Running smooth, action packed RPG adventures with as few interruptions as possible makes the game more immersive and enjoyable. One common interruption to adventures i’ve seen is stopping the game to look up rules. It may seem like a good use of time: using the rules as they are written makes sense, and some players know the rulebook well enough to jump right to the rules they’re looking for quickly. However, even a 30 second break (which is pretty quick when searching through a 200-page rulebook) can destroy awesome moments in your adventure. Dealing a fatal blow to the final boss is a bit harder to enjoy when half of it was spent looking up what bonuses an attacker on higher ground gets.
The solution is simple: come up with your own rule for the situation, stick to it for the rest of the adventure, then look up the real rule up after the game. In order to make the ruling quick and decisive, I recommend giving the game master final say on the temporary house rule, but players should be able to suggest criticism or tweaks on the ruling.
Though this method means you’ll be ignoring the rules as written in some cases, surprisingly little is lost. RPG rules only exist to help you tell a story that makes sense within its setting. Your snap house rulings will likely be close enough to the intent of the real rules. Even if your rules differ, quick houserulings cut out interruptions from looking up rules and usually won’t have any negative impact on the story. If the party feels a rule is critical to the outcome of the adventure, then it may be worth looking it up.
There’s one last trick to help you get the best of both worlds: have a cheat sheet ready. Cheat sheets can be a great resource for finding the answers to rule questions very quickly. Have one ready for yourself (printed, or open in a tab if you’re going digital), and even give one out to each other players so everyone can quickly reference the rules.
All cheat sheets should contain the hardest to remember, frequently used rules. If many players are new to the game, handing out a cheat sheet with basic information (such as possible actions, how to attack, and status effects) could be a great way to help everyone find the rules they need much faster.
Even experienced players benefit greatly from creating personalized cheat sheets. Having a printed reference of your class’s abilities and spells removes any ambiguity as they work in the middle of a fight. When I run D&D as a Game Master, I create a small cheat sheet of monster stats, the spells they can cast, and a list of the effects of the obstacles I’ve created. I also add a short list of important plot points and NPCs to help keep track of the story.
Whether your a player or game master, new or experienced, making cheat sheets and leaving the rule book out of your adventures means more role playing, less page-flipping.
P.S: Here’s an example of a great beginner cheat sheet for 5th edition D&D from the Dungeon Masters Guild: http://i.imgur.com/0cEuH7P.png
It has a list of all those hard-to-remember effects and actions, and manages to fit it all on one page. Checks all the marks in my book!