The Story So Far
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1213
I mostly run sandboxes these days. That means I wrangle a lot of details. After a few sessions I’ll have dozens of Pages and Log Entries in Campaign Logger. After a year, they’ll be in the hundreds.
Here’s an example from Wizard of Adventure ExileInParadise’s Sword Coast campaign:
And here’s a screenshot of my Murder Hobos campaign I’m in the middle of transferring over to Campaign Logger vNext from Evernote:
I find keeping all these details in my head impossible after awhile. Especially if there’s a cancelled session and time eats my neurons. In addition, it gets tricky keeping track of my plots, side-plots, and ideas as gameplay gets deeper.
The Story So Far Page
My solution for that is what I call a control document from my project management days. Or when using Campaign Logger, it’s my Story So Far Page:
I list the essential details and links on this page. After each session I add a short summary of 1-5 sentences with links to the people, places, things, and events of import the characters encountered. I also list my ideas for future plot points, milestones, conflicts, and ideas.
At a glance I can see a campaign summary of past, present, and potential futures.
When prepping for a session, I do a quick-read of this page to refresh my mental RAM. I do the same about an hour before each session start. And sometimes, when I get stuck or overwhelmed in a session, I return to this page and scan for ideas and direction.
This solution works very well for me. It’s like an iceberg. I’ve got a page guiding me and my campaign poking above the water that I can access with a keystroke. And lurking beneath the turgid waters of gameplay are my hundreds of Pages and Log Entries of prep, plots, and ideas just a quick hover, click, search, or filter away.
My Loopy Planning technique also helps me remember, ideate, and drive my campaigns. As a sandboxy GM, I needed a way to present a dynamic world that responds to the party’s actions every session, plus guide options and seeds for the Critical Story Path and any ongoing side-plot threads.
Here’s an overview of Loopy Planning. (Wizard of Adventure members, here’s a more in-depth tutorial on how to create, setup, and manage your Loopy Plans.)
Story So Far Stat Block
How do I layout and organize my Story So Far page? Here’s the typical stat block I use, though it can vary a bit by campaign.
Name: The campaign name is already in the system, but I repeat it here because if I create an evocative name it inspires by being front-and-center.
@Razor: My X meets Y theming and guidance technique. Quick explanation of what a Razor is. A Razor example.
~Dramatic Questions: Even though I sandbox, I still have plots including a primary one usually driven by a central villain. Asking an outcome-based question provides me fantastic guidance.
~Plotline: A bullet list of past session events, potential encounters and plans for next session, and a long-term list of potential campaign milestones. Sometimes I call this the Critical Story Path.
~Loopy Planning: A snapshot of upcoming plot events that could trigger next session.
~Treasure Table: A menu of player preferences, character hooks, and rewards. (WoAs: I have tutorials on creating your Treasure Table in Module I of the Wizard of Story course starting here.)
~Cast of Characters: NPCs and factions currently relevant to gameplay.
~Gazetteer: Locations currently relevant to gameplay.
~Quartermaster: Treasure and items currently relevant to gameplay.
Base Stat Block
Here’s the block without definitions for copy & paste:
Cast of Characters:
Updating the Story So Far
Before Campaign Kickoff
During campaign inception I create the page shell with stat block laid out as sections.
As I prep I fill sections with links to people, places, things, and events relevant for the first session. I wait until session number one is done before adding much more detail because you never know how a new campaign will land with players.
I also fill out the Name, Razor, and Dramatic Questions sections with some brief detail.
And I usually have a Campaign Plotline built out in rapid fashion that’s a hypothesis of how things could go for the Critical Story Path. (WoAs: I have tutorials on creating a Campaign Plotline in the Module II of the Wizard of Story course starting here.)
After the First Session
Once we’ve played the first session, I’ll update my Story So Far Page with more confidence and detail. The primary lens through which I perform this update is the characters.
With some gameplay under the players’ belts, and walking in the characters’ shoes for awhile, we’ll all have a better idea of character goals, prior relationships, and what interests them.
I refresh my plans and ideas in Story So Far with this information in mind and prep for session number two.
Assuming a successful campaign kickoff that survives session two, I enter a mode of regularly referencing and updating my Story So Far.
- Update the Plotline (past) in a bullet point of 1-5 sentences of what was notable from last session to help my future self’s memory. This becomes an awesome summary of the whole campaign played so far.
- Refresh Loops (present) based on last session’s encounters and background events from in-game time passing.
- Update the Plotline (future) if vectors have changed. Meaning, if a milestone idea has changed or isn’t feasible, I change it out to remain agile.
- Swap Legos in and out in anticipation of what will be relevant next session to keep the page trim.
- Update Treasure Table if anything there has changed.
Overall, this takes me 15-30 minutes and I try to do this within 24 hours of a session while memories are still fresh.
And then I keep this page in Campaign Logger open as I prep and GM as a kind of digital GM screen.
Not to focus on Campaign Logger, but we coded it so hovering over any Page link gives you a popup with that Page’s contents. For example, here I’ve hovered over the link to Ravenwall and can scroll and interact with that content:
Jochen built this feature for this exact use case: a digital GM screen. Other apps out there might have this solution. If so, consider taking the Story So Far approach because it’s so useful.
Last millennium, I had a similar system setup using index cards. That worked well because I could gather up all cards needed to reference during prep or GMing in a special box. Between sessions I’d file unneeded cards back into their sections and pull new ones.
It’s Your Turn
The Story So Far technique boils down to creating a project document as a mini source of truth for your campaign that you can skim and scan.
Add all the details you need on one screen for easy reminders and reference.
Start with my stat block and tweak it as desired.
Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!