(I fully expect this part of my five-part review to prove the most contentious of them all)
The ambivalence the Referee Book in James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing elicited in me was also present when I read the game's Tutorial Book. Here, at least, I knew upfront that I reading a book that's aimed at complete neophytes. Consequently, I could judge it on its own terms rather than on any mistaken expectations of my own. At the same time, there are a number of things in this 52-page book that struck me as odd, repetitive, or simply unnecessary. Taken together, I was left feeling that the Tutorial Book didn't hang together quite as well as it could have, even if there was a lot between its covers I found genuinely praiseworthy.
The Tutorial Book begins with the obligatory "What is a Role-Playing Game?" discussion, but it's thankfully short and well done for what it is. There's likewise a discussion of dice and how to use them that's likewise short. A large section, entitled "Your First Adventure" follows, which is a kind of "guided tour" of the game and its rules. It assumes that the reader is playing a fighter and slowly introduces game mechanics as he reads through the structured narrative it presents. This narrative is not a "choose-your-own-adventure" style affair, but something much more railroad-y, a fact Raggi is quite to acknowledge at the end, where he notes that it wasn't "the real thing" where "the possibilities are limitless." As a primer of the most aspects of game play, it's well done, though. My only complaint is the extent to which the first adventure's narrative mirrors that of the Mentzer-edited Basic Rules, but that's probably my bias showing.
"The Second Adventure" immediately follows and it is a full-blown choose-your-own-adventure, as well as more complex mechanically. This second adventure is more impressive, allowing a very wide range of options, far more than is typical for tutorials of this kind. Of course, to do this, it uses nearly 20 pages of the book for a dungeon that consists of only 10 different encounter areas. Nevertheless, I think Raggi nicely ramps things up between the two tutorials, removing most of the "training wheels" and heavy-handed refereeing of the first in order to approximate something that's closer to "the real thing." Even here, he's quite to point out that "this isn't the full experience of the game either." I like admissions of this sort, since they make it clear that these tutorial adventures are just that: tutorials and shouldn't be confused with what an actual adventure session will be.
Raggi then goes on to include brief overviews of other game and rule-related topics, several of which were already covered in the Referee Book. This seems like wasted space to me, but I can't deny that a certain amount of repetition is probably inevitable once one adopts the idea of distinct player and referee-oriented books in a boxed game. That's rather why I don't like that sort of division, one that wasn't present in the little brown books or its immediate successors. But, again, this is a matter of taste, so I can't complain overly much.
On the other hand, I will complain about a 15-page example of play. Again, I think examples of play have a place in games geared toward newcomers, but I don't think they need to be as lengthy as the included here. Now, in Raggi's defense, the example is nicely done; it covers a lot of ground and illustrates many of the potential pitfalls of old school gameplay. Still, I think it could easily have been at least half its current length (if not shorter) and still achieved that same goal.
Introducing someone to the idea of a tabletop roleplaying game when they've never played one is a difficult proposition. I suspect anyone who's entered the hobby and stuck with it will recall that overcoming that early intellectual barrier was, in many ways, the toughest part about playing a RPG. When I entered the hobby at the tail end of the 70s, I relied on mentors already versed in the game to show me the ropes. I in turn introduced lots of others to the hobby, becoming a mentor myself, something I've continued to do with my own children. To my mind, this is the best way to induct someone into this hobby and no book, no matter how well written, will ever be a substitute for it. I might even argue that the shift toward treating RPG books into tutorial-driven technical manuals in the mid-80s was the first signs of rot setting into the culture of the hobby, but that's a topic for another day.
But, if one does think that a book alone can teach one to play a RPG, as I know James Raggi does, how does his Tutorial Book stack up? I think it does quite well, mostly on the strength of its two sample adventures. Beyond that, though, I'm not sure the Tutorial Book includes much that would be of particular help to a true beginner. The example of play is, as I said, too long; Moldvay's famous example of play is about a page and half long and covers most of the important points and does so in such a memorable fashion that blogs are even named after its characters. Meanwhile, the game and rules-related overviews are so brief that I'm not sure they'll tell a beginner anything they didn't already know or that they couldn't have picked up from their referee.
So, even acknowledging that I'm not the target audience for this volume or that I don't share the philosophy behind it, I'm still left feeling that the Tutorial Book doesn't quite accomplish what it sets out to do. It's a very solid step in that direction, but it has a slightly "ragged" feel to it, as if it's a first draft rather than the final word on how to introduce a newcomer to roleplaying. As an integral part of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, I don't feel as if it's useless, although I do wish more of its page count had been used in other volumes of the boxed set. Taken on its own, though, I found it unsatisfying and continue to wonder about its utility.
Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Utility: 5 out of 10
Buy This If: You're interested in some limited but well presented adventures to introduce someone to tabletop roleplaying.
Don't Buy This If: You'd rather learn how to roleplay through actual play.