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.


  1. Denis Loubet's artwork is a big part of the appeal, too.

  2. Oh, hell yeah. Loubet can really put the pencil to the paper.

  3. Ask a scrapbooker- I have loads of untold resources for finding some of the most bitchin' paper ever.

  4. I'm a fan of printed paper myself, but I did find this using the googles:

    Though the headings don't quite match up to what you posted.

  5. Anonymous11:31 AM

    Oh man, that takes me back. As a kid I spent hours poring through the pages of the History of Britannia and the Book of Mystic Wisdom, writing secret messages in the runic script, admiring the cloth map...

    I would be enthralled if any referee gave me a campaign handout that was even half as awesome as this.

  6. I miss this aspect of video games. Back in the day, it was difficult to have material like this in the game itself -- remember the rpgs which didn't have location descriptions, but instead sent you to a numbered paragraph in the handbook for the info? -- but as technology has improved, this kind of thing has been dropped, with nothing to replace it.

    Stuff like the Bioware rpgs and the latter Final Fantasy games include gazetteers and bestiaries in the game itself, which is a step in the right direction, but I miss the days when you'd get a whole bunch of stuff with your video game purchases. Proper useful stuff, too, not just a Halo artbook free with the limited edition, or whatever. They're expensive enough nowadays.

    Sorry, wandered off topic a bit there.

  7. The Ultima books also bridged the gap between the limitations of the game's "tile" graphics and a player's desire to want virtual 3d depth when playing. It worked beautifully.

  8. Anonymous4:55 PM

    Wish I'd played these when I was younger, because I've tried more recently and found them difficult to get into. But they seem like cool games.

  9. There is a scan of the document online, which I am looking at for ideas for my own sandbox.

  10. Here's a link to the book online --

    It's well put together!

  11. Anonymous5:56 PM

    For those who actually want to try this at home, the staplers are usually called "long reach" or "deep throat" (yes, really) staplers.

  12. Anonymous9:32 PM

    I played the hell out of Ultima III BITD and I think Ultima IV was the first CRPG my brother & I actually bought (pooling paper route money, no doubt!). The booklets were amazing; I still have some of that stuff, including the cloth map and funky coin.

    But anyway you are right, that is a fairly prefect presentation, and something to aspire to. Every homebrew game should have one.