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GM Advice: Campaign Primer

Every campaign needs a campaign primer. Presenting basic campaign information to the players it helps shape their expectations for the game and provides handy information to aid in character generation and development.


(Art: William McAusland [Outland Arts])

A campaign primer is one of the most important handouts the GM will ever create. It presents the players’ first look at the GM’s setting and is probably the sum total of their campaign knowledge during character generation. A campaign primer also enables a GM to focus his thoughts on what is important to the campaign and serves as a handy touchstone for all participants.

A campaign primer has a lot of ground to cover and it should include the following topics:

  • Area Overview: Present a overview of the region or kingdom and provide an area map.
  • Starting Locale: An overview of the PCs’ starting location be it a town, city or village.
  • NPCs: List important NPCs including local rulers, deities, heroes and villains. This shouldn’t be an exhaustive list
  • Nearby Locales: Provide brief details of significant nearby features – mountain ranges, forests and so on – and settlements of note.
  • History: A brief history of the local area including any relevant major events that may impact the PCs’ adventures.
  • House Rules: Not really part of the primer as such, but still very handy, a GM should provide the players with a separate list of any house rules he uses.

Campaign Primer Best Practise

  • Relevant: Make the contents immediately relevant to the PCs.
  • Clear: The primer should be well laid out and easily read.
  • Concise: Don’t write a 20,000 word epic. Most players won’t read it all and those that do will probably forget 90% of what they read. Keep it brief and to the point. Ideally, at the start of a campaign, a primer should only be two sides long.
  • Updated: A primer that is out of date is almost as useless as not having a primer at all. Add and update information as it becomes relevant. This could include a handout on a town the PCs will be visiting soon, rumours and legends about a dungeon they plan to investigate and so on. Providing updated information in “bite-sized” portions makes it much more likely the players read and remember the information therein.
  • Printed Copies: By all means, disseminate the campaign primer via email, but make certain at the first session that every player has a printed copy for his character folder. Printed copies are way easier to access during a game and are far less distracting than electronic copies.

So that’s what I think should be in a campaign primer. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.


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