Thursday, November 18, 2010

an exemplary campaign hand-out

The History of Britannia as told by Kyle the Younger is one of the goodies included in the original boxed set for Ultima IV, one of my favorite computer games from the 80s.  In 36 digest-sized pages it tells a newbie pretty much everything they need to know about the setting.  Here's how it breaks down:

Chapter I: Political History - 2 pages - an overview of the action of the previous installments in the series and brief outline of the current status quo.

Chapter II: Geography - 4 pages - describes some of the key places on the map (a separate handout) and what you might encounter at them

Chapter III: Fellowship - 4 pages - outlines each of the eight player character classes in a paragraph or so each

Chapter IV: Mercantile - 4 pages - where to go to spend your gold and what you can buy

Chapter V: Transportation - 3 pages - talks about the usage of horses, ships and moongate transportation, describes the kind of terrains to be traversed

Chapter VI: Weapons and Armor of the Realm - 3 pages - a paragraph for each item of offense and defense available for purchase

Chapter VII: Magical Arts - 2 pages - brief description of the magic system, there's more in a separate booklet just for magic

Chapter VIII: Bestiary - 8 pages - a paragraph describing monsters from Bat to Zorn, with a separate page for those extra wicked dudes, the Balrons and Devils.

Chapter IX: The Skills of Combat - 2 pages - some of this is mechanical (e.g. advising the user to put the armor on before rushing into a fight) but there's also some good stuff on fight-or-flight and the ethics of combat.

Chapter X: Modern Civilization and Our Universe - 3 pages - a discussion of the themes and goals of the game

Afterword - 1 page - put the central quest of the game square on the shoulders of the reader

Not a bad model to follow for a tabletop game, I think.  For many systems you could probably squeeze in a chargen section and not run over 48 pages total.  Add a map in the center of the book and you're good to go with new players.

Something I can't really share via the internet is the appeal of the tactile experience of handling and paging through this book.  The cover is done in a faux leather sort of finish and the interior pages are heavy and with a pebbly feel not completely unlike an original Judges Guild map overland. 

And the brown-on-cream color scheme of the insides is pleasing on the eye as well.  Here's the first interior page:

That illo is how every adventure should end, with a little touch of romance and skull-faced castle melting in the distance.

Nowadays these sorts of booklets aren't hard to make.  All you need is a long arm stapler and a PDF program that will Print to Booklet.  Or just take you manuscript to Kinkos and they'll do it for you.  I have yet to walk into an office supply store and see paper as awesome as used in The History of Britannia, but it's gotta be out there somewhere.