Getting Things Started with Homemade Player's Booklets

Finding players can be hard. Finding people who’ve always wanted to game but never have before is easy, but can be very intimidating for otherwise eager newcomers, even with a “Session Zero” dedicated to character creation.

Rather than expecting my players to “buy-in” with what can now be a $30-70 investment in a new rulebook for a new game, I usually cobble together a zine-ish distillation of the character creation and the absolute basics of the core rules. I include any house rules for people who know the core game, and, also, a “this is what everybody knows” run-down of the game-world. I’ve found this was helpful 4 years ago for a B/X campaign I ran, and have done similar for a d6 Star Wars, a Call of Cthulhu, and I’m currently putting one together for a DCC game I want to get started.

Has anybody else tried this with their own groups?


This is one of the reasons why I like simpler game systems. Taking something like Electric Bastionland and just being able to present all the rules necessary for the game and character creation in a few spreads makes such a difference, and is far less terrifying for newcomers. I find it intimidating myself with even some of the 40+ page rulesets.

I’ve found it makes such a difference in person taking a character sheet, blowing it up to a larger page size (usually A5 to A4) and annotating it with the relevant basic rules so that it can be passed around at the table. People see the rules and have a visual hook to loop them round, and makes searching for a particular rule relating to something much simpler.


In recent years I almost always made Player’s Guide specifically tailored to the game/campaign that includes the most important rules, house rules (if any), and setting info. I have made multiple such documents for AS&SH, as well as for Werewolf: the Forsaken (2nd ed), Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, Zweihänder, and Vikings & Valkyries.


I run mostly Knave with small bits of Maze Rats throw into it which really has helped me get some of those “always-wanted-to-try” players involved. I can print out (or send) the potential player the Knave ruleset, which is really like 4 pages, and their characters are contained to a index card as their sheet. This is my zero session with these players, simply showing them how light the ruleset is, with a low barrier to entry (especially with cost). I don’t even really expect them to read it, it’s mostly just for them to understand I’m not throwing a book at them in order to play.

Thanks to Knave’s character creation process, it’s quite fun to generate characters and it’s a very quick process - lots of randomness which players tend to enjoy. I include this process in what I see as session 1. They don’t need to do anything before hand in order to get started in one of my Knave games, just a willingness to try an OSR session. I don’t tell them to bring the ruleset I provided earlier, because I supply an even more simple 1 page version of the entire ruleset for them to use a cheatsheet. This really acts as my player’s handbooks, while they maintain their character on their index cards.

From there it’s easy to tack on additional things, Knave is meant to homebrew around, so you can start creeping in more complicated aspects from other games you might want to use, at a nice pace for the players to understand. Adjust the cheatsheet accordingly if these new rules need to be referenced by the players pretty often.

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Depending on the game I provide a more or less complete document on the setting (which may be highly detailed if I play something like Vampire Dark Ages or just a bunch of guidelines if I play something with a less-defined setting) but generally skip the rules. I prefer to handle character creation at the table, because it’s more fun, and after that everybody has access to the manual(s), because I tend to put them at the center of the table.

After reading Beyond the Wall’s booklets, though, I started thinking at making something similar. They guide the character creation towards a certain archetype and also help setting up a party. So, next time, I’d like to try providing everybody with something like that.


Also, I found this very interesting “teaching character sheet” on Reddit today, which might be really useful for new players:

The notes explaining what each element does are pretty nice, since they don’t take up much space, but provide useful information. This is something I’d like to see in more products.


The first time I saw this was in the 5th Edition CALL OF CTHULHU ruleset where on a two page spread you had all the basic info required to create a character applied directly to the company-designed character sheet - quite the innovation for 1992.


I do something similar, including a “world as you know it” booklet that I update every couple of months. Since I run very sandboxy campaigns, the booklet helps the players keep track of their accumulated knowledge, at least on a broad scale.


While I also have character generation the old fashioned way, my most recent games all have online character generators on my blog. Busy lives and easy distractions make every second at the table precious, and considering how much of an attention-leech phones can be, I figure putting them to use rather than fighting them is the way to go. I even got rid of having to press the button, the page loads with a character already there and raring to go!

I did.
they’re here.
I found myself running a lot of one shots at a local gaming cafe and new players can be intimidated by a book full of rules.
Also by giving each class their own subset of core rules to follow it meant less for me to keep track of. :slightly_smiling_face: