The other day I wrote a small primer on the Roll and Keep system. The idea behind it was to help give some perspective on the system to a friend who is going to be running a game using it soon. The person is a good GM, but they just wanted some help and an intro to the system. Interestingly enough though, as I wrote the primer I found my brain started to click on the system in new ways. As much as I wrote the primer for my friend, it was helping me a lot too. Today I wanted to talk about why that is, and why you may want to give something similar a try.
If You Can't Explain It...
...you haven't mastered it. That is how the saying goes. It's actually a bit longer and fully states "if you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it." In other words, if you get something, you should be able to make it sound simple to others. The fun part is that explaining something complex in a simple manner is actually a lot harder than it seems. Similes and metaphors can help a lot, but as gamers we tend to pick on the nuanced differences and make them sound weird.
For example, I could tell you that the Raise mechanic in Roll and Keep is essentially letting players call their own critical hits, and that is more or less true. However, the raise mechanic is a lot more than that and has it's own nuances that make it both better, and worse, than your standard critical hit.
Here's the thing though, by trying to explain something complex in simple terms you have to manipulate it in your mind. You have to turn it this way and that. You have to find the facets of it that are simple or more easily understood and latch onto them. You can't do that without also examining the idea, and when examining that idea you may pick up other things. Those things may help you. They may confuse you. Either way, you're learning.
Teaching Reinforces Fundamentals
In Martial Arts there is a reason they have advanced students teach beginner classes, and it isn't just because the head teacher is too busy to handle it. Sure that may be part of it, but in truth teaching is part of the student's journey. First, there is the demonstration of mastery. By helping someone through the beginning steps, explaining the way, you show you understand it. More than that though, when you are teaching the basics you must also practice the basics. You observe mistakes and variations from proper form, and you have to correct them.
Put another way, you learn just as much if not more from helping other people learn their form as you do from being taught. This is true for almost any profession or skill. Heck, an online writing group I'm a part of has taught me so much, not from people critiquing my own writing but from me reading what other people do. I get to see what they do welll. I also get to see what they do wrong, and in analyzing that, I also learn and teach myself.
You'll Remind Yourself About Things You Love
Teaching the basics, reviewing a system, both of them will expose you to the system through a new perspective, and in doing so re-introduce you to things that you love about the system. By rediscovering these loves, you can bring them up in your own game and add that bit of flair. It's a wonderful thing to have.
From my own experience, the raise mechanic is one of my favorite parts of L5R but over the years I've more or less forgotten the details of how they're supposed to be used in place of how I've always used it. In going back through it, I reminded myself of the distinction, and in turn re-opened my head to some of the nuanced flavor in the system. (For those curious, a raise is used when the acting character has control over what is making the thing more difficult like trying to do the task faster or with style. A modifier to the difficulty is when the acting character doesn't have control, like bad weather or poor light. :) )
Give It A Shot
Give it a shot. Right here and now if you want. What is your favorite part of a system you're running? Explain how to use it to me like I've never run the system before but am going to try to get into it.