Blades in the Dark


Second session tonight! Probably the last of it for now because our Urban Shadows regular returns to the game next week.

Per standard procedure, I reread the hell out of the rules after last session. Isn’t it aggravating how common it is that many RPG rulesets just don’t make total sense until you have the context of fumbling through a session? Maybe it’s just me. 

I have no idea how to fix that, either. Not once, not ever have I played an RPG where this didn’t happen to some degree. At least when I’m specifically learning from the text and not being taught by someone else. Now granted, Blades only offers the quickstart rules, and they’re on-purpose incomplete and sketchy. I wouldn’t say they’re really any worse than fully published robust adventure games.

I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever played a tabletop game with a preprogrammed tutorial. It seems like something I’ve done, and it seems like it’d be really unsatisfactory since learning to apply fairness and discretion is the heart of running any good game (that requires outside facilitation blah blah). I guess demos, like The Sword scenario for Burning Wheel, are about as good as it gets: learn fairness and discretion while you’re exposed to these various subsystems.

Always makes my first sessions feel kind of wasted. Not every time! If I’m picking up a PbtA game that hasn’t strayed too radically from doctrine, I can usually muddle through and have a pretty good time with it. At that point I guess I’d say I’ve already been through the tutorial (via playing lots of other PbtA games). Kind of like how you can pick up a shooter and do okay with it, as long as you’ve put in your Call of Duty time or something.

Familiarity is no small thing. It’s got to be a huge commercial consideration as well. Sometimes the fetishism of novelty in indieland (“real design”) seems either foolish or user-hostile. And yet here I am, looking for new ways to play make-believe every chance I get.

0 thoughts on “Blades in the Dark”

  1. Yeah, called A Night’s Work and you made up a thief and stole some stuff in a fantasy town. A google search reveals that it can be found in some dodgy Internet corners if you are curious.

  2. Swords without Masters has maybe the best tutorial in the scene. 

    Related to “rules never fully make sense until you play” I thought about Mental Playtesting in Magic. Just thinking about a card in your hand during a game together with the 6 others you have and making a plan based on that makes things much much clearer then just thinking about it before you. Maybe there are lessons to be learnt from that there.

  3. I don’t think this “feature” is isolated to RPGs. It comes up in various technology things all the time. I suspect it has to do with unfamiliarity not giving you a sense of what is important, so you focus on the wrong bits.

    It kinda feels like this is exactly why PbtA games differentiate the First Session from Actual Play

  4. Right, okay, I dig that Mythender does that. I think my problem is that the time/social footprint of RPGs is already so big, you know? Like, this tutorial we’re doing isn’t our thing, we’re just learning how to do our thing. 

    I kind of have a similar grievance with board games that are so elaborate that you need to play through tutorials just to learn them. Like how nearly all the games by Vlaada Chvaitl are. He’s my favoritest designer but his shit is so hard that you have to play tutorials for hours before you’re “really playing.” And if you don’t practice now and again, you forget everything and have to start over.

    This didn’t used to be a problem for me. Hm. Damned middle age and my ever-shrinking window of wasteable time.

  5. My old D&D Basic red box set, which I got into RPGs with (like probably most others my age, my first!) was one I was happy picking up, learning, and running without input from more experienced people. I’ve not come across it’s like since.

    As mentioned up thread, GURPS 3e did a reasonable job too with tutorials, as did Paranoia 2e, with their solo adventures. I’d like to see something like those again.

  6. Jason Morningstar was too humble to mention his own tutorial setup for Night Witches, which serves as both a rules primer and setting primer.

    I agree though that it is really challenging to ever really understand a game until you see it at the table, in large part because of the complexity of the rules, and in large part because people learn at different rates and invest at different rates, and the balance of knowledge and investment at the table is such a big part of what makes RPGs and complex boardgames work at all.

  7. Shoot, didn’t notice Kit La Touche beat me to Mythender.

    Paul Beakley maybe the issue is intricacy.  A game is intricate when its rules interact in deep ways that are difficult to explain but can be obvious once used in play.   Intricacy requires a certain amount of complexity, but doesn’t have to have to be rules heavy. 

    Mythender is an intricate game.  In a world with Hero System and D&D 4E in it, it isn’t really a particularly complicated game.  But the way the tokens move around from type to type, and the REASON for that movement, is something that really can only be understood by playing it.  

    All intricate games need to bring players to an epiphany moment, where the game suddenly clicks and people get what is going on.  A tutorial can serve that purpose, or a slow paced first session.  But until the epiphany moment, the game will simply not be fun, it will just be frustrating or annoying.

    It could be, given the time you have available and the people you play with, intricate games just aren’t your thing anymore.  The investment of that period of frustration before epiphany (and in the case of board games, repeating that period with new players maybe many times) is never recouped later in play with people who have had the epiphany and are just enjoying the game.

  8. I think you’re on to something with the Vlaada comparison, and Tim Franzke has a good bead on it, too. It’s because you have to see the pieces in action, before you, instead of just internalizing them in your head. The game works out completely differently once you see how it plays.

  9. Follow-up thought. I don’t think it’s necessarily intricacy. I would have no idea how Swords Without Master played if I didn’t actually play it, and yet those rules are incredibly simple.

    Actual Plays in the book seem to help a bit; I loved the actual play examples in Urban Shadows.

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