Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Keeping Track

So, an important tradition at the start of each game session for us usually involves the “In the previous episode of our story” bit where someone reminds everyone what happened the week before. It’s a great way to get everyone focused on the game and away from the snacks or the startup banter and remind everyone where the story is. Also, if anyone missed the previous session, they can catch themselves up.

But, we all know that the game isn’t always a weekly affair, and sometimes, with lots of conflicting events, it can sometimes be a month before the group reunites. Memories get hazy and details go foggy.

In the past, I would try to keep notes, but I just couldn’t keep up with it. I tried tempting my players with extra story points if they kept a log, but nobody ever took me up on it.

Well, part of the problem was that I never really had a cool system to do it, so I was never motivated to track elements of the story. I’ve seen various cool looking leatherbound emblazoned “adventure journals” for sale, but I never really found one that looked all that great.

Then, one day I was wandering through a Hobby Lobby and I saw the Happy Planners there. These were crafty and flowery and cutesy day planners being marketed to women and crafters. They had a series of loose rings as binders, and the pages and covers had these cool punched holes that held the pages in place, but also allowed for easy removal and replacement. 

That was the key that caught my eye. Removal and Replacement. That meant that the organization of the pages was flexible. Pages could shift around in the book based on temporary need, allowing accessibility without having to do a lot of searching in the moment. Very useful. 

A bit of research and I discovered that there are many brands and systems of planners and notebooks using the “Disc Bound” idea. I dove in.

In the process, I discovered that it was easy to get a hole punch made to create the special perforations necessary. Then, you could use any word processor to create your own forms and pages.

So, immediately I started creating them for The Hero’s Tale (It turns out that an 8.5x11 sheet cuts in half perfectly for an 8-ring binder). Right away, I discovered that the needs of a Narrator (Game Master) were different from the needs of the player, so I created separate forms.

The main ones that I use for Narration are the Session Notes/Planner pages and the NPC tracker pages. The session notes allows me to plan a basic overview of the likely scenes in the session, track the characters and their karmic actions as well as note the story points during the game, and then take notes on the actual story that they play. Finally, and the bottom of the flip side, I can jot down some notes for the next session. One sheet contains the whole session. 

Once I’ve got the basic plan, I create an NPC sheet for each of the primary NPCs they’ll encounter, and keep one or two blanks handy in case they run into someone I have to create on the fly. I can gather all of the recurring NPCs from deeper in the binder and move the sheets to the spot where I can access them easily. Now my NPCs are becoming real people, and have more in-depth roles, like a support or a nemesis. 

The players use the NPC sheets as well, but their session record sheets don’t require planning sections, so I’ve made those ones a little simpler. The players have their primary character sheets as well, of course.

I’m working on other page ideas, like locations and items. I also print them in a medium gray instead of dark black so that the user can write over things however they want, and they don’t have to use the “form”. 

Here are some pictures of my system in action.

I have all of my games in one binder, whether I’m the Narrator or the player. I can move them around depending on which campaigns are the most active and what world each one is in. I can pull forward the notes that are needed, and “archive” what’s not to the back of the binder.

It has had a HUGE impact on my storytelling, both as a Narrator and as a player. I no longer forget names, and personalities and locations are much more consistent and memorable. It’s becoming much more REAL. I’ll never go back!

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