The Degenesis core books are deliberately written to make absorbing the game a somewhat indirect process, an exploration rather than a linear download. While I enjoy this because it feels immersive, it’s also a challenge if you aren’t used to this approach. So if you want to learn to play Degenesis and are thinking about starting a campaign but feel don’t know where to start, read on.
Setting is Paramount
[2020-04-25: This was post written before the massive new Degenesis.com site was released. Now that it’s live, I encourage you to explore Degenesis.com before downloading the free core rulebook PDFs. The site contains a ton of info that will help you better understand the game world before you dive into the core books.]
First, unlike Dungeons & Dragons for example, Degenesis is a not setting-agnostic. The game is about exploring a specific world that is deep and complex. The further you dig into it, the more amazing it becomes. The game mechanics serve the game world and are purposefully straightforward, flexible, and made for easy house-ruling. When thinking about what is “official” and part of the core Degenesis experience, it helps to remember that while the mechanics are important, the setting is the first among equals.
Second, you won’t be able to run Degenesis as a GM if you don’t like in-depth reading. Seriously, for revealed complexity of setting, if D&D is The Hobbit, Degenesis is Dune. So if you have read about Degenesis and the premise doesn’t intrigue you, it’s probably not a good fit. But if you enjoy reading about fictional cultures, mastering the complexities of competing factions, and really engaging with a more literary approach to worldbuilding, Degenesis is a treat.
Third, even though there’s a lot to read, you don’t have to do it all at once. You don’t have to understand all the nuances of the setting in order to get your campaign going. As with settings like Glorantha or Eclipse Phase, learning Degenesis is a journey, not a destination.
Read These Bits First
It took me several weeks to really absorb Degenesis and internalize it enough to feel ready to get a campaign rolling. I skimmed the rulebooks first, then drilled deeper in the areas that interested me most, then hopped around some more. Then I finally read the books chapter by chapter. Having done all that and gone on to start a campaign that is now 20+ sessions deep, I have some suggestions about how to most efficiently get up to speed with Degenesis.
First, read my review of Degenesis if you haven’t already. It outlines the Cultures and Cults, provides a high-level overview of the mechanics, and touches on the sorts of adventures you can create for player characters. If you’re still interested, it’s time to grab the core rulebooks and dive in.
If you’re going to run the game, you’ll want to read the items marked with blue (for players) and in orange (for the GM) in Primal Punk first. Then do the same for Katharsys. At this point you’ll have a solid understanding of the game world and the mechanics. You should also have plenty of ideas for a campaign, especially after picking through the ideas in Telling the Story.
Think about where you want the campaign to start geographically and what mix of Cultures and Cults you want to allow for player characters. It’s important to do this, for reasons I describe in Gamemastering Complex Settings. Keeping the campaign’s initial scope narrow is one of the most effective ways for you as GM to make the game easier to absorb for your players. It also will allow you learn the setting in a focused way.
Then have your players read the items marked in blue, starting with Primal Punk. You can also have them read about whatever Culture(s) you’ve determined will be ground zero for your campaign, or you can just lay it out in your own words and let them discover more along the way. Talk with with them about which Cultures and Cults they want for their characters, within the boundaries you’ve set. [Update: Also, players will really benefit from Gunsmile’s excellent post intended for first-time Degenesis players]
After they work with you to come up with ideas for their characters, you’ve got enough to get the campaign rolling. Keep it narrow in scope. Don’t worry about the deep dark secrets of the game world. Don’t get led astray by the details of each of the Psychonauts differ. Just focus on your little part of the world. At this point please turn your attention again to Gamemastering Complex Settings if you haven’t already read it. Everything in it is applicable to running your first Degenesis campaign.
Once you start the campaign you’ll want to dig into the remaining core book chapters; keeping the initial scope of the campaign limited buys you time.
Leverage the Community
The Degenesis Discord is the heart of the Degenesis community. The game’s developers spend time there, and veteran Degenesis players from around the world ask rules questions, discuss setting lore, and trade stories about their characters and campaigns. The Discord also has links to GM resources including fan-made adventures and other goodies.
The most effective way to get a question answered is to be explicit about what you need answered. If your question is really broad, like “What are Palers?” it’ll be obvious that you haven’t read the core books and the answer will inevitably be “Read the rules!” But as with any game there are areas of ambiguity, rules that sometimes need interpretation, and so on. The folks in the Discord will get those questions answered for you right away. Before you know it, you’ll be helping others learn how to play Degenesis.
Note that because the setting takes primacy, one of the main purposes of the Discord is to help people make best use of the setting. It’s not really designed to support discussions about extensively-altered or purely alternative settings.
The Discord is also a great place as a GM to vet your ideas, especially since often the creative team at Sixmorevodka will jump in with ideas and encouragement. Be sure to look me up (I’m Unpossible) when you’re there. I’m happy to answer whatever questions I can and share GMing tips and stories from our campaign.