13, 2005, 06:48:26 PM »

A further thought on this: I suppose I shouldn't minimise my own incompetence. I've had a couple of chances in the last few years to introduce new players to RPGs. The first time, I tried to do Pendragon, character generation and all--disastrous. The second time, I tried HQ but with no real idea of how to use it effectively (and with people who weren't great fantasy fans)--boring. In retrospect, I should have used Sorcerer or Wuthering Heights or My Life with Master or several other games with grabbier premises for the sorts of people I know. One lives and learns.
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AKA Jeff Zahari
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