The Average Gamer

How To Write an RPG Journal – Part III: Information

This is the third in a series of posts that attempt to deconstruct the humble computer RPG journal. Other posts in the series are:

This post is all about fleshing out your RPG journal. Make it useful. I’m not about to tell anyone how to write. Rather, I’ll focus on what to include and what’s safe to discard.

Record everything

RPG quests can be horrifically complex. Well-written dialogue provides a lot of information. Journals for computer role-playing games are there to take some of the strain out of remembering. Don’t forget, us gamers are busy people. Between blogging, learning, having a social life, household chores and everything else, remembering the fine details of a D&D computer RPG quest is pretty low on the list. It is crucial not to overlook pertinent facts when writing a journal. Here’s a list of things you should include in every quest entry.

  • What or who gave me the information
  • Where to find them later
  • What they’ll give me in return for doing their menial task
  • What I’ve already done
  • Where I should go next

By no means am I advocating a dumb “go here and do this” journal. When it’s appropriate to the mission, it’s much better to simply say “I have heard that Joraq is hiding in Mardon’s bar,” when he’s not, than to spell everything out. We gamers like to think now and then, though we keep that well-hidden.

A Bad Journal Entry

Using an example from NeverWinter Nights 2: I had to talk to every guard post in the Docks and convince them to ignore the highly illegal actions of Moire’s gang. I played this mission over two sessions. On the second session, I logged in, checked my journal and had the following entry:

“Your sweep of the Docks is nearly complete, you have only one guardpost left to visit”

Well, great. The writer managed to check both the “What I have done” and “What to do next” boxes while simultaneously providing no information whatsoever. Last time I played this game was three weeks ago. He or she may as well as written “Yeah, I talked to some guys. Still gotta talk to some other guys.”

Fortunately, this entry was saved (barely) by putting the location of the final guardpost on the map, not that I knew this at the time.

A Good Journal Entry

A good journal entry for the same quest would look like this:

I have already convinced three of the guard posts to ignore the criminal activities of Moire’s gang. I just need to visit the last one in the north-east corner of the Docks area before reporting back to Moire’s house. It’s a good thing she marked all the posts on my map.

Please overlook the slightly ham-fisted exposition. I am not a fantasy writer.

A Great Journal Entry

A great entry would look like this:

“These guards are useless. No wonder Moire’s thieves practically run the Docks as it is. Outside the tavern, I just had to mention her name and they crumbled. The guards stationed by the armoury almost showed some backbone but caved when I slapped them a round a bit. In the north-east corner I paid the sergeant a bit of money to work for me but we’ll keep that quiet from Moire for now. I just need to visit the guardpost round the back of the Watch House and then it’s back to Moire’s for tea, biscuits and a few thousand gold pieces. Sweet.”

See how that works? Obviously, it’s much easier for me to write the above entry after the fact than it is to create entries using a database or other data-driven system to write plain English. I get that. Still, the ‘good’ entry should be entirely within reach of everyone.

So far I only know of one game where the journal truly aspired to greatness. That was Planescape: Torment and it succeeded magnificently. Sure, the game had other flaws. In some parts the plot was entirely driven by the journal but hey, I’m talking about journals. I’ll ignore that fact.

Check back in a few days for Part IV: Maps and Inventory