In the last 25 years, I've run my fair share of campaigns. While I openly admit that the "stereotypical" campaign of going to dungeon to dungeon each week, without knowing as much as the barkeep's first name in town is something I don't mind, in the last decade or so, I've come to rely on the group campaign journal for my fantasy RPGs.
While a single journal, each week written in-character by a different player is not the exact blow-by-blow account of the session, it creates an overall theme of what the player's are feeling. Boredom, even with the activity of writing in the journal means the something was flawed that session, be it my GMing style, the motivations of the players, or even the module itself. And while I have always had an open-GM Screen policy when it comes to campaign development and player input, seeing the player write of the excitement of the game in-character, is an even bigger vote of confidence than anything else.
After I finish this post, I'll have 24 pending posts that are all works in progress. A couple of them are for my Hackmaster campaign that ran weekly from 2001 through 2004. I'm currently working on the *spoilers* last episode of the first story arc "The Journey of Mutumbo." From the first moment we sat down on September 3, 2011, a brown faux-leather journal was always at the table. This has made writing these entries much, much easier, despite the ten year time gap. As I type up their play for N2 The Forest Oracle, I can tell there was much confusion to the information and descriptions I was giving the players, and I'm not speaking of the poor flavor text the module is notorious for.
Leaning so heavily on a campaign journal creates some drawbacks, most notably, feeling completely helpless when it's not at the table. Part of the reason for the new storyline were a few players dropping out to attend grad school classes, so I ran a few solo games to explain why they had disappeared. Sure it was a little heavy handed (Ragnarok has begun! Sif needs your help, little 3rd level cleric!) but the player insisted they write their entry into the journal... and that require him to take the journal home. Six weeks later and the journal returned back to the table, but by then five weeks of play had passed and no one was willing to recreate it. It's a pity, because it was a hectic time that produced frenetic results, as well as a mighty dungeon crawl that earned the group their name, The Burning Trogs. Within a session or two, we were back up to speed, but we have no account of killing goblins in root cellars, finding ancient Traldar ruins, or dipping weapons into pools of water and gaining a permanent enchantment. Good times.
Funny thing is, I don't use the journal for Call of Cthulhu, Sci-Fi, or just about anything else. Perhaps its that I try to cram three sessions of play into a single seven hour session. Perhaps it's that other genres don't have the bookkeeping angle that fantasy RPGs have. Outside of the free for all CoC session that happened last month at Hoyce's Bachelor Party, I'm usually able to recreate the session for a blog post without any issue, even months after it occurred.