This one goes out to all the note-takers out there! The party scribes who can be counted on to record every NPC, setting description, and shiny bit of loot and lore that you’re certain the group will need to reference later. You capture every detail so faithfully, your notebook is the physical manifestation of the Keen Mind feat…right?
I’d love to think my memory and note-taking skills are so developed that nothing escapes my attention, but if you’re actually present for the game, chances are you might miss some things.
It can be hard, both for players and DMs, to recall everything that happens during a session…especially when you consider that the average session tends to be around 4 hours long. Even longer if you’re playing a home game! Taking good notes can be really helpful when it comes to keeping track of the decisions your party makes, the NPCs you meet, and all of the other details that might bite you in the heel later on.
As a DM, I try my best to take good notes as the game progresses, but I find that scribbling constantly in my notebook makes it hard to maintain immersion and storytelling flow at times. It’s much easier for me to rely on the players to keep track of their own notes, and I usually limit mine to major decision points.
As a player, I tend to be the note taker of the party, and my account of what transpired during the session ends up being used for the recap at the start of each new game. I tend to be really thorough with what I write down, but also really unorganized…my notes are more along the lines of a play-by-play, chronological account of what happened– choc full of underlining, asterisks, and side notes in margins– which makes it hard to quickly flip back through to find specific info.
So what to do? I’m now exploring different methods for organising and taking notes in a way that helps me mark things down quickly, but that captures all of those important details. There are plenty of different techniques out there: colour-coded pens, notecards, using multiple journals, etc., but I think first we need to identify what actually needs to be recorded. As much as I may want to capture the DM’s descriptions of that NPC’s embroidered cloak or heirloom battleaxe, there’s probably something else I should prioritize first 😅
So…what are the most important things that I’d want to capture? Think about the kind of information you’d need to recap or reference later on and try to limit what you write to just a few words for each point. Everything else is just flavour for the session…a wonderful part of the experience, but might just end up cluttering your notes in the long run! You can start with these questions:
Where did you go?
Where did you begin your journey, and where did you decide to go during the session? This could be a town, a forest, a cave system, or even just a shop. Be sure to tie the “Who” and “What” back to the location for ease of reference.
Who did you meet?
The world is FULL of different NPCs for you to meet! This is where you can make note of their names, where you first met them, and something memorable about them. For example, if you’re in Runda from The Luminous Lake, you might meet Merrick, the innkeeper. I would write down simply “Merrick, The Salmon’s Spyglass, Honeycakes” or “Merrick, Salmon’s Spyglass, lost key” as a short and sweet memory-jogger!
What did you learn/find?
This includes clues, lore drops, and interesting items your party finds during the session. Be sure to include a couple of words on where you found the item or who gave it to you!
You always want to tie this back to the “Where did you go?” category. This is especially important if you decide to revisit a certain area or NPC to learn more about something, or if your DM likes to use re-occurring themes in their storytelling!
These are the main points of a standard campaign diary, and should really cover all the highlights of your game. You also want to be sure to note any important decision points the party encountered along the way… Decisions that will guide the progression of where you go and who you meet next.
Some other things that are worth noting:
Encounters: This could fall under the “Who did you meet” category, but I like to keep combat encounters separate. Note what kind of creatures you met, where you found them, and whether it was resolved via combat or diplomacy. This not only helps you create that mental map of what kind of creatures inhabit which parts of the world, but if you have re-occurring baddies, you can quickly flip back to see where you saw them last.
Party Loot: Every player should maintain responsibility for their own personal gear, but it’s helpful for one person in the party to keep track of the group inventory! This can be gold, weapons, potions, any random goods you find on your adventures. It isn’t a bad idea, for non-monetary items anyway, to also tie interesting items back to the location. For example: “Magic Crystal (woods near Garran)” keeps it short and sweet. If it’s a magic item, you can either jot down what the properties are, or use a separate index card (I’m a bit fan of this practice). Having separate item cards for goods that require additional details is a fantastic way to keep your notes clean and organised!
As I mentioned before, this is something I am actively pursuing myself. There is no right or wrong way to keep your notes…ultimately, use a strategy that works best for you and the way you process information! I just know that sometimes the more simple options are easier to maintain than a complicated, multi-step process!
To help you get started, here’s a quick and easy note-taking guide I developed. It doesn’t cover absolutely everything, but it does give you a more organised way to keep track of the highlights for each session! I’d like to keep evolving this aide as time goes on. Let me know what you think!
What is your favourite note-taking method? Share your thoughts and tips below!