Remembering Stuff

My current campaign has a lot going on. A couple of characters have backstories tied into the campaign. In addition we have some traveling companions that are loose threads that need tying. There’s an an ever-evolving mythology and history of the realm with a new ancient character that needs to be kept track of each week. On top of that, there’s a whole cabal of villains working in concert to bring back a shadow army from the past. Each town has a main villain involved and there are a few agents that are always traveling around, staying one step ahead of us. To add depth to the story our DM has created a series of legends, books, and past heroes to help us figure out what’s going on now. It’s much appreciated and helps with the immersion but it’s also harder to make sure all the facts stay straight. Also some of the players are really into it and its for keeping them engaged.

One of my fellow players has a great system for keeping everything straight: he writes stuff down. Harry keeps a journal and records the names and places of all the interesting facts our GM provides. Being the record-keeper is a good fit for him: he’s naturally curious about history and literature, he sits right next to the GM and he’s playing a Bard, a character well versed in lore. The upside of this is system is that I don’t have to worry about remembering anything, because I can always count on Harry having the NPC’s name on hand. The downside is that it’s hard enough for me to keep all of this straight that having crutch allows me to worry less about it, and I don’t as good a job as a player.

So what I am I to do? I don’t want to be the player that is always asking “what just happened? who are we talking to?” It was particularly embarrassing for me last week because I had mixed up two evil dwarves and everyone around the table looked at me like I was stupid for thirty minutes before someone was brave enough to tell me the that they were two different guys. At the same I don’t have the patience to make detailed notes and charts. Next week I’m going I’m going to try something different, I just don’t know what. Maybe I’ll print out a blank org chart and fill it in like a lawyer rounding up the mob.

At another game I was at recently, the GM had a regular gaming space set up with a big corkboard. On that board he was able to pin up the important parts of the cosmology so we had a persistent visual representation of the different factions that were involved in our game. This was nice for me because I was able to quickly refer to it to understand where our characters were with respect to those groups. It was also nice for me to have someone else take care of tracking the different factions… I could just reap the benefits without the work. I don’t think it would be fair to hijack our hosts’ dining room to this on a regular basis, but if any of you are GMs out there and have the room, you or a player could have an area for charting NPCs and organizations.

What other techniques are out there for keeping track of all the plot points and NPCs that doesn’t involve a lot of writing or remembering?


8 thoughts on “Remembering Stuff

  1. You could try a wiki. Admittedly it does involve writing, but it lets everyone in the group collaborate to keep the notes. So if one player remembers something in particular about an NPC or a location, they can just add a note to the page.

    I’ve just started an online campaign with my group (since we’re having trouble getting together in person) and it’s working out pretty well so far, in large part thanks to the wiki, so I suspect it would be pretty useful even for an offline campaign (as long as there were enough laptops/iPads/whatever around to check it and edit it). I wrote up some notes on our experiences here.

  2. Have you tried mind maps?

    Free online tool:

    And mind42 is especially cool because you can share your mind-map with other people who can collaborate with you in real time.

    The only problem with that is you need to use a computer, but pen and paper mind maps are just as good. That said, if you have an iPad (or similar) that wouldn’t be as intrusive at your game table.


  3. A wiki is a great thing because chances are that at least one player remembers who is who and what is what, and you don’t need to worry about keeping track of everything yourself.

    Not to mention the links. The glorious, glorious links – who did this dwarf ally with? The blackguard elves? What’s that? Click. Ah yes, they’re stationed in the town of McTownerson, where was that again? Click. Oh okay, right next to this place. It’s such a great tool.

    For low-tech, low-maintenance, we use a medium-sized dry erase board, small enough to use anywhere but big enough to be seen by everyone at the table. Every session it’s wiped clean, and whenever a new NPC or town or faction is introduced, it goes on the board. Someone will write it down and remember, and you’ll have plenty of time to get it down on paper without stopping to take notes or ask questions in the middle of a session.

    Love the blog. Cheers.

  4. @sidereal, @corwin,

    A wiki is a great idea, and may become feasible once we all have iPads. I don’t have the initiative to write stuff down during the game… I don’t see myself updating anything offline. We’ve had some set up in other campaigns with the same group, and they were underutilized. The whiteboard idea is intriguing. At work we have these big papers on easels, that might work if we had the space.

  5. @Chris,
    I use mind maps for planning my own adventures, and even for many of my posts. I find it pretty tough to mind map other people’s adventures though.

  6. Two different evil dwarves, huh? I actually have a little advice for your DM (I’m usually the DM, so I unfortunately have little memory-related advice for you as a player). Paul Tevis on the late, great Have Games, Will Travel podcast referred to this technique as “Conservation of NPCs”, and it’s a rule I live by as a DM. What it boils down to is, if you’ve already got an NPC that will work in a role that you need, don’t create a new one. Too many NPCs that fill similar roles tend to muddy the waters and make it difficult for players to keep track of them. If you allow your NPCs to pull double- and triple-duty a lot, your characters will get to know them better and become more attached to them (or grow to hate them more, if they’re villains). It’s difficult to get attached to NPCs (or grow to hate them) if you’re constantly confusing them with other NPCs.

    • I try to not create NPCs that fit the same role. Here are the two dwarves:

      Ragdin – A rather affluent dwarf in the city of Andernach. He is part of a group of 5 who seek to enslave the population of Newham Shire.

      Garell – Originally a lower-class dwarf who was tortured, presumably by Ragdin, so he could gain access to the Tower of Lillith and steal any books on the Shadow, a powerful creature imprisoned deep within a mine outside of Andernach. He was paid well for his work and now has the trappings of a middle class member of Andernach.

      The tower of Lillith has quite a bit of magic set up such that only those who are in need should be able to pierce the mists that surround it. Having Ragdin be the one who would go in and steal the books seemed a little strange, much more likely he would torture someone else and send that person. If I may tip my hand a bit, the importance placed on Garell was player driven. He was a device to explain why they couldn’t just find all the answers they wanted while in the tower’s library.

  7. I’m glad you posted this because I struggle with this a lot. I have a horrible memory. And I DO write everything down, and I even blog all our adventures…and then my boyfriend/DM goes in the comments and corrects the parts that I’ve screwed up, mixed up, or just plain forgotten.

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