The Dice Bag Goes Back To School

Do you know the last time I had to learn a completely new gaming system? I’m not talking about jumping between editions of games here but proper separate systems. The last time was fourteen years ago when I had to learn the WOD system after a ten hour shift and several cans of lager. Thankfully WOD is basically a very simple system but it would have been a totally different ball game if the system was any more complex.

As those that follow this blog may know I’m coming out of retirement as a gamesmaster very soon to run a Shadowrun game. Now those systems we play I know off by heart but I’ve only ever played SR once and it was as a player 18 years ago.

I’ve read through the rules several times now and its a fairly simple system but I cannot for the life of me retain any of it in my head. Have I reached my limit? Have I got to the same stage as Homer Simpson and for every new bit of information that goes in two bits fall out?

How do you go about learning a new system? Do you just go with a brute force attack and sit through your evening reading and rereading the rules and playing games regardless with the books in front of you or do you have a way of remembering the differences between systems and using those as hooks for learning the new rules?

At the moment I’m going with the brute force idea but it’s failing badly. I usually go through the character creation on my own to pick up the basics and repeatedly build the same generic character over and over again. Normally this will highlight those few areas I have trouble with or can’t quite get correct in my head but I’ve drawn up three characters so far and you’d think one was from WOD, one from D&D and the other from a completely homebrew game that is based on playing germs and living with the bleach under your kitchen sink.

I wonder if you can get any nanotech that make learning gaming rules easier?

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  1. Bonemaster says:

    Sadly, I mostly brute force it myself. I remember when I learned SpyCraft, the issue for me wasn’t the rules but rather the complex equipment system and knowing the Feats. It made it hard to try to get the player’s characters made. It was hard to recommend feat for players to take. It was hard to know what NPC feats meant as well.

    Bonemasters last blog post..Preliminary edition of Traveller5 to be shipped!

  2. Bob says:

    Bonemaster – I know that feeling very well!

  3. Rebecca says:

    Hi. I’m in the process of learning the latest GURPS system (still reading the core books). Here’s what I do:
    * Make characters.
    * Run the characters through simple combats using the various powers/abilities available.
    * Join a forum that supports the game and ask lots of questions.
    * Make a cheat-sheet of the rules. (For example: What dice start combat? What’s a skill check? How is conflict resolved? Give a one (brief) sentence description of everything on the character sheet.) I find once the cheat-sheet’s built I almost never refer to it again, unless I want to teach someone else the system.
    * Use post its to add your comments to the rule book, and denote pages you’ll want to refer back to quickly.

  4. Joshua says:

    The same way you’d learn any new academic/technical subject:

    Skim the material to get a sense of it (paying particular attention to the opening section and the chapter organization).

    Go back over it and read it more carefully, taking notes. I cannot overemphasize how important physically writing the notes is. Making a “mental note” just doesn’t work unless you have a photographic memory (and wouldn’t be asking this question in the first place). The physical process of organizing the information in your mind coherently enough to write down, coupled with the actual writing does more than anything else to fix it in your noggin. The point isn’t necessarily that you’ll study the notes (though they might help), the point is to produce them.

    Practice it. Do some practice by yourself or with your friend of whatever the most complicated sections are (usually combat). If you have recaps or campaign notes for sessions you’ve GMed in a different system go back to them, and figure out how you would adjudicate it in the new system. Look stuff up if you have to and take notes. Explain it to someone. It’s amazing how much you learn (and how much you realize you don’t actually understand) when you try to explain it. Come to think of it, explaining it on your blog would be a good combination of teaching it, taking notes, and a reference for your players (if they read your blog).

    Joshuas last blog post..Bait and Switch

  5. Vampir says:

    I just write down the rules on a sheet of paper in their raw form, without any fluff or optional things, just what I’ll use. When I’ve got it all, I’ll see what relates to what, reorganise it and just use the newly made cheat-sheet…

  6. Bob says:

    I don’t think my problem is remembering the core rules. It’s always something that makes the system unique or even just different enough to mess things up.

    I’ve seen myself revert to WOD skill checks during a Rolemaster game due to being that used to rolling a handful of D10′s. It doesn’t sound that bad but rolling a dice per rank when each rank is only a +5 at most meant that a skill range of 51-150 ended up being 10-100 instead. We had a lot of skill failures that night :S

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