Character Journals

I know I’m not the first/only DM/player to like/use these (I’ll stop with the / now, promise), but I’ve suddenly felt the urge to write about them.

When I was running one of my very first ever D&D campaigns I had set up a small, free forum which I used with my players to schedule games, post game recounts, link pictures, tell jokes, do some in character role play and have any game related discussion. It was a cute little place, that is actually still floating around somewhere in the big ole internets. I don’t remember how or why it happened but I got the idea to give my players the chance to earn a little extra XP and to get into their characters’ heads while we were not at the gaming table. I told them they had the option to write a character journal in which they were to reflect on what has been happening in game as their character. I think one of the reasons I wanted to do this at first was we had recently encountered some really awesome NPCs who had such interesting personalities that I wanted to play them more often, so in other words I wanted to write journals as well. Writing an update of what happened in game is one thing, but writing a journal entry as a mischievous gnome child with a pet monkey is something else all together.

At first my players were a little hesitant as they saw this as more work, but eventually I started getting a journal here or there from them, usually right after I had posted on for one of my NPCs. The best ones were not the longest ones, quality was definitely better than quantity when it came to these. The most memorable journals were the ones where the players really got into character, I had my Half Orc Barbarian writing the way he spoke, using half words and broken English, my half-elf necromancer used big fancy words, this may have been just because the player himself had the kind of vocabulary that made you think he liked to read the dictionary for fun, but it worked for the journals as his character was (also) very pompous and a bit of an ass.

Those of you who are not fans of writing might be sitting there going “Why bother….?” well there are quite a few benefits, three of which I will point out here.

They Help Encourage Role Play.
I know not everyone is a fan of being in character and talking things through but I’m the kind of player the Dungeon Master’s Guide would classify as being “The Actor”, and it can be a little frustrating when in character I ask the party if they wouldn’t mind teaming up and I get an out of character answer of “I thought that was the idea of the game.” This scenario doesn’t happen often with my group, as I have been blessed by the dice gods with a group of wonderful, and compatible role players. However even the most ‘in character’ player can benefit from thinking about things through their characters perspective for a little bit when away from the noisy, hectic environment that is the gaming table. As well for those players who enjoy the roll above the role, this is a simple way to let them get a little extra XP moving them closer to EPIC LOOTS!!!!!! And it might gently encourage them to play as their characters a little bit more… as they smash though the monsters lined up for them to slaughter.

Getting To Know You
Not every single player gives there DM a six page back story, detailing every single aspect of that character’s life so far, their views on all possible topics and an artist’s rendering of what the character looks like. So any chance to really sit down and figure out what you character thinks about a certain event, or topic is nice. Yes some of these decisions can be made on the fly at the gaming table but it is also nice to know ahead of time how to react to something unexpected thrown at you. For example the barbarian I mentioned at the beginning of this article used to just do the simple “I hit, for 22 damage” etc, but after thinking about his barbarian’s voice he started to throw in simple battle cries which made everyone laugh and helped with everyone’s immersion in the game.

Helping Steer The Game
If you have a decent DM they probably know where they want to take the story, but they also want to make sure they can tailor it so it works for your players. Having my players write journals really helped me with this. Instead of asking out of character what Ariel thought about Loki leaving the party, I was able to read it in her journal and use that information in game without letting Ariel’s player know I was interested in that information. Some of the most amazing plot twists in my game have happened because of something someone wrote in their journal, of course at the time my players didn’t realize I was not ‘just that awesome’ and able to make the game so personal because of their input. It is SO much nicer to have Crush the barbarian write in his journal saying “Crush think party should attack Derrick’s house from back and smush little man in glorious BATTLE!!” than to ask the player Steve about what the party should do next and get “Probably take on Derrick.”

Now there is an ulterior motive as to why I have written this article; I will be writing a character journal and posting it here on Trollitc. My fiancé has recently started running his first ever campaign, and I have created a cleric of Sune, of whom which I am already in love with, but I want to get to know her a bit more, so I will be posting the journals here.

And that’s all for now folks.

[tags]roleplaying games, journals, characters, writing, rpg[/tags]

3 thoughts on “Character Journals

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  1. I’ve been running a Dresden Files game for a few weeks now, and been giving my players extra fate points for writing character journals each week (see the website link). One of my favorite parts of this is it allows me to see how my players are viewing each game, or at least how their characters view it.

    My biggest problem has been getting involvement. Out of 6 players, only 4 have written one at all, and only 2 write one every week. With a game like DF, it’s hard to reward involvement, as each fate point can be worth a lot, and there’s really no such thing as experience. Any thoughts on better incentivizing this would be awesome.


  2. Mythin: When I started doing this with my players, I too found it to be a little frustrating at first because my players were not all ‘into’ it. I was confused because I thought it was a great idea and I had offered incetives and they just wouldn’t take the bait…

    .. and truth betold there really wasn’t anything I could do about that. Honestly it sounds like you’ve offered a great incentive to do this, it’s just that some people would find writing a character journal to be more on the tedious work side and less on the fun side. Some people would view it as more work… work that they don’t want to be doing because it’s for a hobby.

    Sorry I couldn’t offer much help, good luck!

    I know it’s not the answer you were looking for, but it’s all I’ve got.


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