My wife and I were recently talking about why learning the rules of role-playing games is such a scary task for so many players. With core rule books averaging over 300 pages, it’s not surprising that it seems like studying for an exam. Also, it’s quite easy to get by sometimes without knowing the rules, especially around a good GM. Well, thanks to some inspiration from the guys at Campaign Mastery and their great series on Rules Master, I thought I’d share some advice specifically for players.
The key to reading and learning rules, as the Campaign Mastery guys say, is not to read the book from cover to cover. Just read what interests you and what you need to play your character. The rest of this post is aimed at helping you do just that.
Start At The Beginning
As with a new text book, always skim through the Table of Contents first. This gives you an idea of what’s in the book and where you’ll find what you want. It’s a bit like looking at a map to get a general idea of where you are. You might even find chapters with names like “How To Play”, “Getting Started” or “The Basics”. Go there next.
In the first chapter there is often a nice little reading plan. Follow that and you’ll save a load of time and be ready to play much sooner. The introduction will also give you a good idea of setting, or at least the feeling of the game, so I’d recommend reading it. From the reading list you can make your own reading plan, like I mention below in the Action section. Generally, your reading plan will skip anything for the Game Master, unless it pertains in some way to how you might want to use your character. Skip anything not related to your character. Not using magic? Then just dump that chapter from the list.
Action – Make A Reading Plan
- Write “+1 Reading Plan of Power” on the top of a sheet of paper. Underline it in neon. Draw a dead goblin head next to the heading for extra flair.
- Write down a list of all the chapters you’ll need. Exclude everything that’s for the Game Master.
- From the Table of Contents, find the page numbers for each chapter. Mark these on your reading plan.
- BONUS: Take some sticky paper tabs and mark out the sections you’ll need. If you’re wanting to play a pirate, put a tab where rules for pirate are given to help you find things quickly.
By the way, this method works well for studying too. Web guru’s call it “chunking”, or breaking down information into manageable bits. Our brains are kind of lazy, so you can grasp more if you can see there’s less to actually learn.
Build A Character
Once you have your reading plan, the next step is to build a character. A good idea is to have a character concept, as this will help you build a specific kind of character with the rules. As you go, use your reading list to track what you’ve done and add in anything else you want to look at. Just don’t forget to take stuff off the list too, you don’t need extra work.
As you build your character you might get an idea of where you want to take your character. Will your rogue establish her own guild? Make a note of this, preferably on your character sheet. It will help you play your character and, when the time comes, you can use your ideas to direct your reading further.
So, supposing y0u have a character and you’re ready to play then try your character in a game. You can learn most of the rules at the table under the watchful eye of the Game Master and with the help of more experienced players. While you’re playing though, make a list of any rules you feel uncertain about and any rules you want to check out. Then you can then look at those rules later or in down time.
After the game, or if you have enough time before a session, get a better grip on the rules by looking at the following suggestions, which are ordered by importance, from most to least.
Combat: Learn how to fight with every weapon in your arsenal, including your fists and makeshift weapons like broken bottles. You’ll also want to know how to use your special combat abilities and know exactly what their effects will be, since these are often character specific and something your GM may not know off hand. A good place to keep notes is on your character sheet.
Skills: Skills make up a large part of what your character can do. Keep in mind, however, that your skills are not as important to the GM as his campaign and session preparations. So if you understand what you can do with your skills, you’ll get more out of your character. Think of it like this: if you’re a sneaky halfling with major stealth skills, but don’t know how to use them, you just won’t sneak as effectively as you could if you knew the rules.
Movement: The more I learn about martial arts, having tried a few, the more I realise fighting is all about moving. Where you are directly influences your effectiveness. Movement is relatively simple too, so make sure you know how your character will move, both on land, in water and when riding something. A good way to think of this is to look at how a hero in a story of the same genre as the game you’re learning would get around. Aragon walked, ran, rode a horse and used a canoe.
Magic: If you’re using magic, know how it works. A good idea is to keep page references of each spell you can cast.
Miscellaneous: Subjects such as alignment may be covered in a chapter along with other miscellaneous rules. Many of these rules may be fluff that you can skip or skim. I’d leave this stuff for last.
Some Other Ideas
Beginner’s Boxes and Solo Modules: These are a great way to learn the game. Play at your own pace while trying out the rules. I don’t need to say more except that our free module is here.
Forums: The web is a great place to learn, especially when there’s a rule your don’t understand. Check out forums like EN World or RPG.net, you may even get an answer from the designer of the game themselves. If you can, find a local forum too, it will help you make friends and find game groups in your area, as well as help you learn local house rules. For South Africans I recommend www.rpg.co.za.
You Gotta Read To Succeed
At the end of the day you just need to jump in and read. I always think that a little work can lay the foundation for more understanding later, so even if time is limited, read what you can, it will be worth it.
Let me know if you have more tips or something that worked particularly well for you.