Design Journal: Note-taking Ideas for Game Masters

Design Journal: Note-taking Ideas for Game Masters

Dungeon and Campaign DesignThe other day I happened across a YouTube video from a D&D guy, who had some ideas on note-taking for Game Masters. It was interesting, and had some good points, but I didn’t think it went far enough into the concept before it turned into an infomercial for the sponsor’s product.

The ideas had to do with standardizing the format for taking notes, depending on the category of information: NPC, new Hooks, Items, Lore, etc. I jotted these ideas down, and fiddled with them a bit in my Design Notebook. I expanded on the ideas as follows:

Taking NPC Notes

The notes for an NPC the party encounters need to include the basics like name and personality and what the party talked about, but for my own campaign, I decided there should be a few more standard blanks to fill in.

  • Name
  • Race – my setting has five major ethnicities of humans, with widely varying cultures
  • Language – what languages does this NPC speak? Each ethnicity typically has their own. People from different regions have recognizable accents. Having to translate in order to communicate can lead to fun and interesting misunderstandings!
  • 1st Encounter Location – where does the Party know this person from? You can have fun with this too, as players may not remember where they first met an NPC, but you can tell them, “Yes, Grogar remembers this merchant from Agbo-by-the-Sea, but Alpharius is sure he knows the merchant from that mining village in the Iron Hills
  • Attitude – one or two words here to capture the way the NPC interacts with others. This can be another way of helping the Party identify the NPC, and possibly recall what happened last time.
    • Here is a list of Attitude Prompts:
      • Optimist/Pessimist
      • Hedonist/Ascetic
      • Helpful/Selfish
      • Moody/Quiet
      • Trusting/Suspicious
      • Agreeable/Contrary
      • Streetwise/Na├»ve
      • Modest/Arrogant
      • Well-spoken/Rambling
      • Abrasive/Aloof
      • Hostile/Courteous
      • Cheerful/Morose

New Information Appears from Nowhere

Frequently new Hooks or bits of Lore are unintentionally developed during a session, frequently something the players latch onto that you tossed in as a bit of color or atmosphere.

  • Hook Name
    • Date – when did this happen, in Campaign time?
    • NPC/Origin – Who did the party hear of this hook from?
    • Location of Origin – where was the party when they first heard of the Hook
    • Hook Leads to – what is the end location or person the information/clue will take the party?
  • Lore – Sometimes during a session a new piece of Lore is revealed, either thru an encounter, or if the party strays off the beaten path
    • Date – when did this happen, in Campaign time
    • Keyword or Name – who or what is the Lore about?
    • Lore note – just a sentence or two about what it is that you have revealed. Try to make this at least one complete sentence, you don’t want to get stuck with something like “Helmet – Undead, gem” to decipher in three weeks when the Party members bring it up

Finally, it pays to keep good notes on each of the PCs in the Party, especially if you’re playing an Old School game and grading on Play and Performance for levelling/training purposes.

Some key pieces of information might include:

  • NPCs encountered – who did the PC meet, and how did they leave it?
  • Downtime requests – did the player make a comment about needing to do some activity when the PC gets back to town?
  • XP
  • Treasure – which choice items did each PC take for themselves?
  • Injuries/Continuing Effects – are any of the Party members injured, or perhaps the victims of a curse or other spell-effect? Make a note and turn it into an adventure!

I took these ideas and made them into a little booklet-style notepad. You can download a free PDF on this link (WIP GM’s Note Taking Worksheets).

Game Master Dungeon Master Notebook Hack
A two-page spread

Give it a try, let me know what you think. I would love to get any feedback, comments or suggestions.


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