Learning a new system is both exciting and daunting. Not only can it represent a large investment in (insert currency of choice) it also often requires a decent amount of time, particularly if you are the GM.
This is a subject I’ve struggled with in the past. The last ten years or so of my gaming “career” have been spent pretty much exclusively playing Pathfinder. It’s a great system, but sometimes I hanker to try something new. However something always seems to get in the way. That’s why I recommend the following tactics for people starting a new system:
1. Don’t Buy Everything
Heresy from a publisher!
When you are starting out in a system, you should only buy the bare essentials to get you started. Ideally this comprises:
- A core rulebook
- An introductory module (see below)
You might also perhaps need a monster book, but a well-written introductory module should include everything you need to play.
2. Don’t Read Everything
Some systems are huge. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Core Rulebook—for example—is 576 pages long while Dungeon Crawl Classics is 460 pages. These are big books—you could probably beat a cat to death with them (assuming the cat in question wasn’t a lion or tiger).
The good news is, you don’t have to read everything. In fact, you probably don’t need to read that much of the book to get the general thrust of the system.
Of the material you must read, it’s relatively easy to break it down into bite-sized chunks. Some sections are vital:
- Character Generation
- Skill resolution (but not all the skill descriptions)
- Magic (assuming the game has a fantasy element)
- (Starting/basic) equipment
However, you don’t need to read the entirety of these sections:
- Spell descriptions
- Magic item descriptions
- Monster descriptions
- Any world information included with the basic game
- Pretty much everything else
Certainly for skills, spells, magic items and monsters you only need to read stuff as they come up in the game. Sure, read the rest if you want to but it’s not necessary to do so (and may even be counter productive as you might get confused or overwhelmed by all the new material).
3. Accept You Will Get Stuff “Wrong”
A big part of using a new system is accepting you’ll get rules and rulings wrong at the start. The world won’t end if you do; rather before you start play understand:
- Everyone is learning a new system.
- As long as everyone has fun it doesn’t really matter if you apply the rules correctly in every situation; you can always do it “right” next time.
4. Play a Pre-Generated Introductory Module
When you are learning a new system, you have enough to worry about without designing your own module. Give yourself a break; run a 1st-level (or equivalent) published introductory module.
I’d recommend running a standalone module with “throwaway” characters. This gives everyone a chance to learn the system without the pressure of ending up with a character they don’t like (for whatever reason).
The Final Word
Remember in all likelihood you’ll need longer than a couple of sessions to learn a new system. It might takes months to play the game “properly” and years to master it. Be patient with yourself and the other players and remember the point is to have fun.
Thank you to Peyton Beard for the idea that sparked this article.
What Did I Miss?
Did I miss anything? Do you have any hints or tips for someone learning a new game system? Leave them in the comments below, and help Peyton (and others) learn a new system!
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