How long do new players get before they're expected to know the rules?

I have a player who has been playing for over 25 years, and often corrects me on the rules (and is right about it!) who still confuses d8s and d10s. People learn what they learn.


Rotten DM
What it says on the tin. On the one hand, you want a welcoming environment where new players can settle in and learn. On the other, it's not unreasonable to expect a bit of effort.

So here's the question: Where do you guys draw the line between, “Learn to play!” and, “Dude, can I have a second to learn the game?” When does the burden shift from GMs needing to be patient to players needing to crack open a rule book?

Comic for illustrative purposes.
6 months for regular players , 9 months for people with learning problems. six years for comics.


It seems to that every time this topic comes up, it really is because a GM or player somewhere expects everyone at the table to have the same level of interest in knowing the rules that the inquirer does. i.e. I'm the GM and I want to know every rule, everyone should too!

It's ok for different people to have different priorities. Some just want to show up at the appointed time and location, get into their character and help tell a story narrated by the GM. Some want to know every detail and possible thing the rules allow their characters to do.

I've learned over time, that when we place expectations on other people, we are often disappointed.


Doors and Corners
Hey the rules say you have pay Morrus $5 every time you post crazy stuff. Just send to me and I will wire it to him. This is a Rotten DM rule.
Not really. I think the word needs is a bit strong, but I understand the sentiment.

For games I'm in (but not necessarily running):

I think the DM should to know most of the rules and/or be familiar enough to make a ruling that is based on the way the rules work. Especially for rules heavy systems.

The players don't need to know the rules. It's nice if they do, but they don't need to. They should, however, after a few sessions, have a passing familiarity with the flow of the game so they don't hold up the other players.


I've been playing longer than some of you have been alive, and I don't know all the rules, and I usually DM. Knowing the rules in and out just isn't important to me...


About a year. I don't expect you to know every rule in the book, but you should definitely know your own class. It's disrespectful to me if you don't put in some effort.

It's one of my biggest complaints about Critical Role. They've been doing D&D for too long to not know their stuff.
Players don't need to know the rules, only the DM needs to know the rules.

Some players just aren't into rules for their own sake. They'll get used to table conventions and be fine, but they may never really learn the rules, certainly not like the local system masters will after a quick read-through.


A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I'm quite tolerant, partly because I have a teacher's temperament, but also because most of my players spend a LOT more time playing than I do and I often have to lean on them for some of the more uncommon rules. About the only time I can be a bit impatient is with spell casters. I just don't have all the spells memorized. I expect spell casters to know what a spell does before they cast it.

Luckily, I have not been in the position of having to steer new players away from casting classes if that is what they want to play, because I have several players who like playing wizards and clerics and have memorized most of the commonly used spells.

What also helps is that I have a DnD Beyond subscription which gives all my players access to the core materials. It makes it easy to pull up a spell and look it over before it is your turn. I also have spell cards for the spells in the PHB and Xanathars which is helpful for some players.

I guess the only thing that annoys me is when players space out or get into a side conversations and don't take time to think through what they are going cast until the start of their turns.


I'm still trying to get the rules down! Only sort of kidding, as I periodically find myself having screwed up a rule for a long time. My issue is more players not knowing their character (which is what the comic seems to be really about), because this issue happens even with very experienced players.


What I do discourage is players who are unfamiliar with the rules from playing characters that could be slow in the hands of a player who is not fully familiar with the system. Classic example in D&D would be a wizard where the player takes too long picking or reading over spell descriptions during combat.
Yeah, clerics can be even more overwhelming with their longer list. I encourage players of casters to focus on a few go-to spells that they use frequently. If they aren't sure what to do on a given round, they can fall back on their default choices. They will be played sub-optimally, but that never bothers me. I adjust the challenge level of the scenario to my particular group anyway.

One of my guys still gets huffy when I have to again tell her she has disadvantage if she uses her long bow in melee . . .
I never mind if someone doesn't know the rules, but getting huffy about it would rapidly reduce the odds of further invitations to the table.


you need to know your character by 2nd session.

That is, all class features you have and rules that apply to them.

That is why campaigns with new players should/must be from 1st level. Even you level up every session or two for couple of levels.

Jd Smith1

you need to know your character by 2nd session.

That is, all class features you have and rules that apply to them.

That is why campaigns with new players should/must be from 1st level. Even you level up every session or two for couple of levels.


I had this issue once.

I think we were about 8 months into the campaign and they didn't know how Sneak Attack worked.

At some point it is their responsibility to open the rulebook and read for a few minutes.

They were no receptive to my suggestions to engage them in the game or another player's either. It just ended up being too much work. I don't fully understand why they kept coming to play but if I had to guess I think they enjoyed watching us play more than being engaged as a participant.

In general I give the group until level 5 to learn their characters and the flow of the game. At that point I stop making suggestions and trust that they can keep track of their abilities themselves. During the game I am too caught up in trying to balance everything that is going on to manage the PCs.

Before level 5 though I will offer suggestions as to what kinds of things a player/character can do in the game. This includes approaches to scenes as well as using character abilities.

A recent example - A player wanted to cast Shatter so I told them that if they do so they're going to create a loud noise and create a rumble in the building that is directly above them. After level 5 I would stop interfering and let it rock.