How do you read rulebooks?

Now that the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook is here (it still feels weird to put that apostrophe in there), at least at those FLGS’s who are members of the Wizards Play Network, I wanted to ask a general question. How do you read new rulebooks when you get them?

Do you read them cover-to-cover? Just skim through it and then read the rest in bits and pieces as needed as you play? Something else? Do you mark certain sections as important, or to follow-up later? Do you make margin notes?

Feel free to sound off in the comments. And look for my initial review of the new Player’s Handbook later this weekend, once I’ve had a chance to absorb it.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

13 thoughts on “How do you read rulebooks?

  1. I make a character first, learning what I need to know to do that step by step. Then I have a concrete example to apply to further rules.

  2. Normally a section a time, as I need it. I'll skim character creation then make 3-5 characters. Then I'll skim combat and let them beat each other up. Read through skills (if they're used) and figure out how those work. Then read through the game master section.

  3. Depends on if its a new rule set or a revision/edition change. with the 5E rulebook I'll skim it looking for changes. A lot of things do not change or not enough to worry about.

    For instance, the equipment section I will likely skip over only paying attention to the layout. Something like equipment I can look at during the game or tell the players to look it up themselves.

    Later I if I plan on running the game (which it looks like I will be since my group wants to try 5E) I'll read it cover to cover. Often I'll find something I missed such as Equipment that removes the need for material components for spells.

  4. For some reason I always end up flipping to the back and moving to the front on my first pass at new rule books.

    Probably because I am left handed…

  5. I read rulebooks like instructions manuals: skim it once to know where to find the answers I'll want to find at a later date, then flip through it as needed.

  6. I definitely skim. There's especially no way I'll read all the spells until I need to. Mostly character creation is focused on, then combat rules obviously.

  7. Yeah, what mortellan said. I'm usually looking to see how comprehensible the rules are just by glancing over them. Then I'm looking for things that are new, novel, and innovative. I'll read more in depth if I see something interesting.

  8. Skim on the first read-through, then go back and look at things that are either really different or really interesting to me.

    And then really focus on what I need when I actually create a character.

  9. Apparently I’m in the minority here as I treat a new rulebook (or even an update of one) as a novel as much as a gaming book. I read it cover to cover in order first, and then pick back through for interesting, or confusing bits. As for this product I’m planning on picking it up, eventually, as the bare bones rules they released in the free PDF looks pretty promising. Not sure if I’ll actually stir myself out of my usual 2nd edition games to actually try it anytime soon but I am looking forward to picking over its’ bones for interesting chunks to use.

  10. Depends. I always start with the TOC and index, then the illustrations, if any. Then if it's an update or expansion to a game I know, I jump right in and read cover to cover while comparing to the book(s) it updates.

    If it's new to me, I'll typically page through it often back to front, sometimes upside down, just to see what catches my eye. Then I'll read cover to cover, but defer anything that gets boring (like spell/skill/equipment descriptions) for followup study.

  11. Cover to cover. Even all the bits with "what is role playing" and such help set the tone of what's in the book.

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