Blogging Your Game Sessions
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #284
Keeping a written record of what happens in your gaming sessions is a good idea. Keeping that record in a place where all of your players can interact with it is an even better idea. For a long time, doing both meant creating your own campaign website or using a messageboard–both good solutions, but neither of them ideal. That’s where blogging comes in.
Although I’ve never blogged my game sessions, I have posted 70,000+ words of session summaries on my campaign website, and I write a weblog for GMs. This article is a combination of my knowledge of these two topics, and I wanted to mention that up front so that you know where I’m coming from.
A weblog (blog, for short) is a website that presents information in reverse chronological order (newest stuff at the top), with built-in automation to handle things like archiving your posts. Blogging is what you do when you post something to your blog, and it’s a pretty simple process. We’ll get into how you can start your own blog in a bit. Right now, let’s look at why you might want to blog your game sessions.
Most games take place between 1 and 4 times a month, for at least 4 hours per session, and a lot can happen in each session, as you well know! If you’re anything like me, even with notes, you have trouble remembering details from week to week. If you game infrequently, or take a break, even keeping track of the big picture can be difficult.
By blogging your sessions you eliminate this problem. Here are the 3 most important things to know about using a blog to keep track of your game:
- Write your blog posts within 24-48 hours after each session.
- Treat this as a first draft, with your goal being to get down all the details before you forget them (you can always revise it later).
- Set a time limit for yourself: how long you want to spending writing each post.
Typing up your post while everything is still fresh in your mind is critical. After a day or two, it gets harder to remember the things that made the session exciting and the little details that brought things to life. This is why you shouldn’t worry too much about how well-written your post is at first. Just get it all down, and then come back to it. You can even save your post as a draft, and it won’t appear on your blog until you’re ready.
The third tip might sound a little counterintuitive, but it comes from experience: writing up your game sessions can swallow up a lot of time, often more than you’d expect! If you don’t set a time limit, it can be easy to spend several hours polishing your post, getting every last little detail correct, and re-wording things until you’re completely satisfied. The problem is, after doing this a couple of times, it’ll start to feel too much like work and you might lose interest. Keep it short!
Session Blogging Best Practices
With the tip “keep it short” in mind, here are 6 things to think about when writing a session blog post:
- Write an entry for each session. If your sessions span several days, weeks, or more, of game time, consider listing the timespan at the top or bottom of the post, or break it up internally by day.
- Give each post a meaningful title (not just the session date), so that it’s easy to find it later.
- Use the past tense. It’s tempting to use the present tense (“Frodo walks…”) because it conveys a sense of immediacy, but trust me, in the long run it also becomes awkward to read. (If you don’t believe me, write up a paragraph about a recent session in the present tense, and then again in the past tense, and compare them.)
- Focus on the “limelight events”–the things that really made the session pop: climactic battles, dialogue that had the whole group rolling around in laughter, etc.
- Skip the boring stuff. Would you want to read about how much Neo paid for a cup of coffee? Probably not, so unless it’s important to the game to know how much Neo’s coffee cost, leave it out.
- Mention every PC at least once. Even if someone had an off night and their character didn’t do much, find a way to work them in. People like to read about themselves, and your players are no exception.
There are also things you can do easily with a blog that are hard to do elsewhere, so take advantage of the medium:
- The best thing about blogging your game sessions is that you can get your players involved through comments. Each post you put up has its own comments section, and this is a great way to get feedback (if you left something out, your players will tell you about it!), share mechanical details that would spoil the flow of the main post (“Remember that bomb you found in the warehouse? It was actually a dud.”) and recall the best moments of that session, among other things.
- If you want to put the PCs online, create individual pages for them. Link to these from your blog posts as needed, and encourage players to keep them up to date between sessions.
- Create separate pages for your recurring NPCs as well. Link to them from the main entries to refresh your players’ memories about who’s who.
- When possible, link to things outside of your blog, such as photos on Flickr [ http://www.flickr.com ] or other gaming related sites.
- Include character sketches, digital photos of props, and the like.
- If you’ve got a group that’s into doing things online, encourage your players to create their own blogs for their PCs. These can serve as character journals or places for the players to jot down their thoughts about clues.
This is also a good time to mention something that might or might not sound intuitive: some players just aren’t into doing game-related things between sessions (like reading and posting comments on your new blog). You should encourage everyone to participate, perhaps by offering in-game rewards such as bonus XP for doing so, but don’t push it, and don’t take it personally if some of your players don’t seem interested. By the same token, some groups are really into it, and everyone will participate without any prodding at all; it just depends on the nature of your group.
Choosing A Blog Service
Let’s say this all sounds good to you, and you’re ready to give it a shot. How do you start your own blog? Which service should you choose? How much programming do you need to know? Let’s tackle the first two questions at the same time: how to get started, and where to go.
There is a variety of blogging services, and each does basically the same things. The four best known have two things in common: they try to make the process of creating a blog as simple as possible, and they’re free (or have a free option).
I’ll cover those four here:
Which one to go with depends on two factors: how many features you need, and how much you’re willing to tinker with things.
Blogger and LiveJournal are the simplest: create an account, make a few choices, and you’re off. You don’t need to know any HTML to create your posts (Blogger has a WYSIWYG text entry screen), and they’re both easy to use. The downside is, while they offer good features, such as different templates to customize the look of your blog and ways to turn comments on and off, they don’t offer nearly as many features as Movable Type and WordPress. For example, if you want to create a static page–not a post–to describe an NPC, you can’t do that with LiveJournal or Blogger.
Movable Type offers three different options: a free downloadable edition, a paid downloadable edition, and a paid hosted version. For the first two options, you need your own website; if you don’t have a website, you can use the third option and they’ll host your blog for you. Movable Type is powerful and versatile, and it gives you a lot of control over how your blog looks and functions, but in turn, that means you need to know some HTML to get the most out of it.
WordPress is free, but requires you to have your own website to use it. (At the time of this writing, WordPress is working on a free hosted option, but it’s not available yet.) Like Movable Type, WordPress is feature-rich and gives you complete control over your blog, but requires a willingness to tinker to get the most out of it (much like Movable Type).
I started my blog, Treasure Tables [ http://www.treasuretables.org ], on Blogger because I wasn’t sure what I needed–it was pretty spur-of-the-moment. After a couple of months, I transferred everything over to WordPress because I found Blogger’s lack of features frustrating (I didn’t like the comments interface and I wanted to put my posts into categories, among other things). I know HTML and I have a website, so those potential barriers weren’t an issue for me.
Listing all of the pros and cons of these 4 services is outside the scope of this article, though, so here’s my recommendation: visit each of them, look around a bit, and think about how you might want to set up your blog. If you’re not interested in getting a website, go with Blogger or LiveJournal (I’d pick Blogger, as it has more features). If you already have or want to get your own website, and you want more features, go with Movable Type or WordPress.
Whichever option you choose, I want to emphasize again that this is a pretty simple process. In most cases, you can dive right in within a few minutes and worry about tweaking things later. The important part is to give it a shot. Choose one of the free options, and you can always drop it later if you decide it’s not your cup of tea.
Once you have your blog up and running, you should do these 3 things first:
- Set permissions so that only your players can leave comments, unless you want anyone who visits your blog to be able to do so. (Each service handles this a different way, but they all provide this option.)
- Write your first post (or posts, if you’re feeling ambitious!).
- Tell your players where to find your blog.
That’s it! Once you get the ball rolling, you’ll see that blogging your game sessions can be a lot of fun. In addition to the immediate benefit of having a record of your sessions that your whole group can interact with, you’ll also have something to look back on a few months (or years!) down the line.
Alongside his day job, Martin Ralya has been a freelance writer for the RPG industry since 2004. Martin has had the good fortune to work with a number of publishers, including E.N. Publishing, Expeditious Retreat Press, and Tabletop Adventures.
Martin has been GMing since 1989, and in July of this year he started Treasure Tables, a weblog for GMs that offers tips, ideas, and advice about roleplaying games. He lives in Utah with his girlfriend, Alysia, and their neurotic beagle, Charlie, in a house full of books.
NEW: Magic of Eberron
Magic of Eberron introduces a wealth of new arcane and divine spells, and artificer infusions. Chapters explore unusual manifestations of magic in Eberron, such as elemental binding, dragonshards and dragon magic, and the corrupted magic of the daelkyr. A chapter on lost magic explains how to make the discovery of new magical secrets a central feature of any Eberron campaign.
Readers’ Tips Of The Week
Online Tabletop Gaming
From Joel Fox
As gamers go off to college or to new jobs, the issue arises of how the gaming group will continue to play. Some people simply find new groups to play with, some participate in forums gaming, and some unfortunate people never find a viable option and simply stop playing.
A resource not often considered, however, is that of online tabletop gaming. There exists a number of programs that can connect people over the Internet, provide a graphical playing area, and allow people from all over the world to come together and clobber orcs.
Covered in this article will be a few of the programs available, tips for switching over to online tabletops, the use and operation of various programs and online resources at your disposal.
There are quite a few programs circling the Internet that allow for an online tabletop experience. Three of them are:
- OpenRPG is most prolific and easiest to use.
- Fantasy Grounds is another program, with a prettier interface.
- WebRPG is one with interesting combat grid options.
Personally I prefer OpenRPG because it’s the easiest to install, easiest to operate, and easiest on the wallet (it’s free).
If you’ve played on a real tabletop your whole gaming career, it will be harder to switch over than it will be if you’ve played by mail, forum, or other online resource. If this is the case, don’t fret: while it may be more difficult, it is by no means hard to learn to use these programs.
The largest consideration is that most (if not all) tasks are performed with the keyboard. Players type in their PCs’ actions and speeches, and the DM types in for NPCs and storytelling. As such, an important requirement for players is a decent typing speed.
Something that people worry about in this field is, on a 56k modem, they won’t be able to play. The simple nature of the programs and their interfaces is no more complex than a messaging program: as such, this is not a great hindrance. DSL or dialup, anyone can play on a virtual tabletop.
When gaming in person, players and dungeon masters can usually get across what they are trying to say using vocal clues such as tone, inflection, pitch, and timbre. In online tabletop gaming, however, these clues are gone in the traditional sense: everyone just types.
A good way to add flair to your actions and speeches on an online tabletop is to use formatting, such as bold, italics, underlining, different fonts and typefaces, and colors. While these may not be as effective as a spooky voice in person, it will at least convey the idea behind the message, which makes the online tabletop experience more like the real thing.
One more thing regarding the switch over is that, since no one will probably be in the same geographical locale, questions of fairness come into play. Unless you are doing all your dice rolling in the program itself (see below in Use and Operation), you will have to work on an honor system as to what people have rolled (and they for your rolls).
While groups of good friends probably won’t have any trouble with this, less chummy groups might have to institute an in- program rolling policy, which means all your dice will just sit in your box. Unused. Lonely. Gathering dust. *sniff*
Use and Operation
These programs, no matter which you choose, contain a variety of features that make playing easier. On the other hand, some things that are easy when in person become arduous and complicated when playing on a virtual tabletop.
Dice rolling is the first function available. While you can’t do more complicated rolls (such as dropping the lowest die), you can include bonuses, unique die types, and adding multiple dice types. Most have the standard dice (d4, d6, d10, etc.) as buttons you can click on, and the program will automatically insert the result into the chat window.
To establish your character’s personality, you can change the font to something more representative than Times New Roman 12. Typefaces, formatting, colors, sizes–these and more can make the difference between a streetwise ranger and a joyous barbarian.
Differentiating between talking and emoting can help establish mood as well. Look at the difference between these two lines of text:
- Jet: I’ll investigate the strange device
- Jet cautiously investigates the whirring device, keeping one eye on the violent black gauge.
Filling the holes left by a DM’s spartan typing can make all the difference: since the DM will be inputting a lot of information, you can help fill out the mood by adding minor things yourself.
Whispering can be used to keep extraneous chatter outside of the window, keeping other players focused on the game. From a gaming perspective, it can be used to isolate information and keep it to specific players. This can be useful for if the party splits up, or if only one PC notices a flicker of gold in the darkness.
You can upload images to a personal site (easiest is GeoCities, [ http://www.geocities.com ] for use as your figurines, or as any range of monsters or NPCs. Also, things like buildings, campfires, trees, and other objects or characters you would interact with can be put into the program as image files. Use gifs and pngs with transparent backgrounds for best effect. Background images for different environments can also be used, but solid colors work just as well.
Lastly, many programs can automate other functions, such as storing your character sheet. Other tasks include storing image locations in a customizable graphic interface, drawing lines and shapes with a paintbrush, saving character locations in long battles or dungeons for later, making hotkeys for actions and phrases, and who knows what else. By just fiddling around with these programs, you can best use them to suit your needs.
For both DMs and PCs, there are lots of resources available online. Some of these could be transferred over to a person- to-person environment, but a majority of them function specifically for online tabletops.
- Seventh Sanctum has a plethora of random generators: nearly every aspect of a game can be made with the generators found at this site. This is an especially important resource in an online tabletop setting, because when worrying about the interface, your ability to think up stuff on the spot could be hindered. http://www.seventhsanctum.com/
- RPGClassics, Video Game Sprites, and ShyGuy Kingdom hold a variety of sprites from console RPGs and other video games. These sprites can be downloaded, then uploaded to your own web space. These sites are excellent resources, as sometimes usable sprites are hard to come by: since these are console sprites, they are probably going to be around the size of the grid in the program.
- Other players who use virtual tabletops can be a great resource. Online forums and websites contain many players who can answer questions you have about the programs, or ways to speed up play.
- Product websites can sometimes provide information about the programs and other valuable resources.
A Dungeon Aimed At Character Development
From Ruben van der Leun
Recently, I had been thinking of using a character quiz in my current NWN campaign. Basically, quizzes were always meant to let the players think about their characters, but I decided to do it somewhat differently than providing the players with a simple sheet of paper with questions or a thread in the forums. I decided to put it as an obstacle for a small dungeon that hadn’t received any treatment yet.
Dungeons often tend to have riddles and puzzles to get to the next level or to remove an important obstacle. I usually don’t make use of them, but this time, I decided to go with it. However, the riddles were pretty unexpected for the group. Before each door leading to the next level, a single question was aimed each character. Doors were protected by a magic shield that weakened as each character answered.
Example questions asked were, “What was the saddest experience in your life?”, “What was the most joyful moment in your life?” The roleplaying that followed between the players was very good, with especially the first question being the toughest of them all. I recommend keeping the saddest moment question for last. It proved to be the most difficult to answer, especially with the whole party there.
I was willing to let each player tell their personal secrets alone before the door if the party was absent (a feat that’s not so difficult to do in NWN, although might be more difficult for tabletop). Although, it did help that the other characters did hear it and learned more about each other, I meant for this experience to force the players to think more about their character’s dreams and goals.
At the end of the session, I received quite a bit of positive feedback from the players. It made them think more about their characters, it allowed them to learn more about the other characters (which was especially good, because the group had a new player), and overall, was a small step in assisting them with developing their characters.
Pet NPCs as Monkey Wrenches
From Melachiah Falkane
An effective way of setting your PCs on their toes is to take advantage of one simple fact: every GM has a pet NPC, especially if you have been playing with your group for many years and they understand how you GM.
Usually (from my experience) the pet NPC is the villain or someone of high importance. I prefer to make him someone not so important, someone who seems on par with the PCs. However, in my last campaign the players caught on rather quickly to who my “pet” was and used that information to their advantage.
Learning from that I came up with an idea for my next campaign. I, of course, still have my pet NPC. However, I purposely don’t overuse him or bring him out too often…. Instead, I replaced his significance in my last campaign with a decoy.
By sprinkling a comment here and there in idle conversation about so-and-so being one of your old characters from way back when and bringing him out quite often, the players instantly assumed this was my new pet.
Little did they know I created him specifically for dying. Once the players had it in their heads this was my pet NPC (about 10 sessions), I then let him die in a very graphic and dramatic way and kept up the pace as if it didn’t bother me in the slightest.
The group had no idea what to think or how to react to the NPC they thought was going to be prevalent through the whole campaign, effectively throwing a monkey wrench in their perception of the new campaign.
After that, I took it a step further and had a second decoy (who also died) just in case they caught on to what I was doing. The whole time they had already met the true pet NPC who they have yet to suspect.
D&D Forum Game Seeks Players
From Joe Jechenthal III
I’m running a 3.5 D&D game set in 1st Ed. Greyhawk. The party has begun in The City of Thieves with a modified “Mad God’s Key” from the Dungeon magazine. Heavily modified! lol!
Comments On The Ogre Ambush Tip Correction
You may or may not want to print this next issue since I’m sure you’d like to avoid an ‘in newsletter’ argument. So feel free to mention it without giving any credit to me at all.
But the person who wrote in about the Ogre Ambush problems and ogres can’t have this feat or that forgot two things.
- As a DM, we are encouraged to “remake the wheel” when it comes to monsters and constantly change things to keep our players off guard and interested and keep our adventures fresh. This is a good example of it and any player who argued with me about this for a long amount of time would be considered rules lawyering in my game.
- Wolves have improved trip. Are they smarter than ogres? Monsters very often have feats that they don’t have prereqs for. The feats for monsters usually describe a special ability they have, whereas in humans they typically describe training. A monster does not need prereqs the same way a monk does not for his abilities.
Again, do what you will. I just thought that the Ogre Ambush was a decent encounter and would hate for the guy who wrote it to feel discouraged.