Becoming Familiar with a New System

We’ve all been there. It’s Game Night, and you’re set to make sure that the Evil Thus-and-such doesn’t take over the world. You have your character sheet in hand, dice bag at the ready, and when you arrive, all of your fellow players are drooling over a book for a new system. Your grip goes limp, and Sir Elberforth the Bold gently falls to the floor, his meticulously-statted self landing on the floor.

Okay, maybe it’s not all so dramatic, but what do you do when your group just up and decides to change systems on you? If leaving your group for one that isn’t quite a douchy won’t work, then here are some tips to get ready, fast.

1. Read, read, read

One way or another, you’re going to have to learn the mechanics of the game before you can take your new hero out for a spin. Get your hands on a copy of the Player’s Guide for the system and get to reading. If you’re pressed for time, I recommend focusing on the stuff that tends to be important for your group; if you’re RP-heavy, then make sure you know how to make what passes for a Diplomacy check. If you guys roll up and start the slaughter with  no words exchanged, be sure to know the mechanics behind your weapon of choice.

2. Get to know the setting

Hopefully, your GM isn’t preparing to thrust you into their self-created world where more than half of the things you read in the Player’s Guide won’t apply. If there’s a default setting, and your group is using it, know some of the ins and outs. What countries are where, and who will you upset if you wear the wrong color to dinner? Who can you kill and who should you avoid? A good system will provide you with basic info that you should need to know to get by.

Caveat: If you’re using a ruleset with basic rules that has a bunch of different settings that can change the core rules in certain ways (see: Savage Worlds), then make sure you get accurate info on the setting that will be used.

3. Grab some podcasts

If you have some extra time, then head to iTunes or Podbean and find some podcasts that feature either game system reviews or actual play sessions of the system in question. If you find a good group of gamers actually playing the game, it can give you a much better idea of how the mechanics work than if you just sit down with the book to try and puzzle it out.

4. When all else fails, play

If your situation mirrors my intro, then you won’t have time for any of my previous suggestions. If that happens, and you don’t have the option of reasoning with the group to wait a week to try out the new stuff, then do your best to just roll with it. If you’re a new gamer, this can be rough, as you might have only gotten a handle on your current system, let alone  a new one. Still, give it a shot. If you’re an experienced player, then dipping into a new system is a fun brain-stretching exercise, one that might give you new ideas for the old campaign.

Any gaming group worth your time should give fair warning before a new system is brought to the table. If that doesn’t happen, do your best to play along. There is something to be learned from every gaming system, even if what you learn is to not do what the new system does. Keep your mind open, and your dice rolling.

[tags]geek, Role Playing Games, rpg, systems[/tags]

5 thoughts on “Becoming Familiar with a New System

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  1. Good start! My own piece of advice on learning new systems is to write down any questions that come up during play. Look up the answers during the snack break or after the game instead of interrupting the game. This also has the added benefit of preventing rules lawyering at the table.

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  2. Thanks for the feedback and suggestions, Dan. I think that’s a good rule of thumb, even if your group knows the system forward and back; don’t break up the flow to get the ‘official’ answer to a question, just look it up during a break.

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  3. Hmm. But I have the entire rules set committed to memory and I’m always right.

    (cough). Believe me, I’ll take that looking up during the break advice. Plus that means mandatory snack breaks, which I’m very much in favor of.

    I enjoyed the entire article as well! I’m going to be starting a new campaign in a newish (to me) system soon so this article couldn’t come at a better time.

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  4. You describe this post in lovely writing style. I enjoy reading your opinion about every gaming system. Hope I can visit your blog again. Thanks for sharing

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