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The Campaign Journal Conundrum: I Hate Doing Them As A GM

Jared Rascher

Explorer
I think campaign journals are really cool tools for a campaign. I think it can be really helpful to have a summary of what happens ready for the players, especially when you play your campaign every other week the way my group does.

On the other hand, as a GM, I get really burned out trying to keep the journal myself. Its not that I can't keep notes on what happened and where everyone is, but when I write up the campaign journal, I have other concerns.

For my own notes, I just need to know what happened in general (i.e. not who killed what with what), what plot threads are being picked up, what clues have been followed up on, what NPCs are doing, etc.

When I write up the journal, however, I always worry about forgetting some really great line that a player uttered, keeping track of how each one of six players contributed, and even misconceptions that the PCs have come up with (since I'm only worried about if they figure out what really is going on).

Trying to juggle writing the journal as a balanced narrative and summary of the night takes me a lot longer than I want it to, and in the end, I always end up missing that so and so did something or someone points it out to me, and I'm still not happy with the journal in the end.

I just sent out an e-mail bribing my players to write an in character journal for a hero point for each session logged. We'll see where this goes, but I'm wondering a few things:

1. How many people think campaign journals are important resources?

2. How many people think that a GM should be maintaining one?

3. How many people have one of their player's logging the sessions?

I'll be interested to see this discussion unfold, and thanks everyone for their time.
 

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Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Have you ever considered using a digital voice recorder of some sort? They're not that expensive, and most are capable of recording hundreds of hours. That would free up everyone to focus on the game and allow you (or someone else) to revisit the session at your leisure to find those little details you might have forgotten about. Just a thought.
 

Samothdm

First Post
Writing session recaps is probably my least favorite thing to do as a GM. So, I feel your pain.

1. How many people think campaign journals are important resources?

I think their importance varies depending on how elaborate your campaign is and how many plot threads you or the players are liable to forget if they're not documented. My campaign has been running for over 10 years, and I find sometimes it's fun and helpful to go back and re-read the old session journals from the beginning because it reminds me of plot threads that were interesting but never went anywhere.

2. How many people think that a GM should be maintaining one?

At the very least, you just need your own notes so you don't contradict something that you told your players.

I'd start with this - do a poll of your players and find out if they find them helpful/useful. If not, then just stick to your own notes and forget writing the recaps.

3. How many people have one of their player's logging the sessions?

I did the exact same thing you did - offering either an Action Point or some other very minor in-game benefit for people who would write the session recaps for me. One guy did it for about a year and a half but then said he was too busy, so it fell back to me.

Then I went to a format where I wrote out a longer, more detailed recap (like the kind you seem to be talking about), and then when that was done, I wrote an "executive summary", roughly a paragraph in length, that stripped out all of the details like "who killed whom with what weapon", but just gave an overview of the "big" things that happened. Now I've basically just adopted the one-paragraph format because that's all the players say they have time to read anyway.

Another format I've seen was a DM who used an Excel spreadsheet and had different columns for "Date", "Event", "NPCs", "Questions Left Unanswered"... that kind of thing. And then for each session, he broke down the entire session into little "soundbites" that he fit into his grid. So, if we had a half-hour long discussion with the Duke of So-and-So, that was just a line item: "The Company met with Duke So-and-So to discuss rescuing his daughter from the Big Bad Guy." And then the Duke and the Bad Guy would each get an entry under the "NPCs" column, and then the players' questions such as "Did the Duke really kill his own daughter and is sending us off on a wild goose chase just to get us out of the duchy while he consolidates power?" would be listed under "Unanswered Questions." It lacked "flavor" but it basically helped us keep track of when we met people and what we talked to them about, and roughly in what order we did things.

Again, it all comes down to - do you and your players think they're useful. You shouldn't feel obligated to have one if you or none of your players use it.
 

Mircoles

First Post
When I DM, I've enough to worry about.

Keeping a journal of what happens seems imaterial in comparison.

Though, if I did want to keep track of things, beyond the notes that I scribble down, I'd likely just use a digital recorder or whatever type of recording device I have on hand.
 

kitsune9

First Post
Knight, since you want to keep a journal, here's some tips to help alleviate your burden:

1. Keep it short. Jot down only the most important scenes that tells the story. You don't need to detail each combat or minor interactions--only the most pertinent stuff, particularly if the journal is only for your own reference and edification. As a guide, keep your session to about 200 words.

2. Write up the important scenes ahead of time. Frame your journal for the encounters that you think your PC's will face, then cut the ones that they didn't get to, add any that were new, and flesh out the ones that the PC's did get to.

3. Ask your players to take turns helping you with the journal. If you have four players, get them involved. If they are on board with the journal, then have each of them take a turn to write up the session and then your turn will come around when they are all done.
As master editor of the journal, you can add any additional information to the journal that you'd like.
 

A

amerigoV

Guest
1. How many people think campaign journals are important resources?

2. How many people think that a GM should be maintaining one?

3. How many people have one of their player's logging the sessions?

I'll be interested to see this discussion unfold, and thanks everyone for their time.

1. Yes - important, even years later just to reminisce.

2. I prefer to the players keep it as it gives me a window into how they see the campaign. It lets me know if something important did not get across to them.

3. I have a new online game (most of the action is over VTT). The rule is no XP or loot until the log is posted. I do not care if it is 5 bullet points or Shakespeare, but someone has to write it up.

Lets just say my rule under #3 gets quick turnaround on the log. As an aside, I used to do extra XP or some other reward for journals. That worked 'ok'. The stick seems to work better than the carrot in this case so far.
 

Heathen72

Explorer
I just sent out an e-mail bribing my players to write an in character journal for a hero point for each session logged.

Similar to the AMBER DRPS approach. Except that a hero point is a bit miserly (in my opinion) given the amount of work even a perfunctory journal requires. I would suggest that you offer the players enough so that the noncontributing players slightly jealous. Balance be damned. No one should really complain, because everyone get access to the journal, and in any case they can all have the option to contribute themselves, in some way.

In my experiences with Amber, we had people doing Artwork for the game (character portraits), a website for the campaign, a journal, and so on. One person even made 'Trump' cards for us all. There are so many ways a player can help make the campaign better (apart from just playing) that everyone can contribute, if they wish. Even if it's doing the dishes after the session.

It wasn't about sucking up to the GM. It was about making the campaign more fun, and sharing the workload. Making it worthwhile for the players was something built into the ruleset of Amber, and I thought it was a plus, though I acknowledge it is not something for everyone.
 

Jared Rascher

Explorer
Have you ever considered using a digital voice recorder of some sort? They're not that expensive, and most are capable of recording hundreds of hours. That would free up everyone to focus on the game and allow you (or someone else) to revisit the session at your leisure to find those little details you might have forgotten about. Just a thought.


You know, I'm kind of interested in doing the recording of the session. I might have to look into this. Thank you for reminding me of this idea.
 

Jared Rascher

Explorer
Its funny how sometimes just talking to players helps move things along.

I sent out the e-mail, and as it turns out, one player was keeping a really nice in character journal for her character already, and she has offered to share it with the rest of the party.

Also, another player is trying to justify getting favor with his secret faction, so he's going to write up exactly what he is sending to his spymasters in letter form so that we know exactly what he's passing along.

Once my DC Adventures games gets off the ground, I'll have to see what kind of interest I have in journals for that campaign.
 

Jared Rascher

Explorer
It wasn't about sucking up to the GM. It was about making the campaign more fun, and sharing the workload. Making it worthwhile for the players was something built into the ruleset of Amber, and I thought it was a plus, though I acknowledge it is not something for everyone.


I've been keeping a journal in my friend's campaign, and I've had no real problem with it, as its been fun and its a way to roleplay even when the session was more tactical. It actually helps me keep focused on who my character is to look at events through his eyes, and its fun.

Plus, when I get something wrong in the journal about who did what, I usually point out to my fellow players that my character really wasn't paying attention to them . . . ;)
 

Ryltar

First Post
KnightErrantJr, I feel your pain. In my opinion, it would be ideal if players contributed campaign journals, which I consider an essential part of a successful campaign. The problem is how to motivate them, if they aren't already. The easiest way to do so would be to give out XP, but in a campaign such as my own which has done away with XP entirely, it's not really an option. I've tried small things such as a bonus reroll or an item of choice placed conveniently in the next treasure hoard, but that's only been successful about 50% of the time. In the end, I decided to do the journals myself. The difficulty was adjusting to the added burden of having to jot down relatively detailed notes during play, but I've found it saves you a lot of time later. Simply wait for the party to do some RP amongst themselves where you - as the GM - aren't necessarily needed; then use that time to scribble your notes. Or do it in between sessions, as long as stuff is still fresh in your memory.

The bottom line, in my experience, is that having a campaign journal beats not having one at any time, even if you have to write it yourself.
 

Jared Rascher

Explorer
The easiest way to do so would be to give out XP, but in a campaign such as my own which has done away with XP entirely, it's not really an option.


While I've not gotten rid of XP, I do keep everyone, even if they miss a session, on the same amount of XP so that I don't have to deal with adjusting threats up or down based on someone missing a session or two, so I agree, XP would be a great solution if it was an option . . . ;)
 

Endur

First Post
I recommend a Wiki.

That way anyone in the group can post in the journal and make edits.

Edits are important, because one person may not be interested in everything that happened.
 

The Shaman

First Post
1. How many people think campaign journals are important resources?
*raises hand*

I kept the 'ship's log' during a Traveller game many years ago, and I still have that little black composition book; re-reading my terse entries never fails to take me back to the encounters like they were just last week.

Keeping a shared reference is also a great way to share the game with others.
2. How many people think that a GM should be maintaining one?
I am the gamemaster for our Flashing Blades game and I keep our adventure logs as part of updating our wiki. I write it out, send it out to the players to review and correct, then post it on the wiki.

My adventure logs are written without frills, a simple accounting of events; I don't try to turn them into stories. This keeps them manageable for me.
3. How many people have one of their player's logging the sessions?
I keep notes as we go; if one of the players wanted to draft his own in-character journal, I'd be very pleased, but I don't expect it of them.
 

karlindel

First Post
Short answers:

1. I think they are a useful resource for most campaigns, how important they are depends on the campaign.

2. The GM should keep notes on the campaign, and help to fill in any important gaps in the campaign journal, but I think it is better for a player or the players collectively to keep the campaign journal.

3. No one keeps a campaign journal in the campaign I GM, although I play in one campaign where a player keeps an online campaign journal that we all use.

Slightly more involved:

1. I like the concept of a campaign journal, but I seldom see them in use. How useful a campaign journal is depends on how often the players (and GM) refer back to it to help reference the campaign history in the campaign or in the future to reminisce. If one person keeps a campaign journal, but no one else ever reads it, then the campaign journal is not important. If everyone looks back over the campaign journal every few sessions, and asks questions about old mysteries, then the campaign journal is very important.

2. I think it is best if all of the players are involved in the campaign journal. I do not think the GM should be involved, except perhaps to remind them that certain things are speculative, who gave them particular information, or if there is something important that the players left out of the journal. That said, a campaign journal can be a useful window into how the players and their characters view the campaign. That said, if the GM is the only one interested in keeping a campaign journal, then it's up to the GM if they think it is worthwhile.

3. No one keeps a campaign journal in my home campaign or in a superhero game I am playing in. I am in one campaign where we started off keeping a journal, but then neglected it and eventually stopped altogether. I am in a homebrew game where one player keeps an in character journal, and we reference it occasionally to remind ourselves of what we have done already and what we have previously talked about doing.
 

Wik

First Post
I like how Earthdawn does it - once per game year, the PCs can hand in their journal to the university of throal or somesuch, and as a result, they get XP. The more detailed and interesting it is, the larger their XP total is.

The other way I've seen it done is a group that gives a "tick" each for tasks the group wants - I believe the tasks were "show up", "bring a snack", and a few other tasks like that, and then they had rotating tasks where, if they were done for that session, everyone got a tick - "record initiative", "update the journal", etc.

This was the only way PCs levelled up, so the group made sure these tasks were done. And in a group of four or five players, you'd only have to update the journal once a month or so. Not a tough task, especially once it got started.
 

scourger

Explorer
I just sent out an e-mail bribing my players to write an in character journal for a hero point for each session logged.

I did a similar thing in a game once, and it worked very well. I even collected all the emails in a big word document and had them printed & spiral bound for all the players as gifts. Very fun.
 

DumbPaladin

First Post
Keeping track of cool lines and the like isn't usually what people need from this kind of a journal ... they usually just want/need a recap so they don't forget important events from the previous session.

If you actually want to keep track of details as specific and minute as this, I definitely second the suggestion of recording your session. I can't think of any other great way to handle that.

If you really just want a primary recap of the session's events, offer to award bonus XP to a player who will become the group's chronicler. Our group awards 5% bonus XP for this task ... we also assign 5% for the party quartermaster, and 5% for the calendar keeper -- both scheduling games and coordinating everyone's availability, and the in-game date.
 

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