Payn's Ponderings\ The Player's Campaign Guide

payn

Legend
Greetings,

Well you may be asking yourself, “What is this Player’s Guide thing Payn won’t shut up about?” Suppose its time I answered fully, and gleefully, as I find the Player’s campaign guide to be one of the best TTRPG campaign innovations in the last 20 years. By campaign, I mean a planned set of adventures in a setting with a direct or indirect plot. Throughout this posting, I’ll use both linear and non-linear campaign examples. If you are starting to think that you are a master home brewer, and published adventure writers can go eat donkey goobers, please stick around because making content is something that should interest you anyways.

Disclaimer; I use a lot of Paizo examples because they have been doing it well for a long time now. WOTC/EN Publishing/Etc... may or may not even do these. If they do, and you like them, please post about it!

The Skinny (TL;DR):

A Player’s Campaign Guide is a short supplement that gives the players advice on good/bad mechanical choices that will best suit the campaign. It also gives the players some background information on the setting to whet their imagination’s appetite. Finally, the player’s guide acts as a teaser trailer to muster up interest and excitement for the upcoming game! Publishers and GMs can really step up their game by enticing the players with material that doesn’t spoil the campaign itself.

The Examples:

If you don’t do published campaigns, or never played any of Paizo’s adventures, you may be curious what a Player’s Guide might look like. Below are links to several free PDFs of high quality Paizo creations. I say “high quality” as in production and value, these guides can and do have issues at times, which I will cover next.

Linear PGs;

Curse of the Crimson Throne (an urban adventure campaign)

Jade Regent (West travels East adventure with supplemental wagon traveling rules)

Iron Gods (Sword and Sorcery meets sci-fi)

Non-linear PGs:

Kingmaker (Tame the wildlands and build a kingdom)

Pirates of Drinax (Space Empire building game in The Traveller universe. Cant link to it because it’s mixed with GM material, but will talk about it coming up)

The content:

TTRPG campaigns obviously have GM material. Plot, setting, exploration, all the good stuff RPGs are made of. Over time, they started to feature additional player material that a GM can distribute if they would like. We already covered the bases, but for a refresher, this material is character mechanical options, setting info, and non-spoiler campaign teasers. PCGs focus on player centered material.

Mechanical character features come in a wide variety. There may be traits such as, member of a secret cult, student of a particular school, or friend/colleague/rival of an NPC. These story bits marry the mechanics to the character and campaign. They give advice on race/class/etc distinctions that are well suited to the campaign. They also advise on avoiding poorly thought out characters like a Druid with a Shark companion in a desert based campaign.

Player Campaign Guides also add the opportunity to highlight a new race and/or species to the game. For example, Iron Gods adds Android as a playable race to the campaign. There are stats, mechanics, and a little flavor to help guide players into the experience. Pirates of Drinax has an entire section dedicated to buffing the flavor of a species named Aslan. Career paths, cultural distinctions, etc... are provided to help players bring these new offerings to life.

Player Campaign Guides can highlight the use of new sub-systems and mechanics. If you are including a new romance module, the guide is a good way to convey that to the players. Maybe, its mass combat rules, or ship sailing and combat, any new sub-system that introduced is going to draw questions. The guide can serve as a resource for the players that gives them the basic guidelines. This takes a load of the GM from having to constantly explain the rules and nuances of said new systems.

Player faced setting info can also be provided. What is this place like? What is its history? What is happening today? All questions that can be answered in text for the players to discover. Combine that benefit with artwork and you really start to run the imagination of the players. Obviously, artwork is subjective, and possibly out of reach for home brewers, but it has a big impact on perception and buy in of a campaign for many players.

Finally, the player’s campaign guide delivers the pitch. Where, what, who, when, why? All should be answered in the simplest, but engaging, terms for the players. This will inform them about the types of adventures they will be going on, the particular skills the characters need, and the types of people and factions they will encounter. All presented in an intriguing package without giving away the mystique of the campaign.

The Challenges:

Why make a separate Players Campaign Guide?

Separating this info out has been a chore left to GMs. Some go to great lengths to do this, others do not even bother. For example, in the campaign box set for Pirates of Drinax sandbox game for Mongoose Traveller much player facing sections are sandwiched into the GM material. There is an entire section on a playable species. Not just career mechanics for chargen, but cultural info to expand the player’s knowledge on playing a different species. There is also a section that details three distinct home worlds complete with life event tables to flavor character’s backgrounds into the setting.

Now that is all good stuff. However, the PDFs material is entwined so there isn’t an easy way to share this. Sure a GM can copy paste and make a new document, or share only the pages from their physical book at the table. Though, that clearly has a few disadvantages. First, as mentioned, the GM may not want to put in the extra effort to make this material available. Also, players can’t preview this material in advance to see if they even want to jump into the campaign. Paizo giving them out free is a huge interest booster and really helps groups decide if the time and resource investment is worth it. This is something adventure publishers and homebrewers should take note of!

If I had advice for Mongoose (any publisher really), it would be to make a player resource for their future campaigns. Either a short production that is light on teasers and heavy on mechanics, or an entire campaign book just for players. The first route steers players into the campaign and buys their interest. The second gives them detail to have staying power within the campaign. Both options are a boon to GMs as they don’t have to worry about keeping their material separated. (Also, sales man, sales!)

Don’t bait and switch…

Some guides will go the distance to talk about the character’s home town. Let’s call it Awesome Place. So, you got all this detail about where the character grew up and lived and became who they are. You are totally ready for adventure in Awesome Place. Then, the campaign immediately redirects to Cool Town. Cool Town is neat too, but it’s completely different than Awesome Place. You’ve been bait and switched and good luck stopping this campaign from fizzling.

If the campaign is about being X type characters, then tell people not to play Y ones. Occasionally, you will see a guide that talks about how an X character might, kinda, sorta, maybe, fit in. Do not do this. It is entirely ok for some archetypes to not match the given campaign style. Life will be better for all involved if you are not constantly trying to explain why a shark companion of a druid is living in the desert.

Many Player’s Campaign Guides will provide a reason why the characters are working together. Maybe they are family, or crew of a starship, are caught up in the same conspiracy, etc... This is actually a strong thing to do for a campaign. It provides focus to the players as they make decisions and directs their energy. Also, it helps keep the campaign going in the right direction. If all the characters are together because a no good scoundrel wronged them, it’s a bad idea to have that scoundrel be the first villain. If that piece holding the PCs together is gone by 3rd level, you still have 80+% of the game to go (D&D reference). Then, the GM then has to figure out an entirely new reason to keep the characters together. If you are lucky the characters will bond through play and this won’t be difficult, but that isn’t always the case. Far from it.

Discussion Topics:

  • What are your experiences with Player Campaign Guides?
  • Anybody doing this regularly besides Paizo?
  • Ever make a Player’s Campaign Guide for your own homebrew?
  • What did Payn leave out?
Cheers.
 

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Retreater

Legend
I recently used the Paizo Player's Campaign Guide for Extinction Curse in my online PF2 game. I don't think any of the players read it, though they did scan around for good character options.
Even though I used to like them, I don't think the presentation of a Player's Guide really works in most circumstances. It's like it's presented as a portion of a DM's resource that can be read by players. But players are a different audience, and they don't usually want a mountain of text to describe the setting and NPCs.
So maybe the best way of presenting the information is kind of like a movie trailer to pump up the players and set expectations? Keep it around 3 minutes and start making characters. When the player tells you something like "I'm interested in the criminal underworld" then the GM can build off that and say "The Red Vipers are a gang you don't want to mess with - has your character had any problems with them?" And then the player can say "actually, I'm a member of the gang."
That is more valuable than a Player's Guide, in my opinion. A Player's Guide is just a passive resource in most cases. It's what you have to do before you can play.
 

payn

Legend
I can sort of see that. I definitely know the type of player who wouldn't read a PCG outside mechanics, though it makes my heart cry to know that. I eat these things up and think they are fantastic and when a GM just doesn't present well it makes me sad.

I do think a 3 min video clip would go over well with most folks.
 

Retreater

Legend
I do think a 3 min video clip would go over well with most folks.
It sort of amazes me that we don't get more of that from the big publishers - who would certainly have the resources.
I think Paizo makes like 45 second commercials, geared towards GMs, to say the name of the book, the release day, and show some art.
Just something to pump up the players, a cinematic trailer (tell the basics of what's going on with a moderately engaging voice actor and a slideshow of art).
 

payn

Legend
It sort of amazes me that we don't get more of that from the big publishers - who would certainly have the resources.
I think Paizo makes like 45 second commercials, geared towards GMs, to say the name of the book, the release day, and show some art.
Just something to pump up the players, a cinematic trailer (tell the basics of what's going on with a moderately engaging voice actor and a slideshow of art).
Mongoose did a music video for their Pirates of Drinax soundtrack. So, more of this please!
 


Historically, I haven't been in a lot of games that used campaign guides. Our current D&D game, in which we play Call of the Deep, is the only one that comes to my mind, in which there was a pre-campaign handout (2 pages written up by our GM). I think they are useful, though, especially if you play a setting that deviates a bit from established standards. I have to say, I would probably not be too inclined to read more than a dozen pages on setting content in most cases (if there are specific mechanical options, that would probably be ok since I don't need to read them all).
 

payn

Legend
Historically, I haven't been in a lot of games that used campaign guides. Our current D&D game, in which we play Call of the Deep, is the only one that comes to my mind, in which there was a pre-campaign handout (2 pages written up by our GM). I think they are useful, though, especially if you play a setting that deviates a bit from established standards. I have to say, I would probably not be too inclined to read more than a dozen pages on setting content in most cases (if there are specific mechanical options, that would probably be ok since I don't need to read them all).
Yeap, a PCG should be about 10-20 pages total. That is mechanics, special rules, setting, and campaign teaser all included in that total.
 

payn

Legend
Heya,

Had some extra time today and so thought I would browse a few Paizo player's guides for page count. I started with Kingmaker an early Pathfinder era campaign. Came in at 13 pages. This guide has a lot of setting background, more than most, and some kingdom building resource pages. Iron Gods was late PF1 and came in at 10 pages. I expected more with both a new ancestry (race) and technology feats and primer. Finally, I decided to grab a PF2 era PCG for review. Wow, only 8 pages. Should not have been surprising since Abomination Vaults is a basic dungeon crawl campaign without any bells or whistles.

Kingmaker breakdown:
1 page of setting and campaign background.
2 pages or Ancestries (formerly known as race)
4 pages of class recommendations
2 pages of campaign traits (mechanics custom fit for the campaign)
4 pages of kingdom building resources.
13 total pages.

Iron Gods breakdown:
1 page of campaign teaser
2 pages of class overview
1 page of new ancestry Android
2 pages of campaign traits
2 pages of technology mechanic supplement
1 page of beginning village info
1 page of beginning village map
10 total pages

Abomination Vaults breakdown:
1 page alignment/ancestry/language/skill campaign overview
2 pages of background feats
1 page City of Otari map
4 pages of NPC, landmark, and population demographics on starting city
8 total pages

Seems my 10-20 pages estimate was a little high. It's bound to vary campaign to campaign in page count. Though, I think these guides do well with their space. Further on in the Pathfinder era, they also begin to add more custom artwork which gives them a nice touch.

Bonus Aramis's ELESTRIAL CONCORDAT Guide
39 pages! Most of this is actual custom mechanics tables for the homebrew setting. With actual setting info being in the 5-8 page range as best I could tell. No artwork, total resource document only. Page count likely necessary due to homebrew setting.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Heya,
[...]

Bonus Aramis's ELESTRIAL CONCORDAT Guide
39 pages! Most of this is actual custom mechanics tables for the homebrew setting. With actual setting info being in the 5-8 page range as best I could tell. No artwork, total resource document only. Page count likely necessary due to homebrew setting.
It's worth noting: session -1 included the players creating the worlds. Session 0 was character gen. There should be illos of the uniforms...
Somewhere I uploaded the 3/4 view cutaway of the cutter...
my AP reports are at RPGG: Traveller
 
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aramis erak

Legend
going through the Elestrial Concordat campaign guide, and knowing that, as with Marc W. Miller, I consider Universal World Profile (UWP) strings a shorthand used in setting, pages and whether pure fluff, conjoined fluff/mechanics, and pure mechanical changes... Note that the pages not full letter sized; they're actually sized for my (now dead) PRS-515 eInk reader.

The Player's guide is only the first 20 pages. It also is the "in universe" handout. The 0ther 35 are the Ref's guide. Sadly, the source files are all Pages docs, and the mac that could open them died.


PageFluff/MechanicsDescriptionNotes
1neitherCover
2neitherfront matter and abbreviations
3FluffTime units and currency
4-5FluffCapsule History of the Concordat
6Fluff"Homeworld"
7-11HybridShips of the Concordat
12HybridMap of the Concordat - player known entries.Generated with minor variant mechanics.
13HybridMainworld UWPs as known by the players
14-20Hybrid (fluff heavy)UWPs as known of each Concordat system.UWPs created using the variant world gen. Fluff text written by players, edited by me.
——————————————————————————————————————————
21neither"STOP" sign page. Start of ref section
22HybridRef's Map
23HybridRef's mainworld UWPsMechanically generated fluff
24-54Hybriddetailed system listingsfull system UWPs
55mechanicsblank subsector grid
56-61MechanicsVariant ship design tables.Need MGT1E Book 2 for prose of the mechanics.
62MechanicsCurrency conversion table
 
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