how do you prep to run a game you've never played before?

edited September 2010 in Story Games
Posted By: nemomeme
I read every rulebook twice from cover to cover before I attempt to run it. I read AW, set it aside for a a few months and then read it twice more before I ran it and this worked well for me. I really don't like it when I've been playing something a few sessions and then realize that I got a rule seriously wrong.
Most people learn games by having others show it to them - I don't have that luxury, I'm bringing story games I want to try for the first time to my non-SGing friends.

Back in the days of modules we were supposed to read the whole module (although that was boring as hell)...

Now with improv games what I do, which has mostly worked, is before I play with real people I pretend to be a few fake people and play solo for an hour or so, to get an idea of how things are supposed to work in play. Is that weird?

What do you all do?

Comments

  • Lately, I've been playing GMless/GMful games only. I'm not sure if that's any help or what...
    What game are you trying to run? Is this an advice thread?
  • Even with gmless games, if you're the one with the rulebook you're facilitating if not actually running.

    Nah, more of an idle conversation thread.
  • Generally, I read it, play it and then read it again.

    Sometimes I'll look over AP posts about the game if I can.
  • Make myself a cheat sheet, of any fiddly or nonintuitive rules. Anything I'm likely to forget.
  • I like to find two things: The most basic rules of the game, and my favorite mechanics of it. When you know the very basics of a game, you can usually improvise rules you don't know using the rules you do. In addition to that, you'll have some flavorful ideas to work with when things come up by memorizing some mechanics you like.
  • I skim it and mostly ignore the fiction first. Then over the course of a few days I read it all out of order and jump around and make notes, usually reading the fiction that pulls me in. Then I run it and make a shitload of notes and exhaustively pore over the book with my notebook open, looking at things that went well, things that went wrong, things I forgot, and things that worked entirely differently than I imagined.

    Then I put the book on the shelf and never play the game again. Heh. Our group does a lot of one-shots and it's hard to get anyone to play a given game more than once...

    But I'm playing How We Came to Live Here with a new group, and we're on the second of three sessions, so hopefully my rules mastery will come in handy for once!
  • read it, explain it to my cat. read up on the parts he didn't get.
  • My experience is strikingly similar to Matthew's (nemomeme): I almost always read a book twice before I run it, once to just read it, get a feel for the whole thing. Then the second time to dig deeper into questions or confusion I have after the first read, and to make notes and stuff for play prep.

    This is true for me no matter the length and depth of the game. If I have played the game, and not to death, and it's been a long time since I've read it, I definitely give it a cover-to-cover again before I run it.
  • Like framweard, I start by skimming it and ignoring all the fiction. Then I wrap my head around the rules by reading them more carefully (still ignoring all the fiction), making notes, and doing some tests on my own (rolling dice, etc.) to make sure I'm really getting it. As a last step, I take my notes and what I've figured out about the system, and try to condense it into a small packet of information I can hand to players that they can refer to during the game. I probably learn the most from making the packet, to be honest.

    After the first session of actually playing, I review the stuff that didn't go so well, and figure out what I forgot/got wrong/didn't explain properly/need practice with.
  • Read it. Play it wrong. Read some APs and an FAQ if it exists. Play it less wrong. Post an AP, get an email from the designer telling me what I'm doing wrong. Play it right.
  • edited September 2010
    Read it. Think I understand it. Imagine what will actually happen in play. Realise I don't understand it. Run through various scenarios of what will happen in play (a fight, for example). Decide I understand it as well as I ever will. Run it.

    Alternative method:

    Read it. Give up on understanding it from the text. Play it with someone who understands it.
  • I like to run games out of the book right away without having pre-read. Not all games are amenable to this strategy, however.
  • Read it. Angst about not understanding how to make it go. Read AP, question interpretation of the rules, re-read the text. Think that I might understand the rules, but angst more. Finally give up and facilitate a GMless game that I'm familiar with.
  • Unless it's Mountain Witch of course. Where it goes read some of it. Mop blood from eyes. Play something else.
  • Usually the amount of time I have between getting excited about running a game and getting everyone together to play the game allows for me to read said game a couple of times, check appropriate online forum, and then get more excited by a newer game just before I have to run the original one.
  • This thread caused me to realize that I don't buy too many games I have not played, and of the small subset I do buy without playing first, they tend not to get played at all. Correlation or causation?
  • Read it, fiction and all, think about what I'd like to do with it -- usually I don't feel like running something until I have a good intuitive feeling for it and usually a theme song to go with it for inspiration. Then, from experience, reread the mechanics carefully to make sure I know how things actually work.

    Read some AP for stuff to steal and pointers on the strengths of the game and the tricky parts.

    Sometimes I also decide at this stage which parts of the rules to ignore or change, if I can tell already that I don't like that part.
  • Posted By: DannyK
    Read some AP for stuff to steal and pointers on the strengths of the game and the tricky parts.

    While reading AP seems like the smart move, I don't like to do it until *after* I've played once - because of "spoilers", because I don't want to get any ideas - when playing, if we get the idea to have our hardhold be an abandoned mall, I don't want to know that dozens of other players went the same route...(and I also don't want to be biased against the mall choice, like, "Oh, *everybody* puts their hardhold in an abandoned mall, that's stock, let's do something else.")...
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarThis thread caused me to realize that I don't buy too many games I have not played, and of the small subset Idobuy without playing first, they tend not to get played at all. Correlation or causation?
    Yeah. This. I used to buy every game that I thought looked interesting, but then I wound up with games on my shelf that I can't see myself ever getting to play. Anymore I've limited myself to buying games that meet both of the following criteria: 1) I've played at least a demo (preferably a con game) 2) I can reasonably expect to be able to play the game.

    A recent example: Brennan demoed How We Came To Live Here for me at GenCon this year, and I really liked it and thought it was super-interesting. However, since most of my gaming gets crammed in on weeknights over Skype, I didn't buy it because I just didn't see how HWCTLH would work over Skype.

    Of course, I make a few exceptions. See: Apocalypse World. I didn't manage to get a demo at GenCon but I bought it anyway.
  • Unless a book tells me otherwise, I will skim it and if it seems possible... run it right out of the book.

    Sometimes we will split responsibilities. In Shadowrun, one person was in charge of understanding combat, someone else magic, someone else decking, and so on. In one of my groups, one person DMed D&D 4E and another arbitrated rules. Although a few of my groups may be unique in that we've known each other for a long time, almost all of us have GMed, and we sometimes split the cost of game books.

    My preference is that you can run a game step by step straight out of the book and if there are parts that require special prep or study, the book explicitly says so. It's hard to do! Which is one of the reasons I'm excited when I can try. I want to learn the best way to present information one piece at a time. I admit that my preference is partly informed by my work in hardcore usability testing.

    In general most people (maybe not most roleplayers) jump back and forth between reading instructions, trying to use something without reading all the instructions, jump back to reading more instructions, and back to using it without instructions once they think they know enough to get by and only stop when there is an obvious problem. This isn't always efficient (although it can be) but none the less it is common.

    That said, if a book can't be used this way and I'm GMing, I will read everything I think I need to before we play. But I don't want to commit more time than I have to since I play with a lot of different people and what we play frequently changes. I won't know if we are playing 1 session or 10 till we start.

    I have been told that you can't run an RPG unless you read every single page multiple times and understand what and how the designer intended those rules to be used. But when I've played with people who have claimed to master a game, they sometimes get rules wrong! Funny enough, sometimes what they got wrong worked really well! Ultimately if a game requires that you know more than the average person can reliably remember, they should provide easy references or there is a usability problem.
  • Posted By: jenskotBut when I've played with people who have claimed to master a game, they sometimes get rules wrong!
    I get the rules to my own games wrong all the time.
  • edited September 2010
    Ha! Exactly. Which is why I don't stress out about it. And why I love cheat sheets!
  • Posted By: GrahamRead it. Think I understand it. Imagine what will actually happen in play. Realise I don't understand it. Run through various scenarios of what will happen in play (a fight, for example). Decide I understand it as well as I ever will. Run it.
    This is very much what I do. Until I start thinking about how the fiction will shake out at the table, I don't understand a game. It is only through playing out situations like "okay, so if she DOES betray him, what do the mechanics do? What does that set up? How might we react?" that I am able to get a grip on the game.

    That can happen during play (learning the mechanics through real game situations) or before play (learning the mechanics through imagined game situations).
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: Jason MorningstarThis thread caused me to realize that I don't buy too many games I have not played, and of the small subset I do buy without playing first, they tend not to get played at all.
    I can go one better than that -- these days, I don't buy any game unless I've played it and we're going to be playing it over the next few months and I plan on running it during that time. If it can't jump all three of those hurdles, it can stay at the store forever.

    It's a policy that has been fully approved by the the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Overloaded Bookshelves, and is also an important part of the "Seriously, fuck spending money on things I won't use" economic plan.*


    * I am killing the RPG industry.
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: Accounting for Taste
    It's a policy that has been fully approved by the the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Overloaded Bookshelves, and is also an important part of the "Seriously, fuck spending money on things I won't use" economic plan.*

    * I am killing the RPG industry.
    I haven't gone out to buy 4e or anything, but I'll buy any of y'all's indie efforts on a whim, even if I don't imagine I'll ever play it, because there's shit to be learned there, whether I play it or not. You can drift anything from any game to any game, right? And it supports the artist.
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