Normally, this award goes out to a game or supplement out of the bunch that I've played that I found deserves more recognition for some reason or another. Of course, I didn't have time, money or the energy to play everyone's games, but this recognition was given anyway with this fact in mind.
Normally, for this award I made mention of a up to perhaps three games, singling out one for the Andy's Choice Award. This year, being the last year at the helm, I'm going to recognize a few more games.
That's what I thought last year, when I saw one interesting small-press game come out after another, after another. I kept thinking of all the new releases in terms of eligibility for the Indie RPG Awards, and what it came down to was too many games, too many excellent ideas brought to life through supreme effort, and not enough awards to go around. So here's my shortlist of random awards, followed by my pick.
The "What the Hell will this Game do to the Industry??" Award: The Shadow of Yesterday. This was one of my favorites of last year, as it seemed to combine the best parts of several other good systems while coming up with that funky "Bringing Down the Pain System", a way to zoom in and zoom out of conflicts. Aside from the strength of the game, the remarkable thing about this game is that it was written under the Creative Commons license. That means that if you were ever interested in selling a game or supplement to a solid fan base, you could take what you want, ignore the rest, change stuff as you see fit, and sell your game for profit. It was an exciting step past the OGL, and we'll see how it changes the landscape in a year or two.
Most Advanced Mathematics in an RPG: Infinite Legends. Infinite Legends didn't see a lot of peer votes, probably because what it tries to do it does extremely well: But the people who want this kind of game, while out there, are few and far between. For example, this game lists "Effect Ranks" (which you can use to do special abilities, spells, etc), and calculates them by the following equasion: "Effect Rank = [Square Root of (0.8*Effect Points) -1]/2". Damage (kind of like Hit Points, called Trauma Ranks) are calcluated with this: "Trauma Ranks = Success of Attack * (Damage Rank of Attack after subtracting Attack Rank)/Resistance Rank". The Molarity of common acids has its own table. There is an entire page dedicated to the Mass and Density rank of various substances, prefaced by the sentence "It is often very important to know how much mass an object has". Seriously, I don't intend to poke fun at this game, because it's not like these rules come out of nowhere: The author has indeed cleverly done his research in making this generic, and VERY rules heavy system. For all those people out there who like to just sit and do freeform diceless roleplaying, I imagine that there's an equal number of people who want an all-inclusive system that takes account of the physical laws of our universe. This is that game. Kudos!
The Game that Looks the Most like you got Ripped Off, but Actually Totally Kicks Your Ass: LACUNA PART I. I bought this at GenCon last year (after having read most of it in the free webzine Daedalus). I forgot how much it was at the time, but something like $20 for a game with not a lot of "high end production value". I was kinda disappointed in the purchase, until I decided to sit down and play it: After two sessions, I choked on my words: "Why the F*** did I earlier think I got ripped off???". Lacuna is like the best parts of Orpheus, Jacob's Ladder, Jung's Collective Unconscious, Flatliners, and the Lovecraft Dreamlands all rolled into one, with enough information to juice your players into the action and suspense, kicking off a campaign that could last a year. It reminded me of the familiar lesson of judging a book by its cover. Lacuna skooled my ass, hardcore.
The "Holy Crap I Can't Believe This is Free" Award: The Battleaxe RPG. Sure, it's just another fantasy game with elves and orcs, initiative and skills and hit points... But it's got some seriously gorgeous art and layout in there. It feels like you're being beaten to death with designer effort. I can't imagine how long it took to put this together.
The Game with the Highest Chance of Getting Your Wife into Gaming Award: Cat: A Little Game About Little Heroes. Seriously, if this doesn't work, nothing will. Very clever game about playing cats. The character sheet is simple and intuitive, and the whole game screams to get new players into gaming. Good work there.
Most Background Research for an RPG: Roma Imperious. Have you seen this thing? It's huge, and it's clear that the author did as much background research into the subject matter (historic Rome) than most people put into their daily jobs. Kudos!
Most Likely to get you Thrown Out of GenCon for Selling. Pie Shop. Seriously, if you were back in high school, being found with a copy of this game would put you in the guidance office for a year.
"The Only Thing Missing is a 'Hot Coffee' Mod" Award: Dog Town: Core Rules.There is absolutely no other game or gaming system out there, indie or mainstream, with this much background and emphasis on the roleplaying of illegal activites. I have not played this one yet, but after reading some of the background, it's just a matter of time. It plays out like a crime drama on Showtime.
The Game with the Highest Chance of Making You Cry: Dead Inside. I played my first game of this at a Con last year: Another person was the GM, and there were only two players. All of us were guys, and pretty butch at that. But just the deepness of the subject matter, the empathy that can be built with the characters and the background cahracters of the game, and the emphasis on redemption and self-confrontation without "going for guns" just floored us. We had never met before that session, but by the end we had one or two "misty eyed" moments. It's definitely one of the most mature, deep roleplaying experiences I can point to. An incredible game, that anyone who thinks of themselves as "A Real Roleplayer" needs to try.
I've played some eight or more games of "PTA" since its release last year, with various different people from all walks of life. Unless you're playing with total jerks (and why would you be playing then, right?), it is nigh impossible to run a bad or unentertaining session of this game. Sure, there's a lot of gimmicky TV-speak in it like Fan Mail, Budget, Issues and the like, but when it comes down to it, this game forces group cooperation, it forces getting right into the story without wasting any time, and gets everyone involved in their own character's actions as well as the overarching story. Its use of "scene framing" has been adopted by almost everyone who read this game: For many of us, it is impossible to run a roleplaying game, any game, without ignoring the traditional style of play and dividing the game's story into small scenes of hard-hitting story, plot-pushing and conflict. The effects of this game in the roleplaying scene as a whole are just starting to be felt, and in a few years I imagine we'll see a majority of designers borrowing from PTA-style play effects in their own games.
There's a common discussion topic on RPG Forums: "If you could only bring three games to a desert island to play with friends, what would they be?" With the success I've had with both friends and strangers, and gamers from all walks of life, my choice would be at this moment "Three Copies of Primetime Adventures, so that when one wears out from overuse we can use the next copy." It really is that far up my psyche.
That's all for this year, folks. Thanks for stopping by- Now get out there and game!