Keeping a written record of what happens in your gaming sessions is a good idea. Keeping that record in a place where all of your players can interact with it is an even better idea. For a long time, doing both meant creating your own campaign website or using a messageboard — both good solutions, but neither of them ideal. That’s where blogging comes in.
This post is an introduction to the many benefits of blogging your game sessions.
Johnn Four, of Roleplaying Tips, asked me to write this article for an issue of his weekly e-zine. Johnn’s a great guy, and I was happy to oblige; the article appeared in issue #284 of the Roleplaying Tips e-zine in a slightly different format.
There’s also a disclaimer: Although I’ve never blogged my game sessions, I have posted 70,000+ words of session summaries on my campaign website, and I write a weblog for GMs. This article is a combination of my knowledge of these two topics, and I wanted to mention that up front so that you know where I’m coming from.
A weblog — blog, for short — is a website that presents information in reverse chronological order (newest stuff at the top), with built-in automation to handle things like archiving your posts. Blogging is what you do when you post something to your blog, and it’s generally a pretty simple process. We’ll get into how you can start your own blog in a bit — right now, let’s look at why you might want to blog your game sessions.
Most games take place between 1 and 4 times a month, for at least 4 hours per session — and a lot can happen in each session, as you well know! If you’re anything like me, even with notes you have trouble remembering details from week to week — and if you game infrequently, or take a break, even keeping track of the big picture can be difficult.
By blogging your sessions, you can eliminate this problem. Here are the 3 most important things to know about using a blog to keep track of your game:
- After each session, write up a post within 24 hours — no more than 48.
- Treat this as a first draft, with your goal being to get down all the details before you forget them (you can always revise it later).
- Set a time limit for yourself: how long you want to spending writing each post.
Typing up your post while everything is still fresh in your mind is critical — after a day or two, it starts to get harder to remember the things that made the session exciting, and the little details that really brought things to life. This is why you shouldn’t worry too much about how well-written your post is at first — just get it all down, and then come back to it. You can even save your post as a draft, and it won’t appear on your blog until you’re ready.
The third tip might sound a little counterintuitive, but it comes from experience: writing up your game sessions can swallow up a lot of time, often more than you’d expect! If you don’t set a time limit, it can be easy to spend several hours polishing your post, getting every last little detail correct, and re-wording things until you’re completely satisfied. The problem is that after doing this a couple of times, it’ll start to feel too much like work and you might lose interest. Keep it short!
Tips and Techniques
With that tip (keep it short) in mind, here are 6 things to think about when you’re writing a blog post:
1. Write an entry for each session. If your sessions span several days (or weeks, etc.) of game time, consider listing the timespan at the top or bottom of the post, or break it up internally by day.
2. Give each post a meaningful title (not just the session date), so that it’s easy to find it later.
3. Use the past tense! It’s tempting to use the present tense (“Frodo walks…”) because it conveys a sense of immediacy, but trust me, in the long run it also becomes very awkward to read. (If you don’t believe me, write up a paragraph about a recent session in the present tense, and then again in the past tense, and compare them.)
4. Focus on the “limelight events” — the things that really made the session pop: climactic battles, dialogue that had the whole group rolling around in laughter, etc.
5. Skip the boring stuff. Would you want to read about how much Neo paid for a cup of coffee? Probably not — so unless it’s important to the game to know how much Neo’s coffee cost, leave it out.
6. Mention every PC at least once. Even if someone had an off night and their character didn’t do much, find a way to work them in. People like to read about themselves, and your players are no exception.
There are also things you can do easily with a blog that are hard to do elsewhere — take advantage of the medium with these 6 ideas:
1. The best thing about blogging your game sessions is that you can get your players involved through the comments. Each post you put up has its own comments section, and this is a great way to get feedback (if you left something out, your players will tell you about it!), share mechanical details that would spoil the flow of the main post (“Remember that bomb you found in the warehouse? It was actually a dud.”) and recall the best moments of that session, among other things.
2. If you want to put the PCs online, create individual pages for them. These can then be linked to from your main posts as needed, and they can be kept up to date by the players between sessions.
3. Create separate pages for your recurring NPCs as well, and then link to them from the main entries to refresh your players’ memories about who’s who.
4. Link to things outside of your blog, as well, like photos on Flickr or other gaming-related sites.
5. Include character sketches, digital photos of props and the like.
6. If you’ve got a group that’s into doing things online, encourage your players to create their own blogs for their PCs. These can serve as character journals, places for the players to jot down their thoughts about clues, etc.
This is also a good time to mention something that might or might not sound intuitive: some players just aren’t into doing game-related things (like reading and posting comments on your new blog) between sessions. You should definitely encourage everyone to participate — perhaps even offering in-game rewards for doing so, like bonus XP) — but don’t push it, and don’t take it personally if some of your players just don’t seem interested. By the same token, some groups are really into it, and everyone will participate without any prodding at all — it just depends on the nature of your group.
Let’s say this all sounds good to you, and you’re ready to give it a shot. How do you start your own blog? Which service should you choose? How much programming do you need to know? Let’s tackle the first two questions at the same time: how to get started, and where to go.
There are a variety of blogging services to choose from, and all of them do basically the same things. The four best-known services all have two things in common — they try to make the process of creating a blog as simple as possible, and they’re free (or have a free option). I’ll cover those four here:
Which one to go with depends on two factors: how many features you need, and how much you’re willing to tinker with things.
Blogger and LiveJournal are the two simplest options: create an account, make a few choices, and you’re off. You really don’t need to know any HTML to create your posts (Blogger even has a WYSIWYG text entry screen), and they’re both very easy to use. The downside is that while they offer some good features — different templates to customize the look of your blog, ways to turn comments on and off, etc. — they don’t offer nearly as many as Movable Type and WordPress. (For example, if you want to create a static page — not a post — to describe an NPC, you can’t do that with LiveJournal or Blogger.)
Movable Type offers three different options: a free downloadable edition, a paid downloadable edition and a paid hosted version. For the first two options, you need to have your own website; if you don’t have a website, you can use the third option and they’ll host your blog for you. Movable Type is powerful and versatile, and it gives you a lot of control over how your blog looks and functions — but in turn, that means you need to know some HTML to get the most out of it.
WordPress is free, but requires you to have your own website to use it. (At the time of this writing, WordPress is working on a free hosted option, but it’s not available yet.) Like Movable Type, WordPress is feature-rich and gives you complete control over your blog, but requires a willingness to tinker to get the most out of it (much like Movable Type).
I started my blog, Treasure Tables, on Blogger because I wasn’t sure what I needed — it was pretty spur-of-the-moment. After a couple of months, I transferred everything over to WordPress because I found Blogger’s lack of features frustrating (I didn’t like the comments interface and I wanted to put my posts into categories, among other things). I know HTML and I have a website, so those potential barriers weren’t an issue for me.
Listing all of the pros and cons of these 4 services is outside the scope of this article, though, so here’s my recommendation: visit each of them, look around a bit, and think about how you might want to set up your blog. If you’re not interested in getting website, go with Blogger or LiveJournal (I’d pick Blogger, as it has more features). If you already have or want to get your own website, and you want more featurse, go with Movable Type or WordPress.
Whichever option you choose, I want to emphasize again that this is really a pretty simple process: in most cases, you can dive right in within a few minutes, and worry about tweaking things later. The important part is to give it a shot — choose one of the free options, and you can always drop it later if you decide it’s not your cup of tea.
Once you have your blog up and running, you should do these 3 things first:
- Set permission so that only your players can leave comments, unless you want anyone who visits your blog to be able to do so. (Each service handles this a different way, but they all provide this option.)
- Write your first post (or posts, if you’re feeling ambitious!).
- Tell your players where to find your blog.
That’s it! Once you get the ball rolling, you’ll see that blogging your game sessions can be a lot of fun. And apart from the immeidate benefit of having a record of your sessions that your whole group can interact with, you’ll also have something to look back on a few months (or years!) down the line.