Friday, August 20, 2010

Introductory, Quick Start, and Basic Rules Sets

This month's RPG Blog Carnival is on the subject of how to teach new gamers to play. I thought I'd focus on the utility of so-called "quick start" rules.

When you have a large and complex game such as D&D, it cannot help but be overwhelming to a new player. Even the best designed rules are going to intimidate by sheer length, and RPGs are famed for not maximizing their organizational potential, shall we say?

One route that some companies go for is to produce a sub-set of the total rules set, offering that as a basic version of the full game. TSR naturally started this practice way back with the introduction of the "red dragon box", which for many was the gateway drug to AD&D. More recently, HackMaster has introduced its fifth edition with HackMaster Basic, and many other companies have taken to the idea, including of course WotC with their upcoming D&D Essentials boxed set.

The question becomes, what gets cut out to create a basic rules set?

Usually rules relating to higher-level characters are gone (in those games that are class and level based, of course). I personally don't have a problem with that, as long as it's not a ridiculously truncated limit. I should be able to get a feel for the game as a whole, and usually that can't be done by just puttering around as a 2nd level nebbish.

Monsters and other creatures usually get trimmed severely. Again, no problem, as long as some of the "core" creatures are not excised; I can't imagine a D&D without orcs, for instance. Norkers, sure.

Class options. Especially in the case of a game like AD&D, which has not only classes but sub-classes, it's possible to trim some of the clutter. A basic game can get along with only clerics, fighters, magic-users, and thieves. Save druids, rangers, and assassins for the advanced, full-blown game.

When it comes to rules, it's a tricky proposition. How much can you trim from the combat system, for instance, before it turns into something new, rather than a stripped-down version of the full system? On the other hand, a basic rules set demands a certain brevity that, by extension, creates ambiguity. Do your basic rules contain as full a discussion of invisibility and its consequences as your complete rules? Probably not, which means that a GM running the basic game might come up with an on-the-fly ruling at variance with how the same situation would be treated in the full game. Such is the nature of the beast.

On the whole, I think these basic sets are a good way to introduce new players to a particular game, without overwhelming them with detail that isn't necessary for them to get a feel for how the full game plays, and ahve fun while doing so. It's certainly not a requirement, as there are plenty of "full games" that aren't nearly so complex as to require such a basic rules set. But for the big'uns, I think it's a very good strategy.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft


August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937