[Fluency Play] Explain in 5, learn as you go

edited June 2010 in Story Games
Over in Steve's thread on opened versus constrained games, Guy said:
Posted By: Thunder_GodIf after you read the whole book (over 2+ hours) you can teach others the rules in 20 minutes? It doesn't cut it. You need to be able to run the game in 30 minutes from pick up, and that's still borderline. It's best if you can explain the rules for 5 minutes, begin playing, and after 10-15 minutes of explaining the rest of the rules as you play it's "all there".
Yes, this. Of course, I've been nattering on about this for some time now, so I WOULD think so. But yeah, I've been working on reducing the brow-furrowing, page-flipping component of play, learning more and more techniques to whittle it down bit by bit, a shave here and a tuck there, until (hopefully) the "learning" component of a game vanishes completely into the "doing."

So "explain in 5, then learn as you go" is my current optimal methodology. Of course, most games aren't designed to transmit that way, so it does mean a lot of work on the behalf of one participant (me), and I don't always have time to do the work. And I find that some players are resistant for a number of reasons--"it seems pretty simple to me" (oh, really? There's like 8-10 distinct steps and each time we check out of roleplaying entirely while we plod through it.) or "but I need to know how the later rules work so I can make an informed choice" (oh yeah? what's more important, having fun at every moment of play, or always making optimal choices?)

And maybe, y'know, there are some people for whom fluency play isn't a good fit, who derive more fun or satisfaction from the puzzle-solving experience of figuring out the whole clockwork at once. Maybe. But honestly, I believe that this isn't some special weird way of approaching learning, but actually how we learn all the time. We never just "know the whole thing all at once" like Neo downloading Kung Fu to his brain. We're always, ever only learning one bit at a time, and this method just takes off the pressure to learn the whole thing before you're "ready" to actually do it "for reals." Instead, just start with one level, get comfortable ("fluent") with that, and move up to a more complex layer only when it feels right.

Which in the big picture turns out to actually be faster. I've had so many experiences teaching a game (story game, board game, or otherwise) where I think that if I can JUST say all the important stuff that they need to know up front, the whole game will go smoothly. But in practice I've found that dumping everything sat once--even just "a few, simple concepts" (like, more than 3)--just means when it comes time to do it nobody remembers and I have to explain all over again. So, do I want to explain everything once, or explain it 3-4 times?

I'll take once, thank you.

My game The Dreaming Crucible is written from this principle--designed so you open the booklet, get materials together, and start playing right away, learning new rules and game phases as you go. It does mean that you won't always know the purpose of a thing you're doing until later. But it also means you can hopefully let go of that worry and embrace play in the here and now.

Peace,
-Joel

Comments

  • I like fluency play. It's how I run new games, more or less and I've welcomed your posts regarding the idea.
  • I do this when it's possible, but not all board- and roleplaying games are built to enable it. Even then I do my best to switch into a guide mode - instead of trying to info-dumb everything you need to make smart initial choices in the game, I tell you that you have a choice, tell you what your options are and which option you should pick until you know better. This way the game can start without everybody having memorized the entire rules structure.

    Zombie Cinema is, obviously, written with usability in the number one spot - it's eminently feasible to start play and finish the first scene in under 15 minutes, having learned 90% of the rules in the process. If nobody knows the game it takes half an hour more to learn the rules first.
  • edited June 2010
    The idea came up in a chat I've had with Paul Czege earlier today. Take a game, take each sub-system in it, and write it on a piece of card-board, the kind you get in board-games.
    Do this for all sub-systems, or for all "Situations". A situation being something that when it occurs, you go to the rules (Someone does something cool, people want something and face opposition, someone ruins another's reputation).

    Place all of these cards in the middle of the table, and as each situation comes up, pick up the relevant card, read the steps, and follow them in order. This also requires at best that you won't need to read the full card before beginning resolution, but that you can go step by step immediately. This is also extremely fertile ground for ritual behaviour and phrases: "Say X", "Do Y".

    Edit: Another important point is "Char-gen". Many people consider character generation part of play, and character generation a group activity, or play. But this means you go around the table and then each person creates their character with external input, and then you go to the next person (more or less). For many people, this is not "playing", and you really need all people to be able to create their characters at the same time, for game to be able to begin. Or, not even need to create their characters.
    This is a place where it's important to know who you're aiming for, as a designer.
  • Posted By: TeataineI like fluency play. It's how I run new games, more or less and I've welcomed your posts regarding the idea.
    thanks, Gregor! I'm not certain I've said anything new in this post, but I'm hoping that basing it on actual current discussion will bring out new relevance.
    Posted By: Eero Tuovinennot all board- and roleplaying games are built to enable it
    I hear ya there, Eero. Which means I'm often faced with a tough choice: do I dismantle the pristine clockwork of the game and rebuild it piece by piece in play, or just suck it up and pla as written, recognizing that it'll be clunky until we get it all down pat? Sometimes I go one, way, sometimes the other. The first way is the approach Willem Larsen took to learning how to teach Polaris.
    Posted By: Eero Tuovinen
    Zombie Cinemais, obviously, written with usability in the number one spot - it's eminently feasible to start play and finish the first scene in under 15 minutes, having learned 90% of the rules in the process. If nobody knows the game it takes half an hour more to learn the rules first.
    That's cool! I'd love to try Zombie Cinema sometime.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • I actually have this "problem", where I find it hard to teach a game bit by bit and most as I play, and much prefer others to know the whole rules before we begin playing, and I also prefer to know the rules before I begin playing.
    I asked on this forum before, for people to tell me, when they run their games, or others' at cons, to go and explain step by step which rules they explain before they begin playing, and which rules they explain as game progresses (and how). I've got exceedingly little traction and responses to these question. Andy suggested that it might be something best transmitted through people recording this. He is probably right.

    This means that while I often prefer everyone to know the rules, I am also deeply interested in this.
  • One approach that is relatively common in boardgames is to offer a simplified version of the game for the first play-through. I personally despise these and never waste my time on them. But then, I'm basically the hardest of the hardcore as an audience for a rules text - I'm quite happy to spend a couple of hours studying boardgame rules in advance to understand the game before starting to play.

    The way I sidestepped the problem of rules pedagogy in the Zombie Cinema design was by making most of the rules agenda-neutral procedural exceptions (that is, you don't need to know them in advance and invoking them does not require a player choice). This is possible for a roleplaying game, but more difficult for boardgames, as those mostly depend on the player knowing in advance what is going to happen. For ZC, however, I have no problem at all with the game experience if I only explain the basics to the rest of the group at first and only bring up sacrifice and epilogue and board narration constraints and other such nuances when and if they're needed; there's no deprotagonization of the players involved in this, as the rules are not there to be manipulated by the players in the first place. A subtle but important difference that enables me to teach 90% of the game as it happens. Hmm... one might say that this is the same as a lack of strategic planning: you can do this with a boardgame as well, but only if the game involves only local tactical choices and no strategic forethought. Basically it's the difference between rules that say "always do this" and rules that say "a player may invoke" - the latter increases the burden on the new player by requiring him to understand an universally available option. Much easier if you encapsulate the choices somehow, so that they come up at discrete times in the game and can be addressed in their natural context as they occur.
  • Datapoint: Sons of Liberty has a built-in tutorial round that is played in turns, which allows new players to learn the basic rules and lets all the players get in the zone for the later free-for-all mayhem.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • Posted By: Thunder_GodDo this for all sub-systems, or for all "Situations". A situation being something that when it occurs, you go to the rules (Someone does something cool, people want something and face opposition, someone ruins another's reputation).
    This game is called Apocalypse World. And yeah, it does work well.
  • Posted By: Thunder_GodI asked on this forum before, for people to tell me, when they run their games, or others' at cons, to go and explain step by step which rules they explain before they begin playing, and which rules they explain as game progresses (and how).
    That is a rad question and I totally missed it! I'm-a hafta give it some thought and time.
    Posted By: Thunder_GodThis means that while I often prefer everyone to know the rules, I am also deeply interested in this.
    Yeah, totally! The ideal situation is that everyone knows the rules and is comfortable and deft in their use. But we don't always have that situation, and indeed everyone starts without that at some point, so I'm looking at what do when we're not there, and at the same time how to get there.

    More on that "how" when I have a bit more time. :)

    In the meantime, everyone feel free to ask questions and share your own techniques and experiences!
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenOne approach that is relatively common in boardgames is to offer a simplified version of the game for the first play-through. I personally despise these and never waste my time on them.
    Whereas I love them and embrace them wherever I find them!

    The thing is, I guess, that for every player who embraces rules-learning and pre-game study, there's a player who doesn't. And whenever I'm in a game with at least one person who laps that up and at least one person who is like "whoa, overload," it's profoundly uncomfortable. So even though I often AM that first person, and have to be even when I don't want to be due to how rules are designed and structured, I will always cater to that person who is getting down because it's all math-y or the options are too much to process or they're otherwise blocked from the fun.
    Posted By: Eero Tuovinenthere's no deprotagonization of the players involved in this, as the rules are not there to be manipulated by the players in the first place. A subtle but important difference that enables me to teach 90% of the game as it happens.
    That's a great distinction. I have to admit that this does make it trickier in board games where strategy is generally in the forefront. I usually try to solve this by A) giving general tips on strategic application as I go, and B) playing sub-optimally myself while folks are learning the ropes. One thing I've tried a teeny bit that I'd like to explore further is making a bad move really ostentatiously and using it as an example of a tactical pitfall. That way nobody has to feel like they have no chance 'cause I know the game and they don't.

    For a story game it depends on the game, but it is, as you say, easier to leave things until they come up, if it's the kind of game where rules-manipulation is beside the point. The Dreaming Crucible is kind of like that; there are some strategic nuances to rules-interactions that emerge as you do them, but generally you're not "gaming" the system toward a certain result, but going on a journey to see where it takes you. So 90% of the learning is in the doing.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • Enabling fluency is a big component of my designs. It was in the forefront of Gun Thief.

    Gun Thief is an attempt at enabing (a.) fluency in play, and (b.) fluency with the genre.

    There are two opening paragraphs which explain who you are and what you're doing. Now choose roles.
    Gun Thief, choose 4 of these items. Add a tag onto each. Don't worry, they don't have an hidden meaning or mechanical significance.
    Alright, Law, choose one of these four opening scenes and frame it. Here's what that means.
    Jagged Women, introduce a problematic sexy lady into the scene, and choose which 2 of these things she's doing.

    In future scenes, the Gun Thief might create new items. The law gets to frame original scenes.
    By that point, we're already knee deep in the genre.
    We've got someone out for revenge who's endangering herself. We've got a devil Camaro and tainted drugs. We've got a Russian kingpin and a wounded hero.
  • edited June 2010
    Hm.

    So, I have some training & professional background in this stuff.
    I am trained as a therapeutic tutor, to work with children who face language learning disabilities.

    Foundational to the approach I am trained in: multi-sensory lessons, overteaching, active participation, discovery, concentric learning.
    Maybe I can share some of that stuff briefly?

    Multi-Sensory Lessons

    This nugget of wisdom is a popular one in classrooms and workplaces lately, which is nice. People learn better when they engage multiple parts of their brain at once. This is especially true for people who have sustained brain damage or who have trouble with certain cerebral connections, but also meaningfully true for everyone else.

    People learn best when they engage multiple senses and complete multiple actions, especially if it's simultaneous. It reinforces developing knowledge.

    Penny For My Thoughts has players passing pennies as they say key phrases. The "penny actions" re-inforce our memory of the key phrases, meaning that we aren't ruining the mood by flipping through our book looking for the right thing to say. It anchors our knowledge of key phrases, scene steps and the unfurling story.

    Overteaching

    Teach obtusely. Repeat things more times than is necessary. Pretend like your audience has the worst memory in the world, because they might.

    Don't patronize. Don't be pedantic, or treat your audience like children. Rather, treat them like adults engaged in a busy world, with a million things in their head. Overteach as a favor, not as a chore. This ties into concentric learning, too.

    Active Participation

    As a non-student, you are the least interesting teacher possible.

    Waiting is not learning. If they are not doing something, they are not learning.
    If they are not doing something interesting, then they are not learning in an interesting way.

    Engage. Expect and invite active participation.
    If there is a sheer and absolute need for oration, know how to invite active participation alongside your oration*.
    *good public speakers never address a static audience.

    Discovery

    Discovery is learning.
    Creating an answer out of the tools and structure provided, instead of just being told the answer, well... it makes all the difference.
    It's the difference between a memorizer and a self-directed, engaged, curious life-long learner.

    Enable discovery. Allow for trial and error.

    There's a connection to the fruitful void here, I'm sure.

    Concentric Learning

    Teach the smallest, most intuitive block of information possible.
    And by teach, I mean guide discovery and participation, engaging as many senses as possible... and do all of this in overabundance.

    And then, spiral out. Teach a set of skills and information that builds upon and expands outward from that which was just touch.
    Always spiral backward to touch upon what we've already learned.
    Award mastery of simple tasks by making it easier to engage new tasks.

    Occasionally look back and say "wow, what we just accomplished was a HUGE undertaking!"
    Smile, because it only felt like concentric small undertakings, and it feels like you just cheated life somehow, and got an amazing deal.

    Dogs in the Vineyard has initiations. Burning Wheel has subsystems that act as spokes to the hub.
  • I thought of making the first round in my current project (codenamed "The Beast Witch") to have the first conflict broken down with examples on how to explain the actions and options, so players could learn from it. I already thought before of taking some of the tools in current mini-games, where each character sheet has all the rules for the character, and how to use them, and when (though it might still suffer from players forgetting to do this).

    I think I'll also try and see about the "cards" at the center of the table, to be able to put all the relevant rules in this manner.
    Of course, the character sheets while I begin testing will have pre-generated cards. I don't know how to do it later. Maybe when players get to pick two "Keys" I'll have all the Keys on "cards" the same size, which will slot into two slots on the character sheets, so people will be able to print those out and assemble such a sheet that has "Everything on it".

    Game is still in exceedingly early stages of design, so we'll see how it goes, and I'll share thoughts and observations if I make any.
  • Holy shit, Joe, that is awesome! I couldn't possibly improve on what you've said here.

    So naturally, I'm going to try.
    Posted By: McdaldnoMulti-Sensory Lessons
    I've really come to value kinesthetic components to game experiences. Even picking up the dice to roll them can be an important physical ritual saying "here, now, this moment is special and important." It connects the game moment to musckle memory and burns its significance into your brain.

    I intentionally designed the beads-in-a-bag mechanic in Crucible to physically enact the event in the Dream: the Dark Faerie offering the bag like a sinister gift, and the Heroine reaching blindly into it to try to pull out a happy outcome. It worked all too well--in the game we played at GPNW, I kept forgetting I was the Hero and instead kept grabbing the bag and offering it to the Dark Faerie! :)
    Posted By: McdaldnoOverteaching
    Yeah, I was being flippant above when I said I only want to have to teach a rule once. In reality, it's fine to repeat it, but only when I'm repeating it in the context of its use. Also, I really like what you said about overteaching as a gesture of generosity, not of scorn.
    Posted By: McdaldnoActive Participation
    Right on. Dogs Initiations are indeed great for this. I'd like to hear more about just how "good public speakers never address a static audience."
    Posted By: McdaldnoDiscovery
    One of my huge challenges when running The Dreaming Crucible, or just describing it in conversation, is the temptation to spoil the "punchline" and brag on all the little emergent effects of the rules-interactions, which bring to life the game's theme. I am indeed proud of them, but it really the best way to convey them is to show you through play. I don't really want to talk about the game at all.

    Well that's not true, I DO, but only as a poor substitute for actually playing it with you. The game itself IS the thing I want to say about the game.
    Posted By: McdaldnoConcentric Learning
    Wow, what a wonderful image of what happens in fluent learning. I like thinking of the center of the circle as this core of technique that grows ever wider as it absorbs new knowledge, skill and craft. You never lose old knowledge when you take in new knowledge (or else you do, but quickly reacquire it when needed) because you're only expanding when your brain is ready.
    Posted By: McdaldnoOccasionally look back and say "wow, what we just accomplished was a HUGE undertaking!"
    Smile, because it only felt like concentric small undertakings, and it feels like you just cheated life somehow, and got an amazing deal.
    Yeeeeaahhh.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • From my design perspective and convention perspective, I find that the topic of "fluency" is much broader than what is being discussed here. It's not just a matter of teaching typical adults the skill of playing my game, I frequently need to teach younger children at the same time as the adults and older children, and at the same time I will often need to quickly communicate conceptual differences which if misunderstood will cloud grasping the procedure of play.

    In that sort of context I've learned there is no luxury of being able to pre-determine how much can be explained before game begins, when aspects come up, or even whether specific parts of play will need to be glossed over momentarily for the good of the group. My goal with these games is often to make sure that all the rules are on the play sheets, so that there is a visual (textual) channel, a verbal instructive channel, and an active procedural channel. And still, the clinching point is invariably difficulty in relating simple, but often subtle key concepts. .

    In Coming of Age, I've actually had to modify the core mechanic for pedagogical purposes, adding a small extra step to make it easier for new and younger players to grasp what is happening during the core mechanic roll. And this is a game where the mechanical summery easily fits on half a page.

    In many cases, the fact that my games don't repeat many indie or traditional tropes makes them more difficult to teach because instead of drawing upon expectations in a convention group, I need to break down expectations without generating hostility. When I teach Homeworld Project, I have to be very repetitive because almost nothing in that game works the way gamers expect: dice, NPCs, characters, GMs, scenes, action, and so on. It all works but with an entirely different logic (it even requires players to consciously adjust their unconscious dice handling habits), so I'd never get anywhere if I tried a compare and contrast approach to teaching it. But the rules on their own are not particularly complicated.

    - Mendel
  • I was thinking about this in the context of Tenra (the English edition).

    I've got Tenra, after dozens of sessions, down... semi-pat: I explain the setting in about 2 minutes, maybe a minute or two more if there's some particular fine aspect that will be appearing in the scenario I plan to run. Then, I explain the bare basics of the rules, but for the most part I hold off on everything until the first of such events happens:

    * First scene? I explain how the "fan mail" like mechanics work before it begins, so that we can start awarding fanmail from the getgo.
    * Later: I explain how fanmail works.
    * First 1-3 scenes: As soon as someone does something "conflicty", I step to the side and fully explain how stats/skills work, against target numbers and contested rolls.
    * First combat: Explain the basics of initiative, combat rolls, defense.
    * First time taking damage (not always in the first combat): I explain how damage works.
    * First intermission: We go through the intermission rules.
    * At the end of the intermission, explain how Karma/"dark side points" work.

    So by the first 30-60 minutes of play, everyone pretty much knows the core and 80% of the game system.

    The above is how most (good) high-production video games work: They don't just throw everything at you, but rather ease you into the game: The character, how the buttons work, what the menus are for, etc. That was a huge influence to me. You can see that some new Eurogames like the newer editions of Catan and others also pretty much have the same kind of tutorial: Learn as you physically play, not before.

    Now, the above isn't so weird. But I was talking to Guy about this, and actually taking the "script" that I use to explain how it works, and encode it. Write it up, either as a series of 3rd-person advice, or 1st person "Dungeon description 'text blocks' " to read through like a script. Basically a train-the-trainer guidebook.

    More games need this sort of thing. I've been trying on and off to learn some of my newer purchases (Warhamemr 3e) for a few weeks, but getting punched in the eye with the wall-of-text effect ("This is boring, mind drifting, I wonder if there's another crisis at work that needs attention?"). I would even love to see fans put this sort of thing together for their favorite games.

    The main question II'm wresting with is this: I think that this sort of "Hey GM/Book-owner: Here's how to explain the game in play" manuscript is important enough to go through with it.

    My only concern is, "Does it belong in the core rulebook? It'll take up a lot of space (maybe 8-10 pages)". Or would it be better to create as a downloadable PDF resource, with indications in the rulebook telling GMs to go to the site to download it?

    Currently waffling on that very question now.

    -Andy
  • Andy, I think it should come outside the book but with the book, PDF if it can't be done (cause it is a hassle).

    It's something someone might reference often, like at a con, it's something you might want to flip from to the main rules-text where things are explained in more detail. It's something you might want to hand around and lug to cons without taking your book, or suffering through opening the big book.

    And so, if I think of the ideal format? It'd come in a small booklet that'd come with the game, but is not part of the actual book. Like board-games' instruction manuals. It'd definitely be easier to pull off as a pdf. I think it'd lose most of its use except as something the GM reads but does not use during the game (literally), if it were to be put inside the book.
    And seeing how we live online, definitely point people in the text to the urls :)
  • edited June 2010
    Ok, in case it interests someone, I don't think I said anything I didn't really say here (well, maybe a small thing or two), but I made a blog post on the issue here. It turned out to be 1.6k words, so I cut it into two parts, the first part just raises the issue, so it might be less interesting. The second part should go live in some 15 hours.

    Edit: And here is the second part.
  • edited June 2010
    This is interesting. Do you think this is how you like to play, Joel, or how everyone should play?

    It must be partly preference. I cannot stand long rules explanations. However, I know some people won't start play until they know the rules. Other demand that you go through the character sheet: they want to understand everything about their character.

    So, although this works for you and me, I don't think it works for everyone.
  • edited June 2010
    Graham, in the first post he clearly says how some people are resistant to the idea, because they want to know all the rules first, but yeah, he does seem to say beginning to play quickly is better. I'd put it, personally, down to preference.

    What I don't put down to preference is what most game-books support. Most books just info-dump on you. The hobby tends to info-dump on you. And you, with your experience, or through learning from another player, learn how to be capable of teaching as you go. The thing is, there isn't really much to support you if your preference is to pick things up as you go.
    It seems very one-sided to me.

    Then again, here's another thing, one solution to fluency play, and it seems a lot of games are like that, even in our hobby (or you couldn't teach them in 30 minutes), is have rules which you can explain quickly. So even if you explain them all, you'd spend 30 minutes explaining them. It's a lot. But also a lot less than the couple of hours some games seem to be demanding. Though I wonder, do some games demand a couple of hours? And if a player demands to know everything, then we could also say they demand to know all spell options for all levels before they make their first level character, so it probably can balloon quite wondrously.

    So you can have games where explaining everything takes less time, or you can have games that do allow teaching everything, even if it takes hours, and yet, are capable of being picked up and explained as you go along. I think most games fall into that category, but the ability to explain them as you go along is woefully untended, aside from those who actively run the games.

    Edit: Final comment, and it'll be on tomorrow's post, for those who won't play until they know all the rules. This is why in some explanations of board-games I've seen, the person doing the explanation explains for 5 minutes, they "play" for 10 minutes with that person still explaining the rules, they play for 5 more minutes to see they have everything down pat, and then the board is cleared, and they begin a proper game from the get go. But they learned as they had played.
  • Posted By: GrahamThis is interesting. Do you think this is howyou like toplay, Joel, or howeveryone shouldplay?
    I'm going to answer this for myself, even though it's directed at Joel. So, I hope that's okay.

    The stuff that Joel is talking about, and especially the principles I outlined... it's proven to be one of the strongest and most responsive teaching methodologies possible.

    Proven meaning "this is considered best practices amongst educational researchers, specialists in workplace training and workplace literacy, and language therapists."
    Strongest meaning "the things that it teaches are more completely understood, mastered and retained."
    Responsive meaning "the most diverse set of learners and specific learning needs are met."

    Is it how everyone should play?
    No. Not necessarily.

    For one, learning a game or set of game skills isn't necessarily someone's exclusive goal in playing a game.
    And "fluency play" (by Joel's definition) will teach someone how to play by the end of the game, not by the beginning, and not everyone will like that.
    So, maybe it does meet everyone's play needs & goals.

    But is it the most effective method for teaching play?
    Yes. It's proven to be a strong and responsive teaching methodology, one which is vetted in all walks of education, training and skill development.
    And it maps to teaching games flawlessly.
  • One issue here may be that a lot of people who have already self-selected into the gaming hobby are people who have an unusual relationship with learning in some way. That is, either we're autodidacts with a particular way of doing that around subjects we take self-motivated interest in, or we're just good at this up-front way of learning and we're still in the hobby because that's what the texts do - we're the sort of people those texts don't kick out.

    Fluency play isn't chiefly aimed at people who are already deeply entrenched, I think?

    Also, a fluency-play-oriented game that doesn't successfully teach you what you need to know before you might want to know it is - surprise! - a poorly-designed game. That's not a hard one.
  • Mike, I hardly think it's contradictory. Aside from the obvious answer of "You might want to attract different people."

    No, what I often see is two groups in many playing-groups. The kind that picks the books up, learns, and reads it all, and then goes online to seek to master it further. And then you have the players who just come to play and want to be taught how to play (this is an optimal situation, we'll ignore the "Doesn't want to put in any effort" group right now, because that's often sort of just saying "I don't care."), or, one person, or perhaps a couple have the books, and the others don't. Fluency Play, if it's the only thing offered, might be a bit annoying to the first group, but it'd still get a game going.

    I see fluency play more as a way to teach the game, and which pays off even better if you already have someone who knows all the rules teaching the game. Settlers of Cattan has a booklet, you can play the game after reading 3-4 pages, but it's best if someone read the other 12 pages, for those corner cases, or exception based rules.
    It's a way of teaching and running the game that I see no reason shouldn't work in tandem with the full book. But why pick just one?
  • > SKIP TUTORIAL LEVEL
  • I'm glad we agree!
  • Posted By: misubawe're the sort of people those texts don't kick out.
    Yes, exactly! So many of us, myself certainly, have over many long years gained a hard-won skill at processing a detailed, fiddly, intricate structure, and putting it into action as something we call a roleplaying game. Others haven't, and either bail on the activity, or coast along on the know-how of those that do, but al the while lamenting that it's so complicated, and they just don't get it, and AH screw it, just tell me what to roll.

    I've played with many of the latter sort. Even when it's fun overall, there's sort of a depressing undercurrent, as they smack up against a wall in pursuit of that fun. Sometimes they blame the game--"these rules are so hard!"--sometimes the knowledgeable folks--"you're making this all so complicated!"--and sometimes themselves--"I must be dumb, I just don't get it." In each case no amount of "helping" in terms of MORE EXPLAINING seems to do any good; on the contrary it tends to just reinforce the feeling they already had, that this is just TOO complicated and they will NEVER get it.

    I hate playing in that environment.

    So Mike, when you say:
    Posted By: misubaFluency play isn't chiefly aimed at people who are already deeply entrenched, I think?
    or Graham, when you say:
    Posted By: GrahamSo, although this works for you and me, I don't think it works for everyone.
    My gut tells me that while, yes, there are some people that are just NOT INTO a fluent style of learning, and will be severely annoyed at any attempt to introduce it...

    ...in the end I would rather cater to the person who feels excluded by baroque complexity, the person who is having NO FUN because the procedures are flying over their head, the person who wants to try this daring form of spontaneous group creativity but feels like they can never be good enough because of the learning curve. We knowledge-privileged, complexity-headed geeks have had our day, and the result has been greater insularity and a new-member buy-in that is increasingly more costly. The Forge/Indie/Story-games movement has started to break that down and make the hobby more welcoming again; I want to keep going and chip more and more barriers away!

    Indie games tend to have a smaller ruleset and lesser time commitment. Great! But playing 3-5 hours every week for 3-5 weeks is still going to be (way) too much for some people, so I'm delving into designing even shorter-playing games. And keeping 8 Key Phrases straight from the get-go* is still going to be too much for some people, so I'm delving into designing games (or procedures to bolt onto existing ones) that introduce them gradually as we become comfortable in their use.

    If you get a whole table full of "full set of rules? Bring it!" folks, then fine, yeah, knock yourself out, I say. I still think that (like Joe said) this methodology will be better and smoother for learning the game, but hey, it's your party. However, if you have someone at the table whose fun grinds to a halt every few minutes as they furrow their brow going "wait, so I take this die--no wait, the 20, not the 10--and roll it and add what?" then I personally am going to be directing all my energy toward welcoming that player rather than passing them by.

    Peace,
    -Joel

    *like my wife, for instance, who was all gung-ho for Polaris until she hit that section of the text. As I wrote in another thread awhile back:
    Posted By: JoelMy wife was reading Polaris when I first brought it home, and loved the poetic writing, the setting, mood, concept, the whole works, and was talking about how much she was looking forward to playing it (she doesn't play story games much but she dabbles). then she stopped reading it and stopped talking about it. I wondered why, and later found out that when she hit some key game mechanics passages the thought of trying to keep all the Key Phrases straight from the get-go was too daunting and she mentally "shelved" the game. Now that she's seen how the Fluency model works in practice she's open to playing again!
  • Exactly. Don't Make Me Think is the title of a great book on user interface. The thing that lots of people - again, people with unusual relationships to learning - get wrong about the book's title, though, is that it isn't that people don't want to think at all; it's that they want to think about their tasks, not the tools for those tasks. Most people find that particular cognitive switch to be jarring. Fluency play is one way of smoothing it out.

    As for all of the outliers, well, they're gonna keep hitting SKIP TUTORIAL LEVEL and letting their geek flags fly. There's no reason you can't design a game that allows for both.
  • But really, this is a spectrum. I've run Coming of Age in conventions and I've had folks get the core mechanic from reading the flow chart. I've had them get it from my explanation. I've had them get it after the first player's first turn. I've had them get it after their first (or even second) turn. I've had them take turn after turn for it to dawn on them how it all works. And finally I've had some players never get it, and just enjoy throwing down lots of multi-colored dice, whether they were children or adults.

    And that's a mechanic one step more complicated than "did your die roll higher than the rest?"

    - Mendel
  • Posted By: misuba
    As for all of the outliers, well, they're gonna keep hitting SKIP TUTORIAL LEVEL and letting their geek flags fly. There's no reason you can't design a game that allows for both.
    Here's an important thing in my mind:

    I don't think of fluency development as a Tutorial Level. Quite the opposite.

    Tutorial levels are tech demos, that expect no ingenuity and fail to reward you.
    That Splinter Cell makes me practice looking in different directions before I can start sneaking past dudes... it frustrates me to no end.

    Fluency play is like the first level of Super Mario World.
    You're this dude! You can run!

    Oh, look. An obstacle you need to jump over. Great, now you know how to jump.

    Now a bad guy you need to deal with. Let's build on that jump skill.

    Oh, bricks. How can you interact with those? Great. Now you know you can bump bricks.
    Look, a mushroom.

    In a minute of REAL PLAY, you have taught yourself much of the gameplay.
    It was interactive, they let you discover things, the learning was concentric, you put skills into use the moment you learned them.

    They give you lots of room to overlearn these skills, before throwing a hammer brother at you, or a flying turtle even.

    Super Mario World starts out with REAL PLAY.
    Fluency starts out with REAL PLAY.
  • ...now, I say all of that not to contradict you.

    I agree with your statement, Mike: there are people who will want to take it all in, and then put it all into motion. Lump sum.
    But "skip tutorial" isn't maybe the best analogy to draw here.
    More like "Welcome to the warp zone. Please select the world you would like to warp to."
  • Part of this is an information-architecture problem: the optimal text to refer to once you know the game is very different from the optimal text to read when you are learning the game.

    It's one of the things that D&D gets totally right, at least pedagogically: you start as a first-level character, you roll dice to determine some stats, you pick one thing from List 1 and one thing from List 2, and you're off! (Now, if you choose the wrong thing from either list, you run the risk of screwing your character later, but that's a separate issue.) It's also one of the things that GURPS 4e gets wrong: the core Characters book is organized as a reference, which is exactly what you need when you know the game and you're just looking up the point cost of something or what its particular rules are -- but it makes learning the game a daunting task.
  • Posted By: cwilburPart of this is an information-architecture problem: the optimal text to refer to once you know the game is very different from the optimal text to read when you are learning the game.
    Yeah.

    An interesting thought exercise, for those who like interesting thought exercises: if you design the book as a reference text, what tools can you use to teach the game?
    And the reverse is sort of interesting, too.
  • Posted By: McdaldnoTutorial levels are tech demos, that expect no ingenuity and fail to reward you.
    That Splinter Cell makes me practicelooking in different directionsbefore I can start sneaking past dudes... it frustrates me to no end.

    Fluency play is like the first level of Super Mario World.
    You're this dude! You can run!
    This is not the difference between non-fluency play and fluency play. This is the difference between badly-designed fluency play and well-designed fluency play.
  • Joe, hell yeah on Super Mario. I played the first level of the NES original awhile back, and I went "WOW! This game teaches you how to play as you negotiate the level, and by the time you reach the end you've got all the skills you need!" So very good. I've never read any instructions on playing Super Mario Bros.

    This is especially what excites me:
    Posted By: McdaldnoSuper Mario World starts out with REAL PLAY.
    Fluency starts out with REAL PLAY.
    I mean, doing a mock-up of real play to learn from, then resetting and playing the real game? That's certainly better than being tossed into the deep end of the pool. But if I can manage to get the learning merged with real play that actually counts, that's the sweet spot. Just like a one-shot at a con that just starts to get to the good stuff when you've got to quit, a game where you play just to learn, then go "OK, no matter how cool that was getting, we're starting over now" sounds like a downer to me.

    Of course the issue to work out with "learning play that counts f'realsies" is the problem Charlton mentioned of an early choice screwing you over in ways you couldn't have foreseen in your ignorance. That's a tough one. Allowing later takebacks or adjustments is one way, but you wouldn't want it to get out of hand, I think. I do recall a D&D supplement (Player's Handbook II, I think) that explicitly allowed you to adjust Feats, Skills and Spell picks a limited amount when you gained a level. Some error correction like that can go a long way toward smoothing things over, and encourage you to experiment.

    If I know the game well enough I'll generally give really brief pointers as I go, like "don't worry too much about the numbers, but you should know it's useful to have at least one stat above X." That helps give people a basis for decision-making without overwhelming.

    One interesting solution: my man Tyler (who's around here somewhere, but maybe not reading this thread) was showing me a system he was working on for reducing the decision-making in a skill-point character creation system (in this case Star Wars Saga). He said, in a system like this there are a ton of decisions to make up-front; if you have 20 Skill Points that's 20 decisions to make before you even know the game." So Tyler's fix is to reduce the number of decision points by combining them into packages with themes like Nature/Nurture, Demeanor and so forth. So instead of 20 choices, you pick say, 4, and together they assign your skill points for you. I find it especially brilliant because it's also attaching those character creation decisions to an intuitive, emotional basis that peopl can attach meaning to, so you're going "I'd like to have a guy who's [I dunno] Meticulous and Determined, a Capable Fighter with an Eye For Detail," instwad of trying to suss out just what it means to have 4 points of Stealth and 5 points of Intimidate.

    Food for thought. Maybe I'll summon Tyler over to talk about it more.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • Joe, what I've seen work really well is for the game text to be a reference, and for an experienced player to work with a novice player to translate what the novice really wants with how to represent that in rules. I've also found that one of GURPS's advantages is that once the character is actually created, play is not difficult at all -- all the complicated math is done at character creation time. But that's not a virtue when trying to sell the game, because when people sit down to play for the first time, the first thing they need to do is create those characters, and that's one heck of a way to frontload the pain.

    It's also interesting that some of SJG's most popular supplements for GURPS have been things like the Dungeon Fantasy series: instead of starting with 250 points and figuring out how to spend them, you pick a class and make fairly constrained choices after that. So you pick Fighter, and that gives you these stats, and then you have 30 points to spend on this list of 8 options for customizing your advantages; and then you have this list of skills, and you choose one of these lists of skills depending on whether you see yourself more of a swordsman or a thug or a brawler, and so on.
  • This is a great thread--I'm reading it with pleasure, and there's plenty to inspire. I hope to see more developed in this direction!
  • i too am reading it with joy.
    there are a couple things that i'd taken to heart a while ago, and they've imporved what i'm up to. Hopefully more of this will find a place in my design, too-

    thank you.
  • In Lærelyst (a motivational RPG for schools), the book teaches during play. You get some setting, pick a character, then get your first stat challenge rolls. Then, you learn about skills. After that, you get some cash, so you can buy stuff - here are the lists. Along the way, you may take damage, and learn about that. Later in the adventure: First combat! Learn how to fight!

    It's very simple and obvious, when you think about it, and a very natural way to learn. A game teaching new skills - i. e. role-playing for beginners, or weird techniques for grognards - should implement these things.
  • Posted By: MatthijsA game teaching new skills - i. e. role-playing for beginners, or weird techniques for grognards - should implement these things.
    This is a brilliant point, Matthijs: games these days approach roleplaying from so many different philosophies and methodologies that it would be foolish to EVER assume that "you know, we all know what roleplaying is and how to do it, so let's just skip that and get right to rolling dice, shall we?" This makes fluency techniques important not just for "newbies" but for everyone approaching a game, because you never know what parts of the design are going to be new to you.

    Remember when In a Wicked Age came out and everyone got confused that it didn't play like Dogs in the Vineyard? Total Indie Game veterans, total Newbs to IaWA's play style.

    Maybe back in the hoary olden days* when games tended to follow the same lines--hit points, skills, attack and damage rolls in rounds--it was safer to coast along on a general knowledge of "how to roleplay." No coincidence that this era (or succession of eras, if you object to the homogenous implications) was formative for the cult of Hard-Won Geek Insider Knowledge that Mike brought up. But now, the field is wide-open. Leave your assumptions at the door!

    Peace,
    -Joel

    *Though even then it wasn't all the same thing; I had no end of frustration at trying to run Over the Edge while the players all treated it like D&D. ANd OTE isn't even as out there procedurally as say, Toon or Amber.
  • PS I'm glad to see that people are making with the joy! That makes me feel very warm inside. Thank you!
  • hi people! found this when i was looking for the PM function on the forum

    <blockquote><cite>Posted By: cwilbur</cite>Joe, what I've seen work really well is for the game text to be a reference, and for an experienced player to work with a novice player to translate what the novice really wants with how to represent that in rules. .</blockquote>

    i have had friends help me like this before. it can be a great help but i think it's a symptom of a problem and a stop gap solution that really leads to trouble down the road.

    i have noticed a few things

    traditional role playing games have complex rules
    traditional role playing games are actually about story telling
    the rules are often skipped over or a player is helped in favor of getting to the story quicker.

    This has the effect of allowing people to play the game without ever learning the rules, you will not find this in any other kind of table top game. Even complex miniatures rules sets will leave players with a portion of the rules internalized by the end of the first game.

    this internalization or understanding of the game is critical if the game is going to spread and become more popular. because traditional rpgs fail to do this first time players often leave a game in complete wonderment as to how they could ever play something like that on their own. it often takes a few years of playing in other peoples game for someone to feel comfortable running their own game.

    For example take something like the board game ticket to ride. once i showed my mom that game she felt comfortable teaching it to new players, and now many people in her circle of friends own copies and i'm sure they have brought the game to their own circles and so on.
  • ok now that i have read most of the thread let me reply with something thats a bit more on point.

    here we see a piece of a prototype i'm working on. currently known as 0 (zero) hunters

    card-preview.jpg
    ta da! this is a rules summary for 0 hunters
    the "dice" and "type" sections simply label the game's icons so players can verbalize their stats and action types.

    "the game" section is exactly what i think people should know about the game before they play.

    "take action" walks them through their very first challenge task action, it's probably the most complicated part of the rules.

    my game is VERY structured with how it presents rules and information to new players and this summary is just one small part of that. Teaching new games well is very important. if you wan to get better at it i highly suggest creating lists of how you introduce new rules to new players.
  • Thanks, Tyler! It does seem like it's time to get down to cases with specific games. So, looking at your setup (and not having gotten to play Zero Hunters with you yet) the card doesn't show a new player how to play in itself; I couldn't tell where to begin or what to focus my attention on. But I see how it can act as an aid to the real live teacher of the game, giving the learner a visual focus and reminder as the teaching and playing process goes along. Which is cool; I'm a big fan of rules reference cards. If I run a game and I don't have the basic rules concepts summarized on the character sheet or their own little placard, I feel naked.

    I'm going to write up some of my own processes for a specific game or two, for the enlightenment of all, which I think Guy sort of asked for waaay up the thread.

    Peace,
    -Joel
  • I'm not sure if this is the right way to go about it but here is what i have been trying to do. I start with principles and then follow with rules as they become needed during play.

    Principles give lose expectations, just enough to help players get on board with playing the game and set goals. All of the explanation in 'THE GAME" section of the card is principle. Telling people the game follows a plot made of tasks, it's good to win a task and to expect each task to be played differently. Then players are told how they should narrate and how they should treat other player's narration, these are principles regarding the style of play that is appropriate. This is the kind of information i want to know at the start of the game. as the game progresses players learn how these principles are resolved as rules. this way the blurry picture provided by principles is slowly focused piece by piece and when the game is finished players should have a clear image of how to play again.
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