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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.

  • Splitting up the people writing the journal helps so that everybody has a chance and it keeps the action flowing. The easiest way to do this is to have half the party with scratch paper, and let each of them write it out when they are in the busy part of the story. At the end of an adventure one person compiles the info into one journal entry taking the most exciting bits from everybody writing. This gives it the feel of a true history being written by the victor feel in the end.
  • For the single person or Gm that want to have their own Journal to write up that has their own particular flair, a small tape recorder works the best. Just put it on record at the times you feel it is important to your Journal and then compile a journal at the end of each session. The best part about this one is the fact that you can also record some of the cool and exciting quotes from the characters about the villians, situations or strange spoutings."

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.

  • Motivation. Even really good players often need a bit of motivation to get off their butts and contribute a little extra. My suggestion is to offer a little in-game reward of some sort: Whether you are using D&D (experience points) or Amber or Everway (in which case you could offer a spare point of something in a stat, and just take that point away when they don't produce..or something else. But reward the players IN the game for contributing this stuff). Players would sort of contract to produce one 'diary entry' or 'letter home' or sketch or whatever per game session, and for the ones they pull through, they end up 1 point higher in 'Fire' or something. When I played Amber I did a whole set of trump cards and a 4 page comic. Amateurish as hell, but it really added to the campaign to have an actual trump card of my home shadow I could whip out.
  • Payoff. When the game is over, (as in- you aren't playing any more-ever) assemble the collection, along with maps, sketches, NPC writeups, group photos, location descriptions, etc, photocopy it all, and give each player a copy, along with a new character sheet. I'm about to do this because I'm shutting Planescape down in favor of Providence. This is sort of the Martha Stewart thing- people appreciate these mementos more often than not.. even if they think they won't.

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).


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