There was a discussion on the OSR G+ Community that got me to thinking.
In my campaign, AD&D, I have made the Player’s Handbook available, but the players don’t read it, except for spells. I don’t make the other manuals available.
They have a lot more fun with the surprise of some strange monster they can’t seem to kill, a troll, and being scared that zombie bites make you a zombie.
For my players, they just have fun exploring the world I created and piecing things together. They make much different decisions than someone who has memorized all the manuals.
Unlike back in the day when RPGs were new and we read everything that got into our hands, I don’t think the younger set like to sit and just read rules.
The assumptions and discussion of plans that my players is funny based on their assumptions and limited knowledge of the world and the rules. As the DM who knows the main points of the rules, at least the ones I use, and has a lot of gaming experience, I get as much entertainment out of watching them decide whether they should panic and run, or fight. I found their reactions to a troll and zombies hilarious.
One does not need to know the rules or have a copy of them to play in an RPG. For example, I played DCC for the first time at Marmalade Dog 20. I relied on others for specific rules, but because it was a fantasy RPG, I had the basic idea of how to run a character.
I have played RPGs from a variety of genres, and once read and knew the rules to most of the ones I player. I never had Traveler, but played it a few times. I think if someone has the basic idea that RPGs is make believe with rules and a referee, one can get by with the minimal understanding of how the stats, any stats checks, and combat works. Some games I have not played are very rules heavy, and without minute knowledge of all the special cases, exceptions, etc. one cannot get the most out of their character. That is why I think rules that don’t require hours to create a character or hours to run a simple combat are best. Get started playing sooner and have more fun.
Board games are the one area where I think players need to read the rules. Back in 9th grade I played a WWII board game that had the Maginot and Siegfried Lines on the map. I don’t recall the name of the game. I had heard of the Maginot Line, but not the Siegfried Line, and my friend who had read and mastered the rules knew about the Siegfried Line. I did not put any troops in the Siegfried Line, in our rush to play. I had not even read the rules. The Germans lost WWII because the French took them out soon after the invasion of Poland. So games where you get your clock cleaned if you haven’t read the rules, yes, you should read the rules. Since most board games don’t have referees, this means each player has to look out for his own interests.
Except for massively complex rules or a poor DM that wants to rack up character deaths, and never says, “Are you sure?” Players don’t need to read the rules.
How many new players would show up if they had to read 100+ pages of rules before they sat down a the table? What if the rules read to them in a way that is so confusing and put them to sleep? Would they still want to come play? I think the best way to introduce someone to the game is to have them jump in feet first like into a cold swimming pool. It may be a shock, but you get to the point, swimming much faster than if you take forever inching your way forward. Make the only boring part the character generation, but even that can be spiced up.
My rule (-1) – “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”