Tuesday, October 7, 2014

House Rules as Video Game Tutorials

I had a bad time trying to explain a bunch of new house rules. The players got bored of getting an information dump and weren't able to absorb any more information after a few rules.

Go from ordering 3 soldiers on one battlefield to managing a global network of engineers, scientists, soldiers, and operatives in two hours.
I'd say that tutorial was successful.

Taking some time to ponder, and play some XCOM: Enemy Within, I thought it might be cool to have them come up on play on a tutorial basis, sort of like a lot of modern video games do. XCOM introduced me to so many new mechanics, one-by-one and as they came up in play. Granted these were contrived encounters, it helped me step up my understanding of the mechanics very quickly. They did it so well that for the first hour or so out of the tutorial proper, I was still expecting to game to restart with a message 'all right, now that you've got the hang of things let's introduce you to the actual difficulty of the game'. What if my house rules introduction had followed a similar gentle slope into their full depth? My players would have organically grown and adapted to the new rules without interrupting play for a single extended period of time.

Having this epiphany, I then turned to the 5e D&D rule-set and realized that the designers already had this down. They introduced only a few mechanics at a time, letting character complexity grow organically while the player is getting constant feedback of how effective they are. Major character path options are pushed a little further down the leveling road when possible. You learn to use your cantrips and 1st level abilities, and then they get mixed in with higher complexity abilities like regaining spells, taking extra actions, or doing more tactically intense moves. Let me try and absorb some of that idea into implementing my house rules so that it isn't one giant rules dump.

1. Make characters and get playing. Generally mention houserules that could significantly alter player play-styles or character choices. Avoid specific mechanics and help players make a good choice. "You will want a spellcaster with more health, spells wear you out".
2. When a situation comes up where a house rule would apply, introduce that house rule. "You want to go fishing? Let me tell you about how fishing works".
3. Explain the mechanics of the rule and allow for some mulligans. During this first rule encounter, explicitly spell out the consequences of choices made. "Roll this and look on this chart", "If you roll for psychic mutations, you'll risk ending up with horrible disfigurement".
4. Up the complexity and stop pulling punches. Let monsters and NPC's use the houserules if appropriate. This can be slowly or quickly and should relate to how fast the players grasp the houserule. "Now that you all understand the 30 sided die rule, know that I too can use it for big bad evil guys"
5. Repeat as necessary.

*For new players in a group of people that already understand the house rule, I would think following this same process towards that single player would still work. The only change would be that other players will be given no handicap in terms of how the houserule is used against them. Hopefully players in this situation will help the new player learn and adapt, as they've already gotten more experience with the system.

*I always give free mulligans for character design and advancement choices when it comes to a new player or house rule. I find it also speeds up build time, as they are less worried about having to pick the ‘best’ choice and will settle with their gut feeling on a ‘good’ choice, which usually ends up working out just fine.

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