Lately, I have been obsessed with the "indie" side of pen and paper game development. Of particular interest to me are the role-playing games that enable a much deeper shared experience among players. Many of these newer games seem to have a more story and character driven approach than many of the "old school" offerings. They create a space where players -- and (if needed) a referee or game master -- can communally tell a story.
More tactically minded games like D&D "can" allow for deep characterization, assuming that the players are all on board for such an experience, but it is not really encouraged. The focus on miniatures and specific rulings for every contingency seem to take the players out of the story environment and into a board game environment, each with a very different feel and set of goals. Many people, including myself on occasion, enjoy this kind of tactical exercise. However, I think that the other side of the coin, the actual role-playing, doesn't get as much credit as it deserves.
Some of these story games are very rules light, which allows the rules to take a back seat to the storytelling process. There are various levels and depths to any system, of course, with some being significantly more involving than others. There are a vast spectrum of games out there. As an example (while not strictly an "indie" game), check out Risus: The Anything RPG by S. John Ross. Go to the 'Freebies' page and scroll down. It's a complete RPG and the pdf is only 6 pages long. It takes all of 20 seconds to create a character and yet the system allows for any genre or character type you could want to play. Another great example, and a system that adds a slight bit more 'crunch' (read: complexity), is called PDQ (prose descriptive qualities) by Chad Underkoffler. The core rules are free and you can get them at the linked site under the 'Freebies' section (I'm abstaining from going into depth about a particular game to keep the size of this post down). Check out both the original and the PDQ# (sharp) rules to see how the game is evolving over time.
It would be remiss of me not to end this post by mentioning my new favorite role-playing tool, the Mythic GM Emulator by Word Mill Publishing. I can wholeheartedly say that if you are a gamer or a writer, then you need to check Mythic out. I have heard it referred to as a more complicated magic 8-ball for gaming, but I call it my probability engine and story generator. Mythic allows players to play "any" RPG without a GM, or for a GM to come to a gaming session with almost zero prep. You can use Mythic to answer yes/no questions with a d100 roll, the probability of any result being moderated by how likely you think a thing is and how out of control the situation is becoming. Random events can happen any time, also based on some simple rolls. Everything you get out of Mythic needs to be integrated into the story through logic, context, and interpretation, but the whole process feels very intuitive and will often times surprise you. I can and should write a whole new post just to cover Mythic, as it is just that amazing. Really, my description doesn't come close to doing it justice, so click over to their site and check it out (while it may not be free, $7 is very much worth the price for this thing).
(I will be sharing many more of these games, and other interesting resources, in a separate blog post.)