For Awesome Campaigns Build A Player Campaign Book
By Kit Reshawn
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve run into a bit of a problem when it comes to running campaigns. Getting people together for a session becomes more and more difficult, so players often forget details about previous sessions.
I’ve played with GMs who have a rule that can be reduced to, “If you cannot remember then your character cannot.” However, I’ve never found this satisfying, especially when people are trying to recall events that would only be a couple days old in game time, but which happened in a session 6 months ago.
By the same token, continually trying to remember what players know and answering questions can take up a lot of game time.
My solution is the Player Campaign Book. I fill it with notes and details players can reference to refresh their memories about previous sessions and plot details. I use a 3 ring binder.
What started out as a simple book has since grown into what I think is a powerful tool.
1. Game Session Summary
This is what the Player Campaign Book started out as, and honestly there are a lot of ways to make it work.
The most important thing is it needs to be organized in a way that players can quickly look up information about what has happened during the course of the campaign and refresh their memories about previous sessions.
This also happens to be a handy tool for players to use if they missed a session, letting them read up on what happened while they were away.
I like to handle this myself. Since I take notes during a session anyway, I simply write-up a summary of the session right after and put it in the notebook. I try to keep things down to 1 page while still touching on major events that happened.
For reference, I also note:
- Date the game session took place
- Game date(s) that passed during the session
- Locations visited
- Who was physically present for the session
The session summary could just as easily be done by a player, and maybe even take the form of a player’s journal entries. In this case, things that go unrecorded would need to be remembered by the players or the information is stuff their characters have forgotten, which can be an interesting twist.
This particular method could be a powerful planning tool as well, letting you know what players think is interesting, and informing you if they are overlooking details you expected them to pick up on.
A blend of the two above methods would also be possible. In this case each session would have an official GM written log followed by a second section that includes the thoughts one or more players have about the game events.
Regardless of which method is chosen, the important thing is you want players to have something to look over to refresh their memories.
By making this available to players, I was actually able to shorten the necessary recap time while also having to stop less often to answer questions about previous events. People with questions could simply pop open the session summary and look it up for themselves.
This resulted in a surprising net increase in available game time.
2. NPC Log
This section naturally grew out of the previous one. Sometimes players would have questions about a specific NPC instead of a session. In this case, it could be quite troublesome to find the details they wanted to know about, so I created this new section.
To solve the problem I added a new section to the binder that kept information about important NPCs players encountered.
What exactly constitutes an important NPC depends, but my rule of thumb is that any character my players want to go into this section is put in, and any character they want removed is taken out. Typically, these adjustments are made at the end of a session, with players telling me if they want someone taken out or put in after a session.
Usually people get added faster than they are taken out, but there is a certain state of flux, and every so often the section gets a major culling.
Every character that gets added starts out with just pretty basic information: a description and what information the players know about the character, such as reputation.
Players are encouraged to leave their own notes as well, which can be as simple as their thoughts on their ability to trust the NPC to as complex as a running history of their interactions (in effect, a log of their encounters).
I find this section especially helpful when planning. Any character that ends up in this section is, by its very nature, interesting to my players. As such, I know who to develop more and try to pull back into the plot (players often even help with this as they may try to go back and talk to the NPC again on their own).
Player notes on the characters also often provide a source of plot ideas.
I’ve seen a minor throwaway character that caught the interest of my players (because of his beard, of all things) end up getting developed and expanded upon until he ended up being a key player in a quest. All because of players showing interest in him and me having a window into their thoughts on possible ways he could be involved in the plot.
This was an experiment that started shortly after I added the NPC section. It is a collection of the current rumors the players have heard. The definition of current is rather loose, basically coming down to my own judgment.
I try to keep it down to either ongoing events (updating rumors as new information is heard) and taking rumors out once they can no longer impact the campaign or have been resolved.
Although this section sees a lot less use than others, it has important effects.
Most importantly, it gives players a ready-made set of possible plot hooks to investigate if they are wanting to take a break from the main quest or need to earn money fast.
It also allows me to give players a place to find out about current events elsewhere in the world (for example, I used this section to have them learn about a war going on in another country).
Again, players may take notes on the rumors section if they wish. Sometimes they have used it to take notes speculating about how this event might impact what they are currently doing. Every so often, this gives me wonderful plot ideas or makes me notice potential connections I had overlooked.
I am careful about folding player ideas into the story and don’t use most of them. Even when I do use their ideas, they are often modified. However, when something especially clever comes along, I will use it as is. This ends up being a sort of reward for the player who thought it up. Everyone likes to have the “I knew it!” feeling every so often.
4. Player Handouts
The player handouts section happened on its own and was completely unplanned. I love making use of player handouts, especially cool things I’ve made to add to the game setting.
I also hate throwing handouts away, so I began to keep them in the binder with everything else. Eventually there grew to be so many they needed to be organized, and they earned their own section.
It is a nice place to store things characters would have kept, such as maps, pages from a book, or artwork I’ve found for them. Player drawn maps also end up in here, along with any DM maps I hand out.
For mystery type quests where evidence is given to them, this section makes sure the things PCs have collected will always be there to be reexamined in light of new information.
People spend a lot of time looking here, partly because it helps them get into the game more. We all agreed, though, that notes should not be placed on the actual handouts, to keep things nice. Instead, a new piece of paper is placed into the binder for notes and simply kept with the handout it refers to.
Beyond just the handouts, I also have this end up being sort of a trophy room for the players. When they take down a major villain that has been getting in their way, the NPC’s character sheet is placed in this section as well.
Likewise, if something major is accomplished, they will often get something to place in here (for example, a letter of thanks from the King).
5. Player Notes
Last section, but possibly the second most important. Some of my players like to take their own notes but aren’t very good at keeping track of them. Because of this I would offer to keep them in the notebook so they wouldn’t get lost. Consequently, the character sheets ended up here as well because it made sense.
The player notes section stores anything the players make for their own use. This is a good spot to get a feel for how the players like your game and what they are thinking about it.
Because my players know I look at their notes (I’ve told them I do) sometimes I actually find messages for myself there as well, either something they don’t want the other players to know they are communicating to me (in the case of the secret evil character) to any gripes about how things have gone or how other players are behaving.
As it can act as a suggestion box, I have found this has helped head off potential problems for me. In one case, by a couple players letting me know that things were boring and not what they wanted to play, it gave me a chance to adjust things to be more fun. In another instance, it helped me resolve a budding player dispute.