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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why You Must Keep A Campaign Journal

Pigtails and a bathing suit, huh?
OK people, today we're going to talk about why you should maintain a journal of what happens in your games. I am sort of obsessed with this, so I plan on using all of my political skills to manipulate you into keeping an online record (partly so I can read them and steal your good ideas).

You will notice that this post is littered with black and white art from the Campaign Sourcebook & Catacomb Guide. In the real world, cool guys with thick glasses and tattoos of anchors call it the "CSCG" and they're already bored with it. Me, I think it is a great book to read while you're going to the bathroom.

I especially love the art, most of which is by the severely-underrated Thomas Baxa. His stuff in this has humor and a sense of fun.. though one or two of these drawings are a bit insulting. 
Must use this device in an adventure! What is it, though?

You spent all this time working on it. You ran it. And in a month, nobody is going to remember much of anything. Future adventures may build on the past. If you can't recall certain details, then everything is going to get messed up. A campaign journal allows you to to preserve your own continuity, and provides a resource for your players. You can all look at it and feel a sense of accomplishment: "This is the story that we created". The players can also sift through it for clues as to any secrets in the campaign.

But, uh, don't expect your players to look at it. Do it mostly for you. Because there's a very, very good chance they will never look at it at all. Years later, you may get an email out of the blue from a former player who tells you he just read through them and laughed his face off. And that kind of makes it all worth it.

Details can be deceptive. I suggest typing up your summary as soon after your session as you can. Running a game is mentally draining. You might need to wait until the next day, but don't wait too long or you may lose some details.

A DM working on his campaign... uh... really, guys?
Keep each entry short and to the point. As you are typing the summary, it may feel like every detail is important. But then when you look back, not so much. An example of what I think is a good summary would be Shannon Appelcline's Actual Play threads on They are fun to read, they are concise, and they make you want to play D&D. Pretty good!

You should most definitely put out of game stuff in your summaries. As in, funny jokes, what good food that was eaten, stuff like that. Years later when you look back, these things will make you laugh. This is not just a log of a story you created, this is also a record of the fun times you had with your friends. The goofy stuff is probably even more important than the adventure story stuff. One of my summaries has photos of a goofy player sitting at the table covered in a blanket while we are all playing like it's normal. He was a weird guy. The picture always makes me laugh.
The wizard has a propeller hat?? Why is there blood on the horns?
If you truly want an accurate account of your games, you may want to invest in a digital recording device. I use an Olympus WS-400S digital voice recorder. Just put it on the table and hit record. Make sure your players know that this recording is not going to be posted online. When it's over, plug it in to your computer (it has a built-in USB) and transfer the file over.

During the game, when something funny happens or there's a good quote or scene, jot down the time it happened on a piece of paper. Then, after the game, you can skip to that part in the recording and get an accurate account of what happened. You can type up exact dialogue quotes from pivotal scenes. Plus, if everybody is laughing, it is very fun to listen to. You'll hear jokes you may have missed or forgotten about.

Rules Lawyer runs roughshod in the days before online errata
I bought my recorder in 2008 for $60. From what I am seeing on ebay, you can get one now for $20-$30. If you are serious about your game, this is a great investment. Just don't be a weirdo and record people secretly like my boss used to do.

As far as where to post your summaries, Obsidian Portal was literally built for this purpose. You could also set up a free site at or some other provider.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it could boil down to an hour a week. If you're a DM and you are into what you are doing, you are probably spending a lot more than an hour a week on your game already anyway.

The summary is the result of all your efforts. Just getting people together to play one time is an accomplishment. A finished summary really can make you proud, and give you the drive to continue to improve and make each game even better.

1 comment:

C.D. Gallant-King said...

I keep a very detailed wiki of my game world that I encourage my players to help update. Not only do they not do that but I don't think most of them even read it. Thanks for bringing up this painful reminder.

Though what you're suggesting is still a great idea.