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Cheat-Sheets: Good for Everyone!

I’m the “new bizarre game I found on the Internet” guy in my group. There’s always some oddball game I want to introduce everyone to. Given my GM ADD, when I do get them to play a game, these are almost always one-shots, so I don’t expect anyone to actually sit down and memorize rules. Instead I make up a cheat-sheet that goes over character building and common action systems rules and types in easy to digest and reference chunks. For simple games, I can usually condense the entire game onto a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper. For more complex ones, I usually just hit the high points and leave the less common details out.

These handouts help my players understand the game right out of the gate, and reduce the number of “How do I…” questions by a large margin. They also give me a quick reference sheet since the older I get the more spotty my memory is, but they also have another very helpful side effect. By going through the rules and deciding which parts are important enough to include and by condensing all the mechanics into an abbreviated form, I actually remember the rules better than just reading them. Just like writing reports (way) back in school, making use of the information and expressing it in your own way forces you to internalize it to a greater degree and requires you to understand it well enough to apply it. Presenting a game’s rules in boiled down format can also help make patterns and themes more obvious. While a game’s designer may have intended that certain subsystems mesh together in a certain way, fluff and samples tend to obscure the way mechanics interact. Pooling a list of systems together with nothing in between helps sort out synergies and strategies that may have otherwise gone overlooked.

Granted, some games are tough to write comprehensive one-page cheat-sheets for simply because of the bulk of the original rule systems, but even in these systems it’s often worth it to make a very generalized one or one for difficult or confusing subsystems. Even if you never give them to your players, excercising the rules will help cement them in your mind.

About  Matthew J. Neagley

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights an ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "Cheat-Sheets: Good for Everyone!"

#1 Comment By The Bearded Goose On April 2, 2009 @ 9:45 am

Holy crap! I’m not the only one out there! Thank the gods!

That cheat sheet idea is a really good one. I’ll have to remember that. Thanks!

#2 Comment By LesInk On April 2, 2009 @ 10:39 am

For 4th edition D&D, PHB pg 277 (conditions) and 289 (Actions in Combat) on the front and back of a piece of a paper does wonders to save time. And if you want a second piece of paper, summarize skills and a break down of how each of the actions in combat works.

I did this for a group of new players and it was very helpful (although still quite overwhealming). I even put together their power cards. I learned one thing — 4th edition is really not that simple as it is still alot to take in, BUT all the key information can be summarized easier.

#3 Comment By Scott Martin On April 2, 2009 @ 11:01 am

You’re right– a good cheat sheet really helps make sure that you and your players understand the rules, and helps mitigate the “too few books at the table problem” too.

The big drawback is time; creating a good guide is a lot of time taken away from adventure prep. I guess if the players create the characters [instead of you pregening them all], the time might be a wash. Good to consider– thanks.

#4 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On April 2, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

Yes, yes, yes! Good call, Matthew.

When I was a PC in my first Third Edition D&D game, I kept a photocopy of the combat actions sheet at my side the entire time. Never regretted it. I think it helped my learning curve of the rules.

#5 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On April 2, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

Just a quick note to say that I’ve added cheatsheets to the list of “things I’m going to do next campaign”.

#6 Comment By NiallNai On April 6, 2009 @ 10:24 am

Since I got the print and pdf for it, one of the things that I did with HELLAS was take snapshots and cut and paste the snapshots of various sections of the book into a player handout for the rules.

I’ve thought of doing the same for the new A Song of Ice and Fire rpg for chargen.

#7 Comment By Lunatyk On April 8, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

I make cheat sheets for myself mostly… I just prefer to have a dozen pages of rules rather than have to carry a dozen books with me because there is something within those rules that I might use…

and it helps me learn the system…