Recently, I have become interested in the idea of artifacts of play, those things that are part of the game that persist after the game has been played. They act like souvenirs of the game played; touchstones of the game, linking memories of adventures taken, challenges faced, and treasures gained. While most RPG’s have some kind of artifacts of play, I found myself looking for something different, something both collaborative and informational. This article contains my current thoughts on this topic. I cannot promise a neat conclusion, but rather I hope this also sparks some thoughts and ideas of your own.

Artifacts of Play

In a simple definition, artifacts of play are the tangible things which are generated during the play of the game. As artifacts, they persist beyond the time the game is played, can be saved, and can be viewed at a later date. Using this definition, here are some things that are common artifacts which come up in most games.

  • Character Sheets – These persist between games, and are updated by the outcomes of each game, often in the form of character improvement, new items, etc. They are often more static than dynamic, only changing during specific milestones in the game.
  • GM Notes – These notes depict what was planned for during the game, but are often not a record of what happened in the game.
  • Campaign Notes – These notes capture information about the campaign, and can contain more information than the players may be aware. For this reason, they are not often shared in their entirety.
  • Scrap Paper – These are often generated during the game in the form of tracking hit points or other random notes. While they contain information, they are rarely useful, and often discarded at the end of the session.
  • Player Notes – These are notes taken by one or more players during the game, but are not always shared with everyone else.
  • Map – Sometimes drawn during play, or handed out, these depict a geographical region, but not necessary the events which occurred.

Looking for Something Different

While the above artifacts are useful for the continuation of the campaign, they are not what I am looking for. In most cases, these artifacts are either created by one person, lacking collaboration, or are not created during the play of the game, and thus lacking in capturing what happened at the table.

What I want Is something inspired by the game The Quiet Year, which is a story game about the survival of a community in a post-apocalyptic environment. During play a map is drawn on a piece of paper, and as events occur the map is updated with new symbols and drawings. The end result is that at the end of the game, there is a map which depicts what happened during the game. It can be saved and reference later, reminding people what happened during play.

This is what I am searching for, to be used in a regular role playing game. I want an artifact that is created during the course of play which captures the events of the game. After the game, the artifact could be kept, allowing people to remember the session, and could be used as a method of recap before the next session. It would need the following qualities:

  • Collaborative – It would be something that all players, and ideally the GM, could develop during the game.
  • Informational – The artifact would capture information about what happened during the session.
  • Shareable – In some way the artifact needs to be able to be shared with others.

Some Brainstorming

 I want an artifact that is created during the course of play which captures the events of the game.  

While thinking this through, I have come up with a few not fully formed ideas of things that could fulfill this role.

Story Map

This would be a piece of paper which would be filled out by the group during play. The map would use a set of symbols to depict things like a conflict, chase, dialog, etc and a way to depict who was in the scene. Lines would connect scenes to show the overall flow of the session. The map would be updated as new scenes occurred.

When the game was over, the group could review the trajectory the game took, and before the next session they would be able to review the map and refresh themselves on what happened in the last session. A collection of these maps would depict the overall map of the campaign.

Information Board

In my more recent Nights Black Agents game, the group used an online Cork Board to capture important clues that arose during the game. Everyone had access to the board, and could update the board with notes and pictures during play. Before the next session the clues could be reviewed, allowing the group to determine what lines of investigation were closed and which clues needed to be followed.

This system does not capture the flow of the story, and may be less suited for non-investigatory games.

Session Cards

Another idea would be to use a set of larger index cards which could be passed around to the players and the GM during the game. Each person could write down information, clues, funny quotes, etc. Everyone would take turns writing on the cards during the course of the game. After the game, the card(s) would have captured different facts about the session. The cards could also be reviewed between games to refresh the group about what had occurred.

The information on the card would not be well structured and may not accurately depict the overall flow of the story. It would have some temporal order, as things could only be written down as they occurred, so some order would be present

As I look these options over, the Story Map and Session Cards seem like interesting avenues to explore. I have done the information board and it works quite well for investigation games, but I am not sure how it would fare for other types of games.

Capture for Future Reference

Artifacts of play are a wonderful way to remember the game you played and help to recall the details of a game. Creating artifacts in games that do not include in-game artifact creation can be tricky. I am not done with this topic, and I hope to explore it more at my table, so that I can come back and talk more about this in the future.

What do you think about artifacts of play? Do you have any favorite ones that you have created? What games have you played that do a good job of creating artifacts? Which of the above ideas would you try at your table?