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Don’t Know Anything About a Game? Write a Player’s Guide…

September 4, 2012
Tips & Tricks

Tips & Tricks

I thoroughly enjoy trying new RPGs with my gaming group. New genres, new adventures, new games revitalize me as a player and as a GM. Sure, I can adapt my existing game to play new stuff–but sometimes branching out on a completely different system actually helps to shape the storytelling of a campaign. The system doesn’t work in a vacuum–systems directly and indirectly affects the choices available to the characters. But the tricky part of getting into the action, for me, has always been learning and getting comfortable with the nuts and bolts of the new system.

One technique that I have used since I started running games (back in the late-80s, early-90s…yes, I’m old. I know this.) is to put together a “player’s guide” for my group. Part of this started simply due to the fact that neither myself nor the members of my group had a lot of money, so we didn’t have multiple copies of the rule book just lying around (the only exception being good old AD&D 1e). The other part was that I found that by pouring over the book and making notes to pass on to my players, I got very familiar with the rules in a relatively short period of time.

Rules pose a difficulty to me in that the more they tend to the complex, the more likely I am to forget them. I love rules-light systems and tend to just wing it anytime I come across anything more complex than rolling on a couple of tables. But by re-working the rules in my own rules, with an eye to explaining the concepts to others, I came to understand more complex systems than I ever could by simply reading the book.

When I first started, I would put together an actual binder and type out what were essentially “Cliff’s Notes” versions of the rules–and only the rules that affected session-to-session game play. Then I’d also add setting information, useful tables, and other aspects to enhance the player experience. I’d even photocopy photos and tables from the books to give the final product a similar look and feel as the actual product. By the time I was through, I had a finished product that I could give the players that I was actually proud of.

And, by immersing myself in the rules, I gained a true understanding of the ins-and-outs of the game.

Over the years I made little guides for Vampire the Masquerade, DC Heroes, Ars Magica, and the Serenity RPG.

Now I do the same thing but more “electronically”. I scan photos instead of photocopying. I also use an online wiki (Obsidian Portal, to be specific) to collect the information and make it available to everyone. Same concept but updated into the 21st Century. Even old guys can be taught…


  • Understanding  of the rules
  • Story inspiration springing from the page
  • Low-cost way to share the game with the group
  • A final product that you can be proud of to give your players


  • Time, time, time
  • Effort, effort, effort
  • Binders, paper, printer cartridges
  • Possibly subscription to online services for art/wiki space/etc.

If you want, take a look at the Player’s Guide I’m putting together for The Dresden Files RPG on Obsidian Portal. It’s a work in progress, but if it helps visualize what I’m describing, or inspires you in any way, look away.

From → Tips and Tricks

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