How much system mastery do you expect from your GM and / or players?


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Pretty much what it says on the tin. Though I'm super, super forgiving when it comes to new players, I'm finding that (at least internally) my expectations for non-beginners are somewhat higher. Curiously, I also find that I'm more critical of other players lacking system mastery when I'm a fellow player as opposed to when I'm GM. Maybe it goes back to my elementary school chagrin when other students wouldn't do their homework, who knows.

I'd like to hear from others on this topic. Here are some sample questions to facilitate discussion:

What bare minimum of rules knowledge do you think can be reasonably expected from a player?

Does that change if the person is playing a spellcaster?

What expectations do you have of your GM's knowledge of the gaming system?

Do your expectations change when you're running a game as opposed to playing?

After what number of sessions ought a player know their character's abilities from memory?

At what point does a player's lack of rules knowledge negatively impact (or become an impediment to) the fun of the other players at the table?

And, perhaps speaking more broadly, at what point does a beginner transition into an experienced player (if not a veteran)?

Would you say that it's part of the social contract of a tabletop RPG that one ought to enter into a game/session with a certain degree of knowledge?

I realize, of course, that these kinds of questions vary on a case-by-case basis, especially when things like learning disabilities or secondary language barriers enter into the picture...

...but in general, what are your thoughts?

Also, let's all endeavor to keep this topic friendly. :) There will likely be wildly opposed views on this matter, so let's bear in mind that most if not all play styles are valid and that the most important element of gaming is fun.

Sovereign Court

I tend to run a lot more often than play. I have over a decade of experience with the 3E/PF system so I got a real good handle on it. I tend to run the game as tight as possible so the players usually dont ever have to worry about the GM side of the game. Among my players is a hardcore PFS player/GM so he definitely is no stranger to new rules and quick look up. I tend to lean on him when it comes to new supplemental stuff I may not be familiar with. Overall with my years of experience I dont have any issue running a home game or PFS.

I have found player lack of game knowledge isnt something that impacts my fun. If the player is making an honest effort to play the game and learn i'll put up with quite a bit. If the player however has no interest in learning and has to be reminded over and over again about the same things I'll uninvite them to the game. At that point the player isnt invested and we are not a good match. PFS has these types of players and I have learned to put up with it. I can drag anybody through a PFS sceanario. You really have to temper your expectations with PFS.

That said I tend to be much more laxed with PFS. Many folks I have encountered do not have my level of system mastery. They are also new and learning so I try to facilitate that as much as possible. New GMs can be intimidated at the table so I try and keep quiet until asked. I will speak up if the GM is going way off the written path.


Even as a 30 year veteran of D&D some of its iterations I'm still not a human rule book or even a rules lawyer. I have a good handle on most anything (though some spells or feats still have to be referenced) and my players are about the same. But since my players and I have been together for nearly as long as I've been playing it's not a hassle for us. If I were to join a new group of players it might be, I guess.

Shadow Lodge

I'm guilty of regularly forgetting how Mirror Image works, and what bonuses Haste gives without a quick reminder. I've been playing and GMing for years.


i can remember basics spells and class features i deal with regularly and memorize my class as appropriate, but, i have the downside of occasionally playing my prepared casters as something similar to an arcanist long before the ACG came out, so the arcanist isn't anything new to me, but i will now remember to make my former wizards arcanists because i used the arcanist mechanics for wizards in every edition i played. and the DM didn't care


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

I have no expectation of system mastery - if the group wants to spend ages combing through the rules to see how it's 'supposed' to work that's fine by me. Same if they want to just wing it and look it up later. I dont see anything inherently wrong with some people being super-competent at building characters next to others (like me) who pick feats, classes and abilities based on how cool they sound.

However, I think everyone at either end of any spectrum should be mindful of how the group works. If you're very skilled at building characters but the other players arent - it's bad form to criticise their characters if you're not asked for feedback. Similarly rolling one's eyes when the skilled player solos a significant monster and muttering something derogatory about rollplaying-not-roleplaying makes me cross.

I have high expectations around fitting in and making the game fun for the other players. That's more important to me than how well you do or dont know the system.


I suppose I like to see a good level of system mastery, especially in the GM. What I really NEED is a level of consistency in the rule set, especially in more crunchy systems. Certain types of characters are no fun to play if the rules aren't going to be used in a consistent manner.

An example I remember was making a hacker for Shadowrun. The GM seemed pleased with the character concept and abilities since the team had no one to deal with computer and security issues. But as soon as I started playing I realised he had no real knowledge of and no interest in learning about the hacking and security rules, he was just going to pick a program and difficulty. Which sucks when you don't have the program and he's picking programs that don't do what he thinks they should.


The only thing I really ask for, as a GM, is that people are aware of how much system mastery they have and play characters that are of an appropriate complexity.

Even that's mostly about keeping combat moving smoothly.

We have everything from "never played before" to "played before, but still can't always remember how attacks work" to "has done professional d20 work." It works out great for us, but our group ends up skewing strongly towards simple classes.

Cheers!
Landon

Shadow Lodge

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Mikael Sebag wrote:
What bare minimum of rules knowledge do you think can be reasonably expected from a player?

Know how your class abilities work without having to look them up in-game, OR have the information you need to look up already on-hand prior to game (not just holding the book, but turned to the right page!). This means if you level up and gain a new ability, feat, spell, or whatever, you need to familiarize yourself with it before the next session. It's a lot to remember, so make notes on your character sheet. A short description for each ability doesn't take up much space, and we play via MapTool/Skype and keep our character sheets on Google Drive, so it's not like you'll run out of space on your paper. Make notes and use them!

Quote:
Does that change if the person is playing a spellcaster?

No, just adds spells to the list of things they need to either be able to mentally keep track of or make notes of.

Quote:
What expectations do you have of your GM's knowledge of the gaming system?

I'm actually more lenient on GMs because there is a lot more going on for them than for each individual player. I expect they'll have a basic understanding of how a monster works, and know most of the more common/basic abilities, spells, etc. by heart, but at the same time I understand if they get a curve ball from time to time, or brain blank on something they know but just can't recall.

Long story short: I'm more okay with the GM having to look something up mid-game from time to time than the players. The players just have their one character to handle. The GM has the entire campaign. A lot more is on his/her plate.

Quote:
Do your expectations change when you're running a game as opposed to playing?

Nope! I expect the same of myself as a GM as I do of people who GM for me, and same as a player. If I think I'm going to have an issue with remembering how a feat/spell/etc. works, I'm going to have the PFSRD page open at the beginning of the session right next to my character sheet so I waste no time in confirming any issues. And that's in addition to the fairly extensive notes on my character sheets.

Quote:
After what number of sessions ought a player know their character's abilities from memory?

Not really measured in sessions I'd say, but I'd say by the time you level up, you should have everything from the previous level down pat.

Quote:
At what point does a player's lack of rules knowledge negatively impact (or become an impediment to) the fun of the other players at the table?

At the point where his/her turn takes twice as long as anyone else, or when their screwups cause the party losses.

Quote:
And, perhaps speaking more broadly, at what point does a beginner transition into an experienced player (if not a veteran)?

Hard to say, but I'd estimate "at the point they start following these requests 90% of the time without reminders".

Quote:
Would you say that it's part of the social contract of a tabletop RPG that one ought to enter into a game/session with a certain degree of knowledge?

For someone beyond a certain amount of experience, yes. Newer players obviously you be more lenient with.


Steve Geddes wrote:

I dont see anything inherently wrong with some people being super-competent at building characters next to others (like me) who pick feats, classes and abilities based on how cool they sound.

However, I think everyone at either end of any spectrum should be mindful of how the group works. If you're very skilled at building characters but the other players arent - it's bad form to criticise their characters if you're not asked for feedback. Similarly rolling one's eyes when the skilled player solos a significant monster and muttering something derogatory about rollplaying-not-roleplaying makes me cross.

I have high expectations around fitting in and making the game fun for the other players. That's more important to me than how well you do or dont know the system.

Part of this for me is making sure the gap between system masters and guys like you (and me, although I usually GM) isn't too large. I've got system masters that can't or won't turn it off. It was ruining my enjoyment of 3.5 because I like to present a challenge, not a cakewalk for some and a nightmare for others. 4E did solve the power gap issue, but in the long run it didn't feel right. Relatively recently we started playing Pathfinder. Paizo mostly solved our power gap issue by making cool-sounding character choices effective. So far, so good.


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Mikael Sebag wrote:

1: What bare minimum of rules knowledge do you think can be reasonably expected from a player?

2: Does that change if the person is playing a spellcaster?

3: What expectations do you have of your GM's knowledge of the gaming system?

4: Do your expectations change when you're running a game as opposed to playing?

5: After what number of sessions ought a player know their character's abilities from memory?

6: At what point does a player's lack of rules knowledge negatively impact (or become an impediment to) the fun of the other players at the table?

7: And, perhaps speaking more broadly, at what point does a beginner transition into an experienced player (if not a veteran)?

8: Would you say that it's part of the social contract of a tabletop RPG that one ought to enter into a game/session with a certain degree of knowledge?

...but in general, what are your thoughts?

1: From a beginner? Only the willingness to learn. From a veteran? Sufficient knowledge to accurately use the rules subsets their character utilizes.

2: No... spells are one of the rules subsets a veteran would need to know to play a spell caster.

3: Very strong knowledge of the rules BUT more than that a willingness to keep learning more. Aranna's first rule of good game mastery is "Know the Rules." One of the funnest things you can do is take the reigns of GMing and weave an adventure for your friends. But the first step in taking that path is knowing as much of the rules as you can manage and being willing to learn more as you go. Don't panic if something comes up in play that you didn't know... adapt and learn.

4: No. I expect my GM to be broadly knowledgeable and my fellow players to know their own character's rule subsets.

5: As many as it takes. There is no hard and fast rule here. This IS a hobby. Learn at your own pace. That being said it is only courteous to adapt to each others pace since this is a group hobby. If you are understanding things faster than everyone else then don't give them a hard time, just be patient... or maybe step up to the GMs seat. If on the other hand you seem to be taking longer than the others then don't be afraid to ask for help or perhaps take some extra time after each session to review the rules used while they are fresh in your head.

6: This is hard... I guess at some point if someone refuses to adapt to the rest of the groups pace in either direction then maybe they should be cut loose. A system master in a group of casual players who constantly berates his fellow players over their lack of rules knowledge is JUST AS ANNOYING as the casual player in a group of system masters who constantly misunderstands the rules and seem unmotivated in learning them better.

7: At his or her own pace. I guess the transition point from beginner to veteran is when you fully understand the rules subsets your character is using. Then you can use that as a base to challenge yourself to play different character types who use different rule subsets and expand your knowledge of the system.

8: No. Well except for the willingness to adapt to the group you are joining that is. You can enter with too much or too little system mastery, just do your best to either catch up to the others or in the other case try to be patient with the others and refrain from being critical of their level of knowledge.

My thoughts? Well the rules are ever changing and ever expanding. There is ALWAYS something new to learn or relearn in the case of a forgotten rule. The best rule of thumb is to simply be nice to others whatever their level of system mastery.


We're a group of long-time friends playing in a (very) long-running group.

For us, the DM expects the players to know the Player's Handbook (we play 3.x) and whatever abilities they're using if not from the PHB. Nothing more, but also nothing less. That doesn't mean full memorization (obviously), but it does mean that one needs to know the topics included in the PHB, and how to find it quite quickly. Players aren't expected to know anything else. We generally phrase it as "you're responsible for knowing the Player's Handbook and your character's abilities".

On the DM side, as above but also include the DMG and MM and whatever other rules they're using at the time. We also have an expectation that the DM owns whatever sources they're allowing in the game (so they don't slow the game down trying to figure out what the heck is going on and how to adjudicate things and can reference it at any time in order to stay on top of things).

Mikael Sebag wrote:
At what point does a player's lack of rules knowledge negatively impact (or become an impediment to) the fun of the other players at the table?

Immediately. We understand that new players will need some time to get up to speed, of course, but that doesn't stop the lack of knowledge from immediately negatively affecting everyone else's fun.

Quote:
Would you say that it's part of the social contract of a tabletop RPG that one ought to enter into a game/session with a certain degree of knowledge?

For us - not really. For a beginner (or even someone new to the group), we have virtually no expectations of proficiency at the beginning. (With that said, if we do invite someone into our group, we do have expectations that they will learn 'quickly' - i.e. one of the criteria (out of a bunch) is that they are, in general, quick learners. No, there is no specific definition of 'quick' for us. It will vary based on the personality of the new player and what else they are contributing to the game during the learning period.)


I generally expect both players and GMs to know where to look for a rule (what book, which chapter) so if a question does come up we all know where to go to find RAW. Then, based on the dynamic of the group, we collectively agree on how a rule should be interpreted. Initially, this practice was time consuming, but over time we’ve found small ways to help us track where the rules are located. For example, I write down on my character sheet the page number and book a class ability or feat is located for quick reference.

The groups I play Pathfinder with are very good about knowing the rules and have mastered the aspects of the game they wish to play. So far, none of them are interested in crafting, being wordcasters, or playing werewolves, but what rules they do use they know very well.

I liken the experience of exposing a new player to Pathfinder to a toddler learning how to walk. You have to help them, at times holding their hand, at times letting them fall, but always providing encouragement. If a brand new player comes to my table I am not only very tolerant of their lack of knowledge, but I help them to master the game. I usually help new players for the first five levels with suggestions or caution them against a tactic if it will end in a TPK. After the fifth level it’s time to let tough love teach them how to play the game.

I’ve found that a game as complex as Pathfinder requires a bit of patience on everyone’s part, yet in the end folks at the table end up having a good time.

Sovereign Court

A high level. Unless a player is new, I expect them to know which die to use (Surprising how often people don't even after years of gaming), All of the pertinent rules of their class and race, ALL of the combat rules, If spellcasters, rules for spellcasting, and spells they are going to use most often, or at least printed on cards for easy access.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I don't expect any mastery, and thus am pleasantly surprised when I get savvy players that know their characters and how they interact with the game world.

Part of my enjoyment of the game is watching my fellow players improve as we continue to play, on both sides of the screen.


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TriOmegaZero wrote:

I don't expect any mastery, and thus am pleasantly surprised when I get savvy players that know their characters and how they interact with the game world.

Part of my enjoyment of the game is watching my fellow players improve as we continue to play, on both sides of the screen.

Tri, are we really as awesome as we sound on the forums?


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
TriOmegaZero wrote:

I don't expect any mastery, and thus am pleasantly surprised when I get savvy players that know their characters and how they interact with the game world.

Part of my enjoyment of the game is watching my fellow players improve as we continue to play, on both sides of the screen.

This, 100%.

I've been GMing for over 30 years, and Pathfinder isn't the only game I play. I've GMed every version of Dungeons & Dragons from AD&D 1st ed through 4th, including d20 Modern. I also GM other game systems, like GURPS, Call of Cthulhu, FATE, and HERO System. Those are a whole lot of rules to keep in your head-- especially the crunchier systems (like PFRPG) with lots and lots of supplements.

Sometimes, during a game, I recall the rules from a different edition, or just don't know what the rules say for an uncommon situation. Usually, I'd rather make a table ruling in the moment to keep the game flowing rather than put on the brakes and start flipping through books, especially when the stakes aren't very high.

That said, I would like my players to be generally familiar with their characters' abilities. I do recommend that players calculate the stats of their most-often used abilities (e.g. a barbarian's greataxe modifiers for normal, power attack, raging, and raging power attack.)

At the same time, I'm fine with players declaring, "OK-- I want to run into the bad guy and body-slam him, knocking him off the ledge. What dice do I roll for that?"


Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
Tri, are we really as awesome as we sound on the forums?

No idea. We should get on Roll20 and find out.


Haladir wrote:


At the same time, I'm fine with players declaring, "OK-- I want to run into the bad guy and body-slam him, knocking him off the ledge. What dice do I roll for that?"

Not only this, but that's the type of player (and game, when it supports that type of play better) I prefer to play with.

Shadow Lodge

Matt Thomason wrote:
Haladir wrote:


At the same time, I'm fine with players declaring, "OK-- I want to run into the bad guy and body-slam him, knocking him off the ledge. What dice do I roll for that?"
Not only this, but that's the type of player (and game, when it supports that type of play better) I prefer to play with.

On the one hand, I like when, as my above post indicates, my players know their way around things and sessions don't grind to a halt because someone can't remember what dice to add to what or how this spell works.

On the other hand, I love ad-lib stuff like this and players thinking outside the box.

Choices!


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Below level 5: None, just there to have fun, learn and teach in a friendly fashion if necessary

Above level 5: does not matter, because I rarely play with more than a person or two who is not part of my core groups at that point, and virtually everyone I play with has a higher system mastery than I do

When I GM: Just know your character, take your turn as efficiently as possible, and be nice. Anything above that is gravy.

Shadow Lodge

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In a rigidly-codified game like Pathfinder (ie, the type of game where system mastery is actually a thing), often the less system mastery one has, the more creatively they play.


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Orthos wrote:

On the one hand, I like when, as my above post indicates, my players know their way around things and sessions don't grind to a halt because someone can't remember what dice to add to what or how this spell works.

On the other hand, I love ad-lib stuff like this and players thinking outside the box.

Choices!

This is pretty much where I sit. When making things up on the fly, something fun to see whenever possible, having questions about how to resolve it doesn't bother me. However, if someone wants to play a two weapon ranger and after 8 levels still needs help calculating their base attack bonuses for all their attacks, I tend to run out of patience. I've found that when first starting a Pathfinder campaign, the first few levels will always take some time as people get comfortable with the rules they and the group are using; when using a system this complex, that's just part of the game. After that, it should speed up; if it doesn't, that is when it starts becoming a negative to me.

Pathfinder requires a certain amount of reading and math in order to keep moving smoothly; I don't expect people to be experts, but I do expect them to be prepared to put forth at least some effort in both of those departments and not just sit down expecting to be told a story and not having to do any work on the mechanical side themselves. After a few levels, they need to be able to run their own character effectively without requiring excessive help or game time, whether that be having the rules memorized or knowing where to find the relevant rules in the book; nothing more and nothing less.

DMs I hold to a higher standard only because they tend to actively use more systems than players, but I still don't really expect them to have everything memorized. Knowing where to find stuff quickly or having the pertinent info already written down in their notes is more important than having it memorized. I also don't expect them to have every class feature memorized; that's on the player of the character in question, not the DM. Nor do I expect a perfect RAW ruling for every situation; as long as it seems reasonably close, and the rulings are consistent, specifics for repeat situations can be looked up after the game is over.


I expect good knowledge of basic rules and your own character's abilities. I don't expect you to know about every class or all of the situational rules.


There is one guy in our group who will quote rules and try to "help" and yet his personal mastery of the rules are bad, IMHO.

For me, I have played every version of the game for years (mostly 2nd ED, then 3&3.5 now one complete AP of pathfinder), yet I have to have everything written down or I struggle. I am trying the Magus and I have to have all the particulars written down in plain sight or I will get lost and slow the game down. I have no rules knowledge by any extent. I rely on my friends who read the books for recreation.


When someone gm's I expect them to know the basics and to know about rules that will come into play during the session and maybe know a bit about the pc's characters.

I expect the pc's to know about their class, their abilities, and maybe some basic information about monsters that could represent their adventuring (more so if it's a higher level character and you've been playing it for a while).


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Kthulhu wrote:
In a rigidly-codified game like Pathfinder (ie, the type of game where system mastery is actually a thing), often the less system mastery one has, the more creatively they play.

Totally true. One of my players in my Pathfinder game is an old-school D&Der who hasn't played any TTRPGs since a few months after AD&D 2nd ed came out. He is by far the most creative player in my group. He's not afraid to try anything!

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I've spent over 8 years working help desk. I've been GMing PFS since Season Zero. I never would have even lasted one year in PFS if I hadn't long ago accepted the fact that people's level of mastery both GMing and Playing are going to be all over the place.

Scarab Sages

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I expect source and page number quotes from obscure sources. Bonus points if you have notes from paizo developer meetings discussing future FAQ's

Failing that, I request you be able to tell the dice apart. Don't roll Thac0 with a d20.


I always expect a high level of system mastery from my GMs....

Nothign was worse then when I was playing one GM who barely had a handle on the CRB... I made my character with certain parameters in mind and he just ended up making some stuff up as he went... and pretty much invalidated my character...

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