Use Micro Breaks To Take Fast Notes
RPT GM Ed Marley asks:
I was wondering if you had any tips on how to take notes during a session.
Not what tool to use, but the logistics of taking notes mid-session.
I find the give-and-take between the players and I during the action is fast and fun and I don’t want to disrupt the flow by pausing to write or type things.
But I also don’t want to forget any important character details or development by waiting until after the session to take notes.
Thanks for any suggestions.
Thanks for the request, Ed.
There’s an unchangeable reality we GMs bump against: the arrow of time flies forward no matter what we do.
It means you can’t write and talk well at the same time.
So I urge you to first consider the opportunity of pacing.
Take moments for yourself. Micro breaks.
Use them to catch up on notes, take a few deep breaths and collect yourself, or prep for the next encounter.
Creating Micro Breaks
The best ways to create organic micro breaks that don’t ruin the flow:
- Introduce encounters with enough information that gets the party planning
- Reveal secrets (this gets players talking to each other about ramifications)
- Pose dilemmas (great for roleplay)
- Level up
- Treasure drop (players will spend time dividing up the loot)
- Roleplay between players
Ask players to help. As players are busy in their helper tasks, take your Micro Break.
Most maps in published adventures have few logistics in mind. Designers need only a container for denizens.
In such adventures, a cavern is a cavern.
So I ask a player to draw me a cool cavern or inn or whatever place I need for an encounter on my 1″ graph paper.
Other players can pick up a marker and add fun details like water, furnishings, and so on.
Have one player keep track of party loot.
Ask the player to send you a copy of the loot. Use this information for your plots and encounters.
Every two or three sessions, ask the player to read aloud the inventory. Doing this reminds players what they’ve got.
And if you’ve looped an item or two into your plots, players might twig onto that fact and now you’ve got game.
Bonus point time. Ask the Quartermaster to handle two things for you.
Shops. Ask the player to create some merchants and inventories for you. Merchants just need a specialty and name. Inventories need only a few key items — not complete lists.
Shopping. Ask the Quartermaster to gather shopping lists from the other players. Tie these requests to merchants and inventories the player creates.
This role logs session details during the game.
In my Hobo Princes campaign, I have an awesome player who does a fantastic job recording details in a Google Doc.
After the session I mine the doc and transfer key notes into my Campaign Logger campaign log.
If you’ve got a scribe in your group, ensure there’s a way everyone can view the notes.
For example, if your Scribe logs sessions in a paper notebook (I switched from Moleskine to Leuchtturm1917 gridded last year — table of contents front page, two bookmarks, numbered pages) have them photograph their notes and send them around to all.
Make it easy to clean up the game area after and during the session.
Ask the Streetsweepers to pluck garbage off the battlemat, recycle cans and bottles, and corral sprawling game stuff.
It feels nice to resume play on a refreshed game table.
Log the Essentials
In your notes, record the key details. Fill in the blanks after the session.
Key details include:
Game sessions are sequences of information and actions.
Characters do things. The camera always follows them.
All your other stuff — villain plots, wandering monsters, shadowy alliances, and people getting in trouble — happens off-camera.
But as soon as the characters interact with these game pieces the details become canon. And you want to keep these details straight else your campaign unravels from discontinuity.
We especially want to note who or what the characters interact with. What connections did characters make in your campaign and world?
Post-session, mine these connections for consequences to create future encounters.
In this way, you soon build a nice cast of people, places, things, and secrets with which to build your encounters and adventures.
Connection details include:
- Who knows what
- Who’s done what
- Who’s involved with what
Ensure there’s a subject for each detail you log.
As characters take actions, they affect someone or something.
That’s the connection part many GMs overlook.
Who or what becomes affected by character actions?
Log those details to set yourself up for juicy situations, events, and encounters.
It’s not enough for the rogue to spy on guards and learn the Captain’s doubling security tomorrow. You’ve got to connect that fact to something else. Either an NPC, plot, or time and location.
Once you’ve connected this, you’ve got a gameable situation. If the PCs take the hook, the situation transforms into an encounter.
Recording Notes Yourself Fast
If you can recruit a good Scribe, then focus on making brief notes for things you need to remember for the rest of the session.
Things like names, ideas, To Do’s, rules that caught you up, and points of gameplay friction for later thought.
Get these details out of your head to keep your brain clear.
Wait until after the session to fill in the gaps and write longer-form notes that flesh out your canon.
I use a pad of paper. I often write single word notes. Enough to jog my memory post-session to fill in more details later.
Such notes take moments. And they don’t slow or pause the game.
Mind maps offer another fantastic way to take fast notes.
We are visual animals. Mind maps turn words into images we remember better. Mind maps are easier to traverse than paragraphs. And mind maps naturally make those important connections we were talking about.
To take better and faster session notes:
- Understand what essential details you need to make your campaign consistent and accurate.
- For me, that’s Names, Dates, Locations, Items, and Connections.
- Connections help you create situations, events, and encounters. Connect existing game elements to new gameplay as often as possible.
- Recruit a player to take notes and share them with you post-game.
- Write one or two word notes during sessions as memory hooks and flesh details out after.
Ed, you asked for note taking tips, not tools. I hope my tips today help.
I have resisted plugging my online app Campaign Logger so far.
But I’d be remiss in not mentioning it because I really believe in it, what it does, and how well it helps you wrangle the information beast of campaign details.
I built that tool with Jochen Linnemann specifically for fast session logging. It’s autotagging and autocomplete features, plus other features, help you instantly record what’s important, create connections, and build your canon for campaign consistency and GMing accuracy.
I use a paper pad during sessions for those fast one-word notes. But I keep my computer off to the side with Campaign Logger running in Chrome for easy reference to all my campaign’s details.
Then, between sessions, I transfer my scratch pad notes and details from Scribe Colin’s notes into the app so I have a single Source of Truth.
I guess what I’m saying here with today’s tips is, whether you use Campaign Logger, OneNote, index cards, or another information management method, please view building a canon of campaign details as a process.
It’s not a one-time action.
Today, I propose to you a simple, layered approach.
- Make quick “micro notes” during sessions.
- Use micro breaks in sessions for extra notation time.
- Flesh out details between sessions.
- Create connections between your people, places, things, and secrets whenever you can to make your campaign feel deep, alive, and, well, connected.
Do you, [FIRST NAME], have additional tips to help Ed take quick notes during sessions? If so, please hit the reply button with your tip. Thanks!