Creating a Campaign: Player Handouts

Hello readers! One of the things I do semi-frequently to try to improve my DMing is read various sources for tips and tricks. I have recently begun digging into the 5th edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. In a section detailing beginning a campaign there is a section about creating handouts for players. This isn’t a new concept to me, but is something I haven’t done for a while. The section mentioned to keep the handout relatively brief, roughly 2 pages, giving players basic details about the setting and any special rules for creating a character.

As I have said I will soon begin my own D&D Campaign, starting with the adventure The Sunless Citadel, a 3rd Edition adventure I recently bought from a local game store. I am excited, it is spoken of pretty highly online, so should form a great foundation for me to tweak as I see fit.

The_Sunless_CitadelIt is my plan to posts semi-frequent logs on my party’s progress as well as posting packets of my own DM plans. Because my party reads my blog I won’t be able to post everything until after they pass it, so keep an eye out here.

For anyone wondering what a starting handout would look like here is the one I created for my own party in about a hour and a half.

The Adventure Begins Here: Player’s Handout

Welcome to the land of Aincrad, a relatively small nation ruled from the central capitol of Pathos. Aincrad was formed several centuries ago springing forth from an alliance between the Hill Dwarf clan Blackmountain and the Human villages strung throughout the Plains of Plenty. Originally joined together to protect against the shadowy cult calling itself Death’s Head, the mutual benefit of the alliance evolved into the nation of Aincrad. The two different peoples’ have had centuries to intermingle and influence each other and now stand firm together as one, despite some continued differences. In the centuries since its formation the nation of Aincrad destroyed the Death’s Head cult, scattering it to the depths of the wilderness.

Aincrad is ruled by the Council, a trio of rulers to represent their own groups, as well as the nation. A Dwarf and a Human always each hold a seat on the council, with the third seat rotating between the nation’s other groups. Currently the third seat is held by the lyrical Bard Vespith Vespuchia, a bubbly male Tiefling.
The frontiers of Aincrad largely border the wilderness, a place filled with danger. Hidden ruins of the Death’s Head Cult serve as bases of operations for raiders, bandits, and other darker menaces, both outside and within the borders of Aincrad, though there has been little sign of the Cult in generations.

Nation’s Features:
• Largely Lawful, due to the heavy influence from the Blackmountain Dwarf clan.
• Accepting of a wide variety of people, presuming they do not cause trouble.
• Produces impressive feats of craftsman’s ship, as well as plentiful crops.
• Pathos the central city is a massive stone citadel.

Divine Pantheon:
While the pantheon of this world can be quite varied, Aincradians primarily pay tribute to a select few gods, which each hold specific divine roles. The creator deity, was slain long ago in struggles against elder evils, all that remains of the original pantheon are the wizened brother of the creator Thoth, and the offspring of the first pantheon.
• Arawn- The androgynous god of life and death, symbol a Black star on gray background. Domains include Life and Death. Celebrated for life giving powers, followers of the darker aspect of death often are eccentric or shunned individuals.

•Tyr- God of courage and strategy, his symbol is the sword. Viewed as the just side of war, he is often honored by generals and warriors, his domains are War and Light.

• Freya-The goddess if fertility and love, her love for her followers is often depicted as a shining light, protecting from the darkness. Her domains include Light and Life.

• Silvanus- the god of Nature, forests, and natural growth, Silvanus’ symbol is a summer oak tree. Silvanus is often honored especially by elves and Halflings, though enclaves of druids scattered throughout Aincrad serve as his envoys. His domains are Nature and Tempest.

• Morrigan- the goddess of battle, her symbol is two crossed spears. Her domains include Tempest and War. Though honored by many warriors, Tyr is seen as the more honorable of the aspects of War. Her followers are often berserkers with little regard to the safety of others during combat.

• Thoth- The wizened eldest god worshipped by Aincrad. Thoth is the last remnant of the first Pantheon, usually found digging through his mountains of knowledge. Domains are Knowledge.

• The Blackmountain clan also draws power from their ancestors, whom they enshrine and honor, which manifest itself as Life, Knowledge, War, and Light domains.

New Features of the Campaign:

Muls: A new playable race, Muls are the result of dwarves and humans mixing and having children. A mul is slightly taller than a dwarf, but still shorter than human. They are very hairy, like their dwarven ancestors, and are incredibly muscular. Almost as tough as dwarves, muls are stronger because of their extra size. They often live longer than humans, but shorter then dwarves. Viewed by some purists as second class citizens, legally Muls have all the same rights as any Aincradian.
Ability Score Increase: Your Strength score increases by 2. Your Constitution score increases by 1.

Size: Mul stand between 6 and 6 ½ feet tall and weigh about 270 pounds on average. Your size is medium.
Speed: Your base land speed is 30 feet. Your speed is not reduced by wearing heavy armor.
Uncanny Fortitude: As an action, you may reduce your exhaustion by one level. You cannot use this feature again until after you have taken a long rest.

Relentless Endurance: When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. You cannot use this feature again until after you have taken a short or long rest.

Ancestors’ Toughness: Your hit point maximum increases by 1, and it increases by 1 every time you gain a level.

Languages: You can speak, read, and write Common or Dwarf and one language of your choice.

Deities: Like Dwarves, Muls may worship primarily their ancestors.

Campaigns Start:
The adventure begins with the party having recently arrived separately into the small town of Oakhurst. The town is not on the frontier, but not near the capitol either, and is one of the many farming communities along the Plains of Plenty. Oakhurst rests near the Old Road, a path little used for the present, though it used to be a major path of travel. Rumor has it that some old ruins rests somewhere by the Old Road, near Oakhurst, which is why travel ceased along the road, too much opportunity for banditry. Rumors also have reached you that once every midsummer a local goblin tribe secretly ransoms a single piece of magical fruit to the highest bidder in Oakhurst. The fruit is said to be an apple of perfect hue, and heals those who suffer from any disease or other ailment. You have arrived a few weeks before midsummer.
*Note: Players may arrive individually, or alongside party members, though each must think of a reason for them to have ventured forth to this town.

With this example here are some basic rules I follow when planning a campaign or adventure.

I always start at a small focused point, and expand outwards as required by the progress and choices of the party. In this case the starting dot is Oakhurst, with some basic details of the larger area it is in. My goal is to create the feeling of a setting, but not spend hours planning details the party won’t get to for a long time, if ever. I like to think of my setting as concentric circles which I expand out with the party.

The other rule is that I am creating a setting, NOT a story. This is a mistake I see many DMs and Adventure Modules making. The goal is not to create a story for the party, but to create a interactive setting with logic and repercussions, that the player’s choices and actions interact with, creating the story of the campaign.

Often this means that a DM can only start a story line, thinking about a group’s goals and actions, but cannot know where these actions will lead until the party has played for a while, otherwise player actions begin to feel pointless.

Well those are some of my thoughts on DMing as well as the handout I will be using for my campaign. I would love to hear some reactions and thoughts from readers.

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4 thoughts on “Creating a Campaign: Player Handouts

  1. Interesting. A firmly disagree about the setting vs story argument though! The choice between the two (that can be a very blurry line) is dependent on the players (and the DM) and what they want to accomplish as a group. Hardly a rule I’d say.

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  2. Thanks for all the comments today 🙂 and a disagreeing opinion, makes comment discussions more interesting. I do agree the line between the two is blurred. You also make an excellent point, campaign organization is very dependent on the group and the DM. However; I would argue that at least constantly being aware of the difference between setting and story is essential to a good campaign.

    A story driven campaign can have some pre-determined plot points, perhaps even an overall planned flow; however, it is important, even in a more structured game, to have character actions valued. You may know the party is going from point A-B-C and then back to A, but its important you allow some flexibility within the flow so that while in A,B,and C the party isn’t restricted to a script on how to interact in A, B, and C. You can make some obvious choices, which often will guide a party :).

    The being said, as you have mentioned, if a party really wants a set story, and as a DM you also want that (which makes planning way easier), then go for it. But i think when planning a campaign, DMs should always keep in mind not to plan too many details too far in advance. Vague ideas are fine, but the more specific a plot gets, the more restrictive it gets on what parties can do.

    An example that comes to mind. Dm plans an intricate plot, where a Duke’s son has been planning his assassination. However, due to a willy player, the party actually discovers this early, wanting to reveal the plot. This messes with the story you have created, which needs to son hidden for another two “acts” to hire assassins ect. The DM is now in a bind.

    That is sort of what I was thinking :).

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    1. Oh, plot flexibility is critical, no doubt.

      ” I would argue that at least constantly being aware of the difference between setting and story is essential to a good campaign.” +1 to this.

      Also, I think you laid it out well. A,B,C may be major plot points, but how you get there and to an extent even WHAT HAPPENS when you do get there can change. I like to think of those plot points as anchor points for the story, but not necessarily specific events. They don’t HAVE to play out the way you have planned them as a DM. In fact……. as most DMs know….. they rarely will. 🙂

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