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Author Topic: I want training wheels!  (Read 6118 times)
komradebob
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Posts: 462


« on: November 21, 2005, 09:14:00 PM »

I have a horrible confession to make:

I realized tonight that I need training wheels. I realized it when I finished reading PTA, a game whose anticipated arrival in my mailbox made me feel like the kid in "A Christmas Story" waiting on his decoder ring.

I got done reading PTA, and realized I have absolutely no idea how to approach this game. I followed along with the examples, understand the mechanics and get the overall drift of how the thing works. But something just isn't clicking for me.

Now this post isn't specifically about PTA. Although it is probably hard to believe, I had a similar problem with Universalis, a game I love in an unholy way now that I've played it a couple of times.

Here's the thing- Many moons ago when I learned to play D&D as a child, someone taught me how to play. With PTA and Uni, I'm sort of on my own and I'll likely be teaching the game to others who haven't played either ( or any rpg to any great length of time).

I wish there was something that really lead be me by the hand for the first outing with PTA.

I realize, that in a sense this flies directly in the face of investment, group ownership of a story, and game-as-event that games like Uni and PTA are designed to promote. I just feel like I need one to grok this design.

What I'd like to discuss in this thread is more general. I'd like to discuss the design of introductory adventures and their part in teaching a perhaps isolated group of new players how to play a game.

I'll state upfront that I've been thinking that intro adventures should be near the front of any rpg and that the intro adventure should lead learners as much by the nose as necessary, even in a game that really gives players a whole boatload of freedom when played in its full form. Right now that's strictly hypothetical.

I'd like to get some general ideas on what othe designers feel would be necessary for such an intro, how it should be presented, and what it should include, as well as any other factors that you all can come up with individually that you feel are important.

Strictly for the sake of argument, assume that you will indeed put this introduction fairly close to the front of the rulebook, making it the first main thing the reader encounters after whatever general introduction you deem necessary.

(Also, I'd like to stay away from specifically discussing the two games I mentioned, as they have their own forums).

Thanks for the imput in advance.
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2005, 09:25:15 PM »

So Bob, in addition to input from other posters, I'd be interested in seeing how you would approach this issue for a game of your design or one that you grok and are willing to discuss.
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komradebob
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Posts: 462


« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2005, 09:48:48 PM »

So Bob, in addition to input from other posters, I'd be interested in seeing how you would approach this issue for a game of your design or one that you grok and are willing to discuss.

Heh, fair enough. Backstory: I'm working off and on on a design right now and I'm having a bear of a time with exactly this issue, among other things.

First off, I'd cheat. Even in a very open system, I'd severely narrow down player options. I'd also try to start with a situation that was fairly closed. I'd skip rules as necessary, and introduce them in a later chapter.

Example:
If I was trying to build a starter scenario for Universalis, I might skip the bulk of the tenet phase and simply give the tenets to start off with. Alternately, I might give several tenets, then require each player of the intro game to introduce one and only one tenet in addition to those given, without reference to how a tenet could be challenged in the full game. I would probably sidebar some page references and maybe have some offset explanatory text.

For the first scene, I'd have everyone take a certain number of coins, probably less than normal. I'd outright tell the players to do certain things, for example:
1) I would designate a starting player and walk them through paying for starting a scene. I'd specify to the extent that they would use the scene setting elements that I gave them, and make them pay the coins that would be required.
2) I would then step-by-step bring in characters, show how to pay for them, and walk them through a complication including die rolling.
3) I'd then talk about ending a scene and tell them how to end the current one.

Following that up, I'd probably repeat the process above one or two more times, allowing more freedom in each succeeding scene, probably in the form of asking more open-ended qusetions. I'd still keep it fairly chopped down and contained. I'd continue with the page references and side bars, and include some commentary on what a player might try to do with a given a spread of results.

(Damn, I went and violated my own suggestion about not talking specifically about Uni!)

Anyway, that would be my basic formula. I would then approach the body of the rules as being the way for players to make their own games.
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
komradebob
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Posts: 462


« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2005, 09:52:29 PM »

And before anyone says it, I do recognize that that would be a whole lot of work.
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Warren
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« Reply #4 on: November 22, 2005, 02:25:12 AM »

Have you got Dogs in the Vineyard? That has the great introductory paragraph (The one with the shopkeeper,  his 'wife' and your nephew) that sets up one conflict with a lot of interesting choices. Then, during the rest of the resolution chapter, that conflict is used as the 'worked example'). I've found that that one scene gives you a lot of the understanding you might need (I even got some dice out and rolled 'em myself to get a feel.)

I'm not sure a whole introductory adventure is needed, just a short hook along those lines that you can follow. Obviously, writing one of those is hard, but I know as a player I tend to skip 'introductory adventures' as they a usually awful. I'd rather have one 'typical scene & conflict' that's done brilliantly than a mediocre adventure I'll just skim over.

Hope that helps.
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #5 on: November 22, 2005, 04:08:21 AM »

Heya,

I'm sure if you have specific questions or specific tips you want, Matt will be happy to help.  Posting them in the PTA forum here on the Forge will probably help him find your questions more quickly, though: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?board=47.0

Peace,

-Troy
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: November 22, 2005, 06:33:08 AM »

PTA is really a killer for this one, because player investment is so much the engine that drives the system.  If you hand somebody an Issue then it's really luck of the draw whether they glom onto it and make it sing.  If they create that Issue though, you've got much better odds.

Here's a suggestion though:  don't draft your players to "play PTA."  Draft them to play a particular show (like "Moose in the City: the Next Generation", or "Ghostline, the office comedy about psychics trying to help the living and the dead on the 9-to-5").  Pitch a show to them, rather than co-creating it.  This is (as you pointed out about scripted examples in free-form systems) totally undermining one facet of PTAs power, and I'll probably roast in some RPG-hell for that.  But it also means that players can decide up front whether they want to get invested in the show generally, and if they don't they don't have to play the game.  If they're invested in the show generally then it's pretty easy to let them divvy up pre-generated characters with some expectation that they'll enjoy what they get (at least for a one-shot session).

Dogs in the Vineyard is excellent at this.  How do you know that a town full of sin will be attractive to the players, even before the players show up at the table?  Because they wouldn't be showing up at the table if it weren't.

Does that help at all?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: November 22, 2005, 08:13:35 AM »

Hello,

Helpful links:

[PtA] Heritage - fun but oddly dissatisfying play
[PtA] Badge or another tale of woe and frustration (long)
[PTA] Problems pointing conflicts at issues (long)
(and I suspect relevant) [The Pool] Stagefright and questions

Best,
Ron
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joepub
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 569

Joe Thomas McDonald


« Reply #8 on: November 22, 2005, 09:03:04 AM »

I know nothing about PTA...

but I find that a lot of people (some of which I play with...) have a hard time looking at what actually gameplay might look like...


There's a passage in teh d&d dungeon master's guide... which gives a sample of dialogue and play...

And even though it's not supposed to be read by players... I show that passage to every new player that enters the game... It just gives them such a better idea of what they're there for.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #9 on: November 22, 2005, 09:50:23 AM »

What Tony said.

That is, we didn't include a "sample adventure" of tenets precisely because we felt that the game doesn't work if handed tenets.

Further...I have this fear that such a thing would create a "typical" Universalis story. That is, if we did a sci-fi story with aliens, I suspect that we'd tend to see lots of these. Consider the effect the first dungeons had on fantasy play adventure styles. I mean, let's say that instead of Dungeons & Dragons, that Ars Magica had been the first fantasy RPG. If that were the case, I'll bet that dungeon crawls would seem extremely odd today.

That is, not only do these sample adventures inform how to play, they inform, co-incidentally, what to play. People become enamored of their first play experiences with "Keep on the Borderland" or whatever, and will try to repeat that throughout their RPG lives. Not in all cases, but enough to largely bias things.

Play examples, as can be seen from the ones in PTA and Universalis, do not have this effect. So for games like them where you don't want to inform much on content (D&D was quite right to inform on this, at least originally), it's good to stay away from the stock beginning adventure.

That said, I understand your concern, and would like to be able to provide such training wheels for games, too. From an obtuse angle, I could say, "Design your game so that a beginning adventure which gives some idea of content is a good idea." That is stay away from something as generic as PTA, and much worse, Universalis. Then you won't have these problems as much. If that's not possible, have a game where the situation can contain player edifices like characters where the characters can have interesting internal reactions to the situation no matter what they're like (again, can't work for Universalis). If that's not possible, then I'm not sure what to do here (so we just did examples in Universalis).

Other than, perhaps, give some very specific help on how to construct that first adventure. Er, this is all that Universalis can do, and really all it is.

My next game is going to have some slight similarities to Universalis, but will, in fact, require players to start with the "sample adventure" provided. That is, standard play of the game is the same for absolutely everbody who plays in terms of the set up that launches play.

Mike
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #10 on: November 22, 2005, 09:59:48 AM »

Tony's being disingenuous and humble, bob.  If you haven't seen Capes Lite, that is exactly what you're looking for.  Go download it, read up and see how you can introduce a collaborative game by secretly being non-collaboratively pushy to make the other players collaborate.  Excellent training wheels.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: November 22, 2005, 07:12:38 PM »

I've run into this as well. It's chicken and egg.

You read the game system and the choices it presents. But without any idea about what is a good thing to aim for systematically, you don't know what to do with those choices. Thus, none of the choices make much sense.

I have real trouble reading many of the new games because they present alot of choices and I'm like "Well, why should I engage any of these choices, when I have nothing to aim for in making them?"

Take something like D&D and you know HP are important. With that in mind, the other choices presented make a lot of sense.

Take a forge game and even if it all revolves around something like story points that means nothing because your supposed to use them to manipulate the SIS. What matters in the SIS? Fuck knows! It doesn't even exist yet! And without that central value, there is no way to evaluate these other choices the system presents.

Honestly, I read them and get the desire to be railroaded to some sort of conclusion. If I were, I'd take that conclusion and think "Ah hah! Next time I'll use choices X, Y and Z to produce my own conclusion". But perhaps designers don't want to go near that, as they spent so long getting railroading out of the game.
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
Valamir
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« Reply #12 on: November 22, 2005, 07:40:33 PM »

As an alternative to semi scripted introductory adventures I think the most effective examples are those that describe what the players actually say at the table during play.

Consider the following versions of examples after a section of rules text describing how to make a skill check standard RPG style.

1) For example, to pick a lock roll roll 2d6 plus Dex plus lockpicking vs the difficulty of the lock.  If you rush the job roll a third d6 and keep the lowest 2 as usual.

2) GM: "The door is locked"
Player: "I want to try and pick the lock"
GM: "Ok roll 2d6 plus your Dex plus your lockpicking skill"
Player: "What's the difficulty?"
GM: "It seems to be a pretty standard lock, so you'll be shooting for a 10 unless there's some added complication you're not aware of"
Player: "Hmmm, well I could make a Perception check to find out, but I'm in a hurry so I'll just roll for it"
GM: "If you're in a hurry, do you want to rush the job?"
Player: "Then I'd roll 3d6 and keep the lowest 2 right?"
GM: "Yup"
Player: "Naw, I'm not in that much of a hurry"
GM: "Roll, then"

Now, this is a pretty boring example, but the point being that it illustrates the actual communication that's going on around the table between players.  I tried to do this with the Uni examples especially because it was such a radically different dialog pattern than any game I'd played up to that point. I think that was pretty effective (YMMV). Alot of the newer games would benefit from this style of example IMO. I think it would also help make games more accessible to non gamers who really don't know how players are supposed to interact in order to play an RPG.
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ffilz
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« Reply #13 on: November 23, 2005, 12:18:03 AM »

Ralph, I like your idea. It really helps show how the player and the GM negotiate.

Another issue this raises, which is an important one, is how mechanical the game is. In general, I think this is good to show, but of course there is always a risk that a more mechanical system will come off badly (even though you actually hardly notice the mechanics, especially since once people are familiar with the game, the mechanics negotiation banter gets abbreviated).

A key would be to show all the description (color) that gets shared (and hopefully some of the negotiation there).

And I did appreciate all the examples in Univeralis. With them, I feel like I can approach the game with half a clue as to what I'm supposed to do when and why (I still haven't had a chance to try Universalis yet).

I'm realizing I need to do a lot of work on Cold Iron. The rules right now are mostly just a reference for players already familiar with the system, which was fine back in college when half the group was familiar with the rules. Now I realize there are a few things I no longer have a clue how they were supposed to work, and my poor players...

Some play examples would go a long way.

Frank
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Frank Filz
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #14 on: November 23, 2005, 12:16:19 PM »

Well, what Ralph did, as mentioned earlier in the thread, was just what many early editions of D&D did. In fact, the only games that apparenlty don't have this sort of example in them are those which assume that the people who will play the game "already know how to play" and don't need such examples. Good games, have them nonetheless, and innovative games really must. Hero Quest, for instance, has copious such examples.

Still, I think it's not quite what the doctor ordered here. Definitely better than not having this sort of thing. And probably the best that can be done for a game like Universalis, as I explained. But for other games more can be done to help provide a vision of how play proceeds in terms of playing off of prepared information.

Mike
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