No one likes the "rules lawyer." However, most GMs like players to know the rules. There is nothing more frustrating to have a player, or players, come to a table to play a game--that they are excited about--only to demonstrate little or no basic knowledge of skills, tests, stats, combat, &c. And sometimes over and over, session after session.

I find that rule mastery aids in driving immersion, pushing the game into the background, as players and GMs know what to expect in given any scenario.

Short of becoming a drill sergeant at the table (and I can do this having attended a senior military college) or breaking out pre/post game flash cards, what are some suggestions to assist players in mastering rules, sometimes complex rules, without it feeling like an elementary classroom, Parris Island, or a bar exam for new rule lawyers?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this question about how a GM can encourage rule mastery in a player? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 29, 2019 at 22:00

3 Answers 3


Survival and success do wonders. As does easy access. And mentoring helps a lot.

  • We run our own ruleset...have for decades...but all the rules are on the wiki (more on that afterwards). And rules mastery and those who read the rules are always rewarded with success. In a good game system this is easy. When survival rate and character growth go hand in hand with Rules Mastery, then people start to notice. One of our guys started to take advantage of some of the advanced rules for spell casting and spell recovery; his caster soon outpointed the others (he became the Mage mentor later, more on that). Another one started to notice the advanced rules for shield use, and his character was one of 2 talk types who survived for over 2 years (that particular group is going strong on year 10 of the campaign). When Rules Mastery equates to character growth and character survival...players take note.

  • We have all our rules on a wiki. And the wiki has a damn search function. And we have full laptop/ipad compliance in our groups. So every rule is right there. Mages are supposed to have their spell effects and notes up on the screen when casting; and will suffer an initiative penalty if they do not. Make it this easy for the rules to be at everyone's fingertips, and they have no excuse. This way, everyone has the rulebook all the time.

  • But since it a coimplicated game, as many RPGs are, we started having players with Rules Mastery in an area become mentors to other players. The guy I mentioned above with the spell rules mastery? All the otehr casters sit near him. The tanks all sit near the guy with shield use (and other combat rules) mastery. Mentoring is a very powerful way to create rules mastery, as there is a social expectation between both the new and older player. And the GM is not the only one involved in the use of the rules. Mentoring is one area that we have really sped up our game and one that alows us to use the more advanced rules that would otherwise slow down a game.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like you and the rest of your group have been playing together for quite some time, and have been able to build up a set of standards (the wiki, laptop/tablet use, penalties for being unprepared) that work well. I wonder how many gaming groups have this sort of rigor, though. Perhaps your group doesn't need a drill sergeant because you're already combat veterans. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 8, 2012 at 23:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I run 3 groups. True, the experience with the older ones helps the others; but these things do well when I started a new one recently, or when I run online. I pick up the Mentors quickly: and the online bit helps everywhere. But all of my groups add players regularly: and these were in place when a new group started a few years ago. I hope they are helpful hints... \$\endgroup\$
    – LordVreeg
    Feb 8, 2012 at 23:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Some really great tips here, especially rewards for demonstrable mastery. That will perk up others I think, especially mentioning it during whatever reward wrap up your table/game has. \$\endgroup\$
    – javafueled
    Feb 9, 2012 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ we do give roleplay exp at the end of sessions, and that does make it the last thing the pcs see/hear. \$\endgroup\$
    – LordVreeg
    Feb 9, 2012 at 3:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actively telling and rewarding "just a bit more" for specifically demonstrating mastery, pushing roleplaying up and making checks out of practice/habit, in front of those with less, i.e., "shaming" is a tactic that often works well. "No Coddling" should be a sign behind me. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – javafueled
    Feb 9, 2012 at 15:23

In short, get the player invested in coming up with 'visual effects' for what abilities are there. For example, if they are a cleric:

"What does your holy symbol look like?"

"When you turn undead as it says on page xxx, what kind of visual effect do you see your deity granting when that goes off?"

For fighters, it's more combat and gear oriented:

"Yeah, it's a long sword, but how well does your character take care of it? Was it a gift?"

That helps focus them on actually looking at what their character can do.

Beyond that, I actually am a fan of cheat sheets and note cards.

With one Star Wars campaign, the Jedi character is responsible for keeping up with their own force powers. While I did memorize them, she worked out a set of note cards she religiously keeps with her character with the power write-up because at first I'd ask her "check your power, make sure you can telekinetic lift an x-wing. What does the power's chart say?"

Now? Don't have to ask that at all.

It takes time though. Some will take to coming up with the "little details" quickly, some won't. However, the chance to put their touch on the campaign world... even if it is to describe some fancy engraving on what is basically a normal long sword ... tends to help give them a way and reason to memorize those rules.

At least its worked for my gaming group.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I have built cheat sheets too. They are great for introductions and new players, but driving those players to mastery beyond the cheat sheet. That's the challenge. \$\endgroup\$
    – javafueled
    Feb 9, 2012 at 0:29

If you want players to know the rules backwards and forwards, first let the players have a cheatsheet. Every single "official" cheatsheet I've found for any particular ruleset has either too much info on stuff I don't care about (I play the fighter, and the spell rules are irrelevant), or not enough detail about what I need (I play a fighter, and there aren't rules on grappling, AoO, etc). Encourage the players to make their own (and put book/page number references), and encourage them to change their sheets as they learn rules and don't need specific sections. Sure, my first session I'll need to know how to do basic attacks, but after a few sessions, that real estate is better used on combat maneuvers, or other "advanced" stuff. If players keep taking off stuff they know to put on rules they don't know, then they are learning the system.

Second, allow all the books, etc at the table, but house-rule that once it is a player's turn, he gets 10 seconds to state his action, or ask a question. After you answer any question(s), restart the 10 seconds. If a player does not know their action, they "delay" or "fight defensively while they survey their options" for a round. Apply whatever bonus would be applied (it's +2 to AC in Pathfinder). On the flip-side, let them look up whatever they want between turns (I know some GMs that hate when players touch rulebooks, since they say it breaks immersion). Also, during their turn they can only use a rulebook if it is open to the relevant page, or their cheatsheet for reference.

Third, if you don't know how to do it, you can't do it. If a player doesn't look up the rules on how to do a diving back-flip while cartwheeling around a bad guy (to avoid AoO), while charging another bad guy, then he doesn't get the benefit of that maneuver. He can move/attack with "normal" attacks, but that's it.

Fourth, decide whether computers/internet devices are allowed at the table. If you allow them, someone will go to CNN.com (or similar site) and get distracted, if you disallow such devices, then someone will not know how to look up what they want to do and won't be able to do it. Feelings may get hurt as a result. If computers are allowed, they should (theoretically) replace the chin-high stack of open books.

  • \$\begingroup\$ All good points. I believe in cheat sheets... hell, I wrote one for WFRP and made it public, took criticism and fed it back into the world: bit.ly/wrfp2e-cheatsheet. Unfortunately, it probably fails point #1. It's quite generic and intended to be a dirty introduction. Ideas for player investment and growth without force feeding will be the reward from the answers to this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – javafueled
    Feb 9, 2012 at 17:29

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