“Read the Damn Book” is probably the most important piece of advice that a Storyteller or a player should follow, especially a new Storyteller. But the sad fact is that this simple piece of advice is ignored more often than most people are willing to admit. By “Read the Damn Book” I mean a lot more than just skimming the through the book or just flipping to the sections that are the most interesting.
I am just as guilty of breaking this rule as anyone else. I couldn’t count the number of times that I’ve purchased a new RPG book, brought it home, and just skimmed it before I put it on my bookshelf. Or worse, I’ve purchased a book and just read the crunch (the rules or gameplay mechanics) that was interesting at that moment. Such a waste! With White Wolf books, focusing on the crunch over the fluff (the setting and story elements in a game) is probably the worst thing that I could have done.
If you are a first time Storyteller, you should absolutely read the core rule book whether you’ve never played an RPG or you’ve played the game you’re planning on running a thousand times. Over the years, I’ve played many sessions of Vampire the Masquerade, but until I really sat down and read through the book before my campaign last year, I didn’t realize how many house rules had been introduced by previous Storytellers. I often took those house rules for granted because my group had always used them. I just assumed they were the rules as written.
While I have nothing against house rules (and use quite a few myself), I really didn’t realize that I had never played the system as written. I didn’t even know the system as written! Reading through Vampire the Masquerade, Revised Edition was an eye opening experience. It was fun to re-discover the system.
It’s not just that you have to read the book, but you have to critically and thoroughly read the book. Read every page. Read the crunch and fluff. Read every sidebar. Read the introductory story. If you find yourself drifting off or losing your focus, stop and go back and re read what you’ve glossed over. Really pay attention to what is on every page. If you have trouble understanding something, re-read it. If you come across a word you don’t know, look it up at www.dictionary.com. Check to make sure that you understand what you’ve read.
Also, you should keep a note book nearby and make notes as you read. Make a note if you find something difficult to understand or a particular system that you don’t quite get. Also, reading through the book will generate story ideas or an idea for a great NPC or PC. Write those down too! By the time that you’ve finished reading your newest book or re-reading a favorite, you’ll find that you have several new ideas for your Chronicle.
The reason that I am writing this particular entry is because of a Pathfinder game that I was invited to play in. The GM hadn’t read the rules, and while he had played Pathfinder several times, his previous GMs had used a lot of house rules. This left my GM confused about many of the core mechanics. He really had trouble with running combat, especially a surprise round. All of this happened because my GM hadn’t read the Pathfinder Core Rule Book. He was just running from his experience with the system as a player.
A good Storyteller or GM needs more than just experience as a player. He or she also needs to understand the system. That understanding will only come after a thorough reading of the books that he or she will be using in the game.
So, before you decide to run a game, make sure that you read the damn book! That simple first step will save you a lot of effort during the game and will help while you are designing your Chronicle.