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I included relevant background to illustrate how convoluted the system can become, skip to the bottom if you just want to see the question.

I've gone off the deep end and broke everything by making a homebrew spell system that completely replaced the pathfinder system. Magic was initially destroyed in a cataclysm per my lore, and now everybody can use it as it is gaining more prevalence, though obviously melee classes will implement it differently than ranged.

It is based around a system of magic words that are combined to generate a desired effect: "burn" + an amplifier, ex: "three" results in an above average burning effect. These words can be chained together to create some pretty neat spells, and I've been kept on my toes by some players trying to abuse the literal wording of spells to teleport between planes using a conjuration ritual. The limiting factor is mana, both in terms of a maximum capacity that each player can use each day and in terms of per-round bandwidth. This means a player can only output X mana each round, so they must channel for more rounds if they want to use more modifying words, and have a hard cap on how much they can cast without resting. Additionally, they can make rituals, which effectively store magic over many days to power an exceedingly powerful spell, and can enchant items that automatically absorb mana, allowing X casts of a spell per day for free.

Players are able to learn the words as they are playing, and write combinations of these words down in physical spellbooks. To help facilitate this, I have 'black pages' that contain a 'spell' already written out (they obviously may or may not know what it does depending on what words they know) along with a single magic word and its definition in common. They insert these into their physical spell-books. I find that my players are much more engaged when they have to physically flip through a book, and it helps avoid those 'quickly googling the wiki' moments. Besides this, there is a real world analogue to preparing spells each week, since they must literally construct their spells and write them down for easy access during play, though the smartest players in my games have started memorizing words directly and making free-form spells mid combat, which I find to be a very cool way of showing both that they and their characters have grown.

These players are at a severe advantage because if they are able to overhear enemies casting, they are able to use a particular class of spells to counteract the effects as an interrupting action, assuming they know the words well enough to instantly cast the dispel.

That said, half of my old group dropped. Luckily one of my friends has three buddies who are interested in joining up with experience in RPGs ranging from none to fairly experienced with recent DnD rulesets. The remaining half of my party is used to the new system and highly engaged in it, but I'm concerned that the newbies will be put off or confused by the system, and I unfortunately don't have time to do a multi-hour walk-through at this point.

So, how do I ease the new players into my convoluted homebrew system without neutering the fun of the rest of the party?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this system explained in more detail elsewhere? This is an entirely selfish query as your spell system sounds fascinating and I'd like to read more into it. \$\endgroup\$ – Tsugihagi Dec 11 '19 at 13:22
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Enroll all of your players as play testers

Start them all together at level 1. That way the new players begin with small numbers of options and as they grow, together, their ability to apply these chains and options grows.
The advantage to this is that you don't get overwhelmed. As they discover things that you didn't intend to happen, they get used to applying the spell system in a crawl, walk, trot, run fashion. You can rule/revise/edit your home brew as the cracks become evident1.

"We're in this together!" That's the whole motif of this effort. If your veteran players are not willing to do this for the new players, you have a different issue to discuss with your entire group: how do we have fun together?

Learning by doing is the best way to get the new player up to speed. You need to encourage your veterans with this new system to act as mentors / helpers to the new players. That acts as a team building engine, and it also relieves you of some of the teaching burden that you indicate you'd like to minimize.

and I unfortunately don't have time to do a multi-hour walk-through at this point.

Old lessons

We did a lot of experimenting and home brewing in the olden days (70's) before there was so much material available. We mixed and matched, and cross patched stuff from Chivalry and Sorcery, from the latest article in Dragon Magazine, from some of the Arduin supplements Dave Hargraves published, from Empire of the Petal Throne, and from new ideas people came up with. Our games in a lot of respects were impromptu play tests. The first spell point system we used crashed and burned, but that doesn't mean point systems are bad. It's just that ours didn't work too well.

We mostly had fun and often tripped over exploits and loopholes as we played.

Since you've re-rigged the magic system, you can expect to do the same.

This play test will be fun (that's your sales pitch)

If nothing else, this play experience will let the players contribute to polishing your home brew. Encourage their active attempts to find loopholes and break the system you have set up. We used to have fun with that too.


1 It can be well argued that this approach is how Dave Arneson developed and tested his original Blackmoor campaign.

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Talk to your players.

Let me give you my personal experience having both played in and run games with extremely convoluted (sometimes good, sometimes bad) systems.

Set good expectations.

Let your players know exactly what they're getting in to. Let them know that you think it's intensely convoluted, but also very interesting. You need to get their buy-in on your system before playing, else they will come in with bad expectations and have a bad time. If you let them know that it's homebrew and mildly (or extremely) weird at times, they're much more likely to get into it and love it.

You will also need to talk to your existing players. Let them know newbies are coming in, so that they can assist you with the teaching process. There's no reason you need to shoulder it all, if as you say, you have several players already invested in the system.

Explain your system, in detail.

You will probably need to sit the newbies down for a bit to do this. You will need to do this, especially with those who have no tabletop experience. The act of learning the social flow of tabletop and the rules of Pathfinder ("which one is the d20 again?") can feel monumental, and will slow the game down. Having to learn a difficult system on top of that could grind your system to a halt. As such, you'll probably need to talk to them beforehand. Which leads me to...

You have to give them a tutorial.

I know, you said you don't have time, but you (or one of the players, if you have a natural teacher) will really want to do this, even if only for an hour or two. Most people learn by doing. You can explain rules all day, but until they get the chance to play with it, it's not likely to "click." This will also help answer a ton of the first-time questions in a more relaxed setting. If not, you run the risk of your pacing being broken constantly in the early sessions by questions that should seem obvious, but aren't. Learning takes time, and there's little to do other than give them experience.

My personal recommendation is to take one member of the existing group who's willing to help teach, plus the three newbies, and sit them all down for a silly one-shot (with no consequences) to show them how the rules work without having to tell them. This also avoids potential annoyance to the "experienced" players who sometimes do not want to wait for "newbies" to learn the rules.

As an aside, I would not expect players to take the idea of being handed a set of rules well. There are those of us who love reading rulebooks, but most players do not. If you hand them rules and ask them to read it before game, expect that it will not have been read.

If you truly do not have time to do any of this before running game, you will have to let the rest of your group know, and expect things to go slowly. But please, don't just throw them in; they will get frustrated from not understanding, and are more likely to quit.

Homebrew systems can be a lot of fun, and I wish you luck. Remember, all systems started as "homebrew," and the biggest difference between you and the big guys is they have more playtesters and editors.

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What do you play for?

Generally speaking, try not to sell your system. Try to sell your story and great stuff. Let's say you try to sell your players on a system some people in my area seem to loath because they call it "convoluted, complex and needs lots of book digging to start" but other love it because of the stories: Mechwarrior.

When it's recruiting time again, nobody says "We have this convoluted mess of a system, want to play?", no they say: "You want to pilot a 5 story tall mech and blow up stuff while being a mercenary, fighting for who you want?"

Make your Materials digestible I: Prefabs & Cheat Sheets

Ok, you have an idea of how to gather interest. How to get your players to stay around? Organization. Make a couple of prefab characters with motivation and a quick backstory. Average adventurers you'll likely have as PCs anyway. Then look at what are the core essentials for each of them and write up some kind of cheat sheet that compresses the basic rules for those onto it. Does he know how to do a heavy attack? Does he know how to brew poisons? Then include that.

  • You have this spellbook mechanic and anybody knows some sort of magic, you can put that cheat sheet into the front page of their grimoires. Start with explaining how to cast a spell, how to add a spell to the book and then, on page 2 comes the most basic spell. A simple Light-orb or something.

Also, make cheat sheets for other sub-systems. Especially Combat should have its own quick reference sheet.

Make your Materials digestible II: Tutorial Adventure

Many systems have special starter adventures. These often use toned down branches that don't use the full width of the system or they simplify stuff. I prefer the 'learn as you play' approach though: You hand them the prefabs, ask them some questions to customize their looks and personality, maybe a little on the history, feeding a little World via the questions.

Think like "Greg, you're a blade-magician of the Alaria Academy. It's often considered the poor man's choice but it also has strong ties to its Alumni and many families that became great continue to send their kids there out of tradition. And they are one of the few that have Stipends for Orphans. How did you end up there?"

Then, as you start the adventure, start with explaining the area and world, bringing up systems along the way slowly. Like, combat doesn't matter until the first enemy arrives. When combat comes, you hand out the combat reference and explain it. If you need rolls in social interactions, bring them up when you need them.

Don't throw all of the stuff at them at once.

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