This year, reviewed via my RPG Geek playing statistics, was interesting because what I actually played was quite different to what I thought I played.

My top three games were Burning Wheel, Freemarket and Monsterhearts. Burning Wheel was the real surprise. Thinking back it actually makes sense as we went through a couple of different settings, “playing the game right”. Previously games had essentially only really used the skill-based systems and the whole Artha and belief cycle did not really get a look in.

This time we played the system hard, focussing on pushing character Beliefs and generating Artha or skill checks. We played to our character’s mechanical strengths to force the story in our character’s favour. The metagaming was hard and stories pushed to conclusions quickly. It was a satisfying return to a system and although I think I actually preferred our more meandering earlier style of play I did admire the "proper" way for providing so focussed, driven fun.

The rest of the list was mostly one or two plays of various games, the scattered results of Indiemeet, conventions and one-offs. The list was very eclectic and I suspect more indicative of what 2013 might look like. I am starting to prefer the focus of indie games and short campaigns to the sprawling flabiness of conventional games.

One of the interesting things about playing Monsterhearts was the Apocalypse World thing of "do it to do it". Rather than just talking about something, if there a mechanic for the thing you are talking about then use the mechanic. Roll the dice instead of talking about rolling the dice. It is back to that general preference for driving games forward.

Failed resolutions

What was interesting was that I made a list of games I wanted to play at the start of this year and I ended up playing none of them. The three were: Technoir (which I also mentioned in 2011), The Solar System and Dragon Warriors.

Technoir is something I still want to give a go and I'm still reading the rulebook off and on. However the initial feedback from the London indiegamers was a thumbs down, with reports being that the system was not really gelling. Dragon Warriors I still have a weakness for and I would like to play through the initial scenarios again at some point. However the problem with nostalgia gaming is that do you really want to revisit something rather than play one of the new and exciting games that is out now. I tend to end up preferring the thrill of the unknown to the (admittedly mixed bag) experience of previous glories.

The Solar System is really good narrative based system however it didn't end up being played due to the fact that the mechanics allow the background to be defined during play as a result of the dice rolls. Therefore you need a pretty fluid setting and while that's handy a lot of times I didn't end up successfully pitching any games that would have worked with the system.

Indie mainstream

My general observation about 2012 in terms of the roleplaying year is that this year felt like the year that indie games went very mainstream with mechanic ideas crossing over and the term starting to become a concrete genre label instead of being a loose aesthetic around a large variety of games.

By abstracting systems and thinking about games we seem to have finally transcended the traditional fantasy, horror and sci-fi genres with growing numbers of games about relationships, emotions and life in general. Even games like Durance that are notionally about sci-fi in fact have more to say about social structures than the practical difficulties of planetary colonisation. It is as if Traveller was really a game about why people can't settle down and how you fill the boredom of interstellar flight.

None of these games has yet really hit a wide audience but I wouldn't be surprised if one of them did at some point. Games about relationships are universal enough to have potential to be the new D&D in terms of audience. The only issue remaining is people's awkwardness about "acting" and "pretending".

Indie Pete commented at Dragonmeet that we were in a kind of Golden Age right now where more and more people are publishing games that are interesting to play. For me that really rings true. There have been so many interesting games recently: Microscope, Durance, Monsterhearts, Witch and Dog Eat Dog. There's this massive outburst of creativity and there's really no barriers to creating and sharing something globally. This might lead to fragmentation in terms of the games people play, I don't think there is one unifying game any more, nothing filling the cornerstone role that Vampire used to in the Nineties. That's not necessarily a bad thing but it would be nice to have a touchstone for new wave gamers.

I think roleplaying is in this massively exciting and unknown place right now and it is fun to just experience it.