Whenever I start a new game as a player, I pick up a new notebook. I really adore Moleskine for a lot of reasons, but in large part because I can pick an evocative design that helps me put another pin into who my character is. When I played through Shattered Star, I used a variation on this one that I received as a gift. Going back through it, I can see my wizard’s progression from 4th level (I came in late) to 17th, and the myriad adventures we had, as well as the loot we gathered – as a devout Abadarian, I took charge of tracking treasure.
As part of the TRPG experience, writing can feel like a bit of a chore. It happens in addition to your other responsibilities at the game table, and sometimes outside of game time. The notebook becomes one more thing to keep track of. If you spend a lot of time taking notes in your work or at school, it can make the gaming experience feel more like work, which is not what we’re after. However, if the fantastic notebooks I linked to above are not enough inducement (and if they are not, I don’t know if we can be friends), let me give you a few reasons to scribe some of your experiences in game.
1) Institutional Memory – someone at the table really ought to be taking notes, because eventually this is going to happen:
Player: “We go back to that guy.”
GM: “Which guy?”
Other Player: “The guy…the guy who knew the thing.”
GM: (Searching his notes and eyeing his players like the shifty characters they are) “Not really sure what you are talking about.”
If you make notes of, at a minimum, the places you go and the people you meet there (those you have left alive, at any rate), these conversations don’t happen. It is one of the limitations of the TRPG format that we can have encounters with people whom we would clearly remember if we had actually encountered them, and lose all knowledge of that person over the course of the week or two between games.
The non-roleplaying part of institutional memory has to do with a subject that may rub a few folks, especially my fellow GMs the wrong way – extensive notes might reveal the cheat codes. TRPGs are not famous for them, but there are several adventures that have the one NPC, the key location, or the mega-important thingamajig, that can make a lot of the game much easier. If you learn that the temple of amber waves of grain has a sheaf of wheat that can scatter incorporeal undead to the wind, then spend six months fighting the knights of purple mountains before having to face the hall of the ghosts of TV-seasons past, you will likely forget about that sheaf of wheat…unless you wrote it down. Sometimes games do this deliberately, sometimes not so much, but what the designers and their nefarious GM agents put out there is for your use, so long as you remember where you left it.
2) Pattern recognition – This one is like the cheat code, only a little deeper. Game writers, be they professional or poor unpaid souls, have their go-to challenges. Additionally, sometimes game writers play with themes that are never made explicit to the players (often due to some piece of lore about the dungeon/nation/evil theme park that the PCs simply don’t have access to). Making notes about what you encounter and under what circumstances can then have a two-fold benefit. For the story hunter, it reveals a bit of the plot that was never directly spoken of. For the game player, it can give a hint as to what to expect and how to prepare. Anything that can prove of benefit to both the role-player and the game-player is double plus good.
3) Help your GM out – I expounded last week on the virtues of supporting your GM in your mutual quest for fun. Making notes on where you went, whom you met, and what you did is a huge boon to a GM who’s trying to track monster hit points, XP, and other shenanigans. Obviously, the GM should also be tracking where you are in the story, but having a second set of notes on what has transpired makes that job immeasurably easier.
Bear in mind that no one ever needs to read these notes but you, so feel free to write what you want in a way that you can understand. It doesn’t need to be a constant activity – writing will probably come to a stop during combat – and you should always pace yourself to keep it from feeling like a chore. Scribing your character’s adventures, even in shorthand little notes, adds one more artifact to your game experience, and will hopefully enhance your fun.