Issue #34, March 2017
ISSN 2206-4907 (Online)
Interview with Ron Edwards … Innovative RPG Reviews (Sandman, Amber, Hero Wars)… Multi-GM Campaigns … Evil Races … RPG Theory … RuneQuest in Glorantha Designer's Notes … Rules Lawyers … Tension and Validation … D&D 5e Races … Moana Movie Review … and much more!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Administrivia, Coop News, Editorial many contributors p2-4
Interview with Ron Edwards with Ron Edwards p5-12
Innovations in RPG Design: Some Reviews by Lev Lafayette p13-19
Krononauts: Multi-Referee Campaign Design by Lev Lafayette, et al p20-24
On Evil Races by Levi Kornelsen p25
RPG Theory, So-Called by Levi Kornelsen p26-29
RuneQuest in Glorantha Design Notes by Jeff Richard p30-46
Rules Lawyers and How to Stop Them by Neal Litherland p46-48
Tense Up by Sidney Icarus p49-51
Validate Your PC's Intent by Sidney Icarus p52-54
A Mathematical Analysis of D&D 5e Races by Karl Brown p55-60
Moana Movie Review by Andrew Moshos p61-63
Next Issue: The Antipodes by many people p64
RPG Review is a quarterly online magazine which will be available in print version at some stage. Maybe a ten year anniversary? All material remains copyright to the authors except for the reprinting as noted in the first sentence. Contact the author for the relevant license that they wish to apply. Various trademarks and images have been used in this magazine of review and criticism. Use of trademarks etc are for fair use and review purposes and are not a challenge to trademarks or copyrights. This includes GURPS for Steve Jackson Games, Dungeons & Dragons by Wizards of the Coast, RuneQuest by (the) Chaosium, , and others. Moanna is produced and distributed by Walt Disney films. RPG system design chart by Joe Wetzel and used with permission (from inwellideas.com)
Cooperative News, Letters, and Editorial
Since our last RPG Review the Cooperative has produced another issue of RPG Review (obviously), held our regular gaming groups, movie nights, and of course, did plenty of development in Papers & Paychecks. We also shifted a big chunk of the Maylands branch of our gaming library (we have one - very good - member in Western Australia) to Coburg (about 90% of our membership lives in Victoria). So currently some 274 items out of probably 350 in total is catalogued. That's not too bad for a small gaming cooperative, and one hastens to add, one gets an excellent return on their membership from just borrowing a couple of items per annum from the library.
One major decision that we have come to is to announce the content of the next issue. Despite our global reach in terms of RPG Review itself, the membership is very much centered in the Antipodes. It just so happens there is not an unreasonable number of RPG designers in this part of the world either - so why not a special issue for Australian and New Zealand games? From the Antipodes there has been Lace and Steel, Albedo, Hunter Planet, Super Squardon, Elric!, EPOCH, and many more. Also, it seems that several members of the Chaosium team are now based here.
Apart from that to be honest it's been all quiet on the Cooperative front. We are largely in a position of 'operations' rather than 'projects', although there should be another announcement for the latter category in the next issue. It might even have something to do with the thematic content of that Antipiodean issue and may even be related to a certain series of off-beat contemporary books with a bit of an occult orientation. Can you guess what this might be?
Until then, enjoy this issue of RPG Review.
Following the BBQ-gate outrage I was triggered by your PC* attack on the "juvenile subconscious" in transhuman roleplaying. Shirley the whole point of roleplaying has been 98% about the exploration of the juvenilia of our shared gestalt, and the remaining 3% some kind of liberal free thinking fantasy crap about Tékumel**? That is, IHMO, what I said to my 32nd level BlitzerBoy Cyborg-Elf-Magic-User-Twink when I saw your outrageous comments. "Sausage in a bun!", Hah! We all know where your mind was. Next thing you'll be saying is that 40k miniatures can't have
mustard on their prawns.
Outraged of Victoria***
/* Player Character/
/** I hear there are only 17 levels in Tékumel, OUTRAGE!/
/*** Victoria, Sword Coast, Faêrun/
**** Amongst the satire there may be a point here...
Editorial; Game Design
From some perspectives, RPG design is one of the more difficult tasks in the hobby. It is probably not from the perspective of the RPG producer, having to juggle the right balance between online and physical copies, and calculating printing, storage, and shipping. It is probably not the perspective of the game store owner who is trying to shift boxes of books from warehouse to customer. Nor is from the perspective of the individual GM trying to get that spark of imagination going to lay out a plot for the Friday night session. Nor even for the individual player trying to construct a consistent element of their backstory, or figuring out using the rules and their resouces how to get out of yet another tricky prediciment the GM has placed them in.
There may even be a bit of a temptation among many players to think, "Hey, this game has been a lot of fun, but some of the rules are a bit strange. I think I could write a whole bunch of new rules and bolt them on to this existing game and call it a new game" - and so dozens of variations of Dungeons & Dragons were born over the decades. Some were genuinely innovative (RuneQuest, Champions, Vampire, HeroQuest, FATE etc). Others claimed to be so, and really weren't (Imagine) and pretty much died out as a result. Others expressely claimed to be deriviative and celebrated their origins (Castles & Crusades, OSR). Many thought that the path to good design was more detail - more classes, more spells, more weapons, incresingly complex combat systems (Chivalry & Sorcery, Powers & Perils, Rolemaster). These systems creaked and groaned under the weight of trying to combine match a model with a sense of reality itself, and despite heroic efforts many fell on the wayside of making such an effort.
The game designer knows that theirs is a difficult and often almost thankless task. Navigating the pathway between playability and realism, between innovation and familiarity, trying to design with different creative agendas in mind - and all whilst being try to the thematic considerations they started with. After that there should be playtesting - and blind playtesting. The discoveries of what you thought was obvious is obtuse to others, or the rule that you implemented that seemed middle-of-the-road is discovered to produce outrageously unbalanced results, etc. All of this is apart from the publisher or crowdfunders breathing down your neck for a product. Sure you could sit down and produce something substandard, but you're a perfectionist and you want this game to be *good*.
I am sure that many designers recognize these words. I am not, of course, a game designer by profession by any stretch of the imagination: I look after high performance computing systems and teach postgraduate researchers how to use them. Prior to that I had a previous career in advocacy and politics. But this is not to say that I haven't dabbled: a Rolemaster rules supplement, a chapter for Fox Magic, and of course, most recently, Papers & Paychecks. I have had the privilege of being an playtester of RuneQuest, Traveller, Deluxe Basic Role Playing, and most recently, Eclipse Phase. This is an active hobby for me - and having undertaken a few hundred detailed reviews I have to say I really feel for designers, especially those who I can see who have made and effort.
So after some thirty three issues of RPG reviews, this issue is dedicated to game design - and we start with one of the foremost theorists and practioners in the hobby with an interview with Ron Edwards. Following that yours truly has a look at some of the more innovative contributions to the hobby - not necessarily games that became famous or were successful, but contain some interesting design features that we must recognise. After this is a review of the Krononauts time-travel campaign - which has featured in previous issues of RPG Reviewm, but this time from the perspective of running a multi-GM game. After that Levi Kornelsen gives his thoughts on evil races in RPGS, and RPG Design, followed by a lengthy compilation piece by Jeff Richard on the new RuneQuest. Neil Litherland and Sean Icarus provide practical advice on rules lawyers, narrative tension, and player's intent. Finally, Karl Brown peeks behind the curtain in D&D 5th edition for the mathematics behind the race designs. Finally, the ever regular Andrew Moshos treats us to yet another Disney princess movie.
There is, of course, a long way to go with game design. From the early days where the basic structure was handed down from D&D as individual characters in a wider tactical environment and a fantastic setting, explorations in implementation and setting grew from there. Emphasis on character personality and motivations developed in a systemic manner, along with setting integration, and more recently, story-driven games. All during this time matter of rules complexity, consistency, and scope have been thrashed about. One thing is certain - for contemporary and future researchers of RPG culture there is now, and will be, a very rich collection of material to draw upon.
Get that design hat on, Make more games. Make better games. Aim to make the best game.
Ron Edwards Interview
with Ron Edwards
Ron, and welcome to RPG Review. We'll start with what is a typical
question; how did you first get involved in the RPG hobby, and what
of games were you playing? How does that differ to what you play now?
Hi Lev and hi RPG.net! I began role-playing in 1978 as a tween-to-teen, using a bunch of texts spanning the range of Dungeons & Dragons at the time, including the original pamphlets, articles in Dragon Magazine, the J. Eric Holmes version in 1977, a Greyhawk supplement or two, and the AD&D Monster Manual. I also played Tunnels & Trolls, RuneQuest, and my favorite, the early versions of The Fantasy Trip (Melee, Wizard, In the Labyrinth). The culture of popular fantasy and role-playing was very different at that time, and also by region. In my case it overlapped with underground and newsstand comics, with rock and roll, with the forthright and psychedelic fantasy and science fiction of the time, and with the counterculture of the California coast.
I won't list the many role-playing games I played through the decades. The most prevalent would be the early editions of Champions throughout the 80s and early 1990s, with honorable mention to Stormbringer, GURPS, Rolemaster, and Cyberpunk. The 90s, especially Amber and Over the Edge, brought an experimental phase when I played well over 200 games with several different groups. As Sorcerer came into shape, we shifted into older games like Marvel Super Heroes and many others, a lot of newer games especially the then-titled Hero Wars, my designs in playtest, and playtesting a lot of other people's drafts. I won't say "if you know it, I've played it," but I think there'd be more hits than misses.
first experiences in role-playing were marked by enthusiastic,
diverse design and by genuine love for fantasy and other speculative
adventure, across the titles I mentioned and more that I encountered.
Therefore the fun and diversity of role-playing right now is a lot
like it was then – which I consider to be a huge improvement over
the intervening decades, and which I'll talk about a little more a
few questions down.
What was it that interested you in RPG theory and game design? What are the practical effects that you see in RPG theory in actual play? How did your own ideas about game theory develop from GNS to The Big Model? What
are their key differences?
I'm not really sure about being interested in "theory" as such, because almost all role-players talk (and argue) about how the activity works. I haven't done anything special in that regard beyond providing a venue and holding the discussions to adequate intellectual standards. One thing that does stand out in my history comes from Champions, in finding that perfect agreement about the comics inspiration and the desire to make a great one through play ran into a lot of power-problems at the table. That led to a long history of thinking about the fiction generated through play, which all role-playing does: when it is or isn't a story, and if it is, how it got that way.
You asked about ideas with initials, so here's that history, briefly. Usenet discussions in the mid-to-late 1990s had unearthed the possibility of profoundly different priorities at a role-playing table, to the point of simply not being there for the same purposes at all. That's where the terms Gamism, Simulationism, and Dramatism appeared, and the concept had been named the Threefold Model. I read these discussions but was not a contributor, and in 1999, in an essay first posted at the Gaming Outpost, I referenced those ideas and wrote about how they might or might not relate to techniques during play, using Jonathan Tweet's terms Fortune, Karma, and Drama for the techniques. To keep the terms from overlapping, I renamed Dramatism Narrativism, as Tweet's "Drama" had been coined first. In following internet discussions, "GNS" became the most common referent especially as it became clear that I was working farther and farther away from the Threefold.
But it also became clear to me that merely talking about priorities wasn't enough; we needed to be discussing role-playing as a social event, which was even bigger than individual, or better, expected shared-group priorities. The name "Big Model" refers to this "bigness," starting with everything that plays into who we are and why we sit down to play together. Therefore the biggest level or layer is the social event, the next layer down or in is the imagined material as we talk and listen, and within that, is the system, or how we make things "go" in the imagined material. I think to think of the outer layers not only giving context to the inner ones, but themselves being reinforced and enjoyed based on what happens "inside." The key point is that these layers hold together either well, because we share a creative priority of some kind, or it holds together badly or falls apart, for a number of reasons including differing priorities.
Let's see – oh yes, it's not a model of all role-playing like some huge monster diagram of all the possibilities. You can't find your "zone" or a given game "on" the model. Instead, it's more like a lens, a way to look at one real-life actual group of people playing a real game in real time, past or present, to see what they're doing, how the real-people and imagined-fiction interact, and in this one case, what for.
You might be nodding and saying, "But that's obvious." I thought it was obvious too. I won't bother listing the myriad of outright bizarre objections people come up with. One sore point, perhaps the sorest, is that "priorities," in the above paragraph, are not referring to styles or details of play which can be blended or compromised. I mean really, really different priorities. This ran against a number of cherished ideas in the hobby, e.g. that anyone can or should play with anyone and that all role-playing is a monolithic compatible activity. Another sore point is the concept of "system does matter," which is that the inner layers/levels of the model aren't freely interchangeable – that how we make things "go" in the fiction does affect how we enjoy it, and can be designed to reinforce what we came for.
Since I was obviously not using the Threefold at all any more (say by 2002, probably earlier), I gave the priorities sort-of poetic names instead: Story Now, Step On Up, The Right to Dream. Contrary to some accusations, I am not especially invested in "there must be three" or any such dogmatic claim. My own views toward the diversity of these things – Creative Agendas as I called them – underwent further discussion at the Forge for ten years, and I'm happy to talk about that with anyone who's curious. At this moment I'm carrying on four such conversations, and have been doing so with lots of different people for years.
I think I've explained what the Threefold was (not me), what so-called "GNS" was (me thinking about the Threefold and system issues), and what the Big Model is (pretty much what I came up with, at least for ongoing purposes). I want to stress too that the essays in 2002-2003 were written as a discussion technique among a limited number of people, about a hundred maybe, not as a finished or fixed endpoint intended to serve as a public statement. Far from it in fact.
You also asked about practical applications, which I think is backwards. Well before the internet took off, and therefore before any context of websites, I knew that any and all thinking about role-playing (what it is, design thoughts, whatever) had to arise out of real play experiences. What I called "theory" during the early years of the Forge wasn't thought-to-action, but action-to-thought, highly empirical. So I'd say "let's try!" about many games of approximately 1999-2003, not only my own work, but especially independently-published parallels like Orkworld, The Riddle of Steel, Hero Wars, and Burning Wheel, and literally dozens of small homebrews from anywhere including surprises like The Pool. The practical applications were where the action was (and is); the ideas arose from thinking about what we'd just seen happening in play.
As far as practical applications from those ideas go, well, it's a big list. The Forge forums weren't deliberately started as a design laboratory, but I suppose it was inevitable given all the play and dialogues. A lot of it was playful but a lot of it turned out surprisingly well, and some of the most well-known games of today emerged from it directly or indirectly.
theory based comment that generated an enormous amount of attention
is when you described the White Wolf Storyteller system as being
decidely not about creating stories as such, even it included an
emphasis on setting
and a largely pre-determined narrative. As part of that discussion you referred to people who had been exposed to this as a "storytelling" RPG were suffering from "brain damage".
That discussion generated an enormous amount of noise, not attention. Attention implies that people read what I wrote, not second-degree references to it. In the first post using that phrase, I outlined three preliminary points in boldface. Big, easy statements, pretty important ones. I have not yet met a person who is both upset about what they think I said, and can tell me what those points were. Therefore I'm not immediately sympathetic to people unless I know they've done the reading, in any meaningful sense of reading. After all, to this day I encounter people who tell me they angrily went to the original posts to see for themselves what awful thing I said, and came away surprised at the coherent things I actually said.
I want to work a bit with your phrasing about the White Wolf system. "Not about creating stories as such" seems to be to be supported by the phrase "a largely pre-determined narrative," but you phrased it as if the latter was contrary to the former. It is evident to me that a system which provides a pre-determined narrative cannot serve toward creating stories, any more than a detailed musical score can be performed to create a new song. They simply aren't the same things. If by the term Storyteller, one is to understand that the GM will deliver a fine story to my waiting ears, then well and good, but to be told in the same breath that I, too, will be making Real Story via play – that falls apart instantly.
not trying to dodge anything about this topic. But a lot of the
questions I get seem like they're coming out of nowhere.
Two questions arise - mainly not RPG-related it must be said. Firstly, a clarification that what you are describing here is a close relationship between the meaning and the understanding of words and they way that is associated with neurological states, and secondly - and quite tangentally - what sort of influence your non-gaming profession in the biological sciences has had on your ideas about game design and its implementation.
With apologies, this is a good example of what I mean. I don't see a question in that paragraph. I can't even construct or infer a question from the first part, "a clarification that what you are describing here is a close relationship between the meaning and the understanding of words and they [the] way that is associated with neurological states." (There's an old Doonesbury cartoon where the confused journalists call out, "A verb, Senator, we need a verb!")
I think people's negative reactions were based on not understanding
how a mismatch between symbolic expressions and the meaning is
described as "brain damage" to some biological
Personally I understand the argument, although coming from a more symbolic and linguistic approach it's not how I would describe it.
I see. OK, the first thing is that I can't see myself enter into special pleading about "what I really meant," or "in biology, we mean," as that never works. I think I rephrased it enough to make sense to Clyde Rhoer – who was definitely not sympathetic to the original posts at the outset – in his Theory from the Closet interview: http://theoryfromthecloset.com/2007/05/14/show008-interview-with-ron-edwards/. I'm happy to address any questions people have after checking it out.
I guess I'm big on letting readers come to their own conclusions. The link to the original post can be found in a useful summary by a third party a while ago, here (read the second post first, as you'll see from the author): http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=33122.0.
For the biology question, how tangential is it?
OK! The most obvious I-am-a-biologist content in my games shows up in Sex & Sorcery, in which I use some evolutionary type stuff in grounding my talk about gender and sexuality. But I should stress that I'm a real evolutionary biologist, not one of these celebrity-author yahoos who appropriated the term despite having neither training nor any research record. Pretty much anything touted as "the biology of behavior," particularly for humans, is grossly removed from what we actually do in that field. So you won't find any essentialist men-are-this, women-are-that talk from me in that book.
I blogged for a while about this and lots of related things, not too long ago, so if anyone wants to see where I'm coming from about evolutionary stuff, especially thought, behavior, sex, humanity, selfhood, et cetera, check out Man Nor Beast, http://hyenaswine.wordpress.com. It's good! (I plan to take it up again later in 2017, too.)
You can also see the evidence of the course I taught for years and years, Rat's Eye View, all about rats in every possible way, in my game It Was a Mutual Decision. Well, sort of in a reversed way, because as I mention in that text, everything "rat" in the game actually refers to stuff people do, not rats.
Another course I taught, although not as much, was called Birth and Death in Chicago, and I drew from some of the content in it when coming up with lots of details in my game Circle of Hands. Especially the issues of handling the dead, why people do it, and what the diversity in doing so may or may not mean, which is also discussed in detail at the biology blog. Now that I think of it, too, I really like the way that game brings local geography and ecology into each session; it's probably the only setting I've done for which I've said to any extent, "Now what kinds of critters are where, and why."
There's always "Do dragons have penises?" too, which was born right here at RPG.net; you can read the, uh, lengthened version at http://adept-press.com/ideas-and-discourse/other-essays/do-dragons-have-penises-answered/.
of the very significant contributions that you made to the hobby was
the co-establishment, maintenance, and participation in The Forge,
which helped a number of independent games designers in the
development of their
ideas about game design and publishing. Do you think the industry, at this stage, is particularly well suited for variant game and independent game systems? What do you think is the future of the hobby in terms of technological shifts?
Let me include some acknowledgments. The original site, Hephaestus' Forge, was founded by me and Ed Healy in 1999. The successor site and forum, The Forge, appeared in 2001, founded by me and Clinton R. Nixon. A while later, 2007 or so I guess, I'm not certain, Vincent Baker took over Clinton's administrative role.
Now to your question. I do not concern myself with the industry because I don't think there is one, for table-top role-playing. I have written carefully about the term, which to be real, needs to have an economic basis that can support a substantial group of middlemen and service providers. Table-top role-playing publishing doesn't do that and never has. What we have instead is an active creative hobby, at most a cottage industry, in which the creators are a grassroots subset of the consumers, that is, we are purchasers and practitioners among everyone else. A better way to look at it is that everyone in the hobby is a creator when and if they bother to write things down, creations are published insofar as they're made available in any form (for purchase or not), and anyone buys anything when they feel like it. There is no system, no industry based on production and sales. If you want to point to the stores, table-top role-playing has always tagged along with other types of games, with comics, with pop culture gear, and (badly) with licenses, and the typical fate of the game store is either to survive on these other products or to fold. Also, venture capital poured into role-playing publishing as such has generally failed.
Unlike some, perhaps, I think of this as a good thing. The question for me isn't "suited to the industry" but rather, "suited to a given creative role-player." There isn't anything big or external for variant game and independent game systems to be suited to, nor, conversely, is there anything for the reverse, like a one-and-only-ever nonvariant game system, to be suited to either. Therefore, as long as real play and real creative fun is being had, among us actual practitioners of the hobby, then we're going to see variant game and independent game systems appearing all over the place, and this is me with my fist upraised going "Yes!" Any industry or attempt to make one or benefit one can flail along behind us all it wants.
Here's a hopeful note. In 2002 and 2003, I attended the GAMA Trade Show in Las Vegas and campaigned store-owners hard for two things: (i) to showcase small-press games as their own shared brand, the "indie shelf" if you will; and (ii) to emphasize the store as a play-space with a positive social environment. Luke Crane followed up the next year with a similar effort, and after that more and more people did so. These efforts had an impact, especially in contrast to the collapse of the three-tier system for hobby game sales just a couple years later, as I'd predicted. So there are some great stores today which could be said are the beginning of an industry worthy of the name. (Locally: the Dice Dojo in Chicago – hi guys!)
For your final question, I just received it almost verbatim as a panelist at a conference in Milan, Italy, and I will give you the answer that I provided there. The visible array of high-end products, across digital, electronic, table-top, and other games, is the flotsam and jetsam of the hobby. It's not "gaming." It's the little bitty squeezed-out point of profiting at the moment, a tiny minority of what's really happening. Focusing on my area of interest, table-top role-playing, the real and actual hobby is alive and vibrant, as long as there are people scribbling on sheets, rolling dice (or whatever instrument is in a given game), writing down their hacks and innovations whenever they feel like it, making those available somehow, and staying in communication somehow. This was the case when "high end" role-playing products simply meant staples that weren't already rusted when you bought it, when it meant a nice box for the stapled pamphlets to sit in, when it meant a line or wad of supplements marching down the shelf, when it meant umpty-ump zillions of dollars raised in crowdfunding … whatever you want to point to as "the big ones." It'll be the case in the future too, whatever the new medium may be or whatever equipment or venue is involved.
The one historical point when infrastructural change really happened came in the very late 1990s when the internet restored something that had become lost or invisible. Going back two decades from then, almost all role-playing publishing was grassroots, and almost all independent (creator-owned). Contrary to hobby mythology, the diversity and innovation in role-playing design at that time was very wide and exciting, not least because people found they could jump right into it too. The next twenty to twenty-five years obliterated this activity from view, mainly due to historical artifacts like the three-tier distribution system and related matters. Briefly, efforts to get good games into view and into sustainable publication were doomed; they constantly appeared and immediately disappeared. I should point out that the so-called successes, or dominant, or most visible, or most "respected" games were not themselves sustainable – the financial fate of TSR from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s is well-known; FASA ran itself into the ground; the only two successful newcomers relied on independent personal wealth to leverage production value and shelf space, and one of them nearly went bankrupt as the other hit it big with a non-RPG product.
internet made the ordinary role-player's play-and-design, grassroots
activity visible again, that is, our own activity was finally made
apparent to ourselves. My contribution was to identify this as the
resurgence of the hobby, which had been stifled by the distribution
system and gatekeeping, in solidarity with and memory of the years I
had experienced as a teenager.
Around 2010 The Forge was closed down, and - thankfully - kept in archive mode. The reasons given at the time was the presence of some "difficult participants", the fact that it was meant to be a temporary project in the first place, and that most of the work in RPG theory development had been succesfully carried out with new games from the people who engged in the forum. What do you see as the successor sites to The Forge? Where are the best and active sites for debating RPG design and independent publication issues?
I have to correct your characterization of the reasons for closing the Forge.
I didn't tag "difficult participants" as a reason. I did, and do, dislike the escalation in pretense and posturing that occurred around 2005, but by 2007 or so, those responsible had largely fled. In this thread from 2007, http://www.indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?topic=25257.0, discussing the eventual closure, I described my dissatisfaction with specific kinds of posting at the Forge then and a little bit after, and how Clinton and I solved it.
By about 2009, and through the Forge's end, I was generally happy with the good will people brought to the discussions there, especially by and with newcomers. Around 2010, when I ran the second round of the Ronnies contests, the community was exactly as I enjoyed it most: an ongoing wave of newcomers with a nice presence of constructive people who'd been there longer, but themselves also steadily exiting as a wave to do their own things as publishers.
To recap a little, I first announced the eventual undated closure in 2005, and announced the actual closure, or what I called the winter of the Forge, in late 2010. It went a wee bit longer than expected, into mid-2012. Here's a 2010 post that provides some background: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=30641.0. I recommend the Walking Eye podcast interview linked there.
More significantly, it was never the purpose of the Forge to establish a fixed body of design ideas or philosophy of play, or whatever you mean by "work in RPG theory development." Not only did I not cite that as a reason for closing the site, but the very idea that developing thoughts and other idea-work ("theory" I suppose, if you must) could be finished at all, ever, is weird to me, horrifying even.
The accomplishment, which I stated several times, was to re-establish creator ownership, or as it later came to be called, DIY, as a viable, respected context for publishing role-playing games and associated material. In 1999, any such thing was aggressively dismissed and even suppressed in terms of visibility and sales, by nearly all participants in RPG publishing, to an extent I think you'd find unbelievable. By 2009, it was widely recognized as the beating heart of the hobby. Like it or not, like me or not, like the Forge or not, that's what the site accomplished, and that's what I cited as the reason for closing it.
A lot of things happened along the way to empower DIY, creator ownership, independence (all the same thing) for role-playing publishing. Paypal, for instance, and the appearance of multiple play-oriented local conventions, pioneered by Forge participants modeled on the booth we did for 11 years at GenCon. In 1999, all but a very few people needed a Forge for the resources, the networking, and the necessary information to see their game become a reality; in 2009, those things are available far and wide.