Point one: Baz reckons that “Indie” games are entirely a subset of “Trad” games, and that it’s possible for a “Trad” game to emulate “Indie” but not the other way around (at least, not with the same flexibility — you can certainly write a storygame as a pastiche on some specific part of trad gaming).
Point two: Josh’s taxonomy of Indie games has three degrees of freedom:
- How the game distributes / subverts the GM role (no GM, shared GM duties, GM authority subordinate to players, etc.)
- Similarly distributing / subverting the player role (less than or more than one PC per player)
- Story output by design (Story Games)
Point three: the player and GM roles discussion also calls to mind the different stances of GNS theory — a game that alters the relationship between GM, players and characters must influence those somehow.
With these in mind I’ve been thinking of games I’ve played that were entirely traditional, but still subverted those roles. These examples spring to mind:
Ars Magica’s (and Vampire’s?) Troupe-Style Play
I never properly played Ars Magica, but I played a lot of Vampire and I believe the suggestion for playing Troupe Style is in one of of the 1e books.
There are two modes here: the Troupe System involves different GMs having a domain and taking responsibility when the game enters that domain. For this domain-based play you need to identify the boundaries you’ve crossed, and you need to negotiate between players to stop and start as the GM hat is passed around (social contract). The Troupe Style Play is much simpler with just multiple PCs per player (in Ars Magica that would be one adventuring wizard at a time with a mundane retinue).
Wraith’s Shadow players
Wraith involves another player (or the GM) playing the “Shadow” of each PC’s Wraith. I think the rulebook recommends that players pair up so John plays Anna’s PC’s Shadow, etc. and really gets to know their dark side. I’ve also seen this done with a dedicated GM for each Shadow (the GM in question walked around the table and whispered the shadow’s insecurities in each players ear throughout the game), which will work in bringing players into a game of Wraith and avoid having to grok the role of shadow players — but I think getting players to play shadows sounds a lot more fun.
Rotating GM for the Eternal Champion; Alas Vegas
I played a game based on the meeting of four Moorcockian Eternal Champion types where the GM role was rotated through four sessions; it worked extremely well as each GM’s session took on the personality of their (absent) character. It was still very traditional — we used GURPS to run it.
This is also how Alas Vegas should work (cough when I get my copy cough). Each player takes the GM mantle for one act; and the other players aren’t supposed to know the contents of the act you’re running. It will be interesting to see what replay value Alas Vegas has; unlike other Kickstarters I’ve backed the pre-read really is half finished and I suspect no functional game can be had until the finished product is in my hands. That game relies on keeping all players ignorant of some of the text. It’s the antithesis of Fiasco (and other story games) where the story progression is entirely transparent.
So the interesting comparison between Alas Vegas and our Eternal Champions game is that the former worked because we assumed a level of trust between the players and GM. Does James Wallis assume the same level of trust? Once again this isn’t a stance issue, it’s a social contract issue. In fact, for all three of these examples I’m wondering if the issue of stance really matters.