Today, I’m going to share something that’s a bit different. I’m not going to talk about world building or advice for Dungeon Masters/Game Masters or even social issues in tabletop gaming. Instead, I’m going to give players tips on something that has helped me be a better player and more engaged with the story and the world the DM has created – taking notes. I know some players will groan at the thought of incorporating anything resembling “school” or “work” into the world of tabletop gaming, but trust me – this simple habit makes you a better and more invested player.
Note Taking for Player Investment. Let’s start with the second of the two points mentioned: investment. I’ve found that when I take notes I become more invested in the story. Why? On a basic level because I remember more information between sessions. Numerous studies have shown that when students take pencil/pen and paper notes, grades increase by around 8%. Given that my university uses a ten-point scale, that’s almost a full letter grade improvement simply from taking notes in an “old-fashioned” way. This works by engaging multiple senses in the process of acquiring knowledge, and, as research has long demonstrated, the more senses one engages in the learning process, the better one’s recall of the material.
And I’ve found that an improved recall helps me feel more invested in a campaign narrative in a manner similar to that of a student in a class. When students recall information on quizzes, exams, or in class discussions, they slowly start to beam with pride. They often engage more – with the material, with the teacher, and with other classmates in discussion. In the tabletop world, this translates into increased interaction with the DM, his/her NPCs, and with the other members of the party. Since I know what’s going on (because I have reminders), it becomes easier to engage with confidence.
Note Taking for Better Playing. If we follow the last paragraph, we can see how taking notes can help improve play. No, it doesn’t make me more knowledgeable about the game mechanics – that comes with experience. Taking notes does, however, make me more knowledgeable about the campaign and its world. I know what’s going on. I don’t always have to ask the DM to remind me of things or to summarize events for me.
That said, for note taking to help me become a better player, I have to do more than simply write things down. I have to go over my notes. Unlike some classes I took in college, studying my D&D notes takes far less time and incurs far less mental frustration that other types of study. Looking over my notes before session usually takes me twenty minutes but makes me so much more prepared and excited for what’s to come if I hadn’t looked over my notes.
What Should D&D Notes Look Like? That’s not something that has a one-size-fits-all answer. For some players, a simple one-subject notebook will suffice. Really, you just need something to write notes in. I’ve opted for a three-ring binder with divisions and folders because I tend to be obsessive about organization. I like this setup because it allows me to separate things by type. I have a folder where I keep my character sheet, a background summary, spell/ability cards, descriptions of any magical items the character has, etc. in the beginning before any of the divisions start. Then, I have a small section for “party members, where my character writes notes on the appearance and mannerisms of the party members as they present themselves.
Then, I have Session Notes, the largest section of my notebook. In this section, I jot down names of towns, inns, NPCs we meet, any interesting/major events we witness (or cause), instructions for quests, draw rough maps of dungeons, and keep a basic log of combat, lists of treasure and how we divide the loot, etc. Like I said, I’m sort of obsessed with order and details.
But seriously, all you need to include in your game notes are the important names of people, places, and things that need remembering and maybe some key phrases about those people, places, and things to help get the memory juices flowing. The purpose of taking notes is to help you remember things that are important that can be difficult to remember since we are dealing with fictitious worlds that exist only in our collective imaginations.
Regardless of whether you choose to take notes or not, the goal is to have fun, and I’ve found that when I’m more engaged, I have more fun. Thus, anything that helps me be more engaged increases the fun that I have. And that, gamers, is a good thing.
Thoughts? If you take notes, what types of things do you include in your notes?