Updated: Oct 25
Welcome, brave adventurers, to the mystical realm of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), where epic quests and daring feats await!
Whether you're a seasoned dungeon crawler or a newcomer to this captivating tabletop role-playing game, one thing holds true: the key to unlocking the full potential of your D&D adventures lies within a simple yet potent practice - note-taking.
Taking session notes in D&D is essential to create a better game for everyone.
Think about it: you traverse through a world where the boundaries of reality blur. Jotting down your exploits might seem like a mundane task, but let me assure you, there are good reasons for it!
In this blog, I’ll tell you the 5 compelling reasons why putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboards) enriches your gaming journey. I’ll also go over different mediums for note-taking and the best times to do so at the table.
5 Important Reasons for Note-Taking in D&D
1) Enhances Memory
In the realms of D&D, where dragons soar and magic crackles in the air, the ability to remember critical details can be the difference between a legendary victory and a perilous downfall. Or sometimes, it’s simply knowing where to go and what to do next!
Here are a few common examples in a D&D game:
Major Plot Events: Perhaps a festival is coming up, nations have declared war on one another, or an election is fast approaching.
Important Locations, Sidequests & NPCs: Who was that barkeep again? Where did they say to go? What was the problem? What was the reward? All of these questions could be answered (or remembered) with some notes, even in point form. The barkeep Jasper said that several odd figures gather around the graveyard’s central monolith at night. They’ll reward us 150 gold if we can get them to leave the area since they’re scaring customers and townsfolk.
Rumours in Town: Some NPCs love to gossip. Jotting down a few notes doesn’t hurt to find key pieces of information and discern fact from fiction.
Know Thy Enemy: Maybe your group is researching how to slay a Shadow Dragon. If your character commits to doing research, it helps to take down notes on what they uncover. You’ll pat yourself on the back when the encounter arises.
Clues During Exploration: Perhaps you find a diary of an NPC, or an ancient inscription upon a dungeon wall. Exploration is an important aspect of D&D, as it offers a foreshadowing of future events. It’s definitely a perfect time to take notes.
Deciphering a Puzzle or Riddle: With word games and puzzles, it often helps to write or draw them out. Taking notes could be the best path to the solution!
Whether it's the enigmatic name of a peculiar NPC, a cryptic riddle that stumps your party, or the significance of a seemingly innocuous artifact, your very own words become the keys to unlocking the mysteries of the fantastical world you inhabit.
2) Boosts Organization Skills
In D&D's ever-shifting landscapes, staying organized is your compass in the wilderness.
Taking diligent notes is akin to charting your path through this dynamic game, empowering you to navigate the intricate web of quests, character motivations, and plot twists with ease.
Staying Organized in D&D will help you keep track of:
Inventory & items
Your own character’s journal (motivations, actions and thoughts)
With each record, your personal organization skills flourish, allowing you to create a treasure trove of knowledge that you can revisit and build upon in future sessions.
3) Fact-Checking for Cohesive Storytelling
Every legendary tale is bound by a thread of continuity, and in D&D, where the story unfolds as the dice roll, maintaining coherence becomes a remarkable feat.
Your notes act as the keeper of this narrative thread, enabling you to refer back to past sessions and ensure the seamless flow of the story.
As a Dungeon Master, this is paramount. Keeping accurate notes ensures fact-checking, safeguarding you from plot inconsistencies and preserving the integrity of your shared storytelling experience at the table.
This is especially important if your table has a summer or winter break hiatus, where you don’t have a session for weeks or even months.
4) Ensuring Game Balance
The scales of D&D's universe are delicately balanced between triumph and defeat. If you’re a good Dungeon Master, you’re looking to challenge your players fairly.
It’s the DM’s job to find a balance in creating a game that’s not too easy or difficult. Having notes can help you accommodate that.
Noting down which encounters were much easier than expected or difficult can help guide your future decisions. Think about game aspects within your control that could help alleviate this, such as:
Loot Distribution: Are you giving out too few or too many magic items? Are the items generally spread fairly amongst the party?
Consequences of Actions: Are players being challenged when they commit a crime, get caught in a devious lie, or do other risky behaviour?
By having a tangible account of each adventurer's progress, you ensure that the spoils of victory are justly earned, and the challenges that lie ahead are tailored to create an epic and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
5) Helps Players & Dungeon Masters
Note-taking is not just beneficial for the Dungeon Master. For players, it's the key to unlocking a world of immersive storytelling, enriching character development, and achieving and remembering feats of heroism.
As a homebrew DM myself, I have so much to keep track of. Having players take the role of key note-takers about campaign events, adventure history and more helps alleviate some of the responsibility from the Dungeon Master.
Plus, it always helps to have another perspective. Maybe the party missed something valuable in their notes that you thought was rather obvious (a key location, a vital rumour, etc). This could be an opportunity to bring it up naturally again in-game - from an NPC or in a tome.
Note-taking allows everyone to contribute to the lore, cherish unforgettable moments, and help forge bonds that extend beyond the game table.
During the Session: Best Practices for Taking Notes
These days, there are plenty of options for how to take notes in D&D.
Scribe on Paper: The Timeless Companion
With a scroll in hand and a trusty quill at your side (or just a pen and notebook), the allure of traditional note-taking is undeniable.
The tactile connection to your adventure instills a sense of immersion. Paper is definitely affordable and accessible. Sellers even make dedicated D&D notebooks containing sections for character art, backstory, spells, and adventuring lore.
However, amidst its charm, the paper does bear its burden - limited space and the risk of misplacement. Sometimes in the chaos of play, a misplaced notebook or page might spell disaster when searching for that crucial clue. This can be terrible news for a disorganized dungeon master!
Electronic: Power of the Digital
In D&D, we’d simply call laptops, phones and tablets magic, arcane devices.
Digital note-taking emerges as a powerful contender. Your trusty laptop, tablet, or smartphone, is convenient and portable. You have practically unlimited space, allowing notes to sprawl endlessly without constraints.
A big benefit of taking digital notes is the search functions. Searching enables quick retrieval of crucial information with a mere keyword (with control or command F). This helps a ton if you have several documents of notes as a player or DM. There are plenty of free and affordable note-taking apps as well, giving you plenty of options to recall your D&D experience.
The downfall of digital is distractions. If you have a great Wisdom saving throw IRL, this is not as much of a problem. However, we’re all tempted to check social media, emails, chats and websites if we’re already connected. Depending on your style of play (in-person or online, virtual tabletop), electronic devices may be banned from the game.
You can always combine the best of both worlds with a hybrid approach.
Start out with a trusty notepad and pen, capturing essential bullet points that preserve the main points and flow of the game. You can even use a highlighter to colour very important moments! After the session's over, transfer these notes into the digital realm, where you can expand on them in more intricate detail.
This is what I typically do as a dungeon master. I want to be involved in the present moment as much as possible and jot down player choices, plans or any major outcomes that happen in the game. Either right after the session (or the next morning), I have a cup of coffee and simply put them in a handy Google Doc.
The only downside of this is yes… after the session. It does take more time to transfer and expand upon your original notes. I’m sure there are some new, fancy notebooks that help facilitate this a transition little faster (I use a Rocketbook at work). If you know of any others, drop them in the comment section below!
Perfect Moments to Take Notes in Game
Mid-Session Breaks: Most tables tend to catch their breath after about 1.5-2 hours of play.
During Roleplay Moments: I recommend giving the roleplaying character the most attention as possible, so take bullet points if you’re exchanging secrets with a certain party member. If it’s a big moment for your character, note down when it happened, who helped you (or didn’t) and what the outcome was.
Exploration: There are plenty of moments to take down notes during travel or spelunking. Record insights, sounds, landmarks, or arcane knowledge!
Campaign Downtime Periods: After a few tough encounters, your group may need to rest. This moment of respite offers a good time to take some notes (whether you’re a player or dungeon master).
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