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Author Topic: Burning Wheel with the Parents  (Read 6950 times)
Luke
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« on: November 29, 2004, 10:31:25 AM »

I spent last week with my girlfriend and her parents. They live in upstate New York at the end of a short dirt road, on top of a windy hill, surrounded by trees, bordering a pond and a horse pasture. Middle no-wheres-ville for Mr Urbanite Me.

Erin's mom specifically mentioned that she wanted to try BW while I was up there. She wanted to "better understand" what it was that I did by experiencing the game.

One sleepy, quiet night she decided she wanted to try it. Erin and her dad also opted to try it out. I brought my standard demo kit -- characters, script sheets, dice and grease pencils.

My standard demo pitch: basic die rolling mechanics, a quick look at the character, a quick explanation of the scripting mechanic and then right to fighting!

As soon as I started on my standard demo pitch, I realized that I'd already lost the 'rents. They had absolutely no frame of reference for what was going on. The basic die rolling mechanics meant absolutely nothing to them. Why roll dice? What for? When?

Whoa. So I had to start with a very basic discussion of the overarching mechanics of roleplay -- shared imagined space, character/role, resolution mechanic for uncertain outcomes.

Once I backed up and explained from the bigger picture, they got it. But then as I was about to do the "Let's Fight!" spiel, I realized that they didn't even know what a basic situation was let alone one that would drive one to kill!

So I was forced to take another step back and give them the room to step into the shared space and navigate to an outcome they chose.

A simple scene: Gimli and Legolas are travelling down a lonely forest road in the winter. They are confronted by a massive black wolf. (Erin's mom wanted to play "the elf with the bow" and I gave erin the Black Wolf to play. Dad took the Dwarf cause that's what was left. Erin's familiar with the game/rpg conventions only through contact with me.)

"Ok, what do you do?"

It was meant to be the set up to physical confrontation. Erin's mom loaded her bow and meant to fire. She narrated her actions in a cautious, deliberate tone. Interestingly, Erin's dad stopped her and attempted to parley with the wolf. He said he had no quarrel with the beast.

"Do I just tell you what I do or do I act it out?" was Erin's dad's first question.

"Either way" I told him, but I also informed him that my play style is slanted toward acting it out. He was comfortable with that and roleplayed a nice query to the wolf.

I had him test, of course. He did well, but not well enough. Erin decided to pounce. Erin's mom had the opportunity to fire her bow into the wolf's flank.

She winced and cringed, looking at me saying, "this is my daughter and my dog!". Her big black sheep dog, Watson, was lying at our feet. As it turned out, her shot stuck into the Wolf's armor. Erin's mom was visibly relieved! Taking even imagined aggressive action toward her loved ones pained her.

After that, we broke down (slowly) into one exchange of a script.

Once that was over, erin's mom asked if they characters could "communicate and coordinate." I was confused and thought she meant in the script, and answered question accordingly. What she was really asking was if the entire game happened on the scripting sheet and if so, how did the characters communicate.

"No it doesn't. Let's take the sheets off the table."

"Well then, let's say we knew the wolf was there before hand. Could Peter (Erin's dad) and I have made some plans to deal with it?"

The idea that the imagined space was bigger than the scene at hand, and even bigger than the mechanics of the game, wasn't obvious to her.

We talked about that a bit before we wrapped up.


What was most interesting to me about the evening was trying to frame BW in way that was meaningful to non-roleplayers and non-fans of the genre. It was almost impossible. Burning Wheel innovates within it's genre of historical fantasy fiction and fantasy roleplaying games. To those unfamiliar with even the basic tenets of roleplaying, those innovations are meaningless.

I think this is relevant because both Erin's mom and dad were interested in trying out roleplaying. But the experience of playing Burning Wheel was so complex and rarified that the experience of actual play was essentially meaningless to them. It was the phenomena of roleplaying (that we all take for granted) that had the most impact.

really neat stuff!
-Luke
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rafial
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« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2004, 11:57:12 AM »

I find a lot of folks who haven't encountered RPGs before are put off by the standard "here's how you kill something" demo that goes over so well with gamers.  We gamers are a bloodthirsty lot.

I wonder if a "duel of wits" demo might not be more appropriate for such circumstances?

And yeah -- shared imagined space is a way bigger "woah" concept than any dice mechanic.  It's hard to remember now, but when you first picked up the dice, wasn't the biggest charge "hey, I can try anything..." -- and not how you rolled the dice?
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Luke
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« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2004, 02:44:19 PM »

Hi Wilhelm,

You're right, we are a bloodthirsty lot. Put give two gamers characters with swords and put them nose to nose and suddenly we have situation.

Not so for the 'rents. Duel of Wits might have been more appropriate, but only because it requires more situation than the killin' demo. You've got to measure out what everyone's stake is in the Duel of Wits -- you've got to evince ideas. Hence situation.

The shared space thing was interesting, but it's an easily graspable concept. I think the bizarre concept is that which recognizes that the shared space is manipuable -- there's an underlying and neutral logic to that shared space that we can all operate on.

That seemed to me the most key concept imparted. (Not the vageries of a Block or Counterstrike...)

-L
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2004, 03:23:45 PM »

Hello,

I just have to see it written twice:

Quote
I think the bizarre concept is that which recognizes that the shared space is manipuable -- there's an underlying and neutral logic to that shared space that we can all operate on.


Brilliant and central.

Best,
Ron
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jdagna
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« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2004, 05:38:25 PM »

I don't think non-gamers have a problem with the standard combat demo so much as they have a problem with the lack of context.  For example, if I say "You meet a wolf on a forest path" to a gamer, we instantly see a Tolkienesque setting with a vicious evil wolf, we fill in how we got there, and we automatically identify the challenge and know what we're expected to do.  

A non-gamer needs all of that spelled out for them - how did they get there?  where are they exactly?  why are they there?  what do they know about this wolf?  what do people in the PC's world normally do when they see a wolf?

For my standard demo, I start off with this intro:

"Your job is a security for the local branch of the galactic bank, so it's your job to keep an eye on things.  You're over here on the map, talking with some of the loan officers because its just dead slow today.  There are only a couple of people at the teller line, but it's warm outside so you figure everyone's home taking a nap.  As you're chatting, you see three young guys enter the bank, wearing trench coats."  (If they don't catch it first, I point out that trench coats make no sense in hot weather... but it's interesting that non-gamers catch the oddity more than gamers, who seem to actually wear trench coats in all weather).

This intro seems to provide enough context that we can then focus on how they do things (all the mechanical bits).  By the way, I don't talk mechanical bits until this point in the demo, especially for non-gamers.  As I continue I just say "What do you think this character would do in this situation?" and then we talk about how the dice mechanics and actions work based on what they come up with.
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Justin Dagna
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Valamir
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« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2004, 07:03:52 PM »

So, armed with the benefit of hindsight and reflection, what game(s) do you think might have been a smoother introduction to the hobby?
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Kaare Berg
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« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2004, 12:33:24 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
what game(s) do you think might have been a smoother introduction to the hobby


IMO any rules light system would work best. Zak's Shadows springs to mind.

On a personal note, my SO thinks that the game SOAP would be perfect for her and her friends if they where ever to try roleplaying games. I guess this plays into the shared imaginary space issue, where creating a shared imaginary space that is easier for the SO/'rents to grasp.
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-K
Luke
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« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2004, 07:06:18 AM »

Quote from: Valamir
So, armed with the benefit of hindsight and reflection, what game(s) do you think might have been a smoother introduction to the hobby?


You know, I honestly don't know. I'm tempted to list off a few of the recent hot games from the Forge: Uni, the Pool, MLwM, Dogs, but they all have their intricacies and whatnot and I'm not sure which would foster the kind of interest in the medium they evinced.

And I'm a terrible judge -- I play BW constantly, to the exclusion of nearly all else. (Which is why the experience was so relevatory for me.)

And Kaare, I'm not certain that rules light or heavy is the distinction that I'm looking for here. Not to get too strange, but I really think it is something deeper.

-L
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timfire
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« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2004, 07:35:11 AM »

Quote from: jdagna
I don't think non-gamers have a problem with the standard combat demo so much as they have a problem with the lack of context... A non-gamer needs all of that spelled out for them - how did they get there?  where are they exactly?  why are they there?  what do they know about this wolf?  what do people in the PC's world normally do when they see a wolf?

Personally, I think Justin is onto something here. I think the trick for introducing role-playing is creating strong situation and context.
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2004, 07:51:44 AM »

I like to think the answer is a game that absolutely compels one, effortlessly, into a situation. My Life With Master does the best job of this. I haven't finished reading Dogs in the Vineyard, but I understand it might do this prettywell. MLwM does a superb job of setting up a situation, as do many other games. Other games leave that to the GM and/or group.

A more clunky attempt might be The Riddle of Steel, whose Spiritual Attributes scream out at anyone "Go DO THIS right now! Save your lover or else!" (etc.) TROS may be too complicated? Dunno.

I think the key is situation, situation, situation.

People understand that, and they'll act accordingly.

Now, the wolf demo is a situation, but not an emotionally tense one. There's a wolf. Wolves are sorta threatening. And ... ?

The situation could be ... "beat up this wolf and I'll give you M&Ms!" Or, it could be "this wolf is actually your brother under the full moon ... and he's about to kill your best friend."
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Matt Snyder
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2004, 08:04:34 AM »

I'm a little biased on this one, but I think the Mountain Witch is going to become a "go-to" game for introducing newbies. It's got a few things going for it:

a) It is rules-light. This does matter: don't want to bore the pants off new people.

b) The situation is pretty transparent and easy to get into. Yeah, you're samurai, which is a pretty geeky thing, but you're really crime movie protagonists, which anyone can get into.

c) It makes old role-players happy by breaking the habits that they had to unlearn up-front. Player characters are at odds, and yet they do learn to work together - after given a reason to. There's no "party," no "what happens if PCs fight?" It's straight up drama.
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Blankshield
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« Reply #11 on: November 30, 2004, 08:31:04 AM »

Aside from it's focus on a taboo subject (death), Death's Door will work.  It is really written with a target audience of 'casual' gamers and nongamers.  It not only drops you right into situation (you know you are going to die soon, you have these three things you want to do before you die) but it then walks you through trying to do those three things.  It also has a definate start (you learn you are going to die) and ending (you die), and time frame (3 short evenings).

This last I think is an important thing in a bridge, as well.  Either the game or the scenario you are using must have a well-defined start and stop.  One of the things I have noticed non-gamers having a difficult time wrapping their head around is the 'no ending' and 'no winning' aspect of most RPG's.

It's also rules-light.

James
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John Harper
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« Reply #12 on: November 30, 2004, 12:32:35 PM »

I have a fair amount of experience introducing people to the hobby of roleplaying, particularly in the last 3 years or so. The people have been a very diverse bunch, from engineers to psychologists to poets.

There is no one game that I would recommend as the default for first-time gamers. The key for me has been finding a game that presents a situation the players are interested in. The first group of first-timers were all huge Buffy fans, for example. So I ran a Buffy game for them, using the characters from the show. They immediately knew "what to do" in terms of the SIS and the motivations and attitudes of their characters. The person playing Faith instantly started making snide remarks in character because, "that's what Faith would do."

The mechanics are important, too, but those can be easily managed by the GM without overwhelming the players. I don't think it's necessary to teach a game system as part of a first-time game. It's better to simply introduce the core concept of roleplaying and the SIS. If you have a situation that is familiar (and safe) for the players, then it's much easier for them to engage.

I guess I do have a game to recommend after all: Universalis. This is the game that I used to introduce about a dozen people to roleplaying over the course of several months, 10 of whom became regular gamers as a result. The big advantage of Uni, in my opinion, is that is lets the players create the situation of the game before play begins. By design, the situation of the game is something that the players are interested in. And the "one coin, one fact" mechanic is very easy to understand (I always left the conflict rules and other complex stuff for later).

So my advice is to find out what kinds of movies, books, TV shows, etc. the players care about and then tailor the situation of the first game to that. Game systems like Universalis, The Pool, and Primetime Adventures help support this kind of approach.
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BirdMan
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« Reply #13 on: November 30, 2004, 01:29:43 PM »

Luke;

Have been giving this some thought, and have an idea.

In my mind, roleplaying has always been "playing pretend" with more extensive rules.  I wonder if, when bringing non-gamers into a game, you think about how to translate the game -- ie, the mechanics, into the "pretend" motif.  

Because everybody remembers playing pretend as a kid.  Roleplaying just codifies what you did as a 6  year old.

Anyway, I'm going to be running a game for a buddy of mine in the service sometime this spring, and, I'll be inviting his 12-year-old (a veteran of computer rpgs) into the fray as a good father/son bonding thing.  Hence, your post struck a chord with me.
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Luke
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« Reply #14 on: November 30, 2004, 04:02:31 PM »

Hi Birdman,

I've heard the "pretend" comparison before and i don't buy it. There's something else at work, some other phenomena. Most folks "play pretend" when they are younger; most folks do not have any desire to play roleplaying games. I had a friend who I shared quite an imaginary world with when I was a kid, as far as I know he never got involved in games (beyond his acquaintance with me).

Playing pretend is not playing a game. Roleplaying is very much playing a game. It's manipulating the infrastructure just below the surface in order to take near complete control over the shared, imagined space -- and doing so outside of the personal space, roleplaying games take place in the middle of a group of people, not just in one person's head.

For your upcoming father/son game, I'll bet the son has little to no trouble investing himself in the game. Why? Because he's already experienced the phenomena of the game in the crpgs. He knows what it's like to manipulate mechanics in order to bring his imagination into shape and focus in front of him. Of course, the traditional RPG will give him much more control over that experience than the computer-based one.

John, your comments about Buffy, Uni and Primetime got me thinking. In the Buffy instance, it's not the game that hooked them, as you said, it was their ability to plug into situation with which they were already familiar. Buffy fans often do this in other venues: with fan fiction, or cosplay. Neither of these is unique to Buffy fandom, obviously, and neither of them are roleplaying in the way that we understand it. But all three share the same common ground and allow various people to see a SIS through a character's eyes.

Grr. There's something else here that I'm grasping at and I'm just not able to vocalize.

As for the game suggestions, I've introduced dozens of people to the hobby via Burning Wheel. Any game can be used as an introduction. But the process I went through, sheering away all but the most necessary aspects of situation and resolution, was enlightening.

Maybe that's it. Games that deal with stuff beyond situation and resolution aren't best suited to introducing the art. But a highly focused piece, that presented situation in which the prospective gamer was interested, that's the trick.

That's the "deck of cards", isn't it Ron?

-L
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