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The Cheapskate's Guide to Forge-Derived Indie Games
Chris Flood
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The ultimate cheapskate refuses to pay a penny more than he has to, but, if you want to enjoy the best innovations in role-playing games (RPGs), you are going to have to spend a few bucks. Fortunately, just four well-picked games and $50 will expose you to all of the indie innovation outlined in the excellent Story Games Primer. In addition, these games not only provide an efficient exploration of indie RPG innovations but also are among the best indie RPGs of all time, based on my own scoring method (see Scoring Sheet).
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1. RPG: Primetime Adventures (1st, 2nd and 3rd Editions) [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:56]
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Primetime Adventures (PTA, $12) covers over half (eleven) of the innovations described in the Story Games Primer, more than any other game. For just $12, you get the game that perfected Conflict Resolution and Scene Framing (according to the Mighty Atom), invented Fanmail and Previews, and includes seven others, as detailed in its Story Games Summary. As the highest-rated generic core system on both RPG.net and GeekDo, Primetime Adventures allows players to use and probably enjoy whatever genre or setting they prefer. Getting a 22 with my game-scoring system, Primetime Adventures ranks as one of the greatest indie RPGs of all time. You will not find a more cost-effective and flexible way to dive into Forge-inspired indie/story gaming.
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2. RPG: Dogs in the Vineyard [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:11]
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Scoring more points (26) than all but one other game in my scoring system, Dogs in the Vineyard (DITV, $15) also has its share of indie RPG innovations. It is one of only two games I could find that include Escalation and also includes Relationship Maps, "Say Yes or Roll the Dice," and Social Combat, thereby covering four more of the innovations we're hoping to try out. Although most argue that DITV is best played in its original form, those uninterested in the "West that never was" setting might want to peruse some of the other ideas on the Forge. I had originally picked the free Afraid (horror/monsters), which is based on DITV, but, as an unpublished draft, it arguably remains unplayable, even if you study play reports. The only other game I could find with Escalation is the GM-less Capes ($10), which also has a free trial version, Capes Lite.
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The other options on this GeekList cover all but one or two of the innovations listed in the Story Games Primer. To cover these remaining innovations, you'll want a GM-less game. If you want to keep things generic, Universalis ($15 to $20, plus shipping) might be your best bet, but, if you want to keep it free, you'll have to go with something more specific like Bacchanal or the Shab-al-Hiri Roach. If you want the absolute best, you'll want to invest in Polaris ($10) or Grey Ranks ($12). Most of these games also include an Endgame.
 
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4. RPG: Mouse Guard [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:20]
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Mouse Guard ($23) not only includes several more indie innovations but also is the most highly rated and decorated indie game I can find anywhere. It is the first game ever to win both the Indie Game of the Year and the mainstream Origins Award. It scores more points (28) than any other game in my scoring system and remains the buzz of many an RPG forum. Character creation is a streamlined process of Leading Questions, and various character traits serve as Flags, informing the GM of exactly the types of conflicts and story the players are looking for. Finally, Mouse Guard consolidates various forms of conflict into one simple system, providing a suitable example of Multiple Resolution Scales. The only downside is that Mouse Guard costs almost as much as Dogs in the Vineyard and Primetime Adventures combined.
 
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5. RPG: The Shadow of Yesterday [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:127]
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(Free Alternative to Mouse Guard)

Mouse Guard also costs far more than the Shadow of Yesterday, a free alternative that covers all the innovations Mouse Guard does except for Leading Questions. This post-apocalyptic fantasy game scores 22 points with my game rating system and comes in two parts: the base rules and the setting. If you want a generic version stripped entirely of the setting, check out Solar System. Either way, you're in for a host of interesting indie innovations, including Flags (Keys), Multiple Resolution Scales (Bringing Down the Pain), and Endgame (buying off Keys).
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