Creighton’s Corner: Campaign Primer

Every campaign needs a campaign primer.

A campaign primer is a GM’s chance to set the scene for the players and to provide them with basic information about the setting, upcoming adventures and other information of note. Ideally, a campaign primer should be available at the start of the campaign before character generation.

Contents

A campaign primer represents a player’s first proper look at the adventure setting and needs to provide basic information about the setting. It’s also one of the only sources of information that the player will carry with his character during the whole campaign. Given this, a campaign primer is of critical importance to a campaign.

At a minimum a primer should contain the following information:

  • A overview of the locale in which the campaign starts be it a town, village or city and the surrounding area.
  • Lists of important NPCs, locally important deities and other powers.
  • An overview of interesting nearby locales.
  • A brief history of the area including any relevant facts for the campaign.

As can be seen, a campaign primer has a lot of ground to cover and it is tempting to create reams and reams of information in the pursuit of flavour and background. However, before a GM knocks off 20,000 words on his campaign world he should consider the likelihood of his players actually reading (and remembering) it all. Ideally, a basic, starting campaign primer should be no more than two sides long. A GM should, however, consider providing his players with a few other basic piece of material at the start of a campaign:

  • An area map.
  • A map of the village, town or city in which the adventure starts.
  • A list of house rules.

GMs that like to provide lots more information to their players would be well advised to provide such details in bite-sized chunks as they become available. Are the PCs travelling to a town? Great! Provide a two-page overview of the place when they arrive. Giving the information at the time that they’ll need it gives the players a reason to immediately read and use the provided information.

Primer Best Practices

  • Make the contents immediately relevant.
  • Make it clear and easy to navigate.
  • Keep it brief.
  • Know the contents and be able to discuss them.
  • Update the primer when relevant; the best primers are living documents that grow with the campaign.
  • Provide printed copies for the players.

Primer Worst Practices

  • Use it as an opportunity to show off your own awesome “brilliantness.”
  • Make it a huge document the size of an adventure (which no one will read and remember).
  • Cut and paste loads of text from the official campaign supplement or adventure that may or may not be relevant (ever).

Closing Thoughts

Creating a campaign primer should be both fun to do and be designed to make the game more fun and accessible for all participants. If it doesn’t do that, it needs to be redesigned!

About the Designer

Creighton is a keen gamer who passionately believes in the Open Gaming License and is dedicated to making his games as fun and easy to enjoy as possible for all participants. Reducing or removing entry barriers, simplifying pre-game prep and easing the GM’s workload are the key underpinning principles of the products he releases through Raging Swan Press.

Over the last 11 years, Creighton has worked with Expeditious Press, Paizo and Wizards of the Coast. He now releases his own products through Raging Swan Press. You can read his thoughts on game design at raging-swan.livejournal.com.

Creighton lives in Torquay, England where, apparently, the palm trees are plastic and the weather is warm. He shares a ramshackle old mansion with his two children (“Genghis” and “Khan”) and his patient wife. Famed for his unending love affair with booze and pizza he is an enduring GREYHAWK fan.

[Editor's Note: Creighton has graciously offered the opportunity for U.S. readers to check out this series of columns originally posted at the UK Roleplayers site about a year ago. This is the second article in a series. It first appeared here on 3-JUNE-2011. Here is the previous article.]

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