Running games for the first time and making one-page advice

edited March 2012 in Story Games
A short while ago, Jamie was asking about Mouse Guard "principles". It struck me that the list we made in that thread would greatly benefit someone running MG for the first time. Not as a rules cheat sheet but a "what am I supposed to do here" cheat sheet.

Earlier today, I saw Mark (buzz) on G+ asking for advice about running AW for the first time. John Stavropolous made a pretty kickass list of stuff to watch out for.

And now here I see Chris asking for advice about running Lady Blackbird.

So this has made me think, would there be value in creating a sort of database of "how to run cheat-sheets" for various games, formatted in an uniform manner? I know Apocalypse World has very neatly laid out advice on how to run it. It's all in there! But sometimes things benefit from a rewording or alternate explanations or a somewhat different take from what the original offers.

For example, I've taken what John said about AW on G+ as the backbone and mashed it up with stuff from the book, my own observations and stuff other people said and turned it into this: How to run AW?

And then I took stuff from the Mouse Guard thread and turned it into this: How to run MG?

Here's the thing. Both of those took like 30 minutes. I'm sure with a communal effort we can make them both better, prettier, with better layout and advice. I'd also love to see more of those for other games. I'm sure JD could do a kickass sheet for Vampire. Someone should one-sheet Lady Blackbird. I know there's a Burning Wheel 101 summary of rules by Chris Chin out there, so why not turn stuff from the Adventure Burner into a compact set of guidelines/principles/advice, too? Sage did a lot of work on extracting advice from various editions of D&D in the search for Dungeon World principles, so that's another thing. Johnzo recently made an awesome thread about running 4E, but it's a bit long. Is someone daring enough to turn it into one page (ok maybe two?).

Who's with me?

Comments

  • I'm sort of with you. The only problem is that cheat sheets sometimes change the rules: emphasising them differently, phrasing things slightly wrongly, making tiny changes that really matter.
  • It would be awesome if they were easy to read on a smartphone and all linked from one page that I could bookmark on said smartphone.
  • On the other hand, Graham, isn't this why people even need this sort of second-party advice? To me it seems that minor changes in emphasis and procedure are all there because the second-party advicer has a slightly different take on the game from how the designer chose to explain it. This alternate take is often more pointed and radical, passionately siding with some specific way of "playing it right". This is what makes for clear and useful instruction: the more specific, passionate and exclusionary you are, the easier it is for another person to get on board your program (or decide that they don't want to).

    I mean, there are many games I'm willing to offer advice for, and I suspect that while most designers will endorse my advice, I won't be 100% by the book in it. The way I play games like My Life with Master, Dust Devils, Mountain Witch, Primetime Adventures, Shadow of Yesterday, Dungeons & Dragons... despite being very successful with all of these, and willing to discuss the fine details, I probably don't play any of them exactly by the book. And if I'm going to teach them to you, I will be teaching my personal improvements, too, not just what the text says. I couldn't even tell you what the text says in any exact detail, it's not like I read it anymore after having mastered the game.

    In this regard I'd go farther than Gregor: don't pretend that your cheat-sheet advice for playing the game is neutral, make it an artistic program while you're at it. "How to play Apocalypse World my way!" You'll make it more pedagogically powerful and more interesting that way. And the fact that you're giving out advice doesn't mean that somebody else can't give out contradictory advice - in the case of many classic games there are many alternate ways to play that are not compatible with each other in any meaningful moment-to-moment way.
  • edited March 2012
    Would crowdsourcing advice but having a single 'editor' for each document reinforce that "This is how I get the most out of this game" perspective?

    My brain says that this is an activity intimately linked to being a 'game advocate'. It could be cool if one side of the sheet address "why you should give this game a shot" while the other side addressed "how you can get the most out of this game" or "how you can avoid game-specific pitfalls".
  • For me, the problem is: cheat sheets drift the rules, while purporting to be the original game.
  • Posted By: GrahamFor me, the problem is: cheat sheets drift the rules, while purporting to be the original game.
    A completely valid criticism which I didn't really consider. It is a problem. However...
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenIn this regard I'd go farther than Gregor: don't pretend that your cheat-sheet advice for playing the game is neutral, make it an artistic program while you're at it. "How to play Apocalypse World my way!" You'll make it more pedagogically powerful and more interesting that way. And the fact that you're giving out advice doesn't mean that somebody else can't give out contradictory advice - in the case of many classic games there are many alternate ways to play that are not compatible with each other in any meaningful moment-to-moment way.
    I think this is also a valid and sensible solution to said problem? I dunno.
  • edited March 2012
    Graham, just a thought - a one-page cheat sheet is probably predicated on hard-earned experience and may be a better take on the rules than the original. John Stavropolous has played Dogs hundreds of times and the way he plays is not in alignment with the original text, but I'd much rather play "John style".
  • Yes, that makes sense. If it's done by an inexperienced player, for utility only, then I'm not sure I'd trust a cheat sheet.

    But a cheat sheet by an experienced player would be great. So I think I'd make a good cheat sheet for Poison'd or Steal Away Jordan, but not Ganakagok or How We Came To Live Here.

    (More generally, I'd love to explore ways of letting experienced players adapt games and take them forward.)
  • I think that the idea of one-page cheat sheets by collaborative input sounds like a great idea. :) I like what you've done with yours so far.
  • edited March 2012
    For Dogs I try to make changes clear.

    For Apocalypse World, I've been in many games where the same problems keeps happening so when Mark asked for tips on G+, I gave feedback to avoid those specific problems.

    But for both Marvel and Cthulhu Dark, I'm inexperienced and made mistakes that were unintentional. But I asked for feedback, Cam and others sent me changes, and I've been slowly updating them. I even made the sheets in Microsoft Word (which took me 3 times longer than if I allowed myself to use InDesign) just so I can make these files accessible to others to make their own changes.



    I think Cheat Sheets are a win / win for everyone.

    Even when done badly!

    The person who teaches a new game to their group will almost always get rules wrong. Sometimes on purpose but often unintentionally. Cheat Sheets makes these mistakes transparent for designers.

    Even the simplest games like PTA are played "wrong" by every single person I've observed play (over 60 people), even by those who claim to and are proud that they play 100% rules as written. I also play with a lot of game designers and they don't even play their games rules as written (Luke and Jared being the only exceptions I've found). If it's going to happen anyway, it's useful to know what's happening.

    As a designer, I find it useful to see how and where people interpret things differently or simply misunderstand what's being communicated.

    And if designers see mistakes, it's an opportunity to pitch in with corrections and advice (hopefully in a friendly approachable manner). Or if designers think the Cheat Sheets are terrible, it's an opportunity to make their own.



    Either way, it's all more shared excitement and enthusiasm over people's games. Even if this excitement comes with some temporary hassles, I suspect in the end it will be a net positive for everyone!
  • This is what I posted on G+ regarding Apocalypse World:



    #1 Reason for Problems. Players say, "I go aggro" instead of describing what their character is doing and having the fiction trigger the mechanics. If the GM just lets me "go aggro" and then I get a mixed result (I can succeed but at a cost), the GM often stalls because offering a hard choice is difficult when they have little to draw from because I never actually said what I was doing.

    Playbooks. Restrict which are available. If someone's a Hard Holder and most of the game is in the Hard Hold, the Driver and Chopper may be bored. If the game doesn't have a lot of combat, the Gun Lugger and Angel may be bored. Decide what kind of game you want and only allow the playbooks that work well for that game.

    Which Playbook? I find the descriptions on each Playbook don't tell players enough to help them decide what to play. But pages 97-99 does an excellent job briefly explaining the Playbooks and what to watch out for.

    HX. Don't accept lazy answers. If someone's HX asks, "who betrayed you", don't just let them answer with "Bob". Ask why. Ask them how that betrayal made them feel. Ask them why they are still together. Otherwise people often forget their HX answers 5 minutes after the game starts. And many AW games I've seen devolve into Player Vs. Player partially because initial HX wasn't tight enough.

    Highlighted Stats. Highlight Stats in character. Why does Sarah want to see Bob use Hot more? This makes it less Meta and gives you more fuel to create blazing hot situations.

    Help / Hinder. Do you roll Help / Hinder before or after someone rolls? If 1 person Helps, can another Hinder? Can multiple people Help? Every group I've been in does it differently. Decide how you want to handle it and be clear. I prefer Help after a roll but only 1 person can Help and only 1 person can Hinder. Also, just like any Move, don't allow people to just say "I help". How do they help?

    Moves Snowball. Since moves are very in the moment and fast, letting everyone use 1-3 linked moves at a time instead of jumping between players after they make 1 move, actually speeds up the game.

    Spotlight can be a problem. It's easy for players to split up, someone to get lost in the shuffle or for 1 person to earn 5+ XP in 4 hours and someone else to only earn 1-2 XP. I find it's useful to track how often players roll, or how many scenes they've been in so I can make sure to give everyone equal spotlight (if they want it).

    Go Aggro vs. Seize By Force. If your target can hurt you back, it's probably Seize By Force. If they can't, it's probably Go Aggro.

    Move Sheets are useful but incomplete. They are convenient but they are missing crucial info. For example, to Manipulate someone, you need leverage. Leverage is something that the manipulator can really do that the victim really wants or really doesn’t want. If there is no leverage, there is no Manipulate Move.

    Don't forget to roll the Suffer Harm Move when people suffer Harm and to use the At The End of Every Session Move to adjust HX.

    +1 Forward & Reading. GMs often forget to trigger the Read a Situation or Read a Person Move when players starts describing things that would trigger those Moves. And sometimes when they do remember, they forget that the player get +1 Forward for using the answers they earn via the Read a Situation Move. It's also a little lame when players ask questions using these Moves and the GM just tells them what they already know. These Moves are opportunities to make the situation more interesting. I've seen GMs use these Moves to make the situation... boring!

    Playing With Time. I've had a few GMs declare that after the first 2 hours of playing, session 1 is over! This generally works out great. We do HX. Then the GM will say hours / weeks / months pass.This lets the complications from the first session grow. The GM then asks what we did during that time, have us roll something, and then start session 2 in media res.

    Flashbacks Solve Problems. As a GM, you make up a lot of stuff. Sometimes what you makeup has a few logic holes. Players may say, "wait, that doesn't make sense." This is great... an opportunity even. Quickly describe a flashback and fill these holes with something that appeals to players' suspension of disbelief.

    Avoid Yes or No questions. How you phrase questions is huge. Yes or No questions trigger laziness and safety. The opposite of drama! Don't ask, "are you afraid of anything?" Ask, "what are you afraid of?" Even better, "what's hiding in the wasteland that you're afraid of?" Some players don't feel comfortable with direct questions or being put on the spot so alternatively you can ask, "one of you is afraid of what's hiding in the wasteland, who's afraid?" Let someone volunteer. Then ask them, "what exactly are you afraid of?"

    Ask How. "I'm going to try to get the drop on them." Cool. How? "I want him to sleep with me." Cool. How do you get him to agree? "I kill it." Cool. How?

    Ask Why. If you have no idea why your players are doing what they're doing, ask them. Some people don't respond well to "why". Sometimes "what do you hope to accomplish" or "what do you want" works better. Depends on the player.
  • My problem is - I'm the guy in my group that introduces new games - I'm the one that learns them first - I'm the one that teaches them - if I want to use a cheat sheet to help teach, I have to create it (19 times out of 20). So even if you forget about my normal admonition that all play drifts the rules, I'm stuck.
  • I think this is a great idea. Maybe just brand them so readers know they are one person's take on the game, e.g., "John's Dogs sheet" or "Gregor's Pathfinder sheet".
  • Good idea. Though what I think I would find even more useful is a one-page rule condensation - something in the style of the microlite 20 pdf, which takes you trough the game from character creation and trough one standard "engine cycle" of the game, but leaves out all the stuff you would already know about from having read the full game text.
  • Posted By: GrahamFor me, the problem is: cheat sheets drift the rules, while purporting to be the original game.
    That's interesting. Are you talking like...John's style, which to my reading is a kind of best-practices document? Would you also consider straight restatements of actual rules-rules to inevitably contain drift?

    I'm interested beacuse it's kind of a habit of mine to do up cheat sheets for new games, but they're always player-focused and (I hope!) straight mechanical restatements. Like, I did this "how Fate works" flowchart thing when I bought, I don't know, Spirit of the Century maybe. I didn't have any play experience but the actual rules of the Fate economy seemed complex/unambiguous enough to warrant a graphical treatment of them. But...maybe because I hadn't actually played the game at that point I over-/under-emphasized stuff?

    Anyway, interesting assertion!
  • Posted By: jenskotI think Cheat Sheets are a win / win for everyone.

    Even when done badly!

    The person who teaches a new game to their group will almost always get rules wrong. Sometimes on purpose but often unintentionally. Cheat Sheets makes these mistakes transparent for designers.

    Even the simplest games like PTA are played "wrong" by every single person I've observed play (over 60 people), even by those who claim to and are proud that they play 100% rules as written. I also play with a lot of game designers and they don't even play their games rules as written (Luke and Jared being the only exceptions I've found). If it's going to happen anyway, it's useful to know what's happening.
    I agree, and I don't even care what's better for the designers. It's better for the people playing the game, too!

    Basically, if you're running a game for the first time, you have two choices. If you make a cheat sheet, you will probably get some rules wrong and will make some mistakes in the game; but you will also have read the rules fairly closely in order to make that cheat sheet, and the cheat sheet will speed up the process of actually playing the game (and possibly the process of teaching it, too). If you don't make a cheat sheet, you will probably get some rules wrong and will make some mistakes in the game; you will also spend a lot of time flipping through the book trying to locate rules, and passing the book around so that other people can look stuff up, and you may as well give up any hope of maintaining good pacing throughout the session. Since the mistakes are going to happen anyway, if you can err on the side of making the game run more smoothly with those mistakes, you probably should.
  • I vote we make a compilation of people talking about how they run or facilitate (or even just play) their favorite games (indie or otherwise, rpgs or whatever else). Multiple people offering different (and independently written) perspectives on the same game is cool.

    Working Title: Expert Mode.

    Yeah?
  • Posted By: J. WaltonI vote we make a compilation of people talking about how they run or facilitate (or even just play) their favorite games
    We sorta did this with a Fiasco video.
  • Posted By: J. WaltonI vote we make a compilation of people talking about how they run or facilitate (or even just play) their favorite games (indie or otherwise, rpgs or whatever else).
    This is not quite the same thing, because it's all about teaching/facilitating others' play, not necessarily about playing, but I think the best Out of Character podcast we ever did was Derek talking about Teaching Board Games. Our Teaching Roleplaying Games ep was okay but not as good, probably because I talked more. :(

    Anyway, hope it helps.
  • edited March 2012
    Good stuff in here, I still need to check all the links.

    Thoughts so far:
    -Marshall is right that this is ultimately a form of game advocacy
    -I subscribe to Jonathan's idea
    -this brings back to mind that defunct podcast idea I never managed to pull together where I wanted to talk to people about the practical side of running games

    Is there a reliable way to record G+ Hangouts? Get three to five "experts" or "game advocates" (+moderator?) in a Hangout to talk about different and effective ways to run a particular game for 20-60 minutes. Make a youtube channel. Profit (not really but you know what I mean).

    ?
  • Is there an indie games equivalent of Hobby Games: The 100 Best? If not, man, there should be.
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