Behind the Screen: Note-Taking, my perspective…

2007 September 19
by Dante

On Treasure Tables there was a very thought provoking post on adventure notes yesterday. This got me to thinking of the many ways that I’ve kept adventure notes over the years and I thought it best to share these various approaches today.

A Holistic Approach

My barometer for determining what makes a good encounter is usually based around how much fun my players are having. I have been known to rework an encounter mid-stream if it turns out being far too challenging or drop in an extra encounter or two fairly organically into the plot. If I think its going to be fun for the characters, I am happy to “wing it” and make up an encounter on the spot to scratch whatever apparent itch that I can detect.

This usually makes for a note-taking nightmare, that’s why I generally tend not to do it. I will outline the basics: what they encountered, any excellent or creative steps that the players took to dispatch the baddies, experience and treasure. Most of my notes fit comfortably onto a 3.5″ index card, but I usually just keep a notebook of half-sheets that show the progression of events.

The Lazy Approach

When embracing the glowing beauty that is shooting from the hip, I got out of the habit of note taking. We had a few natural secretaries in our group, one of which is our very own Stupid Ranger. Since I have the good fortune of living with her, there were times I would just ask her for her set of notes on the campaign happenings prior to the session.

In a real pinch, I would sometimes call a five minute break and sneak a peek during the session if I need to quickly craft up a plot point that tied together a few prior events from recent nights.

The Team Approach

There was a time when I fully embraced this hands-off approach to campaign outlining. We used a blog to track the progress of the campaign that wrought Lumbar, Goudy, and Skythorn, where each character would post their in-game thoughts in exchange for an experience bonus.

This provided many Good Things: a running tally of how a character was perceiving the plot, an extremely detail-based set of notes for me to refer to, and an engaging way to keep the characters in the game in exchange for what amounted to an experience pittance.

My players took to this extremely well, and we have adapted this to use some different technologies as the years have gone on. We are currently using a PHP BB bulletin board to track this type of information, and players are free to post their details as they desire to receive their experience.

We’ve been discussing the art of co-DMing this week, if you have a co-DM use them in this mode. Let them assist in keeping an outline or additional details, we’ve had some success in having a post-game rap session to jot down a posthumous set of reflections on how the session went and what we need to tweak to make it more engaging.

Notes are what you make of them

In short, you need to make notes your servant. If you thrive on the structure of keeping a detailed set of notes that are yours and yours alone, do that. If you are like me and prefer keeping a loose outline and going off of player perception to drive your stories, do that. If you have some other approach that nobody has thought of before, do that but be sure to leave comment and let us know what it is!

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