The Alexandrian, in his essay on Open Table games, makes the recommendation that such tables need to use what he calls, “Easy Access” rules:
An open table needs a system that’s easy to access. This does not, it should be noted, necessarily mean a simple system. Rather, an easy access system is one which allows players to start playing quickly.
D&D 3rd Edition, for example, is not a simple system. But it is an easy access system: Once you explain skill checks, combat actions, attack rolls, and damage, a new player has everything they need to know in order to start playing.The Alexandrian, Open Table Manifesto – Part 2: What an Open Table Needs
This is distinct from character creation which, for an Open Table, needs to be swift and simple to grasp. Many gamers make the mistake of thinking that because (for example) D&D 3rd Edition takes a while to build a character then the rules are not easy to access. This is a misconception.
Most of my favourite games are Easy Access – they have a strong and easy-to-grasp core mechanism for making checks, combat actions are straight-forward, and once you understand attacks rolls and damage you’ve got what you need. BRP, GURPS, D&D 3e, Cypher – they are all Easy Access.
That makes introducing new players to the whole roleplaying thing much easier. It also makes for the possibility of running an Open Table. But, of course, the best thing is that Easy Access systems are fairly easy to run at the table too.
The trick is to make the character creation for an Easy Access system as easy as possible. The simplest answer is to give new players a pre-generated character. Of course, if you can streamline the character creation process for the new gamer, you’ll give them the benefit of getting into the game quickly on top of learning easily.
My suggestion is that there is value in recognising the distinction between Easy Access and Quick Character Creation. If you are willing to support a new player in a long-running campaign to create the character they want to play, then this ceases to be a barrier.
As GM, it’s my default to offer to do the heavy lifting for the new player so they only have to learn those simple few mechanisms to get playing.
If play is arranged to allow the players to play without system knowledge (as you have done) then the default you mention of doing all the character development work is (essentially) not optional. If, however, players will be aware of and learning more about the system (as described here) then is the described default (GM teaching, guiding, assisting, etc) something you have considered changing? Once we agree to play game x in format y together, collaboration on increasing awareness and understanding of the rules is a functional possibility. This decresses the burden and number of roles for the GM. Some, however, find it hard to let go of the burden of teaching the system – like it is a GM duty rather than something that can be shared.
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It is clearly possible for players to learn the rules of a game. Experience over 40 years, however, is that most do not. When introducing a new player, I do not recommend saying, “Go read the 400 page rulebook”. The new player will not do so, preferring some easier pastime.
The realistic expectation is that the GM know the mechanisms and, at best, players learn those bits of the game which they use for their character – for example, the Pathfinder player learning their character’s abilities and feats.
What is worse, in more recent years, is that some more experienced players don’t allow a GM to look up rules at the table – this “interrupts the flow of play” – and have even complained about rules talk at the table. The expectations upon the GM as walking rulebook are reinforced by this kind of belief. It’s little wonder that some games have few GMs.
Personally, I think an over-focus on rules is a problem. The movement towards Lite games with few mechanisms and a lot of GM decision-making is one option. Personally, I like games with robust, consistent, Easy Access mechanisms and prefer to focus time and effort on presenting the Otherworld. YMMV.
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Don’t worry, I am not criticizing. I am just asking, one GM to another.
My current preference, and it wasn’t always this, is to make a system survey part of the process of agreeing to play. If people like the sound of the system, we move forward. My regular group are all GMs and will read rules, but we make learning a part of play. We read rules at the table, if necessary / desired or go with rulings if not. We have a type of play we want to reach and we move toward changing our novice play to more experienced play of a new game intentionally, together, at the table.
That is less common now than it used to be, I find.
I prefer to reduce game speak as much as possible, and I am often pressed for time. This methodology (going back to my roots but adding an end goal for group proficiency) is my solution~
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