Keeping a Campaign Journal for RPGs

One of the reasons I occasionally get a massively twitchy urge to develop a whole new campaign world in a whole new cosmology is that I've learned a huge amount from my current one, and there are lots of things I'd do differently a second time around. But there's another, and it's one I really dislike: my current campaign world is not properly documented.

It's possible that people who know about the amount of notes I keep, the 15 or 20 binders from past campaigns that live on a shelf in the study, the sheafs of maps around my desk, and the folders upon folders of files on my hard drive, are giving the last statement a puzzled look.

Yes, there is plenty of documentation. But I've only learned to properly track what happened in a campaign in the last few years, and a lot of the material that could be really good if it were brought in again for continuity doesn't work, because what I wrote down and what happened were different, and then I didn't take proper note of what did happen. Certainly, I have the broad strokes, and sometimes I have some detail. Most of that, though, is material which immediately got folded back into the campaign, rather than getting lost. I have hundreds of things that were resolved, and then trailed off and were never significant again, or that never really resolved properly and got lost anyway.

So I've learned to keep a campaign journal, as I think of it. That's what the notes for this week's game will become next week - an annotated, scribbled upon, clear account of what happened, what didn't, what NPCs are still around, what NPCs got killed, and which ones have a grudge against the player characters or other NPCs, no matter how slight.

It's a fairly simple mechanism, really. My notes consist of paragraphs, each one with a bullet point beside it, which describes one event or chunk of information for this week's game session. Sometimes there are sub-bullets, mostly lists of names.

Each bullet gets marked off as it's communicated to the players. So bullets that are marked off "happened" - that also covers NPCs who appeared. Those things are now "in the record".

If something happens such that a bullet can't happen, it gets crossed off. These things are now definitively out of the record.

And if something gets altered, or I need to make a note of "now hates PC X", or "secretly lusts after PC Y", or for a place "west wall knocked in", that gets written in - I leave gaps between bullets and a wide margin for this.

There's also the possibility, since we're playing in Fate, that a player will pass me a Fate Point and say "I want this character to appear again", or even "I want to come back to this place". That gets noted here too, and if it's something that I feel might not happen otherwise, I'll make myself a note on a post-it, and stick it in the front of the binder, where I'll see it every time I look at the notes.

This makes such a difference. I'm pretty sure that any details that have been dropped in the last two campaigns have been very minor, and it makes me feel a lot better about the history. I just wish I could go back and do it all for the older games!

Posted by Drew Shiel at January 17, 2012 1:22 PM

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