How I handle adventure logs
Having recently read the old TSR Adventure Logs AD&D accessory for tracking game sessions, I’ve been thinking about what I do to remember old adventures and keep up-to-date on what’s about to happen.
I keep it pretty simple. I type it up in a word processor—in my case, Nisus Writer Pro. It’s important to use a tool that makes it easy not only to write1, or to search, but also to organize. For me, this means a word processor that supports the-document-is-the-outline. Microsoft Word does this, too, but I find that Nisus is easier to navigate and faster to write with.
The outline ends up looking like:
- Adventure 1
- Session 1
- Session 2
- Adventure 2
- Adventure 1
- Illustrious Castle
- Illustrious Castle April 17, 2004
- Illustrious Castle April 24, 2004
- Valley of the Blue Sun
- Valley of the Blue Sun December 18, 2004
- Valley of the Blue Sun December 24, 2004
- Illustrious Castle
- Road to Weaving April 23, 2005
- Weaving May 7, 2005
- Dowanthal Peak
- Dowanthal Peak June 18, 2005
Having the outline makes it very easy to drill down to a particular session according to when we held it. I’m not sure, but if I were to do it again I might instead use the in-game date instead of the session date. As it is, I have the in-game year at the top level, and then the real session date for each entry.
On the other hand, in-game dates don’t always change per session, so perhaps I’d leave it be.
Each entry basically has three parts: what I expected to need to remember, which I wrote before the session, and then what happened during the session, which I wrote up the day after. Finally, from what happened I made a list of experience-laden events.
Often, I’ll roll up any wandering encounters that I know I’ll need to roll for, usually ones incurred at the beginning of the session, so that I can have it ready to go and listed in the pre-session notes. The pre-session notes also include:
- What needs to be remembered from last time.
- Date, time, and upcoming events based on date and time.
- Upcoming wandering monsters if any.
- Running total of experience-to-be-applied.
I included the phase of the moon, for example, by recording what phase the moon was currently in and when the next full or new moon would occur. Originally, this wasn’t really necessary, but it helped me describe the passage of time as they traveled. Later, they acquired a magic item whose charges restored on the new moon.
The list of pre-session reminders was usually pretty easy: I just copied the previous session’s list, removed items that were no longer relevant, and added any new ones in.
In the after-session report, I included:
- A rough summary of what basically happened.
- What they found.
- Who they met, and what they talked about.
- Experience-laden events and who was involved.
Basically, I’m trying to record what I might search for later: magic items, strange things discovered, people or creatures encountered. As might be expected over a long-term campaign, this was extremely helpful. I remember one player wondering why their character had cancer, and it turned out they were carrying a vial of powder marked with the astrological sign of Cancer. They’d picked it up, literally, in the first game session years before. Without being able to do a search on the word “cancer”, I doubt I would have remembered this, and if I had remembered it, it probably would have been in the middle of the night a couple of weeks later.
Another time, one of the players, cataloguing their items, had a ring with ants on it. I remembered vaguely where they’d found it but not much on specifics. A quick search brought up the exact room and dungeon they’d found it in, and then I was able to just as quickly find my summary of the ring.
And those were times during a session when it was useful. Between sessions, being able to look up past events was so useful I don’t remember any specifics. I used it to resurrect3 a druid they’d already met when I needed them to meet a druid again. I used it to fill out Joe Lakono’s backstory when he turned out to be important. There were many more.
Here are two examples from my notes:
The Yellow Forest February 27, 2010
8 AM September 9. They have been up for about an hour, after sleeping after having been up about an hour. They are camped out at the end of the bridge where the road reaches the ground. Full moon September 10? Remember: once they reach the jungle, there is a yellow moon forever in the sky, and another with a ten-day cycle. It will rise above the horizon on September 10 and September 11.
Broken Road experience: 2,540 for Arun; 2,675 for Eddie; 3587 for Alvin, Majelica, Owen, and Riana; 135 for Zah Eil.
Three years have passed for Eddie. Five years have passed for Arun, Alvin, Majelica, Owen, and Riana. Zah Eil is as old as he thinks he is.
- The wand of Sleepfall has two charges left. Tripudio.
- The belt has no charges left. They used one to look around, and two to get around the chartreuse mist. Restores on New Moon.
- Lakono knows they’ve crossed. He will set up a ward of Pele, which spews fire. He calls the great tree Puko, the talking tree. He was probably somewhere in the jungle? So perhaps at the last marker, or at the Customs House.
- The 26-survival wyvern: currently has 15 survival. After one night, has 212 survival. And of course it has three friends with it now.
- Thor: Number Zah Eil’s equipment list so you will know when you’re carrying too much. Splint Mail is 20; it takes two slots. Also, remember that a full helmet gives you a defense bonus of 1, but also an attack penalty of 1 and a perception penalty of 1.
- Eddie: you don’t get to keep leftover money when buying equipment with mojo.
- Eddie is going up in level. If you want to spend any first-level mojo, now is the time to do it. Fields cost 2; +1 in fields cost 1; skills cost 1. After you go up in level, fields will cost 11; +1 will cost four + whatever your current bonus is; and skills will cost 5.
- Eddie: height is 80+4d6 inches; weight is 200+(height–80)*5. Average, 270 pounds. 9 feet is 108 inches, so about 340 pounds.
- Eddie: Climb Walls is at +2. Hide is at –2. Understand Languages is at –2. Silence is at –1. Tightrope is at +2.
- Alvin and Eddie: Combat movement is increased by level when under a combat frenzy.
- Alvin? Majelica? Wyvern damage does not heal normally!
Redacted for space. See session reports for examples.
Player group: Alvin (7), Majelica (6), Owen (6): 19 total levels vs. 4 creature levels
Total: 108 (survival) + 0 (matching) + 0 (excess): 108, divided by 3: 36 experience per character
The Lost City April 23, 2011
About 3:00 AM September 28. They are in two groups; Zah Eil, Riana, and Eddie are in the ebon demon room (although Riana, as a skink, is scouting the area); Majelica, Owen, and Alvin are in the orange-eyed skeleton room burning spider web. The earth elemental is gone. Full moon October 9. New moon October 25. Full moon November 8. Remember: in the jungle a yellow moon is forever in the sky, and another with a ten-day cycle. The latter will rise above the horizon on September 30 and October 1.
Lost City experience (ongoing): 627 for Eddie, Alvin, Owen, Riana, and Zah Eil. 587 for Majelica.
Ages: Eddie +3; Arun +5; Alvin, Majelica, Owen, Riana: +5; Zah Eil: +0
- The wand of Sleepfall has no charges left.
- The creatures near the temple of Ishtar are 12 jackal-heads and six saurians, not 18 saurians.
- The belt has one charge remaining. Restores on October 25 (new moon).
- Wandering monsters for Riana. It’s been about an hour. Six chances. One makes it: Saurian Patrol C from the palace. Six saurians of the Minotaur King: Level: 2, Defense 6 (w/shield), Attack: club or 4 darts; Damage: d8 or d4, Survival: 17, 15, 8, 11, 14, 10.
- Joe’s plan has so far gone extremely well. He left the tower 28 hours ago. I’m guessing he will have stopped to rest at 16 hours, which means he is 16 hours east and 8 hours into rest, and 4 hours east again, so total 20 hours east. He does not (yet) know about the potential for another tablet in the lost city. He has two saurians with him. He is prepared to call a 7th level weather spirit to make a 4-mile radius fog. This will take 7 minutes. Remember that the road inhibits attacks!
- Joe needs to spend some time acquiring a giant capybara to haul the tablets. Divine Service (level 5) requires only one minute, but it requires finding the capybara first. Lasts level hours. Is a charm or trickster spirit, and requires a coin or token. Also requires that he be able to make the service understood by the capybara, which I can’t see that he can do. If I allowed Fantastic Servant (level 8), it requires four minutes, a carven torc, and there needs to be a giant capybara in level minus six miles. Lasts twice level days.
- The cities of the saurians are slowly speaking different languages as the tablets leave the jungle.
- The sword attracts undead!
- Zah Eil: We are not in competition with the Tree. The Tree is the source of life. We are in competition with Enki, and be wary of the name Tawhiri for he is one of Enki’s faces on the Tree.
- The passage to 53G is barred for another 4 days 6 hours.
- The lizard king is following Zah Eil (the tablet) invisibly. It has a potion of fire resistance, as well as all of its spells except one teleportation, invisibility, and summon elemental. It is at 3 injuries, no survival. And it can only be hit by magic weapons.
- Zah Eil does not have a holy symbol!
- Both Eddie and Alvin have an injury. Eddie actually has three: a three-injury loss of his tail.
- There are pits just outside of Eddie, Riana, and Zah Eil’s hideaway. Eddie was lucky enough not to set it off, and Riana was light enough not to.
- Zah Eil is looking for information about golems. If he succeeds, he’ll find information about elementals. Golems: a servant of clay, artificial life breathed into it through sorcery. The clay can take many forms: the sorceror can sew the pieces of corpses together to make a golem of flesh; the sorceror can grow a golem of salt or shape one of magma. There’s a description of the golems of Enki: two crystal dragons. The creature in the lower hall is not a golem. It is an elemental, a creature summoned from the elemental earth. Such creatures are deadly and unstoppable, but, summoned by a sorceror, nearly always turn on their master before they fade back to their elemental home.
See session reports.
Conflict (Day 1, applied to April 30 2011)
Player group: Alvin (7), Majelica (7), Owen (7), Zah Eil (4), Riana (5), Eddie (5): 35 total levels vs. 44 creature levels
|2||undead saurian guardians||6||32, 32|
|1||undead lizard king||12*||57|
|20||skeletons with glowing orange eyes||1||4*20|
Total: 804 (survival) + 1200 (matching) + 1800 (excess): 3804, divided by 6: 634 experience per character.
Conflict (Day 2, not yet applied)
Player group: Alvin (7), Majelica (7), Owen (7), Zah Eil (4), Riana (5), Eddie (5): 35 total levels vs. 8 creature levels
|4||guards of the Statuary Nook||2||14, 10, 16, 19|
Total: 236 (survival) + 0 (matching) + 0 (excess): 236, divided by 6: 39 experience per character.
Alvin, Eddie, Riana, Zah Eil, and Majelica were present.
|Osmussa the Sphinx||8||160|
|Giant Gnome, Grastic Hammerclay||5||100|
A couple of interesting things: the entry on ages was to remind me that the characters were aging at a different rate than expected. They were traveling roads that wound through time toward the First City. This was mostly important for the youngest character, the young Druid they’d met up with. When they crossed borders, often intangible, their ages changed.
For experience, the conflict and engagement lists include total levels and the number of encounters with creatures whose levels matched the player characters, because that matters.
Some reminders were important because, in the heat of play, I personally can easily forget that their wand of sleepfall, for example, was out of charges. They did not know this; nor did they know how the belt recharged, though they did know it ran out of charges occasionally and then later worked again. I also could easily forget that the prophet did not have his holy symbol, which limited the spirit manifestations available to him.
If it’s a chore, I’m going to keep putting it off until I forget the details of what happened.↑
They really started in Lost Castle of the Astronomers, but at the time I expected it to be a one-off game and did not take notes.↑
In the literary sense.↑