Training wheel rules

edited June 2009 in Story Games
So, in this thread here about optional rules, there was a sub-conversation about Burning Wheel that got lost in the (admittedly more interesting) back-and-forth about brain damage and so on.

Paul Beakley made the following observation:
Posted By: Paul BCuriously BW uses optional rules in both directions. As you correctly point out, all the "rim" rules are by definition optional, and you can run a fully functional BW game using nothing but Versus tests. On the other side are little plug-ins like the "Oh Shit!" rule, which is included as a Fight! option for scripting noobs and is intended to be discarded with more experience.

I can't think of any other games that do that -- offer up-front options that are meant to be removed with more experience -- but I'm sure I'd come up with some with a little thought. Sure seems like a good idea, truth be told, when the core game is especially tricky and players have a hard time making informed play decisions.
Like Paul, I can't think of any other games that do this.

Burning Wheel is somewhat vexing to me, since I like a lot about it, but have never managed to have a really awesome game with it. That said, I don't know that I've actually used the "training wheel" rules. Perhaps my nerd-pride forbids me.

Does anyone have any examples of rules like this? Did they work well? Or did you ignore them?

Comments

  • I have only played BW with the training wheels on, and really dug it. When I actually sat down and tried to run it "for reals" I was overwhelmed and the game lasted one session (two if you count character creation, which is really a lot of fun). I find it quicker, easier, and much more narratively stimulating to just use versus tests rather than the full-on Fight! and Duel of Wits rules, but, then again, I don't have a lot of experience having someone run those rules for me.
  • Adam, I agree .. I enjoy BW more without the full-on additional rules (Fight, Duel of Wits, etc).

    But that's not quite what I was referring to .. Paul's comment isn't about optional or advanced rules you can choose to ignore, but about "beginner" rules that the game designer intends for you to use only at first, and then to discard.
  • Seems like "training wheels rules" would generally involve "undo" or "take-back" rules, right? Training wheels "undo" the accident of unbalancing while riding. What other categories can we think of?

    [aside]And one could consider Bloody Versus to be a training wheel rule, if one accepts that the Fight rules are the "main" rules, not "advanced." It's semantics, basically... though I think Luke would say both are good at all times: BV is for mini, mook fights while Fight is for more story-relevant conflict.[/aside]
  • Hm. Training wheel rules that come to mind:

    The one that comes to mind, other than BW's already mentioned above, might be the numerous statistically-friendly options for generating stats in D&D. If you're playing hardcore, you roll your 3dfucking6 and run what you rolled. N00bs go with 4d-keep-3, or roll 10 sets and take the best 6, or any number of other "lookit my rad high score" methods. That may have more to do with indulging player empowerment fantasies, but I think you could also easily characterize those as training-wheel rules.

    Other than that, all I'm thinking is various takeback/undo rules, as DA characterized them above.

    p.
  • Posted By: David ArtmanSeems like "training wheels rules" would generally involve "undo" or "take-back" rules, right?
    Yes, rules specifically intended to be used only for a couple games and then not used any longer. Bloody Versus rules don't really qualify, since no matter how expert you become at the system, you might still want to use them, depending in the conflict at hand.
    Posted By: Paul BThe one that comes to mind, other than BW's already mentioned above, might be the numerous statistically-friendly options for generating stats in D&D. If you're playing hardcore, you roll your 3dfucking6 and run what you rolled. N00bs go with 4d-keep-3, or roll 10 sets and take the best 6, or any number of other "lookit my rad high score" methods.
    I'll buy that. Although I alwats used the more forgiving methods, even after a decade of nerd-fu D&D mastery.

    I guess training-wheel rules aren't really very common at all.
  • edited June 2009
    What about games like d6 Star Wars and Shadowrun where you could make a character by picking a template and customizing it a little, rather than jumping right away into the more complex method of statting up a character from scratch?

    (Edit: Whoops, I hit the post button too soon!)

    I never played Shadowrun, but I know with d6 Star Wars I totally thought of those templates as training wheels, in a "Psh! I don't need no stinkin' templates to tell me how to make a character. I grew up on Advanced D&D, thank you very much!" sort of way.
  • Posted By: Ron HammackWhat about games like d6 Star Wars and Shadowrun where you could make a character by picking a template and customizing it a little, rather than jumping right away into the more complex method of statting up a character from scratch?
    There's a common flaw in the implementation of template characters, though: many of them are terribly constructed. I know in Deadlands and I think Shadowrun, the template characters were markedly sub-optimal -- if you played with one of them, your character would have a hard time and fail a lot.

    When I played AD&D, our group would suggest that new players play Fighters and maybe Rogues, since those classes have the fewest special features. After they got comfortable with the rules, they could try a spellcaster of some sort.

    Come to think of it, you could consider the level system of D&D to be a series of training wheels. 1st level characters have few powers and options in combat. So play is straightforward. Each level, you add one or two more things for the players to consider, and they have plenty of time to learn and become proficient with their new options before the the next level.

    At some point Vincent posted some optional rules restrictions for In A Wicked Age to help people break bad habits from other games that made IAWA play not as fun. So, semi-official, but not actually included in the rulebook.
  • Just this past Thursday, I posted episode 13 of the Myth Weavers, which has me, my wife Giuli, and Willem chatting about the pedagogy of play process we tried with Mouse Guard.

    Willem came up with the pedagogy of play concept as a means of learning a game by playing it, and as we discuss in the episode, it relates a lot to the "Where Are Your Keys?" fluency game. In both—and really, any time you become fluent at something—you start with a very simple task, do it until you can do it fluently, and then add one more thing. It also relates a lot to Csíkszentmihály's concept of "Flow." You're always in that narrow corridor of challenge and skill, between too little challenge (boredom) and too much (frustration).

    We also discuss how you could build up comfortably to even a very complex game by doing this. After all, we do this with language. The "Where Are Your Keys?" game differentiates between the "Barney" level of fluency (fluent at the level of single words), the "Sesame Street" level of fluency (fluent at the level of simple sentences), the "Larry King" level of fluency (fluent at the level of paragraphs), and the "Charlie Rose" level of fluency (fluent at the level of abstract or philosophical discussions). Notice, Charlie Rose still uses good old Anglo-Saxon words, too. He doesn't lose that previous level of fluency; in fact, the more complex levels build on that.

    So, from that perspective, "training wheels" seem like an admission of failure. Really, I think you want a system that has a number of simple additions. It works at each level, and progressing from one level to the next doesn't present an overwhelming challenge. By the same token, you build on earlier levels. If you throw away an earlier level once you've outgrown it, I think that might show you that one level has too much complexity in it.
  • Selene Tan — that's a *great* point about D&D play. I think it's a hitherto-unarticulated reason why I always preferred to start at low levels.

    Matt
  • Selene, I agree with you about the learning value of "leveling up" in D&D (and related games). Taking a brand-new player and having them roll up a 15th level character would be the death of both of you, in terms of the sheer weight of rules and options they'd be expected to understand and remember.

    That's not really a "training wheel" system, though, so much as its building slowly upon previous knowledge. The important thing about training wheels is that once you achieve basic mastery, you take them off and never use them again.

    Jason, you may be right. Can you think of any specific examples of this kind of system in role-playing games?
  • Many companies provide quickstart versions of their rules - notably, White Wolf's (helmets on!) quickstarts are so focused that they tend to work much more smoothly than the more sprawling "standard" games.
  • So, I don't know if this counts, but...

    One of the things about playtesting Mythender with (now) 55 people is that I've recognized a pattern for the first big fight (called a "Labor") that I tell people to do. I tell people the same three initial actions (which I call now "The Script"), and that teaches the game fairly well -- removing some options that don't make sense without context, and directing you to choices that are fairly optimal for the first time player. The key to making it work, I think, is that the GM also has to follow the script -- no cheating in order to take advantage of people.

    This week, my goal is to turn that into a one-page hand-out (without the awesome layout-fu that Fred used on the character sheet, since, you know, baby :) so that I have it in time for GPNW. I may post it up on the net afterward, if it ends up working out as a handout rather than just my verbal directions.
  • Spirit of the Century has a "spend a Fate Point to get +1 to your roll" rule that almost always withers away once people get into tagging Aspects.
  • Posted By: BWAThe important thing about training wheels is that once you achieve basic mastery, you take them off and never use them again.
    I totally agree; that's this thread's core focus. And so Bloody Versus fails by that definition--sure, you might use it early on or for a demo game; later you might love Fight! and leave Bloody versus aside; but eventually you'll use it for some lame-ass mook fight that you accidentally threw at the PCs while distracted or tired (if one holds the opinion that one shouldn't have "mook fights" that don't hit BITs).

    But the 4d6-keep-3 D&D optional rule would qualify, if one takes the stance that eventual "mastery" of the D&D game involves rolling up a 3d6 guys and stepping up to what it gives you. (Thought provoking aside: Would it be equally "hard core" to points build with 63 points [3.5 die average * 3 dice * 6 stats]? Or is the chance of having to play with a stat total less than the average is part of the "burn?")
    Posted By: BWAYes, rules specifically intended to be used only for a couple games and then not used any longer.
    Some clarification might be necessary: I meant, literally, rules that let you undo or takeback an action, not rules that you would undo-as-in-stop-using.

    So I'm saying that a LOT of "training wheels" in games (not even just RPGs) involve letting someone take back an action which is utterly, clearly suboptimal and (presumably) unfun. For instance, "jeopardy" calls in chess and "check" calls in speed chess - warns the beginner of something that he or she might not notice. Huh... wait, that ISN'T an undo so much as it's a preemptive action by the opposition to help avoid a future bad action.

    So that could be a sort of training wheel rule that isn't based upon an undo, but upon a warning. Going back to BW, it would be like pointing out that a Spider has you at Close: Lock is damned-near inevitable, at that point, and the newbie can look for Lock's counter right on the cheat sheet.

    OO! Cheat sheets! Any game of tactics which provides a chart of some kind to compare and contrast tactical options. The "master" BW player won't need the chart because he'll have memorized the maneuvers and gained a fell of the ebb and flow of Fight that doesn't require pouring over the comparison charts looking for maneuvers. Or, to get simpler, the cards they give you at some casino's for when to hit or stand or split, based on what you have and what the dealer is showing--a card counter doesn't need that in the slightest, and even passable blackjack players don't bother with one (having it memorized or even having a sort of "weak counting" subconscious process).

    I reckon I think finding the categories of training wheels to be more interesting, as they can be more helpful to designers/writers than some examples. But keep either kind coming: I can extrapolate a category from an actual example (and, as above, might even stumble into new categories as I do so!).

    Cool thread.
  • Blood Red Sands sets stakes in a competive backwards poker fashion where I tell you what you're going to bid and you tell me what I'm going bid. I've discovered that new players tend to wind up going "all in" right from the get go.

    So there's a rule where instead of bidding you can ask for a reduction in the other player's bid...a pressure valve that let's you deescalate if you've gotten overly enthusiastic in your bidding.

    As a rule it doesn't get explicitly thrown out, but I suspect it to be used less and less as players get a feel for appropriately risky stakes.
  • Posted By: ValamirSo there's a rule where instead of bidding you can ask for a reduction in the other player's bid...a pressure valve that let's you deescalate if you've gotten overly enthusiastic in your bidding.
    Interesting. Something like an "undo" rule, but with granularity (you can undo some or all; non-binary). Also a bit like a warning rule. A hybrid of sorts (or there's a metacategory we haven't thought of yet).
  • Posted By: RogerSpirit of the Century has a "spend a Fate Point to get +1 to your roll" rule that almost always withers away once people get into tagging Aspects.
    Posted By: ValamirSo there's a rule where instead of bidding you can ask for a reduction in the other player's bid...a pressure valve that let's you deescalate if you've gotten overly enthusiastic in your bidding.
    Lovely! To me, these examples are really true "training wheel" rules -- rules that the game designer specifically intended to make life easier for new player, but that are genuinely different from other game rules, and intended to be used less and less or discarded.

    I think it's important that the game text SAY this, though. "Here's a rule you can use to make things easier at first, although you'll probably want to stop using it when you're more familiar with the game".

    I'm pretty sure Spirit of the Century does specifically say this in the text. Ralph, when this rule is presented in Blood Red Sands, does the text indicate that this is a rule that players are likely to find less useful as their game-fu grows?
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