4 Easy Ways to Learn a New Game

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:

  1. A core rulebook
  2. 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:

  1. Character Generation
  2. Combat
  3. Skill resolution (but not all the skill descriptions)
  4. Magic (assuming the game has a fantasy element)
  5. (Starting/basic) equipment

However, you don’t need to read the entirety of these sections:

  1. Skills
  2. Spell descriptions
  3. Magic item descriptions
  4. Monster descriptions
  5. Any world information included with the basic game
  6. 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:

  1. Everyone is learning a new system.
  2. 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

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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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

8 thoughts on “4 Easy Ways to Learn a New Game”

  1. – Once you have a grasp of the rules, take time to do cheatsheets of them.
    I personally know well enough and remember the relevant rules only after having “translated” them in my forma mentis.

  2. Heavy book, improvised weapon (-4 to hit) with damage as a club one size smaller than the user. Assuming a 1st level Commoner of average Strength (because who else would be trying to beat a cat to death with a book):

    Melee: hardcover rulebook -4, 1d4

    Cat, AC 14, hp 3, speed 30′, Climb +6

    My money is on the cat if there’s a tree nearby…

  3. Helpful article; thanks! Eventually we will switch over to try out The One Ring RPG (which I am particularly excited about) and I’ll keep this in mind. I was already thinking about running a homemade adventure for starters but after reading this, I believe I’ll re-think that.

  4. I especially like the part about running a pre-published intro module. I have designed a game and this tells me I need to create an intro module to sell with it. Thanks.

  5. Super relevant right now, Creighton!
    Are you delving into the Playtest at the moment?

    (And bonus question if you are – are there any plans to put out some cheeky content for the playtest era? I’ve already had players asking to be animals….)

    1. I downloaded the PDFs a few hours ago and have ben perusing them since then. I’m also waiting for the physical books to be despatched, but they’ve haven’t turned up yet.

      I’ll know more once I have done some more reading. I’m not sure I’ll be releasing anything through Raging Swan Press for the play test version of 2.0, but if I develop anything useful to use in game I’ll post it up on the blog.

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