Variety is the spice of life. You may have your favorite game system, but it does not need to be the only game system that you play. One of the joys of this hobby is that by using a different set of rules you can have a completely new experience at the game table even if you are still playing in the same setting. Trying a new set of rules out is the GM equivalent of a chef tasting different types of cuisines in order to expand her palette.
But how do you go about learning a new set of rules? Reading the rules is a good place to start, but reading is rarely enough to develop fluency with the rules. Here are some simple things that you can do in order to develop a greater understanding of a new system:
- In the Savage Worlds Deluxe edition there is a short but elegant section on what a person should do in order to prepare to GM a game of the system. The authors advise a new Savage Worlds GM to make a PC and run through a combat with a few NPC enemies before running the game for the players in order to understand how combat works. This works for any game system though, and it not only helps you to learn the rules but it can also inspire you to develop smarter strategies and tactics to use in actual play.
- Fellow gnome DNAphil recently told me how he creates a character by himself in private for any new system that he plans to run before asking the players in his group to do so. This is a great idea, because character creation is usually what defines a player’s first impression of a new game system. A GM who understands the character creation rules will be better prepared to answer player questions, and will probably have some insight into why the players chose certain traits and items for their characters. Phil also runs a “training session” with the player once a character has been created that is not part of the actual game itself, so that both he and the player have an understanding of how the rules work before the first game session begins.
- I am preparing to run a game of Where No Man Has Gone Before 2.0, which is a Microlite20 game set in the Star Trek universe of the original television series. In order become familiar with the rules I am creating my own custom GM’s screen for the game. This helps me to not only learn the rules, but it also is helping me to think about which rules are most likely to be used in order to produce the type of experience that I want the players to have at the table. Likewise, creating a player handout in the form of a rules “cheat sheet” can have the same effect.
- Flash cards are a great way to learn anything, especially if you read them out loud while studying. If I am having difficulty committing something to memory I write it out on an index card in the form of a question on one side and the answer on the other side. This has helped me with my education, career, and even my role as a GM. Creating and using a deck of custom flash cards is a great way to internalize new knowledge.
These are just a handful of ways in which you can learn a new system, but I want to hear from our Gnome Stew readers about how you learn new rules. Tell us your favorite tips and tricks for mastering a new game system, and as a bonus tell us what RPG rule books were the easiest (or worst) to learn from and why.
Have you tried any of these techniques for yourself? If so, what was the result? Leave a comment below, and share your insight with the rest of us!