For the entirety of my first campaign, one of the players (my boyfriend for long years, good friend, and partner in the name list on this site) maintained a journal of in-game events so that we could keep track of what happened to the characters and when. We all knew that I hadn't started running on a whim and that I was developing a tailor-made campaign, so unique details were bound to stack up quickly. We were also pretty sure that I wasn't going to stop any day soon and we were definitely right about that. Nathan took brief notes during each session and wrote them up not long after we were done. Between sessions, we worked together to try to fill in any gaps, points of confusion, and inconsistencies (on both sides of the screen).
It was his decision to write the whole journal from his character's perspective and in his character's voice, and it ended up making all the difference. Lance was an orderly and efficient paladin and given to keeping careful track of things. There wasn't time to go in-depth with every entry but that personal touch made it even more interesting to read. The dates and events made it an invaluable tool as the months ran on, and even more so when we decided to take a break to play something else for a while. We were always able to pick up where we left off with minimal trouble because there was such an easy way to catch up.
For his efforts, Nathan got a small but steady allotment of experience points and our gratitude. The points were never enough to push him far ahead of the rest of the group but they were only fitting given his extra effort. He eventually broke it into two pieces, file-wise, and continued to print it out so we had a hard copy as we went. The journal, along with our in-game calendar, gave us the most important tactile tools we ever had. We all expressed our fondness for it at different times and I imagine that also repaid his vigilance.
It wasn't until our group broke apart that the journal took on an even deeper degree of significance. It is a record of years that we spent with friends and loved ones having fun and building experiences together that were deeply bonding and memorable. It is the result of ongoing efforts on everyone's part to make time to play no matter what else was going on, to focus on our fun and each other, and to be at our most creative. It is an artefact of our lives as much as a chronicle of imaginary adventures, and it is fair to say that it reflects much of what mattered most to us during those times.
I fully admit that for a good while I could hardly bear to look at it, just as I couldn't bring myself to think about picking up the old campaign again, not even for my beloved Niki, who kept wanting to go back. I kept the journal's files as a personal hallmark and a symbol of some of the very best gaming I've seen or done, and it never occurred to me to do otherwise. Since it always seemed like such a private, group-bound thing, however, it didn't occur to me to add it here until recently. Now I want to share it as an example of what can be done and hopefully why more groups should try it. Along with that, I would like to offer some advice based on what I've seen and heard over the years.
Develop a quick note-taking method: Chances are, you won't remember everything that happens during a session unless you write it down; even if you have a good memory, it's very easy for details to blend together or get distorted. But you don't want the process to interrupt the experience, either. Don't worry about grammar, spelling, or anything else while jotting things down as long as you can follow your notes later. Keep it brief and focus on words that you'll associate with the major actions. If it's too distracting to take notes on a mobile device that lures you with the internet and/or other diversions, do everyone a favor and write the notes the old fashioned way instead.
Clean up and expand later: If you took notes by hand, take a little time to type them up so they'll be easier to read and share. If you're very busy, you can stick to bullet points and phrases instead of complete sentences, but if you want the rest of the group to be able to follow it, you'll need to keep in mind that they won't make the same associations you do. You might need to explain things more. Either way, double-check anything you need to with the DM, including locations or character names.
Make it a habit: If you want to have a truly useable journal, you'll need to make entries every time you play, even if you're only engaging in conversations and downtime. You never know what might become more important later and if you stop working on it, you might not ever pick it up again. Set up your notes alongside your character sheet or anything else you arrange when you sit down to play. Then be sure to make any polishing and clarifying a regular habit in the days that follow.
Do it sooner rather than later: Trying to remember everything will get harder the further away from the session you get, so try to double-check everything a day or two after the session ends. It won't get any easier for your DM to recall everything a long time after the fact, either, so send any questions their way as soon as you can. Be polite but don't let the DM take too long before replying, or the whole thing could get away from you both.
Make it accessible: If your group is comfortable with digital devices at the game table, you can make a copy of the journal available through a blog, a web site, or a Google document. If you'd like a nice prop to work with, however, you can print the newest entries and bind them together into a physical document. You can be as fancy or as plain with font, graphics, layout, and paper as you'd like. While you can't search a print version by keyword, it will have an authenticity and presence a digital copy might not. Regardless, keep the journal where the group can get at it, like they would any other reference materials.
If you need a break, ask someone else to take over : It can be tough for one player to remain responsible for a journal through a longer campaign. If you find that you're avoiding the duty, and especially if you're starting to feel resentful of it, feel free to ask another player to take over for a week or more. A supportive DM will offer a reward of some kind for whoever is doing the work, which should make it more attractive. Nobody should be forced to maintain the group journal, but if other players in the group are willing, the duty can be rotated on a fairly regular basis.
Keep more than one central copy: One of the reasons you want to type up your journal is so you can keep backup copies of it, just in case. Not only do papers get ruined or lost, but web sites go down and groups also gain and lose players (including ones who work on the journal). No matter how many people work on it, keep one central document with everyone's work inside it. Back it up on a regular basis and you will never lose one page of your adventure.
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