Wednesday, 3 August 2022

MVT - Minimum Viable Teach

One of the design goals for Into the Odd was that you should be able to sit down with a brand new player and get to playing almost right away. Fast character creation, streamlined setting, and almost no rules that you needed to know ahead of time.

In general I'd tell players:

  • What the different Ability Scores were for, and how to roll a Save
  • When you attack you roll the damage die next to your weapon, and high is good
  • You lose HP when you take damage, but it comes back easily. When you run out of HP you'll lose STR instead and risk serious harm.

Though I've definitely done games where I've skipped the second and third points there. I'm calling this the MVT - Minimum Viable Teach.

But teaching a game isn't just explaining the rules, even if that's the most painful part. So what's my real MVT for Into the Odd?

I'm looking for everything I'd need to tell a group of new players before I get to the start of the game proper, the point where I'm like "you're in a room and it's horrible, what do you do??"

  • You're treasure hunters going into dangerous places looking for valuable or powerful artifacts
  • It's a sort of weird industrial-era world with one huge city called Bastion
  • Your character has these Ability Scores, here's what they mean, high is good, average is around 10
  • HP is Hit Protection which helps you avoid being wounded
  • You get this equipment as your starter package, weapons have a die type next to them, bigger is better

Okay, I think that's it. Obviously if they're brand new to RPGs then you'll need to add a couple more ahead of that, but let's assume they've played something before. 


I got onto thinking about this topic after running Primeval Bastionland this weekend. I was playing with a group well-versed in RPGs, so perhaps I got complacent. The pre-game teach went like this:

  • Okay so it's a world of Myth, like a version of Early-Medieval Britain from stories rather than history
  • You're Knights sworn to an oath, let me read it out
  • You get Glory at the end of the game if you've upheld your oath, so remember that
  • Here's what your Ability Scores mean
  • HP is Hit Protection, helps you avoid being wounded
  • You're all a random Knight, which gives you equipment and a secret unique to you, just let me know if yours doesn't make sense
  • Also you'll take on these Burdens, each of which can be relieved in a specific way, if you have 3 or more that's bad
  • You have these 3 Gambits that all Knights can perform, they're on your sheet too
  • Here's the hex map and what the different icons represent
  • Each day has 3 Phases, Morning, Afternoon and Night. Going out at night is bad.
  • Each Phase you can move 2 Hexes if you start or end in a Shire or Holding, otherwise 1 Hex. 
  • Oh and the Myths mentioned in your Oath are generally found out in the wilds, but you can ask around about them too.
  • If you're ever stuck it's a good idea to look for a Seer, they're usually in a Holding. 

Now I don't think the players were especially phased, but it's a world apart from how I start games of Into the Odd or Electric Bastionland.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I want Primeval to be its own thing, and that thing requires a few more specialist tools than I'd use in the other games. 

But looking back at this list, I do think a lot of this stuff could have been held back for explanation during the game when/if they became relevant. For an item to get onto the MVT it needs to be something that players need to know in order to get started in the game, or it should be something that would present an unpleasant surprise if discovered later on.

So, once more, how trim could I make the Primeval Bastionland MVT?

  • You're Knights sworn to an oath, let me read it out
  • Here's what your Ability Scores mean
  • HP is Hit Protection, helps you avoid being wounded
  • You're all a random Knight, which gives you equipment and a secret unique to you, just let me know if yours doesn't make sense
  • Here's the hex map and what the different icons represent
  • If you're ever stuck it's a good idea to look for a Seer, they're usually in a Holding.

With the following getting explained as they become relevant:

  • Also you'll take on these Burdens, each of which can be relieved in a specific way, if you have 3 or more that's bad
  • You have these 3 Gambits that all Knights can perform, they're on your sheet too
  • Each day has 3 Phases, Morning, Afternoon and Night. Going out at night is bad.
  • Each Phase you can move 2 Hexes if you start or end in a Shire or Holding, otherwise 1 Hex.
  • You get Glory at the end of the game if you've upheld your oath, so remember that

And the following getting cut entirely unless somebody specifically asks:

  • Okay so it's a world of Myth, like a version of Early-Medieval Britain from stories rather than history
  • Oh and the Myths mentioned in your Oath are generally found out in the wilds, but you can ask around about them too.

I feel like even very game-crucial elements like day phases and hex movement can be held back, because you can count on the players asking about them once you start the game. 

It's one thing to dump the travel rules on players before they've even started playing, it's another to have them ask "so how far away is this hex" and then explain it to them with some actual context behind it. 

Likewise, it might seem odd to remove the setting blurb, but I feel like there are enough context clues given in the rest of the intro, and they'll keep coming thick and fast as they explore the world. 

Holding back the explanation of Glory is another strange one, but the players already know their Oath, so they should be on board with that. I'd mention Glory before the end of the session for sure, but I don't think it needs to go right at the start.

Going through this process has made me feel much more confident about running another game of Primeval, and I'd recommend it for anybody dreading that first session. 

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1 comment:

  1. Definitely sounds very fresh. It doesn't seem very connected to Bastionland, perhaps it's true name should be "For Glory" or something. The Burdens mechanic seems very cool.

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