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Game Journaling: Towns

One of the things I'm looking forward to with the gaming journal is the ability to plan my campaign anywhere and anytime, something that is particularly important with a little one. A key part of planning for me has to do with locations, particularly towns.

Here's an example spread for town planning. For the town map, I printed Dyson Logo's New Cresthill map onto a shipping label (Avery 8168) and placed it into my gaming journal. I then figured out a few key elements to be filled out at a future date (when I have some time) and an area for an index. I also colored in the map with some colored pencils.

Example TownExample Town

Some notes for future iterations:

  • I tried both watercolors and alcohol markers on a duplicate of the map but neither worked great. The paper soaks up the wakly to move watercolors around and it seemed to be really thirsty when it came to alcohol markers and it was often causing them to run dry for a moment with any extended coloring.
  • If I want the effect of alcohol markers, I think I would print these on marker paper, color them in, and then use an adhesive such as the Tombow Adhesive Tape Runner.
  • Adding a lot of maps will cause the journal to get wider in that area. I might try to change up where I put the maps so the top of journal doesn't get wider than the bottom or put two maps on one page and use the facing page for the notes.
  • Putting maps in the journal without any information would be a great way to seed future brainstorming sessions.

Some sources for maps:

Game Journaling: Character Sheets for D&D 5e and BubbleGumshoe

In my last post, I talked about the basics of bullet journals and the utility of the concept when it comes to gaming. I even showed examples of how to layout helper charts for running a BubbleGumshoe game. This time, let's explore how we can use any dot grid journal for keeping character sheets.

Just a quick reminder, I use the Rhodia Webnotebook. Each journal manufacturer may have different page measurements as well as placement and spacing on the page.

D&D 5e

One challenge I want to set for myself soon is to make a bunch of characters. I want to make a portfolio of these, so keeping them in a gaming journal makes a ton of sense. If I didn't have a separate journal for gaming, I'd be tempted to keep them in my primary bullet journal because I would have it handy whenever I wanted (no more "where did I put that sheet?" as I look at a pile of at least dozens of sheets).

For the first one, especially since it's meant to be an example, I largely just reworked the character sheet presented in the back of the player's handbook.

D&D Character Sheet StatsD&D Character Sheet Stats
D&D Character Sheet Character InfoD&D Character Sheet Character Info
D&D Character Sheet SpellcastingD&D Character Sheet Spellcasting

Supplies Used:

  • Watercolors (Van Gogh student set)
  • Sakura Pigma Micron pens (.005, .01, .02, .05)
  • Copic Multiliner in Cool Gray
  • White Gelly Pen
  • Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen
  • Prismacolor Color Pencils
  • Scotch Washi Tape
  • Tombow Adhesive Tape Runner

One key is that the washi tape on the right hand side can make it super easy to find your character sheet in the future and gives you an additional opportunity to customize for your character.

Of course, this is just the basic character sheet. One of the benefits of the dot journal is that you can customize however you wish. For instance, I might rework this to do the spell casting sheet as the second page if I had a spell caster. I also would come up with trackers for various character classes, such as anything that is limited to a certain number of times between rests or tracking consumables.

After I shared my work in progress, my friend, Chelsea Kerr, rushed to create a version of her own. Here's her version.
D&D Character Sheet by ChelseaD&D Character Sheet by Chelsea

You can find Chelsea online on Twitter @chelseachan.

BubbleGumshoe Character Sheet

After I made the D&D character sheet, I had a cute (to me at least) idea for how to do a BubbleGumshoe character sheet. I thought about some of the items that a high schooler might have in their backpack. (I couldn't find a plain old ballpoint pen in my bag of tricks, but it would have been a great addition).

BubbleGumshoe Character SheetBubbleGumshoe Character Sheet
BubbleGumshoe Character Sheet SecretsBubbleGumshoe Character Sheet Secrets

Supplies Used:

  • Highlighters
  • Small colored notepaper
  • Sakura Pigma Micron pens
  • Sharpie Art pens (from the set of 12)

Where to get inspiration

If you're looking for more inspiration on how to draw your character sheet, here are some great resources:

If you create your own, feel free to share them with me via Twitter, Instagram, or via the contact form on this site.

Note:
Character art:
D&D: "Half-Elf Paladin" © 2012 Brian Patterson, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ http://www.prismaticart.com/collection/half-elf-paladin
BubbleGumshoe: From example character sheet available on Evil Hat's website. https://www.evilhat.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sleuth-Amanda-Ba...

Game Journaling: BubbleGumshoe

In an earlier post, I talked about the ways in which I was incorporating gaming elements into my bullet journal. In this post, I'd like to start looking at ways to integrating journaling into your gaming. This first post will show an obvious use case, putting some of the charts recommended by the game BubbleGumshoe into a journal (whether it's your normal bullet journal or a separate gaming journal).

The Journal

First, a bit about bullet journals. The system was created by Ryder Carroll. The predominant format for the journals are dot-pages, which are like the grid pages typically used by gamers for drawing maps, but only the intersections are visible, not the lines. I use the Rhodia black webnotebook (Amazon Affiliate Link) but Leuchtturm1917 and Moleskine are two other popular brands. A nice thing I like about the dot grid is that it makes it easy to do layout without being too distracting.

In addition to the choice of journal, a key element of the bullet journal system is numbering all of the pages and creating an index. Here for each topic, you list the pages the topic appears on. This helps you not only quickly find the information in your journal but also is incredibly agile. Did you create an NPC a month ago and realize you don't have enough room to add notes related to the NPC's appearance in last night's session? Create a new page and just add the page number to the index.

BubbleGumshoe

BubbleGumshoe is an RPG that adapts the Gumshoe ruleset to the genre of teenagers solving mysteries. Think Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Veronica Mars, and the like. The book presents a few charts to help the GM run the game and they seemed obvious elements to add to a gaming journal.

Sleuth Ability Matrix

BubbleGumshoe - Sleuth Ability MatrixBubbleGumshoe - Sleuth Ability Matrix
Knowing which sleuths have which skills can be important for the GM to keep the game going since sleuths who show up to the scene with a clue and have the correct investigative ability get the clue without rolling or spending. Additionally, an ability matrix can be useful for the group to understand if they have enough abilities covered and that the spotlight can be divided between all sleuths.

For this chart, I used Sakura Pigma Micron pens including a brush pen (for the black colored in areas). The white text was done with a white gel pen and the light coloring for rows was done with Prismacolor color pencils.

Supporting Cast Checklist

BubbleGumshoe - Supporting Cast ChecklistBubbleGumshoe - Supporting Cast Checklist
Another example is the supporting cast checklist which is intended to help the Game Master ensure that they are spreading around the spotlight when it comes to NPCs in the game. Here I did this as one page, but it is a bit space constrained given that choice. It would be easy to convert it to a multi-page spread and give more area for notes.

For this chart, I again used the Sakura Pigma Micron pens and Prismacolor color pencils.

These are just two examples of how a journal could be used for the game and there are many other elements to incorporate.

D&D Rules for Pregnancy: Why the hate?

Yeah, it’s been awhile since my first post. Right after I finished it, little dude started to get his 12 month molars in and boy are they a doozy. After a number of low sleep nights and then Gen Con, we’re here. Last time we talked about what motivations folks might have for roleplaying pregnancy in RPGs, now I’d like to talk a bit why the thought makes some of us want to run away as fast as possible.


The birth of Saint Edmund, he is being nursed by a midwife w Wellcome V0014976

One of the big reasons, society (at least society in the US), isn’t always great in regards to pregnancy. We have the worst maternal death rate of the “developed world.” We lack all manner of assistance for new parents, including dismal parental leave policies and child care assistance (for instance, I pay more than my rent for day care). We have a weird fetishization of fetuses, to the point where it often feels like the pregnant person is no longer a person but rather just a womb. While it’s changing in some circles, there’s a huge amount of pressure to not talk about pregnancy loss, especially miscarriages or abortions, and many folks who are having infertility issues suffer in silence. We still don’t have great terminology for talking about pregnancy in a world where we acknowledge the existence of people who are trans, non-binary, agender, and the like, not to mention same-sex households. And this is just the beginning of the issues that can come up.

So, when one introduces pregnancy into a D&D game, they are walking into a minefield and not only does the game not offer any tools to help address this issue, the way D&D works can exacerbate issues. Why? Because D&D grew out of war gaming, and both are attempts to simulate/model a world, applying the average to the individual. Thus, what we often get then when folks attempt to bring pregnancy into a D&D game is a bunch of random roll tables (some of which may be based on how actual human pregnancy works on average, but many are instead based on pure fiction, superstition, and the outdated views of human reproduction), stereotypes, and something that acts as salt in the wounds (at best) if not causing hurt and trauma while often not even addressing the motivations of folks at the table who want to have pregnancy in their games.

So, what’s a person to do?

First and foremost, if you know that the topic is likely to come up in the game, talk to your players, preferably individually and in an empathetic manner, about how they feel about it. If your group tends to veer towards riskier topics, perhaps set up a system (such as the X card) where people can say that they are uncomfortable in a manner that feels safe to them and everyone agrees to accept). If you think it might come up in a con(vention) game, use something like the X card from the start. Find out what boundaries folks have, e.g. pregnancy is fine but can we not deal with miscarriage, etc. If these sorts of conversations seem unnecessary to you, consider if you are the right kind of GM for this type of content.

If there’s consent for the topic (enthusiastic consent would be great here), then consider how your and/or the table’s plan for simulating pregnancy might come across to folks. Is one of your players or their significant others someone who has been (or is) pregnant and is tired of everyone analyzing everything they eat to the point where they can’t even get a small coffee without getting epic side eye? (Yes, moderate amounts of caffeine are now considered ok again for many pregnant folks.) Are they or someone they know tired of morning sickness jokes or of how we treat pregnancy as a disability? Have you considered that many pregnant folks are quite active well into their pregnancy and that the guidelines for activity level are tied to how active they were before pregnancy (complications notwithstanding)?

Also, please run what you plan to do past more than you significant other. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve resisted doing anything more than glare when I shared how I felt about something and had to hear about how their significant other was totally ok with what I just objected to so I should be ok with it too. The fact that some are ok with something doesn’t override someone else’s objection, especially when that something is happening to the character of the person objecting.

In addition, remember that the averages of a bunch of discrete measurements (existence of morning sickness, appearance of the linea nigra, etc) taken together is not the same as the average pregnancy and every pregnancy is unique. I think this is probably one of the hardest things for everyone involved in pregnancy (including doctors), because we tend to publicize and judge ourselves and other people’s pregnancies based on averages. The number of questions where someone is obviously stressed because they have not developed a particular symptom of pregnancy or met an average milestone is so heartbreaking. And it’s one of the largest issues I have with attempting to portray pregnancy in D&D because it often can’t help but reinforce it.

Along those lines, try to be conscious of how your rules for pregnancy in D&D might reinforce other things that you may not expect. For instance, fifth edition did a great job in making explicit that there are many variations of characters, especially in regards to gender and sexuality. Are your rules heteronormative? How do they handle trans characters? Do you only ever mention intercourse as a means for conception? How do you refer to the pregnant person? The partner? Do your rules potentially force players to out their trans characters?

There’s a lot to unpack here and often not a lot of good examples for discussion because sadly, it’s often at the cutting edge of where we’re trying to go as a society. For instance, I have listened to a fair number of trans people discuss how poor medicine is at properly treating them. Everything from getting misgendered when needing gynecological services to not getting proper medical care due to assumptions, not to mention the issues with attempting to keep up a sex versus a gender classification system, where trans men are told that they have female bodies and vice versa. Many now believe that trans men have male bodies regardless of their plumbing just as trans women have female bodies (not to mention intersex, non-binary, and agender) and any medical attention that should be based on the existence of certain organs should be specific to that organ and not tied up in notions of an artificial sex/gender binary.

If I could do a tl;dr of this article, it would be this. If you want to have pregnancy in your D&D game, then try to be kind and listen to one another.

D&D Rules for Pregnancy: Motivations

I have taken part in conversations regarding pregnancy in D&D for about as long as I have been talking about D&D. My general guideline about it is this, any subject that is incredibly difficult to have a conversation about in real life is likely to be nigh impossible to create rules for within D&D.

At this point, someone is likely to pipe in, "But it's hard to have a discussion about killing goblins in real life but the game handles that just fine," to which I'd reply that 1) clearly you don't have enough fantasy and gaming nerds as friends and 2) if goblins existed in real life such discussions would likely be a lot harder (but not impossible as ongoing bigotry demonstrates).

But I digress.


The birth of Saint Edmund, he is being nursed by a midwife w Wellcome V0014976

A more apt follow up question might be, "If it's so hard, why are you here talking about it?" And in some ways it's a really good point. It is likely that at some point in the following paragraphs I will mess something up. I will offend someone. At the same time, if I were to stay silent, what then will be the result? It's not like my silence will silence others.

Besides, as some of you may know, I've spent the past 18 months or so being pregnant and then taking care of a small human. And all parents have a need to give unsolicited advice to strangers. ;)

I kid.

I spent a lot of the time over the past 18 months thinking about pregnancy and parenthood in games, especially D&D. I planned to write about those thoughts anyway but at some future date when I didn't have to steal 5 minutes at a time to write a thing. But then two things happened. First, I realized that that future date was likely years away and, second, someone posted their homebrew pregnancy rules to a Pathfinder group and I realized I had things to say.

Before anything, I'd like to give a bit of a disclaimer. Any criticism and/or critique I give here is not intended to be a blanket banishment or condemnation of D&D rules regarding pregnancy in general or in specific. Also I will keep my conversation to D&D (including Pathfinder) in contrast to games with more narrative focused rules. I do not intend to suggest that pregnancy in D&D should be forbidden or that people who include it are bad because they include the topic of pregnancy.

With that out of the way. Let's start at the beginning.

Why do some people want pregnancy related rules in D&D?

There are plenty of motivations here.

  • Some folks live in cultures that are family and child focused and they can't imagine a world without pregnancy and children.
    Some can't get pregnant and want the chance to experience something in game that they will never be able to experience in life.
  • Some want to be pregnant at some point in their lives and use games like D&D (a form of play) to process and understand their feelings, fears, etc regarding pregnancy.
  • Some people would like to use the safety of a game to deal experiencing a infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of a child.
  • Some people have been pregnant, loved it, and would love to recreate those feelings within a game.
  • Some people think pregnancy should be in the game but it feels less real to them if there aren't mechanics (crunch) that accompanies the story.
  • Some people desire a fuller model of the world so if their game has sex, they feel it should also have pregnancy.
  • Some people can't think of women without thinking of pregnancy and want to bring their real world baggage regarding female sexuality into the game.

Some of these motivations, to me at least, are more positive than others. The first five in particular show compelling positive reasons for including pregnancy in D&D and show that it can be a positive experience. The last three, however, tend to be the more common drivers and why a lot of D&D rules for pregnancy make some people, such as myself, want to run away from any discussion involving the topic.

More importantly, it's nearly impossible to design rules that meet all of these motivations and it's the last three that make it particularly hard to do so. For example, in order to have pregnancy mechanics, there often has to be an oversimplification of pregnancy. In movies and literature in the US, for instance, we often "show" early pregnancy by portraying a woman throwing up right after waking, commonly known as "morning sickness."

This oversimplification, however, is a common issue because while nausea is a common sign of pregnancy, it is not universal and for many pregnant people, it comes at a different time of the day. Most pregnancy mechanics that can fit on one piece of paper are likely to insufficiently recreate the experience for people who love being pregnant and want their characters to have the same experience. They are also unlikely to help a person prepare for pregnancy or to help them really understand what it is like to be pregnant. They might work ok for someone who can't be pregnant and wants to experience something like it in a game since it might feel "right" to them if most of their experience of pregnant people has come through fiction. For those that come from more family focused cultures, whether or not the mechanics feel "right" comes down to what the pregnant people in their life have experienced.

Now that we have a bit of understanding of the motivations, next time I'd like to explore prioritizing them, especially when it comes to conflicts between them. In the meantime, here's something real about pregnancy.

Pregnancy Fact:

A common test, at least in the US, for newborns is called the Apgar score. The test is done to measure the physical condition of a newborn child based on 5 criteria: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration. It is also named after the person who developed it, Dr. Virginia Apgar, an anesthesiologist. More info on the Apgar score

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