3 Quick Tips For Taking Session Notes

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1061

I asked Platinum Patron Michael what his worst GM skill is. Here’s his reply:

My worst skill is being able to keep track of and incorporate all of the improvisation I do every session into the larger scope of my campaign.

Mostly because I don’t write it down and I forget.

This wasn’t always a problem before I had kids. I had time to sit down afterward and take detailed session notes while they were still fresh in my mind.

I try to keep notes during session but I just suck at it.

I think I have a hard enough time just keeping up with all the players.

I don’t know about you, but as rewarding as I find being a GM, it’s pretty exhausting.

Thanks for sharing this, Michael. I get mentally and emotionally exhausted too, especially from intense sessions with lots of improv and roleplay.

I am also guilty of not writing enough notes during sessions.

It depends a lot on the group.

I’ve got three monthly campaigns going now, and here’s how my session notes rank:

  • Barbossa Campaign: I take several good notes during the game
  • Terror in the Badlands Campaign: I take a few notes, but not as many as I should
  • Hobo Princes Campaign: I take almost zero notes and must rely on player notes kept in a Google Doc

I created Campaign Logger to ensure tech is not the reason I take poor or scant notes in a session.

What’s interesting is how player types and play style affect my session logging.

My Barbossa and Badlands games seem to give me more time for quick notes.

In Hobos, I GM for five hours without a break and with few party discussions. The players know each other well — I’ve been GMing several of them for 13 years now — and they reach concord and develop good plans fast. I also rely on Colin to take his usual fantastic session notes.

So I get it. In some games you don’t want to stop for logging. You want to keep the focus and fast pace bubble going for as long as possible.

But capturing key session details is important. You’ve got to maintain consistency of names, locations, and events or glaring logic bombs will drop on you and blow up your campaign.

So here are some quick tips to help you and I with better session logging.

Write on the Battle Map

A little while ago I gave Roleplaying Tips Patrons A Peek At My Game Table Setup. You’ll see on the table a roll of Gaming Paper.

Third picture down you get a better look. It shows names I’ve written.

Each time the group meets an NPC I grab my Sharpie and record the name. This saves the spelling bee exercise as note-takers track whom they’ve met.

That’s one approach.

Another is to record details on table maps as you draw them out and use them. A living timeline of events.

Encourage players to jot notes on the map too.

After the session, take five minutes to add additional notes on the map.

You can then later transpose the notes into your permanent session logging solution, or keep your maps handy for future reference.

Write on Initiative Cards

I’ve tried electronic initiative. And magnets. GM screen clips too.

I’ve tried several initiative tracking systems over the years and like my initiative cards best.

You can see an example in the third pic at A Peek At My Game Table Setup.

I write character names and details on index cards. Then I sort the cards in initiative order for each combat.

I also use a yellow card to note round start, pink cards for foes, and green cards for NPCs with the party.

The backs of the cards are blank. You can log session details quickly on the cards for later reference.

Chat After The Session

Take five minutes at the end of the session to ask players to recap the game’s events.

Type or write notes as they recount the things that stuck in their memory.

As a bonus, you get to learn what kind of stuff is most important to your players. People remember best what makes an impression on them or what they focused on because they were interested.

You also give a nice opportunity for players to muse on what’s happening to give you great ideas for next session.

Keep It Simple

Don’t try to log every detail.

Focus on:

  • Names
  • Dates
  • Locations
  • Plot points, events, and clues

At minimum, track these four things in concise fashion. This will help a ton with consistency. And it’s better than no notes.

Let me know how the tracking goes, Michael. I’d love to hear what system eventually works for you.

RPT GMs, do you have any tips on how to take better session notes? Please hit reply and let me know.