Those who know me know that I am a polysystemist; a lover of multiple game systems (turns out poly-gam(e)-ist, means something else entirely). While I can remain faithful to a game system for about 6 months to a year, all games eventually are cast to the side for the “next game”. Those same friends also know that when it comes to game mechanics I am kind of lazy about learning them; relying much more on crafting a compelling story with the campaign setting, than memorizing combat mechanics. This has over the years produced some frustration in my players, who are often left picking up the slack and becoming the rules experts, while I spew stories and plots.
As my Corporation game is winding down (3 sessions remaining), I have picked my next RPG: Triple Ace Game’s All For One. My plan is not to start the campaign until October, after my Corporation game has wrapped up, so I have plenty of time to learn the rules and set the campaign up. As I started to think about what needed to be done, I realized that I don’t really have a good way to learn the rules.
Getting My Learn On
Like much of my generation of gamers (Moldvay D&D), I learned the game at a young age from another GM, and really did not spend a lot of time reading the rules. I think that may be the root of my issues; as I tend to rely on someone to be the “rules master”. This turned out to be a great way to leverage a Rules Lawyer; making them my in-game resource (a topic for another day…).
Over the years, and many, many games later, I have evolved a general methodology to learning new games, and it looks like this:
- Read rules– just what it means. Cover to cover.
- Read example adventure– I find that the sample adventure gives a lot of clues about how to prep the game, what things you need to include, and often some handy syntax for writing up things like skill challenges, etc.
- Have players make characters– I will typically oversee this activity and be on hand to help people with any questions they have.
- Play short adventure– I don’t often run pre-gen stuff, so I will make my own short adventure and make sure I put a few different types of scenes in it to highlight some of the mechanics.
This often results in a lot of page flipping, looking things up, and makes for a kind of slow and somewhat painful experience. It works and in a few more sessions I get the hang of the game, but I have to imagine that there are some other things I can be doing that would help flatten the learning curve.
Putting Those Circles To Use
So I started to think that there must be some tips to quickly learn a game. I put the word out on Google+, and got back some answers (thanks to those who answered):
- “Make a character yourself. If you have time make a few. Run a mock combat/conflict between them. When done, besides learning some key rules through play you will have some perfectly statted out NPCs.”
- “Read the rules cover to cover, then read them again. When you read about a particular mechanic, imagine its contours: The probabilities of success, which dice are involved, when it will come up, etc. After that, visualize that mechanic being used at the table. “
- “Post-it notes or index cards. I always find while reading rules that I get all kinds of ideas for the game. Situations I want to see etc. Make notes of these before you forget them. Not only do you get some great gaming fodder (for this game or the next) but you also end up remembering the rules better as you are focusing on them to make these notes.”
I am incorporating many of those tips now, while I read All For One, starting by making my own character just to try out some of the mechanics.
Some Other Thoughts
I also have a few tips of my own, from some past experiences.
- Make a GM’s Screen– You can either create inserts for a customizable GM’s screen [LINK], pages to tape over a favorite screen, or a PDF to view on your computer or tablet. The act of copying the tables out of the game and into the screen will help solidify the important tables needed for the game.
- Make a Player’s reference sheet– In a few games, I have made a handout for the players that covers some section of the rules, typically combat based. By making these handouts myself, it helped me to really read and understand the rules.
- Run Sub-Games– Similar to the G+ comment about running a mock combat, if your game has distinct sub-systems: personal combat, ship combat, social combat – run mocks of each one of these, as separate events. This way your focus is only on one part of the game.
In the course of your RPG career, how do you learn a new game? Are there little tricks to learn a game quickly? What rules or systems are the most important for you to learn first?