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Another thread in my series of game design threads:

I want to talk about what The Forge meant for me, as a new roleplaying game designer getting started in 2005.

I don't think it was perfect, but it definitely shaped my career and life. This thread is mostly autobiography! The logo for The Forge, which incorporates an anvil being st
At its core, The Forge was a site that hosted game design theory articles and a community forum for analyzing play and design, and it was live from 1999-2012. It was dedicated to independent, creator-owned RPGs. It also organized projects that spilled out into the real world.
While in high school, my friend group spent the better part of a year trying to start a D&D campaign. It kept crashing and burning. We would have arguments about the rules, about how beholden we were supposed to be to existing lore, and about how the game was supposed to feel.
Surely roleplaying games could offer more than a rambling pastiche of other people's tropes and plots! Surely rules could facilitate story more than they derailed it!

I went searching and I stumbled across The Forge.
I was blown away almost immediately by a revelation: games didn't have to be for everybody, or try and do everything.

An early love was Paul Czege's My Life With Master. It aimed to tell a specific kind of story, for a specific audience, and either you were in or you weren't.
One of the other things that really struck me was that "indie" meant something specific. It meant creator-owned.

These two ideas combined to feel so empowering to me. I could design games! Games that told the stories I wanted. Games that were mine to share as I saw fit.
But while the freedom to create was empowering, left to my own devices it probably wouldn't have taken me very far.

The Forge also offered a structured environment to think through play experiences, apply specific critical lenses, and share what approaches worked or failed.
Was the structure and methodology of the space always the best one? Haha, nope! There was a lot of intellectual posturing, some might even say gatekeeping, and there was a culture of over-eager criticism that wasn't always invited. I was slowly learning those lessons too!
But what I valued was that The Forge was a dedicated and intentional hub, one that helped me develop a sense of game design as a craft and a discipline.

I don't know that I would have ever done ground-breaking game design work without its influence on me in that nascent period.
I've analyzed what I found useful in that cluster, and here's the formula as best I can nail it down: It was an intentional space. People were encouraged to experiment. People were encouraged to dissect their own experiments and each other's. There was a goal of honing craft.
I valued the work put in to create a new scene. Years went by where I didn't think about D&D. It just wasn't relevant to my life; or, at least, it was no more relevant thank Risk Legacy or the newest thing that my friend had made.

I wasn't part of the industry. I was an indie.
One of the ways that The Forge worked to manifest that vision of an independent scene was The Forge Booth. I participated at Gencon. Indie designers pooled funds and logistics, and created this booth. Books on display racks, but more importantly: tables to demo at. We did shifts.
We prepped 10-15 minute demos. We learned one another's games and how to demo them.

The demo was key! It was how you got out of the trap of comparing your game to things like D&D. "You know what, why don't we just try out a quick demo? Let me rope in another person or two!"
The more comfortable I got with pitching my game and offering demos, the quicker I realized when I was talking to someone who wasn't my audience. And that was great! I could direct them to the work of a different indie designer who they might like. Or I could just say goodbye!
I came to realize that Katana And Pin-Up Aficionado #49 didn't care about the merits of my work, and probably never would. He wasn't for me. I wasn't for him.

I could focus on designing the things that I cared about, and connecting with the audience that would care about them.
Lately, I've been reflecting on the misuse of the word "community" to describe game design scenes/cliques/networks, especially digitally-mediated ones.

I wouldn't call The Forge a community. But I think it was a hub⁠—one that communities and lasting bonds could emerge from.
The Forge permutated. Much of the network migrated to Story Games, which was good and bad. Slowly, people migrated to other platforms. Google+.

When I think about The Forge, I'm often more accurately thinking about the post-Forge network. I'd characterize my work as post-Forge.
The post-Forge networks I found myself a part of on Google+ were probably my favourite RPG discourse spaces I ever found myself in.

Conversations could be long-form. Audiences could be circled in on an intentional basis. There was space to have conversations on their own terms.
I'm reflecting on all of this in part because I want to pinpoint what I am yearning for today, as a game designer.

I want to feel like I have colleagues and we are honing our craft together. I want to feel like we have a dedicated space for intentional, generative conversations.
Game design twitter confuses me most of the time! Every time a conversation emerges, I struggle to figure out: who are you talking to? What are you hoping to get out of this? Is this a conversation? Is this intended for us, or for them? What am I supposed/allowed to contribute?
I haven't really talked in this thread about the design axioms or theory that emerged from The Forge. Much of it can be left in the past: inaccessible jargon and intellectual sneering. Bah!

But some stuff was really valuable! I wrote about it here:

More than the theory, what I benefited from most was the approach:

You can make the games you want to play. You can publish them diy on your own terms. But you need to know your craft, and you only get there with reflection, critique, and dialogue. That's why this space exists.
Okay! Maybe that's the end of the thread. I'll leave us all with some invitations to ponder:

What could your peers offer you that would best help you hone your craft?

What do you want your game design network to be like?

What kinds of conversations empower you as a designer?
Ash (@wundergeek) brought up an important point in conversation yesterday: The Forge wasn't welcoming to everyone. A lot of women, queers, & POC felt actively pushed out of the space, because their work didn't fit the dominant vision of what trailblazing new design 'looked like.'
And while I talked around that in the thread, I didn't name it clearly enough. Thanks, Ash!

My desire was to look back at the whole endeavor and think about how it helped me grow as a designer, and what I want to carry forward from it into new spaces. But not to erase problems!
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Keep Current with Avery Alder, Buried Without Ceremony

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