A common practice in teaching today is for the teacher of a class to make notes on important things and then provide them to the students. Studies show that this helps students retain information that they would normally gloss over in lectures. I remember many teachers in college doing this and I remember it definitely helped. Having an outline of the topics to be covered, or a more detailed set of notes to highlight and add to can really help codify information in the brain.
So, what does this have to do with GMing? Game masters have a lot of similarity to teachers. They have slightly more power in the context of the game than the players do, they spend a lot of time distributing information and maintaining a structure and players often gloss over a lot of what they say. After all, the purpose of a player coming to a game is to have fun with their character, not to sit down and hang on the GMs words bit by bit. In a game situation, especially one involving a complex plot and multiple important characters, notes can be excellent for players to get a hold of.
Why should GMS hand out their notes?
Handing out notes keeps everyone on the same page.
Gets the players more involved in the intricate backstory.
Things that characters would pick up, but players might gloss over are still available.
Rolls to remember things are slightly un-realistic and don’t often account for re-rolling.
Helps build a better meta-structure to the story of the game.
While handing out notes can have a lot of benefits, it should be done with caution and design. Should a GM hand out their entire plot without editing or letting the players figure some things out on their own? Probably not. However, some guidelines or edited notes might be appropriate.
Hand out a list of NPC names and let the players fill in their impressions.
I used this one to great benefit in a Vampire game. Gave the players a list of NPCS with pictures attached and let them fill in the info. They didn’t always remember the names, but often picked up the sheet and looked to see who they were referring to.
Divide your notes up like a play, into Acts and scenes. Give the players just the act and scene titles so they have an idea of some general story flow.
Make a complete copy of your notes, then CIA style sanitize the notes for the players. Their interest will be piqued over what they aren’t seeing.
If your players are taking or updating notes, ask to look over them. They can provide great ideas into player flags and hooks that you can incorporate.
This is a very brief list of some of the ways that notes can be shared at the gaming table. Do you think the idea has merit, and are there any flaws you can find in it. These are just some of my notes on the subject, so please, expand and share yours. Ever seen any of these techniques in action? Ever use them yourself?