GM Basics: Bookkeeping

Sometimes, being the GM can feel overwhelming. Keeping notes is essential for tracking the developments of your world, your NPCs, and your PCs. Here are some tips to lighten your bookkeeping burden as a GM!

Delegate, delegate, delegate. Just as driving the story should be a shared endeavour between GM and players, so should be your group’s bookkeeping labour. Designate one player in your group to be responsible for each of the following: loot ledger, NPC “address book,” setting/map notes. This will enable you as the GM to focus on narrating the story and events and allow you to improvise more freely. Delegating will also help drive your session pace by speeding up your party’s reference questions: if Dave forgets who the NPC Synbar is or if Cathy really needs to know who is carrying the glass cube, having multiple referees to help clarify questions will take much less time than the one GM digging through a 3” binder by him/herself.

One set of short-hand notes that is worth taking as a GM during play is general plot points. You may have prepared for your party to move from the town to the farmer’s house to the cemetery, but by the end of three sessions they could have instead only gone from the town to the apothecary to the church. Given this unpredictability of story, it can be useful to write up short session summaries for reference later by both you and your party. These summaries can help bridge time gaps between sessions and get your players back into the action – “Last week you did W, X, Y, and ended off with Z.” They can also be a great reference tool during session planning: over time you’ll be able to see what types of encounters your party is prone to falling into and more easily design unfamiliar situations to keep them excited.

Setting up a shared campaign/party website, google doc., or even just facebook group is almost always worth the extra effort. Shared online spaces help with both your in-game bookkeeping as well as your out-of-game scheduling and overall engagement. Making all of your campaign notes accessible between sessions and providing a forum for their discussion allows players to track their game’s progress and gives them the opportunity to stay engaged throughout the week. All parties will use these spaces differently, but here are some great ways my groups have used them in the past: campfire chat (in-character dialogue between PCs), longer written character backgrounds, development/management of character domestics or economics (home and business life outside of adventuring), and out-of-character discussion of the world, NPCs, or the party’s general plans and goals.

Be sure to check out our other GM Basics: [x] [x] [x]

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