You know what ruins an RPG session? When the rulebooks get opened up. You know what ruins it the most? When the GM is the one opening the book.
While my point could be applied to “rules lawyering,” I’m actually hitting at a more present problem at my gaming table: lack of familiarity with core rules. As you know, I’ve embarked on a quest to play through many of the classic 1st Edition AD&D modules. We have one session remaining in T1: The Village of Hommlet by Gary Gygax. That means after a solid ten sessions, we’re still having to look at rules. Why is that?
Of course, there is the charge that 1st Edition is too complicated, contradictory, and clunky. Granted, it is complicated. There are moments of fuzziness to the point of possible contradiction. But there’s a charm and personality about the system that helps me to overlook all that. I’m enamored by the tone of the game.
Beyond the quirks of 1st Ed. AD&D, I think that there are some rules that are simply hard to remember when you first begin playing any game. They’re not on the GM screen–they’re not readily available–nobody remembers! And, as a result, you can find yourself digging through your books at the gaming table more than is necessary.
So here’s my solution!
Post-it notes! That’s right. It’s simple, it’s easy, find those finicky rules quickly if they’re absolutely needed at the table. The problem is less the books and more the fifteen minutes finding the rules.
So grab a pack of post-its, whatever RPG book you’re learning right now, and let’s mark our pages together. Ready? Here are the top pages that you need to mark right now:
The unique flavor sections
Games that succeed are games that are “the same, but different.” So besides the setting, what makes your game different? No, not the setting–the rules! What rules are unique to this game that new players or GMs might not remember? For the Star Wars RPG, it’s no doubt the creation of a dice pool and how to adjudicate those dice. In D&D 4th Edition (yes, I do still play from time-to-time), I found myself looking up conditions like Dazed and Weakened the other night. They come into play often, but they’re hard to remember.
What are the unique rules that flavor your favorite game? Maybe there are similar rules in others games, but they’re just different in this one? Here are the rules I’ll have to mark for AD&D 1e:
Frequency of Random Combat Encounters in Different Types of Terrain: DMG, pg. 47
Random Monster Encounters: DMG, pp. 174-194Random Treasure Generation: DMG pp. 120-125
The Monetary System: PHB, pg. 35
Keeping track of in-game time: DMG, pp. 37-38
Finicky combat rules
Every system has its…let’s call it…”unique” approach to combat. In the Mouse Guard RPG, you have the interaction between the intentions of the PC and the NPC. It’s great. It works awesome. But it’s baffling trying to explain it at first. In the Star Wars RPG, it’s the various “abstract” range system. Again, simple as apple pie, but confusing for the new player.
What is the finicky combat rule in your game? The last thing you want is a character in the middle of some amazing, epic storytelling moment getting stuck because of a rule that they’re not used to. So find your weird combat rule and stick a post-in note in there. AD&D players? What do we need to mark?
Determining surprise, distance, and initiative: DMG, pp. 61-2
Morale scores: DMG pg. 67
Death, dying, unconsciousness, and revival
I’ve looked this up way too many times in my RPG books. From FFG’s Star Wars RPG and its near-impossibility to die to AD&D lethal rules, I’ve revisited these over and over again. Why do you need this marked?
Because when a character’s life is on the line, you don’t want to fiddle around with rules. Tension is already high. You need a ruling that will stand scrutiny and you need it quick. So find it in your RPG book. Mark it with a post-in note! If you’re following along in your 1st Ed. AD&D books, here’s what you need to mark:
Rules on death, unconsciousness, and reviving: DMG, pg 82.
Resurrection rules imposed on the player: PHB, pg. 12.
Determining Experience Points
This may simply be wonky for 1st Edition AD&D, but it takes some serious mathing to get those numbers cranked out. I know later versions of D&D smoothed that out.
But here’s my point. It’s the end of the session. Everybody is probably sleepy, hungry, or needs to pee. Nobody wants to sit and pore over books to get their precious XP. They just want to get their XP and move on to the next level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So once more, mark them in your books, especially these pages if you’re into AD&D these days:
XP for treasure and combat: DMG, pp. 84-86
It’s kind of ridiculous how hard this is to find when it comes up. Maybe my group is more acrobatic than most, but I feel like it comes up inordinately often. And when you’re waiting to see whether it’s only a scratch or a broken back, people want to know that rule quickly! AD&Ders, it’s out of the way, but here’s where you’re going to want to go:
Falling Damage: PHB, pg. 105 (it’s just 1d6 damage per 10 feet to a max of 20d6).
What else should we mark?
I know this will be a help to me! I literally just put my post-it notes in there. Mostly because last session, I looked up maybe four of these. What did you mark? And what should we all have marked that I neglected? Sound off in the comments below! I look forward to marking more essential pages!
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