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© 1998-2001 Dru Pagliassotti
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Keeping Campaign Records


On a shelf high in my closet is a plastic bin filled with scraps of paper. I call it the Samru Archive. The bin contains copies or originals of letters, diaries, notes, scribbles, and other campaign detritus that I've collected from my players over 10 years of running sequential AD&D campaigns on my world of Samru.
Our gaming group is blessed with artists and writers who often pitch in to help a campaign, providing character images and sketches, stories about characters' lives, letters from the characters to NPCs, and even character-written private diaries. But our contributions to games are cyclical ... sometimes we flood the GM with stories and art, and other times a campaign goes by with very little added to it.
As a GM, I prefer the former. When players are actively contributing to a campaign, making it richer and deeper with their interest and work, I know the campaign is succeeding. When the players don't contribute, I know that they consider the campaign just a pastime, and it hasn't captured their hearts yet.
But sometimes players need a kick-start. As we grow older, we find that we have less time to devote to roleplaying games—some of us have full-time jobs, some of us have returned to school, some of us are juggling both school and jobs, and one couple is expecting its first child. How can a GM encourage such busy people to contribute to an RPG campaign in their few free hours?
One way is to offer the players a reward for contributing to the campaign. I've been in and run several games in which players who create a work of art, write a story or poem, or write an adventure summary are rewarded with extra experience points (or the specific game's equivalent) for their characters. The number of points awarded should be large enough to motivate the player, but small enough to keep a prolific writer or artist from creating a super-character while the noncontributing player characters crawl along at a normal rate of point accumulation.
In addition, the number of points awarded may have to vary as the campaign ages; for example, in Dungeons and Dragons, 100 experience points as a reward is very meaningful at low levels, but trivial at high levels. The GM should keep game levels in mind and adjust the point reward accordingly.
Furthermore, the GM might want to vary the points awarded according to what kind of contribution the player makes. I value adventure summaries. I can post them to my campaign website and players can review them if they need to be reminded of a nonplayer character's name or of a series of events that may tie in to a later adventure. Artwork, poetry and fiction are great, too, but less immediately useful to my campaign. As a result, I would offer more reward for adventure summaries than for other works.
Good roleplayers can also be encouraged to contribute to the campaign if the GM makes it clear that their contributions can be "in character." Is a character a rock star or minstrel? Encourage the player to write some songs the character might sing. (Songs that ridicule the character's enemies are often popular.) Does the character have nonplayer character relatives or sweethearts? Encourage the player to write in-character letters to them. (The GM should then write back in character to keep the correspondence going!) Does the character have political ambitions? Encourage the player to write up the character's political viewpoint as a pamphlet or recommendation to city council, or create campaign materials for the character. (And then the GM should give the player a chance to achieve—or fail—at those political goals!)
Adventure summaries can be written as straight narratives, but far more amusing is to have them written as letters to a friend or as private journal entries. Encourage players to write the summaries in character, perhaps magnifying the character's own deeds and belittling the deeds of others ... or vice-versa, depending on the character's personality. Other players love reading in-character adventure descriptions and may decide to write their own in self-defense, if the original is biased enough.
Finally, the GM should make all of these materials available to the other players. Our gaming group posts such materials to the web, where we can keep a running public record of the campaign. I also keep my hard-copy Samru Archive for players to dig through if they want. I know another group where the GM collects such materials in a large notebook and permits players to take it home and read through it when they want. Just don't keep the art and stories and summaries private! The greatest rewards for players are often simply the appreciative smiles and chuckles of their friends as their work is shared through the group.

originally written February 25, 2000

 

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