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Author Topic: Rapid deployment rpgs  (Read 10348 times)
komradebob
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Posts: 462


« on: September 07, 2004, 08:42:59 PM »

I was reading the WoD thread and the subject came up of new gamer accessibilty in game design.

My question is this:
What sorts of design elements might make a game
a) easily grasped by new gamers?
b) have  a short time between opening the box/book and actually engaging in play?

Thoughts?
K-Bob
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Robert Earley-Clark

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John Kim
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« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2004, 10:23:41 PM »

Quote from: komradebob
I was reading the WoD thread and the subject came up of new gamer accessibilty in game design.

My question is this:
What sorts of design elements might make a game
a) easily grasped by new gamers?
b) have  a short time between opening the box/book and actually engaging in play?

Well, there are some very simple principles.  

1) Define yourself and your terms.  
The more specific you can be, the better.  Not just what is an RPG in general, but what do PCs do in your game and how do they do it.  

2) Include good sample characters / archetypes.  
This one is pretty darn obvious.  Even if they make their own characters, it is helpful to have the samples to go by.  

3) Include a good sample adventure.
This is very difficult but IMO worth it, if you care about newbies.  

4) Include a simple formula for adventures.
For example, Basic Set D&D had a very simple template for how to write an adventure: i.e. draw your map and populate your rooms.  James Bond 007 had some random table plot generators.  etc.  Expecting completely original plots and stories out of newbies is unrealistic and daunting.  

On the other hand, I have some caveats.  There was a trend in the 1980's of various rules-light games which followed many of these principles -- along with highly simplified rules.  But they didn't seem to catch on.  I don't have any inside information as to why, but it casts some doubt on the strategy of purely minimizing and simplifying.  Examples include:
1984: Adventures of Indiana Jones (TSR), Chill (Pacesetter),  Marvel Superheroes (TSR), Paranoia (WEG), Toon (SJG)
1986: Ghostbusters (WEG)
1987: Teenagers from Outer Space (RTG)
1988: Macho Women With Guns (BTRC)
1989: Prince Valiant (Chaosium)
1993: Amazing Engine (TSR)

So I would take a grain of salt with this.  I think it's easy to fall into the trap of just dumbing things down for newbies, which I don't think is successful.
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- John
eyebeams
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« Reply #2 on: September 07, 2004, 10:49:14 PM »

Quote from: komradebob
I was reading the WoD thread and the subject came up of new gamer accessibilty in game design.

My question is this:
What sorts of design elements might make a game
a) easily grasped by new gamers?
b) have  a short time between opening the box/book and actually engaging in play?

Thoughts?
K-Bob


a) Make it like their visualization of events in game. One of the hardest things for new gamers to get is the artificiality of the conventions used to govern things like the order of actions.

This is why, for instance, my current dice pool-based house system has no damage roll (characters hit, but only players roll damage) but elaborate rules for defense (which players vividly see their characters doing).

b) Many games have a lot of useless detail in some spots and not enough in others, as per a). Generally, elminating any element of chargen which would never be descrobed as a character attribute by the player helps a lot. It cuts down on lots of little annoying skills, for instance, without dropping the details folks actually want.
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Malcolm Sheppard
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« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2004, 11:48:36 PM »

IMO, visually and process-oriented structures.  But the drum I have taken to beating in this regard is "bring back the board".  Ideally, a game should teach itself just by the act of looking at it.  I find text pretty poor for conveying ideas like sequence of events or nested decisions.
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #4 on: September 08, 2004, 02:29:42 AM »

Quote from: John Kim
 There was a trend in the 1980's of various rules-light games which followed many of these principles -- along with highly simplified rules.  But they didn't seem to catch on. ...

1984: Adventures of Indiana Jones (TSR), Chill (Pacesetter),  Marvel Superheroes (TSR), Paranoia (WEG), Toon (SJG)
1986: Ghostbusters (WEG)
1987: Teenagers from Outer Space (RTG)
1988: Macho Women With Guns (BTRC)
1989: Prince Valiant (Chaosium)
1993: Amazing Engine (TSR)

So I would take a grain of salt with this.  I think it's easy to fall into the trap of just dumbing things down for newbies, which I don't think is successful.


Paranoia was HUGELY successful - sold more than 200,000 copies.  MWWG is one of BTRC's bestselling titles.  I don't think it's fair to say that either of them "didn't catch on".
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: September 08, 2004, 04:48:46 AM »

Wow, I would have said make it as gamist as hell. Tell them their goal (get 100 gold, for example) and the basic steps of getting there. Give some hint of what might get in their way.

As for rule light...have simple rules, but damn, rules light can really kill off gamist possiblity and instead make it hard core sim.

Anyway, right in the first steps of play instructions have them slapping down a board (as contra said) and cool little tokens and stuff. The visuals this produces are a potent, instant reward. Get away from me if your going to say 'no, my imagination is far more beutiful and your contrivances only get in the way'. Well I'm cattering to newbies so I don't care about ya for the benefit of this exercise.

Okay, so they have this reward sitting in front of them. It's kind of nifty just to look at and you know, if they look further into the rules they will get to do nifty stuff with it! It's a win/drawn further into the game then win again design. Rewards every step of the way.

Warhammer quest was like this. It was/is beutiful. It had three sections, one for very board game like play, one which was a super extended campaign board game play and then finally the roleplay like section, which fluidly attached itself to all that.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Albert of Feh
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Posts: 68


« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2004, 05:47:50 AM »

Aside from the board game direction, you also have those "How to host a mystery" games. Each one was basically an extremely directed (almost Fateplay-like, now that I think about it) one-shot-larp-inna-box. Time delay from box-opening to people-playing was about ten minutes.

Every player had a character, with certain pieces of information that were relevant to the mystery. For each segment of the game, you also had prompts as to lines of questioning to take up with the other players. At the end, of course, everyone tried to figure out whodunnit, before all was finally revealed.

I only played one, and it's been years, but I think it's a worthwhile alternative to the 'board game' approach that's been mentioned so far, if only because it places a higher emphasis on characterization than a game like Warhammer Quest. Of course, it also required more people (6-8, if I recall). A tradeoff, then.
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Matt Wilson
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2004, 06:26:39 AM »

Quote from: John Kim
3) Include a good sample adventure.
This is very difficult but IMO worth it, if you care about newbies.


I'd say take that further and put in an example of play that relates specifically to that sample adventure. Include the dialogue that you would imagine happening at the table, and so on. The 1979-or-so Basic D&D set did that (Silverleaf and Black Dougal? Morgan Ironwolf?), and it went a long way toward helping me "get it." In fact, I think the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide did that as well.
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Valamir
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« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2004, 06:52:57 AM »

IN every mainstream game I've ever read, right back to the ones where the rules were printed on the inside of the box cover, the very first thing articulated from the first is "The Object of the Game".

I think that is what traditional RPGs lack that contributes alot (the most?) to the inaccessibility of the format to the general populace.  There's no clearly articulated point.  People like games.  Board games, card games, games with marbles, all kinds of games.  But people also like to know what they're supposed to do.  

This is often articulated as "How to Win", but I think the actual winning is seconary to the act of engaging in a social activity.

I think the defining key is that there is a list of options for the player to choose from.  There then must be some ultimate goal to inform the player on what options to choose.  The goal doesn't necessarily have to be how to win.  But it generally should be "how to finish".

My Life with Master has this about as bright line as I've seen in an RPG.  The object is to kill the master and free yourself from his tyranny.  Dust Devils has this.  The object is to reach a point where the character either shoots or gives up the gun.  Sorcerer has this, though not as hard a line.  In Sorcerer the "object of play" is to resolve your character's kicker.  

Universalis kind of has an object of play, but its not a strongly articulated one.  The object is to "tell a story" and its "finished" in the same way as you know any story is finished.  Its not spelled out, but at least its something familiar.

Having an object of play allows the player to filter the many options available to them by "which of these moves me closer to achieving the object of play, and which doesn't".  It gives the player something to hang their hat on, so to speak.  Instead of being overwhelmed with a ton of options with no idea what they're supposed to be doing (and RPGs have more options than any board game in history) having a defined object of play allows them to see how those options interact with it.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2004, 09:08:49 AM »

Hello,

We are watching the answers to the topic/inquiry of this thread appear right before our eyes, beginning in earnest about two years ago and still evolving, culturally.

These answers have not existed previously. To discuss "success" in the limited (and often laughable) sphere of role-playing commerce to date is irrelevant. There has never existed a role-playing object (by which I mean a saleable, concrete object) which one may acquire and play for maximum enjoyment, if one is inclined to try it out. TSR tried at one point, or rather a short-lived company using that name did, but I think they were off the beam from the start.

Lots of activities require buy-in and learning time. What is a reasonable expectation for a satisfying role-playing activity, for someone who has not played or has played minimally some time ago? No one knows. Should we accept the current standard of, say, two-three months? Should we strive to shorten it? Should we focus on some other element of design and permit a six-month to a year prep period to be required? Repeat: no one knows.

We are not talking about capturing the existing market-share of "gamers." Nor are we talking about becoming a mainstread fad (Jonathan Tweet on the cover of Newsweek! Everway movie from Miramax! Wahoo!). We are talking about something else - the appearance and sustained presence of a hobby. Cultural evolution.

I suggest that many titles and releases since 1974 provide a lot of insight about how to present material in a way which reinforces this process, but only in fits and starts. In my view, if you're interested, you should play the following games and in addition, think very carefully about how they're written and presented.

1. Prince Valiant, Over the Edge, Paranoia, Amber

2. Soap, InSpectres, The Pool, Elfs (and a few others, e.g. Ghost Light, Puppetland)

3. Universalis, Dust Devils, kill puppies for satan (HERE is the door)

4. My Life with Master; arguably FATE and HeroQuest (this is standing on the OTHER SIDE of the door, looking around in wonder)

5. The Mountain Witch, The Great Ork Gods, Primetime Adventures, Fastlane, Trollbabe (I hope), Dogs in the Vineyard, Pace, and hundreds more in preparation even as we speak. (BOOM - the universe opens wide)

You'll see (evolutionarily speaking) a synapomorphy, as well as a couple of direct-from-ancestor modifications. It's moving fast, fast, fast, right now. Too fast for any of us to see which direction, which approach, which phrasing, or which content actually works.

I'm only partly talking about rules/procedures. I'm talking about presentation audience, and instructions, in addition to rules/procedures. That's why Sorcerer is not included, nor is The Burning Wheel or The Riddle of Steel. These are "rumblings" games - you pick them up as a gamer and upon reading and playing, you feel something rev in your belly - you know that to play them to a fullest means you have to stop being a "gamer," culturally. But they are written toward the gamer, or to a subset of them.

I urge anyone who's interested in the topic of this thread to acquire, read, play, and re-read these games. I've done it, and so have many others ... and we all have a different "look" in our eyes, and in our business/design goals, from those who haven't.

Best,
Ron
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andy
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« Reply #10 on: September 08, 2004, 09:40:29 AM »

When it comes to the "object" of RPGs, I have an extremely contrarian view-- I think that one of the strengths of good role playing games is the fact that the object(s) of the game are subjective and player-defined. In the fantasy context, while the wizard's player may want to aquire magic items, the fighter's player may want to build a keep and become Lord over the land (sorry for the tired cliches). The fact that all players can set their own objects and "win" in different ways is one of the things that sets RPGs apart from board games, even really good board games.

This being said, I'm certainly not dissing My Life With Master or any of the other slew of great fixed-object RPGs. They are a blast to play, but are necessarily finite in a hobby that could be infinite.

Finally, as to komradebob's original query, I think that the a good "pick-up-and-play" RPG must be intuitive to new players, perhaps relying on basic mechanics familiar to everyone (ie. roll the dice, move your mice). If you keep the mechanic basic and intuitive (not my forte), entry-level players can jump right in.

I'll shut up now.

Andy
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2004, 09:48:06 AM »

Hi Andy,

Consider this:

Hearts is finite. Cribbage is finite. Go Fish is finite. Bridge, Poker, and all rules-sets of what to do with a deck of cards are each finite.

A deck of cards is not infinite, but its applications might as well be considered so.

Card playing = hobby

Particular game = particular game

The hobby is infinite (or as near as makes no difference to us), but the games are highly specified and fixed.

Role-playing design and publishing has always been hampered, and badly in my view, by confounding this game with the hobby.

I recommend reading Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. The first chapter does a very nice of job of clearing the air, specifically in terms of distinguishing among the thing, the particular medium of a given instance of the thing, and the thing's content in an even smaller-scale of a unit of enjoyment. (minor paraphrasing warning)

Best,
Ron
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joshua neff
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« Reply #12 on: September 08, 2004, 09:56:16 AM »

Another game to look at is the Buffy the Vampire Slayer boardgame. Like the Buffy RPG, it's aimed at people who are fans of the show. Like many RPGs, each player plays one character (Buffy, Willow, Xander, or Oz), except for one player, who plays all the antagonists. Each major character, both heroes and villains, have "life points"--when those point go down to zero because of a fight, the character is dead and out of the game. The game is crystal clear in how to play and what to do with it, but it's also easy to customize and hack (Gareth Hanrahan has written alternate rules and expanions for the game on his website).

I don't personally know what the designers intended with the game, but if they didn't plan on making a game to introduce newbies to the world of RPGs, they did it anyway. I think it would work really well for that.
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John Kim
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« Reply #13 on: September 08, 2004, 12:59:30 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
IN every mainstream game I've ever read, right back to the ones where the rules were printed on the inside of the box cover, the very first thing articulated from the first is "The Object of the Game".
...
My Life with Master has this about as bright line as I've seen in an RPG.  The object is to kill the master and free yourself from his tyranny.  Dust Devils has this.  The object is to reach a point where the character either shoots or gives up the gun.  Sorcerer has this, though not as hard a line.  In Sorcerer the "object of play" is to resolve your character's kicker.  

OK, I'm not seeing this.  I have MLWM in hand and I'm GMing a game of it.  As far as I can see, that the master is killed isn't even mentioned until page 37, and it is never clearly stated as the goal of the game.  It's just something that happens to end the game.  Notably, I don't think my players are all playing with that as their goal.  

Quote from: Ron Edwards
 I suggest that many titles and releases since 1974 provide a lot of insight about how to present material in a way which reinforces this process, but only in fits and starts. In my view, if you're interested, you should play the following games and in addition, think very carefully about how they're written and presented.

Of these, I've played Over the Edge, Paranoia, Amber, HeroQuest, Soap, and My Life With Master.  I also have read in detail and thought about Prince Valiant, Puppetland, The Pool, Primetime Adventures, and Trollbabe.  

Quote from: Ron Edwards
 I urge anyone who's interested in the topic of this thread to acquire, read, play, and re-read these games. I've done it, and so have many others ... and we all have a different "look" in our eyes, and in our business/design goals, from those who haven't.  

I'll buy that I have a different look in my eye from playing these games.  On the other hand, talking about these games in general is off-topic.  The specific questions are: what design elements make a game easily grasped by new gamers?  And what design elements make a game have a short time between opening the box/book and actually engaging in play?

None of the games mentioned top my personal list for these purposes, but some of them are good.  Prince Valiant stands out as a game that was really designed for beginners and has a bunch of starting scenarios which were carefully considered.  There are many innovations in these games, but I think most of them aren't relevant for helping newbies or time-to-play.  For example, freeform character traits (OtE, Soap, MLWM) are in my opinion an impediment for newbies.  It's much easier to grasp to have a short, defined list of traits.
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- John
MalteseChangeling
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« Reply #14 on: September 08, 2004, 01:34:19 PM »

Ron,

Where would you place Everway in the list of titles you've named?  I've been rereading the rules in preparation for running a game, and my sense is that Jonathan Tweet is writing for utter newbies.  (In fact, many of the reviews of the game criticized his tone for being overly obvious and simplistic--reviews from long-established gamers, of course).

Obviously Everway has some problems when it comes to novice GMs handling the Fortune Deck and constructing Quests (although even here Tweet is careful to provide lots of examples).

But I do think that Tweet's text could be considered a model of how to introduce gaming to newbies.  Not at the Prince Valiant level, but at a fairly high one nonetheless.

Best,

Rob
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