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by Mike on 14 November 2022
Handouts are a valuable and under-appreciated element of D&D game prepration. Building and delivering handouts for our D&D games serve many purposes.
For a video on this topic, see my YouTube video on Building Fantastic Handouts for D&D.
We don't often think about how building handouts helps us prepare our game, but they surely do. Thinking through a handout helps us understand what's happening in the game and in the world we share with our players. It tells us what's important. It forces us to think about things in concrete ways. We need real names, real places, real plots to fill in our handout.
A handout might include details of the characters, descriptions of coming events, secrets of the villains, location names, the names of important NPCs, descriptions of potential monsters, and potential treasure — components of all eight steps from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master. In this way, the handout itself is our game prep.
Often a handout is a note found by the characters (and thus handed to the players). Such notes might include:
Each of these can give valuable information to the characters, and thus to the players.
To build a handout, use any word processor with fancy fonts. Google Docs works just fine for making handouts and has a bunch of fonts that work well for fantasy fonts including:
Other word processors and the website Dafont also have hundreds of potential fonts to use for our handouts. Select a font that makes sense for the writer. A drow high priestess is going to have a fancier and more beautiful font than a ratfolk ruffian.
Print your handout on fancy copper parchment resume paper to make it feel like cool parchment. A 500 pack of fancy resume paper lasts a long time. For a cheaper solution crumple up and soak normal paper in coffee. It's cheaper but takes longer.
Tear the edges of the page to make it look unique and non-uniform. Crumple it up and flatten it back out to make it feel even more rustic.
If you're like many DMs and running your games online, you can still make great use of handouts. First, you can still make it physically and share a photo of the handout in your online platform of choice. Photos of physical things still give players the feeling that this handout is real even if they can't touch it themselves. Instead of, or in addition to, sharing a photo of the physical handout, you can send the handout as a PDF or a screenshot so players can read it. Instead of printing it out on resume paper, you can use textured backgrounds for the documents to give them the same rustic feel even online.
When writing handouts, keep these thoughts in mind:
Balance both of these questions when writing your handout. What would the author put down on paper? Lean towards revealing too much. Players only grasp half of what you're throwing out so being too coy and secretive means they're going to miss stuff. Instead, lean towards revealing clear and useful information in your handout.
Second, ask what information helps the player and put that in the handout. Fill your handout with specifics. Don't be too abstract. Say what's really going on. Use proper names. Use specific location names. Use nouns and verbs. Give important details. Pack your handout with clear information useful to the characters. If you want to make it even easier, bold the important words in a note to make it easy for the players to reference them.
Keep your handout to one page. Any longer and it'll be too hard to grasp. Fancy fonts can be hard to read so make sure the font is big enough to represent handwriting.
Writing handouts isn't just about building an accessory we hand to our players. Writing handouts helps us prepare our games. It helps us get our hands around the story — identifying what's important and where the focus of our story lies. Handouts don't just help the players focus on what's going on, they help us focus on what's going on too.
Handouts are a fantastic high value element of game prep. Write an awesome handout for your very next game.
The Sly Flourish Patreon had a lot of big releases this past week.
First, I added a new NPC villain biography and stat block for the priest-assassin Brother Cavel. I also greatly expanded the "Worlds Beyond the Arches" section with new adventure hooks and more narrative descriptions. Patrons can find this in the City of Arches PDF.
I also released a new random generator for items, monuments, locations, treasure, encounters, and adventure hooks that flavor the results with factions from different worlds including Eberron, Midgard, Forgotten Realms, and more. The link for this generator is on your main Patreon rewards page, pinned at the top of the Sly Flourish Patreon homepage along with all your other rewards.
Patrons also get a sneak preview and playtest of a new project I'm working on with Teos Abadia and Shawn Merwin. The most recent Patreon post has details.
The Sly Flourish Patreon is packed with lots of fantastic stuff. If you're not a Patreon, you should really check it out.
Each week I record an episode of the Lazy D&D Talk Show in which I talk about all things D&D. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:
Also on the Talk Show, I answer some of the questions I get on the monthly Sly Flourish Patreon questions and answer thread. Here are last week's questions and answers:
Each week I think about what I learned in my last D&D game and write them up as D&D tips. Here are this week's D&D tips. What tips did you learn in your last game?
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