Note-oriety, or, the Benefit to the Dungeon Master of Keeping Extensive Campaign Notes

symatt-dragon-04

Dragon by Symatt

For my second session (read about the first here) I initially attempted to get the group back on track somewhat. Despite them initially siding with the kobolds, after an attempt to loot the already looted town, they decided to head to the keep. This involved an amusing betrayal of their new kobold allies. Drenched in kobold blood, they showed up at the keep. This was good for me as in retrospect I had been keeping very few notes, and the closer to the module they kept the easier it was to recall what they had done later.

Note: a very minor Hoard of the Dragon Queen spoiler ahead…

The Hoard of the Dragon Queen had several ‘missions’ for the party to partake in. I’m not an experienced DM by any means, but one or two of these missions seemed difficult for a level one party. In fact, a lot of them seemed a little hard. I ended up leveling the party at some point during the night. I did appreciate that it was not necessary to do all the missions, so I left out one that would have them encounter (spoiler apology) an adult Blue dragon. The book does make it clear this is not a confrontation to be fought to the end, but I had no faith in this party knowing how to deal with a dragon at their level (it involves running away or any variation of not fighting it head on). They handily dealt with a couple of the other missions before the session ended.

In terms of notes taken, I had very few. Just some hastily scratched notes on a piece of scrap paper. So when later I tried to recall events, all I had was some random words and names, with lots of scratched out health values. I had to rely on my memory, which is unreliable at best, to compose my summary of events. For the third session, one to firmly establish the party as heroes to the town, I had a notepad ready to flesh out my notes. This hero making mission naturally ended up with the party, who to save me constantly saying ‘party’ will now be known as the Raidy Bunch, betraying the town and joining the raiding cultists again. This helped them avoid another ‘scripted’ event that I thought was best left aside- well I ran it anyway but the Raidy Bunch were audience rather than participant, and events run much more smoothly when they aren’t directly involved.

The fact that the Raidy Bunch were practically card-carrying cult members by now meant that I was able to tear the book apart (figuratively) and twist things to suit my own purposes. The module details the goals of the cult, so I was going to drip feed the party information to basically follow events of the book, but changing the theme of the various events and dungeons. I decided to replace the second episode with a dungeon of my own creation. Since it was to be another Skype session I drew my own map using the website Dungeon Painter. This time the notepad was nowhere to be found so scrap paper again was the way to go.

I made the Blue dragon from the first episode the villain of the week. I decided that the cult shortchanged him his fee for helping in the raid. Why would a dragon help a cause without padding out his hoard? So I had him get some of his minions grab some swag and bring it to one of his lesser hideouts (I felt his main hideout would be too much too soon for our cultists). The mission was to retrieve the spoils he stole and bring it back to the guys who stole it first (is there no honour among thieves?). My issue was how to make the Raidy Bunch not just take the money and run. To do this I basically made the treasure a bunch of silverware in boxes. Also, since they were new to the cult, they sent a representative along with them. The crawl went well, the dungeon was not extensive but I think it was decent enough. It helps to have fresh players in this regard, I’m sure an experienced player would have scoffed at how I hinted at secret passages, or how I padded out a room that started to easy.

Finally, as a fine example of my poor note taking, I just now remembered that I had added an encounter with crocodiles on the way. As I recall, since the party was leveled relatively recently before that I wanted an encounter before the dungeon to gauge the combat effectiveness of the group. It was actually a fun one to run, so be careful around rivers in my games. The crocodiles burst from the water and almost dragged some of the party into the river! The party soon made luggage out of them, but it was a good taste of their potential mortality. Looking through paper on my desk I found evidence of the encounter – a stat block for crocodiles on a piece of paper. Were it not for the rambling avenues of my memory inadvertently leading to a sign saying “Crocodile attack, 1 mile”, I would have left it out completely in the summary. (Note to self- write summary of that session.)

Stories are made to be told and retold; this is surely part of how writing came to be, as an archive the human brain is phenomenal but flawed. No two brains are the same, and some are more reliable than others. Mine is on the lower end of the scale, so I need to take notes- such is the state of my memory that I often forget to take notes! I intend to look into methods of recording audio of the sessions- nightshifts will give me time to listen and collate the events into a more palatable summary. So those of you without eidetic memory let me know: How do you chronicle the events of your sessions? Or do you take notes at all?

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  • Dishes

    Apparently, I’m running my first campaign about the same time as you. Good luck to us both, eh?

    As for note taking, my memory seems to be pretty good recognition a wise, so the random notes, stats, and tallies that I jot down usually suffice. I also tend to plan out multiple story paths the party might take beforehand. Even if they don’t end up taking any of them, the variety makes it easier to adlib and it makes it a bit easier to remember things when they didn’t go as planned. So far, aside from a few encounter hiccups, this has worked pretty well for me.

  • http://diceofdoom.com RupertG

    I keep an audio recording of each and every game. This way I can keep track of everything that has happened. It gives me a chance to learn from portions of a session where I felt I did something really good, or perhaps attempt to learn from something that didn’t go according to plan.

    In a recording you can easily tell when you have your player’s attention. The amount of ambient noise at the table is a dead giveaway.