RPPR Episode 103: School of Dice

News:Gencon approaches! Check the RPPR thread for more info. Also, support Caleb with the No Soul Left Behind Kickstarter! It has what gamers crave! And speaking of Kickstarters, The Horrors of War Kickstarter is pretty awesome too!

Synopsis: Training, learning, and education are important topics in games but we seldom examine the assumptions made in games. The gaming trope of leveling up (I learned a new language after I killed enough orcs!) is a poor model to represent learning but what should good experience/leveling up rules look like? Aside from educational rules in games, we also discuss academic themes for adventure ideas and using a game to teach it to other people.No letter from Tom, but we do have shout outs and an anecdote.

Shout Outs:

Music: Selected pieces from Computer Death by Infinite Frequencies. Check out more Vaporwave if you want to hear elevator music from Carcosa.

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  1. One great thing for Call of Cthulhu (or Trail of Cthulhu with some conversion steps) that would work great for this topic would be the Miskatonic University sourcebook where it lays out rules for creating students at Miskatonic U for keeping up with your classes as well as the plentiful scenario seeds presented in this sourcebook.

    Also love the comment on ‘pressing the shoggoth box to get more plot’ from this episode. Guess it comes close to a Pavlov bell instead of a Skinner box though that might involve getting the failed SAN roll, pressing the shoggoth box to get more plot (or salivating at the shoggoth which might just aggravate things more or turn it on?).

    I wonder if the Deadly Games books is less an airport travelogue novel & more a book themed off the movie Airplane!.

  2. entoptics! the system works! I laughed out loud.

    what the hell, the judo story. that’s incredible.

    Vaporware’s kinda neat. I was disappointed in The Rhesus Chart–I guess I called it “lots of filler” more than “lots of backtracking,” but I guess it’s the same complaint. but I’ve consumed everything Stross has ever put out and have immensely high expectations for him, so maybe I’m to blame. Gideon Emmory’s okaaay–I think he’s overused in video games, not, like, in general, but sometimes he’ll show up multiple times in a single game sounding just like himself, and it’s immersion-breaking–but my favorite Stross reader was the guy who did Halting State and Rule 34, Robert Ian MacKenzie. three narrating characters in each, all with wildly different British Isles accents, each unique and wonderful.

    I said it on, like, every episode of No Soul, but I could listen to Caleb talk about education basically forever. whether it’s the take-that parody of the campaign or the more earnest stuff we get here, it’s weirdly fascinating. there was a time I considered going into teaching German or English, aaand a small part of why I didn’t pursue that was Caleb’s comments about the hell of teaching down the years.

  3. Older versions of Runequest give you a chance to improve skills a week after you succeed at using them.

  4. Another great discussion. I am actually working on an RPG system right now that takes purchasing skill out of character creation and lets players develop their skills (aptitudes/effort might be a better word) during the game. I doubt it will survive playtesting, but I’m having fun trying!

    Girl With all the Gifts is great. Glad to see it get a shout-out.

  5. Good episode. I’ve been doing a little thinking myself about how to introduce new players to a game system. I had a Pathfinder group that I’ve basically taken from first-time RPG players up through 9th level over the past three years, and it’s been really interesting.

    One of the things that I’ve considered about teaching new players is how to present different parts of the rules as discreet units, and then combine them together cumulatively (just like Caleb does in No Soul Left Behind). So your first combat should just be a basic, simple one-on-one fight, and easy to win. Your first skill roll should be a simple pass/fail, etc.

    The tricky part for me is balancing this with a player’s (good and natural!) desire to get creative. What if they try to grapple the orc in their very first combat? Well, don’t tell them, “No, you can’t do that!” But instead of reaching for the grapple flowcharts, maybe have them make a simple success/fail roll and narrate their action, but tell them that in the future, that kind of combat uses some more complex rules sets that will make sense once they’ve got the basics down. That way, you can keep the complexity down while still rewarding creativity.

    Also, ANECDOTE (feel free to use it in the show if you want): I recently ran Call of Cthulhu for a couple of new first-time roleplayers: my parents! They’re both in their 50’s, and except for my dad’s single bad experience trying to play D&D once in college, they were completely fresh to RPGs. It was an interesting experience. They seemed to really enjoy creating characters, but not so much the math elements. My dad made a radical anarchist bomb maker/chowder cook, and my mom made a classy cat burglar lady. The mechanics were a little tricky for them to grasp, but once they got the concept of d% rolls, it all fell into place pretty quick.

    In gameplay, my dad was a little frustrated that his character sucked so bad at climbing after he fell into a collapsed basement. Eventually he managed to gather some old crates together and make it, but I could tell he was getting a little mad at his character’s seeming incompetence. (As a GM, I think I learned that sometimes it’s better to take a failed roll to be “you succeed but with consequences” rather than a total failure, to encourage a new player and to move the plot along).

    They both seemed to really love the improv element of the game, and my mom got into her character’s clever problem-solving ability . I think it helped a lot that my dad does some theater, and my mom reads a lot of mysteries. They had some good creative ideas for sweeping out the old haunted house. And when things started to get *really* creepy and dangerous, they embraced the mood very well — to the point of fleeing from the final encounter and avoiding the boss fight entirely.

    So overall, it went WAY better than I was afraid it might, and they both said they’d even be interested in playing again sometime (though during the day — we ended pretty far past their bedtime!). Good times roleplaying with the folks!

  6. By the way, Little Timmy the Morality Pet is now going to be a recurring NPC in my games. Thanks, Caleb!

    As an educator of learners with exceptionalities (special ed), one of the reasons I enjoy being the GM more than being a player is that I get to use great education techniques to teach new games to players. As Caleb mentioned, a bad learning experience will cause damage that lingers (often for a lifetime), and I want all my players to have a good experience regardless of whether or not they like the game itself. The players don’t have to like the game, but if they had a good time and can explain the game to me afterward, then I feel satisfied. It is quite sad to hear someone say they don’t like a game or system because they had a bad experience playing it, as I recently heard for both Night’s Black Agents and Call of Cthulhu :cry

  7. A great system for progressive skill advancement is Burning Wheel. Instead of having experience and levels where you simply put points into chosen skills without every actually needing to ever use them, instead BW allows you to improve skills by actually using them! Crafting a sword, plotting a path, learning a new language, swinging your sword, and surviving a battle are all based on your previous attempts, and getting better takes practice.

    And the greatest thing: You don’t have to succeed to advance! You learn from your failures just as much as your successes. This is also how you learn new skills; you don’t have to worry whether it’s a class skill or wait until your next level to start learning how to whittle. The only restriction on advancing skills is that it has to be important to the story; you can’t simply say “I want to walk around and look at stuff to improve my Percpetion”.

    Overall, the system is very organic and makes it so that people can improve any skill they like, and learn anything that they believe pertains to their character. You can be a jack of all trades, or a master of one. You’re not limited to some checks on a sheet or a specific list from a book.

  8. Artesia: adventures in the known world, has one of the most insteresting takes on this subject in gaming. It has two experience systems.

    One is a pure training mechanic. You spend time being taught by some one who is both better than you, and a skilled teacher(teaching being a skill in the game), and you get better over time.

    The other is the arcana, which are thematically linked discreet experience pools which can be used to purchase a limited number of skills, attributes and special abilities. Points in an Arcana are earned by undertaking a wide variety of actions connected with that action, and which are of significance to the story.

    So you might earn death arcana for returning home and finding your father dead, and become better at black magic because of that experience. Later you might earn justice arcana points for killing his murderer and be blessed with the ability to see guilt in others as a result.

  9. I liked that story: For the ‘To long didn’t listen’ crowd it went something like this:

    Paizo gets an artist to draw a female character. He sends them some skinny model looking thing back

    Paizo: She is to skinny, make her bigger =>> Artist makes breast bigger.

    Paizo: No she is a bigger woman. She needs to be bigger =>> Artist makes breasts a lot bigger.

    Paizo: You not getting it mate. Add 50 pounds. =>> Artists response: “That’s way to big breasts”.

  10. Can a mod please delete my post above. It’s in the wrong thread

  11. Ironically 5th Edition D&D makes you find a mentor or otherwise spend time learning new things. No more mass murder related linguistics for you!

  12. Can *anyone* tell me what episode I can hear characters mistakenly assassinate Charlie Chaplin, or is it purely anecdotal / apocryphal?

  13. Missed opportunity on “Breakface club” for adventurers in detention.

    I was wondering if anyone would mention Burning Wheel in the comments and I see that Jesse did. I really like the idea of learning from both Successes and Failures, but BW requires tracking both. I think you guys mentioned another system that required tracking each roll as being fiddly, and this is part of the reason I don’t run BW. I know some of my players would simply never advance because they generally don’t pay much attention to their character sheets.

    While I like Gumshoe, I had some difficulty introducing it as well. I’ve seen similar stories elsewhere, where it just hasn’t clicked with some players – while I feel it’s a very solid system, it seems like some of the elements could be presented more clearly. I tried doing an “intro session” where the players shared control of a doomed NPC to get used to spending points, but it quickly turned into Everyone is John style absurdism.

    This was a really excellent discussion – interesting to hear about teaching both in the real world and as it applies to elfgames. I also have to admit that I’ve learned a lot about introducing and running various games and working with confused players from RPPR, so thank you for that.

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