RPT#17: 6 Tips For Great Campaign Journals
Today’s Roleplaying Tips Newsletter is all about helping you create and maintain awesome campaign journals, and how to get your players’ to help you with them.[toc]
A Brief Word From Johnn
After my summer walkabout, I’m raring to go with being a better game master. It’s a never-ending glorious learning journey, and I’m so happy to be sharing it with you.
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Today is an article type email. Once a month I’ll pick tips from the ancient archives and refresh them a bit. In this edition, we refresh RPT#17 with ideas on how to track your campaign better with campaign journals.
6 Quick Tips For Great Campaign Journals
Although campaign journals are their own reward in the long run, an immediate incentive from the game master can help a player get over the short term hump for keeping a campaign journal until it becomes a habit.
Give out experience points, hero points, or story points relative to the size of the contribution. Also consider a few good luck or good karma bonuses, such as automatic successes, fortunate events, or pleasant surprises.
Celebrate The Journal So It Becomes Its Own Reward
Make the journal a celebration of the players, GM, and shared campaign experience. Integrate it during play and make it important.
- Perform a “Reading of the Scrolls” at start of sessions to review last session’s PC antics.
- Ask players when they request information from the campaign journal that they do it in-character. Make the journal something the characters are doing too.
- As GM, request journal information in spotlight manner to acknowledge the player’s journalizing dedication in front of the group.
- Record funny things players say and quote them once in awhile for great laughs. (Bonus points if NPCs are doing the quoting.)
- Edit and enhance the journal between sessions.
Have fun with it and make it part of the play.
Keep The Campaign Journal Interesting & It Will Keep The Interest Of The Journalizer
Instead of a boring chronology of events, make the journal interesting by writing from the character’s point of view — including his prejudices, opinions, insults, and compliments. Add personal comments about other characters in the journal: great feats, high points, and low points. Make the journal about the characters.
This point of view makes it entertaining for everyone to read and for the journalizer to write. And if the other party members disagree with his opinions, well, they can just start their own journal now can’t they?
Take Brief Notes In-Session And Flesh Out Afterwards
During sessions, just focus on grabbing the important details and flesh things out during slow periods or after the game. Use point form notation or mind mapping to capture the main points quickly without interrupting play.
RPT reader M. Sapp says, “The most realistic trick I’ve found is to keep quick notes and fill in the blanks later that night or the next day. The following is a quick list of things to jot down: Names, places, travel time, enemies fought, things found, and any one-liners you liked. Keep these notes divided by day. Follow up on filling in the details after the game and a nice journal begins to form.”
Use A Voice Recorder
Record sessions so the journalizer can polish up her notes after the game. The player can worry less about capturing everything in the moment and enjoy the game more. Afterwards, they can use software like VLC to listen to the session at 1.5x or 2x speed to fill in details missed or noted incorrectly. This works especially well for keeping a record of great quotes from the players, characters, and GM.
A session recording also provides valuable feedback to you for public speaking and game analysis.
Another option is to live stream your game. Use a live streaming service like Twitch.tv or Google Hangouts and broadcast to an audience or for your own later reviewing.
Commit & Keep Your Self-Promise
Understand that maintaining campaign journals takes time and effort. There is no hands-free technique unfortunately. So make it a real goal to keep a journal and then do it. Do it every session and don’t get frustrated if you feel you’re not doing a perfect job. Just by keeping up with it your skills will improve. Journalizing will become habit and therefore become easier. And soon the journal grow and become inspiring all by itself.
I would be remiss if I did not mention my Campaign Logger app. With its automagic tagging and simple Twitter-like interface, it makes taking session notes fast and easy. It tracks names, locations, items, XP, encounters, plots, and world details in a simple and efficient manner. Never lose a session detail again. It comes in Web/Browser, Android, and Windows versions currently. Read more about it here.[graphic-divider]
Campaign Journal Tips from Readers
“We lost Bill today. The Goblins got him.”
M. J. Young
As it happens, I keep detailed campaign joutnals during gameplay. I’ve been able to go back and reconstruct combats that took place years before. I also keep narrative journals or histories of the adventures, regardless of on which side of the screen I am. But it’s important to understand that these are not the same thing, even though doing each helps with the other.
A game log has to be kept during the game, and is nothing more or less than the kind of detailed notes you would take during lectures. Write down everything you can, as it happens. Make sure you have lots of paper, and don’t worry about form — it’s the facts that matter, not the presentation. The game log is going to be useful in many ways. Depending on the game, it could help in determining experience, treasure gained, new equipment, and much more. It also becomes the best record of what was said and done during the game.
But it’s not the history. Don’t even try to write the history during the game session. It can’t be done. There’s too much happening, and the rush of events is greatest when the events themselves are most significant. Besides, it will often be the case that the history has to tell some things backwards. The log will detail combat in terms of who hit and who was hit, how much damage was done or taken, and what the outcome was. But the history will often begin, “We lost Bill today. The Goblins got him.” The details follow.
That means if you’re going to write a history, you have to write it between game sessions. I figure it will take me maybe an hour to convert the notes of a long game session into a story. But part of the conversion takes place in your head and your heart between the end of the game session and the moment you sit down to write it, because during that time you begin to understand a little better how your character feels about what happened, and whether these events will make a difference to him tomorrow.
If you’re having trouble, take a step back and consider format. There are a lot of ways to do a journal (I’ve done a lot of them myself). You can write it from the perspective of a historian looking back at the events from years in the future, presupposing that at least one of the characters will ultimately become a great figure in history. That’s probably toughest, but works well for the referee.
If you are one of the player characters, you can write it as your character diary, or as letters to a loved one somewhere else, recounting what happened. As referee, you can do the same through the eyes of a non-player character. But there are other styles that can be very effective. For example, many characters have superiors of one sort or another. In AD&D1, Cavaliers, Paladins, Samurai, Ninja, Yakuza, and Sohei have clearly structured hierarchies. Other classes (Monks, Clerics, Druids, Knights of Solamnia) have superiors in a looser sense. I’ve said elsewhere the referee can require players to write character reports to their superiors on a regular basis, but even if the referee doesn’t require such a thing, the player can do it on his own initiative. This collection of sequential reports makes for an excellent history.
And if you think you can’t do it yourself, here’s an idea. Get a looseleaf binder, and at the end of each session ask all the players to please have their characters write a letter home to some imagined relative or friend, telling about their experience. Then bind all the letters together in the book. This should give you both a rich and full history, and also provide nuances of perspective, often telling the same events from different perspectives (as the cavalier writing to his liege takes full credit for destroying the foe and the fighter confides in his brother that he was terrified even as he delivered the fatal blow).
Divide & Conquer
Here are some ideas that have worked for my groups using campaign journals.
Splitting up the people writing the journal helps so everybody has a chance and it keeps the action flowing. The easiest way to do this is to have half the party with scratch paper, and let each of them write it out when they are not in the busy part of the story. At the end of an adventure, one person compiles the info into one journal, taking the most exciting bits from everybody’s writing. This gives it the feel of a true history being written by the victor.
For the single person or GM who wants to have their own journal to write up that has their own particular flair, a small tape recorder works the best. Just put it on record at the times you feel it is important to your journal and then compile a journal at the end of each session. The best part about this one is you can also record some of the cool and exciting quotes from the characters about the villains, situations or strange spoutings.
Hope this is helpful for you.
Check Out Castle Falkenstein
kount figaro merryandrew IX
One of the guys in my gaming group asked if we could have some sort of record of the chronicles we play, which I’m all in favor of! I love the idea of a collage “book” of all the gaming stuff.
One suggestion is to go look at the Castle Falkenstein RPG. As well as being a brilliant game in its own right, it has good suggestions about character and GM journals/records (it’s essential to the game).
Use Journals For Background Actions
I can’t recommend campaign journals enough. I also use the format to allow players to describe backstory and stuff they do in between adventures.
I find it helps to develop characters. Some of the best developed characters are gung-ho into this method.
Rewarding players helps. For my Ars Magica saga, I award experience points.
And it’s fun to post all this stuff on your game’s webpage.
Take The Load Off The GM
Motivation. Even good players sometimes need a bit of motivation to get off their butts and contribute a little extra. My suggestion for campaign journals is to offer a little in-game reward of some sort. Whether you are using D&D (experience points) or Amber or Everway (offer a spare point of something in a stat, and just take that point away when they don’t produce) or something else. But reward the players in the game for contributing this stuff.
Players in my campaigns would sort of contract to produce one ‘diary entry’ or ‘letter home’ or sketch or whatever per game session, and for the ones they pull through, they end up 1 point higher in ‘Fire’ or something. When I played Amber I did a whole set of trump cards and a four page comic. Amateurish as hell, but it added to the campaign to have an actual trump card of my home shadow I could whip out.
Payoff. When the campaign is over assemble the collection, along with maps, sketches, NPC write-ups, group photos, location descriptions, etc. Photocopy it all and give each player a copy, along with a new character sheet. I’m about to do this because I’m shutting Planescape down in favor of Providence. This is sort of the Martha Stewart thing — people appreciate these mementos more often than not, even if they think they won’t.
The other thing is, if you get all your players working on this stuff, it takes a hell of a load off of the GM.[graphic-divider] [rpt-sign-off]