View Full Version : Ask a GM [02/09/09]: Campaign / Adventure Logs

02-09-2009, 01:20 AM
nijineko (http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/member.php?u=1336) asks,
Do you keep a campaign and/or adventure journal? Why, or why not? If you do, what advice do you have for starting one, and then keeping it going?
To hear what our expert panel had to say, read on...

02-09-2009, 01:21 AM
Until my most recent campaign, I have never kept a campaign log before. Sure, I have made scattered notes here and there that I can refer back to with important character names, dates and places, but I've never made them consumable by anyone other than myself. And to be honest, those were barely consumable by me. I've also been keeping track of experience gained on a per adventure basis for my D&D games for years. I name each session according to what happened in that game to give me some clue when I look back.

But, truth to tell, I've already found that keeping a campaign log is hard work, especially if you tend to be verbose. One of my campaign logs actually took over four hours to type. That's probably not a sustainable if you're playing on a weekly or even bi-weekly basis, so my first bit of advice would be to strike a balance between detail and brevity, and realize that it probably isn't necessary to document every dungeon room, scene or NPC conversation unless it is plot pivotal (or makes for an entertaining read).

Other thing you might try with your campaign log is make it immediately interesting to your players by planting little nuggets of background that they wouldn't otherwise know. I'm not advocating giving away anything crucial, but it might be a chance to reveal and expound upon something that happened "off-camera" or to give the players a deeper understanding of an NPC's motivations or of the setting itself.

In my current campaign, I am also adding journal entries that contain lore that the characters may know given the appropriate knowledge and that may come up later down the line. This can be a nice reward for the players who are paying close attention. The more interested your players are in what you're writing, the more rewarding it will be for you to keep putting in the effort to write more.

Depending on how or where you're logging it can also be a great way to quickly find some piece of information you are trying to recall. Being able to quickly search your notes is an awesome thing. I've also been making the effort to add "tags" to my campaign log here to make it easier to search. I put things like the name of the places they visited and the names of NPCs they interacted with. If you're keeping a campaign log here, that will allow you to find all of the log entries that had related tags, which is a cool thing to be able to do.

As Patrick (cplmac) pointed out, having a campaign log will also be an invaluable tool to bring a new player up to speed if you should ever add one deep into your campaign. And, if you can get your players to add entries of their own to your campaign log, you will really enrich it. Having your players write their own could help them add new depth to their characters, and understanding the player-characters' perspectives on events that are happening in a campaign is a gold mine to any GM.

If you're interested in starting your own campaign log, you might want to check out the Blogs section here at Pen & Paper Games. Look through the campaign logs of others to get ideas for the format you might use.

02-09-2009, 01:21 AM
I love campaign/adventure journals. Almost nothing beats being able to go over journals after a campaign is concluding and remembering the good times that have come before. Or finding a bundle of journals from Campaigns long past and remembering what you were doing on a given weekend in August of 1994 (always date your journals in real time!).

But still, like any errand, keeping up with journals can be tiresome. My advice -- divide the load. Reward players who help you with the work. To put this in D&D terms, here is my preferred and playtested house-rule system.

House Rule: Bonus points for Journals and Excellent Role-play

Role-playing and journal bonuses are never given in the form of XP bonuses. Instead, bonus points are awarded. An in character journal or comparable hand-in receives one bonus point. Additionally excellent role-play (which is solely at the discretion of the GM) also receive up to one bonus point per session. Bonus points are generally used at level advancement.

It is bad form for a player to recommend themselves for a bonus point. However other players should feel free to pause the game to recommend another a player for a bonus point. Again, it is ultimately the GMs call whether the reward should be given, but recommendations are always appreciated.

So, what are these bonus points good for?

1 bonus point = 1 additional skill point (max. two per level)
1 bonus point = 1 bonus language (max one per level)
1 bonus point = 1 additional dice for hit points (keep the highest)
3 bonus points = +1 permanent bonus to a saving throw (only once per saving throw per character)
5 bonus points = +1 permanent ability increase (only once per character per ability)
5 bonus points = first bonus feat (only once per character)
10 bonus points = second bonus feat (only once per character; cannot be bought on the same level that the first bonus feat is purchased)
15 bonus points = third bonus feat (only once per character; cannot be bought on the same level that the first or second bonus feat is purchased.)
20 bonus points = fourth bonus feat (only once per character; cannot be bought on the same level that any other bonus feats are purchased.)

The great thing about journals is that they are something you and your players make together. Really, for me, this is the heart of the RPG experience. I haven't created a story. Together, a group of friends and I, we have created story. Journals are simply a written record of what we have made.


02-09-2009, 01:21 AM
I keep a private journal of the details and notes that help me keep things going, but I don't write out a journal that people can read.

Having my own journal, even if it's only a list of bullets to keep me focused really makes a difference in keeping things consistent and remembering all the details about the NPC's the players interact with. I'd love to write it out into something more of a story for people to read, because I enjoy reading over the shoulder of other GM's, but I just don't ever seem to find the time to write out my own notes into something larger.

I do think it's critical to have some form of journal as a GM if you are running a protracted campaign that is not just a module run straight up and advise anyone who is running a game to do the same; but going deeper is a luxury. If you can afford it you will enjoy it, but it's not necessary.

02-09-2009, 01:21 AM
I usually don't, I'm not a journal type of person (generally, because I'm lazy). Somehow I usually do characters that need to take notes-and usually the only one taking notes, and not recieving any type of "reward" for doing so. :lol:

However, I'm not against having anyone writing notes, and would gladly give XP rewards, because I'm scatterbrained and need help. ;)

02-09-2009, 01:21 AM
To be honest with everyone, the posting of my "Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth" campaign adventure progress is actually the first time that I have ever done anything on the lines of keeping a journal. I started it because there were a couple of other site members that asked if I could since they would not be able to join in on the game due to distance factors. It has also helped for when a particular player wasn't able to make a game session, they were able to know what took place while they were away. Another advantage to having a campaign log is that if you find that your group has to bring a new player into the ranks, this does allow for the new person to be able to know what has happened and hopefully be able to step right in and start playing without having to be told all this at the first game session that they are at.

To be able to make a good naration, I take notes of the major points of the session so as to be sure and not miss anything. The same notes also come in handy for awarding the experience points for other than just killing monsters and such.

I look at the campaign log as being a story. You want to try to make it seem like a good book so that the reader will be interested and want to keep following it. I have found that it seems to keep it simple by just making entries grouped by each game session. Now I will be the first to admit that I am not like a professional writer in any way, but I have found that it is really not that hard to make a campaign log. Sometimes the real challenge is just trying to find the time to actually type up the entry.

For some examples and to see different styles of writting, there are a couple of campaign logs on some of the members blogs here on the site. Pop over and check them out, for they are all a good read.

02-09-2009, 02:24 PM
having asked the question, i should probably mention what goes on with me and logging. ^^ i have always jotted down notes in either textual or visual formats to remind me of things. unfortunately resulting in large piles of it-was-near-to-hand-objects which accept pen or pencil marks... everything from paper to napkins to envelopes to mini-notepads and more.

when i started a long-distance on-again-off-again (as in when we both had time) campaign some five to seven-ish (?) years ago we quickly ran into two problems. two of us could sync more often than the third. and we had trouble remembering where we had left off and who had done or not done what exactly.... in response to the first problem, we simply started up a second campaign.

the second campaign became the primary one, as the third person necessary for the original campaign was so seldom able to make it that it is still on hold. (but we have some plans for that!) in any case i began jotting down notes for the second campaign. these notes consisted of major things accomplished, minor events that happened of some note, npc interactions, place names with significant (to the characters) events or features noted, and cool moves pulled off by whom.

major things would consist of monsters defeated, tasks or goals accomplished, interesting things found, locations explored and so forth. minor things would include things like fumbles, humiliating random stuff that happened to either players or npcs, good places to eat and drink and shop (or avoid), and witty dialogue. the rest is pretty much as described.

this became a habit, especially as it allowed me to make in game references later in the campaign, which really added to the sense of continuity and versimilitude. we'd make fun of past goofs, and reminise about past successes. like the time the party bard cast confusion on a bunch of giants, and hit our dervish who was invisible at the time and sneaking up for a surprise attack.... he only has to take a step away from her whenever she starts spellcasting to elicit a glare in his direction. ^^

eventually the dm started using my notes for the "last session found the brave heroes doing 'x'..." bit. and pretty much sealed my fate as the party record keeper.

i've found that it also helps during dming, great for increased versimilitude, focusing, and memory.

02-09-2009, 06:38 PM
I typically know the NPC stuff, but leave the players to keep track of their stuff. This is true of abilities/spells/skills, as well as story points.

I like the reward system for PC journals, but I usually just handle the reward "in-game", that being, if your character sees another character she recognizes running down the road, but you can't remember his name to call out, then whatever you could have potentially gained (information, hook, etc.) runs off.

Now, I do have one palyer this time who can only come ocassionally, and when he does arrive, he is two hours behind everyone. So, in an attempt to not put everything on hold for five minutes to bring him up to speed, I have started a mini-journal for him (it is a list of major events only).

I guess I feel like I put a lot of work into the game, so someone else can put work into documentation if that is important to them (but I do give handouts that have a lot of information on them, like if the party finds the antagonist's journal, it will realy have stuff in it).

And maybe I would give extras to Bard types for keeping track, for the role-playing value of it.

Good luck to everyone as you go about killing the things with green skin living in caves instead of the pink skinned people in houses.

02-09-2009, 10:41 PM
I usually go to the dollar store and get a cheap spiral-bound notebook.

As a player, I'll keep notes of people met and places gone. Spell lists, quick sketches and maps and stuff. I'll generally track bodily harm here, rather than wearing a hole through the character sheet. I don't usually do anything with it beyond taking the notes during the session.

As a GM. I'll keep track of who they met and what I thought was the important information given out in the scene. Description notes if this was an unplanned encounter. Also use it to keep track of initiative and wounds/hp for combat scenes. After a session, I'll write up a quick synopsis of the session (a paragraph per scene, generally) perhaps with some notable banter.

02-10-2009, 06:14 PM
I have never kept a 'journal' in any of my campaigns but I have instead written a novelette or short stories from my character's perspectives.

02-12-2009, 06:35 AM
Yes i keep a campaign joournal for my campaign, it really helps me keep the game orginised, and reminds me what has happened to my players. im thinking of transfering it to my laptop, but that is alot of data to input.

02-13-2009, 11:35 AM
i'll do it for you for a bribe. ^^

02-13-2009, 01:34 PM
I do believe it is extremely useful to write a journal. I am a custom-world maker and not only do I keep a journal, I try to keep a chronological document of events. The fact of the matter is that many of these events, or journal notes, might never see the light of day in a certain campaigns. But what they do allow is for consistency across the entire world, thereby providing you (storyteller) with an opportunity to come back to a world you have developed, start a new campaign with new character, and be able to revisit certain places, people, or situations that help you establish a culture. It takes me a whole 2 seconds to write that in XXX town, the players went to the Squeaky Wheel tavern, where they met Yoyo, who was butt ugly, drooled, and had a ten year old ugly daughter whom he bossed around all the time. While Mr. Yoyo is not a memorable or perhaps relevant character, his return in other sessions, heck, perhaps other campaigns of the same world, helps the storyteller develop both a style and feel of that world just by its recurring characters. It may be that Mr. Yoyo died, but some players may come back to the same tavern, now owned by a beautiful woman who was Mr. Yoyo's daughter now grown up. There you've got yourself a sense of time passing, a good establishment of feeling and mood, lore, culture, and consistency, all out of some stupid tavern that mattered not ONE IOTA to the game as a whole. Honestly, it may seem like a trivial note at the moment you add it, might even be something that you spat out spur of the moment. But you can turn that nothing in to something down the line, just because you got yourself organized and kept your dates, events, and people in order.
I keep a journal in alphabetical order. I break it down between sections of a world, some of which may have details that are not really important to the world as a whole but are specific to the town and give it its own richness. For my world, I have what I call the Tome of Halikar, and from that I am working the Tome of Lakeland, which is a duchy of the northern kingdom in Halikar, both with many details, one more specific, the other more broad. And because I have a chronology in the background, I donít miss much, and for once, the HISTROY skill, is not useless to have! If a player makes a check, rather than me saying, "yes, you know what happened," this time around, he will leave with specific details of the event, which will help the player enjoy his experience of the world more fully than otherwise, when the world seemed more like a hollow shell.
I like the reward idea Gary posted. I do believe I will use that for my players. Thanks Gary! ;)


02-13-2009, 05:28 PM
I like the reward idea Gary posted. I do believe I will use that for my players. Thanks Gary! ;)


Always glad to be of service to my fellow gamer.


02-13-2009, 09:46 PM
I did when i was playing. It helps to remember where we left off and it is also nice for role play when you trying to tell your story in game.

02-14-2009, 08:44 AM
i'll do it for you for a bribe. ^^

:laugh:very tempting......:lol:

02-15-2009, 11:38 AM
I've never kept a journal because most of my adventures are, pretty much, make it up as I go along. I don't worry much about continuity because I find that IT adds too much weight to the game (if you like it you call it depth, if you don't it's just baggage) eventually IT makeS the stories unbelievably complicated. If I can't remember it, it's not worth remembering, and if it's worth bringing back i will remember it.

02-21-2009, 06:00 PM
Like nijineko, my Game Notes usually resulted in large piles of it-was-near-to-hand-objects which accept pen or pencil marks... everything from paper to napkins to envelopes to mini-notepads and more.

And then, I got my computer.
This changed how I kept note a LOT.
Sure, I would still do the above for quick note-taking.
But then I would transfer those into a Word document as soon as I was able.

Depending on how much time I have, also changes the style of what is placed there.

Little time means only important facts: Monsters and Important NPCs encountered and where and when - And in what order.

More time means that I get to practice my Creative Writing Skills.
I also do my best to reward the Players for keeping their own Journals/Diaries of the Adventures they have had. These help me to refine my notes and stories. While leaving their creations alone.

02-26-2009, 01:11 PM
I have made it a habit in the last few years to keep a running journal. Its not always complete. I also add in as many discussions and email threads as i can between the players. If you try and capture lots of details, its gets long winded and the effort to correct spelling, grammar, sequence of everything, etc. can be overwhelming. One of the 2 campaign's i currently journal is at http://www.incarna.net/iweb/host/kelly/rpgs/camprec/c_dunst/c_dunst.aspx. Its got pieces missing and its hyperlinked to a bunch of other materials... it takes hours of time each week to keep up a log like this. Thats too much for most GM's... but my group likes detailed cohesive campaigns, not a series of randomly strung together scenarios.

Also, I use google docs to communicate and track story issues, sharing them with other players and GM's as needed.

02-27-2009, 02:57 AM
I used to, as a player, to help me remember the stories in the long term. Sometimes I do it because I'm grasping for context between all of the struggling personalities involved. I'd treat it like a blog: put something in it right before or right after the game that expresses the central tension of the game at that point. Unless there is something more you might be looking for in it?

03-08-2009, 12:15 PM
I didn't write a journal when I while the game was going on. I like shooting from the hip style since I didn't have much time to plan for a session. Plus, the size of the group was always in question.

I would send out game recaps, filling in the gaps to make the plotline more realistic, adding some roleplaying dialog, etc. At the end of the recap would be experience points. This was e-mailed to all players in the group so if someone missed a gaming session, they knew what went on. It worked out pretty well until this semester started then I had to step down because of time constraints.

dr pepper
03-11-2009, 02:37 PM
Ideally, i like everyone to make their own writeups after each adventure, not for the sake of continuity, or history, but because i like seeing things from different characters' perspectives. However that takes a certain minimum level of dedication form all the players, so i find it doesn't usually work out. But the idea of rewards, hmm... I just finished my 4th session of my new campaign and i now have 4 players. I told them that next time i would discuss experience, character advancement, acquisition of henchlings and so on. I'm going to ask how they feel about journals.

Thanks, McBride!

03-22-2009, 07:18 PM
For my real-life game, I've always rewarded players who have done logs or journals on my site for their characters. For the online games, I've never really needed them; we have a IRC bot that functions both as a dicebot and a log keeper. We have over 5 years of games on that thing. Let me know if you're curious and I'll show you some.

08-31-2009, 11:29 AM
I broke my last campaign up into chapters. After each chapter I made an online forum for the characters to discuss what happened.

I only go through two chapters of this because of time constraints though. It was a bummer.

The members that participated in the forum, received bonus character points to spend as they chose. It was usually double the amount of character points that were awarded at the table.


The best reward from this style of log was that I really got a feel for what the players enjoyed and remembered and I was better able to tailor hooks that they enjoyed.

02-18-2010, 08:19 AM
I started keeping a campaign journal in late 2008, finding it necessary to do so if I wanted to actually remember what we had been doing in-game. What I usually do is summarize the session, and then I'll eventually list monsters and treasure. One of the other players in the group will itemize the treasure and determine Challenge Ratings for the monsters we've fought and parleyed with.

Here's an example of an almost continual campaign journal, in which I was a player (screen name Sacrificial Lamb), where you can watch the campaign flourish and then eventually fade out with a whimper. It includes maps, pictures, monster lists, treasure tables, and even a few feats and incantations:


Also, I just began a social group and journal on this website only weeks ago, but I'll soon include maps and treasure tables and whatnot. It's a work-in-progress. :)


I hope these examples help.

03-11-2010, 08:08 AM
I've kept journals of every game I've run or played in since 1991. In the last year or so, I've taken to audio recording every game I'm in for more detailed journals.

Mostly they were AD&D or D&D but from 07 to 09, I ran Call of Cthulhu and kept detailed journals there. Those are actually all online. I also tend to try out new games often and write up journals for them too.

I find the journals very useful for an ongoing campaign and, as said before, it's great to see what actually happened in the game years (or a decade) ago. My players love them too and we've gotten together sometimes just to read from the journals of the old adventures. When I'm in someone else's game, I usually print out a copy of my journal for them - kind of a way to say 'Thanks for going to all the trouble to run.'

It also means that gaming has a productive side. It's not just socializing or having fun, it's also helping me to better my writing ability.

The Call of Cthulhu journals can be found here, starting with Crack'd and Crook'd Manse 1. Spoilders! These are mostly published scenarios:


The others can be found here:


I have binder after binder of typed up ones at home as well.

The Magic King
03-11-2010, 01:50 PM
I like to just remember things, and seeing as I have an apparently good memory, this has never been a problem.

03-12-2010, 09:42 AM
I wish i could remember all those moments in 30 years of gaming but they do slip by. I still use a journal for my current campaign, it helps the players review and pick up strongly again after 2 weeks (we play about every 2 weeks). I drop email dialogue, dialog from the game, notes from characters as they journal themselves, and just some placeholder text to serve as a reminder of what happened in what order.


03-12-2010, 09:53 AM
I cheat and use an online virtual tabletop (Fantasy Grounds). All it means is a save of the chat log and some small amount of tidying up. Then up the log goes on the Google group for the players to reminisce over. It's good for reminding everyone what happened last week. Not that we middle aged gamers can't remember from one week to the next. It's just the individual days blur in to one another.

03-15-2010, 01:39 PM
As a player I always kept some notes in one format or another. My preference was to write it in the voice of the character since that helped me keep things in the correct perspective. My memory isn't good enough to remember what was going on from one session to the next, so having the notes was crucial to keeping any good continuity. As a DM I've tried to keep relevant materials available to the player. Typically in the form of session synopsis compiled from the notes I took during the game.

As technology improves I've taken to setting up wiki pages for the campaign. I'll keep journal entries in the character's voice just as I did before. Alongside that I could also keep more detailed out of character information on the world and NPC's that we've met.

It takes a bit of extra work to keep everything up to date, but it does help the sessions out since there's a reliable reference that all the players can use to remember where we left off and why we're tracking down some macguffin.

04-29-2010, 11:41 AM
A quick update. I've put in a very small incentive to encourage players to journal as well and its worked with very low success. Only 2 of a total of 15 players in three games have done it. So, as a ply test, journaling seems more of a luxury and something the players would prefer the GM's did as opposed to having to do it themselves. The one interesting thing i did find is how different some of the notes were on the same scenarios - but that just reinforces what police already know - eye witness accounts should not be counted on as evidence.

Obah Bason
05-27-2010, 08:38 AM
For my real-life game, I've always rewarded players who have done logs or journals on my site for their characters.

Yep, same here. I have a facebook page where my players can add notes on what they thought was important or interesting to them after a game. It actually helps me seeing what they viewed as interesting, and what they dismissed as fluff.

05-28-2010, 08:51 AM
So, i moved my campaign log to Obsidian Portal, which has a great format to encourage this sort of stuff. I had one player do one journal entry right away. I've had one other player start posting a lot of comments on things. Its become a sort of journal for him, as he posts his comments in character. Its not the big payoff i hoped for, though I have got feedback that the players find it better organized and the experience easier to use than me posting web pages. Nearly all the main players, over 50%, have created accounts and taken ownership of their characters (of course i offered action points as incentives). This is very difficult to get people to do consistently. Some journal to capture a personal moment - something their character especially was involved in. One character made a journal just because he became literate (though it was far more expressive than his nominal skills would have allowed). Personal interest in the contents of the journal seems to most motivating thing - just doing it to have a good player record is not enough - it feels like they expect me, the GM, to do that sort of thing.