Pedagogy --> "Fluency Play"

edited September 2009 in Story Games
So my friend Willem Larsen has developed this method for learning and playing story games which I'm in love with. You may have heard me refer to it, since I've been going nuts dropping mentions in forum threads, blog comments, podcasts, what have you. that's because I'm SUPER EXCITED about the method; it's revolutionized my play and my thoughts about design.

However, it's saddled with an awkward name that even I stumble with, and I think it may be causing people to glaze over a bit. That name is "Pedagogy of Play."

You'd think it would be a name I'd like--a word with Classical roots, lots of syllables, alliteration, y'know. I can see what Willem was going for with the name, but for me it feels a bit clinical or academic--and therefore really unsuited to the actual activity that it names.

With respect to Willem, I'd like to propose a new name for this play method: "Fluency Play."

This cuts right to the heart of the method: basically instead of trying to assimilate an entire body of RPG procedures and put them into action from the get-go, you start at the most basic level and work your way up. The aim is to have a game experience with maximum creative flow, where the shared dreamspace is as unbroken as possible. So you only play at the level you're fluent at.

See, the thing about fluency isn't that you're an "expert" in something. People say "I speak fluent French," meaning they have a high level of mastery with complex vocabulary and grammar. But really, fluency means you're comfortable and fluid in performing a skill. My baby girl is fluent in crawling but not in walking. You can be fluent in asking "Where is the bathroom" (i.e. you can say it without thinking or flipping in a phrasebook) without being fluent in discussing the social impact of human sanitation practices throughout history. When you learn a language or anything you can't digest it all at once--it's much more helpful to take things in small bites, waiting until you can perform the lowest level effortlessly, without a moment's thought, to move to the next level.

So applying this to games? You don't introduce all the rules at once. You don't even introduce all the rules 'as you need them." ("Oh, you moved across a threatened square? Time to read the Attacks of Opportunity rules. . .") You introduce new levels only when the group is FLUENT in the previous level. For instance, you might first do an intro scene for each character, with no conflict. Then do simple conflict scenes, with a simple car draw or die roll. Then run conflicts adding bonuses for traits. And so on.

Yes, this means not operating at first with all rules in play. Yes, this will change the results of the game ("Oh, if I had known I could escalate to Shooting, I would have handled that conflict differently!") But the reward is that everyone at the table is able to slip into a comfortable vibe and maintain creative energy, pushing themselves only as fast as they need to, until the "whole game" IS in play.

For instance, Willem worked out this methodology for use with Polaris. We first did warmup games to practice speaking out in the group and building on each other's contributions, culminating in a game for imagining each Heart character together. We then introduced TWO ritual phrases, "But hope was not yet lost. . ." and "and so it was," for beginning and ending scenes. We ran, as I said, intro scenes with no conflict. We concentrated on building aesthetics and mood. That was the end of our first evening, and Willem introduced the session-ending phrase, "That all happened long ago. . ." And after building fluency at that level, we were ready to introduce conflict phrases--but only the Mistaken vs. Heart phrases, "But Only If" "It Was Not Meant To Be" and "And That Was How It Happened." Only after becoming fluent in that level would we move on to the Moons phrases. . .

I think Fluency Play is an exciting and largely untapped area to explore in design and play. There are some designs that have flirted on the edges of it, like Dogs in the Vineyard's Initiation Conflicts and Burning Wheel's modular systems to be added when ready. But the possibilities go far beyond. This could be the answer to the perennial issue, "these designs don't teach you the techniques to really play them well." It's definitely the answer to the odd-person-out, overwhelmed with options, who shrinks back into a corner and sighs, "just tell me what dice to roll." I found that in Polaris it not only helped teach the procedures, but resulted in a mesmerizing, shared-dream experience where we were all pitched to exactly the same key and mood, almost beating one heartbeat and responding fluidly, fluently to each other's input. And I utilized Fluency methods for my recent storyjamming workshop and had wonderfully gratifying results. Feedback like "just enough structure," "great techniques," "I always wanted to tell a story but didn't know how." It works, and works well. I'd love to explore it further in this community. Any thoughts? Experiences?

Peace,
Joel

PS. I'm not saying anything here that hasn't been said before, by Willem in his blog (and on my couch), and by our friend Evan Gardner with his language fluency game, Where Are Your Keys? I wanna give credit where it's due.

Comments

  • Joel,

    This is delightful!
    You know, the way people usually learn games is akin to trying to learn the whole French language in one go. Well, maybe it's more comparable to being given a French textbook, English/French dictionary, and a few friends, and told "Have a conversation in French. Go, now. Chop, chop!" *with clapping of hands to indicate urgency*

    No one learns anything *other than* games like this. Why should they be subjected to their sources of fun in this way?

    I can see it now: rulebooks laid out so that you only have to worry about one section of rules at a time, more structured than Burning Wheel has it, but maybe not so far as IAWA does it (where you are *required* to do a scenario included with the game the first time you play).

    Yes! Exciting! :)
  • edited September 2009
    I've been thinking about the whole Pedagogy of Play thing lately. I think the goals (and achievement of them so far) have been admirable, but I'm in this place: It doesn't bug me to have to digest rules and then learn to play a bit while playing. If that makes me not the audience for PoP, that's cool. My question: Do you think there's something about PoP that may be enriching or rewarding to those who don't have a problem with, as you say it, "trying to assimilate an entire body of RPG procedures and put them into action from the get-go"?

    I dunno, maybe I just need to try it--I'm having a hard time seeing what's exciting here, and I suspect that may be either lack of experience or lack of understanding. I'd love to do something like this at a Go Play PDX.

    ooh, last thought: would you consider fluency play methods applied to game X to be a sort of hack of said game? This may be where I'm getting lost. I like to trust the text, and have a hard time diverging from the RAW.
  • After reading Willem's Polaris material about six months ago, I rewrote Bad Family from scratch adding in what I call 'tutorial levels' to teach the basic concepts of the game: getting people comfortable with narrating, then asking questions, then easing them in to the idea of portraying a character, and finally adding a dash of conflict to a scene.

    It's proven very satisfying to write, very intuitive, and I can't wait to try it out at the table.
  • I think "fluency play" is a nice term.

    I've played Polaris once, and we used the fluency levels. It really helped a lot. I can also see how it would be useful for Dogs, for example. As to the rest of the games I play, I don't really think it's very useful. Like, it's a great tool for learning complex games like Polaris and Dogs (and can we please stop pretending Polaris is as complex as French?), but for learning, say, Best Friends, I don't see the method adding much.

    So that's my take. It's a really great tool for a certain type of games (complex ones).
  • 'Fluency' vs. 'Pedadogagodogy'?

    You know where my money lies.

    As a design concept, it's useful and, as Joel indicates, exciting. It's another good reason to consider your audience ALL the time, and by structuring your rules to accommodate the player from the beginning, your audience will be harder to forget during the project.
  • The idea of "fluency play" resonates very strongly with me. But the issue seems to be not so much how many of the rules a person should learn in one go, but rather with how rulebooks should be written in the first place. Instead of just saying "This is how you play," it has always seemed to me that the best way to approach writing rulebooks (especially for games that center around a strongly developed scenario - maybe not so much for 'abstract' games like Universalis or games where a particular conceit in the rules is the whole point, like It's Complicated) is to describe different "immersion levels" at which the game can be played, from very simple storytelling style, all the way up to hardcore gamist, rules-intensive style, if the designer wants to go this far.

    If mass-produced RPGs like D&D and WOD were published in 'lite' storytelling versions, mightn't this whole hobby/obsession of ours have ended up much closer to the cultural mainstream?
  • edited September 2009
    Posted By: hanselI've been thinking about the whole Pedagogy of Play thing lately. I think the goals (and achievement of them so far) have been admirable, but I'm in this place: It doesn't bug me to have to digest rules and then learn to play a bit while playing. If that makes me not the audience for PoP, that's cool. My question: Do you think there's something about PoP that may be enriching or rewarding to those who don't have a problem with, as you say it, "trying to assimilate an entire body of RPG procedures and put them into action from the get-go"?
    Obviously! You've played games for a while, which give you all the rules at once. It's provided a bit of a barrier to entry, but a barrier that you've cleared. In a way, you can say this here precisely because you can get past it.

    Or, perhaps more accurately: you can absorb new bits of game rule information in very large chunks. No doubt you've come across games you had trouble with. Whatever large chunk you can absorb at once, those games asked you to absorb something even a little bit bigger.

    I, too, can absorb game rules in very large chunks. But I've had a better, easier time using "Fluency Play," all the same. I suspect you'll have a similar experience. After all, just because you can run a marathon, doesn't mean you won't have more fun on a leisurely walk. And perhaps more to the point, you'll have an easier time inviting someone to take a leisurely walk with you than run a marathon.
    Posted By: hanselooh, last thought: would you consider fluency play methods applied to game X to be a sort of hack of said game? This may be where I'm getting lost. I like to trust the text, and have a hard time diverging from the RAW.
    It can. But I've designed it into my game from the start, and Steve says he has, too. For existing games, you kind of have to. I more look forward to games that build it in from the start.
    Posted By: lordgoonIf mass-produced RPGs like D&D and WOD were published in 'lite' storytelling versions, mightn't this whole hobby/obsession of ours have ended up much closer to the cultural mainstream?
    I do believe so, And I think any game that builds this into the rules from the start will have much more mainstream appeal today, too.

    We have several episodes of The Myth Weavers with AP examples and discussion about this topic:
  • edited September 2009
    Posted By: jason

    Posted By: hanselooh, last thought: would you consider fluency play methods applied to game X to be a sort of hack of said game? This may be where I'm getting lost. I like to trust the text, and have a hard time diverging from the RAW.
    It can. But I've designed it into my game from the start, and Steve says he has, too. For existing games, you kind of have to. I more look forward to games that build it in from the start.

    Okay, yes, awesome. I think games should design it in, as well. I suppose with existing games I'm like, "Well, the designer has this certain intent for how play will go, and that's how she's structured her text and the teaching of rules." I want to take a game at face value at least a few times before I drift it with PoP techniques.

    But! A game that uses PoP techniques in the text to teach people how to play--that's better, and I think would make for a more fluid, fluent kind of play. I now understand what my beef with this was all about. Thanks.
  • Posted By: hanselOkay, yes, awesome. I think games should design it in, as well. I suppose with existing games I'm like, "Well, the designer has this certain intent for how play will go, and that's how she's structured her text and the teaching of rules." I want to take a game at face value at least a few times before I drift it with PoP techniques.
    In the examples above, you'll note both Willem & I played Polaris the "usual" way a few times first: we read through the rules, tried to play it "straight", inevitably forgot this rule or that rule, and had a hard time of it. We then came up with routines for teaching Polaris in play, and had some pretty good results with it. Should you play the game "straight" a few times before applying this? I can understand that argument. But the people I played with seemed to pick up Polaris a lot quicker this way than reading the book, and then you've got the players who refused to read the book, who learned the game for the first time this way.
  • I sense the birth of a movement here!

    I'm being (semi) serious. If it's possible (and OK by the authors) to publish new settings and supplements for an old game (not that this gets done nearly enough for the classic indie games, but I digress...) mightn't there also be a market for "Fluency Play" rules written by third parties who've come up with them on the fly during actual play?

    I can think of at least half a dozen of my favorite games that would benefit from such a treatment, and at least a few (e.g. Sufficiently Advanced, Reign) that would be positively improved by it.
  • I'm trying to get at something like this in Do, actually. At first, I wanted to make character creation a full tutorial of all the rules of the game, but front-loading all of that was a huge strain when you're also learning the basics of storytelling in the game. So I basically stripped out the actual play rules from character creation, but kept the procedures of storytelling, so you get a safe space to flex your creative muscles and settle on a tone for your stories.

    Beyond that, I'm developing a family of game designs that will (hopefully) get newcomers comfortable with story games step-by-step, starting with a simple game like Happy Birthday, Robot.
  • One of the bigger quibbles I have with a new game is worrying that I'll make my character incorrectly, somehow. Any time a game has the phrase "don't worry about this yet", I sigh with relief. I think that's something else that goes on with new players, be they new to the game or the hobby as a whole: fear of making mistakes.
    Whenever I teach my partner a new game (any genre), it's often a bit of a hurdle for us to determine what information is important right away, what can be set aside, etc.

    Hansel, I think one really does have to hack a game, kinda sorta, in order to teach it in this way - you have to at the very least announce that certain things aren't important, for now, and they'll be worked in at some point. The tricky part, the thing that made BW so intimidating, was, well, "Am I allowed to have a fight if I'm not using Fight! yet?" The answer is yes, but there's that lingering sense of "am I doing it right?" Having a much more structured tutelary experience (and not just for weird, "experimental" games like IAWA, which demand certain things of first-timers and yet I still can't grok to save my life) would be a huge boon.
  • Thanks for the responses, everyone! I'm delighted to see that this idea has some traction in the SG community.

    I'd say that barrier of entry is one of the biggest issues here. Before I got into Fluency I too was totally acclimated to the headlong rush into a big block of rules. I liked it, even! Rules are cool! It's fun, like tinkering with a great big engine of awesome! Except that I was gradually noticing that others would struggle when i played with them: never quite getting a game's core mechanic down, or feeling bogged down with a ton of confusing procedures, or just not engaging with a rule structure because it seems like a chore. At first I thought, "I just need to explain the mechanics better!" (read: at greater length, and more enthusiastically) but I started to realize there was something more fundamental at play.

    It's about bandwidth. Sure, we're all smart people and can read a die face, do math, translate numerical values into narrative prompts, and mentally "hold our place" in the story while we flip through a rulebook for those grappling rules. But it saps bandwidth that we could be using for something else. Like holding a mood, "feeling" a character, keeping shared story details firmly in our minds, and so forth. I actually grappled with Willem for some time over this, feeling like, y'know, c'mon, games have rules and those are fun and if the rules are focused on an engaging story what's the problem? Like, lighten up! But when I examined it I found that, for me, I was mostly just sucking it up, rather than really enjoying, the learning process. It was just this head-scratching, brow-furrowing phase that was a necessary gateway to the real fun of rules-all-in-motion-at-once. Not only was it turning off friends with less rules-tolerance than me, but it was a drag for me as well. So discovering a process that can reduce the brow-furrowing to next-to-zero was a huge boon.

    The point is to spend as much time as possible--100% or close to it, ideally--engaging with the game and each other, and creating fiction. Any time you have tlo put the process on "pause" you risk popping the "bubble" of the shared imagined space AND the mood of the shared social space. If you gotta, you gotta, but this process aims to reduce that, eliminating it where possible and at least shortening it where it's necessary.

    This is definitely a case of "hacking" when it comes to existing games, which is of course, a level of design. This is a largely untapped design field--not entirely, but largely. I already mentioned Dogs and Burning Wheel as two games inching toward that, but I just remembered another one: Capes Lite. Tony's quickstart rules not only strip the game down to a streamlined core, but they present each new procedure one at a time so you can learn a technique without sweating the skills that are coming down the pike later. I used it and it's how I got successful and fun Capes play that has never let me down. I've only explicitly used the Lite procedures a couple of times, but their fluency goodness has fed into my general Capes mojo to help me internalize and run the game smoothly. The times I've had hiccups in explaining or facilitating are when I've diverged from Capes Lite's methodology.

    People commonly complain that a game doesn't really tell you how to do it--it just puts you in the driver's seat with an engine and a chassis and a steering column and a gearshift and hands you the keys. You might have an owner's manual sure, but knowing what a steering wheel or a cluch does is not the same as driving smoothly. Fluency Play is the rest of the game design. it's not even the driver's manual, it's the driving instructor, sitting beside you and guiding you through a complex process, working on one skill at a time until you're navigating the freeway effortlessly.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • This discussion really clicks with what I just experienced in my first game of Baron Munchausen, since the full game has quite a few rules that all have little subtleties. While it's not nearly as complex as some games, there is a lot to keep in one's head the first time through,all while trying to come up with interesting stories and objections. Starting with a round of "just tell a story" mught be good to ge tpeople's mind in the right gear. That said, the game comes with two simplified versions (the Major and minor variants of My Uncle the Baron, which, if presented differently, could serve as levels of fluency transition.
  • edited September 2009
    I was pointed to the pedagogy of play by a friend. I found the name a bit clunky too, so I've been calling it character-storming instead; sort of brainstorming for character. I like your term 'fluency play' too, though.

    We've started with the set ups from the podcasts and posts and have attempted to improve the process as we went along. We started with MouseGuard, then Polaris, The Mountain Witch, and most recently HeroQuest. Follow the links to see how we found the character-storming to work for us.

    The best way I've found to sell this idea to people is to liken it to training modes in computer games. You start with a limited set of options, which once mastered are built upon, so you're play right from the moment you sit down. It's a training mode for roleplaying where you play your way to competency.

    I totally agree that most roleplaying games are presented as text that are meant to be read and understood separately from play and I see a gap in most game designs here.

    *edited because I'm a pedant
  • The best way I've found to sell this idea to people is to liken it to training modes in computer games. You start with a limited set of options, which once mastered are built upon, so you're play right from the moment you sit down. It's a training mode for roleplaying where you play your way to competency.
    Nice analogy.
  • Posted By: watergoesredThe best way I've found to sell this idea to people is to liken it to training modes in computer games. You start with a limited set of options, which once mastered are built upon, so you're play right from the moment you sit down. It's a training mode for roleplaying where you play your way to competency.
    Yeah, exactly! Learning as you play has become the standard for video games. People generally expect to pop in the disc and grab the controller and dive in. Nowadays, the instruction manual is a totally secondary means of learning--every now and then, a gamer will trip up because something was explained in the manual but not in play--and they were expecting it to be the other way around.

    In pen and paper games, we've got that relationship (learn by doing vs. learn by reading) totally flipped.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • Another example: I don't know if it's still published this way, but back when I played Battletech (around 1993-1995) the basic boxed set had three stages of rules. In the first, you just had basic movement, shooting, and armour. The second stage added torso twists and critical hits, and the third stage had campaigns and mech-construction, IIRC. It made for a really nice, dovetailed learning experience, and was layed out in such a way that you could read 5-10 pages and then stop, and play until you felt comfortable.
  • Deadlytoque,

    That sounds like a great model to look at while we go out to mod/hack our favorite games to make them n00b-accessible :)
  • So does anyone have any advice on how to do this with very integrated mechanics? Like, I have a game where engaging in one mechanic will drive a gauge up, and engaging in another will drive it down. If you just introduce the one mechanic, the gauge will go haywire.
  • A Penny For My Thoughts is an exemplary example of a game designed with fluency play.
  • Posted By: Simon PetterssonSo does anyone have any advice on how to do this with very integrated mechanics? Like, I have a game where engaging in one mechanic will drive a gauge up, and engaging in another will drive it down. If you just introduce the one mechanic, the gauge will go haywire.
    Would you consider Mouse Guard such a game? Because I would. We had some problems with it, but you can see what we did here and here, with discussion afterward. Actually, we'll probably have more to say on this soon, since that game fell apart, and I'll soon reboot that Mouse Guard campaign with new players.
  • In a sense, you could consider Mouse Guard as fluency play leading to Burning Wheel. Sure, not everything in MG is in BW, but the core concepts are there in relatively simple forms.

    One thing to be careful of with mechanics that can be used tactically is that early stages could make you learn things that are not true in later stages.

    For example, in Battletech simple rules you don't worry about the heat production of your mech. If you play a while in this way you'll learn which types of mechs and weapons work well with the simple rules, where tons of energy weapons are awesome as they have no drawback. When you transition to the more complicated rules you have to unlearn what is good, as using too many energy will just make your mech overheat, shutdown, and maybe blow up. In something like Battletech where you're not necessarily tied to a mech for subsequent play it's not as big of a deal. However, when you have a character in BW or something, start using Fight! and learn that swords aren't very good it could be more problematic.
  • Posted By: Simon PetterssonSo does anyone have any advice on how to do this with very integrated mechanics? Like, I have a game where engaging in one mechanic will drive a gauge up, and engaging in another will drive it down. If you just introduce the one mechanic, the gauge will go haywire.
    Well, Simon, it's important to note that a fluency roadmap should serve the needs of a particular game. So rather than literalistically introducing EXACTLY ONE new rule at a time, it's totally cool to introduce a pair of linked concepts, or a trio of combat options, or whatever makes sense. In Willem's roadmap for Polaris, he introduces Ritual Phrases two or three at a time: the basic Heart/Mistaken phrases first, the Moon intervention phrases next, and the more elaborate or extraneous phrases last. For Burning Wheel, you can run Fight! with, say, Strike, Block and Avoid, then later add in funkier stuff like Charge, Great strike, and Lock. In fact, one of the Where Are Your Keys? techniques that applies here, is to introduce items in related lists, instead of throwing out concepts at random, and when you add a new concept, make sure it fits into the context of what players already know--in other words, exactly what i just described for Ritual Phrases and Fight!

    In fact, I can't emphasize enough how much Where Are Your Keys? relates to Fluency Play--no wonder, since Willem is partnered with Evan on it! The concepts of learning through a game, of marking out techniques (through sign language, cards, etc) so that learners can replicate the process themselves, and of moving up a level only as fluency warrants, are all at the core of fluency. I'll be able to talk more about this when I post about my TrackersNW storyjam.
    Posted By: timonkeyOne thing to be careful of with mechanics that can be used tactically is that early stages could make you learn things that are not true in later stages.
    That's a good point, Tim. I think it's vital to apply this process with everyone firmly bought in, and on board with the understanding that the playing field WILL shift around a bit, or a lot. it requires players willing to make suboptimal moves and to readjust their understanding as new options become available. One thing that helps is if the facilitator goes ahead and makes the first "mistake," e.g. making some move then ostentatiously going "Whoops! Doing X move put me in a bad position for this next set of options, which I'll now introduce! You can make Y move now and really cream me!"

    Peace,
    -Joel

    PS. I just published a companion post on my blog, Story by the Throat. The second half is all new stuff, about reconciling the desire for robust mechanics with the desire for effortless flow.
  • The fact that folks have taken the pedagogy ball and run with it totally thrills me! I'll happily call it "fluency play" Joel, if that makes it clearer and more accessible. I also like "character-storming" a lot, though that sounds a little weighted towards the character creation end of things. It describes the whole collaborative-character-making-as-a-rules-tutorial really well.

    I wish I had more skill at creating "fluency play" processes for games out there - or maybe more obsession, anyway. I came up with the step-by-step process for Polaris out of desperation more than any stroke of genius. I struggled too much with learning the game, as written, and didn't know how else to learn it except by designing a mini-game of learning Polaris. I'm glad other folks have taken up the mantle of making this more of a "thing".

    I'll second Joel's comment about the "Where Are Your Keys?" game's applicability. The language game's goal of "teaching people a language game that they can in turn teach others" and "viral, open source" ethic sounds profoundly in tune with the mission of making RPGs more "mainstream" and accessible. I'd totally cannabilize what we learned in creating the game to help create "fluency play" for story games. I think the specific technique videos apply really well:

    "Technique" for embracing the idea of using sign language as a mnemonic aid.
    "Set-up" for thinking about how you set-up your story game learning space.
    "Obviously" for keeping everything totally clear and easy as possible.
    "Travels with Charlie" for giving the players a roadmap of what play will eventually look like.
    "Craig's List" for another mnemonic aid for delineating options and rules in the game.

    Others apply too, but we haven't made videos yet; like "Limit" for keeping it to bite-sized pieces, "Fluent" for making sure everyone has actually absorbed everything so far, before moving on to new stuff, and "Sorry Charlie" for not including new stuff that people can't handle yet.

    For explaining how the game might flow step-by-step (rather than just a bunch of random techniques that you use), we came up with the idea of "Bookends". I might post more about that later if that seems helpful to folks.
  • Willem, I watched your videos and listened to your interview with Evan yesterday with great interest. And by "great interest," I mean that I had a total cerebral hard-on. This Where Are Your Keys thing.... First of all, I'm fascinated by the process of learning, and especially so with language learning. This approach that Evan's cobbled together is so radically different than the ineffective ways I've stabbed at language learning in the past that I'm pretty stoked to try it out. And then! to see the way you're applying it to gaming, well...that's just frickety awesome.

    Anyway, there's a lot more constructive commentary upthread than I plan to offer here. The main reason I'm posting (outside of gushing) is because I'm not entirely sure where I'd start with WAYK if I wanted to. I understand the principles that you've described in your videos, and the general principle of building layers of fluency, but when I hear Evan talk about the 100 or so techniques that built the game in the first place (not to mention all the "apocryphal" ones), I get the feeling that I'd be just be painting the facade and missing the real inner workings if I tried to use this now.

    My other concern--which this thread has been instructive about, yet I remain shaky on--is applying WAYK to areas other than language. The idea of using it for "bicycle repair" or gaming is a neat one, but I don't easily see a clear path to applying this beyond the game as presented in the videos. An example of actual play would be enormously enlightening, here.

    I guess my main question is this: in either story gaming or language contexts, is there any plan to publish a document outlining the WAYK techniques? The videos are helpful, but the piecemeal delivery makes me think I should just check back in a couple months or a year so that I can get a more complete picture.
  • I'm glad you're down with the terminology, Willem--no surprise, since it was all your talk of fluency that gave me the idea!
    Posted By: derthnadaAn example of actual play would be enormously enlightening, here.
    Coming soon! Probably in its own thread.

    Actually, I can probably provide a couple of mini-examples for now. Example one, Willem and I played lady Blackbird with some friends last week. That game is simple enough that we were able to sit down, leaf through the sheets, and right on the spot come up with a fluency map for the game: 1st conflict, spend Pool and roll, 2nd conclict, add trait, spend pool and roll, 3rd conflict, add Trait and Tags, spend pool and roll. . .etc. We set aside Keys as an advanced, get-to-them-if-we-can feature, and we ended up introducing keys as "motivations and attitudes to keep in mind" but still didn't advance to using their game rules. Next time we play we'll be able to move up to full-on Key use, which is perfect because they've just escapd the hand of sorrow and we can move to a more character-driven mode of play.

    Second example, I played Burning Wheel last night, with a group of friends who I haven't really explored Fluency Play with. So there were no shared fluency techniques at the table, really, but i was still able ot apply fluency to myself: My character was preparing to fight a duel, so while another player was having a scene I wrote down all the Fight! options on index cards (Index cards are the greatest ally of the Fluency player!) in conceptual and ascending-complexity groupings. Then when the fight began, I took it step by step. I spent the first round aiming and throwing my javelin, the second round Avoiding and drawing my sword, the third round playing around with Strike and Block. We had to call it a night mid-fight, with no telling blows struck--damn that Viking armor!--but by the time we had I'd mastered Great Strike and Push. When we resume our cliffhanger I'll be able to keep rocking those techniques and possibly open up some further strategies.

    so the point is, fluency is itself subject to fluency. :) You can apply it at whatever level you're comfortable at in any situation you find yourself in. You DON'T have to be perfectly fluent all at once right out of the gate, you can ease into it and adapt it to serve the needs of the moment. For instance it wouldn't have been constructive for me to meet with my Burning Wheel pals and go "OK, OK, before we play tonight I'd like to rebuild our Burning Wheel techniques from the ground up." Instead I just took the group methodology in stride and applied fluency as best as I was able. Worked great.

    Does that hep give you a picture, Jef? Willem can probably give you more comprehensive answers on the WAYK questions specifically.

    peace,
    -Joel
  • Posted By: willemThe fact that folks have taken the pedagogy ball and run with it totally thrills me! I'll happily call it "fluency play" Joel, if that makes it clearer and more accessible. I also like "character-storming" a lot, though that sounds a little weighted towards the character creation end of things. It describes the whole collaborative-character-making-as-a-rules-tutorial really well.
    Indeed, I can see character-storming as more of a stage within the wider sweep of fluency play, where the focus is more on character conception, introducing the games' themes, helping establish the authority on the setting as the group rather than any one person, encouraging collaborative experimentation, and revealing and aligning group and player interests and expectations.

    Once these start to solidify, I see the focus of fluency play moving toward grounding these concepts in (the language of) the system. Most of the fluency play I've been involved developing and playing in so far has been with this earlier stage, However, I did run Polaris beyond the character-storming into the staged introduction of key phrases and it worked a charm.
  • edited September 2009
    Jef:
    thanks for the feedback on the videos. we definitely need to work on clarifying where you begin. I'd start with the bookends, #1, #2, #3, and #4, and then use the technique videos as a way to brush up on each technique. beyond that, we have a lot of improvement to do in general, so if you struggle with it, feel free to comment on the blog. I think this is a bit of a threadjack though. I only respond because your excitement gets me really excited! I really see so much fun and additional potential in the WAYK game, it's great to hear from others who see it too. Yes, we'll eventually put out some written version of the WAYK game.

    More in line with the OP, though: as Joel mentioned, if you only take three things from the fluency paradigm, take these: 1) mark out techniques with "technique!" using ASL hand signs as a mnemonic and pedagogical aid, 2) keep things "technique: obviously!" by making things as simple, clear, and obvious as possible, and 3) play with each bite-sized piece in turn till effortless - according to "technique: fluent!". And if you only take one thing from the fluency game, take the last one - bite-sized pieces, each played until fluent before moving on.

    Of course, it rocks to take things as far as possible and amazingly intricately fluently perfect as you can possibly imagine, but then that got us (well, me at least) in to trouble in the first place, diving into complex rules and wanting to use them all from the get-go. I say, go easy, one piece at a time, each to fluency in its turn.

    Oliver:

    Definitely, hacking a game comes second best vs. designing the fluency play from the beginning, keeping the language of the system. I really appreciate hearing that the stage introduction of key phrases worked well for you. Awesome.
  • I'm seeing two related, but slightly different approaches emerging here.

    The most clear and useful approach is to start playing a story, and then just fold in new rules as you go. Willem and Joel: you've definitely given me a stronger picture of how to approach this at the game table, and I fully plan to. I'm sort of the "hey, let's try this system out!" guy in a group that generally wants to stick to games they already know. I think the main reason I get resistance to "system-hopping" is because we all value getting right down to playing without having every session turn into a tedious lecture on arbitrary rules. That's no fun for anybody...although, I tend to be a bit more tolerant, since I'm usually the one teaching. :) I hope this approach will grease the wheels a little.

    But there's another approach, less clear, and probably less useful or fun(?) lurking in the shadows. I was initially unclear on the above-mentioned approach towards fluency gaming because I was trying to think of it in very Where Are Your Keys terms. In that game, learning whatever the subject is (be it a language or a rule set) IS the game. In other words, you could make a game out of learning the rules that does not take place USING those rules. So, my first attempt at grokking this thread was, "so...Attack of Opportunity would be like the red pen on the table?" You can see how that might be confusing.

    But there's something there. It might be more useful for highly technical or tactical systems--where rules are king, and story a sickly peasant--but you could play a WAYK-type game to get people to learn the letter of the law in some other target game. Then, once everybody's comfortable with how to apply a subset of the rules, you get down and start playing.

    The only real advantage I could see to this second approach is that it may cut down on the feeling that the expert is holding all the cards at the table. In games where it's possible to win and lose, being the one who can add new rules at sensitive moments could be perceived as a decidedly unfair advantage. And now that I think of it, it could also be used to generate a lite version of a game where one did not previously exist. So all 5 or 6 of the rules are known by everybody at the outset, and they don't change during the course of play.

    Worthwhile?
  • edited October 2009
    For those interested in actual play examples of fluency in action, I wrote a reflection on the workshop on my blog and a detailed account on the Forge.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • So I was working on this idea, which was a roleplaying game written in the style of Choose Your Own Adventure books.

    Like, it walks you through the creation of the situation, and you seriously follow the directions in the book. So by the time you get to a conflict, you're turning to page 10, "Conflict", and it describes the players' options.

    Then at the bottom it says:
    "If the players back down, go to page 16"
    "If the players escalate to lethal combat, go to page 32"

    and then later, say in a section on dialogue

    "If the players engage the NPC's help, add them to the contact list, ask the players if there is anything more they want to say, and if the answer is nothing, go to "Framing Scenes" on page 8."
    "If the players attack the NPC, go to Conflict on page 10"
    "If the players and NPC are talking around each other, go to 'floundering' on page 99."
    "If the players head off to do something, go to 'when players are driving' on page 50."

    Anyway, Joel, your post made me go "OF COURSE!" because I'd need a second book, which would be the "fast book" for when players already know how to play. Because you don't need such a detailed walkthrough after you've been through a couple of times.

    Book 1 is "Pedagogy"
    Book 2 is "Fluency" - i.e. the book you need when you've already internalised the basic idea of book 1.
  • Very interesting thread, thanks for the effort, gang. This is an under-served area in the hobby.
  • Yeah, totally.

    I'd step away from the term Pedagogy, though. Not just cause it was my focus on my graduate papers or anything, but it's too loaded a term to be stapled to one theory/practice. It would be like coming up with one theory of game design, then calling it THE GAME DESIGN THEORY. Fluency Play, for lack of a better term, sticks.

    But I'm all for the results. Thanks for sharing!

    -Andy
  • Posted By: Ryan Stou'nAnyway, Joel, your post made me go "OF COURSE!" because I'd need a second book, which would be the "fast book" for when players already know how to play. Because you don't need such a detailed walkthrough after you've been through a couple of times.
    I'd rather have one book, designed such that going through it the second time, I get more out of it.
  • Posted By: Andy
    I'd step away from the term Pedagogy, though.
    You bet! In case it isn't yet clear, "Pedagogy of Play" is killed dead and dumped, unmourned, in an unmarked grave. This might have been clearer if I could use strikethrough in thread titles. I had the sudden urge to try rebranding the concept to try for greater traction amongst storygamers, and lo! it worked!

    (And for what it's worth, I don't think Willem was trying to brand a movement or anything originally. I think he just had a thing he made, needed a name, and whipped up "Pedagogy." Then, when he and others of us who are excited about this concept tried to talk about it, that thing he made was the only extant example of its type, so it became "the thing referred to." but no longer!)
    Posted By: jasonI'd rather have one book, designed such that going through it the second time, I get more out of it.
    I lean this way myself. Though I think there's some traction in basically putting Ryan's "two books" under one cover, such that there's a "fluency section" that guides you through the process, then a more standard "reference section" that you can look stuff up in once you have the context of the whole game to guide you.
    Posted By: derthnadaBut there's something there. It might be more useful for highly technical or tactical systems--where rules are king, and story a sickly peasant--but you could play a WAYK-type game to get people to learn the letter of the law in some other target game. Then, once everybody's comfortable with how to apply a subset of the rules, you get down and start playing.
    Yeah, Jef, I can see what you're getting at--one thing Willem and I have done with fluency gaming is introduce little mini-games, improv exercises, mostly, which serve to usher players into some technique or mindset. Willem started out mostly using them to get creative juices flowing at the beginning of play, but he then started doing a neat trick with one of the games, "Character Circle," were one person names and briefly describes a character, then everyone takes turns adding a detail, striving to keep the shared vision coherent as long as possible, until one person finally just can't reconcile a statement and says "I don't see it," ending that round and that character.

    The neat trick was that we started using that exercise for character creation! It worked great for an evocative game like Polaris. once we did that for all 4 protagonists, we had richly sketched personas that were collaboratively built of the same dreamstuff. And when we had a large gap in play sessions, to refresh our memories and get back in the flow we played the game again, saying "I remember" at the beginning of each phrase. The effect was pretty magical.

    So yeah--it'd be TOTALLY rad to see processes like that constructed for all kinds of play phases or subsystems. But it's a lot of mental energy for one or two people to build a fluency mechansim for every process in every game, so I'd love to see all kinds of folks--yes, YOU guys!--start building little widgets for various games and rules that they love. That's kinda why I started this thread, actually. Enough bragging about MY fluency ventures--go forth, and do likewise!

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • Posted By: JoelI lean this way myself. Though I think there's some traction in basically putting Ryan's "two books" under one cover, such that there's a "fluency section" that guides you through the process, then a more standard "reference section" that you can look stuff up in once you have the context of the whole game to guide you.
    To me, this seems completely opposite to the whole idea of fluency play. Take "Where Are Your Keys." When you get to "Charlie Rose," talking about politics and philosophy and sociology, do you then no longer use the simple nouns and verbs you used at the "Barney" level? No, you still use them. You just have a bunch of other things you use, too.

    If you have "training wheels" that you later get rid of, that to me says that you do one thing when you learn it, and you do something else when you "do it for real." I consider that the essential difference between fluency play, and just making a fun tutorial.
    Posted By: JoelThe neat trick was that we started using that exercise for character creation!
    I think I came up with that one. I started using it in Polaris. Most recently, I used it for Mouse Guard. Glad to hear it's started catching on.
    Posted By: JoelThat's kinda why I started this thread, actually. Enough bragging about MY fluency ventures--go forth, and do likewise!
    Ah, well then: what I did with Mouse Guard on Saturday.
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