Railroad Maintenance

Railroad Maintenance

I am currently reading Tabletop RPG Design in Theory and Practice at the Forge, 2001-2012. It's an expensive book, I think I got lucky and got a very good second-hand copy.

My interest for the Forge got sparked by listening to the french podcast La Cellule that references forgian concepts a lot. It is also interesting to note that the Forge sparked a francophone forum named silentdrift, it closed in 2013, while the Forge had closed in 2012. (Got to love the name, silentdrift, as to drift in forgian speak is to alter the rules-as-written, in French that would be something close to dérapage silencieux).

Since I was away from role-playing games from 1992 to 2020 (save a few sessions around 2000), I have a lot to catch up.

The book is a collection of academic papers, but it reads easily as it's intertwined with recollections of past stories and the author took part in the Forge, be it an advantage or disadvantage.

Bill White at first wanted to name his book The Skein of Hephaestus, a beautiful title, that got demoted to title of the preface. The impulse for writing came from one of his friend stating: "People are forgetting the Forge" — "What can we do?" — "Well, maybe someone who's an academic should write a book about it, explaining what it was about and what its ideas were".

The six papers are:

I am currently at article five Go Read the Threads. One of the threads pinned by the article starts with an actual play report by the book author.

It details a CRPG-like railroaded game experience and the thread then goes in two or three directions. I let you appreciate it, but here are two extracts from the OP that I particularily like.

In other words, tons of what we do as people interacting with other people is helping them maintain whatever social fiction they are trying to establish. When someone challenges the social order by committing a faux pas of one sort or another, most of us feel embarassed for the other person, and seek to rectify the situation by avoiding it, ignoring it, or tacitly correcting it without acknowledging it.

social fiction, game fiction, always a fiction to maintain


I am moving away from the position that the game is the GM's show and I'm doing the players a favor by running the game. In fact, I've come almost 180 degrees around. Today I'm more like, "Please play my game so that I can watch the cool shit you're going to do!" But every me to you should invite a reciprocal you to me, so there's an implicit bargain there as well: "...and I promise that I'll try really hard to do cool shit too."

These two extracts are from the actual thread, and this is still available to us. But the book has to bring some value, and it comes as the author / OP expresses his regret at not having explored more the tangent that Ron Edwards, the primus inter pares of the Forge, was drawing the thread to:

But this is the part that caught my eye, because it's sort of a specific spot or hinge we might use to open things up a little. (...)

I remember talking with Paul Czege about this stuff waaaay back when. The GM points at something, significantly, often tagging it with a roll so you know it's a big deal. Or says something like "the shoes aren't lined up," with a bad poker face on the front of his head. But the thing's content is simply opaque. It can't make sense without another batch of information, which is totally not coming.

Ron Edwards considers the roots of the railroading and Bill White, fourteen years later, expresses his regret at not having poked the wise guy for more knowledge. The thread got closed and then locked because one of its tangents went awry.