Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How I track RPG sessions

I thought some people might wonder how another DM actually manages combat & campaign info - it's not something that comes up a whole lot so I thought I would share.

(I promise this has something to do with Savage Worlds too)

I keep a campaign notebook, one of those smaller 4X6 or larger spiral notebooks. For each session I write down the date, the campaign session number, who showed up, and where the game starts (a room in a dungeon or a building in a city or "on the road to Greyhawk". If I'm tracking time closely then I also note the game-time date as well (I do this in all of my D&D games but I am not doing this for NE - it's not really necessary and it's not really something comic books keep track of either.)

As the session proceeds I write down notes on what the party does, NPC's met, major financial transactions, church donations, etc. This helps greatly in fleshing out locations like the local town or city as when I jot down that they talked to the innkeeper at the Rusty Falchion I can also jot down his name (even if he didn't have one before) and a short description (Nervous, balding). Next time they return, the same guy is probably going to be there. Also, if Steve's Paladin commissions a magic sword from the local sword smith and I say it's going to take him 30 days to craft it, then I know where and when that process started. Most sessions don't even fill up a whole page with these kinds of things, maybe half a page at most.

I also keep my combat notes on the same page which can cause it to spill over into an extra page. If they get into a fight with 12 orcs, my notes look something like this:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 AC6 HP 5

Those "l"'s at the top are where I track rounds (tally marks). Each beastie gets its own column to track hit points, and the armor class and hit points for the group are noted off to the side along with any other major features, like "DR10 vs. fire". As PC's attack, I usually start with #1 and work to the left, counting the "ones at the front" as the leftmost numbers, moving right as we get to the guys at the back. I jot down status effects on each column like S for stunned or H3 for held on round 3. I also note down high and low points like "Barbarian crits for 30 on orc chieftain, slaying him in 1 hit" or "Wizard held on rnd 1, did nothing the entire fight".

In previous editions I wrote initiative down as well in a column then crossed it out and wrote the new order down each round. For 3rd edition I keep an index card for each PC and just write down their initiative for each encounter (crossing out the last one) and put them in order. I keep a few in a different color handy for the opposition and do the same thing. It's simple, it works, and it's cheap. I picked up one of those combat tracker magnetic boards from Paizo a few years back because I loved the idea but in practice I like my index cards better. For running older editions I might give it another try, but it has mostly gathered dust.

So why do all of this jotting stuff down and marking up paper? For one, it greatly aids in tracking player attendance, the passage of time in the game, NPC's, locations and travel times, and all of those little things that make a campaign feel coherent. Not everyone needs this but it helps me stay organized. Also, it gives me a log of the game I can look back at when prepping the next session, plus one I can look back on months later when the party travels back through the region. Additionally, if you are going to put session summaries up on the internet, you really need some notes like this, so why not make them part of the routine?

I started tracking combat this way back when I occasionally ran 1st edition AD&D and it has worked for every edition of the game for me. I didn't start doing the whole campaign notebook thing as a routine until 3rd edition but I have used it for every 3rd edition game and every non-D&D campaign too. It's now a standard thing for me and one of my rituals when starting a new campaign is to go pick up a new notebook.

Savage Worlds: I am using the same approach for my Necessary Evil campaign but I have already noticed some differences. The biggest one is that there are no hit points in Savage Worlds so my "combat tracks" are non-existent. We track status by placing poker chips under the mini for each opponent though since most of them are not wild cards one wound drops them - the only status that must regularly tracked is "Shaken" and we mark it with a white chip. So I have no real combat records which is not a huge thing but it is odd as the combat tracks often take up a great deal of space. This leaves my session logs looking a little sparse, but I do like the speed and simplicity of the system.

Also, specific to the NE campaign, most of the NPC's are already statted and described so Idon;t have "innkeeper" NPC's to describe at this point. These are supervillains, so they aren't looting bodies or purchasing spell components. It's another change that I am OK with, it's just a noticeably different feel.


bliss_infinte said...

I've tried to use something similar but I didn't have it all in one place. I like your ideas and I'll be using this concept as well. thanks!

Blacksteel said...

Cool, your welcome, glad I could help. I also usually make a 3-ring binder for each campaign to keep old handouts, spare character sheets, and other notes in but I'm trying not to go totally micro-over-analyzing with this.