When playing a new RPG system and setting, it is helpful to have important game information in front of you. For my free RPG Icar, I intend on having a single side of paper with reference rules and information on there to help the players. My problem is that I'm not a player very often, so I am not sure what should be included.

Assume that the rules as a whole are large and complex enough to put on one sheet of paper. Also assume that the system and setting are new to all the players, who have some experience.

For a medium-crunch rules game, what should go on a 'getting started' player handout?

Food for thought:

  • Pictures or descriptions of important NPCs?
  • The simplest "doing an action" check?
  • Separate sheets depending on character class/role in team? (I'd rather not)
  • Combat sequence?
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you run through the game with any friends or playtesters yet? I'm assuming you have, since the whole thing looks pretty fleshed out. If So, what parts did they have trouble remembering? \$\endgroup\$
    – Cthos
    Nov 14, 2011 at 15:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Playtesting will tell you what to include. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 14, 2011 at 15:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Excellent points, however... I've been playing Icar for 20 years, so the rules are fleshed out. In my group of players, 50% have played for many years. The other 50% haven't at all. I could ask them but I want the cheat sheet first, so they can feedback on whether the information was useful. Also, I want to bake the answers into a guide format so that I can pass it on to other free RPG authors. The parts that are difficult to remember are those bits that are not used a lot - which is not really the focus of the cheat sheet. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 14, 2011 at 16:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, I mean the things that are difficult to remember if you're a new player. Things like "If you want to see something, roll perception" on a cheatsheet for Pathfinder would be useless, even for someone who had just started out. But things like "A targeted dispel check is a d20 + CL vs 11 + CL" is something even veteran players have to look up when it comes up. So, really, playtesting with some newbies, along with feedback from those who have been playing awhile is the best way to go about that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cthos
    Nov 14, 2011 at 16:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cthos, you might want to write that up as an answer. It's not directly answering the question but others might agree that there is no definitive list of things to put on it but to use playtesters to generate it. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ Nov 14, 2011 at 16:42

4 Answers 4


Things I look for as a player:

  • Common slang used in the world that is not common to the players.
  • Common social etiquette that is not common to the players.
  • Common race, culture, and place stereotypes.
  • What the dice mechanic is.
  • How you gain and spend experience.
  • How a typical combat phase works.

The first three allow for quick immersion in the game world. This is what you want. Give someone the ability to role play straight away. Those could be dependent on the character's own race/culture/place as well as generic. Certainly, it needs to be there so that someone has a quick reference.

On the rules side, those are the three most common things that you'll be doing: dice tests for actions, experience and combat. Again, that needs to be a reference only that gives enough details so you can make things up on the fly.

On appearance, make sure to use a readable font, 80 characters per line maximum, and with wide margins so the player can add their own notes. No images, clever backgrounds, pretty borders or anything else that will distract from the information. This is meant to be dry. If you want pretty, decorate your GM screen...which should include some or all of the same information.

Note there is nothing on skills, states, or creating a character as this should be in a different handout.


To get what is useful on a cheat-sheet for a specific game is going to revolve around playtesting. You've said in the comments that you have a 50/50 split between veterans and new players, which is actually pretty good. Your veterans will remember all of the basic rules, and the new players will have insights into the toughest things to remember as new players. You should look to them to see what things you should include on a cheat-sheet, by seeing the things that are most difficult for them to remember.

I'll use Pathfinder as an example of something that wouldn't be useful, and something that would.


If I were to put "If you want to see something, roll Perception" on a Pathfinder cheat-sheet, it wouldn't be very helpful and just take up space. Simply because it's pretty obvious that "Perception" would govern "Looking at things".


Something that comes up fairly often, but not quite often enough to memorize is how you do a dispel check. So, placing "A targeted dispel check is d20 + Your Caster Level vs. 11 + The Spell's Caster Level" is fairly useful, if a bit situational. Also nice is combat modifiers for being prone, or squeezing, etc.

So, I think really only your playtesters can help you with this. Like "When I was new, I had a really hard time remembering what the modifier for being behind cover was" etc.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I was in the middle of answering something very similar. It's a bit more work, but a fighter doesn't care about how to do magic-tasks, and a Wizard usually won't be using Grapple rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pulsehead
    Nov 14, 2011 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Pulsehead Indeed, that's part of the challenge in making a generic cheat-sheet! Though the Wizard might need the bit about "When grappled your concentration check is DC 10 + Grappler's CMB". (Grappling the Wizard is hilarious). :D \$\endgroup\$
    – Cthos
    Nov 14, 2011 at 18:26

Things I want to be able to put in front of new players (and usually put on my home made cheat sheets):

  • Task system mechanics
  • Dice mechanics in use, if not entirely subsumed within task mechanics
  • wounding mechanics
  • attribute, skill, talent, etc. ranges.
  • expected ranges of any expendables (Hitpoints, Magic Points, Spells per level, Fate, etc.)
  • how to regain expendables.
  • how expendables are expended

Secondary list, if space allows keeping it to 2 page-sides or less:

  • Formulae for all the calculated factors on the character sheet
  • combat flow
  • character generation flow

I seldom use settings that need player briefings; I often use systems which do.


There are two groups of player I can think of that this sheet would be targeted at:

"I am new to roleplaying and I am new to this system"

"I have experience roleplaying and I am new to this system."

There may even need to be two sheets, one to address each of these categories.

The new roleplayer will need a few quick bullet points to remember during play such as "Things I know are not necessarily things my character will know." and a few other helpful tips to help them understand the concept of player/character separation. Following this would be a short "How do I...?" FAQ list that would cover some examples of you can do in a social situation and what you can do in a combat situation. Short descriptions of what to roll would suffice, leave a bullet point noting that they can always ask for help from the GM. It should also be reinforced to ask the GM if you have an idea for an action that isn't covered by the list. You only need to cover questions of things that come up during play. If there are rules for level progression/character development that only occurs at the end of a session then they can simply get help from others in the group at that time. The end goal of the sheet is to explain what a character is expected to do and perhaps why. Consider including the next sheet as a supplement to this one.

The experienced roleplayer simply needs a sheet that explains how certain actions work in this system. Instead of describing what kinds of actions can be performed, focus on the mechanics of how they work (such as: You roll X for an attack, you roll Y for a skill, etc). For combat rules, perhaps throw in a chart for common combat modifiers. Add page references to the book for actions/rules that can't be explained in a few sentences. This is a quick reference sheet that explains how, not why you do particular actions.


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