Everyone talks about how important it is for a gaming group to be on the same page and have similar expectations of what’s allowed at the table. Plenty of GMs will explain that all one needs to do is discuss everything with the players before the first session starts. But it can be difficult to remember all the topics you might want to cover, and what you leave out can come back to haunt the game later. It can also be daunting for players to speak up (particularly when they are new to the game or the group).
New GMs might be wondering: Where do you even begin? Where should you end?
To this end, I’ve compiled a campaign character sheet. This can be a sheet for the whole group to fill out, expressing desires and conditions in a quick, organized format. It’s systemless and is not genre-specific, in the hopes of being applicable to as many games as possible. You may want to add or remove sections, depending on your needs. The DM can fill out the sheet first to cover what they are most interested in running, and then show it to the players to start a conversation. A group could fill it out at the same time, or fill it out during the week before a game and share the results with the group before speaking face-to-face. Online-only groups can get to know a lot more about each other by sharing their results.
The first section of the sheet is expressly about the type of campaign desired: the system (as well as edition), power level, frequency of combat, setting, module, and level of cooperation expected from the PCs. You also get to express opinions on optional game elements like miniatures, open rolling, digital desktops, graphic descriptions, backstories, and so on. You might discover that there are things you would like to see during play that you hadn’t realized before. A DM might decide that there are certain elements they definitely don’t want to allow.
The next section is about the player characters. Do you want to have PCs advance quickly and use magic freely? Perhaps you’re hoping that magic will be rare and special, instead. You may want a local adventure, or a planar-hopping one, full of death and danger. You may expect your character to die and to have backup sheets ready. Is a backstory needed or wanted? If you’ve had a DM murder all the NPCs who meant something to your character in the past, you can make it clear that you do not want to repeat that experience.
After that, there is a section for the DM’s stats. How much experience do you have to offer? Do you view your role as a DM in a particular way, such as a worldbuilder, an impartial judge, or strategic opponent? You can play up some of your specialties; it doesn’t hurt your players to know that you’re good at one-shot adventures, character voices, and maps. You can also take note of some things that people feel strongly about, like the DM fudging dice rolls, and setting some policies, like whether or not players are required to have their own books.
Finally, the main sheet ends with a section for players to offer information about themselves. It might help your group to know if you have been a DM before, or if you are a brand new player. You might know what you are good at as a player and/or what you most enjoy, like being open to anything or remembering the rules. You should consider what your main goals are in gaming right now. Years ago, you might have been at the table mainly for different reasons. It will definitely help your DM and group to know if you are mainly attending for socialization or strategy. You can and should also express your preferences about things like smoking or being recorded during play.
There is a second sheet for mature topics that can arise during gaming. In case you haven’t figured this out yet, everything here is optional; you don’t have to fill out any portion of the sheet you don’t want to. This includes the mature topics page, which can be deleted or modified, if you save your own copy of the workbook. But I highly suggest you consider filling out some portion of it, especially if any of the topics make you have a deeply unhappy reaction. Go with your gut - if you really don’t want to deal with torture in your game, let your fellow gamers know. If you don’t mind if NPCs are tortured, but you very much mind if PCs are, then mark that down.
You may not expect that these things would come up at all in fantasy settings. You might believe you already know how your group feels about certain issues, and that they know your boundaries, especially if you have gamed together for years. You might even figure that things like animal abuse won’t matter in a fictional world, where no one is being hurt. The main problem with assuming you know how it will go, or how others think, is that you don’t. No matter how many years you’ve gamed with someone, you don’t know everything they’ve been through. And things change as gamers age; what might have been laughed at when you’re 20 could be cause for tears when you’re 50.
I have seen the fallout from such things for a long time, which is why I have included this page and discussion. Plenty of games have been disrupted by controversial topics and groups have been torn apart when people’s boundaries and feelings were not respected. Perhaps some of the chaos cannot be avoided, given how different people are and how callous we can be - but if some discomfort can be avoided by filling in a line on a sheet, then it’s worth doing. If a group can stave off disaster with a little forethought, why not try it? Good groups can be hard to find.
The first section in my mature topics sheet covers common issues like slavery, drugs, and sexism. These elements can come up in stories - and make people uncomfortable - quickly, so it’s best to know where you stand.
The rest of the sheet covers romance and sex because of how often games have gone sour due to mishandling these matters. If a DM is not comfortable with flirting in-character with PCs, then that should be noted. If a player is interested in their character being able to get pregnant but can’t stand for miscarriage to be an option, they should make that known. If a player wants a freewheeling sexual adventure, they should make sure everyone else is on board. There is a section specifically about orientation and gender because it could be quite important to a player to explore or eschew those topics. You can establish how okay you are with each one in a fictional setting, and which characters can comfortably be involved.
I don’t know if anyone will ever use this resource, but I offer it here humbly, as a way to start a conversation and perhaps save some hard feelings down the line.