Thursday, September 22, 2005

An Introduction to Forge Theory


So, a lot of the Finnish theorists that I've met, along with a lot of other people who seem really sharp, have expressed a real frustration with the Forge -- It looks like we're doing really interesting theory, they say, but it is so hard to make sense of things that they don't want to get involved.

It's a legitimate complaint. The only real record, the only real teaching text for the theory, is the history discussion itself, which is a little like trying to learn about bread by watching wheat grow. If it weren't for the forum medium, we'd have only an oral tradition, and as it is it is pretty close to that. A lot of teaching is done by "uh, just watch" and a lot of learning is done in a really feeling along gestalt sort of way. We have shit for organization.

I don't blame anyone for this. By definition, anyone participating in the Forge in a serious way has at least three very time-consuming hobbies (game play, game design, and running a small corporation) in addition to whatever family, job, school and other things that occupy their time. It is frankly miraculous that any of us have time to talk about anything at all. Outsiders coming in and telling us that "we should" put together a teaching text frankly chafes.

But, right now, I'm more or less unemployed, and I've been traveling around Finland giving intro to theory lectures, so I thought I would condense my "introduction to theory" lectures into a short text and put it up online. I welcome criticism from anyone. I'm particularly interested in what those totally outside of Forge theory find confusing (as in -- ask any questions you have) and what my peers in theory development find inaccurate.

Here's a rough outline, subject to change:

  1. Players at the table
  2. Rules and the Lumpley Principle
  3. Good Rules, Bad Rules
  4. Big Model
    1. The way I draw it
    2. The way Ron draws it
    3. Elements of Exploration

  5. The designer's part
  6. Creative Agenda classification
  7. Some techniques

(That giant gap in there? Not a typo.)

My eventual goal for this is to post it to the Essays section of the Forge and possibly sell small booklets to benefit the Forge's upkeep. It is possible it might be published in the Knutepukt book this year, too.


Blogger Bankuei said...

Neat. Looking forward to it.

(Imagines pamphlets being like Jack Chick comic books, being handed out at schools...)

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ben, that's a great idea.
I have been trying to understand, use and convey Forge theory to my fellow Danish roleplayers for some time now. What I have been most nervous about is misunderstanding the whole lot and therefore talking BS when trying to explain it.
The classic reactions I meet again and again are "what do we need theory for?", "why are there only three creative agendas - mine's not there" and of course "rules (or system) interfere with my roleplay."

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Same as Per.
With some other french-speaking guys we've started translating Ron's basic articles (System does matter is done, GNS & Other... is on the way), but they were written in a certain context that doesn't ring a bell this side of the Atlantic. What's more, this is a lot like "watching wheat grow", I mean the word Creative Agenda doesn't exist even in the second article.

So, I'm really looking forward to your introduction, it'll probably boost my abilities to explain the basic theory to fellow players.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks cool, Ben.

I find a lot of non-forgites get a real stumbling block over narative <> naration <> story as you use it

PS, are you still going to Spiel Essen on your way back from Finland?

8:29 PM  
Blogger munkholt said...

Yay. Great initiative! I'll run some workshops on the Forge games and the theory behind them in April next year at the most progressive (I think it's fair to say) convention in Denmark, "Fastaval".

I'm looking forward to this article as a boost to my Forge Fu. Better to spread tempered knowledgde than eager confusion, I think.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Sven Holmström said...

"It is possible it might be published in the Knutepukt book this year, too."

Yay. But in 2006 it will be here in Sweden so we call it Knutpunkt. I Norway it's called Knutepunkt and in Denmark Knudepunkt... (yeah, I'm really anal now.) In Finland they call it Solmukohta, of course...

It would be really cool if you could have it in that book. Or maybe the book for the 2007 convention.

The man in charge for the book this year (Tobias) and his fellows have incidentally started a campaign here in Sweden to somewhat de-larp Knutpunkt.


9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such an essay is absolutely necessary. Except it really has to be "essays," because you have multiple audiences coming from multiple perspectives:

1) Your Scandinavian friends, and hardline immersionists elsewhere, who seek to inhabit their fictional characters with an almost mystical intensity.

2) Your "mainstream" American player of traditional wargaming-derived games (D&D and co.), with all the baggage that implies. Ron Edwards is almost always aiming at this audience, which may make him harder to understand for other groups, but there is a tremendous amount of "D&D de-programming" to be done, and it'd be nice not to have to reinvent that wheel every time someone proposes "my game has 4 stats and 20 skills and you roll under stat + skill on a d666, is that fun?"

3) People who've never played an RPG at all. Which is most of the planet, obviously, although only a small subset of the more creative ones will be interested -- and they can rock our closed little world. But the standard "what is an RPG?" spiel in every game ever is no bloody use to them at all.

And I understand Matt Wilson's rewrote Prime Time Adventures with the conscious intent of removing any assumptions of audience (2) and appealing directly to audience (3).

12:31 AM  
Blogger Brand Robins said...


This is a great idea. One of the things that let my wife start getting into game theory (at which she is now getting quite sharp, I must say) was paganini's no-jargon intro to SIS. She loved that article, and from it started developing ideas of her own. (Within a week of reading it she had essentially recreated Capes and large parts of Sex and Sorcerer -- and was crushed when she found out someone else had already done that.)

So, if you can explain the rest of Forge theory as well as he got SIS, both my wife and I will be your humble servents.

12:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, an omission in my audiences:

(4) fanfic writers and the online communities that co-write stories, which they call "roleplaying" too.

Second, a word to Brand:

Your wife spontaneously generated analogs of Capes and Sex & Sorcery? Combining two such different games would be original and interesting, not derivative, even if she'd already read and played both; the results of doing it by parallel or congruent evolution would be fascinating. Forget being "crushed," she should finish it so I can play it!

1:08 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

Sydney --

My target audience for this essay is very simple: People who are familiar with the Forge and want to understand the theory used in the discussions and designs there.


1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'd suggest looking at Nathan Banks' three Intro to Roleplaying essays and MJ Young's three (with the third forthcoming) essays in "Places to go, people to be" on the same thing.

Clearly they aren't doing what you're wanting because you're writing your own essay, but I'd take a look at their stuff and see where they're going wrong for your purposes...


1:24 AM  
Blogger Brand Robins said...


It wasn't the same game, it was two different ideas for two differnet games.

Although I still told her that it was a good sign, and that she should keep working on it. As we develop the craft and do variations on works we should start getting better at what we do.

1:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems like the Finnish have the same attitude as many Norwegian tabletop RP'ers. People want to get involved in the debate, but can't or won't spend the necessary time to learn the slooow way.

The Norwegian association of game designers, Spillskaperlaget, held a seminar a few months ago, with lectures on Big Model and ritual theory. Our members all got a compendium of selected Forge articles. It's helped the theory debates a bit - although I'm not sure there's any real influence on design yet.

11:03 PM  
Blogger newsalor said...

Sounds good.

The thing is that the people at the Forge are way better at making games than expressing the theory behind them. All and all I think that writing theories down as peer reviewed articles and publishing them is the way to advance our understanding of roleplaying games. The Forge itself is a great place to exchange ideas and make connections to likeminded people, who are willing to test and discuss theories, but the organizational inertia of the sheer amount of discussion that is going over there makes it a poor place to write the theories themselves.

The brief presentation you gave in Oulu was more clear than anything that I have read in the Forge and I really think that if you write it down, the Nordic theory community will get a lot from it, along with others who read the book.

I hope that we see again in Knutpunkt.

2:23 AM  

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