Pre-Campaign Handouts

Wik

Visitor
Usually when I start a campaign, I tell the players what the campaign's main thrust is, and then put together a huge document detailing every race and class, the deities, the setting history, new class options, a primer on all the locations, new backgrounds, and whatever else I can think of. These things wind up being around 40-70 pages, and maybe one player will actually skim the thing.

A recent Matt Colville video mentioned handouts, and how they should be 1 or 2 pages and only touch on basics. With my new campaign starting in around 3 weeks or so, I decided to take that into consideration. I wrote around 2 pages of material, and thought it looked a bit wall of text-y, so I added a bunch of art and, when it was done, it was 4 pages long. And, lo and behold, every player read it - and it changed how some of them approached their characters!

The last page of the document details the 10 major noble houses in the setting. This made one player change her mind on her PC, and she is now playing a noble. Two other players are already nobles (it's what prompted me to make the list in the first place) and are already looking over the list and scheming - which is nice, and fits the tone of the setting. My fourth player read the fluff text on the "hidden fortress of Quasqeton" and has got it in his head that he needs to find the place, even if it derails my campaign - and has no idea that the module we'll be running, "in Search of the Unknown" has any connection. (Good times!)

Anyways. Let's use this thread to share ideas on what should be in a campaign handout, what doesn't need to be there, and what our own campaign handouts look like. As for mine - I'll gladly post it, but the art I used for my handout amongst friends has no permissions and I'm not sure if it's kosher to post here. I'll dig up the artists names first before posting, at the very least.
 

Ed Laprade

Visitor
There are the basics, of course. Races/classes permitted or excluded. Starting level (it isn't always 1st level). Any extras the characters might get (more money, a Feat at level 1, extra equipment, etc.). Where they'll start, and as much or the world background as you feel they might need. And, for myself, a MAP! Or maybe more than one map (world, kingdom, starting city, etc.).

Also, the theme of the adventure(s), if there is one. You don't want everyone showing up with a spell caster if magic is forbidden!
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
My assumption is that players will never read anything I prepare for them in this regard. (I know I won't read it, so I do not expect that of others.)

So instead I just tell them anything they need to know which I keep to a bare minimum, then do a Character Creation Rules thread. The Character Creation Rules thread lists the setting, starting level, legal source books, available races, ability score generation method, starting equipment, and any variant or house rules in effect for that campaign.
 

Wik

Visitor
There are the basics, of course. Races/classes permitted or excluded. Starting level (it isn't always 1st level). Any extras the characters might get (more money, a Feat at level 1, extra equipment, etc.). Where they'll start, and as much or the world background as you feel they might need. And, for myself, a MAP! Or maybe more than one map (world, kingdom, starting city, etc.).

Also, the theme of the adventure(s), if there is one. You don't want everyone showing up with a spell caster if magic is forbidden!
Oo. A map is a good one! Usually I just give the players a physical copy of the map a few sessions in - with inaccuracies built in and waaaaay too many coffee stains and whatnot. :)
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
I love making player handouts! Colville is right, they should be short and sweet. Mine tend to run closer to 4-8 pages, but over the years I've been making them shorter and shorter, as I learn what players actually care about.

Since we're sharing, here are some of my campaign-intro handouts:

The last campaign I ran was Monster Town: MonsterTown Intro. During the first session, in order to set the tone, I had each player fill out an Entry Form.

The previous campaign I ran was the Holdenshire Chronicles (available from EN Publishing!): Holdenshire Chronicles Intro. I also created a handout for the broader campaign world, the Enchanted Kingdoms, but told the players that they really only had to read page 3 ("Magic" and "Races").

The campaign before that was Princes of the Apocalypse: PotA Campaign Intro. (As an aside, I find it interesting that most of the House Rules in that document did not survive contact with the enemy.)

The first campaign handout I made was for an M&M game called SAGA; it's actually not a PDF but a web page.

The next campaign I intend to run is Pirates & Privateers: P&P Handout. Finally, down to one page!!!
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Thanks! I didn't make that, though. It's lifted from the adventure.

It's a pretty great little campaign and I'd like to run it again some day (we finished Act I with a TPK...).
 

aco175

Adventurer
I once tailored handouts to each player. They all thought they had the same handout until one of them mentioned something the others did not have on their sheet. I think it was the name of a contact in the town that would help them. I also had a map for each of them with extra information for what each PC may know. Some of the things overlapped and others never came into play, but it turned out to be a great moment.

I think the handout was 1 page with half the page being the map. The information was a paragraph of the campaign and 7-10 bullet points with cool information.
 
My assumption is that players will never read anything I prepare for them in this regard. (I know I won't read it, so I do not expect that of others.)
That's been my experience as well. They will never read it. If they do read it, they will never remember or reference it, and 90% of the time, it gets tossed into a folder or the back is used to track HP and treasure on.

Part of the reason I have abandoned homebrew worlds was watching hours of work go into documents for players who just wanted to adventure and didn't give two craps if it was on Faerun, Ebberon, or my homebrew setting.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
Jesus Chickenfingers, I'd never give someone a 40+pg document unless I was getting paid for it. And while I might snap it into my campaign binder (I make a new one for each game) and poke through it once in a while, I know I'd never read it as a player.

Yes I agree with Matt, 1-2 pages tops. Basic outline. Probably about as intense reading as the opening scroll of a Star Wars movie, with CAPS and bold on important names/organizations/locations.

What classes/races are available is part of SESSION ZERO at my table to ensure that noone goes home, builds something completely incompatible/non-existent within the world and brings it to the table. I also cover GENERAL THEME and try to get a feel for PLAYER EXPECTATIONS while talking to them, internally adjusting what's in my head based on the overall consensus of what players are looking to find in the GAME. While also working out if the game I'm planning to run is one they're EVEN INTERESTED IN.






---I bet you remember what words I capitalised. :p
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Yeah, I’d never read a 40-page document prior to a game.

A page or two is OK (I use the “One-Sheet” format), and even then make sure it’s not dense with backstory and makes the major points concisely and clearly.

Let me learn about the world during play.
 

hbarsquared

Quantum Chronomancer
I like the "The campaign theme will be like <movie/book> meets <some other movie/book>"

My last one was "Star Trek meets Across the World in Eighty Days"
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
I hand out a map (of either the region, the current location or both), and perhaps a list of homebrew equipment when the players pick their starting equipment. Everything else is not needed for them to start playing. If I want them to know about the various deities in my setting, they will come up when they enter a church. If I want them to know about the political situation in my fictional country, that too will come up when it becomes important, or the players actively pursue this information.

Currently all my players know the names of most of the important deities in my campaign, and they have never needed to read a manuscript for it. I just wove it into the plot, into my descriptions of statues and stained-glass windows, and into my descriptions of locations. These deities come up so often, that they know most of them by heart by now, and even have favorites.
 

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