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Reuniting: Maintaing Continuity

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Do you remember what happened a minute ago? Of course you do! Do you remember what happened three weeks ago? Maybe not the small details, right? Welcome to the continuity problem - the disconnect between the players and their characters caused by the gaps between game sessions.

As Iíve mentioned before, sometimes itís a challenge for my group to play on a regular schedule. We strive to play ever other week, or every third at worst, but sometimes life intervenes and the gaps between games get longer. Meanwhile, in the campaign world, no time at all has passed.

Our characters remember what happened in the previous session perfectly, since it was only a moment ago. But the players and the GM arenít so lucky. Weíve been dealing with work, school, family, and relationships every day between sessions, and our memories of what happened last time have gotten a little fuzzy. Did we already fight the goblins? Did we find the secret door, and the treasure chest it concealed? Will we remember that Miss Peterson wore lavender perfume when we find a lavender-scented handkerchief next to the body of Mr. Potter?

It may not be a big deal if the party fights the goblins again. And if they never recover the gold behind the secret door it wonít be a huge setback either. But if the chest also had the mystic key that operates the elevator to the next level of the dungeon itís a bit of a problem. And if the party doesnít suspect that Miss Peterson is the killer it could be a huge problem. Itís situations like this that make continuity matter.

What do we do?

To begin with, letís understand that there are different levels to the problem. First, we have to keep track of basic things, like which parts of the adventure weíve already been through. Second, we have to keep track of what things of value the party has gained. Depending on the game, that could mean many things - magic items, money, clues, friendships, or mystic keys, just to name a few. Finally, the GM has to keep track of how the NPCís react to what the PCís have done so far. Did any of the goblins survive? Where did they go? Was that handkerchief dropped by Miss Peterson, or was it planted by the real killer?

Itís also important to remember that the problem grows worse with the passage of time. If the party met Miss Peterson last session they have at least a fighting chance of remembering her. If it was three sessions ago (a couple months in real time) the odds go down. And if it was a fifteen sessions ago, itís going to be pretty unlikely that anyone will make the connection.

Now that we understand the problem we can look at how to fix it. The obvious answer to all these issues is to take notes each session that we can refer to later. Itís very helpful if one of the players can be convinced to take notes of what the characters have done, so that the GM doesnít have to divert her attention from conducting the game to do so. Similarly, the players can keep a list of all the items, clues, etc. that they find, again relieving the GM of that burden. Alas, the GM needs to keep their own notes of whatís happening beyond the view of the PCís.

How detailed those notes need to be depends a lot on the nature of the campaign. For a Call of Cthulhu campaign you may need pretty extensive notes. If youíre in a mega-dungeon you may be able to get by with a lot less. The GM notes donít need to cover everything thatís in the player notes, just what happened that they didnít know about.

Now that you have notes, you need a way to share them. This can be as simple as sending them out by email, but some folks like to empty out their inbox pretty regularly, so you may want something more permanent. You could set up a blog for the purpose, or a wiki, or use a campaign management tool like Obsidian Portal. Any of these could be a good place to put the party loot/clue/document list too. And now the players (and the GM, who might need it just as badly as the players) will have a way to refresh their memory of what happened the last time (and even the sessions prior).

You could, of course, keep the notes within Fantasy Grounds. The problem is, unless the GM has FG running the players canít access the notes. It is a great way to keep the GM-only notes, though.

If you know the game will be on an unusually long hiatus, you may find it helpful to put together a summary of the major plot points that have happened so far. That allows your players to recall the important events without having to wade through all the individual session logs. I did this when we restarted the campaign, and again when we took a break to run an introductory campaign for a new player. In both cases the players seemed to appreciate it, and the second recap helped them connect a number of facts they had learned over the course of a couple years into a cohesive view of what was really going on. That, in turn, prompted them to take some actions they might not have otherwise taken, and really altered the direction of the campaign.

The final tool I use for continuity is the recap. At the beginning of each session I do a super-quick review of the action from the previous session. Itís usually something simple like this.

ďLast time around you stole Afestanís diary, copied it, replaced it, and then read the copy. From reading it you learned that he had been plotting with Cassandra, who was his lover, to kill his cousin the King, along with all the Kingís children. That would make him the legitimate heir to the throne. So, what do you do next?Ē

Thatís all for this time. I hope you found this useful. If you have any tips for helping maintain continuity in a campaign, or if you have any questions about what Iíve said, please be sure to comment. As always, thanks for reading!

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  1. dmkevin's Avatar
    I like the recap before starting a new session - - but occasionally if my notes are not great I'm telling them in my recap some weeks later something I believe happened and was supposed to have happened but might not in fact have yet happened.
  2. Phystus's Avatar
    I've had that happen too. It's nice to know I'm not alone!
  3. dmkevin's Avatar
    For me too.
  4. mhorgunn's Avatar
    Great post. I have someone different recap each week, someone takes notes and we have a Face Book page were a recap is posted. This serves as a remembrance to the players and also engages our friends we use to play with but cannot attend.
  5. Phystus's Avatar
    Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it! How does it work out to have different people taking notes each week? I've got a player or two who wouldn't be very enthused about the job.

    I kind of like the Facebook idea, except that some of my players don't do FB. It does seem like a good recruitment tool, though.
  6. MarianDz's Avatar
    Again nice reading "Phystus" thank you

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