Give the gift of Taking Notes

The Tuesday Group, where I’m a player, are on the cusp of finishing Horror on the Orient Express. A very good adventure, which has spanned much more than a year of sessions. 39 sessions and counting. In that time we’ve travelled through a lot of Europe, both west and east and done a lot of investigating.

The investigations often have a lot of exciting twists and turns as we realise that that person is actually the same person as that other person!. When those beats hit, they hit really good and the table gets very excited about it. However, after two years of playing we can’t possibly remember every character’s name, so we turn to our notes.

Playing Cthulhu more than any game has shown me the importance of taking good notes. The investigative mechanics mean you’re given a lot of information that you can’t possibly remember. Dates of when someone died, dates of when they were last seen (often many years after they’d died), and first mentions of cults, the kinds of injuries cult members are likely to have.

Not everyone’s notes are complete. Often it won’t be clear that the tidbit you’ve just heard is important, so it doesn’t get written down. But between you all, hopefully, someone has written it down. There’s excitement in that moment too. “Oh, I remember this. I have half a note about it from session six. Does anyone else have anything?” The flicking through pages is full of anticipation.

Hitting a wall in the investigation happens too. Fairly often actually. But if the DM steps in too quickly at that point, the game begins to be lead by the DM and not the players (an important principle in investigation games). The leads don’t actually have to match up with what’s in the DM’s adventure: the DM is looking for any excuse to give you more information, the players just have to lead the DM to those excuses. With that in mind, keeping a list of potential ideas noted down is crucial. Did you check the newspaper? Ask the hotel clerk for anything interesting going on? (Although, we probably went back to the cement factory more often than was useful.)

I’m certain I’m not the only one that struggles to pay attention the whole time whilst playing ttrpgs whilst at my computer. I’ve found that taking notes keeps me actively playing even when I’m not part of the scene playing out. There’s always something to be writing down which may help in the future – you never know what you’ll miss in a game like CoC.

All the above is fine the player, but it’s wonderful for the DM. It’s disheartening when a world has been finely crafted, only for your players to forget about it later on. The twists aren’t noticed and clues have to be crude. I think it’s really fun for the DM when the players can have a conversation amongst themselves about the world being weaved. It shows player buy-in which is all a DM is ever striving for.

It’s always endlessly useful when a player can answer a lore question before the DM has time to look back a hundred pages to find it. “Does anyone remember [the throw away] name of the train driver from six sessions ago?” “Yep – I wrote five full pages of notes about him.” What a delight for a DM that didn’t realise that Trevor the Train Conductor was going to be a major character.

Write notes – you’ll enjoy it!

There are two other ways you can be a good player over on slyflourish.

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