Sunday, November 16, 2014

DMing Tools: the Bioware-Style Journal

DMing Tools: the Bioware-Style Journal

Image Courtesy of Moby Games

It's inevitable that the Dungeon Master of any long-running game will accumulate a healthy assortment of notes, plans, and bookmarks for their regular sessions.  Now that I've been using Roll20 recently, I have a much easier time organizing and saving relevant parts.

Going to video games, the RPGs Bioware is famous for producing (notably Dragon Age and Mass Effect series) include a "Journal" (or Codex) choice in the options menu.  Basically how it works is that whenever your character encounters some new bit of lore, be it the contents of a book in a musty library or the first encounter with a species of monster, the relevant data is added to the Journal.  What's great about it is that knowledge is gained incrementally: you won't get everything related to Elven culture when you visit one of their settlements, and the entries update depending on events which take place in the game.  Sometimes the journal entries will be in-character, with the entry on wolves written by a scribe discussing superstitions and folkore surrounding them.  Combine this utility with alphabetical entries organized by subject, and you have an easily-searchable journal full of knowledge that is fun to read.

So how can this be applied to traditional table-top games?  Well, for one, every Roll20 campaign comes with its own message board to be filled with the posts of the DM and players.  For my Arcana High campaign, I searched the chat archives and campaign journal entries when I had some free time, going over the major characters, nations, religions, and compiling them in the posts of a new thread.  I kept the entries simple, usually no more than 1 or 2 sentences.  Like my earlier style when doing "skeleton settings," I only made entries for characters, places, and events the characters encountered or heard about in the game sessions.  That way the journal's growth is organic instead of feeling like a huge infodump on the players.

Even with this brief information of a sentence or two per entry, it has been immensely helpful for my players to keep track of things.  Sometimes we can't always make it to the game, or the DM gets sick.  Simply trusting people to remember things, even important characters and events, isn't always so simple when we have real life getting in the way.

As for those not using Roll20 or other online games, compiling a "codex" to e-mail to players who ask for it can be a great idea as well.  I recommend to send them only the relevant bits they ask for in case the journal gets quite long.