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Role Playing Tips - By Johnn Four

7 Tips For Fast & Effective Note-Taking, While Game Mastering, Part I - Don't Record Everything - Just The Important Stuff

The goal of note-taking is to record whatever important information that occurs in the game session that isn't already documented.

Don't try to write down everything, just the important stuff: Names, dates, distances, other similar facts

Good ideas you or the players come up with, for future use

Great character/player quotes

The course of events that take place during the session

Heroic or important PC deeds and actions

Results of scenes, encounters, parleys & battles


Use Abbreviations Use abbreviations while writing because they will let you take notes faster--especially for the game system stuff, statistics and common words that you use.

Here's are few of my shorthand abbreviations:

w/ = with

att = attack, attacker

def = defend, defender

tw/ = talk with, speak to, parley

dif = difficult, difficulty level

s/a = smart ass :)

KO = knockout, to win a contest of some kind

I also use different pen scribbles to represent "the", "at" and words that end in "ing" and "tion".

When GMing Rolemaster recently, for game system info, I used "DB" for defensive bonus and "OB" for offensive bonus. For my upcoming D&D campaign I'll be using "HP" for hit points, "TH" for to hit rolls and results, and "DAM" for damage, among others. Look at your own game rules and make abbreviations for the common terms you use.


Use Character Initials A great time saver is using initials for character names. That trick came in really handy when I was recording combat. Every round I'd write each character's initials on a separate line. I'd put their initiative scores in the left margin, their intended actions to the right of their initials and the actual results after that:

"9... D.H. ...sneak attack thief #2; hit for 23DAM & thief TKO'd 2 rnds"


Record All Combat Details I found recording all the combat details round by round to be more than worth the effort. I was able to handle combat a lot faster, believe it or not, because I had all the important information right in front of me to reference.

It made a huge difference, for example, writing down all the characters' names (just their initials actually, see Tip #3 above), their initiative scores and their intended actions for the round.

When each player's turn came along (which I determined by quickly glancing at my notes), I got their attention and either explained how their action turned out in detail (because I already had their intended actions written down and had time to think about it) or I had them make some dice rolls, then did some calculations and then gave a detailed explanation of results.

That sure beats the way I used to do it, which was to ask the whole group "who's turn is it?", then wait until that got sorted out, and then ask each player "ok, what are you doing now?" when their turn came up and then wait for them to decide. Whew!

Also, the day after each session, I was able to go back and write a very detailed campaign log with specific references and details of all the combat highlights.


Write Down Your Thoughts as Soon as You Get Them You're doing so many things at once when game mastering that, when you get a good idea, if you don't write it down it will probably get forgotten.

However, writing ideas down in-game as I thought of them used to be a hassle because I wanted to keep them separate from my session notes and combat logs, but didn't want to use page margins or separate pages.

The solution, I found quite by accident, is to use brackets: "[ ]". As soon as I get an idea now, I write it down right in the middle of my notes and put brackets around it to make it different than the surrounding notes. After the session, I can do an fast scan of the session & combat logs and I can easily spot the ideas.

I've also started using "[ ]" to write DM-only information in my notes. The brackets let me know not to tell the players that info by accident (i.e. [goblin flees successfully to tribe] ), and to not include that info in the campaign journal which I send to my players.


Use the Style That Suits You I write my game notes in a very linear fashion with lots of indents:

1. Main idea 1
- detail 1
- detail 2
- further detail 2.1

2. Main idea 2
- etc.

You might prefer spider style or mind-map style in which you write down a point in the middle of the page and write related notes nearby with circles and lines joining threads together. Here's a couple of links for more information about these styles:




Or, you might prefer the speedwriting style: http://www.speedwriting.co.uk/sample.htm

Pick a style which doesn't cause you to hesitate while taking game notes and which you can read and understand afterwards.


Use Lots of White Space & Neatness Doesn't Count Paper is cheap. I'd rather have 3 pages of spread-out notes than 2 pages of tightly-packed notes. Leave lots of space in the left and right margins. And, if you like to write out your notes versus mind-mapping them, double space each note.

Not only does the extra white space on your page help you scan your notes faster, but it also allows you a lot of room to add comments, note additions, and forgotten items later on.

Yet another tip on note-taking is that you don't have to be neat. Just be legible enough so you can read your notes later.

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four

* Coat of Arms 1.2a
* Promisance
* World of Phaos 0.9.2
Is Magic Armor Lighter Than Standard Armor of the Same Type?
Yes indeed
No, never!
In 1E yes, in 2E no
Only for encumbrance
Of course it is
Not in my world
* And-Mag.com

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