It's getting to the end of the year; time to reflect on some things.
Like most years, there have been hundreds of games released. Most have simply trodden the same old formulas, but some have introduced dynamic concepts to the realms of gaming. I don't claim to know all games, but I like to keep informed of general trends in gaming, and I try to keep a general watch over the Kickstarters (and other crowdfunded projects) coming through, and the "Stuff to Watch" threads on Story-Games often provide some useful fodder.
I don't see much in the OSR world, and there is probably some great stuff happening in that part of the gaming, world but almost everything I'm seeing there is retroclones, heartbreakers, anachronisms and nostalgia...not much for really grab my interest.
The mainstream stuff that's reached my radar has consisted of Pathfinder doing it's thing (which I've just generally lost interest in because it's more of the same-old-same-old), 5th Edition D&D or D&DNext or whatever they're calling it this month simply going around circling the drain, a few existing games that are considered hot once again because they've been attached to a licensed property (like Leverage), and then there are the reimaginings of settings with existing mechanisms (eg. "Deadlands Noir"), etc.
I'm excited about the impending Malifaux RPG...but that's a 2013 product, so I won't say more at this time.
I've generally been disgusted that one of the major gaming awards has had it's "Free" category generally filled with advertisements and half complete "quickstart packs" for paid games. Which is truly annoying because it's often in these fee games where risks are taken, these products don't have bottom lines to conform to, or shareholders to whom they are accountable. They aren't corporate commodities.
Instead of seeing innovation in RPGs, I'm seeing great development among boardgames and card games such as Netrunner, Dixit and Descent.
I'd say one of the biggest games this year in indie circles has been "Monsterhearts", a fun game, but even this could be simply construed as a hack (or a refinement) of Apocalypse world...which has been an indie darling for a while now. Monsterhearts integrates the idea of character relationships more carefully into the mechanisms of the game than most other RPGs 've encountered and it does this in a reasonably clever way. I think it's a lot more worthy of the respect its been getting than a lot of other gaming products this year, which isn't to say that it's a brilliant game, it's more to say that a lot of utter crap has been getting huge kudos lately.
One of the less known indie games that I've mentioned a few times is "Michtim", which vaguely inspired my recent work "Tooth and Claw". This is a game that I want to investigate more, it links the characters current emotional state to their chances of performing actions. That's something I've seen a few games fail at miserably, but Michtim seems to pull it off in an elegant manner.
I'm loving the idea of hearing about RPG innovations happening in the non-English speaking world. But the more I hear about these parts of the world, the rarer the innovation seems to get. I hear that Polish games are often half-concocted add-ons for existing products (so they're basically a twisted mirror of the Story-Games community except that they hack twenty year old products rather than churn out new iterations of the current indie hotness).
When it comes to RPGs, one of the biggest growth areas I've been seeing has come from a non-RPG source; that's the concept of "Google Hangouts". I haven't participated in this style of game yet, but every week there seem to be a dozen or more sessions simply talking about game stuff, and two or three times this many games being played. Tools are being developed to more easily facilitate this style of play. It's actually exciting to see this sort of thing developing after watching dozens of false starts in public video-conferencing over the past decade.
I'd like to say that the Pocketmod Gaming scene is an exciting growth area, but we'll see how that one develops.
If you've seen any great innovations or idea that I've missed in pen-and-paper RPGs this year, let me know.