Roundabout Signs

My group has been steadily playing OSRIC for well over a year now. However, the GM hit some speed bumps in his personal life that required him to take a break. We did some board games and one-shots, but our group is deeply interested in medium-to-long term campaign style play rather than doing one-shots or short forays into a new game. However, we had to find a new game to bring to the table for a longer period of time. This necessitated some research, investigation, experimentation, and frequent changes of systems.

I’ll delve into some reasons about why you might need to changes systems, and then give some guidance on how to shift to a new game with regularity.


 *YAWN* This is boring. 

Perhaps your current system is too simple and boring to play. Maybe it doesn’t have enough knobs, dials, and levers to pull. Perhaps it doesn’t have the right knobs, dials, and levers to allow for character customization, action effectiveness, or storytelling chops. It could also be that the game has a high degree of latency (slowness) in the action economy for each character’s actions. This can lead to most of the table sitting there and staring at a single player while they attempt to decide what to do or to finalize a complex action. Not being engaged with the systems and mechanics baked into a game can certainly lead to a desire to run off and find something new.

Improper Expectations

 But I thought you said this game was about… 

If you come into a sci-fi game expecting heavy science and near-future Solar System exploration, but it turns out the focus of the game is psychic abilities, alien lifeforms, and intergalactic politics, then maybe it’s not the right game to play. Likewise, a group that is largely into the room-clearing, hack-n-slash style of gaming might be turned off by a modern-day spies and lies kind of game. This can largely be avoided by having conversations between sessions and tackling the “what do what want” kind of questions before even bringing the game to the table. However, there are times when expectations aren’t set quite right, so it’s time to change up systems instead of muddling through with a game that’s not fun for the entire group.

Bad Fit

 Are you sure we want to play this? 

The game can be a bad fit for you and your group’s play style. This just happens. Maybe you did find that heavy science and Solar System exploration game, but the mechanics don’t click with the group or the presentation of the setting isn’t up to snuff to assist the GM in running the game. This can happen. This is a nebulous category because what is a great fit for one group can easily be a bad fit for another. Often times, this won’t be discovered until you’re 3-5 sessions in. If you make this discovery, hop in the escape pod and jettison from the ship in search of another game.

Too Many House Rules

 I have an idea for another house rule! 

If you’ve found that the rules are just clunky enough that you have to house rule things to smooth over the rough edges, that’s perfectly fine. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a non-tournament (or organized play) game that 100% follows the rules as written. Everyone house rules, and this is not a bad thing at all. However, if you’ve discovered that your documented house rules (you document your house rules for later reference, right? RIGHT?!?) runs on for pages and pages and pages, maybe it’s time to step away from that system and find another game system that plays more smoothly or is in better alignment with what you expect from the mechanics of a game.

Real Life Interference / Burnout

 Folks, I just can’t do this right now. 

Real life can kick anyone in the head at anytime. This happens to our group with some regularity, and we just work around it with scheduling or one-shots or board games. It happens. I also live in Colorado, and we’re entering snow season. This can get in the way of gaming at all or only allow a subset of players to get to the host’s house. Sometimes the real life interference is so deep, troubling, or lengthy in nature that it’s time to pause the current game and move on to something else.

GM burnout is also along these lines. It’s usually caused by non-game stress that impacts the GM’s ability to prepare, think straight, keep things organized at the table, or take on the mental workload of running a session. There are times, however, that the GM simply needs a break from being behind the screen. They need to worry about a single character and that character’s abilities. This is perfectly fine, so long as open lines of honest and compassionate communication are in use.

New Shiny


Hey! We all have games on our shelves and hard drives that we’re dying to get to the table. Some of us have a few. Some of us have a hundred or so. Some of us (looking in the mirror at myself here) have somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand or so. Full disclosure: I have over 5,000 RPG-related PDFs on my hard drive and at least another 30 physical games on shelves. Many of those are untouched or unplayed or have not been played in ages.

I’ve addressed this specific nature of things in Resisting the Shiny.

Easy On Ramp

To make the adjustment between games easier, there are some things you can do to make the on ramp entrance into the new highway smoother and less taxing on your fellow players. All of the following advice assumes you’re either the one running the game or championing the game to be played… or both.

System Mastery and Teaching

 Time to crack this book open. 

Before presenting the game, learn the game. Sometimes this is really hard just by reading the rulebook, but reading the core book is your first step. Maybe you can plop your pet bearded dragon out from under his UV lamp and onto your desk. Teach him the game verbally. You’ll find gaps in your knowledge and rough spots in what you think you know. This rehearsal to the bearded dragon will allow you to make notes and get things more aligned in your brain before teaching it to your gaming group.

Longer Session Zero

 Buckle up, folks. This might take a while. 

A new session will require a longer session zero. In a session zero, I usually like to conclude the session with a meet ‘n’ greet between the characters and some introductory encounter to get their feet wet. Since most everyone will be learning the system and creating characters and learning the setting and talking about expectations with the game and talking about safety within the group (and within the new system) and…. all that other session zero stuff, you’ll either need a few extra hours, or two sessions to get through all of the base stuff. I definitely encourage you to be done with character creation before the end of the primary session zero, though.

Cheat Sheets and GM Screens

 This is where cheating is allowed. 

To assist with character creation and in-game play, make some cheat sheets for the players and the GM. This will definitely be multiple sheets for each target audience unless the game is super simple. I recommend checking out another article I wrote about creating a custom GM screen. This same techniques apply to creating player cheat sheets.

Don’t Change Lanes Frequently

 Can we just stay with this for a while? 

Lastly, don’t swerve through traffic and mess with things too frequently. This will lead to exhaustion in your group as “all we’re doing is learning new systems and making characters.” You really want to avoid doing this. Get some quality time with each new session (unless it’s immediately evident that the system/setting just won’t work for your group). Discover the ins and outs of each game system and setting you encounter. Explore it. Try to love it. Don’t give up too easily.