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D&Detox

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I'm running a non-D&D online game with a couple of seats open for drop-in players (Roll20), and I'm finding that some players can't quite wrap their heads around a non-D&D rule set. It's more of an issue when play wanders away from role-play and into rules-dense territory, like combat.

If you've GMed other bloodlines of games, like Fate or Dungeon World (or Amber?), how did you help players break out of the D&D mindset?

If you've learned a non-d20-style game as a PC while coming from a D&D background, did you have trouble avoiding old habits? What did you do to overcome them?
I‘m not sure I grasp what’s happening.

I started with AD&D in ‘77, found Traveller and The Fantasy Trip a couple years later, then Champions when it came out. Those games were the only RPGs I played in any real amount until the 1990s, when my collection and gaming exp exploded to over 100 systems. D&D still comprised the majority of play.

...but the only real change in my play style over time was moving away from cookie cutter stereotype PCs I played like war game units and into genuinely playing character roles.

So I’m confused by what you mean by your complaint about the D&D mindset. What are they doing that’s “D&D” as opposed to whatever you’re playing?
 

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The Monster

Explorer
So I’m confused by what you mean by your complaint about the D&D mindset. What are they doing that’s “D&D” as opposed to whatever you’re playing?
This is the key question. Are they just playing for the most pluses, without paying attention to description or narration? Are they just using basic mechanics because they don't see the opportunities for options other than simple hit points? Are they just going for the 'smackdown win' rather than exploring other solutions?

I'm put in mind of two examples from my group (most of us have been RPGing since the 1970's). The first time I started running Fantasy Hero (wide-open point-build system), it took multiple sessions before the players really grasped that casters could wear armor - and not because they multiclassed or NPC-cheated! I found it quite amusing, although a couple of them were a bit annoyed that the plate-armor bad guys kept whipping off spells without needing to use scrolls, rings, etc. Once they learned they could do it too, they eagerly embraced the potentials.
The other was early in our foray into Fate. One of us was GMing an east-asian-mythos based campaign (Tianxia), and staged a full-blown, individual-contest martial arts tournament. The solo fights, rather than tedious one-man die-rolling, turned out to be an excellent way for us to learn to really work the system, using skills other than Fight to put aspects and wear down the opponent. Everyone got into the act of suggesting possibilities and interpretations of each PC's unique profile.

I guess my point is that there's a learning curve, even for bright, experienced gamers, and shifting certain gears can be an issue for some people, in different ways and at different speeds. In our group, the GM is not only responsible for teaching rules, but for helping to ease the transition(arguably that's always part of teaching, but involves a lot more than simply transmitting data!); and really, any tight rules fiddling is done by the GM until/unless the player gets comfortable. Of course, one has to have cooperative players to accomplish this, which may need yet another category of communication...

More specific than that, I can't offer without knowing more about what's going on.
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I can't speak to all of them, but to some... and Morrus, you're awesome, but you seem to like crunchy games, and that may be getting in the way of understanding.
I like all sorts of games! :)

When I say "understand" in this case it isn't an intellectual limit, it's more used in the context of "feel the same way as”.
 

atanakar

Hero
I can't speak to all of them, but to some... and Morrus, you're awesome, but you seem to like crunchy games, and that may be getting in the way of understanding.

There are players out there for whom playing with the rules is not itself fun. The rules are a not-particularly-fun means to an end that is fun. For them, "work" is precisely what picking up a new set of rules is - an effort that isn't pleasant, that will hopefully eventually get them a payoff.

Asking them to pick up a new ruleset can be... like asking them to come to your house, where you will serve them a wonderful home-cooked meal. But first, they have to help you clean up the living room and dining room.

And, for a lot of games, what they are asked to learn... is a lot. Hours of reading. Trying to stuff a bunch of new stuff into their head that they don't really have context for, but they typically need to grasp without using it before they can even figure out what kind of character they want to play. Yeah, that's not a small effort for everyone. And it isn't fun for everyone.

Not small effort + not fun = work. Does that make it understandable?
That is why quick start rules with pre-gen characters and a short scenario exist. The GM can serve a fully cooked meal. All the player has to do is sit down and try it.
 

John Dallman

Explorer
If you've GMed other bloodlines of games, like Fate or Dungeon World (or Amber?), how did you help players break out of the D&D mindset?

If you've learned a non-d20-style game as a PC while coming from a D&D background, did you have trouble avoiding old habits? What did you do to overcome them?
I looked at and sometimes played games of other lineages from early in my RPG career, so never had a problem with habits, although some games demand mindsets that I find difficult.

The only case where I've had a player who had difficulties was a chap who was very used to Shadowrun mechanics, who could not shake the idea that GURPS worked in just the same way. It doesn't of course, but he could not stop generalising Shadowrun mechanics. Nobody else in that group was having the problem, and we eventually got him to play what was on his character sheet, when he did fine.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
That is why quick start rules with pre-gen characters and a short scenario exist. The GM can serve a fully cooked meal. All the player has to do is sit down and try it.
That can make it a little easier, sure. But that doesn't make getting a whole new game in your head trivial.

Also, this reminds me to mention - we are likely talking about adults with families, jobs and such - time for hobbies is often at a premium. It isn't strange that they resist doing work in their hobby time.
 
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atanakar

Hero
That can make it a little easier, sure. But that doesn't make getting a whole new game in your head trivial.

Also, this reminds me to mention - we are likely talking about adults with families, jobs and such - time for hobbies is often at a premium. It isn't strange that they resist doing work in their hobby time.
It's not about families, children and work. I believe it's a mind set. Some people just want to cruise along and are happy with what they play. While others see the opportunity to learn a new systems as an invigorating exercise. They derive intellectual pleasure from that. They don't view it a work.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
That can make it a little easier, sure. But that doesn't make getting a whole new game in your head trivial.

Also, this reminds me to mention - we are likely talking about adults with families, jobs and such - time for hobbies is often at a premium. It isn't strange that they resist doing work in their hobby time.
I don’t think it helps that there’s a narrative out there that it’s hard work. Sure, some games might be. But a lot of games are very simple, and people being told repeatedly that it’s hard work feeds the belief that it is. I think a better narrative is an encouraging one. We’d all enjoy a more diverse gaming scene (in terms of games), I’m sure.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I don’t think it helps that there’s a narrative out there that it’s hard work. Sure, some games might be. But a lot of games are very simple, and people being told repeatedly that it’s hard work feeds the belief that it is. I think a better narrative is an encouraging one. We’d all enjoy a more diverse gaming scene (in terms of games), I’m sure.
Yeah, how about "learning a new game is a lot of fun"? Because it is. Sure, you have read, gasp, but it's not hard, and a lot of the learning can be done during play over the first handful of sessions. I'd be on board for a new narrative there.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don’t think it helps that there’s a narrative out there that it’s hard work.
It isn't a "narrative". It is an experience some people actually have. I would prefer to have the actual presentation of that fact, so that we can choose to design, present, and help people choose game such that this experience happens less often.

Not telling folks it can be hard sets them up to feel stupid when they do find it hard. That's not helpful.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
It isn't a "narrative". It is an experience some people actually have. I would prefer to have the actual presentation of that fact, so that we can choose to design, present, and help people choose game such that this experience happens less often.

Not telling folks it can be hard sets them up to feel stupid when they do find it hard. That's not helpful.
I strongly disagree with that. I think the current narrative (and I use the term deliberately) creates an environment where people assume it's too hard, and so don't try. And while sometimes it might be, most times it won't, and yet we still have an industry where most people won't try another game. I'd much prefer a more diverse pool of games to play, instead of just reading them and putting them on my shelf with a wistful sigh.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
If these are long-time D&D players, they might be having as much trouble with the different mindset as with learning new rules (though using similar terms for very different things could also generate mind-static). It can be very difficult to get across to people not used to it, that the players are supposed to narrate things, shape the larger story, alter the world in a way not radically dissimilar to GM Fiat. I ... don't really have any suggestions for the OP, here (sadly); all I can really offer is that no game will work at all tables--and it's not an indictment of either the game or the table if one doesn't work at yours.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
The only case where I've had a player who had difficulties was a chap who was very used to Shadowrun mechanics, who could not shake the idea that GURPS worked in just the same way. It doesn't of course, but he could not stop generalising Shadowrun mechanics. Nobody else in that group was having the problem, and we eventually got him to play what was on his character sheet, when he did fine.
This is a good example of the OP issue. Better to call it a Shadetox, though? 🤓 And I see another solution here: use a character sheet as a visual aid. Just having the name of the game on the sheet might be a subliminal reminder to some players that they're playing something different than what they're used to.

So I’m confused by what you mean by your complaint about the D&D mindset. What are they doing that’s “D&D” as opposed to whatever you’re playing?
This is the key question. Are they just playing for the most pluses, without paying attention to description or narration? Are they just using basic mechanics because they don't see the opportunities for options other than simple hit points? Are they just going for the 'smackdown win' rather than exploring other solutions?

I guess my point is that there's a learning curve, even for bright, experienced gamers, and shifting certain gears can be an issue for some people, in different ways and at different speeds . . .

of course, one has to have cooperative players to accomplish this, which may need yet another category of communication...
See above for D&D mindset examples. In my game there are many D&Differences, and some are:

  • Initiative doesn't determine when you act; it determines when your action has priority over others.
  • Avoiding (not reducing) damage requires an action.
  • The narrative isn't fixed to the rules. So a character can miss and still cause damage, or tumble away from an opponent without using an action.

I'd explain how the players are attempting to D&D this, @Dannyalcatraz, but it might be more instructive to see which of us already knows what the players are having trouble with. Then we might see who else is in need of a D&Detox?

Monster, you might raise an important tangent. I'm sure it's a cooperation issue in some cases, but in my case, it's not.
 

S'mon

Legend
I think the big issue is using a VTT is really different than IRL. With IRL, you can work with the players over the character sheet so they understand everything. With a VTT, you have to do it all via description, which is much harder.
Yes, with my Mini Six game (a pretty simple game) I've had much more trouble with it over Roll20 than when we were playing in person. Players experienced with D&D can struggle with eg how D6 System multiple actions work, and with spending Character Points to advance rather than level up.
 

Stormonu

Legend
That can make it a little easier, sure. But that doesn't make getting a whole new game in your head trivial.

Also, this reminds me to mention - we are likely talking about adults with families, jobs and such - time for hobbies is often at a premium. It isn't strange that they resist doing work in their hobby time.
Just as an example - earlier this year/late last year I got my hands on the Alien RPG. In play, the system is dirt-simple and intuitive. However, spending the 6 or so hours with the rulebook as the GM to learn the game was not fun for me. Some sort of "how to play" video would have helped a whole lot, though as the GM I feel I would have still had to read through the book to ensure I was doing things right.

For someone like my wife, who not just disdains reading but has a learning disability that makes reading tough, reading the rules would not have worked. Having the game demonstrated and explained what/how she could do things in the game was the only feasible way to go. I know a lot of people don't have her specific difficulty, but I've been around enough people to know that sitting down and reading something takes a lot of focus and is often frustrating to a lot of folks (including me, as I get older - I get headaches reading book text anymore). A lot of people are more visually minded, and I think that's why we see so many tutorial videos/podcasts/stream that do so much better at drawing folks in than quick-start rules by seeing the game in action.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Just as an example - earlier this year/late last year I got my hands on the Alien RPG. In play, the system is dirt-simple and intuitive. However, spending the 6 or so hours with the rulebook as the GM to learn the game was not fun for me. Some sort of "how to play" video would have helped a whole lot, though as the GM I feel I would have still had to read through the book to ensure I was doing things right.

For someone like my wife, who not just disdains reading but has a learning disability that makes reading tough, reading the rules would not have worked. Having the game demonstrated and explained what/how she could do things in the game was the only feasible way to go. I know a lot of people don't have her specific difficulty, but I've been around enough people to know that sitting down and reading something takes a lot of focus and is often frustrating to a lot of folks (including me, as I get older - I get headaches reading book text anymore). A lot of people are more visually minded, and I think that's why we see so many tutorial videos/podcasts/stream that do so much better at drawing folks in than quick-start rules by seeing the game in action.
The typical scenario is more than somebody has the game and wants to run it, but can't find players. If the players joined the game, they'd find somebody who knows the game willing to show them how it works. If you have somebody there who already knows how the game works, it's usually a fairly painless process.

An entire group having to learn it for the first time together, I agree, is less fun. But I don't think that's the usual situation.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
If you've GMed other bloodlines of games, like Fate or Dungeon World (or Amber?), how did you help players break out of the D&D mindset?
FTF, I generally put a card (3x5, 4x6, 5x8, or 8.5x11) with the key processes of the game on it, and, if it's small enough, the standard combat actions list and go on it; if not, on a separate card.

This a big help.
I also find it useful to prep a 1 page overview of the setting if the players have issues.
 

AaronOfBarbaria

Adventurer
An entire group having to learn it for the first time together, I agree, is less fun. But I don't think that's the usual situation.
I agree that it's not the statistically typical situation... but it does happen to be the most common situation when it has come to me learning a new game.

There's only 1 game out of the dozens I've learned over the years that I didn't learn by reading it on my own and then teaching it to a table-full of players while running it for the first time, and that one was basically pure luck as it was the only time I've ever joined - rather than built - a new group.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
See above for D&D mindset examples. In my game there are many D&Differences, and some are:

  • Initiative doesn't determine when you act; it determines when your action has priority over others.
  • Avoiding (not reducing) damage requires an action.
  • The narrative isn't fixed to the rules. So a character can miss and still cause damage, or tumble away from an opponent without using an action.
That sounds like rules familiarity issues.

I thought maybe you were talking about solving encounters like stereotypical D&D parties- kill everything that might get you XP and loot the bodies, etc.

Can‘t say ive seen much of that. I mean, I know of players who might grouse that an RPG handles things differently than D&D, but none have been tripped up by those differences in any major way. The closest I’ve seen was continued dissatisfaction with the way M&M handled iterative attacks from one player using automatic firearms and a super speedster.
 

So to offer an example that comes to mind for me with my group....and this may not be exactly the kind of thing that the OP had in mind, but I think it fits....my D&D players struggled with the Engagement Roll and Flashbacks in Blades in the Dark.

These are guys who have been playing RPGs for decades. Experienced gamers, having played a good number of different games. But most were one form of D&D or another, or else games that function very similarly.

So in Blades, the idea is for the players to come up with an idea for a Score (a job they’ll go on....something to steal, someone to kill, etc.). All they’re supposed to determine is a general approach (such as stealth, assault, social, deception, etc.) and then one detail (point of entry, means of deception, etc.). The game literally only wants these two things. “We’re going to sneak in to steal the artifact, and we’ll do it through the underground tunnels.” That’s it. Then you roll the engagement roll, and the result determines the situation as the Score begins.

The actual details of “the plan” are then decided in play. Playeds are also allowed to use Flashbacks to help set up actions they already took that can help them in the present.

My players were very used to coming up with a detailed plan ahead of time. They’d discuss and debate ahead of time, and come up with contingencies and all that. Sometimes that’s fun. Sometimes a lot of time is wasted on things that may never come up.

Blades jumps right to the action and lets the players plan on the fly. It’s very different and can be a real challenge for some players to grasp and to get good at it.

The player who took to it most readily in my group was the one who had the least amount of gaming experience. Only a few years to the decades of the others.
 

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