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Forge retrospective project - please join in!

Started by Ron Edwards, September 14, 2006, 09:22:31 PM

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Ron Edwards

Hey, I had an idea. Sort of a community project, really.

Pick any single six-week period during the Forge's history.

Check out all the Forge threads during that time, including inactivated ones. Find out what was happening, see who did what, find out what sites were linked to and if they're still available. Who posted the most stuff? Who argued against whom about what? Who's still around, and who's not? Learn about the games that were being discussed, and about the games that were being played.

Consider as well what seems to have changed since then as well. What terms or issues were under contention that seem to have been settled? Find out what you think were the conclusions that were arrived at, which have persisted. Or maybe ideas that were raised that to you seem as if they've been lost or missed.

Post about it here! Try to be relatively brief and distill things down into an understandable summary. Most importantly, though, share what surprised or interested you the most, now. Wow, you never realized person X used to post here; omigod, so that was the argument that led to that whole indigestible section in the essay; jeez, no wonder Y and Z never really post in one another's threads, considering that difference of view that's been exposed; man, Ron sure used to be nicer; et cetera.

I think you'll have lots to say.

Best, Ron

Graham W

Let me try October 7 - November 17 2005.

In Actual Play, everyone was playing Dogs In The Vineyard and nearly everyone was playing Prime Time Adventures. The Mountain Witch and Universalis were hugely popular too.

Cold City was in the early stages of development, Shock was in the late stages and Jason was worrying about the endgame of The Shab-Al Hiri Roach and playing it at conventions.

The second round of the Ronnies had just finished, with Contenders and 3:16 winning the full Ronnies, and  Disaster, Left Coast, Hierarchy and Drifters Escape getting smaller prizes. Ron mentioned that he considered many of the games "parlor narration", causing long discussions on the Ronnies feedback threads as to what the term meant and how they could fix it.

The November Ronnies launched (Dragon, Gun, Mud, Soviet). Ron requested (remarkably politely) that the same crowd who participated in the September and October rounds not participate again unless they really wanted to.

Joshua Newman, in Publishing, suggested that games be priced higher than they had been before. Cue a big stupid argument (which I didn't help). Also cue lots of spin-off threads, including one from Ben Lehman, saying why he doesn't like Creative Commons. Cue a small, intelligent argument.

Darrick Dishaw, also in Publishing, posted about Empire of Satanis. He asked why good reviews didn't translate to sales. Halfway through the thread, he got a bad review and his sales shot up. Finally, he faked some posts on another site, posting under an assumed name, and everyone jumped on him.

Vincent Baker, on his blog, brought up the concept of the Fruitful Void. There followed a lot of discussion about "What's the Fruitful Void in Game X?"

Man, RPG Theory was like reading an academic textbook by this time. Nothing wrong with that, essentially, but it's hard to read many threads back without concentrating intensely. Lots of people inventing new terms.

Jeremy Coatney posted a thread asking "Who has actually finished a pen and paper RPG design>" and everyone replied "Me!".

Clinton launched Find Play and Greg Stolze ransomed Executive Decision. Troy posted his Standard Rant #3, which contained the Power 19 and wasn't a rant at all.

In Indie Game Design, the most common comment to new posters was "Have you read 'Fantasy Heartbreakers'?".

The lumpley games forum was buzzing, mainly about Dogs In The Vineyard. Lots of new settings (Consultants In The Office, Agents In The Matrix). The film Serenity had just come out and there was a huge, fascinating discussion, "Serenity is what Firefly in the Verse should be".


Ron Edwards

Thanks Graham!

What surprised or interested you most from that review? What points or lessons seem to have been most worth preserving, from your point of view today?

I apparently forgot to put in one of the parameters in my notes, by the way ... I was kind of hoping people would choose a time period from before their arrival or at least active participation at the Forge. It's not a requirement, but if you're interested, please consider it.

Best, Ron


I am going to take the six weeks from the middle of July into the end of August, 2002, as I registered on September 4th, 2002, fresh faced with no idea how this funky game called Dust Devils, on its way to my house, was going to really work.

I've gone through the forums until the dates read the middle of July, copy and pasted the URL's into my e-mail and will go through thread by thread taking notes and just noting what occurs to me.  I'm really intrigued.  Forum Archeology.  Fun.

Alex F

Using the search function for 456-498 days ago (which should get approx beginning of May to June 16th 2005) I get a few rogue posts from April and even end of March, which I've only noticed after the fact. But lets call it May into mid-June 05, give or take!

The very first thread I find discusses whether "framing your stakes before rolling [means that] the actual ROLE playing tends to get curtailed". ~ Current discussions about stakes.

TonyLB declares himself a griefer (and proud) ~ current therpgsite debate he's having with Levi

Introducing parents, senior citizens, and "n00bies" generally to the hobby, and single-sex groups within it. Oh, and this thread  which hits the whole thing on the head.~ stuff found on story games and disapora some months ago, and discussed Post-GenCon on Fair Game/Anyway

John Kim talks about narrative power: "1) Control of Characters, 2) Influence over Resolution -- for most systems, this can be divided into influence over success/failure, and influence over interpretation.  3) Authority over Background -- i.e. defining locations, introducing new characters, etc. 4) Scene Framing and perhaps other restrictions which don't directly impact the SIS but control our view of it.
Now, I'd like to point out -- different games will split up the power differently between the players."  ~ the division of authority discussed by Ron recently.

Another year, another game chef! Also, GenCon 05 lineup announced; notable that there are only 2 $200 badges (the Chimera and the Goat)

A discussion on pricing games, which seems another evergreen issue in the community.

Some stuff on my-guyism, as well as immersion (mainly via Frank T).
Several threads on DIP vs DAS
Lots of assorted Big Model talk including Drame Fortune Karma, different CAs and different resolution systems - lots on Task Vs Conflict.
Michael S Miller's now classic manifesto on Masterism is published in Daedelus.
"Stances are obviously arrangements of who can credibly say what about what, just now." MJ Young's thread, but Vincent sums it in a line.

Play focuses on these games: MLWM UNiversalis, With Great Power..., PTA, Trollbabe, Sorcerer, Polaris, BW, CoS, Dogs, Dust Devils, TSOY. A heck of a lot of Sorcerer, PTA and Dogs discussion - rules, one-sheets, towns, all that good stuff. Also Heroquest.

Misery bubblegum, Ganakagok, Seven Leagues, Verge, Dictionary of Mu, a pulp FATE game I'm guessing was Spirit of the Century, and We all had Names were being bandied about - all are in print or continue to be actively developed.

But heck, look at all the games I haven't heard of before. Orions Arm, Aegri Somnia, Dark Soviet, Terminal Velocity, Rage, GODSEND Agenda, The Noble Fiends of our Empire, Imp Game, A Swiftly Tilting City, Shrodinger's War, a "Gm-less, cooperative, gamist pirate-era RPG" (damn, this one got 0 replies to), tHe bLood tRip, Sweet Dreams, Empire of Satanis, The Five Transformations, Orbit system, Quirky Cops vs. Things From Beyond, Bedlham, Giant Transforming Robo-Team, GO! Lite, Tabula Rasa,Delphian Tides, FafGame.... Fafgame? Ben Lehman was going to write a game based on the Fablog? Where the hell is that game?

My view on all this? I'm struck by all the issues that emerge and re-emerge, like computer muddling and sorting until it finds an expression that is just right. I'm struck by how much of the discussions taht were here seem to be quite happy continuing on other fora, leaving the Forge feeling more focused. I'm struck by the waves of game-interest - rules clarifications produce awareness, leading to play and more clarifications, hence awareness and so on (however, this ignores the elephant in the room - rules clarifications and play may be epiphenomenal, and come from the fact that the game is new/caught a favourable review).  You can really see these microcultures of creators (including fans) + created (materials, mechanics, stories) evolve, and gain momentum with respect to one another; here it's Dogs and Sorcerer, more recently Capes has generated loads of heat.

I'm also struck by the games that I don't know about. For all I know some may be already published or puffing along nicely, but I suspect many more are shelved or stuck. Which is a shame really. Or inevitable? One thing that's clear is that the posts that present a design problem very explicitly (and provocatively - suggesting that there is some tasty meat just underneath this problematic shell) get much more feedback than a description of the game and a link to a pdf, with requests for how to make the game more streamlined.

I'm finally struck by the sense of overall progress and good-continuity. Games were ideas, and now they're published or fleshy designs. Promotion gets more confident. Game competitions continue to run, and Conventions get an ever-bigger indie presence. Good stuff.

Graham W


What surprised me was, looking back, how good the etiquette in Indie Game Design was. There was scarcely an content-free post - lots of very lean, useful advice - and everyone was scrupulously careful not to slate each other's ideas. I particularly liked the "OK, let's get to work" attitude. There were faults, of course, but definitely a lesson there.

It also seemed astonishing just how much had happened in that short period (which I chose randomly): Find Play, Executive Decision, that debate on pricing, the Power 19, the Fruitless Void, that whole Serenity discussion. Not bad for six weeks.

And, looking back, it reminded me how exciting the Ronnies were at the time. You'd switch on the computer in the morning wondering if your game had been reviewed: either by you or by anybody.

For reference: I searched for those six weeks by doing a search for "Game" with messages between 300 and 342 days old.


Moreno R.

Hi Ron!  I like to search for old threads (it's a pity that there are so few "tour guides" for this kind of search, like the ones in "Farewell to the forum, but not to theory"...) so I would like to try this project, but it seems to a little too...  big?

I mean, there are 219577 posts, in a little more than 5 years. Let's say... around 2000 days? Well, it's more that 100 different post every day. In 45 days the average would be around 4500 posts. Add to this the difficulty of searching for an exact time period with the search engine without losing the chronology of the posting (and my first try, with a casual 45-days period, got me 22 pages of results...), and it seems to me that to do justice to this project (giving at least a cursory read of every message) I would need _really_ a lot of time.

So, what can I do? Well, I can "cheat", for example, choosing the first year (2001), with less members and less forums, and a low traffic month (from 30 august - 1842 days ago - to 11 October, 1800 days ago), but even so, with a few hours of time, I could not read most of the messages.

In "actual play" people talked about The Pool (with the creator's first session. James V. West was a member from less than two months - July 2001 - and his first posts showed surprise that somebody was really playing the Pool. He left in 2004), Little Fears, InSpectres (with its first Actual play by Ron, InSpectre'd at last ), SOAP, an Amber PBEM, AFMBE (and his incoherence) and a "dump of his personal feelings" by jburneko that prompted a discussion about Taking It All Too Seriously that I have promptly added to my bookmarks, and a thread about "creating" new players where Ron said this immortal quote: "AD&D is to role-playing what the Spice Girls are to music" (and added that when he said it, he got lambasted by the Spice Girls fans, too)

All in all, only 13 threads in 42 days, all about "famous" games (at least, in the "indie" sense...) or general issues of play (and their relationship to GNS). A very different forum from the "Actual Play" of today, I think.

I was surprised to find posts from people that I see now in attacking the Forge every chance they get, like for example "Marco".

And already people clamored for a GNS Glossary! 

The Key 20 Publishing forum (now inactive) that started only a couple of months before was slowing down after a lot of discussion in july-august about Little Fears, but the Adept Press forum was buzzing with activity, between the releases of the print edition of "Sorcerer" and "Sorcerer and Sword", and the mini-sipplements (and Elf) , with 32 threads (compare with the 13 in actual play in the same time...) with posts from a lot of game creators now seldom (if ever) seen at the forge (Jason L. Blair, Jared A. Sorensen, James West, etc.). With "Art Deco Melodrama" to begin only five days after this period.

The other active forum were the one about "Memento-Mori Theatricks" (7 threads) "Mystic Ages Online" (6 threads), Wicked Press (6 threads), "Legends of Alyria" (3 discussions), "Errant Knight Games" (2 threads), "Heroquest" (2 threads) "Destroy all games" (none) and the just-started "Random Order Creations" forum (10 threads)

The second part, with the "big" forums, tomorrow!

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)



I decided to look arond the time I first de-lurked.  This was early 2003 when I registered under the name Ashlin Evenstar.  I only made 4 posts with that name and then changed to me real one.  It's pretty cool to look back at how things were back then.  Here is what I found:

Names that I still interact with:

Andy Kitkowski
John Kim
Ron Edwards
MJ Young
Mike Holmes
Shreyas Sampat
Emily Care
Michael S. Miller
Clinton R. Nixon
Jonathan Walton

Issues we Discussed:

Egri and the lumpley principle
Indie RPG Awards
Successfull Approaches to Religion in RPGs
Torchbearer Character Creation
Backstory vs. Strong Character Creation
Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Fantasy Heartbreakers on Fire(d20)
Everyone Should Write a Heartbreaker
Designing Your Own Heartbreaker
Son of Fantasy Heartbreaker
FVLMANATA Prep Questions
Building Religions
Is Religion All That Much of a Mystery?
The GM is Dead: Scripted Roleplaying
The Forge, version 3

That oughtta do.  Obviously the two main topics at the time were Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion.  It's funny because I had just finished a game that was a Fantasy Heartbreaker with a rather large section on religion.  Ugh, I wish I had understood more about RPGs and the RPG market back then.  I was so young and wide-eyed.

The thing that really surprised me was how many people used to post here back then and now can't be found anywhere.  I don't see their names at RPGnet or on blogs or anywhere.  Makes you wonder what happened, you know?  I'm glad I stuck around.  The Forge is a great place for learning.  You guys are awesome.



Clinton R. Nixon

I'm going to do my own retrospective soon, but I wanted to comment on Troy's:

That "Designing Your Own Heartbreaker" thread? Look at this post - it's the first time I ever posted about The Shadow of Yesterday, long before it had that name. I had forgotten about that. Thanks, Troy!
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

Ron Edwards


Let me refine this a little ...

1. The time-period's length can be flexible. If two weeks suits you better, that's cool. In fact, that's probably a better default.

2. If a discussion goes on past the endpoint you've set, hey, go ahead and finish out reading it. The limits of the time-period aren't mined.

3. I imagine many discussions and reflections will follow right here. That's great! Clinton even had a really good idea for later about how to make this whole thing into a real archive. But for now, especially if you featured in the discussions that someone read about and commented on, post here about your modern-day thoughts on that time.

And for everyone, if and when you follow links back to check them out, remember: do not post to older threads.

Best, Ron


As Ron knows, there is no point during the history of the Forge when I wasn't around. I'm one of the few people who knew about the Forge before it went live, so I can't really pick dates from before I was around. Instead, I picked a set of dates at random.

I initially ended up with no posts, because the first set of numbers I chose were apparently from before the Forge existed. Oops. So I tried 1938-2000 in the "days ago" field, searching on the letter "a" (because it's a common English letter), and ended up somewhere around April through May of 2001.

The hard copy version of Sorcerer was just a few months away from release and Ron was one of the few people selling his games on-line (What a concept!). The Sorcerer forums had just opened. Rune had recently come out. Inspectres NIGHTWATCH had just come out. Theatrix was referenced quite often. Legends of Alyria was just being developed and playtested. The Gaming Outpost was still on the radar as a well-known place to discuss stuff on-line, and frequented by many Forge regulars.

Jason L. Blair was discussing Little Fears a whole lot, especially why was it a book and not a PDF, what games of it should be like, etc. He was also a really active participant. Seth Ben-Ezra was also much more active, especially with the development of Alyria.

Logan was around. Mike Gentry was around. Jared Sorensen was around. Dav Harnish was around. Lewis Pollak was around. James West was around. Some of those guys still post occasionally, but not even one-hundredth as much as they used to. A guy named poppocabba did a whole lot of posting, then appears to have disappeared.

Also, Sean (unodiablo)was around; Sean had a game or two available on-line, like Dead Meat, but I wasn't able to find them on-line anymore. Tangential: I hung out with Sean at GenCon that year, and he seemed to be a pretty cool guy, what ever happened to him?

JSDiamond was around, too. There was lots of talk about his game, ORBIT, and he was a pretty regular illustrator for Forge stuff. I don't know if he does illustration any appears that he now builds motorcycles!

Discussions happening at that time were familiar to anyone who has been at the Forge for a year or two: forum layout problems (buttons not big enough, can't find this or that) and please add this feature posts, etc. and arguments we have rehashed every year (what is meant by the term Indie? We need friendlier descriptions of GNS! The depiction of women in gaming. Fears of PDF piracy countered by the uselessness of security).

It is also amusing how many issues were discussed then that were used as accusations in later years (ie: elitism, and how it was not an acceptable part of this site), or theory-things that continue to be misunderstandings (ie: GNS is not a gamer personality classification system).

There was a lot of discussion of pigeon-holing gamers with GNS, gamer categorization, etc. understand and defining the GNS categories, and so forth. Ron states GNS is the 101 intro-level material to discuss other stuff. I believe this has completely turned around, now, and GNS is no longer the 101 -- more like the 201, after all sorts of other things (like social contract, what's happening at the table, reward systems, etc) are understood.

There was also a big discussion of what we should do if someone comes on here and just starts trashing GNS, followed by a discussion about the resistance itself, where someone does just that. Blake Hutchins and I bitched each other out; afterwards we made nice and still owe each other a mutual alcoholic drink at GenCon if we ever see one another there some year.

Interestingly, I noted I was a Simulationist. Today, I don't identify with it at all. I'm more solidly Gamist preferring, and don't much like Sim play.

However, I notice that at the time I was having severe problems understanding the differences between Narrativist play and Simulationist play. Then Ron explains how difficult the concept is to explain to people: "metaplot and elaborate, talented, entertaining depiction thereof is NOT making a story". I am now completely in that situation myself, trying to explain the same to a friend.

However, this whole discussion is interesting. If I'm not mistaken, there has been a 180-degree shift in stance about Simulationism. The argument at the time was that it did not produce story, even by mistake. Today, I believe the statement is that it does produce story, in hindsight, but that's still not making Story.

The Stances/Techniques are being heavily tied to the Agendas, and Narrativism at this stage is all about being Authorial and Directorial and having Conflict Resolution (though I don't believe the term had been coined at that point, because it isn't used). Obviously, this has changed.

I also notice that, at that time, I still haven't separated the ideas of Agenda and Technique. I asked, "Is this a Gamist mechanic?" not realizing I was asking the wrong question because my premises were mistaken. I also remember how badly the response to the question confused me, explaining how that was a bad question, and how I just couldn't make heads-or-tails of it.

I don't believe the idea of Techniques being Agenda-neutral had yet been fully articulated or discussed. Seems like we were doing a lot of stumbling around the concept without actually grasping it fully in an explainable way.

All these discussions appear to have culminated into the dialogue of the infamous "All Out Dissection" thread, when we tried to discuss the idea that Sim might be a form of retreat and denial instead of an actual Creative Agenda (though note the CA term had yet to be coined).

Flames galore. In reaction to this, I recall bad decisions were made, but decisions that shaped future policy to prevent those same bad decisions from ever happening again: mainly, the idea that any post would ever be deleted, by request or otherwise.

For example, Brian Gleichman did a lot of posting, but his posts aren't there anymore, leading to some bizarre threads where people are responding to no-one, and destroying the usefulness of those threads as a discussion/idea archive.

This is interesting: Ron stated, in response to criticisms about the subject and nature of that thread's opening, "I don't see any reason to hold back on examining any relevant ideas about game theory, design, and play."

That seems to have changed lately, with certain subjects being simply "not safe for the internet."

Also, despite phrasing things with "seems like" and "I read this to mean" and asking for clarification, Ron gets all itchy and defensive when a couple people completely misrepresent his statements by misunderstanding them. The recent "I don't read between the lines well" statement would have been highly informative to communication all those years ago.

Other things I ran across:

There was also much discussion being made of an Elfs website expansion, plus a map of Nurth -- hrm, still missing! -- a discussion of adventures, and a spoof metaplot. There was also lots of talk about how one is, you know, supposed to PLAY Sorcerer? What do you DO with this book?

There were numerous very short threads: lots of little three-post threads. Especially lots of quick little RPGs contained inside of single posts: like GOLEM. Ouch! There's an orphan "design help" request for someone's game. Other games I saw discussed: Children of the Sun, Gigantocorp, and Colorwheel.

EP Healy gave some good advice on how to create an effective web dissemination for a free game utilizing various formats.

We talked about having an IRC chatroom for the Forge, but didn't do anything about it. Years later, we have an (unaffiliated) indie IRC channel: ]#indierpgs on MagicStar network.

Hey, I also learned the free-jazz metaphor Ron likes to use comes from Chaosium!

And that's all I really had time to eye, but it was interesting and eye-opening nonetheless. 2000 days. Five years. Wow.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards

LATE APRIL - MID-MAY 29, 2001, was a significant time for the site, not long after it launched and right about the time when its topics and identity were shaking out. A lot of it was negative - people discovering why they weren't going to like it, others discovering that certain shit wouldn't be tolerated, and still others finding that their carefully-constructed internet personae weren't getting any love.

The funny thing is that I happened upon it just now at random, by clicking on a few Adept Press page-number headings and stopping when I found an old thread I liked. By choice, I would not have chosen this particular time unit, as you'll see. But I figure someone will, and I'll have to clarify all kinds of stuff about it anyway. (And look! It's about the same period that Raven happened upon ... spooky music.)

The overall site

The general forums were Indie Design and GNS 101 ... and that's it. This period represented the first massive structural revision of the forums, adding Site Discussion, Publishing, Actual Play, and GNS 102 (later renamed RPG Theory). Huh ... I had thought Actual Play was added a little later than the others, but I remembered wrong. Good on Clinton and me for recognizing it as key this early. The specialty forums were Little Fears (the first one; renamed later to Key 20), Sorcerer, Elfs (later to be combined with Sorcerer into the Adept Press forum), Legends of Alyria, and Memento-Mori Theatricks. Back then, they were added to the bottom in order of sign-up, not alphabetically as today.

Geez, the Forge seems so small back then ... I don't know how many members were signed up, but I'd be surprised if the total was much over 100. I learned later it was already being read a mile a minute by tons of non-members, although I at least didn't think about that much, or care. Physically, it was a lot different; the type was a lot bolder and all the forums were on one page together. I don't even think there was a search function.

The "big" RPG sites of the time were the Gaming Outpost, which was a lot like Story Games is now in a lot of ways, but had sub-forums like the modern and the Forge, and itself. The latter was very, very different from what it's like today. It wasn't moderated at all. The most recent post was at the top of a thread, not the bottom, resulting in people totally ignoring all but the latest comment. If I recall correctly, it had no resources, nothing but one big sprawling nutso forum. The Forge discussions begain mainly with people from the Gaming Outpost drifting over, because I'd introduced my essays (System Does Matter and The Nuked Applecart) and posted a lot of reviews there, as well as begun the first Sorcerer forum there.

Names and games

Mike Holmes, Ralph (Valamir), and Raven (greyorm) had either recently joined or shown up during this period, all from the Gaming Outpost or the Sorcerer mailing list in Raven's case, and interestingly enough, they were the dissident, argumentative, semi-hostile members of the day. Ralph in particular was convinced that my ideas were clearly wrong and possibly insane. You can see some early participants like Hunter Logan, who at the time considered himself my frustrated ally, and lots of references to a GO poster who called himself the Scarlet Jester. He had just posted his GENder model, which was far more sophisticated than the primitive GNS musings of the time. It played a big role in my thinking that eventually produced the big essay a while later. You can also see Paul Czege, Josh Neff, and Blake Hutchins all with their mental arms up to the elbows in ideas. You might be sort of amused that I was so clueless about the formatting and features that I didn't know how to emphasize text - I used capitals, which from today's perspective makes my posts look more wild-eyed than they were.

General games of interest included Hero Wars, Rune, and the recently-launched D20.

The big independent games of the time were InSpectres (which I believe Jared was swearing would never see print and would never have art), Obsidian, Sorcerer, Soap, Orkworld, and Little Fears, with a strong nod to Orbit. Looking back, I think the big issue being worked out was how to coordinate PDF and print ... Sorcerer was alone in starting from the one and moving to the other, and although that tactic looks a bit pedestrian today, it really was the breakout concept of 2001, in publishing. Sorcerer was first available for money in 1996, first available as paid-for PDF in 1998, and debuted in book form at GenCon 2001. Orkworld had debuted at Origins 2000; Little Fears came out in 2001 too. So this was a big deal! Independent games were making big money for their creators for the very. First. Time.

Indie Design

It's surprising how much Publishing talk went on in there, but then again, the Publishing forum didn't exist, so I guess what I"m seeing is the archive of existing need for it. It's pretty easy to find - basically just the first (oldest) page of the forum. As Raven pointed out, most of the perennial issues are well-represented in the space of two short weeks. There's a fantastic discussion in Convention bastards, which I can say for sure prefigures my plans for the GenCon booth, in combination with my experiences at GenCon 2001 in just a couple of months later. You can also see the movers and shakers at work: Scott Knipe, Jeff Diamond, poppocabba, Crazy Ass Sorensen (cross-ref his sdrawkcab gniyalp with today's [Six bullets] Playtest 3 - a radical rethink]), and James D. West. I should probably clarify right now: James D. West is not a game designer, but an active and thoughtful player who used the handle "james_west." James V. West is a comics creator and game designer who used the handle "James V. West." Very different people, don't confuse them.

Actual Play

This was launched in the middle of this period and thus only had a few threads. It originally functioned more like the modern Playtesting forum is supposed to. You can see Zak and Jeff and Ferry as the wild-eyed innovators, all busting out game ideas and seeing how they work.

It's really neat to see Zak's pre-Shadows work with his Sorcerer-esque RPG system for kids thread, especially since such games became a community design priority about a year ago and are now blossoming.

Site Discussion

Barely in its first week of existence, it was full of minor demands for Clinton, who seems to have endured it cheerfully. You should pay attention to the posts by Ed Healy (ephealy). He and I had begun a site in 1999 called "Hephaestus' Forge" at, which had no forums but was intended to showcase independent, grass-roots games through actual play reports and reviews. You might be interested to know that the original plan had been for me, Ed, and Mike Mearls to create and run this site together. Mike decided to concentrate on his freelancing instead, and Ed and I moved ahead with it. It served as a kind of resource for a lot of discussions I was leading about publishing and independence at the Gaming Outpost.

However, and I guess it's time to say this now, Ed managed the site (and my Sorcerer site and my email) poorly. The money turned out to be handled ... well, not honestly, although not criminally. When the host (and I) finally discovered the tricky shenanigans he was pulling to gain free server space, and when they shut down the sites, I turned to Clinton to help me. Fortunately, Adept Press was re-launched under legitimate circumstances, and my publishing plans could proceed. He and I also decided to re-launch "the Forge," at a new URL with a hyphen. Ed still wanted to be involved, but really, there wasn't any place for him in the authority of the site; Clinton and I had a clear idea of what it was to be, and that was that. Ed vented pretty angrily about that elsewhere, and I kept silent about the financial end of things, not wanting to point fingers. All this occurred during 1999-2000.

To his credit, Ed tried to participate at the Forge for a while and his posts are all solid, but he was the ghost at the feast, and he did fade away eventually. One of the great proponents of independent RPG publishing, lost to the community; and a good friend, lost to me personally. It always strikes me how similar these events were to all the accounts of rock bands' early years, with some kind of complicated social, financial, and creative tangle that ends up losing one of the founders.

So seeing those posts of his makes me kind of sad, although there's really no excuse for the problems he'd caused. If I'd stuck by him regarding Hephaestus' Forge, then Adept Press would have died.


Wow! Talk about filling a need. Again, just go to the oldest page in the forum, and see Jeff Diamond, Seth ben-Ezra, et al., go to town. See Jeff kick it all off with an anthem in Punks unite!. Especially see the whole thing take shape under James' challenge in An exercise in vanity? (mildly communist).

And man alive, Clinton is hard fucking core across all those threads with his PDFing and guerrilla-ing. You can see me too, saying, yes, money; no, not easy money; and no, not free money ... but money. This is really the forum where the warriors gathered.

RPG Theory (originally "GNS 102")

This was launched toward the end of this period, and it was incredible. I don't even know where to start; everything is gold and full of potential for a dozen games. Last page of the forum, any thread. I must remember to look up James D. West one day and see what's become of him.

What really strikes me now is how much actual play was central to the points being raised and made. It'll be interesting to see, going through the months, when this forum consistently lost that feature of use, and I'll bet you'll see its value decrease dramatically at that very moment.

Adept Press (originally two forums: "Sorcerer" and "Elfs")

This one needs some explanation, because by this point, I had been running the Sorcerer forum at the Gaming Outpost for over a year. Transferring the intellectual activity to the Forge was still under way; I was doing sort of double-duty between the two sites for a while. During this time, the process was nearly over, probably because of Elfs being newly available and because Sorcerer the book was soon due to arrive. It was the most active publisher forum, and it seems much whackier than it is today. The zombie squirrel thread which itself simply would not die long after it should have, there's tons of Elfs play and discussion, and Sorcerer was gearing up for print with intense buzz. As I said, the whole PDF-to-book thing was considered crazy-talk by everyone but me.

What really stands out for me, though, is Clinton's great idea for playing demons in Players playing demons which I reference in a thread during this time over in some theory-talk, and which I now realize may have been a distant parent of My Life with Master.

The other specialty forums were Little Fears (later Key 20), which was the first such forum; Memento Mori and Legends of Alyria, both of which began during this period. So this really was the time when the concept of the Forge as a real publishing showcase site went into practice.

(more in a minute)
edited to fix a link

Ron Edwards

GNS Discussion (originally "GNS 101")

This brings me back. The only essay written so far was System Does Matter, and that was actually a year and a half old by this point. I knew I was onto something, but it was only really visible by seeing what I did not agree with. A good example is the nightmarish clash between GNS as people-label vs. game-label, which occurred over and over, as in the Player behaviour dangers thread in this case. Someone would say "it's about labeling people," and I'd go, "no, it's about the rules and the game function," and then someone would go, "it's about what games make you play like," and I'd go, "no, it's about the people playing," and round and round it'd go. I knew it was about patterns of actual play function, and that neither claim was correct, but it wasn't until Vincent articulated the Lumpley Principle much later that this particular rhetorical conundrum would be solved, and vanish forever. (And Vincent wonders why he got a Principle.)

Similarly, it's really frustrating to see the perfect opportunity for an actual-play clarification discussion sail right past us all.

The amazing threads included Clinton's All out for Gamism, which was to become the backbone of my Gamism essay years later, and his accompanying Rune: the analysis; some cool stuff about "story" in the strong vs. weak Narrativism and "Story" thoughts" which to this day lead me to ignore further agonized writhings about it; absolutely crucial formative threads like a variant phylogeny by Paul and Theoretical game spaces by James D. West which is unfortunately now missing its images. Funny, too, I remember the day when James got in touch to say, "Dammit ... I can't be the bete noir any more, I think you're right about this stuff." (Hint: it had a lot to do with his Why they tanked and Following advicethreads in Actual Play.) You can see me refusing to elevate Narrativism into "real" or "true" role-playing in GNS and gaming in the modern world too. And hey look, I think that GM bias may have been the first time the "GM as another player" concept was introduced.

All of this was pre-FAQ and pre "GNS and other matters." What FAQ, you say? Well, some time after the period I'm looking at, Hunter Logan wrote up a big summary of GNS stuff as it stood (i.e. all the arguments), as a solution to everyone saying unspeakable nonsense and claiming it as "what Ron said." You can see its beginnings here in Friendler G/N/S definitions (see this one for the airlock discussion too!). As it turns out, by the time he wrote it, I didn't agree with it as representing my thinking any more. I was tired of people thinking that the three agendas were themselves "everything," and I wanted to incorporate Exploration (later, SIS) as the baseline for any agenda instead of a substitute for Sim. That's what the "GNS and other matters" essay is really about, to present my conclusions from this very period of fermentation. Which, unfortunately, rendered Hunter's FAQ (a) obsolete and (b) a focus of argument rather than an argument-solving conclusion. All this was later, in late 2001 if I remember correctly, but Hunter never forgave me for it, requested we remove the FAQ from the Forge, and became quite a Forge-hater after that. He and a number of others never quite grasped that I argue to arrive at a conclusion, even if what I end up with is heavily influenced by someone else's thoughts, rather than to stake out a claim in a field of argument.

To be clear, the Jester's GENder model was flawed, as I saw it, because his Exploration described what I considered the basic act of role-playing rather than an alternate goal of it. As he wrote them, Gamism and Narrativism were extremely abstract pawny-things, and Exploration was, well, anything we imagined together. It was therefore very attractive to people because, predictably, everyone could identify with Exploration and feel happy. Seth ben-Ezra was a huge proponent of this approach, and you might not know that the first version of Alyria was co-authored with the Scarlet Jester. But my point is that without grappling with his ideas, I could not have arrived at my next conclusions, which have stood the test of time very well to date. If we'd stuck with Logan's FAQ, we'd still all be merrily yapping to defend our positions of the time, frozen and isolated in our argumentative little hells. Not too surprisingly, the Jester never forgave me either for partly agreeing with him. I suppose doing that was dirty pool by internet-ego standards.

I can see the eventual social contract at the Forge evolving before my eyes, in a largely brutal way. Hunter Logan essentially fell out with me personally over these threads. You'll note some mysterious replies to someone named Brian, too - that's because Brian Gleichmann later deleted most of his posts from the Forge and insisted that Clinton delete the rest, in an infantile fit of resentment, leaving a number of discussions largely uninterpretable, and some of those were back in this period. (This is why we don't delete posts except for spam and maybe duplicates.)

And ohhh, the agony ... watch everyone lose their shit in the All-out dissection (LONG and BRUTAL) thread and its sister, Why all the resistance, which took a little longer for everyone to lose their shit but did anyway. And people wonder why I just shrugged at the reaction to the Brain Damage thread from earlier this year. What, everyone's upset and running around in spastic circles? Yawn ... see ya when you find your shit again.

There are good stories, too. Lookit Ralph and Mike at one another's throats, oblivious to the fact that within a year they'd be designing a ground-breaking game together, and you can see them glance at one another, startled to agree, in Fengshui: Simulationist?. Despite all the hair-tearing, I really miss the concrete, constructive feel to the discussions in GNS 101. There was a whole lot less "what if," and a whole lot more "I know there's something meaningful here, and dammit we need to hammer this out." Notice that people treat me neither as a Ron-Quote Boomstick nor as a Temple to Topple. My reputation of the time arose primarily from successfully snapping all current publishing and game design assumptions over my knee like a dry stick, not because I'd posted some airy-fairy notions.

It's funny, I don't feel bad or regret anything about those days of this forum, although I'm sure today any number of people will point at them and say "that's where it went wrong." A hell of a lot of rancor and bitterness arose right out of those six weeks, or from encountering their later effects. But for me, it simply made concrete an ideological position that was kind of casual or see-how-it-goes at first, but needed to become a fighting machine. And no, that position was not "GNS GNS." It was simply that I saw the mission, and the mission had nothing to do with taking care of others' egos. There are hundreds of websites available for people to display their whatevers and to get riled up about protecting them. I decided that I would always budge when the other person made an argument that made sense to me, and that I would never budge for someone just because they were getting upset. You can see my first post urging intellectual commitment right at the end of this period, in the State of the art thread.

I already knew that the Forge was not just another RPG discussion site based on "the cool guys from GO." I disliked the internet, particularly all forms of posting and communication on it. I still do. It's painful, stressful work for me to post anything, including email. I realized I could only stand it, and only look forward to it, if it occurred on terms that made sense to me, which had nothing to do with winning and losing status.

"Real names are encouraged"
"Respect starts with yourself"
"Ideas can be critiqued by their proponents"
"Being convinced, rightly, is an intellectual feat worth accomplishing"
"Acknowledge another's point when you agree with it"
"There are goals here beyond your personal need to post or to be right"
"Points of agreement can be found if we try"
"I don't care if you like me, loathe me, or masturbate screaming my name"
"Don't dodge issues"
"Don't try to fit in by staking out turf and defending it against all comers"
"Merely posting does not automatically deserve attention"

You can see the beginnings of these as a group-supported value system in A proposed policy for all of us, and all of them later became established elements of my moderating here. I think I can see a lot of them evolving during this time I'm looking at. I look at a couple of exchanges and go, hey, how in the hell did he get away with that bullshit? Or I say, no wait, that point was brilliant and that other guy just steamrolled over it - he should have been forced back to acknowledge it.

Overall, this was a defining month for the first phase of the Forge, generating a community with shared values and recognizing that one had to live up to that; I think this wave culminated at the Sorcerer booth at GenCon 2001, a couple of months later. People found that we really were doing something unique and valuable. They also found that participating didn't depend on liking me or all agreeing with my ideas. And they found that there was a bar to participation which we considered (and still consider) to be a key feature. The site wouldn't experience such a surge of community definition again until the Infamous Five threads.

Best, Ron


Many months ago when I was contemplating a varient review of the Forge, aka the Forge Time Capsule project, I spent some time reviewing early Forge posts.  I suggest that the September 2001 posts in the now inactive Random Order Creations forum are well worth reviewing.  They include early discussions of the division of power among players and GM, metagame resources, character protaganism, etc., etc. 

Oh, and I checked the Forge on the Wayback Machine--the snapshot on Sept. 26, 2001 lists 149 registered users!