Sunday, 12 June 2011

Journey to Saddleback III: Memory

(This continues my series of game-mastering problems and tips grafted onto play session reports. If you're more interested in the GM stuff than the play session, scroll down to below the ***.)

The party reconvened last night after a long time away. Action commenced at the gates of the hill town Saddleback, wherein our band found a cool reception in the tavern of the Badger Leaf dwarven clan, but a warmer reception in the halls of the Twisted Bar thanks to the gate guard Borran, who'd taken a liking to the group, possibly in particular to the she-dwarf Grumpka.

There was a somewhat noncommittal public audience with the town's governing Triad, two dwarves and a human who rule back-to-back from a rotating stone seat under the open air. There it emerged that rumors of a giant in the hills may have been grossly exaggerated by the Badger Leaf merchants met on the way to Trossley, who are after all wily and fiercely competitive. The strange coincidence, that after a dozen years of inactivity two groups of merchants should set out from the same two towns toward each other, was remarked upon.

During a long dwarven feast in the halls of the Twisted Bar clan, it emerged that two bereaved parents from the third family of the Twisted Bar tribe wished to unburden themselves of a sad memento - their daughter's bride-gift, a suit of chainmail armor, precisely what Grumpka had been looking for. The story emerged; betrayed by a faithless husband obsessed with human women, the daughter, Ysolde, sought advice from the lammasu Saheedra but then died falling from Saheedra's crag. Suicide is an unthinkable sin among the dwarves, and in the scandalous aftermath the husband fled from town and her child was abandoned. Some were surprised, and some were not, to learn that the husband was Doug, the bartender at Trossley's Duck and Whistle, and the child was Devin, who had been taken in by Saheedra.

With armor in hand, apples traded, and new friends and enemies made, the party set back out through the hills for Trossley. Almost immediately they came across a brushy box canyon from which two wolves growled at them. Deciding to pick a fight with the wolves, the party found two wolves turning to six (one approaching from behind) and some of the worst combat dice rolls they've ever experienced. In the end, the wolves were vanquished but the NPC muleteer and town guard lay dead, and multiple party members had serious wounds. We left off having just reached the resting point of the abandoned hermitage, a day's march from Trossley.


One problem that came up in this run was keeping the memories going of what has evolved into a quite complicated situation after a month-long gap in play. At one point, I couldn't recall an important detail like the terms of the financial agreement by which the party chose to accompany the "Nameless One" on his mercantile venture to Saddleback. This is a reminder that my usual method of improvising lots of details doesn't get me out of the need to keep notes and records. The most important of these being:

1: State of the party in time: whether they've rested overnight already, and so forth.
2: Terms of deals, prices of goods, etc.
3: Names of minor NPCs (hint: completely made-up names like "Zortaang" are a disaster - always go with something already in your memory structure, for example if I want a name for a logger-woman carpenter, I have them typecast as French Canadians so I pick the French name Lucille.)
4: Clues that the party have been given in conversation, ancient inscriptions, etc.

Veteran roleplayers (like the couple who live down the road, and since having two kids have reluctantly reduced their GMing and playing to only 5 weekly games at a time) know the importance of this. For example, when we would play with the aforementioned veterans, if he was DMing, she would be playing and setting down notes. Now imagine the notes accumulated from 10 or more years of 5-a-week campaigns ...

The options for us are either to designate a party notetaker, or have me step up my own notetaking. To keep track of time, I've been using an old unused calendar from 2003, marking an X on the lines between days to show the passage of a night and writing down the party's location. I suspect now more notes will have to go on there.

Another crucial thing (see under 3 above) is to make things easier to remember. I tend to drop details that repeatedly keep getting forgotten and don't add to the enjoyment or immersion of the game. For example, torches and living expenses. I feel the need not track either of these bit by bit but just charge a flat rate (1 copper a day for lodging and the same amount for food) or in the case of torches, ignore them as trips to the dungeon are not that frequent.

But if you've found any handy tricks for preserving memory in the long and short term please let me know.


  1. I have a similar problem with dropped names, although I'm pretty good about noting them down. The kicker is that I can't find them in my notes later! I'm starting to think that I need to start doing up relationship diagrams as I ad-lib NPCs.

  2. If you have some obscure field of knowledge, like the 1985 Boston Bruins lineup, you can always pilfer names from there and have a ready-made association. Some of my game's NPCs are named after famous (to me) social psychologists...

  3. Instead of writing prose session reports these days I just write a bullet list of events and names and other important stuff on our campaign wiki, important names are bold, stuff that ismreally important goes on separate pages.