Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Knowing Rules, Character Sheets, and Information Overload

This post at Follow Me And Die reminded me of the first time I ran Dungeon World. I made a few copies of the basic rules and character sheets from what the designers/writers of that game put out, from over here (pdf warning).

Now I should say, the group was kind of large - 5 people, none of whom had played any tabletop game, ever. But all of these folks - literally all of them - have PhDs. How hard could it be to teach them the ropes?

The problem with those character sheets is that they contain not only all the starting moves of each class, but every possible pick-one-of-these-neato-option level-up feats. Half of the players thought they got to pick from the advanced moves list, because, hey, I handed each of them a giant sheet of paper about it. And I think everyone started trying to read and comprehend every part of their character sheet. On top of the 'basic moves' handout, a few of those were floating around. Most people recovered from this enough to play and have fun, though periodically someone would tune out for a bit, and come back to ask if they had access to any of the advanced moves. My wife, sadly, never recovered from the information overload. She came away from the game thinking that tabletop RPGs are a form of directed play. You know, when a 3-year-old asks you to play astronauts or princesses, and then you're supposed to know precisely how they want you to do everything in this role. That is probably one of my greatest failures as a person who runs these games.

And it really is my failure. I'm sure some internet dickwads would be happy to tell me it's her fault or the like, but they can go to hell and play tabletop there. I threw too much paper at people, and all that paper was covered in rules. There are two pages of general moves and two pages of rules particular to your character, one of which should largely be ignored. I tried to point out to people that they should just try to do whatever they wanted to try to do, and I'd tell them when this required dice rolling, but between my words and all the papers, it wasn't always easy.

(Though I should say in general, people seemed to have fun, and folks want to play again, so it's not like I ran them through abject confusion and misery.)

I kinda want to run them through a different system next time, given my recent predilection for all things OSR. The LotFP Character Sheet is certainly less replete with paragraphs to read and comprehend. But I'm tempted to make things even simpler; run it with the WWCD? rule of Everyone is an Adventurer, though I'd give people taking the Learning / Specialist route 3-4 skill points, especially in the start of the game. That might be OP, but who cares, the wizardlings will get spells from potentially anywhere in the spell list (though if they have 6 hp and a level 7 spell, they can only cast it once). Anyone taking the fighter route can use combat maneuvers as a fighter.

So far so good... But to make something really simple for new folk, I want to use something like this awesome character sheet. Choices are baked in, but simple enough that people won't spend 30 minutes glaring at their sheets. Rules are not presented in paragraph form for new folks.

(Edit: Hopefully this doesn't come across as 'blaming Dungeon World.' It's not DW's fault. I just think handing out lots of prose to people, and telling them not to read it, that's going to lead to failure.)


  1. This is my main beef with 5e DnD.

  2. You could use Call of Cthulhu / BRP. With a simple charsht in front of them, the game is beautifully clear: "Oh, I have a 60% chance to do that."

  3. You could use Call of Cthulhu / BRP. With a simple charsht in front of them, the game is beautifully clear: "Oh, I have a 60% chance to do that."