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MoonHunter Sayeth 20171117


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
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GM Tools: Scene Journalling
or where play by post RP meets Table Top

Convergence Point Update
After some wrangling, I managed to get the document to conform to the formats and style of the rest of the book. I found the corrected, updated format for lifeforms. I am updating the example Lifeforms.

I was originally going to write some tips on gaming romance. Then I realized, I was going to have to write this entire post and that post as well. Splitting them up makes it more effective. So here is the first split. The second split is here.

Scene Journaling aka Bluebooking

Table Time is the most precious commodity a gamer has. It can be at a physical table or over the net, it is when The Troupe is together and the GM is running the characters. The GM has to use this time wisely, getting the maximum gaming and maximum fun out of it. There are a couple of techniques used to maximize the time at hand. This blog post is about Scene Journals. The Scene Journal allows for roleplaying which is important to the character, but not for the troupe, or the main plot line.

There are a lot of valid character scenes or small subplots that would be great to play out, but doing so would exclude many players or make players uncomfortable or give away “deep secrets”. These sort of things have always been a problem for GMs. If the GM and player play them out during a game, they spend wayyy to much time “in the GM’s office” (a space away from the other players, kitchen, bathroom spare room). This leaves a room of players unattended and board. They break out magic cards, computer games, and all sorts of things. It becomes hard to get the group back to gaming.

The first real and still best solution was proposed (in print) was in 1988. Bluebooking was explained to gaming at large by Aaron Allston in the Champions Supplement Strike Force. The Bluebook in question was a standard (in the US) notebook used to answer essay questions during college exams. Instead of using them to determine if you passed or failed, a gamer used them to play out scenes that occurred in downtime or in un-played gaps of the main chronicle.

The generic term used by many for this is Scene Journals. (Especially for those of us who had yellow books for words and green books for science/ engineering). There will be player scene journals and chronicle scene journals, but I get ahead of myself.

The player should ask the GM (when they can) for “a scene of their own”. These could be personal investigations that would only interest the character/player or dealing with something the group does not want to deal with. Another good reason is some character defining roleplaying by interacting with the cast of characters around the character (Coworkers, neighbors, merchants they deal with, their boss, etc… so Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Perry White, and Clark's neighbors when dealing with Superman), Player Tasks of all sorts, including things like research activities or training montages. Character romance is a common use, because it tends to make people uncomfortable when played out in public. Even just introspective roleplaying could be an option. These scenes would be perfectly valid to play out. However, most GMs and many players won't play them out because of the amount of time, GM attention, and other player boredom, they will require. If the scene is approved, the GM gives them “the boundaries”; what can be done, what can’t be done, where the scene can go, how long it can last, and when they will need to check in with the GM.

The process of Scene Journaling is simple. It is like table top playing, except in a written form. The GM defines the boundaries of the Scene(s) being journaled. The Player continues on writing out their actions until they have something they do not know or needs the GM to resolve. They then hand the Journal to the GM. The GM adds their bit and gives it back to the player. The cycle continues, until done (or the book characters catch up to “real time” in the chronicle). The GM receives the journal, and comments/ edits it to make it canon for the chronicle.

If the player (and the GM) is comfortable with having some GM agency, they can fill in the details as they will. Sometimes they will roll their own dice and see if they succeed or fail. They will reach a point where the GM is needed. If they do not, they stop and query the GM. (Many time the GM does not have a real plan for these side scenes, so the player is often given no real boundaries on what they can do.)

If more than one player is involved, they pass the journal back and forth between each other. This can be dialog or actions as per normal. The GM is involved as needed.

It should ideally be written in story format, but does not have to be. The GM always have “last edit” on all scene journals. The GM reads over what is done and either 1) approves it, 2) approves it conditionally (needs changes), or denies that it could happen (that way). If there are changes, they should give them back to the players involved so “they will remember it correctly”.

Approved blue book entries become part of the campaign's continuity. Most GM's will award experience, luck, or some kind of reward for blue book activities.

Each Player should have their own journal (physical print outs or digital). This allows them to have their own material. All the accepted material should be included in the GM’s Scene Journal. The GM's journal tends to have a printed hard copy and add to the GM's Journal for the Chronicle.

These Journals (and scenes) can add a great deal to a group's chronicle. It frees up the GM's time in game, as scene journals can be reviewed between game sessions. I personally have used this technique to good application. Note: It does require a player with storytelling or actor orientations to be most useful, but anyone can do it in a barebones fashion. Story or Character oriented players can produce a huge amount of material to add to the chronicle using scene journals. (Pro-Tip: Tap them to fill Players with characters who have deep secrets will also have fertile fodder for scene journals. This allows for them to follow their secrets in safety of IC and OOC knowledge. The other player types will use it only to keep track of their downtime training, studying, and investigations. However, the journal is used, it allows The Troupe to continue gaming when we were not "in session".


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I should note:

Some people build up scene journals to include all their activity in the game. Sometimes they fictionalize their activity in the game, but most of the time they just make notes as to what has happened.

These scene journals are great as they detail the character's activities and the chronicle.
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