Friday, March 27, 2015

Teaching a Game: Mythender's Tutorial, Part 2


It's time to follow up on last week's post, where I started breaking down the (incredibly awesome) Mythender tutorial battle. It's a tool that Ryan uses to teach players how to play a very mechanically intense RPG. In Part 1, I talked about how the tutorial begins by very clearly defining foundations. You're going to start to see something else in the battle: a layered instruction system where the most important parts of the game come into play one at a time...

When we left off last week, the tutorial had just followed the Mythenders into their first round of battle! What's incredibly awesome about that first round is how it uses the natural tension of a Mythender battle as a tutorial mechanism. In Mythender, battles usually begin with the characters making rolls to charge up their attacks before unleashing them later; it's part of the momentum. Conveniently, this lines up just right with how you should be teaching the rules: show the players how to do very simple things before teaching them the payoffs to that buildup.

The Battle Heats Up: Round 2
So what comes next? Well, the second round of the fight is very much like the first: the Mythmaster has the Einherjar charging up their weapons again, and this is a neat bit of reinforcement. Players who didn't catch all of the action the first time around get another chance to learn it again. Players who already knew it fairly well start to get the procedure drilled into them. This time, though? We get one new element, and that's Blight creation. In Mythender, you can use some of the power you earned from your charge-ups to create a repository of power that you can drain later. So, it's a logical next step of the flow of battle, and it's also just one new thing.

This is something very important when you're teaching a game: if possible, introduce new concepts one at a time. The "one new thing" rule isn't always feasible, but when you can manage it, this technique works great to drill information into players.

Again, as before, the Mythmaster has the players do the same thing that the Mythmaster just did. And again? This round introduces one new thing on top of the repetition. This keeps things varied, and it also makes it manageable. Furthermore, the new thing isn't terribly complicated: it's a scope shift. Where the previous round's action was "Legendary", this round's action is supposed to be "Mythic", a step up--and this is an introduction to the concept of escalation in Mythender. It gives players a chance to stretch their imaginations, and doesn't demand them to dramatically change things off the bat. It's turning up the heat by degrees. Finally, it adds in a new twist of mechanic that's exclusive to Mythic actions.

And then, of course, the players create their own Blight, following the Mythmaster's actions as they build off of their prior combat actions. So you're building up this understanding of the game, as you develop the mechanics. It's becoming more complicated, but that's alright because the pieces you're learning aren't very complex. They come in a staggered way, so that by the end of Round 2, you actually have all of the central mechanics of the combat economy: Storm dice, Thunder dice, and Lightning dice.

The final piece of the puzzle that happens in Round 2 is the introduction of Corruption: the price of using your power. It's not a piece of the puzzle that you wanted to be introducing upfront, but now that you have a framework to understand the game under, you can add something to it.

An aside on pacing
Wow, there's a lot in Round 2. It might be a little too packed with information, but it uses Round 2 as the meat of the tutorial. Indeed, I don't think it's a coincidence that the tutorial comes in three turns, and that Round 2 winds up being the "Act II" of the tutorial battle story. After the basic setup of Act I, we start developing the "midgame" of the tutorial. This means that the payoff is due to come next round...

The Wrap-up: Round 3
Now that we've put everything together, the Mythmaster turn unloads the payoff of the rules: drain the blight, drain the weapon, and roll lots of dice to wound the Mythenders! This is a very interesting choice, but I think it ultimately serves the tutorial very well. For the one, it sets a dramatic momentum: the players are getting hurt first, and that motivates them to strike back! Also, it follows up on a very cool trend that mitigates a very particular problem. I'm gonna take a moment to talk about that specifically.

In a new game, a lot of players are often hesitant when they're taking their action. They don't always feel qualified to come out and say "I'm doing X!" with the awesome confidence that you need in Mythender, aka the "I RIP OFF THOR'S ARM AND START BEATING HIM IN THE HEAD WITH IT!!!!" mentality. So what does the tutorial do to mitigate that? It has the Mythmaster go first. The Mythmaster is an authority figure in the game, which means that the players look to them for instruction. If the Mythmaster does something as a normal action, the players know it's okay to follow their lead. So when the Mythmaster shows them how to wound, by wounding the Mythenders, the players know that when it's their turn, they've got options like that. If the Mythmaster says something like "you get impaled and electro-shocked by lightning-infused javelins", the players have a much better idea about what's okay to describe.

Also, wounding the players' characters first makes them the underdogs, and that makes things awesome.

There's a short section addressing what happens if a Mythender dies from this wounding (unlikely), and this is important because death isn't the end for a character. Instead, a Mythender will usually come back, and so the Mythmaster needs to walk the players through that. It's a nice contingency.

As before, there's some extra rules that the tutorial folds in, and this time...the tutorial enforces a very particular set of structures to introduce the new stuff in layers. First, the tutorial has someone drain the Blight to wound the Einherjar. Then, the tutorial has another player do the same thing, but with a Titanic action (a step up from Mythic), including the rules for that. It ultimately achieves a similar end result, because the game tells you to use the Blight power-up with the player who hasn't managed to charge up their attack very much. It's a nice touch, because it helps everyone to have a shot at unleashing a can of awesome on their enemies.

BOOSH. The bit where it explains wounding is also filled with some tactics: it talks about your options while wounding (i.e., spending Lightning tokens to make the wound harder to recover from), which is something that'll become useful later on. Then, it just says to end the tutorial battle, because that makes sense. For odds and ends, it talks about some edge cases and places where it tells the Mythmaster to cheat to keep the tutorial rolling in the unlikely event that the dice don't come up right. (This normally shouldn't be done in the game, but it makes a knowing exception.)

Then there's a bit of epilogue, as the players bask in their victory.

And after all that? It launches straight into the game proper, which is the best quality of the tutorial. Half of it is tutorial, but the other half (the half that matters, really--it's character development scenes and a fight against Thor!) opens up as the training wheels come off. This heavily underscores the fact that, yes, you're finally capable of playing the game. It's a tutorial that makes you feel not only awesome but capable, because it feeds you the rules a little bit at a time.

Then it steps back and lets you prove your mettle.