Campaign Journal Tips from Readers

"As it happens, I keep very detailed logs during gameplay. I've been able to go back and reconstruct combats which took place years before. I also always keep narrative journals or histories in some form of the adventures, regardless of on which side of the screen I am. But it's important to understand that these are not the same thing, even though doing each helps with the other.

A game log has to be kept during the game, and is nothing more or less than the kind of detailed notes you would take during lectures. Write down everything you can, as it happens. Make sure you have lots of paper, and don't worry about form--it's the facts that matter, not the presentation. The game log is going to be useful in many ways. Depending on the game, it could help in determining experience, treasure gained, new equipment, and much more. It also becomes the best record of what was said and done during the game.

But it's not the history. Don't even try to write the history during the game session--it can't really be done. There's too much happening, and the rush of events is greatest when the events themselves are most significant. Besides, it will often be the case that the history has to tell some things backwards. The log will detail combat in terms of who hit and who was hit, how much damage was done or taken, and what the outcome was; but the history will often begin, "We lost Bill today. The Goblins got him." The details follow.

That means if you're going to write a history, you have to write it between game sessions. I figure it will take me maybe an hour to convert the notes of a long game session into a story. But part of the conversion takes place in your head and your heart between the end of the game session and the moment you sit down to write it, because during that time you begin to understand a little better how your character feels about what happened, and whether these events will make a difference to him tomorrow.

If you're having trouble, take a step back and consider format. There are a lot of ways to do a journal (I've done a lot of them myself). You can write it from the perspective of an historian looking back at the events from years in the future, presupposing that at least one of the characters will ultimately become a great figure in history. That's probably toughest, but works well for the referee. If you are one of the player characters, you can write it as your character diary, or as letters to a loved one somewhere else, recounting what happened. As referee, you can do the same through the eyes of a non-player character. But there are other styles that can be very effective. For example, many characters have superiors of one sort or another--in AD&D1, Cavaliers, Paladins, Samurai, Ninja, Yakuza, and Sohei at the least have very clearly structured hierarchies; many other classes (Monks, Clerics, Druids, Knights of Solamnia) have superiors in a looser sense. I've said elsewhere that the referee can require players to write character reports to their superiors on a regular basis, but even if the referee doesn't require such a thing the player can do it on his own initiative. This collection of sequential reports makes for an excellent history.

And if you think you can't do it yourself, here's an idea. Get a looseleaf binder, and at the end of each session ask all the players please to have their characters write a letter home to some imagined relative or friend, telling about their experience. Then bind all the letters together in the book. This should give you both a rich and full history, and also provide nuances of perspective, often telling the same events from different perspectives (as the cavalier writing to his liege takes full credit for destroying the foe and the fighter confides in his brother that he was terrified even as he delivered the fatal blow)."

M. J. Young

"Hey Johnn,

Here are some ideas that have worked for my groups using Journals.

Hope this is helpful for you.

Aric Wieder

"Johnn, You're likely to receive some tips about Audio or Visual recordings but they are simply too obtrusive and bothersome to be effective. Audio tapes have to be changed frequently and a tripod for a Camcorder gets in the way. Extension cords solve the battery problem but get underfoot. A game session can turn into an 'I love lucy' skit when the guy playing a barbarian trips on the cord and catapults your two hundred dollar Camcorder into the dining room wall.

The most realistic trick I've found is to keep quick notes and fill in the blanks later that night or the next day. The following is a quick list of things to jot down. Names, places, travel time, enemies fought, things found and any one liners that you really liked; keep these notes divided by day, follow up on filling in the details after the game and a nice journal begins to form.

Honestly though remember that true journals were kept by men whose transportation required days to travel a hundred miles, whose sole form of passive entertainment was the written word and who had nothing better to do at night when in camp. Although Julius Caesar's memoirs of the Gaulic Wars seem elaborate; they were written by a man who had been hired for the sole purpose of chronicling the war.


Responses from a post I made at Gaming Outpost (a highly recommended roleplaying site, by the way, ) :

"Can't recommend it enough. I also use the format to allow players to describe backstory and stuff they do in between adventures.

I find it helps to develop characters. Some of the best developed characters are gun-ho into this method.

Rewarding players helps. For my Ars Magica saga, I award experience points.

And its fun to post all this stuff on your game's webpage."


Subject Re: Game session logs/journals

"These are actually good ideas. Since I am the Martha Stewart of Roleplaying I want to contribute a couple more.

The other thing is- if you get all your players working on this stuff- it takes a hell of a load off of the GM."

Doc Fortune

"One of the guys in my little gaming group actually asked recently if we could have some sort of record of the chronicles we play, which i'm all in favor of! i love the idea of a collage "book" of all the gaming stuff (doc's idea #2).

One suggestion is to go look at "castle falkenstein"--as well as being a brilliant game in its own right, it has some good suggestions about character & gm journals/records (it's essential to the game).


kount figaro merryandrew IX