Player Tip #3 – Take Notes

In the very first tip on Thirdwalling, we covered arriving prepared.  While this tip was for both Players and Game Masters, the post went into detail on what you should bring to the game as a player.  Every piece of that equipment was important – or I wouldn’t have included it on the list – but if you can bring absolutely nothing else to the game, make it a pad of paper and a pen.

Many people call the game we play “pen and paper gaming” – and there’s a reason for that.  As gaming moves into the age of Google, the media may change – but the premise is the same.  Bring a pen and paper (real or digital) and take notes!

I had hoped to make this a quick tip – but the more I delved into it, the longer this email became.  To the point that I nearly split it into two tips.  But in an effort to keep things simple, I’ll just break it into two parts; what to write down and what to write it

Equipment – what to write on.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a player that takes more or better notes than Drip Dry.  Hopefully he will add his two cents in the comments.  Before he starts every session he has a plethora of note-taking tools in front of him – or in easy arm’s reach.  He even provides the rest of us with the tools we need to stay on top our note-taking.  So many of these suggestions come directly from observing him!

Below, I’ve outlined a few things to consider bringing to take notes – but I realize there are different thoughts on all of this.  Bring what you’re comfortable with, as long as you take good notes you can do it on a napkin of that’s what you like!

Good Quality Paper – It is no great secret that I am old fashioned when it comes to my gaming.  I like to play my pen-and-paper games with antique things like pens and paper.  There are a host of reasons why I prefer paper to other means when it comes to note-taking, but there is not enough space on the internet to cover my many varied thoughts on it.  To put it simply, I like to buy a good quality top-fold notebooks with heavy paper for each campaign I participate in.  Recently, Drip Dry introduced me to reinforced notebook paper and I may soon be a full convert.

Whichever way you do it, having quality paper will make you write more and make the notes last longer – and that is very important on long campaigns or if you intend to write your own games in the future.  I am surprised how often I find myself consulting notes from old campaigns when I am writing new ones.

A tablet or small laptop – Technology distracts me with emails and blog articles (and those poor distraught avian) and always goes dead at just the wrong moment.  But devices like tablets, large cell phones and laptops can be useful for taking notes if you are disciplined enough at it.  If you do bring technology to the table, make sure it is not a distraction.  I have a very simple e-reader type tablet that I take to every game for access to my Google Drive account – I also keep the .pdf copies of the relevant rulebooks on the tablet for quick reference – the search feature has settled many an argument before it got off the ground.

Leg Up will likely have something to say in the comments about technology in gaming.  New programs like Roll20 and several recent kickstarter campaigns offer a combination of video chat and game map technologies that I find fascinating and I expect to see more of them used by gamers in the future.  These new(ish) technologies give us the ability to play with people all over the world – like when Leg Up was in China or Drip Dry in Alaska – which offers some serious “pros” to the argument for technology at the game table.

A word of caution, though.  Do not let the technology become a distraction and ask your game master for their thoughts on technology before game.

Lined Sticky Notes – These things have all kinds of uses, and I carry these with me everywhere.  You can use them to cover parts of the map or game mat to demonstrate a spell effect or hide a tile, mark a page (and take notes on it) in a rulebook without damaging it, and keep track of notes passed between the player and the game master.  I have some that are about the same size and shape as a note card that I keep with my character sheet to track status effects.

Dry Erase board – This was all Drip Dry and I love him for it.  Small dry erase boards like this one can be had very cheaply online.  Drip Dry bought us all small ones with magnets on the back at a local discount retailer for about $2 a piece.  Then the very next week he bought us some Star Wars themed ones for about $1 each from the discount area in the front of the same store.  They are great for tracking your HP, passing notes to other players or doing math and even sketching out possible solutions for puzzles, etc.  You could make your own with those plastic sleeves that you should be keeping your character sheets in – just toss in a white piece of paper and you have a whiteboard!

More Importantly – What to write down?

The question of “What do I write down?” is a big one.  There are entire high school and college classes dedicated to the questions of how and when to take notes.  I expect our academics to chime in more on that in the comments.  The easiest answer to those tough questions is the toughest to implement;  write everything down.  But there are a few things that a good player should be sure they record whenever they pop up:

Names of people and places – In a business meeting you should always refer to the people at the table by their name.  It shows respect and helps build rapport.  This is true at the game table, too.  But you should refer to the other players at the table (and the NPCs) by the made-up name they provide, not their real one.  That shows creativity and builds immersion as well as developing a rapport with the characters (and helping to separate which statements are in-game versus out-of-game).

In fact, any time the Game Master gives you a name of a person or place, you should write it down and keep notes about that person or place as you learn more about it.  If they’ve taken the time to invent a name and give the character a back story, it’s probably an important character.  Do not assume the game master will give you name again, either.  So you can expect that if a powerful townsperson or arrogant dragon thinks you have forgotten their name, there will be trouble.

Character, Party or Environmental Effects – Whenever your character’s stats are changed by an outside force – or whenever your character changes the stats of someone else – you should write it down.  Not just the effect but the duration of the effect and the source (if you know them).  Do not expect the Game Master to keep track of these for you if they take the time to tell it to you.  Track it and remind them when it is over.  I like to track all of these effects – and my most common stat / skill values – on a sticky note card at the top of my character sheet for quick reference.

New Gear and Equipment – Whenever I get new gear or find equipment or loot in a dungeon, I jot it down on a more temporary medium than my character sheet.  It is not uncommon that the great new piece of gear you find won’t be leaving the dungeon with you for one reason or another.  Maybe that great longsword is the only thing that will open the exit door, or maybe that awesome suit of armor belongs to the Liche guarding the next room and he’ll be expecting it back before you can pass.  Either way, jot it down on a sticky note and stick it to your character sheet for a few sessions before you make it permanent.

Information about the quest you’re on, or the objective you’re trying to reach – Anything the game master tells you about your end goals you should write down right away.  They may not give it to you again and it may be crucial to the campaign (or at least the scene or module you’re in!).

So that’s what I jot down.  What do you record and what medium do you use?  Take it to the comments!  I know Leg Up and hopefully Drip Dry will want to weigh on in this one!


4 thoughts on “Player Tip #3 – Take Notes

  1. So, I have this problem: When I write down notes I’ll either lose them, or (more common than not) I’ll reread them later and have no idea what I was thinking or trying to convey when I wrote them. Often, due to this, I’ll rely on other people’s notes or my own recollection, which is a terrible way to handle it I know. My point in bringing this up?

    Don’t be a D**k , DM.

    If you see your players either don’t take notes often, or are disorganized, then encouraging them with light reminders or the occasional RP embarrassment isn’t uncalled for. But do not be heavy handed with it; Bullying a PC by having the dragon in the above example attack the party because you got his name wrong or forgot it entirely would likely have the opposite affect. Would you care about a game setting if it felt like the DM was out to get you for not being super organized? It’s frustrating when a player doesn’t take notes and forgets details and names, but acting on that frustration is likely to be perceived as personal malice.

    Also, if you have a DM that gets annoyed that you don’t remember the shop keepers names, chances are that DM is annoyed because he doesn’t remember himself, and doesn’t want to be bothered himself.

    Best advice I can give to players like me would be to ask your party members discretely, and then try to either remember it or, better yet, take notes on what they told you. Or just give the Big Bad Dragon (TM) a nickname and challenge him to prove to you why it’s a bad idea. You’ll be surprised just how often you can get away with that last one.

    Hey Drop Anchor. Do you like Bananas?

  2. All good points, The Fez. In fact, I do like them bananas.

    This post was not really directed at the game masters but the players – and I think we can both agree that some of our past game masters were d**ks enough to do exactly those things.

    As players, we should be doing our best to take good notes and be an active listener in the game. But as game masters, we must not be heavy handed or seem like we are attacking our players.

    Remember that you’re telling the story together and as a good game master, you’re on their side. Next week’s tip will go into the Golden Rule in much more detail – but for now I think that I am hereby changing the Golden Rule of Role Playing Games for Thirdwalling – it is no longer “The Game Master is the final word” but instead “Don’t be a d**ck, Game Master”.

  3. One thing that I like to do to keep my notes relevant is read them right after I get home from the session. I’ve usually got a little bit of energy left before I hit the bed, and I’ve also usually got bits of the game still floating around in my mind. In reading my notes again that night, I can easily correct some secretary shorthand or other hieroglyphics that may have accidentally ended up in my notebook.

    Also, and this is purely an additional step because I am fairly tech-savvy, I like to digitize certain things about my character. I do this for a number of reasons:

    1. Access. If I have some sort of inspiration about a piece of story (as either a PC or GM), it is important to me to jot it down quickly into a digital medium so I can reference it later. Whenever I do have the time to sit down I can cross-reference my epiphany with actual notes from the game and turn it into a cohesive idea.

    2. Remembering. As Leg Up can surely contest, there are many different ways that we as Humans learn and digest information. When I digitize notes, I have already heard the story, hand-written the notes, re-read the notes, and now I’m typing the notes. Facts remain fresh in my mind whenever we are at the table because I’ve worked with the material a lot.

    3. Innovation. I keep my character sheet and inventory lists digitized and updated at all times. When I look at a single inventory spreadsheet my mind wanders over it for a solution to whatever problem the group is currently facing. I have gained many reward points in our games in the past because I remember I have an item instead of shuffling through a ream of paper.

    4. Adaptability. As a GM, my digitized notes allow me to come up with basic ideas and then implement them when the PCs think they have knocked me off course. I can wrangle the game back on course by having a list of “undeveloped” ideas that are just waiting for a situation so it can be adapted. More on this in another post…

    Anyway, those are some of the methods to my madness, and it has helped me out a lot in game. To throw an extra monkey wrench into it, I utilize this same philosophy in my professional life, and I’ve had great success being a leader in my industry and workplace.

    Drip Dry

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