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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

No Homework for the Last-Minute Player

Brendan at Necropraxis wrote a post on No Homework that players shouldn’t have to study up on character builds or game world backstory just to play the game. In fact, it’s kind of antithetical to old school play.

I couldn’t agree more, as it’s part of the foundation for my own Old School Player Manifesto, which I will now quote in full:
  1. You shouldn’t have to know the rules.
  2. You are not your character sheet.
  3. You’re an adventurer. Adventure!
  4. If you want to try something, try it!
I already wrote a couple follow-up posts explaining what I meant by all that, which should explain why it’s connected to Brendan’s No Homework Manifesto. So I’ll mention two other things instead…

First, I’m also in favor of a lot less homework for GMs, as can be seen from my Last-Minute GM ideas and my Nine and Thirty Kingdoms setting. It’s not just because I’m too lazy. It’s also because creating too much backstory for the world means the players have to learn that backstory in order to study it.

Second, elsewhere I was involved in a conversation about what to call Valyrian Steel in a homebrew setting. My suggestion was “Why not ‘Valyrian Steel’?” I didn’t explain all my reasoning for this, but my experience is that D&D settings, both homebrew and published, tend to be 90% a mishmash of stuff GMs have seen elsewhere, in books, magazines, comics, film, and TV, and that’s a good thing. Having Tolkien elves and dwarves in your game world means people kind of know what to expect, since everyone’s seen or read The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit by now. It reduces homework. Even if you want something different, you start with what people know and then list up to three short sentences that explains what’s different.

It’s why things like The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need and The Lands of Clichéa work as a setting. Everyone has already “lived” in that shared reality for ages, so it feels like home.

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  1. I think giving the players history, pantheon, even maps of the kingdom (aka homework) works nicely as a handout. It means I don't have to read/explain to them the basic stuff their characters would already know growing up in that environment and we can worry about things their characters don't know. By using hand-outs they can read them at the table, color on them, whatever, on their own time and make informed decisions.

    1. Depends on the length of the handout. I'm thinking bullet points for a few cultural elements, fill in almost all the details together as you play. Analogy to things in the real world, history, or media to keep information compact.

  2. I posted how I do it on my blog - I use a one pager for 1st timers/convention players, but I also provide a wiki for those that do want depth.

  3. I think it all depends on the group and its preferences. I think minimalist is fine, but I can also appreciate backstory/detail heavy settings as well (though I might not dig much into to them). I went a bit further on my blog as well.