For New Players: How Does This Work Again?

It’s rough being a new player in an unfamiliar system, particularly when there isn’t much time to learn, or you’re the only one who’s functionally a new player. Particularly when there are two ways of figuring out what you’re supposed to be doing; look through the book again, and ask questions. (Probably ask questions; I haven’t seen a single book where at least a few pieces of necessary information have somewhat ambiguous phrasing or rather complicated processes.) But asking questions has its own disadvantages: there’s the chance of people being irritated by the request, the potential embarrassment of not knowing this stuff, trying to figure out how exactly to phrase the question—is it any wonder some people would rather either hide that they’re not completely sure or make something up and hope it passes?

The thing about questions, though, is that when they’re necessary, they’re really necessary. So how do you tell when to ask and when you’ve got a reasonable chance of just incurring people’s frustration?

In general, the more easily available and comprehensible the information is, the more irritated people are going to get when they need to answer. It’s one thing if it’s a complicated and rather ambiguous explanation of a complex mechanical process (take many systems’ grappling rules, for instance), or something where order matters, that’s reasonable to need a hand with. But if you’re asking for something that would just take opening the book and reading a paragraph, particularly if the information appears in multiple places, don’t be too surprised if whoever you’re asking considers throwing the book. Houserules, though, are practically a get out of embarrassment free card.

More complex problems, of course, lead to more slack being cut. It’s one thing to remember, “Okay, this spell opens doors.” It’s another thing to remember, “All right, when I do this I need to roll this, and my opponent rolls that, and depending on how much better I rolled here there’s a number of other effects, but if they’ve got x stat at y they’re resistant if not immune.” If the mechanic itself involves a certain amount of improvisation and ad-hoc number insertion, or has multiple similar ways to obtain slightly different purposes, that’s also going to leave room to get you cut some slack. They might also cut you some slack if you’re coming in from another edition of the same game; it’s easy to get one’s rules for a given situation mixed up with another’s.

How routine a piece of your mechanics is this supposed to be? It makes sense to have to ask questions about something you’re using for the first time, or something that your character hardly ever has occasion to use. On the other hand, if this is practically a signature move, you really should take all the notes you need the first time so you don’t have to look pleadingly at your fellows or lunge for the book every time you want to use it.

How long have you been using this particular mechanic? More specifically, how many times have you had to ask a variant on this particular question? The more people are asked the same question, the more frustrated they’re going to be with being asked again.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. But if you’re getting potentially dangerous answers on a lot of these questions, you may want make a special effort to try to find or ensure retention of the answers yourself. The patience of your teammates is a valuable and often limited resource.

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