Group Notes: What’s the Point?

Recently, I talked about the value of note taking for game masters. In that article I talked about why you should take notes. And the value you’ll derive from them. Today I’m going to talk about another tool note taking tool that is valuable to GMs: group notes.
Group notes, are the collective set of notes that your player’s take during the session’s play. These records are valuable to you as a game master. You can see how your players are perceiving your world and adventures based on the notes that they keep. This gives you insight to what they:
  • Value as players
  • Key in on as interesting aspects in your world/adventures
  • Believe to be important to the game
All these points give you plenty of fuel to work with as you continue to build your world and adventures out. The best part about group notes is someone else is doing the work for you as a GM. That’s a rare reversal of roles!

Caveats for Group Notes

Before I go any farther, I want to give a couple of caveats about group notes. I find them to be valuable to me as a game master. But a couple of conditions have to be met in your game to take advantage of them.
  1. Your players have to take notes.
  2. You need access to their notes.
Point #1 might seem obvious, but it is a necessary condition for you to be able to use them. If your players aren’t taking good notes about the game, I recommend talking to them about it. In session zero you can assign roles to the players that they will fulfill during the campaign. The group can assign one as recordkeeper (or receive a volunteer). Keep in mind the bias of a single note taker. If you have a single notetaker, then that player displays their biases in the notes. Not the whole groups.
For point #2, this will depend on the medium of your group’s notes. Paper records written at the table could be hard to review. Unless they leave them with you after every session (an easy enough request). If you play with digital tools then its easy to gain access to those notes.

Review the Group Notes

When I look at my group notes, I’m checking for several things:
  1. Last session’s recap. How did the last session go? Did they note their decisions and what they are going to do next? Use that information as you build out the next session.
  2. Information Errors. Did you players note something down incorrectly? As game masters we are displaying a lot of information to the players in a quick-paced manner. Its easy for things to get lost in translation. This helps you correct the players. So they don’t make misinformed decisions later on based on bad records.
  3. Review the player’s questions. Players ask lots of questions. Sometimes, as a GM we don’t have an immediate answer. By reviewing any written questions they have we can make sure to have the answer at the next session. If they verbally ask you the question, then hopefully you wrote it down in your own notes. But its always good to verify.
  4. Identify their interests. Sometimes players key in on the big story points we put in front of them. Sometimes they key in on the obscure, one-mentioned knight order in the catacombs. This is your opportunity to build out further the pieces they find interesting. This adds color to your game in a way that interests your players. Be careful though, not everything needs to be further expanded. Its okay to have niche bits of information fall by the wayside.
  5. Make sure my world consistency matches with PCs interactions. As a GM you will improvise lots of details about the world. Your player might ask the blacksmith to reinforce their armor. The blacksmith promises to have it ready in two weeks. None of this was planned. And in the moment you may forget to take note that the player will want his armor back in two weeks. But they will probably make a note of it. By reviewing these bits, we remind ourselves to insert these small scenes into the world around the players. This shows the players you are remembering the small details.

Tools for Shared Notes

I have used three different methods for group notes across my games. I’m sure there are countless more, but here are a few to get you started down this path:
  1. Paper notes. Pen and paper is a staple of the game. And if you play at the table you might be imposing a no-electronics rule at your table. In that case, your players have gone analog. In this instance, you need to request that your players leave their group notes with you so you can use them.
  2. OneNote. Microsoft’s OneNote software is a nice and fairly intuitive note taking software. Best of all, its free to use. Even if you don’t have a Microsoft Office subscription. Set up a notebook, and share it with your group members. Ask them to keep their notes in the notebook. Then you can reference it anytime you need to.
  3. Notion. I’ve talked a lot about notion. Another cool feature is the ability to make a group notebook in Notion. I’d recommend setting up a database, creating a notes template, and let them run from there. Then you can reference and catalog the session notes that your players are making.
All the tools are good options. Find one that your group will agree to and go from there. Don’t make it too complicated.
Art Credit: Walter Crane