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I have a problem and I was hoping you guys could help me. My friends and I are about to start a Pathfinder campaign. We are all very new, none of us have played any sort of table top RPG before. Most of us are excited and did a lot of research to prepare our characters. However one friend does not seem to understand that he will need to do outside reading (what he calls homework) for this to be an enjoyable experience for him. We are supposed to do our first sessions tomorrow (which has been planned for several weeks) and his character concept is still little more than Elf Druid. He claims to be very excited about playing the game but his actions beg to differ.

How do I convey to him that he needs to pick up the books and read about the game. That he needs to prepare his character between/before sessions? I have linked him to many websites to try and help get him started as well as giving him free access to all my books but nothing seems to help.

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Does he have a statblock worked out? Are you rolling stats at your first session or are you expected to have a full character ready to go (via point buy)? It's entirely possible to have a character which is nothing but a statblock and a concept of "elven druid". Don't make this about "outside reading" - make the requirement a simple "Are you prepared to the level necessary?" –  Bobson May 23 '13 at 19:25
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Not all gamers find out-of-game prep fun, which is why there are so many games that don't require it. Your friend might be that kind of roleplayer. –  SevenSidedDie May 23 '13 at 19:47
    
Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/1015/… –  Erik Schmidt May 24 '13 at 5:01
    
So we had our first session and everything went alright. He did show up with a usable character (to everyone's surprise). The evening was fun and everyone had a good time. Thank you all for your inputs. –  AdamP May 28 '13 at 15:20
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7 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

He doesn't need to pick up the books in the first place. RPG's are a recreational activity. If he doesn't want to spend time reading gaming books, then he really has no obligation to do so. Maybe tabletop RPG's just aren't for him. Perhaps he's just going along with everyone because he wants to hang out with the group or doesn't want to be the wet blanket on the group's activity, but otherwise isn't very interested.

I wouldn't be too concerned about it. If he tries gaming and enjoys it, he'll start reading the books and becoming familiar with the system out of new found interest. If he doesn't enjoy it, then you'll probably lose him as a player anyways. But badgering him to do 'homework' is most assuredly not going to help you keep him around.

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Not all RPGs require learning a lot of rules either - maybe D&D is just the wrong system for this guy. –  Michael Borgwardt May 24 '13 at 9:48
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"Homework" for RPG's is traditionally the near-exclusive provenance of the GM, not the other players.

What a player truly needs to know for Pathfinder (or other d20 system games) can mostly be learned in play.

As a 32+ year GM, I can say honestly that few of my players put in much "homework" once they have the basics of a game. And the ones who memorize the rules generally are not the best of players, either. A GM can/should work on rules mastery; a player does so only when he feels it useful.

So, don't worry about it. Worry more about the time investment of being at session regularly.

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"And the ones who memorize the rules generally are not the best of players, either." Definitely. I often see it result in a strange kind of myopia or setting-blindness, where the player can't see the forest (the shared fiction) for staring too hard at the trees (rules). There are exceptions, but they're few enough. –  SevenSidedDie May 24 '13 at 17:57
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You may want to focus your efforts on making the necessary materials available for him at game time, because once the game starts he'll hopefully realize the value of knowing more of the rules. Once he sees the other players making their characters do exciting things and doesn't know how to do the same with his character, hand him a short list of page numbers that cover the most relevant rules so he can check them out.

The first session of a new campaign with a new rules set can be slow even for veteran gamers. In your case all of it is new, so if you expect this player's intransigence to slow things down a bit, you may find the whole experience less stressful. In short, lower your expectations. If the player characters start off on an adventure, you get to run through combat once or twice, and everyone gets a rough idea of what their characters are capable of, you're doing just fine.

Hopefully at the conclusion of the first session this player will be chomping at the bit to read the rules more carefully. If he isn't eager to at that point, Pathfinder and other games that require extensive player prep may not be right for him, or tabletop RPGs in general may not be for him.

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Decide What Kind Of Game You're Running

It's totally cool to run "seat of the pants" D&D. You can also choose a different RPG, there are many that are rules light, but (shhh - don't tell the rules wonks!) you can run Pathfinder as low rules and loosey-goosey as you want. My first D&D game was run in a car on the way to Scout camps at night - no books or dice. In that case, no homework is really required. He can be an elf druid, when he does something you can rule or roll d6 with 1-3 yes 4-6 no, or whatever.

However, if you and the other players want to be playing a more tactical game and you want rounds to generally go according to the rules, this can become a problem. If every combat round grinds to a stop because the player doesn't know how to roll initiative, then you have a couple options.

Help Him

You can just play, and every time he gets confused about rules, help him. Or, ideally, delegate that to a rules loving player. The goal of this would be for him to learn what he needs to do - it's probably not going to be fun for everyone else to do this every round, every game, forever. Try other social means of encouraging him to put in the work. Eventually you want to transition to...

Enforce Him

You can also just say "if you don't know the rule, you can't do it." This may be harsh for a complete noob - but it's how we run our more experienced game. In our game, "I cast entangle?" "OK, what does it do?" "Uh, I don't know." is met with frowns and encouragement to look it up fast - because you're being a jerk to everyone else by delaying their fun. If someone were to show up with an incomplete character to our game, they wouldn't be playing till it was complete, at least mostly. "We'll get going, you can join as soon as you have stats!"

Dump Him

So either you need to have the whole group choose a playstyle that is conducive to not knowing any rules, or you need to teach him via some mix of gentle encouragement and hard enforcement, or you need to shed him from the group. That'll probably happen automatically if you run several games and he doesn't fit the playstyle.

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This has always been a problem for one of my groups-they view the rules as something that the GM tells them whenever things come up. Fortunately, they're usually pretty understanding when I say that I'm not going to run through every last possibility they could consider when giving them options, but I still wind up babysitting them a lot. (For instance, in my Savage Worlds campaign, one of them "didn't understand" the Test Drive rules, and he's an engineering student so I'm pretty sure that translates to "didn't read".)

Here's the things I wound up doing to get them to learn Shadowrun (and I'll probably wind up repeating with Savage Worlds to get them into it):

Can't explain it, can't have it.

Now, admittedly, this has led to some issues in my group, primarily with the invested players becoming infinitely more powerful than the non-invested ones, but I have a rule that if you can't explain how something works, you can't have it. There's a certain minimal floor for this; I don't require players to understand combat to have a gun, for instance, but if you want to hack/sling spells/take on advanced roles, you have to be able to explain the rules, sort of like how people have to take a test before getting a driver's license. This means that I don't have to explain stuff all the time, and it encourages players to read more.

Pop quiz.

Particularly in Shadowrun, which my players had the darnedest time with (well, most of them) because they didn't read anything, I'd place pop quizzes on them; this is essentially the "write-in-answer" equivalent of the "Can't explain it, can't have it." solution, where you ask people how many dice they use, the modifiers, the target, and why. I've pulled this on one of my players who was running a game once and he failed. At my table, if you fail a pop quiz, you get to go and read the appropriate section then and there, while receiving a helpful lecture on the rules. They never forget something after this, and it polishes up the rest of the group's knowledge. It does disrupt sessions a good deal, but it makes things easier moving on.


However, these are just really ways to deal with players that encourages them to work around the time investment. Here are some more practical ways to drive it home before you even begin.

  • Explicitly state the investment required. I tell my players to read the books. They rarely do, except to try to break their characters (since most are pretty heavy powergamers), but even if one in four players actually reads the rules they can help explain them to the others.
  • Be merciless. There was a sign in one of the Fallout games that read "Ignorance of the rules is no excuse for breaking the rules." or something long those lines (I think there was more swearing involved). If a player hasn't read the rules and creates a min-maxed character that doesn't work, I let them do this. For instance, my brother once built a d20 Star Wars character with exclusively odd-numbered stats to try to max out his modifiers. I forced him to play the character, and he went and actually read the rules to prevent it from happening again.
  • Have a reading party. Have a session before the game starts where you go through the rules and discuss things. The success of this varies from group to group-I often justify it as being like practice before an athletic event, but if I don't make it mandatory, people won't read. The point of this isn't to read the whole book cover-to-cover, but rather to facilitate discussion of confusing rules. I often use a quickstart guide for these, since they're more concise (most of my players are college-educated or college-students and read pretty quickly when disciplined, though the more easily distracted ones don't always do well in this environment).
  • Have an example run. Part of this comes from my limited experience as a game designer, but I find that providing examples is really handy, and I often show an incident between two NPC's with a complete justification for everything I'm doing-this also confirms my own knowledge of the rules, which is helpful for staying consistent in a long campaign with a complex game.
  • Confirm your book "kills". This is perhaps something that works better for veteran roleplayers, (or reviewers like myself), since they've had access to more games, but I like to have the sort of "notch on your gun" discussions with prospective players. Basically, I recount stories of how much I've read, toss around some page counts, and things get serious. "I've read over a thousand pages of Eclipse Phase. Twice." Players listen after that, and at the very least you can usually get them to read the basic rules. In short, it's okay to brag to put the paltry reading you're having a player do in perspective.
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I… wow. You have patient players. I can't picture that pop quiz going well. How is your actual delivery? The description here is pretty brusque, but maybe your actual delivery is different (and maybe enlightening). –  SevenSidedDie May 23 '13 at 21:49
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It would be interesting to find out how you deliver that pop quiz. You must have a clever way of doing it, because my players would laugh at me if I tried something like that. –  Erik Schmidt May 23 '13 at 22:06
    
"So, can anyone tell me when we use die modifiers, and when we use threshold adjustments?" It helps a little bit that I'm a future educator, so I've got the whole "classroom attitude" thing. –  Kyle Willey May 23 '13 at 22:17
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I wouldn't recognize this experience as an RPG at all; more of a course of study. It obviously works for you and your players, so good luck; but it's not universal. –  TimLymington May 23 '13 at 22:32
    
There's some good advice in here. I don't think this approach would work for everyone, but it does give me some useful ideas. +1 –  SevenSidedDie May 23 '13 at 23:28
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One of the neater things (I think, anyway) that the designers of 4E did was define a bunch of player archetypes for DMs to understand. The whole point of archetyping, of course, isn't to lump every player of yours into one of those pre-defined groups, but to recognize them - sometimes a player is several archetypes at once - and respond accordingly. And simply put, there are several archetypes which either don't require exhaustive knowledge of game mechanics and milieu, but which are often helped by not moving along the learning curve at the same speed as everyone else. These are summed up here.

  • Actor: Doesn't necessarily need to know much of anything about fight mechanics to start. In fact, some of the best RPing comes from Actors in fights who don't know the game mechanics at all and just say that their character does what's currently in their head. It's your job as the GM, IMO, to make that description crunchy, not so much theirs. May want to read up on the milieu so that they know how to RP their guy properly.

  • Explorer: Won't kill themselves by not knowing fight mechanics either, and, depending on what their character is like, might have more fun not reading about the far-flung lands of Eberron or whatever and learning about them as their character learns about them, with the same sense of wonder, and often times the same level of ignorance.

  • Instigator: Like the actor, this is a person who probably operates best either knowing the rules like the back of their hand or not really knowing them at all. "I do this." "Okay, make these rolls to see if you succeed." It's not that much more work for a DM, and the payoff is that you have a PC acting with their own agency, something that is horrendously rare in some gaming groups.

  • Power Gamer: Probably needs to know the game really well to be at their best, but it's my experience that you will have no problem getting this kind of player to read the source material anyway. In fact, I often find the opposite to be the case. "As you round the corner, a gang of halflings fall upon you armed with swords." "Actually, sir, halflings in this world use scimitars. I have created my character with this in mind and I expect you to change this so-called 'flavor', lest it put me at a disadvantage."

  • Slayer: Often is heavily correlated with the Power Gamer, which means that you usually don't have to worry about them learning the system either. It might be a good idea to make sure they've read up on what the milieu does to outlaws and murderers if that's the kind of player they start to play...

  • Storyteller: Will need to know all about the source material, but, like the power gamer, they will probably go out and learn this on their own even more than you as the DM will. One advantage (to me, anyway; granted that I lean towards instigation, acting, and storytelling myself) is that when this person corrects you, it will nearly always be to get the setting "right", and if you say "well, this group of halflings is different", they might respond to you by saying "ooh, neat! I wish to learn more about this gang!" instead of whining about mechanics and strategy.

  • Thinker: You'd expect this person to need to know all about both mechanics and story, but actually not so much. Depending on the game world and system, they might find that learning these things will significantly increase the amount of fun that they have at the gaming table as they learn to play the fighting minigame and so on, but for the most part a puzzle is a puzzle in any genre. Just make sure that enough of those are in there, and this person will be happy (although ironically this can be the most disruptive archetype in the game in its purest form, as puzzles often stop RPing in its tracks and often do not provide power gamers and slayer enough opportunities to kill and/or show how awesome their characters are).

  • Watcher: I think steady players dump on these guys a lot, and even the game book talks about being able to maybe turn them into another type some day, but the fact is, some players just like to follow the story, have fun with their friends, and have something to talk about at the end of the day. As long as they know the system well enough to not be frustrated by it, and they aren't getting Analysis Paralysis every time it's their turn, it is perfectly normal and fine to have a player or two like this to round out the group.

I don't think having pop quizzes on rules or source material in-game is a terribly good idea. It's my experience that players unfamiliar with a game mechanic such as magic will tend to gravitate away from it anyway. IME most DnD Watchers I've played with end up playing Fighters (and this was one reason why 4E was tough to get into, because suddenly fighters had to pay more attention than rolling a die every 5 minutes) and didn't get too far into anyone else's business. I understand that it can be frustrating, too, explaining the same rule to someone in 5 straight sessions, but a. lack of in-game comprehension doesn't necessarily mean they didn't read the source material beforehand, and b. you're not going to solve that particular issue by making the game feel like school (unless the way you want to solve it is by kicking a player out, and if that's the case, you should probably just kick them out).

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Thank you for your comments. I am excited to see what archetype my friends and I fall into, if any. I do however have one questions, if you don't mind. What is 'milieu'? –  AdamP May 24 '13 at 15:54
    
It's a fancy way of saying "the game world you are playing in". For instance, you could be playing DnD as your system but your milieu might be Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or (if you're really old) Greyhawk or that one with the vampires. –  NotVonKaiser May 24 '13 at 16:08
    
Oh it's an actual word. I apologize, I assumed it was some sort of shorthand or abbreviation. Thank you for the explanation. –  AdamP May 24 '13 at 16:34
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You can help the new player in many ways, but first I will try to relate to his current experiences.

Does he plays CRPG, MMORPG, RTS or are into collectible card games etc?

Those are games, which if you want to enjoy them, will require time in reading up builds, strategies, walkthroughs and practises. Depending on the style of game you play, tell the player about how does table-top roleplaying compares with those other pursuits. This is to let the player understands that there is some effort involved? (Actually, if you want the best of your buck out of most games, sans the most casual of all casual games, some effort is needed)

Is the player excited about the game, or character-building?

As I read your question, I come to the instinct that you think if a player is excited about the game, he will put his effort into building his character. I can't really say if you meant mechanical options or story background, but I assume it's the former.

There are players whom I have met, who are excited about playing the game but not preparing for the game. They are just as keen as the game as you are, perhaps sometimes we think there is only one expected behaviour if you are really interested. Perhaps your friend is not into the number-crunching, optimizing parts of the game? (Assuming it's a variant of d20 here).

While min-maxing and finding the best build is a time-honoured practise of our hobby of choice, not everybody enjoys it. Perhaps the rest of the group can help out, suggesting abilities/feats/powers that round up the group.

If the players know his stuff, I consider him good to go. You may also want to talk about what "good play" means for your group if you realize that there may be conflicting expectations at the table.

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