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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Ayyavazi on April 05, 2009, 07:02:48 AM

Title: Ninja Burger and my first game in a while
Post by: Ayyavazi on April 05, 2009, 07:02:48 AM
Hey everyone,

I played my first RPG in a little over two months, and it was fun, even if it wasn't spectacular. I gathered my fiancee, best friend and nhis fiancee together and we all played Ninja Burger. I was the only experienced role-player there, so I ran into a lot of interesting issues while explaining the game, and wanted some input.

First, when trying to explain the game to these new people, I didn't realize how important it was to explain what everything was for right up front. I dove right into character creations and read the house rules, but the players came away not understanding what their stats and skill masteries meant, how they interacted, or even what was expected of them as players. That is, they did not know how to ACT.

Now, first let me say that this was not set up to my liking. It was far from perfect. All of my handy charts and prep-work got left in the car by accident and couldn't be retrieved. I only had one copy of the book, and it was unmanageble at best to have pages everywhere. And we only had one character sheet between us and had to improvise. Ideally, I would have had notes, there would have been one copy of the book for everyone, and everyone would have read it ahead of time. Of course, it never works like this, especially with a group of new players.

What struck me about all this is that if you want a game to be accessible to new players, and people who have never role-played before, you have to present EXACTLY how the game works. And it has to be fast. Character creation for Ninja Burger ended up taking about an hour a half. It should not have taken more than fifteen minutes.

So, what I'd like to know is, how do you all create your games to be accessible to new players? What do you do to make sure your game can have been read by only one person in a given group and still be understood and playable? Do you have any reccommendations?

I'm trying to stray from the obvious response of, "Make a rules-light game" That won't help me if my game isn't rules light.

Anyway, on to the actual play, so you can see some of the obstacles.

We played the pre-made adventure in the book, but I decided to add a twist.

I framed the scene at the Ninja-Burger franchise instead of at the the fodtekken building, figuring my players would use some navigation skills to find the building and then go there. I ask what my first player does, and he just stared at me. He asked me what he should do. Bewildered as to why he didn't know, since I had laid out their mission, I laid out the following outline: Determine the location of the building, get there, get inside, deliver your meal undetected, accomplish your secret task, and then get out, again undetected. Another player remarked, "And all of those are one action each right"

I wasn't quite sure how to respond to this, since I had outlined how actions worked and everything. It all seemed so basic to me I forgot these people had never played and didn't have any context for understanding actions and using skills, or anything of that nature. So I changed tack. I said, ok player 1, I've given you an outline of what you need to do, now each step might be 1 or a hundred actions. You have to decide how much you are going to do with your turn, and remember, the more actions you take in a turn, the harder they will all be. After hearing this, he decides to hide and try to follow the first person to leave. Play moves on.

Player 2 decides to hide, figure out where the building is, and then go there. She succeeds on all of her rolls, and I move to Player 3. Player 3 decides to throw player one a bone and just figures out where the building is, and then going there. So, Player one follows.

I have them arrive on site the next turn, to speed things up. Players 1 and 3 arrive at the rear of the building and player 2 arrives at the front.

From here, play got gradually more informed and people started to understand the rules. This first turn took about half an hour or more. Every turn after that took between 1 and 5 minutes. The players kept asking me why the dice they had to roll changed, but around the fourth time that I said, "the more you do, the harder everything is on a one die for one action basis" (in varying ways), they got the picture. Player 3, the most uncertain of all the players at the beginning, ended up completing everything first, while player 2 came in 2nd, and player 3 failed to do anything useful at all, even though he understood the rules better than the others. Turns out Player 2 was fudging all of her rolls (perhaps I stressed the, "If you can get away with cheating, go rfor it" a biit too much).

More on this later.

Title: Re: Ninja Burger and my first game in a while
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on April 05, 2009, 07:33:57 AM
To answer your question, I manage beginner-friendliness in design by trying to establish the purpose of the game first and then moving on to the techniques, trying to ensure that the audience understands the reason for why each individual method used to play the game is in there. I've also experimented with relying on existing knowledge: my game Zombie Cinema is written to emulate boardgame rules conventions (and a boardgame structure in actual play as well), which would presumably make it easier to understand for people who are already familiar with learning boardgames from their rulebooks.

As for your account, that sure was amusing. I haven't read Ninja Burger myself, but that sure sounds like a pretty complicated game for beginners. Especially the fiction of the game seems like a big nerd culture injoke; I hope your players had the background to appreciate it.

Title: Re: Ninja Burger and my first game in a while
Post by: Ayyavazi on April 06, 2009, 06:36:48 AM
Thanks Eero,

But I was also wondering, how do you design the game so it can be easily explained? What if the new players don't want to read the book at all? How do you design a game that one person reads and understands, and then explains to the rest of the players? Thats the situation I am in right now. No one wants to put the time into reading 20-100 pages of rules just so they can play the game. They want me to be able to explain it and get to playing in about a half an hour, like a board game, actually. So, I'll try to get a copy of your game and see how it works. Thanks again!


Title: Re: Ninja Burger and my first game in a while
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on April 07, 2009, 03:31:42 AM
The boardgame thing is certainly one approach. Another is to build the game to cascade: make it so that a player needs to know just one thing to orient himself, then bring up the next rule when it is needed and so on. I find that traditional fantasy adventure games can do this sort of thing really quite passably if you use a light rules-set. Imagine, if you will, a game of something like D&D where you make it clear to the players that their task is to imagine this otherworldly dungeon environment and perform a mission therein by describing what their characters, brave heroes all, do. No other rules are needed to begin. Then when a character does something that triggers a rule, you can explain and demonstrate that rule: now you attacked a monster, this is how that works. Now you shoot with a bow, this is how it works. Now you negotiated, this is how it works. A traditional sort of GM-led game works for this purpose really well because their rules are random-access: they're just a pile of special cases you apply when particular conditions are triggered in the fiction. So really, if you remove the character creation from a traditional game (perhaps use a house system that can build the characters up as they are needed, or use pregen characters), you already have most of the tools for newbie-friendly gaming.

Of course, the cascade is a technique you can apply to explaining any game. I started a new Shadow of Yesterday campaign last weekend with some teenagers who'd never played the game before. I think it went pretty smoothly despite the game's somewhat elaborate character creation system - this was at least in part thanks to how I explained the game top-down, only zooming in to those rules that were immediately needed. The players could thus concentrate on only the choices and experiences that I found pertinent, moment-to-moment. This is often superior to trying to explain all of a game's rules all at once, at least if you yourself have a good sense of what people are supposed to think about and make decisions on in the game at a given point of play.

Title: Re: Ninja Burger and my first game in a while
Post by: Ayyavazi on April 07, 2009, 04:57:51 AM
Thanks Eero!

That is a huge help. Cascading the rules can be done very easily from a gm standpoint, but not so easily with certain games.

For example, the next thing I plan to play with this group is Dogs in the Vineyard. How do you reccommend I cascade that, and do the character creation as I go along? Should I give them pre-gen characters? Or maybe I could give them partially pre-gen characters?

That is, I make, say, one of each of the backgrounds, but only fill in the statistics. I leave all trait and relationship dice open to them, and let them build the character through play, starting with their intro scene. That would allow for a much more free-form character creation and let me explain the rules as we go along. Any suggestions on cascading those rules though? The conflict mechanics in Dogs are pretty much the only mechanics, and because of that I worry that once the characters start any conflict I have to say, "ok, heres how you reverse, heres how you dodge or block, and here's how you raise" which might take a while for them to grok.

Thanks again!


Title: Re: Ninja Burger and my first game in a while
Post by: Callan S. on April 07, 2009, 05:08:23 AM
Hi Norm,

I don't know if it helps, but in a gamist approach (or perhaps just one type of gamist approach, I dunno), the player themselves reaches for the extra rules, in their search to win or win at a grander scale (assuming they have a thirst for it). So what you could have is a very simple mission, which might be just sneaking down a corridor. However, you then have a larger, extra mission that's there for the big points. This mission either flat out requires special rules knowledge, or the statistical odds are bad/low unless the player figures the new rules that make them more effective.

Mind you, I suppose that doesn't work if your used to using mechanics to reinforce the imagined events amongst the group.

Title: Re: Ninja Burger and my first game in a while
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on April 07, 2009, 12:46:09 PM
DiV is somewhat tricky, but it actually also has its own system for learning the rules; you should use the initiation scenes as an opportunity for teaching. They are simple, no-commitment conflicts created artificially to showcase the character after all, perfect for seeing how the character performs under pressure.

The way I'd orient the players to DiV would probably be to encourage an impression-based character creation, with me explaining what each trait choice means in the fiction and the players putting dice into things according to their character vision. Imagine a young paladin/sheriff/whatever's-most-familiar-point-of-comparison-to-you and tell us what he looks like, acts like, thinks like, I would say - and ask the players to assign dice as they go along, with "larger dice are better than smaller dice" as the rule of thumb. Then after the characters are finished, I'd explain how this game has a sort of flashpoint mechanic - most of it is free and easy narration, but when characters get into conflict, we play a little subgame with the dice. Roll dice, bid them, narrate little snippets of action - demonstrate the initiation scene first with the most responsive player at the table as your victim so the others get to see how it goes. Explain your thought processes and options as you go through it, show the players how the dice choosing is not primarily tactical, but rather a constraint on imagination; I could choose these three dice, but then I'd have to take the blow, and I don't want, so I'm instead going to spend my big fat die so's I get to reverse the blow and narrate this. That sort of thing.

In practice I'd probably strongly consider replacing the backgrounds step in chargen with something a little more concrete if I were playing with uncertain newbies unused to exercising their creativity in this way. Something like "complex history" is great for players who want freedom, but you might benefit from having "the mountainfolk character" or whatever would be familiar to your players. Sort of like using pregenerated character templates to channel the preferences of the players. In general, try to ensure that all choices the players have to make in character generation can be answered directly by querying the player's creativity concerning the fiction; that's usually the part new roleplayers need confidence in, so you should always answer an uncertain player with an exhortation to be confident in choosing answers based on what they see with their mind's eye, remembering that there are no right or wrong choices in a well-designed (non-gamist) game. Simply don't let the players make the choices where they could make a wrong one, and you'll find that their confidence will grow as they begin to see the group as a safe creative environment.

Title: Re: Ninja Burger and my first game in a while
Post by: Ayyavazi on April 10, 2009, 04:53:15 AM
Thanks Eero.

I've actually figured out a little about what I'm going to do in this circumstance. I'm going to have them choose backgrounds and then only assign their stat dice. From there, they have their trait dice and relationship dice free. They fill them all in as the game goes along, which lets them customize their character as it gels in their head.

Introducing the conflict system still seems difficult to me though, for one reason in particular. This group doesn't like waiting a long time for their turn to come around. They don't like the focus not being on them. I know this is something gamers get over with time, but I am trying to ease them into the understanding that I can't hold three conversations at once and roll dice for all of them. I'm not that talented or weird looking.

So I need to know how I can incorporate them all in conflicts most of the time, so that no one has to sit out for a long time. However, I also know that if they are invested enough in  their characters and in the story, that they will still pay attention to what is going on and not be so bored. Any suggestions on doing this.

And thanks again for your suggestions. I hope there's no hard feelings that I didn't use them. I think I may have already alienated Egon for that very reason.


Title: Re: Ninja Burger and my first game in a while
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on April 10, 2009, 06:10:33 AM
If you're willing to engage in some hackery here, you could try to sort out the DiV rules system into something a bit more communal. For example, instead of having the GM oppose the spotlight dog alone, distribute the GM's dice pool to the rest of the players, have them roll them and then let them play the opposition in the conflict. No need to make this a regular thing, even, but it could work in allowing the players to feel invested if they had their "own" dice on the table and they could plan with the other players how they're going to use them. Could even split responsibilities so that the players choose what the opposition plays and the GM then narrates it, something like that.

That's pretty radical, though, so I have no idea if it'd work. A smaller hack would be to combine the initiation scenes into one big one where all the characters are already together. This way you'd have the normal in-game party situation right from the start. The problem with this approach is that it prevents protagonization: one point of the initiation scenes is that they allow us to perceive the characters as individuals before they are joined up into a group, so if you remove that it's easier for the submissive players to move into a supportive, passive role right from the start without anybody having a chance to see the character alone in the spotlight. But if you think that downtime is a larger problem than passivity, then perhaps this is worthwhile.

In the long run, though, the only real solution is to teach the players to play passionately: peak performance when it's your scene, sympathetic audience when it's not. After I started to actually commit to my audience role in rpgs I never suffered from boredom during downtime; works just great even if you aren't a participant in the game at all.

Title: Re: Ninja Burger and my first game in a while
Post by: Ayyavazi on April 10, 2009, 06:31:45 AM
Thanks Eero,

That radical idea of yours seems perfect. I like the idea of the players getting their own initiations individually, and this idea supports that. I can even give the players a little more control, letting them determine which dice to use for sees and raises and then let them narrate, so that when Dogs aren't involved, their players sort of join me as a GM. I know for a fact one of my players will love this, and probably take advantage of it (in a good way) often. The others will appreciate the inclusion and control it offers them, which is important. As they become more comfortable with listening and being a sympathetic audience, I can wean them off and take up GMing full-time (in game). This will have the added benefit of lessening my workload in game and help me learn the system at a better pace.

I really like how this is shaping up. Thanks for the suggestions again, they really help. Can you point me to any good actual play threads perhaps? Something that would give me an idea how this should all work? If not, I have more than enough to get started. Now I just need to buy enough dice...