In praise of "Skew" by Ben Lehman (and other self-explanatory games)

Just a quick note about "Skew" by Ben Lehman. During "Play" in Modena in April, we hosted a "freeform salon" with quick and easy story games. I never played Skew before (nor even *read* it) and I challenged myself: was it true that you can learn the game just by flipping through the pages while you play? Well, the answer is a big YES!
The game is structured as a sequence of procedures and it is very well designed in letting the players understand the rules while they play. Of course it helps if some of the players are already roleplayers but still it's very good for new gamers.
Are there any other self-explanatory story games out there?
(apart from The Gingerbread House by Rafu which I already know)


  • The last draft I read for Silver & White by Jackson Tegu was intended to be read aloud, and included all the "how to play" stuff as part of that.

    Did you like the actual game of Skew? I thought the premise was neat, and I'd love to hear how it plays.
  • Yes, I liked it. Of course playing it again a second time would benefit from knowing in advance what to expect.
  • edited April 2015
    Some games are ostensibly written like that, but then they're not as effective as SKEW. Jason Pitre's Posthuman Pathways and my own Enter the Avenger come to mind. But there are a lot, actually.

    Enter the Avenger is an example of how you incidentally get something which is almost read-and-play when the design is simple enough and your way of writing instructions texts is going through a game step by step. I think there have to be countless fine examples around (off the top of my head, Jason Morningstar's Durance and Ben Robbins's Kingdom are written like that, though way more verbose, and also Ron Edwards's S/lay w/Me, as well as a large number of shorter texts) and overall these are the game texts I best relate to… But SKEW goes further, in that the game as designed is made up of several discrete, incremental steps so that the instructions come out as perfect when written like that.

    Posthuman Pathways is instead an example of breaking up the instructions text into parcels which are apportioned to different players. Oh yeah, like Joli St. Patrick's Wilding Tales, too! I don't think there's a perfectly successful example of this around already, but it really is an interesting way to go. One of the best examples is actually Apocalypse World, when you think of it on the non-MC-players' side: all you need to know is your own playbook + basic moves sheet… The catch here is that the MC has a huge lot of reading to do, instead (as an aside, I just tried MCing a Night Witches one-shot without being sharp enough on the book, and it didn't go well). Murderous Ghosts is a development from there, of course, despite resembling something else.
  • A Penny For My Thoughts
  • Six Months, Three Days (a game about the man who can see the future going on a date with the woman who can see many futures) is just a box of cards. You open the box, you follow the instruction on the first card, and then you're playing.

    It was pretty directly inspired by Silver & White! And apparently, the people at Fastaval loved it, as Sara and I picked up a golden penguin for our efforts.
  • Thank you!

    I am very happy that, in the case of SKEW, the presentation of the rules could be be very clear and overlap with the game's style.


    * Except for Phases Five and Six.
  • Six Months, Three Days
    Linky link?
  • Not yet! :) There are some legal issues to work out before the game can (possibly) be offered to the public.
  • edited April 2015
    I really enjoyed playing SKEW. It has a very elegant system for creating the weird stuff that's going on in the protagonist's life.

    Left Coast, which shares some similarities to SKEW (it's about an author whose life is invaded by weirdness), is also written in a read-aloud, learn-as-you-play style.

    One of the trickiest things I found while writing Left Coast was that some sections didn't apply to all players. For instance, the section on 'roleplaying in a scene' frustrated some groups who'd played RPGs before. So I had to create some 'Choose Your Own Adventure' style options in the rules, based on what the players needed. It ended up a bit like this:
    *If you all want to jump straight into playing, go to page 14
    *If you want a bit more guidance and support, go to page 16

    Those sorts of context-sensitive and group-sensitive choices seem to really work.
  • edited April 2015
    Various Left Coast iterations and draft have been sitting in my "read and get ready to play" pile for too long… And now I had to move them to my "outdated" pile, 'cause the finished Left Coast is now topping my "to buy" wishlist instead. :)
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